Amorphis – Eclipse (2006) Album Review

When you want to describe Amorphis before the Tomi Joutsen you speak about one of the best album released by this band, if not, the best album released by a Finnish band in the 1990s and that is Tales From The Thousand Lakes released back in 1992, the second album ever released by this band, an album that would gather a lot of fans from many countries and would build a solid fan-base loyal to this band. This album did not feature vocals done by Pasi Koskinen, who was only hired from Elegy (1996) a rather good follow-up of this album but still inferior in contrast with it’s predecessor, but we speak about Tomi Koivussari, one of the original founding members of the band, who contributed with splendid vocal performance in this album. He attracted more attention with his raspy and rather raw grunting vocals in a song who also had a privilege to be one of the few songs who would benefit from a video, Black Winter Day, one of the most requested and probably, one of the most popular and most performed track by this band.

Years passed, and Pasi Koskinen joined the band, placing Tomi Koivussari as guitar only player, after he completely took control of the vocal part in the albums that were about to come, all until 2004, when he suddenly decided to put an end to his days in Amorphis to concentrate on other projects such as Ajattara (under the alias I. Ruoja Suruntuoja), Mannhai or To Separate The Flesh From Bones (under the alias Herr Arschstein). Shit changed when the band announced the arrival of another vocalist, who impressed the audience with a splendid album while playing in a gothic metal project Sinisthra back in 2005, I think the album was called Last Of The Stories Of Long Past Glories. After hearing this record I realized why Amorphis decided to hire this vocalist, his clean vocals were much more impressive and much more spectacular and atmospheric compared with the performances given in the past by Pasi Koskinen or Tomi Koivussari. I am not saying that they were inferior, but Tomi Joutsen was the perfect man for what Amorphis was preparing to unravel. He did not only had the voice that Amorphis needed, he also had the attitude that would impress the audience too. Sweet mellow clean vocals combined with bear like growled vocals that would make you shit in your pants especially when you hear the re-recorded version of Black Winter Day from the 2010 album Magic and Mayhem: Tales From The Early Years.

What perfect album to promote such a voice would be needed, other than Eclipse? Eclipse was the perfect album for the start of a new era for Amorphis, and the perfect album that would make Tomi Joutsen’s voice heard by the masses. Now I am sure that there are many contesting Tomi Joutsen’s performance and I do not pity them, with an album like Tales From The Thousand Lakes it is hard to move forward changing three vocalists in 20 years of existence and releasing relatively good album. Something that needs to be mentioned is that Amorphis did not release an album that would make them feel shame, none of them were bad compositions, some of them were better than others, others could not be compared with predecessors, but this is how it is in a band that changes vocalists so many times. Tales From The Thousand Lakes was Tomi Koivussari’s best, Tuonela (1999) was Pasi Koskinen’s best and Eclipse is Tomi Joutsen’s best as well but an album that had some pretty good follow-ups too.

Amorphis always used Kalevala (a 19th century work of epic poetry compiled by Elias Lönnrot from Finnish and Karelian oral folklore and mythology) as the main source of inspiration for every album, featuring several songs with lyrics specially taken from these poems. However, unlike previous album that had songs featuring such lyrics, Eclipse is an original work, not taking any lyrics from the epic poetry but rather coming up with their own compositions however, compositions based on the Kullervo legend the ill-fated son of Kalervo. He is the only irredeemably tragic character in Finnish mythology. It was written by written by Finnish poet and playwright Paavo Haavikko in 1982.

In Eclipse we find epic songs, that managed to impress a new generation of fans adding a much wider audience to their fan-base. I consider Eclipse as the album that launched Amorphis towards mainstream, but not that kind of shameless mainstream attention but a mainstream attention that they earned through their compositions, commitment and passion to compose good music and not the mindless music that many mainstream bands have offered recently (pointing at Metallica with their newest 2011 atrocity). For a intro song, Two Moons is not that impressive, nor in sound, except for Tomi’s voice that begins to show his awesomeness and talented sound nor in lyrical content, however, the whole album takes a 180 degrees turn with the song House of Sleep, a song that combines the classic sonorities of the 70s and 80s and adapt it to modern times infusing a modern sound specific in the Amorphis music. Tomi Joutsen’s performance is the one that shines the most in this song, this is the song that probably made him extremely popular on his debut album as Amorphis’s singer.

Leaves Scar begins in an melodic way and then turns rather serious. Acoustic guitars are present at the beginning of this song accompanied by some folk instrumentals as well which are then blended into a pretty serious instrumental. This song features growled vocals performed by Tomi Joutsen as well as clean vocals, basically this song follows a certain pattern, growled vocals for lyrics and clean vocals for chorus, the same pattern repeating itself until the end of the song. Born From Fire is yet another song where Tomi Joutsen sends some of the most beautiful vocal performance, then descending into the 5th track entitled Under a Soil & a Black Storm.

By far, the most impressive performance this band gave in the second half of this album is on the song The Smoke, which as well as House of Sleep, also has a video. It is the follow-up from Perkele (The God of Fire one of the most aggressive songs from this album) and probably the most amazing song of this album. Place Tomi Joutsen with Tomi Koivussari, both of them contributing with vocal performances on this song and you have one magic duo, thus a splendid performance and and a memorable audible experience. This song features also one of the most impressive guitar solo’s featured on this album. This is the kind of song that gives you a certain addiction. I came in contact with this album through this song and House of Sleep and it was really a pain in the ass for me to stop clicking the replay button. Even now, after more than 5 years since I first listened to this album, I still feel nostalgia over these songs and still give them a listen for the sake of old times.

Same Flesh and Brother Moon continue this album, presenting the most of what is capable Tomi Joutsen, the second one offers a more folk like performance than the other songs and features a change in attitude in Tomi’s performance. It is like he is ordering the audience to do what he says, to say what he says and to see what he see’s, a truly enchanting singer. The album continues with the longest track featured on it, Empty Opening and it ends brilliantly with the bonus track featured on the American release of the House of Sleep single, Stone Woman.

To reach a conclusion, if you want to listen one of the best performances Amorphis had to offer, look no further, Eclipse is probably the best they have to offer. It is hard for me to claim that this is the best album they ever come up with, but it is a serious rival for the previous ones. Surely, a superior of Pasi Koskinen’s Tuonela but rather fights on par with Tomi Koivussari’s Tales From The Thousand Lakes. I have been a long fan of Amorphis and I have always felt the chills whenever they would release a new record, especially since Tomi Joutsen joined this group. A new level of awesomeness was added to this band and on live performances this band is as good if not better than in studio records. Tomi Joutsen is a man that can drive the audience mad and can make them blend with the atmosphere that he unleashes. A very talented musician as well as a great showman. I wish you guys would experience his performance too, like I did, believe me you will regret if you ever give them the cold shower. This new record just makes you lust for more. Just go with this one, you won’t regret it!

Overall Impression: 98/100

Elis – Griefshire (2007) Album Review

On a role today? Well I have to recover the time lost yesterday because of my tardiness and commodity. Yeah, if you were wondering why I did not post anything yesterday was because of my like of appropriate mood, even though I had material ready, my mind was lost into space longing for a change. Anyway, this is a special review made which will honor the band Elis. The band just disbanded yesterday to my surprise and I want to send my thanks to this impressive group that managed to pull out some pretty memorable records and splendid live performances in their almost 10 years of existence, marked with sorrowful events and a lot of turmoil. I am now wondering if the gothic metal scene is somehow cursed, Xandria wasting 5 years because of constant line-up instability, Elis coming to a depressive end because of the loss of one of its creators and the constant instability among the band members, Type O Negative a pioneer band that of this genre that has lost its mastermind, Peter Steele, one of the greatest and most overwhelming losses for the gothic metal community, the disbandment of another icon for the gothic metal scene, Theatre of Tragedy, a band that helped shape “The Beauty and The Beast” concept as a aesthetic of this genre, an aspect mostly governed by a combination between male and female vocals and the departure of Vibeke Stene in 2007 for Tristania, ending an era for the gothic metal scene.

Basically, the gothic metal scene is not like it used to be in its inception period back in the 90s. At that time, the support and the number of bands pioneering this genre was much larger than it is now. We had Lacuna Coil in their old gothic metal days, we had The Gathering with an amazing album, Mandylion (1995), we had After Forever, The Sins of Thy Beloved, Theatre of Tragedy with another reference album, Aegis (1998), Theatres des Vampires, a band that would take vampire themes as their main focus in their records or Moonspell which developed a much extreme side of gothic metal combining it with elements of black metal and several others, however these are the ones that dominated the gothic metal scene in the 90s.

The gothic metal genre rose in Europe and remained popular in Europe, reaching mainstream popularity status maintained even today. Elis is just one name among many that helped shape this genre. Founded in 2003 by Pete Streit and Sabine Dunser both being former members of another gothic band called Erben der Schöpfung. What made them special was the fact that this band was born in a tiny country with small population named Lichtenstein. You could think that the world is small, a thing that would be a subject of laughter for many, but for a country like Lichtenstein, the world is really small, considering that such a band was born there. I imagine how difficult would’ve been for them to search for member replacements in their own native country, since human resources there might’ve been a pretty serious obstacle, but they somehow managed to pull this through.

We find Elis in a period of turmoil caused by the death of one of its creators. Sabine Dunser died unfortunately on rehearsals because of cerebral hemorhage in 2006. When I think back, the band members stated when they released this album that she considered it her own baby, much to my relief was that she was able to rest for eternity after she gave birth to it. This could be considered her testament and the end of the legacy that she wanted to show to this world before ascending spiritually to another one. The name already tells what we will encounter in this record, the feeling of grief bestowed upon a shire (village). This is a concept album, unlike the previous ones, Sabine wanted to approach this album with a compelling and intriguing story. Basically she did all the work in this album, coming up with the concept and story, writing the lyrics and composing one song (track 10), so when the album was released one year after her death, the band members chose to release it in her memory.

This album depicts the sorrowful story of a family confronted with greed, power and misfortune, a story of manipulation and filled with ambition and lust for power. The atmosphere in this album is sober, sorrowful, depicting a funeral atmosphere much like the events that occurred not so long ago in the band, an album that predicted an unfortunate event. It is permanently dark, from the beginning until the end especially in the slow-paced ballads which are engulfed with feelings of sorrow.

The album features 6 protagonists: The Narrator which is a younger brother who suffers from a handicap since birth, a man that was bestowed with extraordinary intelligence but also has a weakness, he lacks confidence and faces problems with his inner struggles, The Narrator’s Mother, a wise woman with the voice of a witch that dedicated her life to guide people towards redemption, The Narrator’s Older Brother, bestowed with leadership talent but also being a pretty manipulative man that lusts for power and control over the village, corrupting the villagers to follow him as a sect leader, The Narrator’s Daughter, a young woman that inherited the traits of her grandmother and was raised by her father to serve only the good and, The Brother’s Wife, the wife of the older brother and the younger brother secret love and a collective protagonist, The Sect, the villagers corrupted by the older brother and the ones that follow him as a sect leader.

The album begins with the song Tales From Heaven or Hell which talks about the narrator’s daughter immediately after his death. She decides to fulfill his last wish to read his secret diary to discover the truth about her origin, and to shed his ashes over a small unknown town. However, governed by lack of confidence in her father’s words she is reluctant in doing what he last wished. The second track Die Stadt describes the town as it is after the death of the narrator and how it used to be when he was alive. Show Me The Way depicts the narrator’s mother and the formula that was bestowed upon him, the 3×3 notion which was said to cure every illness. It also reveals that some other people are seeking the secrets that are currently in her hands.

Brother the 4th track depicts the relationship between the two brothers, the narrator and his older brother. The lyrics tell that although the narrator was handicapped since birth, his older brother never gave up on him, deciding to not abandon him. In this song the older brother is described as a person with exceptional leading skills that everyone follows. It also features an “eternal vow” made by the two brother in front of the grave of their mother, swearing that the will always be together no matter what obstacles they will encounter in life. The next part of the story is included in the mini-CD Show Me The Way, released separately. The track Salvation shows the younger brother facing a delicate problem that he feared the most, his older brother becoming a sect leader and the townspeople blindly following him, promising redemption as a reward, thus claiming to be a God. In the song, Seit Dem Anbeginn Der Zeit the narrator tries to find ways in order to stop him, reminding him countless times about the promise they made in front of their mother’s grave.

 

Remember The Promise depicts a heated discussion between the two brothers. The narrator urges his older brother to stop what he is doing before it is too late, trying to convince him that he could not keep his promise to the townspeople, that fact that he could not bring them redemption as he pretends. Phoenix From the Ashes stands as the firm response made by the older brother and frustration and negativism showed towards the younger brother. How Long is the track where the wife of the older brother comes to know the secret behind her husband’s work and wonder for how much longer this act will unfold. A feeling of insecurity governs her, fearing that she will be hurt if her husband won’t stop. Because of these fears, she is unable to leave him, thinking that she might be able to persuade him to stop if she is near him rather than apart from him. However it is unknown if this is her own decision or an influenced one (she had a little daughter after all who might’ve been used as a persuade subject in order to keep her around him). Innocent Hearts talks about the decision that the wife made, however she is still not sure if the decision was correct hoping that her husband will remember the happy times they spent in the past. These Days Are Gone depicts the wife clinging to the days long gone, hoping that those times will once again come back.

Forgotten Love takes place one year after the crucial decision. The narrator decided to leave his older brother. It is a time when the narrator thinks about his first love (his older brother’s wife) and wondering how the situation developed in the town. He is covered in nostalgia, remembering his lost dreams and the joyful moments spent in the village together with his brother. The Burning is the climax of the story featuring the narrator, who witnesses the town hall engulfed in flames. He rushes to town and manages to save the older brother’s daughter who he will raise her as his own. Later he found out that the flames were set by his older brother, because of being unable to bestow redemption upon the villagers. The villagers also realized that he was nothing more than a perpetrator, that he wasn’t the redeemer that he claimed to be, and that nobody actually could be a redeemer (reference to the birth of atheism). The narrator decided to raise her by himself in order to teach her to only serve the good so that his brother’s mistakes will not repeat.

Ten years after the unfortunate incident in the town, the daughter, after reading the entire diary left behind by her father (the younger brother, aka the narrator) realized why her father was so vehement about teaching her to server the good. In the end, she respected her father’s decision and spread his ashes in the ruined town. The phrase “Ashes to Ashes” has a special meaning, representing the calling of the lost souls that died in the town ten years ago, calling the last two souls that were able to survive. The girl realizes that one day, her ashes will also have to be spread among the ruins of this town, in order to bring peace for the souls of the dead people. The  track, A New Decade shows that the story did not end, with the lyrics “This is not the end of this story / This is just the beginning of a new decade of solutions”. The last track (actually featured on the Show Me The Way mini-CD), In Einem Verlassenen Zimmer talks about the place where that young woman discovered all the truth about her origin, and specially what was about to happen after that. The song is taken from a poem of the same name by Georg Trakle.

Musically speaking, I think that this band was suited to sing in their native language the most since the best tracks of this album are the ones sung in German, rather than in English. Sabine Dunser proved to be different than other vocalist, with a fairy like voice. Phoenix From The Ashes is the heaviest and darkest track featured on this record, The Burning the most aggressive, an adjective that fits the climax song of this album and several outstanding ballads that might be an obstacle for the average gothic metal fan, How Long and Forgotten Love, these are though pretty memorable songs. The list is completed with other splendid performances in songs such as Brothers, Show Me The Way, Tales From Heaven and Hell or Innocent Hearts. Elis fans might be reluctant when listening this album because it is slightly different than the previous works. However, those that loved the voice of Sabine Dunser and her performances will no doubt enjoy this record. Unfortunately, her death stole the chance to see a sequel to this beautiful story.

Overall Impression: 96/100

Xandria – Neverworld’s End (2012) Album Review

Good old Xandria, how long has it been since I’ve seen this band releasing a new record. We speak about 5 fucking long years, 5 fucking long years filled only with break ups and recording halts. A time when the band pretty much toured and toured and toured some more, endlessly, waiting for a chance for stability within the band. Born in 1997 (at the same time with Nightwish) the band released a demo but soon disbanded only to reunite in 1999 with new members, new approach and ready to have a word to say in the symphonic metal realm, alongside other important bands such as After Forever, Nightwish, Tristania or Within Temptation.

Marco Heubaum is the sole remaining original member from the 1997 Xandira line-up, and the man that managed to rise Xandria from the ashes in 1999 by hiring new artists. He began with a vocalist, Lisa Middelhauve in 1999, a pretty talented woman with a tender, calm and sorrowful voice that would fit more into a gothic metal band. So it was the case, Xandria at the beginning was a gothic metal act and it remained a gothic metal band until Lisa’s departure. Until 2001 Marco hired three more members, Gerit Lamm responsible for drums, Philip Restermeier responsible for guitars and Nils Middelhauve at bass guitar. Everything went well for a couple of years and until 2007, Xandria released 4 full length albums, each surpassing its predecessor.

However, every good thing needs to have an end as well, and this event occurred in 2008 when the band was touring in order to promote their newest record Salome – The Seventh Veil, released back in 2007 via Drakkar Entertainment. A rather solid and impressive record, one of the best they’ve made until then, with memorable tracks such as the intro Save My Life, Beware, Salome or Sisters of the Light however, I always had the feeling that Xandria lacks essence. These records always wandered in between gothic and symphonic metal styles, yet they never actually managed to harmonize these two style. Even though the tracks were good, listenable and memorable, something did not really work, how much I admired Lisa Middelhauve, I must admit that her voice did not really enchant me that much, it was rather too mellow and too forgettable. The band faced the first obstacle since they’re reunion once Lisa Middelhauve gave them a notice that she is leaving the band in 2008. Not quite a decision that would put the band into a perfect position in order to change something, especially since they were still not done with promoting the new record, and the most important chess piece has been taken.

The band went on one year hiatus concentrating on auditions for a new vocalist. They found one, and hired her immediately, a female vocalist named Kerstin Bischoff a rather unknown vocalist, credited with one contribution for the German band Axis in 2006 where she performed female vocals on the bands 2006 record Paradise In Flames. She did not stand for long, as 2010 came and she decided to leave the band as well. At that moment I lost my hopes in Xandria and I believed that it will not be long until they will announce the bands second disbandment. To my surprise, they decided to hire Lisa Middelhauve for several concerts only as a live performer and not as permanent member, until they will find a permanent vocalist. They did it in 2011, and her name is Manuela Kraller, a songstress that will bring a change into Xandria’s playing style given by her soprano high pitched voice.

Things went smoothly with this new singer, I even saw them live with her once, and the band clearly had the essence that I was looking for, the only thing that needed to be done was a new record, that would show the world how capable Xandria is and how talented the new songstress is as well. My expectations were met and in the autumn of 2011 the band confirmed that they were going to release a new record in early 2012 with Manuela Kraller as their front woman. Neverworld’s End, for me reflects the end of an era for a brilliant band, an episode similar with the one Nightwish faced in 2005 after Tarja Turunen‘s departure, a line-up change that affected their playing style too. Here the episode is reversed, Xandria changed into what Nightwish was when Tarja was still part of the band.

Those expecting another Salome kind of representation, they will be disappointed because we have a representation in this album similar with Nightwish’s older works featured on albums such as Oceanborn or Wishmaster. Manuela Kraller seems like a Tarja clone, however a very crafty one, a very talented with a hunger for singing and performing. On this record we witness a more symphonic operatic Xandria than ever, it represents a major change in their style, but also a new beginning, which in my opinion is a promising beginning. This disc is absolutely brilliant, I felt chills that I never felt before from other Xandria albums or even from Nightwish’s albums. The old Xandria was not completely erased, as some tracks still retain the old style, like Forevermore or The Dream Is Still Alive, though the way Manuela sings in them is much better and much more appealing to the ears than Lisa’s performance. Basically, the style that made Xandria unique has almost disappeared in this album, but I think this new approach suits them as well, especially with such a talented songstress. I mean come on, it’s not like they copy other bands, the members clearly placed their marks on this record and it is very different from Tuomas’s compositions.

The album beings with A Prophecy of Worlds to Fall the second longest track on this album, and the second longest track in their entire discography, a track that reveal the atmospheric potential that this record has to offer. It descends into the 2nd track Valentine, a track which features perfect instrument harmony bending all the sounds into a perfect track, no wonder that it was chosen as the track that will promote this album with a video. Other memorable songs are Euphoria, in my opinion the best track of this album and Soulcrusher along with The Lost Elysion, the heaviest tracks on this record. Call of The Wind has a lot of common elements with I Want My Tears Back from Nightwish’s latest album Imaginaerum. Blood On My Hands is yet another nicely done track given by the flawless performance displayed by Manuela while the last two tracks Cursed and The Nomad’s Crown depict celtic folk elements as well as oriental elements.

A splendid come back done by Xandria, with an album that proves to be a serious candidate this year for the best symphonic metal album considering the fact that there are other competitors awaiting to unleash their newest works like Diabulus In Musica, Delain or Epica. With Neverworld’s End, Xandria revived the old Nightwish age with Tarja as their vocalist but this time we have a much more dynamic and talented songstress, Manuela Kraller which also sings in the band Haggard, a band that constantly changes its line-up at every album, at every concert. One thing is for sure, if she wished for stability in order to unleash her potential, she might be able to find it in Xandria, seeing that this band was hardly struck by unfortunate departures and recording halts for quite a while so I believe that the other band members wish to keep the line-up intact for a long time. If you want to listen to a metal album this year, think no more, pick up Xandria’s Neverworld’s End and be prepared for a feast of audible pleasure.

Overall Impression: 100/100

Leaves Eyes – Meredead (2011) Album Review

I remember encountering Leaves Eyes some years ago, I think it was around 2007 or 2008 when before released their 3rd album, Njord. I remember that I was attending one of their concerts back then, they were not headliner but it was kinda unusual to see so many people interested in a band other than the headliner. I got a little bit curious about them, after I found out that one of their members also plays in Atrocity and another one was a member of Theatre of Tragedy. I was into a feast, to be honest I did not imagine Liv Kristen being so much better in another band than Theatre of Tragedy. She surely managed to impress me with songs such as Lovelorn, Legend Land, Into Your Light, Elegy or Vinland Saga, basically songs that honor the Norse ancestors, the viking civilization, one of the most appreciated civilization by many bands.

After being enchanted by this band’ live performance I quickly searched for their discography to have a listen. Actually I was impressed by the fact that they could put such a show, seeing that this band was rather new, formed back in 2003, immediately after Liv Kristine left Theatre of Tragedy. This is a family project Liv Kristine being married to Alexander Krull, another founding member of the band and also original member of Atrocity, band that in their early days used to play a sort of technical death metal recently approaching a new style, a combination between gothic metal and industrial metal.

So what can you hear while listening to Leaves Eyes? Not the style played in Atrocity, nor the style approached in Theatre of Tragedy, but a rather new approach. Symphonic metal combined with folk elements, elements that make this band stand out. Liv’s voice is the most amazing while playing this sort of style, it fits her style of singing the most, while Alexander seems out of place, his vocals, usually screamed or grunted, are pretty much boring and disturbing and not suitable for the style this band approaches. I wish that he would at least use his clean vocals from Atrocity rather than grunts or screams, seeing that this band does not approach an extreme side of metal but rather a soft side, a mainstream side so to say.

Anyway, it is their choice what they choose to do, but his voice was always a minus for me to them, because the songs where Liv sings solo are splendid and amazing (Into Your Light or Elegy) while the songs that feature the duo singing are pretty much boring, monotone and unmemorable, probably the only exception is Legend Land where Alexander’s voice is used to a minimum. Meredead is the same like the rest of the album. It does not feature major changes, not even minor changes, but continues the legacy of Leaves Eyes much more powerful than ever before and probably much more expressive. They have yet to release a record that could be considered their worst. Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not like their records are equally good, some are better than others but none of them could be considered as their worst. In my opinion, Vinland Saga seems to be their most successful album, from an artistic point of view, while Njord is probably their most successful album coming from the audience, which sold the best and was the most appreciated.

For Meredead, the band entirely reconstructed the line-up, leaving only 3 original members (the two I mentioned and Thorsten Bauer, the long time partner of Alexander Krull, a member of Atrocity and also part of Liv Kristine’s solo project, he was also a former member of the Norwegian progressive black metal band Enslaved) adding 3 more members between 2010 and 2011. The result was outstanding, Meredead is not an album that could reach the level of Vinland Saga but it is not by far an inferior work.

Basically, it features the same style of singing and composing that the band used to offer, without much changes. Probably, the most important change is about the wider use of Norwegian songs rather than English songs, a thing that is worthy of my praise because, from my point of view, Liv’s voice goes best with Norwegian songs rather than English songs, just my opinion. We find similar songs such as Etain which has a lot in common with a song from the previous album entitled Emerald Island, featuring a quiet acoustic guitar and amazing vocal performance done by Liv Kristine. There are other memorable songs such as the introductory song, Spirits’ Masquerade which has an impressive drum performance and orchestral arrangement. The weakest track from this album is the the cover track of Mike Oldfield entitled To France, which clearly does not fit Liv Kristine’s voice. The instrumental is nicely done but I still prefer Blind Guardian‘s cover made for this song than Leaves Eyes one.

The album also features some amazing ballads such as Norway’s traditional ones Krakevisa (the best track from this album in my opinion, probably given by the usage of Norwegian lyrics and the duo between Liv Kristine and Anette Guldbransen) and also Nystev, a rather good track as well, but not as good as the previously mentioned. We also have Tell-Tale Eyes, an acoustic ballad performed in a majestic manner by Liv Kristine in collaboration with Elfenthal‘s John Kelly, probably the best duet performance on this album. There is not much to complain about this album, rather to commend because Krull is kept away from the mic, his work being minimized and can only be witnessed in select songs such as Sigrlinn, which is one of the poorest tracks of this record. Veritas which seems to serve as a prologue for Nystev does not even serve its purpose, it does not manage to connect with the upcoming song, a rather useless track, probably made to fill the gap between Empty Horizon and Nystev.

To conclude, this is not much of a disappointment. Meredead stands as an outstanding record done by Leaves Eyes, but there is still room for good changes and improvements. The band is rather new, even though the two singers started their career way before joining in this project. Outstanding tracks such as Spirits’ Masquerade, Etain, Krakevisa, Meredead or Tell-Tale Eyes will really attract the attention of the listeners. I want Leaves Eyes to release albums only in Norwegian since they are better in their native language rather than English. If you were a long term fan of Leaves Eyes, this album will definitely appeal to you, like the previous ones, because much changes did not take place. New fans will definitely find in this album a feast of joy and pleasure for their ears, album that serves as a perfect way to recruit new flesh in the audience. As for me, I can’t wait to see them live singing these pieces, and it assures me that I will not have any worries for the future regarding this band, they are good at what they are doing, so they should keep doing it.

 

Overall Impression: 82/100

Doro Pesch – True At Heart (1991) Album Review

To clearly grasp the essence behind this extraordinary singer, I have to make a detour and present her career moments some of them in detail, mainly the important ones some other briefly, such is to say that, her name meant a lot for the heavy metal scene in the late 70s and early 80s. Doro Pesch (as Dorothee Pesch) is a German heavy metal/hard rock songstress born in Dusseldorf, Germany in 1964. It was not long until she came to know the heavy metal scene, inspired by the early heavy metal bands at that time such as Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin or Kiss.

Her debut on the heavy metal scene was at the very beginning of the 1980s when she was invited to sing in a heavy metal band from Hamburg named Snakebite. However, she did not last long in the band and soon she became part of another project, entitled Beast but once again she will depart from this band as well in order to join Warlock. Warlock was the band that established her as a leading songstress on the heavy metal scene with albums such as Burning The Witches (1984), Hellbound (1985), True As Steel (1986) and Triumph and Agony (1987). Several singles from these albums met with mainstream success being broadcasted on important music channels at that time. However, Warlock did not stood for long because after the release of their 4th record the band would cease to exist, as internal conflicts between band members set them apart leaving Doro alone. Commendable as it may be, Doro did not choose to end this project, but rather continue it as a solo career under her own name rather than Warlock, because of several feuds with the former members which are the ones that actually created Warlock.

Doro is not just an important singer who managed to meet with mainstream success in the 1980s, the most glorious period for the heavy metal scene, featuring important genres that broke into the mainstream such as glam metal (Motley Crue, Twisted Sister), thrash metal (Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax, Megadeth, Sodom, Kreator, Destruction) or the early grunge scene (Nirvana, Pearl Jam) but it was also a continuation of the glorious New Wave Of British Heavy Metal Scene with names such as Motorhead, Saxon, Venom, Iron Maiden or Girlschool. I credit Girlschool with the beginning of the feminist movement in the heavy metal music. As many of you may know, Girlschool was the first band composed entirely of female members which began a trend and also a revolution in the heavy metal scene. Since then, more and more bands started to hire female vocalists, it is the case of Lita Ford, Doro Pesch, Sabine Classen (Holy Moses), Kate French (Chastain) or Janet Patricia Gardner (Vixen).

It did not take long for Doro Pesch to re-enter the metal scene with a new record in 1989 entitled Force Majeure, a rather interesting album, much different from the aggressiveness present in the Warlock days, with a different approach this time combining heavy metal with hard rock and incorporating blues rock elements. The self-titled album Doro, soon followed in 1990 and we now reached True At Heart, released in 1991 via Vertigo Records. Musically speaking, this album is a lot like Force Majeure but with slight differences as well. I said earlier that Force Majeure combined a style of traditional heavy metal with hard rock influences as well as blues rock, well this one completely abandons the heavy metal influences and becomes much more melodic, relying completely on blues rock and hard rock influences. This happened mainly because Doro chose to collaborate on this new record with several musicians from Nashville, Tennessee, the haven of country music.

Basically, every song from this album features more than one vocal work. Of course, Doro contributed with her vocal works on all of them but we have musicians such as Todd Cerney, Bob DiPiero, Dennis Morgan, Gary Scruggs or Vince Melamed. We have two kinds of recipes in this album, the hard rock style songs such as Hear Me, Cool Love, I’ll Make It On My Own or Heartshaped Tattoo, songs which are typical in every Doro album but this record feature some very beautiful ballads, the expression of emotions, feelings and tenderness of this album in songs such as Even Angels Cry, Fall For Me Again (in my opinion the best track featured on this album which also has a video), With The Wave Of Your Hand, The Fortuneteller or I Know You By My Heart. We can also include tracks that incorporate both elements and combines them resulting in a perfect harmony such as Gettin’ Nowhere Without You, Live It or You Gonna Break My Heart.

Unlike the other records, Doro Pesch chose to approach this one differently, relying more on feelings such as love, anxiety, tenderness rather than the typical heavy metal which focuses on emotions such as courage, ambition or will to fight and never give up. You don’t need to listen the whole record to realize these aspects, it is easy to figure it out from the lyrics featured on the first song that stands as the introduction of a an intense, rebellious and adventurous love story. Conceptually, this album depicts the ups and downs of every relationship, the feeling of satisfaction and joy when you can be with the one you love and also the emptiness and sorrow felt once you are apart and can’t reach the one you hold dear.

This is record targets especially the Doro fans, rather than the heavy metal fans. Those that appreciate Doro as a singer will appreciate this record as well, those that appreciate her for the musical approach she had in the past might find some changes that will raise some question marks, whether they will enjoy it or not remains to be seen and discussed. To be honest, it is hard for me to say that this is the best record Doro gave (I kinda liked Force Majore much more), but it is clearly one of their best works they ever offered. Probably, at that time it might’ve been the best record, but now I am sure that it is overshadowed by Calling The Wild, Love Me In Black or Fight. The only thing that I can criticize Doro for is that she was not born in the US, because if she had been born there, she would’ve had much more commercial success and would stand equally with other heavy metal names from the 80s like W.A.S.P. or Manowar. Nonetheless, this is not an excuse because she still kicks ass nowadays too, and still remains a driving force for the heavy metal scene and an exceptional supporter of the female heavy metal movement, always collaborating with important female singers nowadays such as Floor Jansen (ReVamp, ex-After Forever), Tarja Turunen (ex-Nightwish), Angela Gossow (Arch Enemy), Ji-In Cho (Krypteria), Liv Kristine (Leaves Eyes, ex-Theatre of Tragedy), Veronica Freeman (Benedictum) or Liv Jagrell (Sister Sin).

Overall Impression: 90/100

Gorgoroth – Ad Majorem Sathanas Gloriam (2006) Album Review

Black Metal. Indeed a genre that does not have a good reputation. Fact is that the mark of ostracizing in big amounts came from this metal genre, a genre that not only manifested its violent tendencies through lyrical content, concept or instrumental, but outside the musical world as well. Partly, band members were involved, we have the infamous church burnings from Norway from early to mid 90s, we have crimes, murders even conflicts between the Swedish death metal scene and the Norwegian black metal scene. Another thing that made this genre infamous is the persistent usage of satanism and anti-christianity in concept, some of them embracing a modern kind of Satanism (claiming that Satan is not an existence but rather a rebellion, a way to reach freedom and also a philosophy) others, which are rare, embrace the Theistic Satanism, which worships Satan as an existent entity.

Remember my old review about Gorgoroth‘s 5th album Incipit Satan? Well, things are a little bit different with Ad Majorem Sathanas Gloriam (which roughly translated as For The Greater Glory Of Satan), both in musical composition and in atmosphere. Twilight Of The Idols, the previous album, featured some thrash metal elements in its composition, an influence that gave more aggression to Gorgoroth’s music but somehow turned to be monotone and boring, considering the fact that Gorgoroth never was a band that would release an album with an impressive length (hardly going over 40 minutes in length). I always found it hard to label their records as albums, not to mention full length albums. Basically, an album, in my opinion should contain about 45 to 60+ minutes of music divided into tracks, however, none of their albums even reached a praise-worthy length. Nonetheless, this is not an album that could stand as an obstacle to receiving a good quality album. They proved it that with good musicianship and with a lot of perseverance, you can release good albums, such was the release of their third album Under The Sign Of Hell and also the fifth album Incipit Satan and the following one Twilight Of The Idols. The question that governs this new record is: Will this one exceed or reach the level of their older works? Guess we will find out at the end of the review.

For starters, we find a new Gorgoroth in this album, even though there aren’t many changes in their line-up like in their older days. I don’t know from where this change came from, or if it was just natural, however, I suspect that the events that took place in between the release of their last two albums (Twilight of the Idols and Ad Majorem Sathanas Gloriam), the band went through a lot of media attention and public controversy with the recording of an infamous DVD entitled Black Mass Krakow, the usage of satanic elements (models crucified, sheep heads on sticks, a true bloodbath on stage) in a catholic country was not well received by the public (especially since Poland tends to overreact influence by the people that blindly follow this criminal cult).

Ad Majorem Sathanas Gloriam completely removes the thrash metal elements featured on the previous records and replaces it with a dark ambient aspect, giving much more depth and darkness to this record. We have songs that can even get catchy at the beginning such as Carving a Giant, song that slows as it progresses to the end. You feel emptiness while listening this record, given by the hypnotic guitar work made by Infernus and a much more impressive bass performance given by King, who shines on this album. This happen mainly because King was responsible for music composition on this album, which allowed him to experiment with some old school black metal sound (specific in Mayhem‘s De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas). The drumming work is another part that can be considered as perfect, actually, you have Frost (Satyricon) doing the drum work, so you cannot expect from him a poor performance, after all he is probably in top 3 best black metal drummers of all time (though I tend to give more credits to Mayhem‘s Hellhammer, that guy is unstopable). Ghaal shows that a black metal vocalist is not only about screaming, grunting or growling but he can do pretty low vocals as well, specific in songs such as Sign Of An Open Eye. Rawness still exists in this album as well, but this time, this is given by black metal and only black metal, with blast drum beats fast tremolo guitar picks accompanied by Gaahl’s sinister voice, audible in songs such as Wound Upon Wound, the introductory song of this album, God Seed and Untamed Forces, some songs that will delight the ears of every black metal lover.

Gaahl once again proves that he can rise barriers between himself and other vocalists. His voice is not constant like other vocal performances (lets say, Satyr‘s) probably the only man that could leave him in the shadow is Attila Csihar, who has a more mysterious and much more impressive vocal work, at least on studio albums, live he does not shine as good as on CD. Gaahl is the man that contributed with his vocals on 3 out of 8 of Gorgoroth’s albums (not counting the re-recoding of their third album, which sucks badly) standing on par with Pest, former vocalist on Under The Sign of Hell and Destroyer, currently, the actual vocalist of this group.

Don’t get me wrong, time did not tame these blasphemous and relentless musicians. Gorgoroth remained true to their roots, to their beliefs and to their concepts as well, not escaping from their satanic view of black metal and they still continue to improve it, album after album. I sincerely hope that Infernus won’t get into anymore shit, because this band slowed the recording process of their albums after 2000 because of unfortunate accidents, some of them were not caused by the band while others were caused by them. Seeing that a lot of important second wave black metal bands halted their recording process (Mayhem, Carpathian Forest, Satyricon, Gehenna, Thorns) while others changed their musical orientation (Ulver, Abruptum), Gorgoroth stands as probably the most active second wave black metal pioneer and the one of the frontrunners of this movement.

If you want a raw yet elegant record, look no further, just pick up Ad Majorem Sathanas Gloriam, you will be delighted to hear both rough and catchy songs. It is hard for me to give to this album a full score, since you can barely name it an album with such a short length. Even though the musicians clearly proved their worth and skills on this album, the fact remains that they need to send quantity as well accompanied with the same quality that we expect from a Gorgoroth album. Now, let me answer the question, in a way, Ad Majorem Sathanas Gloriam fights on par with the previous releases, however when I listen a black metal record I expect the songs to be rough and evil from the beginning until the end, which I cannot say the same thing with this record, which tends to loose some tempos as it gets near the end. Nonetheless, it is a good album, the last album featuring King and Gaahl as part of Gorgoroth, a good parting album so to say. Old fans of Gorgoroth will find in this album a delight, while new fans that enjoy extreme black metal will also find an interest in it, just give it a listen, it won’t bite, I promise.

Overall Impression: 85/100

Alcest – Les Voyages De L’Amé (2012) Album Review

Seeing that 2011 was a pretty poor year for the metal scene, I gathered my hopes for a more splendid and resourceful 2012, a year that I hoped to be one full of creativity, passion and especially, filled with better disc quality and music quality. I don’t mean to say that 2011 was a wasted year, when you have bands like Anaal Nathrakh, Amorphis, Draconian, Vader, Primordial or Septicflesh who released some of the best albums, some of the bands even outran themselves and released probably the best album in their career (Septicflesh).

I think that 2012 began in a majestic way. And what better way to begin it with the new Alcest album, entitled Les Voyages De L’Amé (The Journeys Of The Soul). A short introduction for this band, it is currently a duo project between Neige, the man responsible for most instrumentals and vocal duty, also the founding member of the band and ex-member of two other important French bands, Amesoeurs and Peste Noire and Winterhalter, the drummer of the band, a rather new guy, but a pretty talented and capable one nonetheless. The band approaches a sort of unique metal style, combining the extreme part of metal, black metal, with a rather atmospheric and relaxing genre, named shoegaze (named because of the way the people that play this genre gaze at their shoes and barely move on stage).

In my eyes, Alcest is not an ordinary band that managed to receive some results after an experiment, but rather an innovative band, who managed to tone down one of the most violent metal genres and turned into something very relaxing and pleasing to the ears, which does not emanate a lot of energy but rather encourages the listener to meditate. Another thing that I like about this album is that it is not sung in English, but in French (I support the bands that sing in their native languages as a militant anti-globalization) which gives their music more charm and makes it more special, after all, French is a language that inspires elegance. This material is not different in contrast with the previous ones. At the beginning Alcest might’ve been a black metal band, but once leadership was bestowed upon Neige, the band changed completely. You can hear their early roots in their first and only demo, and with the EP Le Secret released in 2005 (and remastered in 2011) the band embarked on an unknown territory.

You can still hear the black metal riffs, the tremolo picks, the blast drum beats and the typical shrieked voice, specific for black metal, but not in such intensity and not so often, only in some select songs. However, I prefer the atmospheric part of Alcest, it fits much better in the mood that this band provokes with its chord progression flows like a calm river, depicting some atmospheric and melodic elements. Unlike the nonconformism of black metal, Alcest, in my opinion, is the kind of band that could be enjoyed by various audiences, since it has a little of everything, harshness and calmness, agony and delight, aggressiveness and peacefulness and the most important part, it is a memorable album, an album that from the beginning until the end it will keep you attracted and captivated and it will not fade away that quickly, requesting a second hearing by the time it finishes.

How can you not love it after hearing the first track of this album (which was released firstly as a single and also has a video)? Autre Temps (Another Time) represents a perfect choice for an introductory song, a song that manages to catch your attention. It is very relaxing, it is atmospheric, it is much more than a mere sound that attracts you, that impresses you, it is more like a living experience and while watching the video, you realize the theme on this album. Basically this song depicts a couple in various stages of their lives, in their childhood, in their teenage days, in their adult days and also in their old days. The video made for this song is actually the meaning of the album’s name “the journey’s of a soul” a soul that experiences different stages of life, the innocence of childhood, the changes of the teenage days, the responsibility of the adulthood and also the nostalgia present during the old days. It is a song that contains an emotional load, something that demands a person to meditate and to fast-forward the film of their life.

The album moves forward with the second track Là Où Naissent les Couleurs Nouvelles (Where New Colors Are Born), a song that is much more aggressive than the previous one, with fast tremolo pick and blast beats a lot of guitar distortion and a combination between clean vocals (present mostly in the first part of the song) and shrieked voice, both majestically performed by Neige. I have to admit that even his shrieked representation tends to be atmospheric in this album rather than aggressive, probably because of the way the album was mixed and auto-tuned before obtaining the final product. Also, this song is the second largest song of this album, spawning 8 minutes and 50 seconds.

The fact which proves the level of professionalism of this band is in the composition on the way the album was organized. Practically, the composition differs a little bit from the previous works, chasing another direction, a much softer one, with shoegaze as the predominant element in the song tracks while the way this album is organized is also pretty ingenious, an soft rather relaxing track followed by a raspy aggressive one, and so on until the end of the album. This element is combined is combined in the third track of this album, Les Voyages de l’Ame (The Journeys Of The Soul) which begins in an atmospheric way and ends in black metal style. The fourth track, Nous Sommes L’Emeraude (We Are The Emeralds) has probably some of the most amazing drum works I’ve heard in this album, clearly Winterhalter showed his skills in performing the drum works in this song.

Beings Of Life (rather interesting, until now all the songs had French titles until this one) the fifth track of this record begins with a hypnotic prologue. This song is rather dark ambient, featuring blast drums and tremolo picks which dominate it however, the lack of shrieked vocals makes this song feel rather boring and monotone. However, shrieked voice appear on the next track Faiseurs De Mondes (The World Makers) of course combined with clean vocals, the guitar lines and drums did not change, following the path lead until now. It features a break in the middle. It is followed by a short instrumental Havens which prepares the stage for the final song of the album, entitled Summer’s Glory which ends this album the same way it began, by welcoming the listener into an imaginary world, a world where he can witness his past memories and unforgetable  moments. The instrumental of this song builds a shape of mysticism which surrounds the imaginary world.

What a way to begin a new year. I have to admit, Alcest was not one of the bands that I was looking forward to hear, but I am happy that I ended up listening to their new record. It may not be a masterpiece, only time might tell how appreciated it might get in the future, but I believe that it should be more supported and much more appreciated, not only the album, but Alcest as a band too. Because of the globalization, today, being a band that sings in another language is tough. The language barrier for most people serves a problem in their way of understanding and enjoying a record. I am not good with french either, though I live in a Latin speaking country, however I can recognize the meaning of the words. Les Voyages De L’Amé is a journey into the spiritual, an album that is only good to listen and definitely not headbanging material, an album that encourages it’s listeners to meditate, an album that has it’s own world within this world, in other words, a tasteful and unforgettable album, something that I want to experience every day, not only the sound, but the emotions too, this is what music should deliver nowadays, not only pleasure to the ear, but pleasure to the mind as well.

Overall Impression: 98/100