Candlemass – Epicus Doomicus Metallicus (1986) Album Review

Boy, oh boy. Yesterday was a day when I had a mood to do nothing, just to hang around in my house, either listening to music or sleeping. There is a word where I live, more specifically for that kind of shitty weather where it is cloudy, it doesn’t rain but the sun won’t come out either, in other words, I kind of mood that encourages to stay at home, to sleep or to make children. Still I offered a pretty good insight of what After Forever was at the beginning of their splendid career, with probably the best album they released. I wanted to post some more yesterday because I had two days where shit interfered and I was left without time and mood to do another review. I will, probably soon, probably later, I won’t promise though all I can say is that it will happen…in the near future. Hopefully more delays won’t interfere ever again, but like I said, you never know when shit happens so you just better never promise anything, so that you might have an excuse.

How about we venture into the past a little bit? How about we explore a metal sub-genre that has not really been that often depicted in my reviews? Guess that everyone heard of doom metal through bands such as the classic three death/doom acts from the early 1990s like Paradise Lost, My Dying Bride and Anathema. I am in the same boat as you guys. I came in touch with this genre through My Dying Bride which out of all I consider them the best and the most constant, a band that did not change much in their playing style since their inception. Probably the only change they’ve made is that they completely erased the death metal elements from their later works. Paradise Lost on the other hand has probably one of the most relevant death/doom metal album ever made, Gothic released back in 1991, which also defined and coined a new genre. Why I consider them inferior? Is because of their playing style from the mid career the all too friendly synthpop/synthrock style that completely annoyed me, though I was delighted when they turned back to their roots approaching a kind of gothic doom metal style in the most recent works. Anathema is the biggest disappointment out of all. Though their first albums are classics for the death/doom metal genre, the change in their style has surely bothered many. It was probably a way too radical change and too sudden, changing from a rather underground and unconventional playing style to a rather accessible and way too simplistic atmospheric rock style. Not saying that their works that approached this genre are bad, but it was a waste, considering that they reached a cult status with their early works.

Never mind about these bands, we are going to review the first opus made by Candlemass, a band that has it’s rost from the early 80s and they still are alive, kicking ass even today with the same old doom metal style. But when we speak about about Candlemass, we speak about a band that pioneered the doom metal genre at its purest form. Candlemass was formed back in 1982 under the name Nemesis where they released several demo tapes before changing the bands name to Candlemass in 1984. They are considered original pioneers of the early doom metal genre, coining a sub-division of it with their 1986 album Epicus Doomicus Metallicus, the album that I will review today.

Doom metal is probably the first extreme metal genre. It was pinpointed firstly by early heavy metal pioneers Black Sabbath, more specifically, through the kind of riffs Tony Iommi experimented on the self-titled album. However, it would take more than a decade for this genre to really raise to the surface. The ones that did it for the first time were Candlemass alongside other acts like Saint Vitus, Witchfinder General (with their opus, Death Penalty released in 1982), Trouble and Pentagram. What we can immediately remark is that the US metal scene had much to say about the formation of the doom metal genre, 4 out of 5 of the earliest pioneers originating from the American continent. Candlemass is a Swedish band and unfortunately, one of the very few bands that approached this style from the Scandinavian countries. They inspired many, but not many bands from their own country.

Through this album, they pinpointed the name of a sub-division of doom metal, called epic doom metal. It differs from the original doom metal because it is heavily influenced by classical elements. The style of playing is not slow like in modern doom metal or in other sub-divisions, it is way more atmospheric and the vocals are clean, operatic, choral and the most important thing, it is not usually discarded by the instrumental or made to flow with it. It focuses a lot more on themes such as fantasy or mythology and the drumming style is rather bombastic.

The question is, why I believe that Candlemass’s opus is the best there is for this sub-division? Simple, it is well balanced, all the instruments used have a word to say, there isn’t a main act in which the focus should be placed upon, probably the only exception is the vocals, which has the biggest influence and it is complex through it’s simplicity. Hell, you can’t even feel that actually there guys play 2-3 notes that continuously repeat themselves (not like in drone doom, another doom metal sub-division) but it is so melodic and spectacular, that you barely notice this aspect. Can you believe that for this album Candlemass did not even have a permanent vocalist? Surely, they had a drummer, bassist and guitarist but the vocalist was actually a guest performer in the name of Johan Langquist, a man with an extraordinary voice. His vocals are so deep and atmospheric, it is hard to claim that the vocal act could be bad. It maintains a dose of melancholy but at the same time, it does not refrain from going to a higher pitched voice, something that is not specific to other doom metal acts from the 90s onward. For the first time I could call a doom metal album catchy, a characteristic that should be an antonym for every doom metal record.

The tracks are memorable because of the vocal performance and rarely by the instrumental performance. Like I said, the band no, rather the genre, does not require difficult and complex playing style. To achieve a doom metal playing style you need to play in a simplistic manner. The guys do make use of guitar solos throughout songs such as Black Stone Wielder or Crystal Ball. Another thing specific for a doom metal record is the length of the songs. Even though the record features only 6 tracks, they are all longer than 5 minutes some of them reaching 9 minutes, accumulating to a total of 43 minutes in just 6 fucking songs. The best track of this record in my opinion is Under The Oak. Holy mother of dark desires, I can’t get out of my head the guitar solo from the beginning of the song, it was absolutely stunning, not to mention Johan’s performance which is rather more personal in this song, hint offered by the lyrical content as well. I almost forgot about the lyrical content, an aspect crucial to every doom metal album, all of them might pinpoint themes such as mythology or fantasy, but they are not optimistic nor happy ones, rather sad ones and pessimistic ones.

Epicus Doomicus Metallicus stands at the top of my list of best doom metal albums ever made and Candlemass will remain for a long time one of the biggest influences for this genre. Even though this sub-division of this doom metal style does not have many bands that would make it proud, Candlemass is plenty enough, and this album shows it why. As long as Candlemass will exist, epicness will also exist in doom metal. If you want a different kind of doom metal, other than the one played by the 90s doom metal acts, then check out this Candlemass opus, you won’t be disappointed. If you are a fan of Black Sabbath, you will enjoy this album too, as it just continues what Tony Iommi already experimented in one of the best heavy/doom metal albums, Black Sabbath.

Overall Impression: 100/100

After Forever – Prison Of Desire (2000) Album Review

I had to come up with a review about this album since I specifically mentioned it when I reviewed Epica‘s 2007 opus, The Divine Conspiracy. After Forever is one of the most important female fronted symphonic gothic metal band. A band that rivaled for years with another important dutch symphonic metal band, Within Temptation. If I have to find the most appropriate band that would compete with this one in the style approached, Tristania would be the perfect choice, since both bands introduced clean female vocals and harsh male vocals, a continuation of the “beauty and the beast” concept developed by precursors such as The Gathering (when Anneke van Giersbergen joined them) and Theatre of Tragedy (with Liv Kristine as the front woman). After Forever’s style of play is not far from what Nightwish used to play in their early years but there are several difference that need to be mentioned.

The first one stands in the style of vocals Floor Jansen has to offer. Her voice is nothing compared to Tarja Turunen, she does not sing in higher tone, she does not possess a high pitched voice, so, in other words, the style that band approached had to fit her style of singing as well. Basically, instead of choosing an operatic style like Nightwish did, they wanted to approach a symphonic style influenced by gothic metal as well. Now, people claim that it is hard to label After Forever as a gothic metal band. Surely the female clean vocals are there, we have a choir, we have harsh male vocals, but it is still not enough. However, it is nor right nor wrong, gothic metal fans will definitely think of After Forever as one such band and they will surely love it. Floor Jansen‘s voice, without further adds, it is a normal voice, the thing that makes her voice special, is the style developed by After Forever’s creator, Mark Jansen, the man that will pave the style for his future project Epica, after leaving in 2002 from After Forever, band that will change their style a little bit as well.

I want to say that After Forever shined while Mark Jansen was in the band. The style they play in this album is much more spicy and unique than the one approached after his departure. Floor’s voice is mysterious and much more intense in this album, Mark Jansen’s vocal performances are also as good as they can be, influenced a little bit by early death metal acts such as Chris Barnes when he was still a member of Cannibal Corpse. Though the fact that he chose grunts over growls, made this band seem more gothic than death metal, even though gothic metal is a style that derived from death metal.

Through this album you can hear more than one influence. We can sense death metal influences given by the harsh vocal performance, we can witness a combination between symphonic and gothic metal when Floor’s voice kicks ass, the instrumental from time to time gets more mellow and melancholic, indicating some doom metal influence. A thing that needs to be mentioned about After Forever is that they originally were an Iron Maiden cover band and when they started recording, they chose to approach a death metal style until Floor Jansen joined them and forced them to expand their horizons towards different playing styles.

For a debut album, Prison of Desire is a solid one, an album that shows a lot of promise, an album indicating an After Forever that in the future might get more attention with such high quality releases. The style they introduced has a different touch, a touch that was not felt in other symphonic or gothic metal acts. If we judge by timeline, they released this opus at the same time Tristania released theirs. So we cannot speak about a band that copy/pasted the style of another band.

Like I said in Epica’s The Divine Conspiracy album review, The Embrace That Smothers story has been introduced with this album. It is featured in songs such as Mea Culpa (The Embrace That Smothers – Prologue), Leaden Legacy (The Embrace That Smothers – Part I), Follow In The Cry (The Embrace That Smothers – Part II) and Yield to Temptation (The Embrace that Smothers, Pt. III). Pretty solid songs so to say, all of them showing a nice harmony created by the perfect usage of choir performances, offered by artists such as Hans Cassa, Caspar De Jonge, Yvonne Ronda and Melissa ‘t Hart. One thing can be quickly observed in this album. It was not intended to be heavy at all, absolutely all songs are approached in the same manner. The element that might make this opus inaccessible might be Mark Jansen’s grunted vocals, even I believe that the opus might’ve been probably a little bit better without them, since this record is pretty much intended for a wider audience, thus much more accessible in sound and vocal performance.

Songs such as Black Tomb and Tortuous Threnody remark themselves through their length, exceeding over 6 minutes in length. If I were to choose the best tracks from this opus, I’d go with Semblance of Confusion, the third track preceded by the first two tracks from The Embrace That Smothers mini story, Ephemeral, probably one of the softest tracks in this record, and one of the most melancholic ones and the last one, Beyond Me, a track that features a splendid performance offered by Within Temptation’s front woman, Sharon Den Adel. Her voice together with Floor Jansen’s one make one of the most brilliant duets, both of them being important representatives of the female movement within the metal scene, and why not, probably the most well known metal performers around the globe. Sharon Den Adel has a voice that is very similar with Floor’s, a normal one, not a soprano vocalist.

To conclude with this opus, you will definitely find something interesting in it. A perfect combination between choirs and metal elements, a perfect duo given by Floor and Sharon Den Adel, some interesting harsh vocals offered by Mark Jansen, who wants to continue “the beauty of the beast” concept with this band as well and an interesting approach of the symphonic metal genre. I had the luck to see After Forever before their disbandment in 2009, definitely a band that was worth to be seen on stage. They used to offer great performances, too bad that they had to disband so early and with so few opuses offered as legacy. Nonetheless, After Forever fans have not forgotten them, and their music will be carried on by the people that witnessed this bands glorious years. Too bad I could not see them with Mark Jansen in the line-up, but an Epica that is probably much better, and much more mature than After Forever was at that time, I think that it is enough and satisfactory as it is. I support the bands that would just go out of business instead of dragging themselves with severe line-up changes or instability or with clearly a lack of quality in their works. After Forever was not a band that offered a lack of quality in their opuses, so I definitely regret the fact that they had to disband so soon. I’m still glad their music lives on, and it will be around for quite a while, since their contribution was not insignificant. Prison Of Desire might not be their best album, but it was a good album for their debut, it is definitely worth listening.

Overall Impression: 82/100

Mayhem – Deathcrush (1987) Album Review

I admit it, I can’t get enough of Mayhem. Mayhem for me is like Black Sabbath for the old and nostalgic metal fans. Indeed, Black Sabbath was, is, and will be for a long time, a source of inspiration for many bands to come, for many that just surfaced and for many that will continue to haunt the metal scene as time fades to black. Mayhem is one such ghost, a rather agitated one, severely punished and tortured by unfortunate events since their inception, but a band that showed musical talent and a lot of promises. Sure, in the reviews I made for Mayhem about the latest album (though if latest can be considered 2007) and their jewelry De Mysteriis Dom Sathanas (probably the best black metal release) released back in 1994, I underlined the facts that the band got known not through their music, but through other kind of events. The death of Per Yngve Ohlin (known under the nickname Dead) who committed suicide back in 1991 and the murder of Euronymous in 1993, the mastermind behind this project, affected the playing style of the band severely, but I felt a glimpse of hope when Rune Eriksen (Blasphemer) joined the band immediately after it reformed. However, the past was what made Mayhem notorious, and the past was marked by pure violence and hatred against society and religion.

Deathcrush is one such record. A record filled with hatred, a record filled with rawness and above all, a record that promotes violence through both musical approach and lyrical content. It also shows attitude, it shows how early black metal should be like, a kind of black metal that was unheard of until then, probably, the only band that could’ve been on par with this record at that time was Bathory with their first 3 exceptional black metal records. Seriously now, Deathcrush can hardly be considered an album. You can’t just barge in and claim that an 18-minute length record could be considered an album, but rather an EP. Even though it features more than 2-3 songs, the number of songs specific for an EP, the length of the songs is pretty short, varying from 1 minute to 3 minutes. But this does not change the fact that it is a good record. Honestly, I’ve given up on the shitty things, whether it is an album or an extended play, just fuck it, Euronymous and the gang surely did not care about this crap at that time, neither do I, neither the true Mayhem fans. This disc is intended for those that understand Mayhem beyond the unfortunate and rather outrageous events that happened within the band, and around the band. The fact that these events made them well known is not a good thing for them, because the musical aspect will eventually be placed on the second row.

This record was recorded back in 1987 and released in the same year. For this record, the leader of the band, Euronymous, decided to hire two vocalists. One of them is Maniac, a man that will eventually take the mic once again for the band when the band will be reunited in 1995. The other one is Messiah, a rather unknown man, an even more unknown vocalist, a mysterious personality so to say which is surprising, mainly because everyone that interacted with Mayhem got to be known in a way or another, be it good or bad. Instead of doing the vocals himself like he did on the first demo, Pure Fucking Armageddon, Euronymous reduced himself as a guitar only player for this record. The other members were Manheim at drums and Necrobutcher at bass, the well known founding members of Mayhem.

But what can we expect from Deathcrush? Simple, rawness and more rawness. This is how metal should sound at its most violent level. It is indiscriminately, one of the most impressive and brutal records ever made. The production sucks badly, we know why, black metal should be raw and hard to approach, only this way we can feel the magic of this genre. Cheesy high production quality is, in my opinion, specific for those bands that tend to break into mainstream, however, Mayhem clearly went with the trend specific for that time. We had the old Celtic Frost records, the brutality specific for the Hellhammer records, probably the most brutal records before Deathcrush was released, we also have Bathory’s 3 albums, not too much to count on, but this is how the early black metal scene was like, limited, isolated, deep underground and unconventional.

Euronymous for me is a fucking genius. Even though many people claim that he was a weirdo himself, and that he did not really have much to be proud of, he was indeed, a talented and creative guitar player and music composer. If even Fenriz from Darkthrone credited him for creating the black metal riffs played nowadays by the majority of black metal bands, then without a doubt, he was a genius. The dude was a well known extremist and a follower of the cult of Satan, but even so, he did not manifest himself violently at the time Deathcrush came to surface.

The record features 8 songs, 2 of them being instrumentals, or rather preludes or prologues and another one a cover of Venom‘s Witching Hour, a pretty well chosen song for a cover, and a well executed one as well. Now to tell you the truth, don’t put an effort on understanding what the vocalist says, because you’re wasting your time. Black metal was not made in order for people to understand every word the vocalist says, but to feel the music. Lyrical content comes from your own study, like a sort of homework done by kids for school tomorrow. I have to admit that Manheim was not a bad drummer, but not as good as the current one, Hellhammer. Hellhammer was seriously fit for Mayhem and for this genre, not only his attitude and conceptions were what Mayhem wanted, but his skills as a drummer as well, which are top notch. Manheim overall has a good performance, but I cannot omit his sloppy performances on songs such as the beginning one Silvester Anfang, where his drumming is out of rhythm completely.

Songs such as Chainsaw Gutsfuck and Necrolust put this album into the spotlight, being the most violent and aggressive tunes featured on this album. What can you say when you hear lyrics such as “Bleed down to the fucking core / You’re going down for fucking more / Screw your slimy guts / Driving me fucking nuts!” or “Your stinking corpse I desire / Nothing can take me higher / Fucking you till your bones break / Another one has to die”? You can only feel the brutality that this band wanted to send to the listener. The self titled track Deathcrush is also a pretty interesting one but not at the level of the aforementioned ones, however, Manheim’s drumming featured on this song is far better than in other song from this record. Another interesting song is Pure Fucking Armageddon, which is as brutal as the previous ones.

To tell you the truth, this record cannot be considered as pure black metal. It is indeed raw, it is indeed heavy, it is very brutal and clearly aggressive, but death metal was aggressive too at that time, thrash metal as well, elements that this record seem to have too. It can be seen that thrash metal elements have not been removed yet, and death metal elements are featured especially on the lyrical content, but it shows clearly that we are in for a surprise in the near future. Mayhem through this record showed promise and huge expectations developing a prototype of the future black metal sound.

All in all, this record is intended for genuine Mayhem fans and not for creepy fan-boys and wannabe fans. This record is the one that shows who is a true Mayhem fan, because we have a Mayhem here more violent than never. Time might’ve tamed these guys, but their style hasn’t changed that much over the years. Surely, the most important record they offered was the second album, and Deathcrush can be considered an inferior or not in contrast with the other Mayhem records (Wolf’s Layer Abyss, Chimera, Ordo Ad Chao). I won’t recommend this one to metal fans. Those that have it in themselves will find out that the album chooses them, the same like it chose me. If out of 1000 people, or any number of people that visits this blog, just 1 gives a try to this album and actually likes it, then that guy is a true Mayhem fan, and I take my hat off for him. If not, hey, soft music exists, so leave this beauty just for me and for a few select fans. Not all Mayhem fans appreciate this record, though like I said, you can’t be a true Mayhem fan if you don’t pass the Deathcrush test!! (inserts evil laughter)

Overall Impression: 80/100

Epica – The Divine Conspiracy (2007) Album Review

Do you remember the words I said back when I reviewed Xandria‘s new opus? That this year other bands might come up with interesting releases for the symphonic/gothic metal genre? Well, Epica is one of the highest anticipated artists that have an album ready to be unleashed this fucking month! With a title like Requiem for the Indifferent, Epica will continue their compelling stories about agony, sadness, love, hope, mythology and long lost civilization, revealing many more aspects that they’ve yet to discover and why not, we might be in for surprises as well, just hope they will be pleasant ones. This year began great so to say, we had the new Alcest opus that was absolutely fantastic, we have the new Xandria opus which revived a long lost era for the symphonic metal genre and soon we will get Epica’s new opus, which might have a big weight for the future.

Enough about the future, we now turn back in time to another Epica, a band that released back in 2007 a new album entitled The Divine Conspiracy. The first thing interesting about the album is the title, a title that is meant to attract the listener with a compelling story, a story that mainly refers about religions. Basically, this can be considered as a conspiracy theory unleashed by the divinity. Notice that I didn’t say god? Well, those who know me are aware of my radical thoughts about religion. I do not believe in the existence of a god through these atrocities called organized religions, though I believe that a creator does exist and that nothing was created out of the blue. Epica basically introduces us in a story where divinities released in the world a certain number of religions and then they gave the people the right to choose them with a certain mission, to find the correct one, the true religion. This is the premise, though the real reason behind this is that people need to encounter them, to understand them and eventually to overcome them in order to reach the universal truth, that all religions are the same in the end and that none of them is wrong neither right. Some people might thing that this album has an atheistic approach but believe me, it is more than that, it is simply a belief transposed into 13 tracks. Atheistic or not, I think that in this genre, we should cast aside our religious beliefs, because in order to understand this musical genre, religion is nothing more than a burden, an obstacle, a kind of thing that makes our thoughts and minds limited.

A few words about the band Epica. It was founded back in 2003 by a former member of After Forever, Mark Jansen. It is a dutch band that approaches genres such as symphonic, gothic, power and neo-classical metal. As of 2012, Epica has released 5 albums (the 6th is coming soon), 1 live album, 1 EP, 1 DVD, 2 Split Albums, 1 Compilation and 10 Singles. They proved through songs such as The Phantom Agony, Quietus, Feint, Solitary Ground, Never Enough, Unleashed or Dance of Fate, a wide variety of styles and approaches, an interesting vocal performance, and an interesting playing style as well. Basically, Epica represents what After Forever meant in the 90s and beginning of 2000s before Mark Jansen’s departure from this band. The quality present in Epica’s records has been constant, probably because of the very few line-up changes, the band maintaining 4 out of 6 of the original founding members, with the core member Mark Jansen in the spotlight, and the mesmerizing songstress Simone Simons as the goddess.

This album also marks the ending of the The Embrace That Smothers saga, a saga that began from the early days of After Forever in the album Prison of Desire and finished on The Divine Conspiracy. On The Divine Conspiracy, there are 4 songs which are part of this concept, songs such as La‘petach Chatat Rovetz (The Final Embrace), Death of a Dream (The Embrace That Smothers, Part VII), Living a Lie (The Embrace That Smothers, Part VIII) and Fools of Damnation (The Embrace That Smothers, Part IX). These songs contain a more accentuated anti-religious theme in contrast with the other ones featured on the opus, it approaches a rather sensible subject such as dangers involved in organized religions. So what can we see in this new Epica opus? A much darker atmosphere, a much better use of symphonic and orchestral elements, the same bombastic sound that impressed in early After Forever and in early Epica works as well, elements of speed and death metal (mostly given by the rough vocals performed by Mark Jansen, performing both gothic kind of growls and death screams in several songs), and the most profound aspect, an angry Epica. This album combines a series of emotions and feelings such as sorrow, sadness, hope, love, anger and desperation, offering both heavy, speedy, and dark elements in every song featured on this opus.

As always, Simone Simons voice is staggering. Even though she is not a soprano singer, with the singing lessons that she received from Amanda Sommerville, she managed to pull out splendid performances on all Epica albums. I came in contact with this band after I heard her performance in a Kamelot song, The Haunting (Somewhere In Time), where she made an excellent and perfect duo with Roy Khan. She is one of the most promising rising female vocalists in the metal scene, a very young artist at only 27 years old. Same like Kamelot’s Roy Khan, she manages to convey the emotions specific in every song to the listener, offering a splendid performance both on studio songs and especially in live performance, where this band is a feast for the eyes and ears of every metal lover. Mark Jansen has also a pretty big role to play as well with his harsh vocal performance which are present in every song of this album.

The album begins with a 7-minute track entitled The Obsession Devotion which was preceded by a prelude Indigo. From this first song you can feel the heaviness specific on this album. You can really feel that musically, the band has improved since their first opus and experimented a lot coming up with their unique trademark and style. Menace of Vanity continues this album offering a stunning audible experience, fast pace, emotional vocals and epic guitar playing. Chasing the Dragon is probably the most remarkable song featured on this album, a song that debuts in a slow-paced way with Simone’s voice flowing over an acoustic guitar performance and keyboard performance, turning afterwards into a heavy song, accompanied by a splendid orchestral performance, the best point this album features as well as a pretty well performed drumming. Sancta Terra, like the title says is a tribute to our planet, and in my opinion, a song that fights on par with the aforementioned one. It is a lot slower compared to the other songs featured on this album, but this is the point that makes it more unique and much more interesting, the bass guitar is much more predominant in this song while the guitar playing has been down-tuned a lot. Other interesting songs are, The Divine Conspiracy, the infamous 13-minute giant, Never Enough a song that strays a little bit from the Epica sound that we are used to, although I believe this song was mostly made for a commercial purpose and Fools of Damnation.

There are some songs that also kinda tick you off and might remove the pleasure felt in the first half of the album. Songs such as Death Of A Dream which is part of The Embrace That Smothers story excessively combines orchestral acts with metal elements and in some intervals it might seem a little bit chaotic and unorganized, a perfect mood breaker in other words. The voices are barely audible because of the instrumentals that block them.

This album features 3 bonus tracks as well, one of them being Replica, a Fear Factory cover song. A pretty energetic song and a rather interesting pick for a cover song. It does not fit in for Epica since the song differs a lot from their own style, but it is a pretty impressive performance, especially given by the two main vocalists. Simone’s performance is reduced in this song while Mark Jansen is the one that holds the ropes and pulls the strings with insane screaming vocals and grunts that would raise the dead from their graves. Replica, in my opinion, is the heaviest song featured on this opus.

All in all, Epica fans, you won’t be disappointed by this one. Basically, this band has done nothing more than improvement throughout the years, and this opus is a living proof. All the members are young musicians with a lot of potential. But what does make Epica such a distinctive band in a genre that you really cannot expect to overthrow some limitations, without venturing in the mysterious forests of experimental structures? Let me tell you something, it is the orchestra that makes Epica different. I don’t mean that other bands don’t use it, but an orchestra differs from one to another, and the way Epica places it in their songs is just perfect and offers an unique sound. Simone’s voice is another major aspect of originality that is oozing from this band, as her vocals are not that common in this genre, she manages to climb up to soprano voice and also pull out splendid mezzo-soprano performances, present in Never Enough. This album is just another one that shows promise, expectations and improvements. I recommend it with my whole being!

Overall Impression: 95/100

Black Countess – The Language Of Flesh (2006) Album Review

Holy mother of dark desires. Two fucking days that I have not been writing anything on this blog. Though I stated many times that I wanted to post at least 1 review per day, things don’t usually go how I want them to. Occasionally some people come knocking to my door asking to go out for some booze and spend time doing other shit. I usually don’t make promises, because there will always be a slight chance that I might not keep them, so instead of it being misunderstood and my word being turned against me, I’d rather hold my horses. Though, about the “hold your horses” thing, I brought an interesting review about a rather special album, special for males and something that females might not like. This is not a proper present for 1st of March, however, women have a day only for themselves, so I need to reward the guys too, with a pleasure that only women can offer. So be prepared, keep your hormones in control, if you’re a cardiac be sure to take your pills, because we’ve got Black Countess, a Russian band born in Ulyanovsk (heck if I know where that is), created by Ilya Polagushin, an interesting Russian figure. This statement does not really come only from his opera, but from his looks too, I swear that when I saw his picture for the first time, I thought he was one of those gorgeous, long-haired goth women. The guy looks like he is ripped-off from a vampire tale, sucking the blood of all females and only considers them as sexual tools.

The sexual tool thing is for real. While reading the lyrics in all his works in Black Countess, you can only find erotica references. His view towards women is sort of extreme, rather merciless, he does not view them as equal human beings, that could stand at a man’s side, but only in a man’s bed, a tool to satisfy one’s dark desires. I mean, in this album you can even find in lyrics, statements that prove to be against the bands that have only females in their line-up, such example is a Japanese band called Gallhammer, which has an only women line-up (heck I would’ve picked up some other bands like Blackthorn, which is even from the same country like him, they have more than 2 members at least lol, and the chicks are much more sexy than the two Asian figures from Gallhammer). You only need to glance at the album cover to figure out the intentions and the thoughts that this man has in his mind. When I first bought the album I thought that the whole thing with the cover was a joke, for sales purpose, but I was much more surprised when I saw that this is not a shallow work, meant for the sake of distribution only. It is certainly not an album made just to add one more record to a saturated market, even though there are bands that play a similar style.

I stated in a previous review that playing a similar style is not a sin nor it is plagiarism. The metal genres are limited, in fact, I would be much more grateful that there is so much diversity in the metal realm, considering that other musical genres do not dare to get out of their own limitations, and the recipe remained the same since their formation, having a central figure as its own creator, the rest just some mere copy/paste artists that became famous through over the top promotion, publicity and display. Metal is not such a genre, diversity is its best point but at the same time its own weakness, as conflicts are many and quite stupid between fans that justify themselves as metal fans but they limit themselves to certain genres, excluding the other ones, hypocritical bastards.

Black Countess offers a decent performance in this record. Casting aside the fact that it uses erotic themes in more ways that just lyrical content, the musical approach is not that bad either. It stands somewhere between the old Cradle of Filth and the actual Graveworm, combining extreme metal such as black metal with elements of doom metal and gothic metal (mostly featured in the imagery though). I actually came in contact with this album through Cradle of Filth, and found out that the similarities between these two bands are quite deep and are quite many, except for the erotic themes.

I am a fan of both old and new Cradle of Filth, not to mention a loyal Graveworm fan, but as for the first one, I sensed since quite a while ago their different approach to their music, changing from the rather good and more extreme symphonic black metal (not the symphonic black metal played by Dimmu Borgir, a better version, featured on the first 3-4 albums) into a commercial/mainstream style, switching to a gothic kind of playing style. You can barely recognize Cradle of Filth as a black metal band nowadays, pretty much every aspect that black metal has, it completely disappeared or it’s been hidden on purpose. Not the same thin happens with Black Countess. The black metal elements are still there, the tone is much more melancholic compared to Cradle of Filth and it is not buried in synths and keyboards like CoF or DB. The guitar riffs are rather boring and monotonous throughout the entire album with a few exceptions in songs such as Demonica or The History of a Witching Forest, the last one even showing hints of some techno elements.

What makes this album stand out are the synths. They are a pleasure to the ear, even though we speak about a rather raw and unconventional musical style, but they do manage to impress and they do not discard the black metal elements featured on this album. The keyboards, unlike the synths cannot fight on par but they are definitely better than the guitar performance. The bass lines are totally hidden and the drum style is specific to black metal drummers. The lyrics on this album are much more styled and give a hint of inspiration compared to the ones featured on older works. Ilya Polagushin’s voice is also quite good, his voice not being so high pitched like Dani’s but it is a pretty good voice.

All in all, Black Countess is the wet dream of every perverted guy, that follows his desires. I agree on one thing, this guy is total maniac, the way he thinks about women nowadays could be considered extreme, so I don’t recommend this album to the feminine side. Though for a male, it is something that might give him a little bit of pleasure, and not only a musical pleasure to the ears. It shows the fact that man is the one that gets to rule over woman, it shows that man is superior. If I were in Russia, I might’ve thought the same, knowing that the country is fucking filled with beauties that would make every guy drooling. Though we live in a modern world, a democratic world, so we must think about equality between sexes. But once in a while, we males need to release our fantasies from our minds and from our souls.

Ilya Polagushin is not the average guy though, in this album he did like 90% of the entire work. He composed the music for the soundtracks, he wrote the lyrics, and he played most of the instruments on most of the songs with several exceptions. The album also has a good production quality, so I believe that we don’t really have a DIY system implemented in this album. So, if you are a male, and you want something different from metal, not in musical structure and style, but in concept and content, check out Black Countess’s The Language of Flesh. If you are a woman, I advice you to turn away from this one, that’s if you have a radical position about misogynists. Cradle of Filth fans will not have a problem with loving this band, though I think that it is much better and offers much better records than the current Cradle of Filth. Sink into your dark perverted desires and listen this record, it is a new experience!

Overall Impression: 75/100

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