Weekly Reviews 120 (August 7, 2014)

Well, that’s another one in the bag. This week we’ve got DragonForce, a band that sounds like DragonForce and a wonderful new record from the power metal blast from the past, Unisonic. Fallujah also joins the ranks, as well as the debut X-Hunters album, which I’d recommend just as much as their current offering. Oh, and Entombed also make their way in here as Entombed A.D. Next week I will be working completely on the big .5 so there will be twenty five short (and some long) reviews covered of recent recordings that are thirty minutes or less. In other words, you could order a pizza and finish listening to the album before the pizza guy (or gal) came to your door with a freshly baked pizza pie. Damn, that sounds good. But I shouldn’t be thinking about food near midnight. That’s the worst time to eat anything, really.

Unisonic - Light Of Dawn

Unisonic – Light Of Dawn (2014 SPOTLIGHT ALBUM) – Michael Kiske and Dennis Ward’s Unisonic project certainly made a name for itself in 2012 with their self-titled debut, so there was no doubt in my mind that this sophomore release was going to be just as good, if not better. The familiar characters are all here, like Gamma Ray axeman Kai Hansen and current Place Vendrome and live Krokus drummer, Kosta Zafiriou. Just as you might expect, all of these gentlemen deliver up a wonderful blast from the past in terms of power metal that has a certain timelessness to it. Light Of Dawn sounds like it was made many, many years ago – back when the world still embraced long haired rockers and not the electronic hip hop music of the current age. Just as in Place Vendrome, Kiske’s vocals deliver an antiquity of excellence, along with guitars that aren’t going to bash you over the head like DragonForce, for example. These guys know how to take it easy and focus on the music as a whole. Light Of Dawn literally teleports you right into the lyrics and melodies, feeling like a breath of fresh air in a genre that is so hefty populated with bands trying to figure who can be the fastest, heaviest and loudest. But that’s another thing about Unisonic that I like – it’s not a loud album. Sure, you can crank the volume up if you need to; but the record itself isn’t completely in your face. It demands more attention than what we get at face value from most albums. Some definite highlights for me on the record were “Exceptional 5:02”, “For The Kingdom 4:54” and “Night Of The Long Knives 5:02” without question, but I’ll definitely say that not one cut on this record was badly delivered and even the softer ballads were emotionally felt. To sum it up, I thoroughly enjoyed Light Of Dawn just as much as I enjoyed the band’s self-titled record, which should say more than enough to fans of Unisonic and classic power metal in general. Definitely recommended.

(12 Tracks, 54:00)

9/10

DragonForce - Maximum Overload

DragonForce – Maximum Overload (2014) – The world-renowned, yet obsessively technical power metal titans are back with an album that more closely resembles their work on landmark Inhuman Rampage, which might be to some a return to form and in some aspects, that is true. However, the band didn’t completely raise everything to maximum overload, which is actually a good thing as it gives the listener time to breathe after the speeding freight trains of “No More 3:57” and “Symphony Of The Night 5:29” which undoubtedly sound like classic DragonForce. Problem is, one can only handle so much Helloween on speed and it’s lighter pieces like the Hammerfall influenced “Three Hammers High 6:01” and several small breaks in each of these tracks which allow the listener to catch their breath before being pummeled once again by the eighteen wheeler beginnings that start off most of these tracks. But notice that I used the term “beginnings” to bring to mind the one simple fact that all of these songs don’t just speed on through as the band has done on several of their albums already. It’s rather obvious that these guys got sick of being known as that band that play really fast and have ridiculously complex solos, even though you’ll still hear some of that insanity here. But like their last album The Power Within, you’re also going to hear more detailed structures in each of these pieces which is going to make you pay a bit more attention to the record as a whole. Maximum Overload won’t completely fly by, but there are still some sections on the disc that should serve as fodder for the masses of DragonForce fans out there that will eat this kind of ridiculously speedy playing style right up.

“The Sun Is Dead 6:45” in particular caught my ear, yet I’ll also have to say that the Johnny Cash (RIP The Man In Black) cover of “Ring Of Fire 3:20” also managed to snag me for a bit right before the album ended. Additionally, the album’s opener “The Game 5:05” also managed to elicit a pleasant response from me. The band’s current frontman Marc Hudson just seems to take it a little more seriously than ZP Theart, who irked me terribly with his hamming it up on the microphone. I understand that power metal vocals are supposed to be squeaky clean, but that guy really overdid it. Matt Heafy of Trivium also provides some harsh vocals throughout certain sections of the album, which adds a nice touch to the thundering drums and coked up guitars that usually fill the spectrum on a DragonForce record. The special edition features five bonus tracks, a few of which I felt needed to be on the original album itself; so I would definitely recommend getting the special edition version of this album over the original, even though I can’t say so much about the last bonus track “Galactic Astro Domination 1:32” which really isn’t all that important and really could have just been left off in favor of the other four pieces. All in all, Maximum Overload returns to what made the band popular; but I don’t think I enjoyed it even half as much as The Power Within and the band’s first two releases. But if you’re a major fan of the band, I don’t think that you’ll be too far let down with this one.

(15 Tracks, 72:00)

7/10

Fallujah - The Flesh Prevails

Fallujah – The Flesh Prevails (2014) – This sophomore release from Californian progressive technical death metal/deathcore outfit Fallujah has since sparked a lot of controversy and dissent in the ranks of metal. Some really seem to love the fucking thing, while others are content to give it a 28% or even an outright 0% on MA (Yeah, real mature using words like “wigger” and “emo” to describe your thoughts on a record. That’s why you’ll never do this professionally, my friend.) but regardless of this, we’ve got an apparent change in a band that was before playing blackened deathcore. To my ears, it sounds like Cynic and Animals As Leaders got into a fight with decent deathcore band A, and managed to create a good mixture of the two genres. Thing is, Alex Hoffman just sounds so one dimensional that his vocals don’t even need to be there at all. I looked up the guy on MA and it turns out that he’s only been in this band and probably was probably one of those guys who back when the deathcore thing was getting popular, thought that was really the only vocal style he needed to learn. Guy’s got some clean skills, but he needs to take a trip over here so that an experienced harsh vocalist like myself could teach the man how to do more than just one simple grunt. Just as in clean singing, there are several different vocal pitches and tones, harsh vocals are the same. At you’re lowest, you’ll get the guttural growl more suited for brutal death metal of the highest caliber, followed by a more audible growl, going into the hardcore mix of growl that constitutes the deathcore grunt. At the highest octave, we get the scream or scowl. It just depends on how much rasp you want to put into it. I joined the choir a little late in high school, but my teacher told me that I was a natural talent and should have been in the choir throughout the whole period of my education. Thing is, I don’t like my voice, regardless of whether or not others do. So I prefer to stick to the harsh vocal efforts on my albums. At any rate, Alex is only 23 so he’s got a lot of living to do and perhaps will gain some more experience as he continues down this musical path. So long as he doesn’t destroy his throat with smoking.

Putting vocals aside, what I really enjoy most in Fallujah is the guitar work of Scott Carstairs and Brian James, who really seem to light up the sky with their melodies. But to be completely honest, this entire album makes me think of it as a soundtrack to a shmup. I’ve been playing a few of them lately (Gradius, Silpheed, R-Type, exc.) and the spatial melodies that bellow forth from this thing would actually work perfectly as stage music for a video game of that sort. It’s subtle, yet still heavy – which is something you’d want to hear in a game that features really stellar backgrounds and contains a lot of shooting and defense (some of these games only gave your ship one hit point, like in the original arcades) which would warrant the fierce drumming that appears on some of these tracks. For example, “Allure 5:11” or the very end of “Chemical Cave 6:57” seem absolutely perfect for something of this nature with their spellbinding melodies that just seem to kick a little more with Andrew Baird’s drumming. It’s not the best drumming I’ve ever heard in my life by any means, but it keeps the beat well enough for the melodies to flow properly. It’s almost mechanical in nature, which gives the record that “metal object flying through space” mentality. I’m actually kind of upset that the label didn’t decide to release an instrumental version of this album, because I would buy that as soon as I got paid this week. It’s definitely something that I would put on while playing a classic shmup on the big screen and it still evokes the same feel of the game. It sort of bugged me that the band’s name was Fallujah at first, because I thought I was going to get some really boring deathcore about the war or politics or whatever, but for once I have to say that I actually don’t even care what the lyrics on this album are about. They don’t interest me any bit in the least. I just came for the atmosphere and I’m upset that there wasn’t more of it. Perhaps since this record is such a hit with people, the label will decide to re-release it with that instrumental version I’ve been coveting so much in this review. But I guess if you listen to it enough, you just kind of tune out the vocals altogether and start to really get sucked into the nebular vacuum that is The Flesh Prevails. If it was an instrumental experience, I’d have to give it a ten for sure (without question) but since Alex’s one-dimensional tone kind of mucks it up for me, I’ll have to go with a solid eight. But if you don’t mind the one-dimensional deathcore approach, you may like the record a little more. This is about as honest as I can be here, no bullshitting or name calling; just my own personal opinion. Still worth checking out, regardless.

(9 Tracks, 51:00)

8/10

Entombed AD - Back To The Front

Entombed A.D. – Back To The Front (2014) – Well, after all these years Entombed are back… excuse me, I mean Entombed A.D. which some might consider completely accurate after listening to this album. It certainly sounds like a crawling corpse of a once noble death metal act that is trying to claw its way back into the scene, but I think that this “Disposable Heroes” influenced album (check the title) is probably not going to be the best way to do it. Of course, that’s what I thought on the first listen. The album just seemed to blur together due to the fuzzy old-school production and that was turning me off of it for most of the listen, forcing the music to fade into the background. Of course, that was on earbuds and it’s a much different experience when I can hear it from my own speakers. I’m actually noticing a lot of little melodies that weren’t there the first time, as well as some interesting solo pieces thrown into the mix that seem to accentuate the creepy death metal riffing that anyone familiar with traditional Swedish death metal should be familiar with. All of these guys ARE former members of Entombed after all, so you’ve at least got to expect that they’re doing something right. They consider the band to be the spiritual successor to the original Entombed, and think of this record as the next one after Inferno which didn’t do all that bad with an 89% on MA. So people weren’t exactly clawing their eyes out on this one. Sure, these guys are legends – but I think that most of the work I’ve heard from “Revolting Rogga” in bands like Revolting or Megascavenger is far superior. Still, Back To The Front is in no way a wash. The record is so back to the roots that it’s not even really necessary for me to describe it to you. When you listen to tracks like “Bedlam Attack 4:44”, “Bait And Bleed 4:36” and the electrifying “Eternal Woe 5:08” you’re going to hear everything that makes this style of death metal great and what tens of millions of bands have been copying (and in some ways further perfecting, let’s be reasonable) for many years now. While it may have taken a long time for these guys to dust everything off, it was definitely worth it in the long run and I’m sure that death metal purists are going to buy this one whether I liked it or not. But that’s a good thing, because they sure as hell won’t be disappointed. Entombed A.D.’s Back To The Front proves that if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it – and the machine seems to be running just as well now as it had been back then, just not quite with the same amount of vigor and vivacity. But that does come with age, I’m afraid.

A little tidbit I’d like to add is my dissatisfaction with the label in not including the cover that the band recently did of Candlemass’s The Black Dwarf which is one of my personal favorite Candlemass tracks. This would have made a great bonus track and it’s also a perfect way to end out the album. The original release that this was put on was admittedly hard to find and it really sucks that they didn’t make it more available because I love this track so much that it’s been on my personal playlist for a long time now. There’s just nothing out there like it, so YouTube it if you have to.

(11 Tracks, 51:00)

7.5/10

Crimson Shadows - Kings Among Men

Crimson Shadows – Kings Among Men (2014) – This is the sophomore album and Napalm Records debut from the winners of Wacken Metal Battle 2013, Crimson Shadows. These five Canadian guys perform as you might expect from reviews of their previous work; a mixture of the overly textured power metal that DragonForce are known for (and they’re heavily compared to DF on MA) but they also add a harsh vocal element into the mix, making for something that sounds like Ensiferum on speed. People kept saying that they also sounded a lot like Children Of Bodom and I can sort of see that as well, but not so much as I’m hearing in this particular record. For instance, the song I’m listening to right now during my re-listen is “A Gathering Of Kings 5:28” which is chock full of DragonForce solos. I do think that Jimi Maltais’ harsh vocals are quite potent throughout each of these tracks, making Ryan Hofling’s clean accents come off rather well in the mix. Granted, the brunt of these tracks are filled to the brim with all manner of noodling; but at least it packs a punch in the right places. If you went back in time, you’d find that most of these guys were in a power/thrash act called Swords Of Scorn, with their newest bassist Morgan Rider also playing a part in the legendary act Sig Ar Tyr, which (no offense) I actually like a whole lot more than this band, especially their Beyond The North Winds record, which I think is kind of a landmark album for the genre. But the reason why I’m not completely enthralled with these Kings Among Men, is simply due to that fact that there’s not one thing to differentiate one song from the next. In fact, I think reviewers are going to trash this record because every damn song sounds roundabout the same. It doesn’t mean that they don’t have any talent, because they’ve more than got it – but this record doesn’t show that they can do anything else other than to make exceedingly fast power metal tunes in the vein of an already established act and punch them up with harsh vocals. It’s something that you’ll like the first time you’ve heard it, but after hearing it about twenty thousand times, you’ll be bored quite quickly. There’s nothing here that really sticks to your ribs, nothing here that really sinks into your brain. Sure, it’s a sea of riffs – but an absolute sea to nowhere. It’s a veritable whirlpool of sorts and I feel that most will probably steer their ships far away from it. Hopefully, the next record that Crimson Shadows offers will offer a bit more variety than this. It’s textured well enough, but there’s no real substance as everything sort of just fades into a sort of putty. But if you just can’t get enough of that DragonForce sound, Crimson Shadows will do nicely.

(10 Tracks, 49:00)

6/10

Bonus:

The X-Hunters - Mankinds Arrogance

The X-Hunters – Mankind’s Arrogance (2013) – Since I can only review current albums in New Noise, I had to review this one separately on my own website. But that’s fine with me, as in all actuality I like this record from the New Jersey VG metal act a lot more than their latest one. But I will dole that up to the material, as some of the renditions on Mankind’s Arrogance are songs that I cared more to hear arranged than what appeared on this year’s Edge Of Despair. Starting out the disc is “Zero Part 1: The Call 2:09” which is a rendition of Zero’s Mega Man X3 theme, which also appears during the first time that you could ever use him in a Mega Man X title. I remember the large spiked balls dropping from the air (why were there giant spiked balls dropping from the air in the first place?) and Mac, who I always felt the game needed to provide more information on. Especially when you’re calling a character Mac after what I’m guessing was the Macintosh computer. Unfortunately, Zero’s theme from the first Mega Man X game was not adapted (even though Capcom did it later in Mega Man Zero, which the band might take on in album three.) The next track here is “Lair Of The X-Hunters 2:22” which actually features an adaptation of the first two levels of the X2 X-Hunter base, and this is the first time I’ve ever heard it adapted – ever. They’ve also incorporated the Mega Man X6 (Gate’s Laboratory) theme (with a slight riff melody highlighting the original X2 X-Hunters base third stage) into the piece, working quite well as a whole. Though the tempo was much faster in the original pieces, these certainly fit. “A Gathering Storm 3:09” starts out with the most often covered Storm Eagle theme (by now everyone and their mother has done it) but it morphed into something that damn near brought tears to my eyes, which was an adaptation of Cyclops’ theme from X-Men Mutant Apocalypse. I’ve wanted to hear this adapted for at least fifteen years now, so finally being able to hear it was a dream fulfilled. All of the music on that game was fucking gold, so I’d love to hear the boss theme or Wolverine’s music adapted as well. I used to play that game just for the music, and would still do the same to this day.

The next track highlights another game with wonderful tunes, and that would be the Donkey Kong Country series. In “Kremling-Kong Quest” 7:20″ the first theme I hear is that of the underwater theme, which for some reason always reminded me of George Michael, but was a fucking amazing theme regardless. I definitely think that Eddie Kim’s (Deadfall) version is much better (but they’ve been doing some wonderful aquatic sounds on their latest album The First Harbinger), but it definitely works well enough. Next the factory music (and it took me a while to think about that one) is adapted, which is done quite well also. What I believe is the theme to Donkey Kong Country 2 then follows, (despite the fact that I’d really love to hear a good cover of the King K. Rool battle music from the first game) as the boss music to DKC2 plays. Next we jump back into Mega Man X with “Beneath The Armor Of The Earth 2:12” which is Armored Armadillo’s theme. Though the original had been a bit jumpier and I think the tempo was a bit faster here too, this version is much better than the punk one I heard on the OC Remix compilation Maverick Rising (which we had posted up on the old Tower blog for days – the post and albums still exist and are free if you want them) and it seems to do justice to the original. The next track here is “Sting Of The Centipede 2:20” which is another theme that I’ve wanted to hear covered for decades now, but I’m really upset that this one just doesn’t manage to capture the nature of the original. In the original synth version of the track, the drumming was much faster, almost like a sort of thrash metal (I could actually mimic those bass riffs perfectly if asked) and this adaptation is just too slow. The leads are correct, but the backing is off which upset me a little. Still, I’m not going to complain too much about the solo section, which is a great accompaniment to the piece. The next track, “Ancestors Of Evil 3:37” takes us back in time (even though actually forwards) to Mega Man 9. Now I’ll admit here and now that Mega Man 9 is one of the only original Mega Man games that I’ve never beaten due to its obscene difficulty. But I did watch a play through of the entire game, so I got the gist of it and later beat Mega Man 10 on my own. A few months back I actually tried to tackle it again and beat Splash Woman on my first try. Not too shabby, just like this medley of various themes from the game. “Hands Of Time 5:38” follows as a medley of Chrono Trigger greatness, beginning with the cave theme and moving further from there, even into my old buddy Lavos’ theme. The next track is the legendary X Vs Zero battle theme from Mega Man X5/X6 and it is here titled, “Zero Part II: X Vs. Zero 4:13.” Before I even go on, I had to judge this thing on the same level as what I’ve deemed to be the best damn adaptation of it that I’ve ever heard (“Duality” by Dr. Manhattan of OC Remix) which is really a close call, because I rather like both renditions equally. Both are hard hitting renditions with equally fantastic solos, (and both also utilize real guitars, not synthesized as some OC remixes are guilty of) but only this version of the track also contains a section from the original Mega Man X2 battle with Zero (if you didn’t find all of his parts in the game – it was an extremely difficult battle and took a lot out of you, especially being right before Sigma.) The disc ends with a rather strong rendition of Mega Man X2’s ending theme, which was always my favorite of the ending themes for the classic SNES titles and here it’s done assuredly great justice. I would have to say that they definitely amended the track and ended it out with a set of leads that really seemed to allow the track to soar.

This debut from The X-Hunters really showed a ton of promise, even though not all the tracks were perfect. If you’re not a hardcore Mega Man X fan yourself, then you probably won’t get these or understand eve a quarter of what I’m talking about. But if you do know what I’m talking about, I’m sure that you’ll find a lot to like here – and let’s face it, most of these tracks were kind of destined to be arranged in metal anyway. It’s sad that Capcom didn’t feel the same when they remade Mega Man X as Maverick Hunter X (and they moved all the fucking capsule locations too, bastards!) on the PSP and changed all the rocking tunes into unmemorable electronic drivel, as they showed us all how much they cared about Mega Man with X’s buster falling off in the anime film. That was merely a metaphor of things to come… But let’s not focus on that right now, as there are two really great works being sold for a small fee on the band’ Bandcamp page, and if you really like them, well you can buy them in SNES box format. A bit costly for me, but I implore those with wallets full of zenny to go out there and donate to the cause of a next record, which I will also be buying and reviewing just the same. Keep in mind that the Chrono Trigger, Donkey Country and X Men Mutant Apocalypse adaptations here were also rather proficient, meaning that even the Mega Man hater will find something noteworthy within this compilation of cybernetic metal. All in all, I think Mankind’s Arrogance fits the Maverick wars perfectly and it’s worth checking out for all of those who wanted to hear these X tunes arranged in metal, the way it should have been done years ago.

(10 Tracks, 36:00)

8/10

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