CONSORTIUM PROJECT III – TERRA INCOGNITA (THE UNDISCOVERED WORLD)

Out now on Lion Music

Part III of Lion Music’s Consortium Project ‘quadrilogy reissues’ with remastered sound and 2 bonus tracks.  After the excellent starting two movements Consortium Project III seemed to embrace the progressive metal elements a little more than on its predecessors, in some ways parallels could be drawn with the likes of early Symphony X, perhaps in part due to the mystical Egyptian feel in some of the tracks.

Generally speaking its all very good stuff once again, with another stellar backing cast to Ian Parry’s premier vocal including guitarists Stephan Lill (Vanden Plas), Mike Chlasciak (Halford) and drums from ever present Casey Grillo (Kamelot) amongst others.

Opener The Council Of Elders has the by now obligatory scene setting story part before hitting it stride, but Spirit Of Kindness and The Ark (of the covenant) are as strong as anything heard elsewhere in the five album suite.  Big riffs, a good sense of pompous atmosphere and all round excellent performances. Lost Empire begins as if from a movie soundtrack before hitting a fervent progressive power metal vibe, here the aforementioned similarities with Symphony X are depicted nicely. Reductio Ad Absurdum is a nice multi-faceted number with a nice blend of calm and imminent foreboding evil in equal measures.

The almost new-age calm of White Sands (California Lighthouse) do perhaps seem a little out of place but offer up a nice rest bight midway through before Great Exploration kicks back in with its mid-tempo pomp and is home to a majestic chorus.  Across The Seas is another highly melodic track before Across The Seven Seas takes you on a musical voyage being a prog metal treat, home to fantastic guitar solo too and arguably the highlight of the album.

Nemesis is back to the dark metallic edge, whilst Beyond The Gateways Of Legends  sees a quite magnificent soaring vocal from Parry and ranks as another highlight.  Its hard to think of another voice in metal other than perhaps the much missed Ronnie James Dio that can capture such impressive power with a the ability to give the listener visual imagery with their delivery.   The title track sees the original 11 track release with a fitting finale being majestic in scope, yet also offering up an insight into the sound that would later be heard on Consortium Project IV.

As it stands this new “quadrilogy series remaster” gives us a demo version of Great Exploration and the title track and its nice to hear how the final track grew from this more stripped down demos.

Overall Terra Incognita is another fine slice of progressive power metal from Consortium Project.  In some ways it’s a different beast to what came before yet shares many of the trademarks of its predecessors e.g. strong performances, good songcraft and all round executed to a very high standard.  If you enjoyed parts I and II then III will not disappoint and is on a par with those other fine releases.

Rating – 92%

CONSORTIUM PROJECT V – SPECIES

Released 15th July 2011 on Lion Music

I must confess despite being a fan of Consortium Project’s mastermind/vocalist Ian Parry’s work with Elegy I have never until now heard a Consortium Project album. Now having heard “Species” I am kicking myself as this is a finely crafted slice of prog power metal of the highest calibre.

Ian Parry’s voice is undoubtedly one of the most distinctive in metal, none of your usual run of the mill metal vocals here folks, but a voice with power and depth, not to mention great projection and one that adds true drama to the compositions.

The music is equally grand, expertly crafted by Parry with a variety of musicians including guitarists Stephan Lill (Vanden Plas), Niels Vejlyt (Infinity Overture), Veith Offenbächer (Dawn of Destiny). Bass tracks are performed by Kris Gildenlöw (Pain of Salvation) and Jens Faber (Dawn of Destiny) whilst Casey Grillo (Kamelot) provides the magnificent drumming. To create contrast to Ian’s vocals we get a pair of female voices in Lene Petersen and Ani Lozanova who work well also. A fine supporting cast indeed and it seems Ian knows how to pick the right musician to support the framework of each track with all tracks working nicely as a cohesive unit.

Essentially this is the final instalment of the Consortium Project 5 part story which sees “Species” take mankind on a final epic journey into outer space met with dire consequences the world has never seen!

Musically CP-V is mainly about big riff orientated metal numbers over a variety of tempos with a pleasant aggressive streak running for the majority of tracks. This big musical push is then backed up by some truly infectious vocal melodies and strong chorus such as the delightfully swooping lines of “Life On Earth” and “The Worst Is Yet To Come” where images of the impending apocalypse are brought to life through Parry’s delivery.

“To The Earth & Back” is epic whilst the “Sirens” has a nice punchy commerciality about it where the rhythmic interplay of the riff builds nicely. “Pitch Black” is another scorched with a truly thunderous riff after the contagious chorus.

The delicate female vocals at the start of “Silence Calling” have an ethereal angelic quality to them that contrasts nicely with the tracks heavier middle before the commercial tint of the title track is another success. “Enemy Within” then lays to waste everything in its path with its brutal delivery that sees Parry adding to the fervour more so and this is another excellent number. The album then draws to a close with the strong bookend that is “Oracle” which serves as musically rich and melodic closer.

As my first taste of Consortium Project I am mightily impressed with the quality on offer from “Species”. The songwriting and performances are all first class and the album has an excitement about it from start to finish. All of which adds up to make this essential listening.

Rating – 95%

P.S. Lion Music will also be releasing remastered and expanded versions of the first four Consortium Project albums beginning later in 2011.

TOMMY VITALY – JUST ME

Out now on Ice Warrior Records

Italialian guitarist Tommy Vitaly is perhaps best known for his work with power metal band Seven Gates, yet has stepped out on his own for “Just Me”, a neo-classically inspired slice of metal. Backed up by some impressive names in vocalist Thomas Vikström (Stormwind), drummer Rhino (ex Manowar), bassist Andrea Torricini (ex Vision Divine) and some guest keyboard solos from Vitalij Kuprij (Artension, TSO) and Mistheria (solo, Rob Rock) the omens look good.

Unfortunately the hype suggested by the personnel is never really lived up to. The first thing to hit you is a poor mix which sees clipping on the bass guitar and bass drums and a very narrow sound spectrum. When the guitar is a dominant force like it is in neo-classical metal this has better be good, yet Tommy’s tone lacks harmonic content and depth and is as bland as dry toast.

On the song front vocalist Thomas Vikström screeches his way through the formulaic “Fly High Touch The Sky” which is home to every stock power metal motif in the book and sounds like a bad Helloween cover band truth be told. The other vocal track, “Ready To Die” fares a little better but once again the song writing is generic with a repetitive chorus that never really sells itself and on the whole its nothing special.  The instrumental side of things does fare better with “Storm Of Fire” being Malmsteen-esque in approach and the anthemic “Finally Free” showing off a nice melody. “The Fury” does what it says and is high in energy and showcases that Tommy can play having some nice unison runs with Kuprij.

Overall a fairly average debut, Tommy can play though and hopefully the quality control in production will be higher and the song writing will showcase more originality next time round.

Rating – 60%

NO GRAVITY – WORLDS IN COLLISION

Out now on Lion Music

No Gravity are a new progressive power metal outfit and the brainchild of renowned guitarist Simone Fiorletta. Their debut release ‘Worlds In Collision’ features some of the most illustrious vocalists in the Italian power/prog metal field with  Michele Luppi (Killing Touch, ex Vision Divine), Fabio Lione (Rhapsody Of Fire, Vision Divine), Mark Basile (DGM), Roberto Tiranti (Labyrinth) and Emiliano Germani (Moonlight Comedy), along with German Andy Kuntz (Vanden Plas) providing the vocal angle.

Fiorletta may of ( it could be argued) played it safe by allowing the vocalists to devise their own melodies and lyrics, but this could also be seen as a wise move as you are essentially getting trademark performances from all involved.  To label the album notable for its vocalists alone is however doing a disservice to the music on offer, which whilst  mostly progressive is also heavy with even some modern techno elements.  Instrumental leads are perhaps not quite as forthcoming as one would expect from a guitarist of Fiorletta’s stature despite 8 of the 9 tracks clocking in at over the 5 minute mark, so full compliments to Simone for delivering a strong song based release.

Highlights come in the guise of “The Killer”, the middle east tinged “Religious Beliefs” and the Andy Kuntz led “Can’t Dream Anymore” which will please all Vanden Plas fans immensely; yet all track serve up enjoyable moments.

Shortcomings? I preferred Fiorletta guitar tone on Moonlight Comedy’s “Dorothy” album, and the production is a little raw in places but otherwise it’s a solid effort from start to finish.

The host of guest vocalists is initially bound to draw intrigue from fans, yet ultimately No Gravity serve up an identifiable sound no matter who the singer on “Worlds In Collision”, which overall is a very good foundation to build on with future releases.

An enjoyable debut.

Rating – 85%

SYMPHORCE – UNRESTRICTED (REVIEW)

Out now on AFM Records

Symphorce for the uninitiated are a German progressive power metal band originally assembled in 1998 by singer Andy B. Franck (also of Brainstorm); a vocalist in the Halford/DC Cooper mould, though not always as pitch perfect as that pair.  12 years later the band has just released album number 7 in “Unrestricted” and it must go down as another solid, if unspectacular album.
 
Opener “The Eternal” is not quite the kicker I’d have liked to be greeted with tending to stay more in mid tempo waters. Fortunately “Until It’s Over” gets things moving nicely, the dual vocal trade-off of the chorus is a nice touch. The down tuned riffery of “Sorrow In Our Hearts” paves way for Franck to deliver a lower toned vocal (albeit with some pitch issues).  “Whatever Hurts” is back to the more melodic waters and acquaints itself well being one of the more commercial numbers on the album. “The Waking Hour” is rather faceless European metal that seems the current trend for numerous acts. “Visions” restores the balance though with another strong riff, though the vocal melodies of the verse don’t sit quite right, the chorus does fair better though.  “The Last Decision” follows a similar route, Franck sounds like he might burst an artery on this one given the ferocity of his vocal delivery, and I have to say I quite like it!  “The Mindless” features live news reels from 9/11 giving us a clue as to its lyrical identity, yet Franck has seen fit to approach it from the side of the Taliban’s mindset, rest assured this is not a song of support for the terror organisation but an interesting take nonetheless and features the only guitar solo on the album that is memorable. “World’s Seem To Collide” sees more erratic vocals yet musically is solid enough.   Final track “Do You Wonder” is sadly a rather faceless way to end the album.

Overall this is an album that is enjoyable enough to listen to when its on, yet I can’t see myself returning to it that often as many of the tracks just seem quite bland.  Granted, Franck’s vocals are an acquired taste and not one I can say I will ever really fall for, yet at least they are not bland as is often the case in this genre.  Musically the band are a tight unit, with an abundance of good riffs, yet nothing else.  The guitar duo of Cedric “Cede” Dupont and Markus Pohl do little to show they have their own style or voice, yet as a rhythmic unit interlace well, next time gives us some memorable solos please!  This pretty much sums up the material and album – serviceable yet not awe-inspiring.  One for fans only I suspect.

Rating – 75%

STRATOVARIUS – DARKEST HOURS (REVIEW)

Released December 7th 2010 on Ear/Edel Music

Finn power metal leaders Stratovarius are certainly on a bit of a roll, after the return to form “Polaris” they have wasted little time in putting together the follow up, the forthcoming “Elysium”.  As a taster of the new album is this mini-album “Darkest Hours”; a five track release with two cuts taken from the forthcoming album in “Darkest Hours” and “Infernal Maze”. These are backed with a demo version of the title track and live renditions of “Against The Wind” and the Stratovarius classic “Black Diamond”.

Safe to say if you like the band then you will like this.  The taster of new material has all the hallmarks of the classic Stratovarius sound i.e. big riffs, soaring vocals and majestic keyboards all married to a thunderous rhythm section, the band are certainly not missing Timo Tolkki in the slightest.  The live renditions are also worthy additions boasting strong live productions and rejuvenated performances from all involved.

Overall, a nice taster of things to come – great artwork too.

Rating – 88%

SEVENTH WONDER – THE GREAT ESCAPE (REVIEW)

Out Dec 3rd  2010 on Lion Music

One of a true new breed of progressive metallers adding their own sound to the genre are arguably Sweden’s leaders in the genre Seventh Wonder.  “The Great Escape” marks the bands fourth release following up the hugely successful “Mercy Falls” which saw the band play Sweden Rock Festival and Prog Power USA.  Prog forums worldwide are littered with praise for the band and if the amount of exposure the video single “Alley Cat” has received is anything to go by (55k hits in 2 month on YouTube) then the new album looks set to propel the band further, that is presuming its any good!

Luckily as a long-time fan of the band, this is arguably the best release yet from the band, certainly the best in terms of delivering an identifiable sound of their own.  Led by the charismatic vocals of Tommy Karevik, the band perform melodic laden, yet instrumentally rich and exciting music from the opener “Wiseman” with its strident metallic delivery to the bona-fide epic closing 30 minute title track; which despite its intimidating track length delivers on all fronts.  But what sets this album apart from predecessor is that despite all the first class musicianship on offer (from every member no less), it’s the songs that ultimately shine though.  The aforementioned “Alley Cat” has a deliciously swooping chorus refrain,   the AOR inflections in “The Angelmaker” contrast nicely with the darker elements of the track whilst the melodic content again shines on “Move On Through” which has a tremendous groove in the riff department.  Overall there is something to really enjoy on every track.

Production wise this is solid, certainly the best yet from the band, and everything is nicely audible which makes hearing the likes of Andreas Blomqvist’s exquisite bass work in its full glory just another joy of the album.
 
‘Mercy Falls’ saw Seventh Wonder come of age. “The Great Escape” sees them take a strident step towards being a true powerhouse in the prog metal genre and comes highly recommended.

Rating – 95%

CIRCLE II CIRCLE – CONSEQUENCE OF POWER (REVIEW)

 

Out Now on AFM Records

Circle II Circle have been building a name for themselves in power metal circles since the early 2000’s.  Founded after vocalist Zakk Stevens left Savatage the band have been steadily growing their following and their fifth album “Consequence of Power” is not  likely to do them any harm either.  Simpy said this is well written and performed metal with strong performances from all involved. 

Opener “Whispers In Vain” sets the albums off nicely with a crushing mid temp riff over which Stevens’ familiar vocal pipes work their charms.  The title track comes storming out with a panache reminiscent of vintage Maiden.  A solid bass line underpins “Out Of Nowhere” and this is another unqualified success. “Remember” has a main riff not a million miles away from Judas Priest’s “Dissident Aggressor” but moves into own sound for the rest of the track.  “Mirage” is another heavy number if lacking a little originality, yet the band come roaring back with “Episodes Of Mania” which makes nice use of light and shade in its verses before pummelling the listener with its riff heavy chorus – nice.  “Redemption” has a riff that sounds like the bastard son of Savatage’s “Jesus Saves” and is just as satisfying in every other aspect, a highlight along with the charging yet melodic “Take Back Yesterday”. “Anathema” is build around more brutal riffs although Stevens’ do lack a little of their normal magic here.  Closing power ballad “Blood Of An Angel” has more than a nod back to Strevens’ previous employers and is a little twee in truth but doesn’t harm the album too much.

Overall Circle II Circle continues to do what they do with no real departure from the norm, everything is solid and more than competent, yet aside from a couple of numbers there is nothing that is truly killer yet everything is still above average.  Production wise the album is rather basic, dry, certainly lacking a little sheen but not to the listeners detriment.

Overall another solid slice of work from the band.

Rating – 84%