BLACKMORE’S NIGHT – DANCER AND THE MOON

blackmoresnight_dancermoon

Out now on Frontiers Records

9th album from Blackmore’s Night and to be perfectly honest I lost interest in them after their third release, 2001’s “Fires At Midnight” so with almost 12 years between our worlds meeting again I am slightly dubious about what to expect.

Ritchie Blackmore for me was always one of my favourite players, wonderful touch and expression on the guitar, yet I guess I felt slightly uneasy with his turn into pure medieval music. Yes there were some nice songs on the first 3 albums and indeed some good solos here and there but not enough to warrant my interest continuing with the band.

Yet I find myself enjoying “Dancer And The Moon” quite profusely, Blackmore’s magnificent touch on acoustic and electric guitar (of which Ritchie seems to give more time than on my previous experiences) is still in evident, he still has good hands, something many players loose with age.

Candice Night’s (or Mrs Blackmore if you will) vocals also surprised me. Gone are the somewhat weak, high pitched characterless efforts of yore to be replaced by something earthier, more powerful and more original. This is the sound of a vocalist that has found her voice and grown in confidence – no doubt aided by the constant touring the band have done over the last decade – I sort of hear a cross between Fleetwood Mac’s Stevie Nicks and Christine McVie mixed with the folk ethics of Sandy Denny (RIP). Candice also now writes strong hooks, often with a pop edge, something we all know Ritchie loves and the opening title track kicks off with this radio friendly edge and some fine electric lead work from Blackers.

There seems a real bond between singer and guitarist on this new material and the whole album sounds far more confident and that of musicians at-ease with their sound.  Safe to say this is Ritchie’s true love, and you do get a sense of much of his work with DP and especially Rainbow being built upon the foundations of the traditional style music we hear here, indeed the cover of Rainbow’s “Temple Of The King” works well in its new format (albeit not a million miles away from the original).

Elsewhere we get the traditional Russian folk inflections of “Troika”, a dark haunting vibe for “Lady In Black” complete with flute and hurdy gurdy and this track builds nicely as it progresses.

The back-to-back duo of “Somewhere Over The Sea (The Moon Is Shining)” and “The Moon Is Shining (Somewhere Over The Sea)” are both delightful pieces, the former delicate and the latter bordering as close as we get to hard rock and to be fair could have been on Rainbow’s “Bent Out Of Shape” album and not sounded out of place, a very enjoyable track with some excellent lead work from Ritchie including his trademark slide work and that wonderful vibrato.

Guitar fans will also enjoy Ritchie’s solo acoustic ditties in “Minstrels In The Hall” and “Galliard” both of which feature some wonderful acoustic tones powering along their melodic motifs.

Granted it still might get a little too twee in a couple of places for my own liking with “The Last Leaf” and “The Ashgrove”. but with 2 skipable tracks out of 13 is by no means a bad return.

To finish off the album we get a touching instrumental tribute to Deep Purple organist Jon Lord in “Carry On… Jon”, a delicate slide guitar melody builds into a fitting tribute to Mr Lord.

In conclusion, “Dancer And The Moon” has pleasantly surprised me and I’ve found myself returning to it again and again finding more to enjoy on each subsequent listen.  Maybe my ears have matured? Maybe this is just better? But out of my previous Blackmore’s Night experiences (the first two bought at then high-import prices) this is easily the best and makes me wonder what I have missed out in the intervening years.

Well done Mr & Mrs Blackmore.

Rating – 89%

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JOE STUMP – REVENGE OF THE SHREDLORD

Released 17 August 2012 on Lion Music

Out of the dozens of shredders who used to flood the market with release upon release of sweeped arpeggios and shredded scales, precious few are left. Joe Stump is one of those few. Albums like “Speed Metal Messiah” and “Virtuostic Vendetta” proved that the instrumental genre still has plenty to offer, even (or especially) after grunge and nu-metal’s assault on music.

If you’re even remotely familiar with Joe’s music, this album will hold no surprises. After the brief intro “The Ritual Begins”, the album kicks off well and true with “Man Your Battlestations”, an uptempo Yngwie/Macalpine mashup. “Pistoleros” benefits from a lower tempo that allows the ideas to come to fruition.

Joe has favored a single coil type tone for years now, and I don’t think it’s ever been more obvious. This unavoidably raises the Yngwie content of the album, even if Joe is far more than a mere copycat. Musically, the album took me back to the first wave of instrumental shred releases. Macalpine’s “Edge Of Insanity”, Moore’s “Mind’s Eye” and of course Yngwie’s “Rising Force”.  “Shredlord’s Sonata” should help me prove my point…

One could argue that the compositions merely serve to showcase the guitar pyrotechnics.  Well… Duh! Instrumental albums were never about sing along epic choruses, now were they?  Even so, the lyricism of “In The Master’s House” or “Evil Beasts Below” puts to shame the naysayers who listen with trend-corrupted eyes rather than open ears.

“The Black Knight’s Castle” is a fierce barnstormer of a track that hints at Rainbow’s golden era, while “Enter The Coven” ups the stakes when it comes to heavy. The unaccompanied “Strat Out Of Hell” is a bit pointless. Like Joe forgot to put the song behind the solo. “White Knuckle Mayhem” starts of melodic but then proceeds to do full justice to its title. For “The End Approaches”, Joe once again pulls out all the stops in an epic metal tune that more than tips the hat to Yngwie.

It may be my advance copy, but overall production seems a bit weaker than on its predecessors.  The drums especially sound artificial and boxy. Nevertheless, this is another solid release by a guitarist who has risen to the top of his field.

Rating – 89%
Review by Sancho

KATSU OHTA OF ARK STORM INTERVIEW (ARCHIVE)

Interview conducted June 2005

About The Interview.
Katsu Ohta is one of the star players of the blossoming Japanese neo-classical metal scene.  Katsu is the guitarist and leader of Ark Storm who are becoming quite a sensation on the Japanese metal scene, to date only one of their 3 albums have been released outside their native Japan, but we manageed to track down Katsu and find out his thoughts on the band, their excellent latest album ‘The Everlasting Wheel’ and find out what else if going to happen in 2005.

The interview was the first interview done by Katsu in English and to the best of my knowledge perhaps the only one.  It’s been a steady favourite over the years in terms of hits at the old site so its fitting its kept on here on the new home.

Many thanks to Nikki Matsumoto for translating Katsu’s answers and assistance with arranging the interview.

Katsu, many thanks for agreeing to this interview. First, I would like to congratulate you on “The Everlasting Wheel”; it’s a superb slice of neo-classical metal. When did you start writing for the album?
Thanks to you too. I started writing material for the album back in January of 2004. I came up with about 15 songs in the next 4 months.

What does your writing process normally involve?
It depends really. But I normally come up with a melody for a singer or start chunking a guitar riff and take it from there. One of these 2 patterns normally. And when I hand out a song to the rest of the band, it is usually near completion as far as arrangements and melody go.

How long did it take to record?
It took about 20 days for the recording, not counting the hours of pre-production rehearsals for the recording.

What did set out to achieve with this album?
I wanted to have a meaning and as the album title suggests, the meaning Of eternity was what I had in mind. I wasn’t really concerned about anything else.

I hear a slightly more streamlined and commercial album compared to “Beginning Of The New Legend“, was this an aim of the album?
No, it was not something we intended to do. But we built the whole production with mainly melodies in mind. The melody line was the key for the song writing. So I am not surprised that people feel the sense of commercialism to some degree. We just did what we wanted to do as Ark Storm on our own way. And the result just happened this way naturally. It may fit into the current trend or whatever but it wasn’t aimed anyway intentionally.

How has the reaction been to the album in Japan?
We have been getting quite pleasant reaction from the fans, it’s been really good. The fan basis is growing and getting bigger and bigger day by day  as it seems. But the Japanese HM magazines don’t give us good evaluation, even though the fans are supporting us and spreading bigger.

What are your thoughts now on “Beginning Of The New Legend” and “No Boundaries”?
I feel like there had been so much left undone. I am not satisfied completely with any of those pieces. But that is how I should feel probably. I never ever get totally content with my work. If I ever did, it would be pretty much the end of my aspiration. I always find something new when I’mwriting or playing.

“Beginning Of The New Legend” was released in Europe, are there any plans to release “The Everlasting Wheel” outside Japan?
It’s all up to the record company. But I have not heard anything on that matter.

How did you hook up with the other members of Ark Storm?
I selected them on my own, one by one. I wanted real professionals, you know. Before the release of the first album, it was hard to find right musicians. I wanted the best of the Japanese when the time for the second album was approaching. So I got them now.

What made you want to play guitar?
One of my uncles gave me a real old trashy classical guitar and that was the start.

I see you use Scalloped Stratocasters, what made you start using a scalloped neck and why?
I started it because I liked Ritchie Blackmore and Uli Jon Roth when he was with the Scorpions. Now I still use scalloped neck all the time because It gives me the vibrato I want.

There’s a couple of Marshall Amps on your website, what models do you use and are there any modifications done to them?
It’s a 1978 Marshall 100w. The guitar technician of my own modifies it mainly on the tones.

What effect / overdrive pedals do you use?
It depends, case by case. But most of the times, I use a DOD or a Tube Screamer by Ibanez. Those two are my main effects.

Does the band have any plans to record a live album / DVD?
There is no plan for it as far as I’m concerned. But I do want to release DVDs.

What else does the band have planned for 2005?
We are going to start another Japanese tour in October.

Anything else you would like to tell the readers of virtuosity one?
I want you to experience Ark Storm, please get your copy anyway you can. And if that will take us there to tour in Europe, the rest will follow. I really really hope to see you at Ark Storm concert.

Katsu, many thanks for your time.
My pleasure. Thanks you all.

Official Ark Storm website – http://home.att.ne.jp/kiwi/arkstorm/