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%

TOBY KNAPP – THE CAMPAIGN (ARCHIVE)

Out Now – Shredguy Records
 
Toby Knapp is another contender to make a name for himself in the guitar virtuoso stakes. Freshly signed to Shredguy Records Toby is joined by other relative unknowns in vocalist Attila Csihar, Jeff Gruslin, Tom Cline and Dean Sternberg to sing on various tracks on this 9 track mixture of vocal and instrumental tracks. Home to a neo-classical meets early thrash and straight metal sound the album has a very rudimentary production where the programmed drums cheapens the end product somewhat. As a result some of the impact is lost with the dullish backing tracks. That said Toby’s guitar work is strong.

The instrumentals fare best on the album with opener ‘The Campaign’ setting things off nicely whilst ‘Towards Power Unimagined’ is first rate in anyones book. ‘Telekninesis’ is home to the aforementioned early thrash feel with some of flair of the likes of Exoudus shown. That said ‘Plutonium Race’ I suspect is from a different recording period as the sound quality is worse than the other very average sounding tracks. Sadly the momentum of the instrumentals is lost with the vocal tracks. ‘Conspire’ just sounds dated largely thanks to the weak vocal melodies and strained vocals of Dean Sternberg, a shame as there is potential in the music. ‘We Are Legions’ with its cookie monster vocals of Jeff Gruslin does however awaken the Carcass and Morbid Angel fan in me and is a nice slice of brutal metal. This is contrasted by the overly quasi musically accomplished post grunge of ‘Wicked’ with its Stone Temple Pilots feel! Dodgy vocals again come into play on ‘Reanimation’ thanks to the delightfully named Atilla Csihar and make the track almost unlistenable whilst we are ‘treated’ to Dean Sternberg’s vocals again on closer ‘Lack Of Inspiration’.

Despite the obvious skill Knapp has on the guitar, it’s a shame this quality control isn’t followed up in other areas i.e. production, mix, choice of vocalist etc. So despite my best intentions to focus on the positives the limitations of the weak areas are just too overpowering in places to ignore and a result the album comes out with a very average score. Hopefully Knapp can address the issues mentioned here next time as he has the 6 string goods to deliver going by his guitar work and musical compositions here.

Rating – 60%

ANGELS OF BABYLON – KINGDOM OF EVIL (ARCHIVE)

Out now on Metal Heaven

Angels Of Babylon are a new band consisting of drummer Rhino (ex Manowar), bassist Dave Ellefson (ex Megadeth), vocalist David Fefolt (who sang on the Masi album Downtown Dreamers back in the late 80’s) and guitarist Ethan Brosh (who released an instrumental offering last year). A promising line-up in terms of personnel who have come up with 10 tracks on their debut “Kingdom Of Evil”.

Unfortunately the album never really gets out of mediocre in the song department with a collection of classic metal inspired tracks that don’t really say anything to me. The performances are generally good throughout, although Fefolt’s vocals are gruffer than I remember and do grate a little after a while. Brosh delivers some good lead work but never does it show anything other than competence with little personality. Rhino and Ellefson do little more than keep things solid and there is an overall lack of flair in the material here making this heavy going for the most part with only the middle trio of heavy metal ballad of “Tear Out My Heart”, the driving “Oh How The Mighty Have Fallen” and the grooving “Tarot” pulling themselves out of the department marked mediocre.

Whether there is enough quality here to sustain a career is in serious question, on paper everything looks good but this debut is filled with too many plodders, one dimensional performances and an overall lack of excitement – not helped by a dark production which does little to add excitement to the proceedings. Be sure to check out some clips on the bands myspace before shelling out your pennies.

Rating -50%

CHARLY SAHONA – NAKED THOUGHTS FROM A SILENT CHAOS (ARCHIVE)

Released Feb 2010 on Lion Music

Dedicated followers of Virtuosity One may well be familiar with the name Charly Sahona from his work in progressive metallers Venturia who have released 2 excellent albums to date.  However, the French guitarist has seen fit to use songs not geared towards the Venturia sound for a debut solo album “Naked Thoughts From A Silent Chaos” which is a much more streamlined album built around heavy riffs with catchy vocals and Sahona’s trademark solos with the press promo sheet describing this is a fusion of Dream Theater, Muse and 30 Seconds To Mars.  Certainly the musicianship and heaviness of DT is here with the melodies taking on the more modernistic feel of Muse.  Fans of either band should be able to latch on this rather easily, yet at the same time it has its own sound going on.

Sonically the album sounds great with a production that puts many big names to shame with the rhythm section of Sahona’s Venturia band mates Diego Rapacchietti (Drums) and Thomas James-Potrel (Bass) powering the whole 8 track album along with exuberant ease and skill.  Sahona’s guitar is as excellent as anyone who has heard Venturia knows yet here where it’s the main focus you really see that Charly’s style is taking metal guitar to new places.

Highlights come in practically every song from opener and debut single “Relieved”, the stomping “Away From Our Sins” which is full of catchy vocal melodies, “Forgotten Past” is closest in style to the sound heard of Venturia’s “Hybrid” album.  “River Of Lies” is the most straight metal tinged track on the album.  “Living In A Dream Is Not Right” is relatively laid back in comparison to other tracks and allows Sahona to show his vocal skill, something which it could be argued is mixed a little low in places, this could maybe be put down to debut vocal release nerves, however, Sahona has a good voice, melodic, clean and likely to win appeal with the modern day listener so next time push the fader up a little Charly!  “It Will Fly Away” has more commercial possibilities and those that like Muse but would like that heavier may just find their perfect match here.    Closer “All That Can Be Said” sees the album out on another strong note.

With “Naked Thoughts From A Silent Chaos” Charly Sahona has delivered a mightily impressive debut album.  If your penchant for metal is to avoid clichés then this could be right up your street.  Essentially with performances this good, a production this strong and song quality excellent from start to finish then you have to ask the question what’s not to like?
 
Hot Spots : Relieved, Away From Our Sins, It Will Fly Away.
Rating : 95%

TONY HARNELL & THE MERCURY TRAIN – ROUND TRIP (ARCHIVE REVIEW)

Out Now – Frontiers

Not what I expected. That’s the least I can say about Tony Harnell’s latest project.
Harnell has decided to give us unplugged versions of some favourite songs from his 25+ year career. We’re all familiar with the roaring originals, so these subdued versions will probably strike you as a bit odd at first.

Of course Harnell’s voice is instantly recognizable, but the average hard rock fan would be well advised to listen before buying. The songs stand up well in their new guise (some of the new arrangements are actually bloody brilliant) but if you’re anything like me you’ll be left hankering for Ronnie Le Treko’s or Mark Reale’s blistering guitars. I have to say I was particularly curious about “10.000 Lovers” and I’m glad to confirm it’s one of the standout tracks here.

A very hard album to rate. Perfectly suited for a mellow evening with the missus. If you want to rock out there’s always the original versions by the respective bands.
From this point of view it easily rates an 85. It actually puts most bands’ pedestrian attempts at going unplugged to shame. If on the other hand you were hoping for a helping of heavy rock just steer clear…

Rating – 85%
Review by Sancho

ACACIA AVENUE – ACACIA AVENUE (ARCHIVE REVIEW)

Released 15th January 2010 on Lion Music

A new band in the melodic hard rock mold from Danish guitarist Torben Enevoldsen, who along with several instrumental releases is involved with the bands Section A and Fatal Force.  For Acacia Avenue Torben has decided to have some fun with some good time melodic rock n roll and invited some fine rock vocalists in the guise of Tony Mills (TNT, Shy), Geir Rönning (Radioactive, Prisoner), Torben Lysholm (Pangea, Mysterell) and Lars Säfsund (W.O.A.) to front the tunes, whilst Enevoldsen himself takes lead vocals on a brace of tracks.

The album gets off to a strong start with Tony Mills’ Geoff Tate esque vocals on “Don’t Call Me Tonight” and its a fine opener, rich, melodic, catchy chorus and nice riffing from Torben before Geir Rönning adds his more accessible vocals for “Hold On”, another fine track in its own right with a quite glorious chorus.  Lars Säfsund crops up next for the pure AOR laid back mid tempo groove of “An Illusion” which harks nicely back to the mid 80’s with its jangling keys, its quite Toto in feel and another fine success.  “Jamie’s In Love” sees Enevoldsen handle lead vocals and he has a perfectly fine voice for this LA hard rock style melodic groove with a slight Van Halen feel to the main riff.  Granted the lyrics maybe clichéd but it all adds to the vibe of yesteryear. Torben Lysholm lays down some smooth vocals over another very strong AOR tune in “Can’t Make You Stay” which is a great track from start to finish.  The instrumental “Mad Antenna” is maybe not quite fitting with the rest of the material, but there is no denying the first rate fretwork, this one could have been made into a vocal track as it has a very strong hook.  Tony Mills appears again for “Wait No More”, a more laidback number than his other number and a little more pomp in its approach, but once again there are enough hooks to hang a whole classroom of coats on.  “No Looking Back” sees Geir Rönning back at the mic and his vocals sound a little reminiscent of Kings X’s Doug Pinnick here.  There is a nice mix between major and minor here and another heavy dose of 80’s American melodic rock about the track and it’s a nice modern throwback to that time.  “Just Wanna Be With You” sees Torben Lysholm rock a little more on his second track and this track wouldn’t be out of place on a Bad English album.  Enevoldsen’s appearance at the mic for “Let Go” is home to a darker vibe than his other vocal, but again the result is good.  Closer “Digging” is to these ears the weakest track on offer, its not a stinker but seems to lack the overall quality of other numbers so the album doesn’t quite end with a bang.

With their self titled debut Acacia Avenue has delivered quite a surprising album.  On the first few listens the album may appear quite one dimensional but give those numerous melodies and hooks time to sink and and the album really reveals itself.  Given that this band comes from someone best as a highly technical guitarist its really shows the talent Enevoldsen possess as the guitar work plays second fiddle to the quality of song and that is to be praised, many a guitar name falls at this hurdle when in a band format so kudos go out to Enevoldsen.  If you like your rock full of hooks, with a melodic slant and an 80’s feel yet with a modern and powerful production then check out Acacia Avenue, it might just be the surprise melodic rock album of 2010 already.
 
Hot Spots : Hold On, An Illusion, Can’t Make You Stay, No Looking Back
Rating : 90%
 



MADE OF HATE – PATHOGEN (REVIEW)

Out Now – AFM Records

Proggy melodic metal with a really lame grunt. That about sums up Made Of Hate’s new opus.

 Instrumentally, there’s a lot to like. The songs are varied, the musicians competent. Everything is ruined however by the discount grunt of singer Radek. Imagine a more melodic version of Arch Enemy with a kind of hardcore grunt. A choice excerpt of the biography : Radek’s voice and his singing is unique and absolutely brilliant! Unique? Hardly. Brilliant? Not even remotely.

 For the instrumental part of the album : 75% (with better production they’d have reached 80)
For the vocals : 0%

Combined score : 35% rounded up.

ROSS THE BOSS – HAILSTORM (REVIEW)

The debut Ross The Boss album could have been the best Manowar album in years, if only Eric Adams had been there to fulfill vocal duties. Concise heavy metal songs with Ross’ meat and potatoes guitar playing, a competent band and a solid if unremarkable production. The only let down were indeed the vocals. These songs cried out for Adams’ masterful pipes, and precious few singers are up to the task… The follow up offers up the same recipe, but with some adjustments.

In keeping with the trend of the last several years, everything is a bit more bombastic.  The songs aren’t quite as catchy, but Ross sprinkles them with loads of Manowar references (there’s a riff in Burn Alive that owes more than a little to Death Tone, for example). The choruses are mostly Teutonic and should see the horns raised on festivals like Keep It True.

Singer Patrick Fuchs, who put in a respectable performance on the debut, seems to be straining more this time around. I don’t know what happened to Ross’ guitar sound, but this distortion-pedal-into-the-mixing-board type  of tone is inexcusable in 2010. His playing is naturally up to par but that tone really distracts from my enjoyment.

While this is really not a bad heavy metal album it’s flawed in the details. Not up to the level set by its predecessor.

Rating – 70%
Review by Sancho

ALLEN • LANDE – THE SHOWDOWN (REVIEW)

Third instalment from the Frontiers “manufactured” band  with two of the most acclaimed vocalists in metal in Symphony X’s Russell Allen and Ark/Masterplan/Solo vocalist Jorn Lande.  As with the previous two efforts all the music is penned by “songwriter for hire” Magnus Karlsson (Primal Fear / Starbreaker etc)  who contributes all guitar, bass and keyboard to the album.  As if often the case with long distance albums of this type the project does loose some of the closeness a direct collaboration between all involved might give.  That said, despite this being quite formulaic melodic metal in terms of song writing its going to be somewhat of a hit and miss affair.

Vocally there is little to fault. Lande is in fine form giving a commanding delivery. Allen’s vocals don’t have quite the sheen they had back in earlier Symphony X days but still are still noteworthy in terms of phrasing and impression.  Karlsson’s guitar work is perfectly functional, the guy has never blown me away in terms of originality but is solid enough, his strength more as a songwriter than a guitar hero which is perhaps the whole idea given the branding of this album.

Highlights come in the guise of the title track with its punchy delivery and here the two vocalists combine admirably.  Goodies are to be had elsewhere in the melodic vocal fest of “Turn All Into Gold” and “The Guardian” where the mix of vocalists and song writing again gel nicely indeed.  That’s not to say all is strong, the album does get a little safe and bland in a number of places, particuarly “Maya” and the plodding “Eternity”.  Overall the song writing is solid, but lacking a little in terms of originality and there is a sense of having heard in all before by a number of different acts.

“The Showdown” sees the tried and tested Allen Lande formula again working mostly as it should with the album being a little heavier and more straight-ahead than its predecessors, but like its precursors also leaves me finding it somewhat of a mixed bag, not that there is anything terrible here but nothing truly mind blowing either.

 Overall if you liked the predecessors you will like this.

Rating  – 78%

KISKE SOMERVILLE – S/T (REVIEW)

Out Now – Frontiers Records
 
Michael Kiske is a great singer, no arguing that point. His performance on Helloween’s seminal “Keeper Of The Seven Keys” albums had him marked for greatness. It wasn’t to be, however. Kiske has gone on record time and again how he doesn’t want to make metal music and basically disappeared from the scene. He’s done some solo stuff and several guest performances on distinctly metallic projects. Not to mention his work with Place Vendome, a project he preferred not to refer to as metal. So how come this new album falls decidedly in the metal corner of the market? Money talks and bullshit walks I guess…

Opening track “Nothing Left To Say” wouldn’t be out of place on a Primal Fear album. Second track “Silence” is aimed squarely at the Evanescence/Within Temptation crowd, with those annoying contemporary keyboards and choppy guitar riffs that have been done to death in this genre. “If I Had A Wish” is a faux-Helloween track. Only lacking the power that made that band so enjoyable. And so it goes on. Primal Fear, Helloween, Epica and After Forever all alternate with varying degrees of success. You can’t help but feel this album has been put together after a marketing study to determine what the present day metal fan expects. “Rain” is a particularly insipid song.

Both singers are a cut above average, even if Kiske has lost some of his mojo over the years. Unfortunately I find their voices don’t mesh together particularly well. Production and execution are both solid if not particularly inspired.

A formulaic and bland album. Faceless and lacking excitement.

Rating – 60%
Review by Sancho