TIME REQUIEM – THE INNER CIRCLE OF REALITY

time_req_inner

Out now on Regain RecordsOriginal review published in 2004

Keyboard whiz Richard Andersson returns with the second Time Requiem album – “The Inner Circle Of Reality”. The bands debut from 2002 was a superb slice of progressive neo-classical metal with a strong Malmsteen overtone to it. “The Inner Circle Of Reality” sees the Malmsteen-esque sound being replaced by a sound more inline with the likes of Symphony X or Adagio (of whom Andersson contributed solos for Sanctus Ignis). This is however much more keyboard led than either Symphony X or Adagio and this is what keeps Time Requiem original in a highly competitive genre.

The band has seen a couple of personnel changes with bassist Jonas Reingold and Zoltan Csörsz in the drummers seat. The album was recorded and mixed by Reingold and Andersson and the sonic results are very powerful.

Opener “Reflections” is sure to please all fans of Symphony X thanks its intricate riffing and powerful vocals courtesy of Apollo Papathansio (a cross between Jorn Lande and Russell Allen), this is a very intense track that just begs to be cranked up.

Title track “The Inner Circle Of Reality” is an epic in every sense, clocking in at over 11 minutes it takes you through a myriad of levels thanks to its very progressive nature. The verse is quite superb with a very classy melody line and this gives added weight to the package. The track has a slight neo-classical feel in places which is sure to make fans of the bands debut feel right at home. At around the six minute mark Richard Andersson takes us back to 70’s Prog with a keyboard solo that is quite Rick Wakeman. This then moves into territory similar to that of U.K. with some greet Mini Moog-esque sounds being used before guitarist Magnus Nordh comes in with a smooth legato filled solo. This causes Andersson to up his chops and we are flying high! The track then leads back into another verse and chorus and the track comes full circle.

“Dreams Of Tomorrow” starts with a dark mystical quality with harpsichords, horns and cymbal crashes, close to Adagio, a dark nature lends itself to Apollo Papathansio delivering a very classy vocal. The track has a superb chorus, which sees a great musical progression underneath. The track is a bit more guitar led than the other numbers and this helps make the riff stand out. The solo sections see some blazing duels from Nordh and Andersson. Andersson’s solo here being positively blinding.

The trademark Time Requiem sound leads us into “Attar Of Roses”. This track has a very majestic quality to it (in both sound and reference to Majestic – Andersson’s previous band). The neo-classical overtones are here in spades and make you realise just what a special partnership Richard Andersson and Yngwie Malmsteen could have if they ever get around to hooking up! The solo section sees all manner of classical inflections from Andersson and makes you realise why he is at the top of the metal keyboard player rostrum. But it’s the strength of the verse that really makes the track quite superb.

“Definition Of Insanity” begins with keyboards and drums setting a heavy prog setting. This transcends into a progression that fans of Dream Theater will appreciate right away. The track is up-tempo but is the most mainstream sounding track on the album – catchy metal with progressive overtones.

“Quest Of A Million Souls” sees Andersson lay down some sublime keyboard solos. What sets this guy apart from a lot of metal crowd is his ability to add a very human lyrical quality to his work. This is achieved by making great use of the pitch wheel and sounds that although familiar seem warmer than the average synth tone. The almost ballad nature of the track does offer some rest from the frantic work found elsewhere, but the classical influences again rear there head on the chorus chord progression.

“Hidden Memories” you just know is gonna be killer from as soon as the initial keyboard pattern rings out. I hear shades of Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells here as well as a little Images & Words era Dream Theater in the intro. This is thrown out the window for the relatively simple verses and a chorus that manages to combine frantic double bass drum work with a simple vocal melody line. Then a variation on the intro comes back and you realise how well the blend works. Andersson’s keyboard solo really hits all the right notes, with an almost Malmsteen feel to the way he can extend passages and yet maintain the interest of the listener.

A short instrumental piece between Andersson and bassist Jonas Reingold for” Bach Prelude Variations”. Short, classic, and a nice way to end the album.

With The Inner Circle Of Reality, Time Requiem has managed to add another extremely strong album to their discography. I probably prefer the bands’ debut a little more due to the slightly more neo-classical nature of it, but there is a lot to absorb and enjoy on this release. The band are obviously maturing and honing their sound to something that Richard Andersson’s ideal vision represents and it’s a ride that is a very rewarding one.

Hot Spots : Reflections, The Inner Circle Of Reality, Attar Of Roses, Hidden Memories.
Rating : 90%

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ULI JON ROTH – METAMORPHOSIS

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Out now on SPV
Original review first published on the old site in 2003.

Perhaps one of the greatest cult guitarists ever. Uli Jon Roth started out life as Ulrich Roth, lead guitarist of the Scorpions, he left in the late 1970’s and went on to form Electric Sun, who released 3 classic cult albums chock full of empassioned guitar work. Being a major influence on the likes of Yngwie Malmsteen, Marty Friedman, James Byrd and Jake E Lee amongst others, Uli has seen his career enjoy somewhat of a renaissance in the new millenium. 2000 saw Transcendental Sky Guitar achieve worldwide acclaim mixing the classics with Hendrix, this saw Uli head out on a European G3 tour, headline his own mini touring festival Legends Of Rock and generally see his career get somewhat of a boost.

December 2003 saw Metamorphosis hit the shelves (after several delays) and whilst containing elements of / or the same similar idea as Transcendental Sky Guitar, Metamorphosis is much more pompous. Essentially Metamorphosis is Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons with Uli’s SKY guitar taking the place of the violin, he is backed up by the Sky Orchestra (aka Bentley Klein ensemble) with Uli tagging his own 21st Century 5th Season on to the end. Crazy? Maybe but let the music do the talking.

Opener “Prelude To The Seasons” is an original atmospheric opener that after around 50 seconds gives us our first taste of Uli’s distinctive guitar tone. To be honest it does sound a little more processed these days than in years gone by but the fluidity in the sound is still nothing short of stunning. Track 2 to 13 are comprised of Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, if you have heard the excerpts from Transcendental Sky Guitar then you will have some idea of what to expect. However, this is home to super production values, apparently everything you will hear here is pure room reverb (no plate reverbs or digital fx) rather various rooms of Uli’s home studio in Wales were used to maximum effect. In regards to the Four Seasons, if you have never heard them then you are missing out on some of the finest music ever written and this is as good an introduction to them as any.

Track 14 “Thunder Cadenza” sees the start of Uli’s original compositions entitled Metamorphosis. These tracks are still extremely classical in nature – no rock bass or drums etc, but the flair of the guitar will transcend through even the most hardcore rock affichinadoes skin. “Cry Of The Night” is home to a beautifully haunting melody and the orchestral backing make the whole effect mesmerising. You have to hear the phrasing here to truly appreciate the beauty of the music.” Summer’s Breath” sees the pace and intensity drop to an almost whimsical level, nice play between guitar and violin is in evidence, this paves way to the dirty blues of “Rodeo From Hell” (all 50 seconds of it) which then leads into the dark gothic “Les Adieux” which sees more great interplay between orchestra and Uli. Here Uli is really giving us some great fretwork. This breaks down to another beautiful melody and more examples of the Roth greatness at wringing out emotion.

“Springtime Euphoria” sees a new play on the Spring main theme, Uli really is letting fly here, making full use of the low B string on his 7 string SKY guitar, some nice arpeggios. “The Heart Of Chopin” sees the dark soulful side of Uli’s persona come in, again very immaculately performed with great blending of orchestra and guitar. Check out the vibrato here, absolutely stunning! “Dance Of The Water Spirits” sees the tempo pick up once again and you can almost visualise an epic fight going on over mystic waters, this would work terrifically well over a fantasy feature ala Lord Of The Rings. Transfiguration starts the ending of the opus with more trademark Roth vibrato leading into “Venga La Vita” which is home to another reworking of the seasons themes. Roth then throws in some truly wonderful guitar fills that run the whole range of the Sky guitar. Closing gambit, “The Morning Of Forever” is again very emotional with a dark hautning quality yet a brittle quality that is so enchanting. Completely orchestral it shows Roth’s skills as a classical arranger to the full.

Well there you have it, despite the focus of this review being on Uli’s new movement, Metamorphosis is home to a classic masterpiece and then another captivating body of work in Uli’s additions. This album proves that Roth may well have found his niche and whilst fans of his work in Scorpions and Electric Sun may wish for him to return to that path someday this kind of shows that this is world in which Uli now lives.

If you have never heard any of Uli Jon Roth’s work before then this is a good place to start, it will give you a very clear indication of where the man is at musically in his fourth decade of music and it will hopefully lead you on a journey towards Uli’s past works. Recommended.

Rating : 92%

 

OBSESSION – ORDER OF CHAOS

Released 3rd October 2012 on Inner Wound Records

Obsession are probably best remembered for providing the world with Mike Vescera who went on to some acclaim in Loudness and Yngwie’s band. A shame, as Obsession have always been an excellent metal band in their own right.  Their original run of 80s albums was as good as US metal gets, and the first reunion album, 2004’s criminally overlooked “Carnival Of Lies” confirmed their credentials.

This new offering doesn’t serve up any surprises. Expertly crafted old school American Metal is the name of the game. Even with what is basically a totally new line up centered around Vescera, the classic Obsession sound is maintained. Solid metal tunes with lead guitars galore, topped off with Vescera’s fairly recognisable voice.

Will this be enough to secure a foothold in today’s gimmick driven metal scene? Doubtful, alas…  If you’re into metal for the music and not just because you like to dress up as a pirate, you will want to check this one out!

Rating – 93%
Review by Sancho

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

MARCEL COENEN – GUITARTALK

Out now on Lion Music

Sun Caged guitarist’s 2003 solo album gets a limited edition digipack reissue (500 copies) with a bonus track of a cover of Joey Taffola’s ‘Six String Souffle’.

ORIGINAL REVIEW AS FEATURED ON VIRTUOSITYONE IN 2003

Now you might be thinking “who the hell is Marcel Coenen?”, to be honest I thought the same thing but after listening to this album a lot lately its one name that is gonna get spread around more by the week.

Marcel hails from Holland and if his bio is anything to go by has created something of a buzz on the European circuit. His first claim to fame came with the act Lemur Voice who released their debut album, Insights, on the Magna Carta label in 1996 and their second and final release Divided in 1999 through Telstar Records. In 1998 Marcel competed in the Dutch National Guitar Championships and won the rock category resulting in an endorsement from Ibanez guitars.This solo album originally came to light in 1999 originally as a cd-r with home recording. Its has however seen a re master since then and whilst not being a mega buck production job that the likes of Vai or Satriani can afford the luxury of, it does showcase what a good set of ears can achieve with modest equipment.

So what does the listener get on ‘Guitar Talk’? Well guitar would be the obvious answer but along with the oodles of fretboard antics on offer you get an insight into an artist that shows he has the goods and should only get better with age. The style is a hybrid of the stylised instrumental guitar workouts of Satriani and Vai, but it also has a prog metal element to it reminiscent of bands like Symphony X and to a lesser extent Adagio.

Opener Independence Day is a heavy tune which sees Coenen utilising a 7 string guitar for added gut wrenching growls. Marcel states in the liner notes that people have compared it to Haji’s Kitchen meeting Meshuggah. My own personal opinion is that its pretty darn sinister with a Pantera esque rhythm part over which a moody melody builds the tension before fast flurries of fretboard extravagance. Odd time signature abound but it all holds together into a cohesive unit.

Race Against Time is in the 80’s shred mold, very Racer X with a driving riff followed by huge arpeggio leaps. Its not all about shred, with a nice mid section breakdown for some great harmonised melodic lines where Coenen’s guitar really breathes. A few Tony Macalpine tapped licks lead us back into the Racer X style – impressive

Inner Alchemy sees the tempo slow and mood become more reflective with a very melodic Satriani-esque ballad. A nice piano underscore allows the guitar to really shine before drums enter with some nice synth pads – the feel of the track reminds me quite a lot of Joe Satriani’s ‘Crying’. This track really does live up to the title of the album as the guitar does indeed talk. Coenen describes this as a song from his heart and it shows – beautiful.

Fusion came about after Marcel was messing around with his drum machine. The track is certainly fusion in style and the guitar playing reflects this attitude with some quite freeform leads. It again has a very strong melody. The feel of the track has a little Vai quirkiness, a little Holdsworth cool and a hint of Steve Morse – another highlight.

The tempo picks up and the skies darken for the neo-classical tinged Rebel. Reminiscent of Cacophony meets Yngwie thanks to big arpeggios and harmonic minor and diminished runs, Marcel even quote a riff from Yngwie Malmsteen’s Krakatau 2 minutes in. Some of the rhythms are pretty intense all driven on by double bass drumming (where the drum machine does sound a little mechanical) but the overall effect is another pleasing composition.

Fairy Tale sees the fusion sound re-enter with some more of the Satriani vibe mentioned earlier. The origins of this song started in 1992 so it shows Coenen had the ability to pen compelling tunes in him years ago. Scattered throughout we have some nice twin voice guitar parts, overall the song has a strong structure and melody.

The Wet Season sees a more bluesy vibe enter the fray, again another strong melody and some nice use of different pickup positions for texturing the tone. In places it reminded me of Eric Johnson meets Steve Vai on a summer night!

Anthem is up next. If you’ve ever wondered what the Dutch national anthem sounds like – well here’s the rocked up version. Like all anthems it has a very majestic quality but then it dives into an absolutely slamming rhythm before the melody is intensified ten fold with wide intervalic runs and odd counter harmonies. Nice!

Another very heavy track raised its head in Shoreline. Again Coenen makes nice use of twin leads and the drop D riffage underneath creates a nice basis for the lead melody to work over. Coenen also shows off some very scary speed riffs on this track.

Moyra sees the mood switch over to the romantic, with Coenen penning this tune for a special friend. This track was written and recorded in March 2003 and shows the growth Marcel has made as a player over some of the earlier tunes on the album. Again a strong Satriani vibe enters the fray, but it must be said that the melody is stronger than anything on the last couple of Satriani releases – another highlight.

Move That Groove may have one of the most comical song titles but the music is again very strong indeed. Coenen credits this track as being in the Satriani vein and who am I to disagree. Again this is coming more from the ‘The Extremist’ end of Satch’s repertoire. The song is pretty straightforward in 4/4 time but it has a nice driving groove.

The album ends with an atmospheric track in the guise of Endless. Marcel makes nice use of the acoustic guitar which is coupled with some sweet electric volume swells to really add atmosphere and space to the track. After the sonic onslaught of a lot of this album its nice that it ends of a more spaced note and indeed calls out reflection of the album. To end the album with another highlight makes sure the cd ends with a good impression.

So is Marcel Coenen the new guitar god to challenge the throne held by Satriani and Vai? Well no, but as a debut release this is a very impressive outing that should have the two aforementioned names at least looking over their shoulders. Sure the Satch and Vai influences are apparent but they are used in a way they makes Coenen stand out from the pure imitators and there are many glimpses of a true original voice lurking throughout. It will be interesting to see what Marcel delivers on his next album, I for one hope that he proves me write and delivers the goods. In the meantime this is a fine selection of material and if you’re reading this Satriani how about offering this guy a slot on any future European G3 gigs?

Hot Spots : Inner Alchemy, Fusion, The Wet Season, Moyra, Endless.
Rating : 86%

DOOGIE WHITE – AS YET UNTITLED

Out now on Metal Mind Productions

Debut solo album from the former Rainbow/Malmsteen vocalist, quite surprising given he’s been on the scene the best part of two decades.  “As Yet Untitled” see Doogie sticking firmly to his Rainbow roots as this is classic hard rock with a dark Rainbow style vibe for the most part yet not quite up to the quality of Blackmore penned tunes.  Its also perhaps a little less interesting that the very good albums he put out with Cornerstone .  But if you like any of the acts mentioned thus far then you will get a kick out of this.

Backed by a very capable supporting staff of Patrick Johansson (Yngwie Malmsteen, drums), Thomas Broman (Glenn Hughes, drums), Derek Sherinian (Black Country Communion, keyboards), Tony Carey (ex-Rainbow, keyboards), Neil Murray (ex-Whitesnake, bass), Greg Smith (Ted Nugent, bass), Paul Logue (Eden’s Curse, bass), Pontus Norgren (Hammerfall, guitar), Marcus Jidell (Royal Hunt, guitar) and Mick Tucker (Tank, guitar) its good to see Mr White friend’s from his various musical acts over the years contributing.

Opener “Come Taste The Band” sets the scene well, rocking yet quite simplistic in its outlook .  “Dreams Lie Down & Die” is Rainbow through and through but could be argued missing the final magic Blackmore would inject.  “Lonely” is one of the albums more ‘in-yer-face’ numbers and kicks more ass than an angry mule .  From here on it’s a case of likeable enough material that never gets too exciting until closing number “Times Like These” which is a bit of a corker pure and simple.

Doogie’s voice in fine fettle throughout, he’s one of the more distinctive vocalists out there and in a good way.  “As Yet Untitled” is a solid album pure and simple but one that does lack some excitement in places.

Now if only Yngwie could ditch Ripper…..

Rating – 83%

BOGUSLAW BALCERAK’S CRYLORD – BLOOD OF THE PROPHETS

Released 14th October 2011 on Lion Music

Neo-classical metal has been a bit of a hit and miss effort of late.  Strong releases from Concerto Moon have been counteracted by poor releases from the leading starlet of the genre Yngwie Malmsteen, so it’s with some hope that the debut effort from Polish guitarist Boguslaw Balcerak’s band Crylord can restore the balance for what is a favourite genre of mine.

The initial signs look good with a steady backing band behind guitarist Boguslaw Balcerak of some highly talented musicians from his native country, whilst vocals come from Carsten ‘Lizard’ Schulz (Evidence One, ex Domain) and former Malmsteen vocalists Mark Boals and Göran Edman.  Impressive names for sure and it’s easy to see how Boguslaw got them onboard as the quality of material is superb.

Whilst some will compare to Malmsteen purely because of the genre and a couple of names involved, the keener ear will hear an original sound.  There are some power and some small progressive elements here and there, but this is mostly about excellent songs with great performances.

After a brief orchestrated instrumental opener “Blood Of The Prophets” kicks into life with the ultra powerful title track.  Big riffs, fleet fingered lead work and a heavy dose of melody make this a great start.  The guitar work is as good as you’d hope for in this genre whilst the vocals of Carsten Schulz are arguably the best stuff I have heard from him yet making great use of layering on the choruses and a nice gritty delivery on the verses. This heavy, driving sound is heard elsewhere on the likes of “Warriors Moon” which has a nice change of tempo and very strong personality, and again within  “Beyond The Walls Of Sadness” which is home to a slower tempo and more epic sound.

The neo-classical sound is really at the fore on “Bard’s Tale” which is a track fans of classic Malmsteen and early Symphony X will warm to immediately.  This track has an absolutely scorching solo that reminded me a little of Balcerak’s label mate James Byrd. Beginning with a nice melodic theme before progressing into a very fluid workout with a great melodic edge and killer vibrato, this is one of the many tracks that you’ll be playing over and over.

Schulz and Boals combine well on the likes of “Face Of Destiny” which its melodic verses and soaring chorus which, again, home to a glorious solo from Balcerak. This guy really does have a great feel and the fast paced instrumental “The Heretic” is a perfect showcase for the mans skills.  But listen beyond the guitar work and you hear excellent keyboard inflections and orchestrations from Łukasz Dybalskand whilst drummer Marcin ‘Kanclerz’ Kwasny hits the skins with as much skill and gusto as many of the big names.

For Göran Edman’s vocals Boguslaw has composed a couple of commercial stompers in ‘Grave Of Love’ and ‘Angel Of Divine’ which are perfectly suited for the melodic commercial sheen of Edman’s voice.  The former is a quite fast paced and Edman pulls out all the stops on the vocal front, the chorus is perfect for his voice.  The latter track is darker, with a more majestic feel to it and again very infectious, a grittier vocal from Göran works well on the verses and you get the impression he is enjoying singing this material.

The 8 minute “Valley Of The Dead” sees the tempo taken down to a doomier Sabbath meter for the most part.  It’s a nice change of pace and you can see an intimidating atmosphere developing in the live arena with this one.  Schulz turns on the darker side of his voice.  The track picks up in tempo in the middle section which paves way to another sublime solo from Boguslaw, one of his best on the album.  The solo on this one is one of the most extended on the album- the opening bend and descending lick which will raise the hairs on anyone’s back and makes the rest of the fretboard skills compulsive listening.

Next up we get some respite in the melodic themed tonality of power ballad “When The Time Has Come” which is a duet between Boals and Edman, a sweet track with an anthemic chorus and heart wrenching solo from Boguslaw.

The album closes with the dark magnificently titled “The Healing Hands Of Destruction”.  Beginning with a wealth of movie score type orchestration before the track moves into a neo-classical charger, this one will blow your head off. Vocals come from all 3 vocalists who combine well yet the power of the delivery is to die for. A fitting closing number.

“Blood Of The Prophets” is in a word awesome and ranks as one of the releases of the year. After the horrible taste in the mouth left by Malmsteen’s dire “Relentless” release, this is a reminder of when done right how strong neo-classical metal is a genre. Although to recommend it to neo-classical fans along would be selling it short as “Blood Of The Prophets” will appeal to a fans of classic/trad metal and power and progressive metal (think early Symphony X) genres as well.

Aided by an excellent production and mix and superb artwork this is in many ways the complete package.

Boguslaw Balcerak’s leaves us in no doubt of his guitar ability with this album, but more importantly he’s leaves the lasting impression of a musician that can pen incredible songs and is a name that I hope you will be hearing a lot more from.

Buy now.

Rating – 95%

IRON MASK – SHADOW OF THE RED BARON (REVIEW)

Out now on Lion Music

Back after 4.5 years from the scene are neo-classical merchants Iron Mask.  However, whilst the sound is firmly rooted in a neo-classical basis there is a stronger than ever melodic vibe throughout the album makes this a versatile and accessible album for more discerning straight metal fans.   

Led by guitar whiz Dushan Petrossi the line-up is mostly consistent with its predecessor ‘Hordes Of The Brave’ so once again we have powerhouse vocalist Goetz ‘Valhalla Jnr’ Mohre whose voice is a nice mix of Dio and Dickinson and longterm bassist Vassili Moltchanov in now joined by drummer Eric Stout (Joe Stump band) with keyboardist Andreas Lindahl (Murder Of My Sweet) completing the lineup.  The album is home to 11 tracks, 1 of which is an instrumental and anyone who appreciated the sound of ‘Hordes Of The Brave’ is going to love this new effort.

Opening with the 7 minute epic “Shadow Of The Red Baron” is a bold move but ultimately a gripping start. Set at a frantic pace, with riffs firing from all angles, the production is tight with Stout’s drums exploding from the speakers.  Anyone that has missed the classic neo-classical tinted metal Malmsteen produced in his prime will get a serious thrill out of this track.  Valhalla Jnr’s vocals soar throughout whilst the guitar/keyboard interplay in the solo section is pure bliss. A cracking start.   

“Dreams” is up next serving up a classic Maiden style triplet/gallop motif, lead vocals are performed by Oliver Hartmann (a long term Iron Mask associate, his voice also supplies the numerous choirs heard throughout).  The track itself it commercial sounding neo-classically tinted metal with a chorus of the highest quality.  A classical interlude pummels you for the start of the solo section before Dushan delivers a fret melting  yet highly melodic solo.

The stunning quality continues unabated for “Forever In The Dark”, more mid tempo than its predecessors this is classic track from start to finish, opening with a keyboard motif which leads way to harmonised guitars before breaking down into Gregorian chants before the verse kick  in solidly.   The chorus is once again addictive, as is the instrumental middle section which has a Michael Schenker-ish tint to these ears.    This is first rate melodic metal of the highest order.

“Resurrection” sees the tempo drop down a few notches further, yet the heaviness intensify for this Egyptian tinted track.  The track is well worked, with the multi tracked choirs working extremely well, however the lead vocal performance is equally stunning. 

“Sahara” is back to punchy commercial neo-classically tinted album and wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Malmsteen’s “Odyssey” album such is its quality.  Dushan’s lead guitar is flanked by a guest solo from Lars Eric Mattsson before a deft solo from Lindahl sees us back into the catchy chorus.

“Black Devil Ship” is arguably the only weak spot on the album, with its mock pirate theme complete with jolly roger riff, albeit delivered in a style reminiscent of Iron Maiden.  It’s not a terrible track, but does come across more as a novelty number.

“We Will Meet Again” quickly rectifies its predecessor’s shortcomings in another fantastic slice of melodic metal.  Once again a melodically rich harmonised riff will snag you in right away, but the way the track builds through the verses into the chorus is also addictive as hell.  The chorus will see the power metal crowd reaching to the skies in delight and once again it’s another fine success.

“Universe” is one of the fastest tracks on the album being very grandiose in its delivery, and the classically rich middle section before scorching guitar/keyboard dual solo section only adds to majestic feel.

The lone ballad “We Will Meet Again” is a heartfelt number, written about the death of Dushan’s mother the track is exquisite with its female choirs, acoustic guitar.  Valhalla Jnr shows his versatility on this number through a wide range of tonalities and ranges, why he isn’t mentioned with the metal elite is surely just a matter of time. 

“Only The Good Die Young” is back to what this album has delivered in spades, extremely strong classic metal with a commercial punch, yet still managing to retain a heaviness that should see European metal fans rejoicing.  The solo trade off here is again a nice addition.

Instrumental “Ghost Of The Tzar” is as epic as its title suggests.  Its metallic flair is backed by a classical punch, and the use of growling vocals sees them add musical merit to the composition.  Naturally the nature of the music is likely to sees comparisons to Mr. Malmsteen, but again Yngwie has not produced anything this good in a few years now.

With “Shadow Of The Red Baron” one can only hope that Iron Mask’s stock rises in the metal world as this is a stunning album pretty much from start to finish.  The songwriting is first and foremost the key here, Petrossi has developed in his craft nicely with each album and its hard to see how he will top this effort. Naturally the musical performances are first rate, yet all serve to compliment the songs as opposed to over power them.  The production of the album is strong being mixed and mastered by Jen Bogren (Symphony X, Opeth etc) and really it’s the icing on the cake of a superb album. 

What a way to start 2010!
 
Hot Spots : Pretty much the entire thing!
Rating : 95%

JAYCE LANDBERG – GOOD SLEEPLESS NIGHT (REVIEW)

Out Now on Escape Music

Jayce Landberg is a guitarist hailing from Sweden who released the Yngwie wannabe neo-classical tinted release ‘Break The Spell’ in 2008 which saw former Malmsteen vocalist Goran Edman on vocals. Now the follow up ‘Good Sleepless Night’ has just been released on Escape Music and whilst Jayce has spread beyond the neo-classical sounds of his debut, for the most part this an unfocused album in terms of direction and focus.

Landberg has certainly armed himself with all the right tools in the band personnel department having once again Goran Edman on lead vocals (plus a guest vocal from Mark Boals), and Europe bassist Jon Levin on a few numbers, but the overall direction is purely one of Landberg’s making but as mentioned this unfocused.  

So we get the pseudo Offspring opener ‘My Valentine’ to the decidedly dodgy eurovision-metal of ‘The Devil’s Wine’, although there is a fine bridge buried in the track which makes you wish the song had been built from that.  Jayce has obviously discovered Van Halen recently (and bought himself a EVH MXR Phase 90) for the pseudo VH of ‘Drama Queen’ (complete with Atomic Punk intro rip off) which is pretty bad and the solo spot of ‘Abduction’ (a pseudo Eruption if you will – get the ironic title?).  There are some more successful moments in the likes of the melodic metal of ‘Skyscraper’  and the euro metal of ‘Invasion’ but its diminishing returns elsewhere.

Jayce Landberg is certainly a competent enough player, but his song writing is just not up to scratch.  The amount of variety in style (and quality) also seems to work against the albums identity and you get the impression there are too many cook books in the Landberg kitchen.  There are moments to suggest Landberg could make a decent album but sadly ‘Good Sleepless Night’ isn’t it. Better luck next time.

Rating – 40%

ALEX BEYRODT’S VOODOO CIRCLE – VOODOO CIRCLE (ARCHIVE)

Out now on AFM Records

Voodoo Circle is the new project from Silent Force guitarist Alex Beyrodt.  Those familiar with the classy tones exuding from the SF releases will now that Beyrodt is arguably the best in his field when it comes to recreating classic Rainbow/Rising Force esque metal.  Voodoo Circle is not just another outlet for Beyrodt’s musical styling’s, but also one of the finest examples of the melodic metal genre heard in some time.  Forget Axel Rudi Pell with his out of tune solos, forget even Yngwie with his sub par current offering ‘Perpetual Flame’, and instead delve into the wonder that is this album.

 11 tracks of metal bliss kick off with “Spewing Lies”, an aggressive rocker built around a trademark Beyrodt riff.  The first that will hit you is how good Alex’s guitar sounds here, this is arguably helped by the powerful production and top quality backing musicians in the form of David Readman on vocals, Mel Gaynor (drums), Mat Sinner (bass) and Jimmy Kresic on keyboards yet the power of this opener will grab you from the first listen.  “Desperate Heart” follows in a more melodic mid-tempo pattern, yet the feel here and overall structure is perhaps a little too close to Yngwie’s “Makin’ Love” for comfort, having that said that, numerous long-time Malmsteen fans wish Yngwie would kick out this kind of metal still so lap it up.  “Kingdom Of Lies” is darker, with a nice prelude from Alex and soon kicks out an audacious trad metal din reminiscent of Dio era Rainbow in its riff, before travelling into more traditional euro metal styling’s for the chorus.  Beyrodt delivers another first class solo here. 

 “Man And Machine” is pure Blackmore in its riff and Alex certainly makes no attempt to hide his main influences, but when its done this well all you can do is stand back and admire.  “Master Of Illusion” is another superb slice of mid-tempo melodic metal, with a great chorus, strong riff and works well midway through the album.  “We’ll Never Learn” heads back into Malmsteen inspired waters, in this case ‘Crystal Ball’ off ‘Odyssey’ with its restraint lead guitar over keyboard pads intro before kicking in with a glorious riff, the like Yngwie wrote in his prime.  Despite the influence, it has to be said that this is probably track of the album to these ears with a superb hook in the pre-chorus and another solo to die for. “Dream Of Eden” opens with some Moog and Hammond, reminiscent of Rainbow’s “Tarot Woman” before settling into a mid tempo heavy riff which is quite Rainbow in its delivery, this maybe aided by guest vocals of ex Rainbow/Malmsteen vocalist Doogie White and a fine keyboard solo from Richard Andersson (Time Requiem), but another strong number. 

  “Heaven Can Wait” is another strong mid tempo number built around a shuffle rhythm verse before heading into more straight-ahead melodic metal circles for the chorus.  “Angels Will Cry” sees the tempo upped a little for another slice of Malmsteen inspired metal.  Things break down midway for a nice melodic lead guitar solo which grows and builds before heading into a bluesy vibe before a repeated chorus sees the track out.  “Enter My World Of Darkness” sees Alex playing with a sitar effect for the intro before launching into a bruising riff and track reminiscent of Malmsteen once again in “Pyramid Of Cheops”. The solo is once again very strong; with a more Blackmore vibe here before Jimmy Kresic adds a nice keyboard solo from which Beyrodt comes back in with more nice lead work and continued underneath the chorus. The final track is the six minute instrumental “White Lady Requiem” which is a master class in the Beyrodt guitar style from restraint melodies to all out shred.  All in all a nice work out and sure to appease any neo-classical fan.

  The debut album from Voodoo Circle shows a lot of promise, sure the influences at times are easy to spot, and Alex makes no secret of his admiration for Malmsteen and Blackmore, but whilst these influences can be heard there is always Beyrodt’s own interpretation of these classic sounds on full view.  As stated at the intro, if you are somewhat disillusioned with the Malmsteen sound of late, then this album is sure to find a welcome home in your collection.  As it stands it’s a very good album, that sits nicely alongside the Silent Force albums and is another example of Beyrodt being the best of the talent to have come out of Germany since Michael Schenker.  Strong vocals, a good (but not great) production, first class musicianship, Voodoo Circle is a late entry in 2008 but may also be one of the years best.

Hot Spots : Spewing Lies, Kingdom Of Lies, We’ll Never Learn
Rating : 94%