Showing posts with label symphonic metal. Show all posts
Showing posts with label symphonic metal. Show all posts

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

video review: 'moonglow' by avantasia

So yeah, I really do wish I liked this more... eh, it happens, I guess?

Next up is Billboard BREAKDOWN and Resonators will be coming soon, but I might venture off into something strange... stay tuned!

Monday, February 25, 2019

album review: 'moonglow' by avantasia

So when I reviewed the newest Saor project, I made the statement it was one of my most anticipated metal releases of 2019... and funnily enough, the other one was released on the same day, and we're going to talk about it now. 

So, Avantasia - symphonic power metal project by mastermind Tobias Sammet, it was something that took a while to truly grip me. Unlike their progressive metal peer in Ayreon, the production wasn't always would it should be - especially early on - and while the projects could trigger some immediate standout tracks, I struggled to love the larger albums as a whole, all the more frustrating given they were intended to stand as album statements. More often they were uneven albums, good but not precisely great, and while I was initially high on their 2016 album Ghostlights as reaching that pinnacle, I expected it to fade on me... and I was dead wrong, because that album wound up making my year-end list and one of its songs cracking my top five favourite songs of 2016! And discovering how and why that album and the band's highlights in their larger discography have risen in my estimations in comparison with other acts has been a little fascinating, especially as my early opinions was that the project could trend toward overwrought cheesiness and being derivative, but with so many of those acts underwhelming in the 2010s with Avantasia only picking up steam with better production, more potent melodies, and better writing, I found myself really looking forward to this album! And like with all Avantasia projects, the guest vocalist lineup was stacked: Jorn Lande, Geoff Tate, Hansi Kursch of Blind Guardian, Candice Night of Blackmore's Night, Michael Kiske of Helloween, it was another stacked lineup and I was all ready for a gloriously theatrical release, which was exactly what Tobias Sammet was promising - and after the disappointment with Within Temptation, I needed that! So, enough fussing around: what did we get with Moonglow?

Monday, February 4, 2019

video review: 'resist' by within temptation

Damn, this one hurt. But hey, they tried something that didn't work, it happens. Let's hope the turnaround isn't another five years, let's just say that.

Next up... ooh, this'll take the bad taste out of your mouths quick, this is something unexpected and special, so stay tuned!

Sunday, February 3, 2019

album review: 'resist' by within temptation

Well, this has been long-overdue.

And I do get the feeling that I'm not the only one who thinks this - it has been about five years since we last heard from Within Temptation, and coming off of a somewhat controversial release, that did strike me as surprising. And yes, I do consider Hydra a little polarizing, especially in comparison with the massive but relatively straightforward symphonic metal Within Temptation released beforehand. Maybe some of it was incidental and linked to the album of covers they released close to it, but it was also their cleanest, most electronic, and most accessible project to date coming from arguably symphonic metal's most accessible act still working - hell, they had a song with Xzibit on it that was later released as a single, and I don't think anyone was expecting that! And while I did like Hydra a great deal back in 2014, I will admit the more streamlined and uniform tone didn't always match their more experimental work in the 2000s, or hit with the huge punch of 2011's The Unforgiving.

So after several extended tours, the band opted to take some time off - frontwoman Sharon den Adel cited exhaustion and writer's block, and the material she did compose translated into an indie pop solo project released last year - which didn't surprise me, I expected that solo project to come a decade ago. The band also switched labels from Nuclear Blast to Vertigo and Spinefarm, which didn't prompt much concern until I heard the band was opting not only for even more electronic elements, but also were taking more of a political angle in their writing. And look, I've been a Within Temptation fan for comfortably over a decade, and yet I can say this was the sort of direction that raised some concern - this is a band that's never been all that deep, and while they've been more willing to play to a mainstream audience, there is a part of me that wishes Within Temptation had taken the Nightwish route with more creative, off-beat experimentation. But since we're not getting another Nightwish album until at least 2020, what did we get off of Resist?

Friday, April 27, 2018

video review: 'the shadow theory' by kamelot

Well, this was... mostly disappointing, but I'm happy I got it off my schedule all the same. Eh, let's just move on.

Next up, I've got Resonators and finally some Janelle Monae, so stay tuned!

album review: 'the shadow theory' by kamelot

So when a band gets twelve albums into their career... hell, what is even left to say? Their high and low points are well-known, as are their moments of genre experimentation and flair. They've become an established quantity, and unless there is a massive paradigm shift, there becomes very little for critics like me to say...

And yet Kamelot has been different, mostly because their past few albums have been a pretty stark departure in sound with new frontman Tommy Karevik. The symphonic bombast had been ramped up, the tones were more aggressive and borderline progressive, and while Silverthorn was pretty damn solid in its own right, their 2015 follow-up Haven featured two of the best songs of 2015 and easily one of the best power ballads of the decade! It was a height that Kamelot hadn't reached in any capacity for me in over a decade, and thus I was genuinely curious how they could follow that up or if the album could match the extremely high quality of some of the individual cuts that came before. Granted, this was also coming with the departure of their longtime drummer Casey Grillo, but replacement Johan Nunez had a respectable pedigree and I was confident that Kamelot could still deliver. So, what did we get with The Shadow Theory?

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

video review: 'pacifisticuffs' by diablo swing orchestra

Ugh, I wish I had liked this more... but it happens, I guess...

Anyway, next up is a record I'm a little unsure if anyone beyond the Patron who requested it cares about, but we'll see - stay tuned!

album review: 'pacifisticuffs' by diablo swing orchestra

I get the feeling that just about every element of this particular act is going to require an explanation, including why in the Nine Hells I'm covering them in the first place - because while there are weird metal acts, Diablo Swing Orchestra sits in a category mostly by itself.

And the bizarre thing for once is that I can say I've mostly been a fan of this Swedish group for years. I was introduced to their debut and arguably best project The Butcher's Ballroom in university by a friend given my liking for symphonic metal, but that's only a component of the madhouse of this group, which blends in elements of swing, jazz, and classical music to their sound with a manic vaudeville approach, blending male and female vocals of all varieties against some pretty aggressive and yet remarkably catchy progressive metal, complete with strings and horns sections to boot! And yet at the same time they were always a band that I kept a little at arm's length, mostly because they could slip towards the deeply silly despite their wit and vaudeville kitsch does tend to test my patience, even though I would say all of their work is remarkably accessible all the same. Still, I did appreciate their follow-up records in 2009 and 2012, and I was curious to check out their newest project, with a new female singer stepping in. Granted, I was a little concerned that this record had to be delayed for a year in order to correct mixing issues, but hey, we've got it now, how is Pacifisticuffs?

Monday, October 23, 2017

video review: 'of erthe and axen: acts i & ii' by xanthochroid

Have to be honest, this one took a lot out of me, but a worthwhile listen all the same.

But now something light...

album review: 'of erthe and axen: acts i & ii' by xanthochroid

So here's one of the little benefits that comes with working in genres like black metal: given that you have no real obligation to fit to a radio sound or song structures or topics, you can pretty much write about whatever you want and audiences will typically be receptive of it. Granted, there are certain themes that have been present in black metal for some time and you typically want to work in similar territory to avoid being branded a gimmick, but you have more wiggle room than your average overmanaged pop or country or hip-hop act.

And into this scene comes the American progressive black metal band Xanthochroid, who broke out around the early 2010s with an EP and a debut record in 2012, but actually ended up gaining more traction and notoriety thanks to a couple of covers they put up on YouTube of acts like Wintersun and Opeth. But if you only know them through the covers you're missing a more ambitious band, one that in the grand tradition of metal groups has constructed an ongoing story arc behind their releases that seemed at least interesting. They also seemed to have a sense of humor and they made all of their lyrics readily available so I was definitely curious to check out that debut, and... well, it was certainly ambitious, that's for damn sure. It's also - like a lot of the black metal I've covered this year - pretty far away from the conventional sound, utilizing extensive clean vocals that for me can be hit-and-miss, overdubbed male choirs, acoustic sections, organ, and even flutes. And given the focus on building more of the grand narrative of their story, I was almost certain that they'd wind up in power metal eventually... but not just yet, because five years after that debut we have a double album followup, the first disc released in mid-August and the second just this week. And again, double albums can be tricky, and while I was convinced Xanthochroid could bring enough ideas to the table, it was still likely to be pushing it. So what did we find on Of Erthe & Axen: Acts I & II?

Friday, May 5, 2017

video review: 'the source' by ayreon

Honestly have no idea how this is going to be received... the album was great but it really should have been better, so much potential if the writing came through... eh, we'll see if it grows on me.

Next up, though, should be interesting... stay tuned!

Thursday, May 4, 2017

album review: 'the source' by ayreon

And now it's time for the big one, folks. The record I've arguably been anticipating the most in 2017, the newest collaboration album from a musical genius and a veteran of progressive metal for the past twenty years. The sort of project that has pulled from dozens of acclaimed metal acts and inspired at least three albums that would chalk as progressive metal stalwarts and one that's a genuine 10/10 classic.

And you all know who it is. Yes, folks, it's Ayreon, the project of Arjen Van Lucassen, who I last discussed in detail when I talked about his side project The Gentle Storm in 2015, and before then when I discussed the Ayreon album The Theory Of Everything in 2013 - which for the record nearly topped my list of the best albums of that year! Now that album did turn out to be a little contentious among some Ayreon fans - the story that felt distinctly separate from the Ayreon universe, the choice to structure the track listing in four mammoth songs each extending over twenty minutes, and a narrative that may have been a tad too abstract for its own good, especially with the ambiguous ending. Now I personally didn't care, but that might have been more because the narrative connected on a deeply emotional level that short-circuited most of my critical analysis: a young man with a neurological condition and complicated relationship with family finds new agency and a quest against a backdrop of theoretical physics, it hit a few too many close notes for me.

But that didn't mean I was inherently skeptical going into The Source - for one, look at that lineup! James LaBrie of Dream Theater, fresh off his own extended progressive metal epic The Astonishing, Tommy Karevik of Kamelot, Tommy Rodgers of Between The Buried And Me, Russell Allen of Symphony X, Floor Jansen of Nightwish, Hansi Kursch of Blind Guardian, Mike Mills of Toehider, Simone Simons of Epica, Paul Gilbert formerly of Racer X and Mr. Big, and even Tobias Sammet of the symphonic metal super-project Avantasia, who the music press has loved to paint as a rival to Arjen before they buried the hatchet in 2008. I haven't seen a murderer's row of talent that loaded since Dave Cobb brought together Southern Family. But The Source was promising more: a prequel album to the acclaimed 01011001 from 2008, telling the haunting story behind the collapse of the civilization behind the mysterious Forevers who have lurked behind so much of Ayreon's narrative. So on the one hand, it made plenty of sense for Arjen to cast the record with so many artists he's already worked with to deepen thematic parallels - or from what I could tell, maybe even play the same character again with Hansi Kursch and Floor Jansen - but on the other hand, prequels are always such a dangerous proposition, especially in a universe like Ayreon's with nine records stuffed full of interweaving continuity, with time travel to boot. But as always, my expectations were incredibly high, especially with buzz suggesting this could very well be Ayreon's best project since The Human Equation - does it live up to those expectations?

Monday, February 27, 2017

video review: 'theater of dimensions' by xandria

You know, I don't know if I had covered this a few months ago I would have gotten more hits off of it, but I am a little disappointed this doesn't seem to be attracting more attention. Eh, it happens, but still...

Anyway, it's not the only review I'm dropping tonight, so stay tuned!

album review: 'theater of dimensions' by xandria

So I've talked a little before about the rise and growth of symphonic metal on this channel, but one thing I haven't touched on as much was the very brief moment in pop culture where it crossed into the mainstream, specifically in the early-to-mid 2000s. Of course, it was the sort of crossover that was driven by one of the absolute worst entries - yes, I'm talking about Evanescence, and you'll get the full extension of that rant if they ever release that next album they're threatening - but for a brief segment of time, acts like Nightwish and Within Temptation had a chance to at least snag attention on the fringes of rock radio, and you definitely saw their sound on albums like Century Child, Once and The Silent Force pivot slightly in that direction.

But one factor that tends to get overlooked is like with any other trend, there arises bands that want to copy or at least get a taste of that same success, and symphonic metal was not an exception. You had obvious wannabes like Delain which continue to this day or bands like After Forever, which disbanded only a year or so after the boom collapsed in the mid-to-late 2000s. And somewhere in the middle falls Xandria, which despite forming in 1997 didn't release a debut album until 2003. And for the next five years, right in the heights of the subgenre's boom, they released four albums, none of which I'd argue are all that memorable or well-produced, with India probably being the best of them. And yet as the 2000s ended, rotating through singers and bassists and guitarists, you could easily make the statement that the band might not last.

And then something strange happened. After a fairly solid release in 2012 with Neverworld's End with Manuela Kraller fronting - the only record for which she was frontwoman - the band seemed to stabilize their lineup with the recruitment of Dianne van Giersbergen, arguably their best lead singer to date - of no relation to Anneke van Giersbergen, I should stress. And with the release of 2014's Sacrificium, I started noting a marked improvement in the arrangements and writing, to say nothing of some more spacious production. This was even further enhanced on the sharper EP Fire & Ashes, and thus I had reason to hope going into Theater of Dimensions that the improvements would continue - was I right?

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

video review: 'the holographic principle' by epica

Well, this... not as good as The Quantum Enigma, and it'll probably miss my year-end list overall, but still a damn great record all the same, and definitely worth your time if you're curious.

Next up... well, might as well get OneRepublic out of the way, along with a little surprise... stay tuned!

album review: 'the holographic principle' by epica

So I don't tend to talk about critical trends that often - as I've said before, critics all have distinct opinions, and if they're expressed well, I can be understanding. But there is a trend, particularly among some metal critics, that I want to address: the critical dismissal of symphonic metal.

Oh, don't act like you haven't seen it, it can happen with power metal too. It's often considered too cheesy and melodramatic, or it's too poppy and accessible and doesn't try to be as complex as 'real' metal bands. Frankly, I'd like to say that we as metalheads have moved beyond this, but that's obviously not the case, and if Evanescence ever follows up with their threat to release another album, I'll explain why in greater detail there. And look, it's not like those stereotypes and criticisms can't have a vein of truth - I've heard acts like Delain, I totally get it - but it also sells short a crop of symphonic metal acts that actually have more ambition and power than are given credit.

So let's talk about one of the most perennially underrated bands in the genre: Epica. I'll admit that it took me a while to come around on this group - growing up Nightwish and Within Temptation were both more accessible, and Epica did take some time to refine solid melodic hooks, but they are one of the most lyrically ambitious bands in any genre that I've covered, tackling big idea material with the sort of insight and depth that deserves a lot more attention, easily as cerebral as most progressive metal bands can be. I still hold The Divine Conspiracy and Design Your Universe as fantastic records, but in 2014 Epica finally managed to hit a sweet spot with The Quantum Enigma, which had their best ever hooks and showed frontwoman Simone Simons finally bringing the dramatic presence to match it. It was also one of their most successful records, and given how they were describing their upcoming project as even bigger, it looked like Nuclear Blast had seen that success as a chance to give them an even meatier budget. And all the more promising was the thematic idea of exploring the universe as a digital hologram - okay, not the most unique theme to explore, but Epica was bound to go deep with this and potentially could reconnect with the human drama that ultimately felt a little slight on The Quantum Enigma. So okay, I was entirely on board with this as one of my most anticipated records of 2016, what did we get with The Holographic Principle?

Thursday, September 22, 2016

video review: 'transcendence' by the devin townsend project

Man, really wished I liked this one more. Sadly, it just did not click with me - thin, underwritten, I'm not sure what it was, but it just didn't work all the way through.

Next up, though... Against Me! Stay tuned!

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

album review: 'transcendence' by the devin townsend project

So if I'm being very honest with myself, I haven't really covered as much metal this year as I was hoping. And really, it's a case of just getting overloaded - I've had a busy year both at work and in my persona life, through all of that on average I'm putting out more videos than ever, and I'm still falling behind... although yes, I will admit there were a few cases where I dug into metal records and just didn't have enough material to make a full or informed review. Well, throughout late September and October there are a lot of metal records that have been on my anticipated list all year, and it's about damn time I dig in - don't worry, I'll be covering other genres too, but it's time for some much overdue catching up.

So let's start with an act that I've consistently liked for years now: The Devin Townsend Project. Ever since the titular frontman split off the group from projects under just his name, they've delivered a fair few records of high concept music that isn't afraid to push genre to its limit while still delivering insightful, eccentric, and yet insanely catchy music. Now the last time I covered him was in 2014, where I reviewed three of his projects - the sequel to his landmark Ziltoid The Omniscient, the country-ambient crossover masterpiece Casualties of Cool, and Z²: Sky Blue, the last of which I'd argue was a real hidden gem. The song 'Silent Majority' made my year-end list of my favourite songs but in retrospect the entire album could have had a shot at my top records of 2014 - it's grown on me that much. And as such, outside of my overloaded schedule I had no excuse not to dig into his newest Devin Townsend Project record Transcendence, where if you looked at the liner notes seemed to be bringing together a richer cast than I had expected. Anneke Van Giersbergen was of course on board, but so was Che Aimee Dorval from Casualties of Cool - awesome - and for the first time since the era of Strapping Young Lad Devin Townsend had brought in another producer. This would be Adam "Nolly" Getgood of Periphery, another band that I may have passed over earlier this year mostly because I didn't want to have the 'djent' conversation. But with the possibility that said sounds might creep into Devin Townsend's production, which might fly in contrast to his more melodic compositional style... we're getting off-topic, how's Transcendence?

Friday, September 2, 2016

video review: 'moonbathers' by delain

Oh, I know a whole load of you are going to be peeved with this review... but look, there was nothing all that distinctive or interesting about the writing, themes, compositions, or production on this record. When we've got Avantasia and Tarja dropping far stronger and more interesting projects, this is just forgettable and all the more cements Delain as a b-list act. Sorry.

In any case, I'll be expanding on these thoughts soon as I'll be heading home from vacation! Vlog talking about more will probably go up either tomorrow or Sunday, but we'll see. Stay tuned!

Monday, August 8, 2016

video review: 'the shadow self' by tarja turunen

Well, this was an unexpected surprise. Tarja really did deliver here, definitely impressed by this. Seriously, you should all check this out, it's kind of amazing.

Next up, Billboard BREAKDOWN, then I've got Arkells, Dinosaur Jr., and see if I can find time to get in Lori McKenna before... Rae Sremmurd. Anyway, stay tuned!