Queensrÿche – American Soldier

     The title of the album may be American Soldier but, title aside, any soldier, or family of a soldier, can relate to the lyrics on this release from one of the first ProgMetal bands.
     There is a few harder rocking songs on the album but the music for the majority of it is kept thoughtful, almost as if the music was written for the lyrics and not the other way around.

     Queensrÿche has been releasing music since the early part of the 1980’s, gaining recognition with their third release, Operation: Mindcrime, and world-wide popularity and fame with their fourth release, Empire.
     In the nineties they did not disappear as many bands from the 80’s did with the onset of the whole Grunge thing, but continued to release albums that were off-the-beaten-path and heavy on the experimental, or, progressive side.
     
     What makes American Soldier more listenable from their nineties albums until Operation: Mindcrime II was released is the band has gone back to their earlier sound and mixed it with experimental digital sound (think Rage For Order).
     On American Soldier their is a bit of sampling, voices of soldiers and veterans talking about their experiences that is used as openers for some songs and stuck behind the music in others.
     Musically, the album is solid. From heavier to lighter, it is a metal album with elements of experimentation and prog. The band, being true to themselves; the music is never self-indulgent but filled with emotion. It does, however, deal with a subject that many do not understand unless they have been where the lyrics come from.

     Inspired by his father, a military veteran, lead vocalist Geoff Tate interviewed veterans and soldiers, speaking with them about their experiences and how they felt, how living through what they did had changed them as a person, what their hopes where, and their fears. One predominent theme throughout is the feeling that those Geoff spoke to, and, as a combat veteran myself can attest to, soldiers feel like they have absolutely no control over what is going on when in battle. You get the sense that it is almost surreal.

     Musings aside, their is no light and fluffy lyricism going on in this album, ever. And the music too is never light in ambience although the expiremental elements allow breaks from the emotion the band conveys; spots that seemingly step away from the concept and allow the listener to absorb the song, where, after a few listens, you might sit back and say, “Wow, this is a damn good album”.

track listing for American Soldier:
01: Sliver
02: Unafraid
03: Hundred Mile Stare
04: At 30,000 Feet
05: A Dead Man’s Word’s
06: The Killer
07: Middle Of Hell
08: If I Were King
09: Man Down!
10: Remember Me
11: Home Again
12: The Voice

     The song Home Again is about a father and his daughter’s thoughts on them having to be away from one another as he deploys to war. It is a duet, the part of the daughter being sung by Geoff Tate‘s own daughter, Emily Tate, who was, at the time, 10 years old. 
     Emily also performed the song with the band onstage at shows.

Slayer – Reign In Blood

     With the entire 10 songs on Reign In Blood clocking in at just shy of 30 minutes; when the album was released people who bought the cassette were pissed off that all the songs were repeated on the 2nd side. Then they played the fucker!

     Holy shit!

     Motley Crue‘s album Theater Of Pain bore a sticker that proclaimed the album contained sonic fury, Slayer‘s Reign In Blood bore no such sticker. Unlike Motley Crue‘s release, which contained mediocre drivel, Reign In Blood does actually contain sonic fury. We were blown away by the albums ferociousness and everyone who heard Reign In Blood could not deny that Slayer was a true ThrashMetal band.

     Now days, Reign In Blood is considered an extreme classic and many go so far as to say it is the pinnacle of what a true ThrashMetal album should be. It is timeless. Listening to it today, it is still as heavy, if not heavier, than anything out there.
     Musically, the songs are short bursts of aggression with relentless drum kicking by Dave Lombardo driving the guitars of Jeff Hanneman and Kerry King, which sound more like cats either copulating or being strangled than they do guitars, and Tom Araya‘s guttural screams and spitting vocals to lyrics of death, evil, and torment… (sighs) It’s like dying and going to a very dark and blistering version of heaven.

     Most MetalHeads know this album and those who do not like ThrashMetal cite it as one album even they will listen to.
     See, for all their speed, aggression and ferocity, Slayer are a band of accomplished musicians who know their way around their instruments and how to put a song together. Many bands cite Slayer, and especially the album Reign In Blood, as being a major influence on their song writing. Their have been many Thrash releases since Reign In Blood and not one of them comes close to being what this album is, not even Slayer‘s own releases.

Track Listing for Reign In Blood:
01: Angel Of Death
02: Piece By Piece
03: Necrophobic
04: Alter Of Sacrafice
05: Jesus Saves
06: Criminally Insane
07: Reborn
08: Epidemic
09: Postmortem
10: Raining Blood

     What starts out with a wailing scream and ends with the sound of blood dripping from the heaven’s is one hell of a relentless album. If you have not heard this album, you owe it to yourself – listen to it.

Delain – April Rain

     Martijn Westerholt, original keyboardist for Within Temptation and brother of Within Temptation guitarist Robert Westerholt; Martijn had to leave Within Temptation for health reasons in 2001.
     Having recovered his health, Martijn and vocalist, Charlotte Wessels began working in what was then only a project called Delain.
     Their debut album, Lucidity, was successful and Delain went from project mode to full touring band.

     April Rain, the bands second release, saw less guest musicians and vocalists on it and the sound of the album was more confident. As I mentioned before, their is a song on Within Temptation‘s release The Unforgiven that sounds as if it was inspired by the song Stay Forever, in that it is musically similar in pace and rhythm.
     The lead out song, April Rain, has all the albums elements within it, Symphony, heavy guitar, introspective lyrics, soft and hard vocals (some with effects), double bass drum kick to standard beats.
     Like the relationship of sisters Liv Kristine (Leaves Eyes) to Carmen Espenæs (Midnattsol), what one could expect from the brother of Robert Westerholt is delivered by Martijn as it is by Carmen. Good musicianship and songwriting that has its own sound and not that of their better known siblings band.

     One thing though, Charlotte is a trained vocalist in both the classical style and in jazz. She mixes the styles together and is as adventurous Sharon Den Adel when it comes to trying out effects and different styles.

Track Listing for April Rain:
01: April Rain
02: Stay Forever
03: Invidia
04: Control The Storm*
05: On The Other Side
06: Virtue And Vice
07: Go Away
08: Start Swimming
09: Lost
10: I’ll Reach You
11: Nothing Left*
12: Come Closer**

* Marco Hietala of Nightwish and Tarot sings on these songs
** Bonus track on Japanese and Digipack releases

Avantasia – The Metal Opera

     Edguy vocalist, Tobias Sammet, had an idea back in 1999, a concept album but under a different band name, with different musicians than those in Edguy, and a who’s who of PowerMetal vocalists singing different roles within the story – A Metal Opera.
     On the finished album the line up is this:
Tobias Sammet (Edguy) – Vocals, Piano, Keyboards & Orchestration
Michael “Ernie” Kiske (Helloween, Place Vendome) – Vocals
Kai Hansen (Helloween, Gamma Ray) – Vocals
David DeFeis (Virgin Steele) – Vocals
Andre Matos (Viper, Angra, Shaaman) – Vocals
Oliver Hatmann (At Vance) – Vocals
Sharon Den Adel (Within Temptation) – Vocals
Rob Rock (Warrior, Driver, Axel Rudi Pell, Impellitteri, Angelica) – Vocals
Ralf Zdiarstek – Vocals
Timo Tolkki (Stratovarius, Revolution Renaissance) – Vocals
Henjo Richter (Gamma Ray) – Guitars
Markus GrossKopf (Helloween) – Bass
Alex Holzwarth (Rhapsody Of Fire, Angra) – Drums
Frank Tischer – Piano
Norman Meiritz – Acoustic Guitar
Jens Ludwig (Edguy) – Additional Lead Guitars

     Sixteen players in total, a heaping shitload of talent, and a story about faith, belief, love, loyalty, untruths, lies, gnosis, magic, adventure, friendship, imagination, fantasy, desperation, selflessness, good and evil… but you’ll have to buy the CD to get the whole story. It is long, and, the music that goes with it might be parts missing from the written story, thoughts in situations, and there is a second part, another CD that came out a year later.

     The very idea of bringing together the kind of vocal talent this album has on it, and having them all sing on one album is ambitious. Michael Kiske is known as Ernie in the credits because he, at the time, was still in a self-induced sabbatical from all things metal, but Avantasia brought him out since he did agree to perform on this album, even under an assumed name. And he performs on the second release too, but using his real name.

Track listing for The Metal Opera:
01: Prelude
02: Reach Out For The Light
03: Serpents In Paradise
04: Malleus Maleficarum
05: Breaking Away
06: Farewell
07: The Glory Of Rome
08: In Nomine Patris
09: Avantasia
10: Inside
11: Sign Of The Cross
12: The Tower

     The music is many forms of Metal and while the playing does stand out it is the collective vocals that drive the album. In truth, Tobias Sammet, while outshined by names bigger than he is, does different vocal styles than just the normal singing you might expect him to do, as he does in Edguy, and you do/will take notice of his vocals when he explores with them.

After Forever – Invisible Circles

     This album, After Forever‘s third,  is heavy in two veins. The music and in the content of the lyrics. Invisible Circles deals with a few subject matters that even today remain the giant elephant in the middle of the room that everyone walks around; avoiding but never dealing with – Childhood neglect, verbal and emotional abuse of children, and, in lesser prominence, the ability of using the internet to deceive people into thinking you are something you are not.
     Done in a way that the characters thoughts and what they are speaking can be heard be it in the song as lyrics or by vignettes either before, during, and after the songs, After Forever does not treat the subjects they are writing about with anything less than blunt, and, at times, brutal honesty. 

     This a very SymphonicMetal album by a band that had been around as long as Nightwish. Unlike Nightwish, After Forever preferred their music in a more aggressive direction. Having started off in 1995 as more of a DeathMetal band; before breaking up the band in 2009, After Forever had evolved their sound four times.
     As for concept albums, this is more of an Opera. There are the three vocalist, guitarist Sander Gommans doing the DeathMetal vocals and Bas Maas doing the smooth male vocals. Main vocalist Floor Jansen plays two roles, that of the mother and that of the child; each by singing with very clear, seperate style and approach so that the listener can decipher between the two characters. But, unlike many other concept albums, and why I say this is more of an Opera, you don’t have to read along with the lyrics to tell the story, it is being played out for you as the music progresses from start to finish.

     Mark Jansen of Epica/Mayan was, until the writing of this album, a founding member of After Forever. Again, After Forever liked their music more aggressive and differences in direction drove them apart.

Track listing for Invisible Circles:
01: Childhood In Minor
02: Beautiful Emptiness
03: Between Love And Fire
04: Sins Of Idealism
05: Eccentric
06: Digital Deceit
07: Through Square Eyes
08: Blind Pain
09: Two Sides
10: Victim Of Choices
11: Reflections
12: Life’s Vortex

     I could write more about the story that the album tells but it would get rather long. I will say this about the album – as a wanna-be writer/author, this album was instrumental in my having written a tome (way longer than the average novel) length book that is about alcoholism and physical child abuse, neglect, emotional and verbal abuse, that is so realistic in its subject matter that a friend who read it said it was more of a horror story with the alcoholics being the monsters and probably unpublishable because of the graphic description of the abuse incurred. Now, here’s the humerous and odd part – I was writing about what my siblings and I went through at the hands of an alcoholic and extremely abusive mother. I see no need to sugarcoat anything.

Tarja – My Winter Storm

     The second album (as described in the review of NightwishDark Passion Play) that I just didn’t want to like but did despite my greatest effort to despise it.

     I have read various reviews of My Winter Storm; be they written by Metal critics or by John Q. Public listeners, and, to a degree, I can agree with some aspects of the negative reviews – but I do not agree with the main one, that the album is not heavy enough.
     If you purchased the CD and chanced to look at the pictures that are part of the inlay card, you would see that there is no reason for this album to be musically heavy at all times because the content of the lyrics is heavy enough.
     Taking a learned lesson from Tuomas Holopainen, Tarja goes a little schizophrenic and a whole lot multiple personality on us. Not for real but in that she plays various characters, pieces of her, if you will, that make up the entire. Doing this brings a depth to the songs on this recording that many musicians would never, ever dare to go.
     Anger and love are strong emotions, Tarja digs deeper and gets to the bottom of them, the underlying feelings that make up the emotions and what she experienced that caused them. She does so by playing four seperate roles; The Dead BoyTuomas Holopainen‘s character that is him (I sometimes refer to this album as The Dead Girl album). The Doll – herself in the role she has been put (the other’s are referred to as toys, and she is too when speaking of herself in the third person – find out the history of Nightwish and you will understand). The Phoenix – Again, herself, but becoming. The Queen Of Ice – herself, but not in the truest sense (could be what she has been portrayed to have been; imagined – false, real – but exaggerated to fantastical proportions).

     There is nothing wrong with this album musically. It is very personal. Whether she is singing about herself, someone else, or using a storyline (Lost Northern StarCiarán’s Well), the music reflects the lyrics, which are all over the place. Hence, the album is eclectic, reflecting the many moods that fell upon Tarja while writing the songs.
     Even the seeming out of place cover of Alice Cooper, Poison, is, in Tarja‘s voice, saying something that permeates most of the album, and, one read through the lyrics you come to understand that, like Nightwish‘ song, Bye Bye Beautiful, Tarja is singing her sadness and feelings of being betrayed to Tuomas. The song Boy And The Ghost is an example:

wake up, wake up:
there’s an angel in the snow
look up, look up:
it’s a frightened dead boy

     In the passage above, the 2nd line is a refernce to the Nightwish song Sacrament Of Wilderness, in which the lyrics describe Nightwish and its members oath to each other:

Naked in midwinter magic
Lies an angel in the snow

a sacrament by a campfire

     By comparing Tarja‘s lyric to that of Nightwish, you can see the cause of her sadness and why she may feel betrayed.

     My Winter Storm had three releases: a standard release (however, the U.K. and U.S. editions are different), limited release (has comes with a DVD of two versions of I Walk Alone video and a making of the video and making of the album), and a fan collector’s edition. Of these, the limited edition is the most comprehensive version to get and also the one you will most likely have to bid on on EBay, same goes for the fan edition.

track listing for My Winter Storm (U.S. Edition):
01: Ite, Missa Est
02: I Walk Alone
03: Lost Northern Star
04: Seeking For The Reign
05: The Reign
06: The Escape Of The Doll
07: My Little Phoenix
08: Boy And The Ghost
09: Sing For Me
10: Oasis
11: Poison
12: Our Great Divide
13: Sunset
14: Damned And Divine
15: Die Alive
16: Minor Heaven
17: Ciaran’s Well
18: Calling Grace
19: You Would Have Loved This (live)
20: Damned And Divine (live)

     Other songs released as singles and on the limited and/or fan edition:
Damned Vampire & Gothic Divine*
I Walk Alone (Artist version)*
I Walk Alone (In Extremo Remix)*
The Seer**
The Seer (Featuring Doro Pesch)***
Enough***

     I for one like the outpouring of emotion in the vocals and lyrics. That they are mostly about (in influence), and speaking to her old bandmates is of no consequence since the mood of the songs does not mask the emotion conveyed in the vocals. And, this should come as no shock to anyone, this is an album done by a lady who is known as The Voice Of Finland; the music is entirely incidental. Agree or disagree as you may, but, the vocal expression as an instrument is so much stronger than the instruments behind it.

* released on the Limited Edition.
** released on the U.K. Edition.
*** released on Fan Edition.

Seraphim – Rising

     Take Edguy, DragonForce, Nightwish, and Leaves Eyes; mix them all together and you get Seraphim. Not really. Seraphim are their own band but comparatively, they sound like a mesh of Symphonic and PowerMetal bands.

     Hailing from Teipai, Taiwan, Seraphim is known in certain parts of the world, completely unknown in other parts. What’s sad about this fact is they are a very good PowerMetal band with a vocalist (depending on which album you are listening to; original vocalist Pay Lee left the band to attend  vocal instruction and new vocalist Quinn Weng has sang only on this album: Rising) that is as operatic as Tarja Turunen yet sings as softly as Liv Kristine Espenæs Krull of Leaves Eyes.
     Seraphim has released four albums, this last one in 2007 (in english 2008) so it has been a few years since they have been active and there has been no recent news on the band so far this year but they did tour Europe in 2010.

     The guitarists, Thiago Trinsi and Kessier Hsu can play as well as Herman Li and Sam Totman when it comes to extreme shredding but that is an exception and not a rule. Much of the songs stay within the PowerMetal realm but not every song is like greased-lightning either.
     It is hard to get a grip on the meaning of the lyrics at times as they are originally done in Chinese and translated to English – I believe there is something lost in the translation but this does not make the music suffer or less enjoyable to the listener, it only makes reading the lyrics a bit confusing.
     Vocalist, Quinn is higher in octave than original vocalist, Pay Lee, but their styles are similar and though they could easily be compared to Tarja Turunen; they are more classical and operatic in their delivery than Tarja was on Nightwish: Oceanborn.
    
     Overall, Seraphim is an excellent band that needs to be heard by fans of any kind of Metal. There are many bands that sound powerful but few could be described as having a majestic sound to their music and Seraphim has that sound without being over-the-top or sounding contrived.

Track listing for Rising:
01: Betray
02: Hope
03: Permanence
04: Beautiful New World
05: Spring Wind
06: Century
07: Destiny
08: Rising
09: No More
10: Time

     If you can find any Seraphim albums, pick one up and give it a listen. The are hard to find though. I did find them on I-tunes and a few other online mp3 stores or you can order their albums via snail-mail.