Avantasia – The Scarecrow

     For a 50th post, I wondered what band, what album, I should write about. I was surprised when I realized I had not reviewed Kamelot‘s dark masterpiece, The Black Halo, and planned on choosing that record.
     Enter Miss Tiff (mischief), LadyLoveExtraodinaire to yours truly, and a complete Kamelot fanatic, who said, “Do Avantasia, The Scarecrow. You’re always listening to it.”
     Indeed I do listen to The Scarecrow, quite a lot, really. I love the album and how well rounded the listening experience is. Mr. Sammat wrote, what I think, is the best mix of music and songs within his entire musical career.

     For fans of Avantasia‘s first two releases; The Metal Opera Part 1 and The Metal Opera Part 2, The Scarecrow, upon first listen, could be a shock. While some songs retained PowerMetal elements, most did not. In fact, I think the album has more of an American Metal vibe to it without being downright pretentious and patsying for an American audience.
     That Tobias was prompted to make another Avantasia album by friend and drummer for KISS, Eric Singer, who plays throughout the entire album, may be the reason for the style change, but don’t take me wrong, Singer can deliver PowerMetal double bass drum kicks as fast as anyone, it is just that he chooses not to do it all the time. Sometimes it really is only Rock”N’Roll.
    
Maybe Producer and Guitarist Sascha Paeth twisted the knobs and raised the levels while lowering others and tweeked the sound in final mixing to achieve a less polished, more chunky and gritty sound.
     Whatever the reason for the style change, by the end of first listen, you will know that it works and the music fits well with Tobias‘s retelling of Goethe‘s Faust.

     As with prior releases, Avantasia has a core band; this time made up of Eric Singer (drums) of KISS, Sascha Paeth (Guitar) of Heaven’s Gate, and Tobias Sammat (Vocals & Bass) of Edguy. Not as many as before but there are more guest musicians stepping in to play lead guitar than before.
Kai Hansen (Helloween, Gamma Ray, Unisonic) plays additional guitar.
Henjo Richter (Gamma Ray, Rampage) plays additional guitars
Rudolph Schenker (Scorpions) palys additional guitars
Michael “Miro” Rodenberg (producer and guest musician of many PowerMetal bands) Keyboard & Orchestration.
     While there is less guest vocalists than before.
Bob Catley (Magnum)
Alice Cooper
Oliver Hartmann
(At Vance)
Roy Khan (Kamelot)
Michael Kiske (Helloween, Supa Red, Plave Vendome, Revolution Renaissance, Kiske / Somerville, Unisonic)
Jørn  Lande (Vagabond, Ark, Beyond Twilight, Masterplan, Allen / Lande)
Amanda Somerville (Kiske / Somerville, Trillium, and many guest vocal spots on many PowerMetal releases)

     Although the story of The Scarecrow is nowhere near as epic in material as The Metal Opera releases, it still holds on to the same majesty as its predecessors and much of that has to do with the phenominal prowess of the vocalists and Tobias himself knowing where to place a more PowerMetal sound to the music.

Track Listing for The Scarecrow:
01: Twisted Mind
02: The Scarecrow
03: Shelter From The Rain
04: Carry Me Over
05: What Kind Of Love
06: Another Angel Down
07: The Toy Master
08: Devil In The Belfry
09: Cry Just A Little
10: I Don’t Believe In Your Love
11: Lost In Space

     The Scarecrow is the first of three release that make up The Wicked Trilogy. The other two: Angel Of Babylon and The Wicked Symphony are equally as good as The Scarecrow.
     There were many critiques about this release. Yes, there were some pop elements thrown in; they were not overdone and lent texture to the song and did not become the song.
     Whatever the sound of an Avantasia release is, that it is so completely different than the last story is refreshing and usually occurs in revolving door bands.

Gnosis and life
AVANTASIA!

HammerFall – No Sacrifice, No Victory

  

      HammerFall is like ManOwaR, they kinda do their own thing. Their music can border the PowerMetal genre without ever completely staying within the vein. They are a Metal band.

     No Sacrifice, No Victory is a strong album with tried and true driving rhythm and loads of harmony and melody. Why I compare them to ManOwaR is that their music is overtly majestic in the same way that ManOwaR songs such as: Heart Of Steel, Kingdom Come, or Carry On are.
     What is great about this band, besides they are seasoned musicians, is their music has massive amounts of groove and can be deemed as, well, fun to listen to.
     An onslaught of anthem after Metal anthem for sure, but, unlike ManOwaR, HammerFall‘s cheesy does not reach the same heights, rather, they avoid it by not making every song strictly about themselves. They definately do not put supposed likenesses of themselves on their album covers. Granted, they do have some insanely funny, albeit cheesy, song intro’s (intro for Legion) and, like Iron Maiden, they have their own album cover artwork mascot: Hector, who has graced every release barring their latest, 2011’s Infected.

     I keep mentioning other bands in this. Being honest I will say this, HammerFall has found its own niche while remaining true to the style of music that made them want to play in the first place. Hence, when they sound like their influences, they really sound like their influnces. ManOwaR, Helloween, Dio, Accept, Iron Maiden… But they always sound like HammerFall.
     If you saw the movie Rock Star (debacle), HammerFall can be compared to fictitious band Steel Dragon, and why not? HammerFall vocalist Joacim Cans has trained vocally with Jeff Scott Soto (Talisman, Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Axel Rudi Pell, Yngwie Malmsteen, Journey, and a slew of guest appearances… vocal whore!) who, unlike the popular belief that Steelheart vocalist Miljenko Matijevic did, sang the Steel Dragon songs. Yes, Joacim can belt it out with the best of them and I relish anyone who sounds like a classic Metal voice. Ronnie Dio, Michael Kiske, Jeff Scott Soto, David DeFeis, Eric Adams, Rob Halford, Rob Rock, and Joacim Cans – all great metal vocalists.

     HammerFall is mostly considered PowerMetal by their fans. I would be hard pressed to add the Power before the Metal. Some songs, yes, but they play some damn good Metal music that is as based in technical theory as it is in Rock. It’s heavy, it grooves, it’s true HeadBangin’ music.

track listing for No Sacrifice, No Victory:
01: Any Means Necessary
02: Life Is Now
03: Punish And Enslave
04: Legion
05: Between Two Worlds
06: Hallowed Be My Name
07: Something For The Ages*
08: No Sacrifice, No Victory
09: Bring The Hammer Down
10: On Of A Kind
11: My Sharona**

* a f*ckin’ rockin’ instrumental
** Cover of The Knack‘s #1 song of 1979

     HammerFall – true Metal at its best. Yeah, you could party to this shit. Mm-Hmm.

 

Break Yer Neck
Headbang
Metal!!!

Have a sick new year!
\m/

Kamelot – Karma

      As The Fourth Legacy, Kamelot’s fifth studio release – Karma, continued the trek into a realm of music that sounded majestic; from the symphonic sounds and music, to the lyrics; Karma is loaded with positive energy even when trying hard to not be.

     The album leadoff, Regalis Apertura, written by co-producer, Miro, and played by him using the keyboard, sums the album up before even hearing the whole album. It begins like a Hollywood epic blockbuster before moving into a sound you could imagine hearing in a castle bazar while a juggler walks backwards in front of you trying their damnedest to entertain you out of a few coins. Towards the end the sound gets darker before trailing of into stark oblivion. Yes, the album is like this. What is amazing is Miro did all this in less than two minutes. 

     I don’t know whether to deem this release introspective or speculative because the lyrics can seem dark and moody with Kahn‘s voice, yet they can also seem uplifting as well. It is a very tempered album and one can hope that Sascha Paeth was trying for this and it is not just a brilliant mistake. If it is a sound stumbled upon, the band and producers kept it for the release after Karma, Epica.
     Musically, Karma is a Metal/PowerMetal release with odd, almost unnoticable changing guitar rhythm (just listen to the playing!) and double bass kicking drums that gallop. Yes, there is some Iron Maiden influence here, however, Thomas Youngblood is the type of guitarist who plays for the sake of his music and does not tend to over or underdo his leads and fills – they are a part of the song and not the only thing you have been waiting to hear.
     Speaking of odd rhythm, the song Karma sounds as if a less accomplished vocalist would have considered it a nightmare to figure out the best way to perform it.

     Kamelot, the band, sounds sterile in the studio. Live, the songs shine bright with slightly different interpretations than what is given from the studio. I don’t mean the studion cuts are less than those performed by the band on stage, I have wondered though, if the band works the songs even after recording them to get the exact sound they were truly striving for.
     Unknown as this album may be, one listen to Karma will tell you why the band still plays a few of the songs live to this day. Forever is crowd-pleaser that audiences love to sing to. Karma (the song) is favored by the band and the short, but sweet, jazz vocal style in the middle comes across well. Elizabeth (about Countess Bathory) played live shows just how well Roy Khan can sing in whatever genre you can think of.  

Track listing for Karma:
01: Regalis Apertura
02: Forever
03: Wings Of Despair
04: The Spell
05: Don’t You Cry
06: Karma
07: The Light I Shine On You
08: Temples Of Gold
09: Across The Highlands
10: Elizabeth I: Mirror, Mirror
11: Elizabeth II: Requiem For The Innocent
12: Elizabeth III: Fall From Grace
13: Ne Pleure Pas*
14: Once And Future King**

     You know, I can’t think of any one song on Karma that I like less than the other. There are two mellow songs and Kahn’s vocal delivery on both is exquisite. Yeah… Karma is a very great album indeed.

* Is the song Don’t You Cry sang in the French language. It is on the U.S. release of Karma.

** Japanese bonus track.

Most of Kamelots bonus tracks can be found on the compilation Myth’s And Legends Of Kamelot.

\m/

DragonForce – Inhuman Rampage

        Since its inception, Metal has sprouted many bastard children (genres). Whether it is the mixing of genres or natural evolution, Metal remains within the public eye by its refusal to stop being gregarious. Take DragonForce, they who refer to their music as ExtremePowerMetal, their music demands attention not only for its musicianship, but for its audacity to be faster than anything else while remaining technically proficient.
     Granted, it is hard to decipher between the songs after twenty minutes or so due to the musics nature to have all instruments in ‘shred’ mode, but, unlike 1980’s SpeedMetal, it helps that drummer, Dave Mackintosh, makes little use of blast beats and can play more than a snare drum.

     Inhuman Rampage is DragonForce‘s third release, their first to be released in the U.S. after signing with Universal Music Group label Roadrunner Records for major distribution. Compared to their two previous recordings, Valley Of The Damned and Sonic Firestorm, Inhuman Rampage is, overall, less of an in-your-face offering and more of a PowerMetal band messing around and incorporating various Rock and Metal styles into their music. Is it always lightning fast? No. It is always DragonForce though – it can get slower; yet their slower is still faster than many band’s fast (does that make sense?).

     The band had to break. That’s the bottom line. Inhuman Rampage is too strong of a release to not have the band be noticed. Writing music with 3000+ notes per song can not be easy, and making it sound good to boot…  
     Production-wise, Inhuman Rampage is worlds beyond Sonic Firestorm and Valley Of The Damned.  Notably, the band sounds like they are playing in a studio and not on another planet and the vocals are next to the other instruments instead of being in front of or behind in the mix.

     Before Guitar Hero exposed the band to a multitude of listeners, DragonForce had already worked hard at self-promotion by accepting a mainstage position at the 2006 Ozzfest right after ending a North American tour, and, in between shows at Ozzfest, the band played off-tour dates whenever and wherever they could. After Ozzfest completed its run, the band again toured through the U.S. twice more before ending the Inhuman Rampage tour. For a band to become known in a country the size of the U.S., extensive touring helps***.

     To say the band broke out is an understatement. G3 cofounder and guitar virtuoso, Joe Satriani was amazed at the playing ability of Herman Li, so much so that Herman made a couple special guest appearences at G3 shows.
     Both Herman and drummer, Dave Mackintosh have held clinics throughout the world. One answer still eludes me though – Sam Totman composes a majority of the music so why is he in the background? Strange.

     There have been rumors and stories abounding that DragonForce cannot play as fast as they do, that their music is sped up in the studio through technological means. However, having seen DragonForce perform live five times, I have heard them make mistakes, forget lyrics, venue generators blow up (twice on the same night in here in Missoula), strings break… The music had to stop while the problems were handled and not once did the music continue like a recording was being played. Did the music always sound like it did on the CD? Thankfully it did not. Who goes to a damn show to hear exactly what is on a CD? Stay home and listen to the CD if that’s what you want.
     Live, DragonForce is tight. In concert they are funnier than shit as they mess with each other. I will miss ZP Theart, their vocalist who left the band in 2010. I saw them four times in Oregon; always in the front row banging my head. When they came to Missoula, ZP recognized me and pointed me out.

Track listing for Inhuman Rampage:
01: Through The Fire And Flames
02: Revolution Deathsquad
03: Storming The Burning Fields
04: Operation Ground And Pound
05: Body Breakdown
06: Cry For Eternity
07: The Flame Of Youth
08: Trail Of Broken Hearts
09: Lost Souls In Endless Time
Enhanced CD Video: Through The Fire And Flames

     ***In 2009, DragonForce did a tour through the U.S. called, “Do It For The Fans” tour. It started in Spokane, Washington and continued with stops in medium sized towns that many bands don’t even bother with. Luckily, they came to Missoula.
      On another note, a complaint by many musicians who move to Missoula is there is nothing but a bunch of Metal bands in this town. Don’t like it? Move to Portland or Seattle and be alternative. Although an alternative to what I do not know.

   Later HellRats!

Kamelot – Epica

     As of late, I have been way too busy, but summer is winding down here in the Rocky Mountains (why is it still in the upper nineties?) so blogging will become more active.
     One good thing about being busy is background noise. I have been listening to alot of Anthrax, Sepultura, Kamelot, Hammerfall, Blind Guardian, Rhapsody Of Fire… Old shit, new shit – Metal!

     Studio albums from Kamelot tend to have an overproduced feel to them. Most times, while listening to them, I knitpick the sound and wonder why it does not move me like their live recordings. The music is not bad, it is just not live and Kamelot is a live band.
     Bands put out an album and then tour to support it, but, it is almost as if Kamelot put out an album to support their upcoming tour. Whatever it may be, Kamelot is one hell of a band to see live and many of my favorite songs by the band are not those that they perform while on stage.

     Epica is the beginning of something while being the end of another. I do think the title is heavily self-prophesying for the band.

     Epica is the beginning of the band’s retelling of Goethe’s Faust. The main character, Ariel, is on a quest to find the meaning of it all. He leaves his beloved, Helena, and travels in search for an answer. Ariel eventually becomes disillusioned when his search becomes long and fruitless.
     Enter Mephisto, AKA – the devil, who tempts Ariel with dreams of power. Needless to say, Ariel eventually accepts.
     Helena, whom Ariel left behind, has been searching for Ariel and eventually the two run into each other. They spend time together but Ariel‘s old drive to find the meaning to everything resurfaces and he again leaves Helena. Distraught that her love has once again left her, Helena takes her own life by drowning herslf in a river.
     Ariel is driven even after he learns of Helena‘s suicide and the death of their unborn child (neither knew she was pregnant).
     Mephisto continues to chide Ariel and push him on despite the high price he has paid for his obsession. Meanwhile Helena‘s soul sings to him of love but Ariel believes himself to be damned and cries out against God as being the cause of his troubles.
     That’s the story in a nutshell.

     There is another beginning here though. A band by the name of Sahara Dust was in a studio recording their debut album and had been listening to Kamelot’s Epica. Inspired by the music they asked Kamelot if they could use the name Epica as their band name. Hence, Epica was born.

     Epica, musically, is close to the bands previous releases, Siége Perilous, The Fourth Legacy, and Karma. It has a very majestic PowerMetal sound though the lyrics deal with a dark and melencholic story. There are a few more mellow songs to carry the changing mood of the story but much of the album has a speedier pace.
     Vocally, Roy Kahn is, as always, damn good. Again, the studio performance of Roy and the band just does not compare to what they do live. No one could ever accuse this band of lip-syncing.

     As for Epica being the end of something, it was. On their release after Epica, The Black Halo (which completes the retelling of Goethe’s Faust), Kamelot took a darker approach to writing their music. Some have accused them of becoming more Gothic in sound. The music has remained along the PowerMetal vein but it has become moodier. The change in musical direction has not lessened their ability to write excellent songs as, sometimes, a change in musical style could just mean they tune their instruments differently or their personal lives have a bit of strife in them and it is carrying over to the music – something musicians tend to allow to happen.

Track Listing For Epica*:
01: Prologue
02: Center Of The Universe
03: Farewell
04: Interlude I – Opiate Soul
05: The Edge Of Paradise
06: Wander
07: Interlude II – Omen
08: Descent Of The Archangel
09: Interlude III – At The Banquet
10: A Feast For The Vain
11: On The Coldest Winter Night
12: Lost & Damned
13: Helena’s Theme
14: Interlude IV – Dawn
15: The Mourning After (Carry On)
16: III Ways To Epica

     Epica is a solid PowerMetal release from a band that is so much better and talented than many out there. What is funny is the theme of the album would so go over with many people in the world today; struggles with questions about God, Life, feelings of aimlessness, letdown… If only more people were aware of this band regularly.

* Limited Edition version contains the song Snow while the Japanese version contains the song Like The Shadows

Avantasia – The Metal Opera Pt. II

     Out of the two Metal Opera releases by Avantasia, Part II starts off strong and continues throughout. I can understand the shakiness of the first album; you’re trying to get a story started and ideas are racing around your head, the excitement of the moment. Whereas Part I was built around story, Part II finds Avantasia more relaxed and knowing which direction they are trying to take this thing musically. In other words, the music becomes a central part to the vocals and lyrics.
     The inlay card of Part I had the story entire (well, almost). It reads like a first draft but again, the lyrics might be what a character is thinking or a part left out in the written story. Part II has no story written out for you. Instead it is just music and lyrics.

     Part II begins with the nearly fifteen minute long epic, The Seven Angels. If one needed to be introduced to Avantasia and/or Tobias Sammat, this is the song to do it with in my opinion. It has a bit of everything in it. Choir vocals, majestic symphonic sounds, booming drums, shredding guitar leads, melodic guitar leads (Timmo Tolki is off the fuckin’ chain), ambiant whispers, a piano solo (a bridge actually), eight seperate lead vocalists, and one hell of a catchy chorus.
     Like The Seven Angel’s, the music continues in a more PowerMetal vein with only three slower songs (Tobias seems to like to temper the PowerMetal with PowerBallads. He does this in Edguy‘s releases too).
     Tobias is joined on a couple songs by fellow Edguydian (I think I just made up a word!) Jens Ludwig, whose guitar lead on The Final Sacrifice is dirty and powerful and fits nicely with David Defeis‘ very Metal vocal delivery.

     The lineup is close to the same as on The Metal Opera Pt. I with a few exceptions:
Eric Singer – (Kiss, Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper) drums on Into The Unknown
Tobias Sammat – (Edguy) Bass on Into The Unknown
Jens Ludwig (Edguy) Guitars on The Final Sacrifice and Memory
Timo Tolkki (ex-Stratovarius, ex-Revolution Renaissance, Symfonia) lead guitar on The seven Angels (2nd lead break) and Into The Unknown 
Michael Kiske – (ex-Helloween, ex-Place Vendome, Unisonic
) is no longer known only as “Ernie” but uses his real name.

Track listing for The Metal Opera Pt. II:
01: The Seven Angels
02: No Return
03: The Looking Glass
04: In Quest For
05: The Final Sacrifice
06: Neverland
07: Anywhere
08: Chalice Of Agony
09: Memory
10: Into The Unknown

     Together the albums make up an epic, fantastical story that mixes fantasy with reality. Avantasia has released three albums since The Metal Opera‘s and all are great, but, vision-wise, the original releases are nothing short of musical magic.
     There have been two small tours by the band The Scarecrow World Tour (The Scarecrow trilogy) in 2008 and The Metal Opera Comes To Town Tour 2010, however, none of the releases have been done in their entirety.

     Right after this release, Edguy released Hellfire Club. The opening song on Hellfire Club, titled Mysteria, has lyrics that are reminiscent of Avantasia‘s Metal Opera storyline. The song has always seemed to me to have been written for Avantasia but some of the lyrics got in the way.

Leaves’ Eyes – Meredead

     A band made up of members from Norway and Germany playing music inspired by Celtic/Gaelic sounds and instruments while still remaining true to their own sound?
     For those of you who do not know the band Leaves’ Eyes, the vocalist is ex-Theatre Of Tragedy singer, Liv Kristine Espenæs Krull (get it? Leaves’ Eyes?) and the band itself is made up of members of AtrocityAlexander Krull – keyboards and vocals. He is also Liv‘s husband. Roland Navratil – Drums, Thorsten Bauer – bass and guitar. And not in Atrocity,  Sander van der Meer – guitar). 
     Leaves’ Eyes loves to tell stories from the past and incorporate olden-style instruments so that the music itself is speaking the story too. That could easily place them in the FolkMetal genre, but, they also use a lot of symphony, death metal growls, choirs… You never know what to expect from song to song and album to album. That not many in the U.S. have heard of them is not their fault. Many tours have been planned and then scrapped at the last minute and the cause is never that of Leaves’ Eyes. Had all the planned tours actually happened, I think word of mouth would have brought this band the popularity they deserve.

     I, of course, like to get the version with as many extras on one release as I can. Therefore, I had to wait a bit while the limited edition digipack with a bonus DVD included was ordered and delivered but the wait was worth the product as the DVD is a live recording of Leaves’ Eyes performance at Metal Female Voices Festival 2010 in Oktberhallen Wieze, Belgium.

     Meredead is a great album through and through. The way the songs come across, the instrumentation and the choosing between vocal styles by the singers, is nothing short of performing each song for the sake of the song. There are no hits or fillers here. Meredead is an album of songs that are well thought out in theory and composition. I would be amazed if the band does not get recognition for this album the world over.
     While I mentioned vocal styles, I am not only speaking of the male voice, which cycles between smooth and death growls, but those too of Liv‘s. Her styles flux between classic style, regular delivery, and almost pop sounding at times.
     The voices, along with the music, make the album eclectic but never infringe upon the listening experience as the band pulls off the change with grace and style. Upon first listen I was surprised at what a great album Meredead is because the band talked it up in the press quite a bit and the hype was big which can spell letdown quickly. But no, the band’s talk was not hype.

     This is a great year for EuroMetal. With new releases from Within temptation, Midnattsol, Nightwish, Rhapsody Of Fire, HammerFall, Edguy, DragonForce, Opeth, Lacuna Coil, Virgin Black, Delain, Demons And Wizards, Stratovarius, Sirenia, Battlelore, Power Quest, Visions Of Atlantis, Children Of Bodom, Amon Amarth, Symfonia, Cruachan, Omega Lithium, Alestorm, Arch Enemy… way too many more to get to!
      Leave’s Eyes Meredead is one album you should get. You will not be disappointed.

Track listing for Meredead:
01: Spirits’ Masquerade
02: Étaín
03: Velvet Heart
04: Kråkevisa
05: To France
06: Meredead
07: Sigrlinn
08: Mine Tåror er ei Grimme
09: Empty Horizon
10: Veritas
11: Nystev
12: Tell-Tale Eyes
13: Sorhleod

Track listing for bonus DVD:
01: Njord
02: My Destiny
03: Ragnarock
04: Elegy
05: Froya’s Theme