•  Ladies and gentlemen,

    Here are a few pictures taken inside photo booths all around TD Place and neighboring Lansdowne Park in Ottawa during the NHL Centennial Classic weekend. More personal pictures will be following shortly. Enjoy!

    Erik Karlsson

     Picture with Ottawa Senators' captain Erik Karlsson. 

    Hockey 1

     Photo with TD Place and Lansdowne Park in Ottawa in the background.

    Hockey 2

     Photo with red NHL 100 Classic logo.

    Hockey 3

     Photo with white NHL 100 Classic logo.

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  • Meine Damen und Herren!

    Hier sind ein paar Eindrucke von meinem zweiten Adventswochenende im Jahr 2017 in Ottawa und Belleville.

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    Bahnhof in Ottawa.

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    Aussicht aus dem Zug zwischen Ottawa und Toronto.

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    Blick auf Smiths Falls.

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    So hat ein moderner Bahnhof auszusehen: der Bahnhof in Belleville.

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    Obligatorisch: ein Kriegsdenkmal in Belleville.

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    Blick auf das Stadtzentrum Bellevilles.

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    Quinte Construction Association am Moira-Fluss.

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    Wanderwege und Brucken entlang des Moira-Flusses.

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    Parrott Riverfront Trail.

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    George Zegouras Market Square.

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    Der Wasserturm von Belleville.

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    Nationalhymne in der Yardmen Arena.

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    New School Hockey.

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    Old School Hockey.

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    Memorial Garden.

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    Veterans Memorial Bridge Denkmal.

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    Spielplatz entlang des Moira-Flusses.

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    Entlang des Moira-Flusses.

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    Glanmore National Historic Site of Canada.

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    Erdgeschoss des geschichtstrachtigen Gebaude.

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    Eindrucke des Erdgeschosses.

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    Park an der Quinte Bay.

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    Jane Forrester Park mit Weihnachtsmarkt.

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    Rathaus von Belleville bei Nacht.

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    Rideau-Kanal und National Arts Centre in Ottawa bei Nacht.

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    Rideau-Kanal mit Blick Richtung Gatineau.

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    Lichtspektakel am Parlementsgebaude in Ottawa.

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  • Ladies and gentlemen!

    About one week ago, I pulbished my one thousandth review on The Metal Archives. In order to celebrate this milestone, I decided to present my very first (October 6th, 2010) as well as my one thousandth review (December 9th, 2017) on my blog. In addition to this, I took the decision to introduce you to another eighteen reviews that I consider my most inspired ones and which sometimes received important reactions including both positive and negative feedback. Writing is an incredibly important element of my life and I'm proud of what I have accomplished so far. I hope you will enjoy my reviews and continue to follow my activities.

    First review:

    Stratovarius - Polaris (2009)

    I don't understand why most of the fans, magazines and webzines give enthusiastic reviews to this album at all. Did they listen to more profound and darker stuff like "Twilight time" or the classic European power metal rebirth with "Infinite"? The band sounded so diversified and fresh once and even the last studio album was somehow dark and heavy and had the famous certain something.

    This album leads me to the conclusion that Timo Tolkki really was the heart and soul of the band. And with his departure, the style of Stratovarius changed. The new sound is so faceless and cheesy and the main problem is the guitar play in here, well - which guitar play? The guitars are completely overruled by the annoying keyboards which dominate each song. There is no single emotional guitar solo on the whole album with one single exception.

    Ordinary and fast happy metal average songs like "Higher we go" or the darker and spacier "Deep unknown" figure out to be still two of the better songs, but those wouldn't even have made it to a b-side of "Twilight time" or "Infinite". No, the most terrible songs are those where the bands tries to be epic and intellectual. The songs are all very slow paced, overambitious, soft, undynamical and overloaded with cheesy keyboard sounds like the overlong "Emancipation suite". Songs like "King nothing" or "Somehow precious" are so lousy and weak that I had to skip them even at my first and very open-minded try to find an approach to this album.

    There is one single good song which saves this album and this is "Winter skies" which makes you dream and fly away through a frosty winter world with its cold and still very positive and dreamy keyboard sounds, Kotipeltos amazingly emotional voice and the only intense but very short guitar solo on the whole album. This song has a certain magic and is really powerful. A part of the nice cover and booklet, this is the only positive point of the album and explains my thirty percent rating. The band is still able to write an excellent song but there is only one on the entire album and this is not enough. They should have released this little masterpiece called "Winter skies" as a single, but as they didn't do it, you are forced to listen to two or three average songs and a full load of boring crap - what a pity.

    More than one year after I’ve listened to this album for the first time, I must say that this is the weakest album that this band has ever done and the worst metal record of the year 2009 which I have listened to.

    30%

    One thousandth review:

    Dagoba - Black Nova (2017)

    French industrial and groove metal quartet Dagoba went through quite a few changes since their last studio effort as the band parted ways with its guitarist and drummer. However, these changes didn't have any obvious impacts on the sound. Black Nova will please those who have liked the band in the past but won't convince those who have despised them. The record serves just as well as an introduction to the band as almost any release.

    The only thing that stands out is that Black Nova includes a few more clean vocals than usual. In the worst case, they sound slightly saccharine, reminding me of bands such as Thirty Seconds to Mars in ''Lost Gravity''. However, Dagoba also expanded its more aggressive side in certain tracks. In the worst case, this leads to a result such as the aptly titled ''The Grand Emptiness'' which is a fast and sinister track with one-dimensional growls that make you want to bang your head against the wall.

    Dagoba actually works best when it combines its heavier and softer sides and adds its typical and slightly dubstep-influenced samples to the mixture. This works particularly well for the coherent single ''Inner Sun'', the balanced ''Stone Ocean'' and the atmospheric epic ''Phoenix et Corvus''. Dagoba further cements its very unique sound on these tracks. The band seems much more at ease in its comfort zone than in the tracks where the band tests its own limits.

    I have no clue why so many bands these days add vapid instrumental or demo versions of their songs to their releases. I can't think of any great album that does that. It only waters down the record and focuses on quantity over quality. This is also the case here. If the band wanted to offer an interesting gimmick for its true fans for a few extra bucks, it should come around with actual new songs, live tracks or even cover tunes in the worst case but nobody is interested in vapid demo material.

    In the end, Black Nova isn't among Dagoba's greatest outputs but it represents what the band stands for. It offers groove and industrial metal with aggressive and catchy elements garnished with modern samples. If this mixture sounds interesting to you, go and pick this release up. If you are completely new to the band, I would rather suggest listening to the live record Hellfest MMXIV that covers great tunes from several outputs. If you have less money on your hand, try to find a copy of the great French Metallian magazine that included the limited Inner Sun single to get an idea whether this band is right down your alley or not.

    70%

    Eighteen reviews I consider my most inspired ones:

    X Japan - We Are X (2017)

    What happened back in 1996? Hashimoto Ryutaro became Prime Minister of Japan. He has been dead for more than a decade now. The Siege of Sarajevo came to an end in the aftermath of the Bosnian War. The Nintendo 64 home video game console was released and became a huge success. Back in those days, I was still going to kindergarten, my grandfathers were both still alive and I hadn't discovered metal music yet. 

    Why am I talking about all these things? It's because X Japan's last studio record Dahlia was also released that year and I wanted to put things into perspective. Twenty-one years have passed since this release. A new album has been announced and teased several times. In the beginning, it was supposed to come out shortly after the group's reunion ten years ago. Then, it was supposed to follow the release of two singles that came out six years ago. Two years ago, the band posted a picture of a disc with twelve new titles written on it on its Facebook page. The group released a new single in support of the upcoming album. Last year, a special show in London was supposed to take place which seemed to indicate the release of a new album but the date was pushed back an entire year because the guitar player got sick. Several sources indicated that new material could still be released later that year. When the band finally played its rescheduled concert this year, a documentary of the band as well as its soundtrack were celebrated. But once again the band didn't release its new album without any explanations.

    And after such a long time, that's truly infuriating. Many people made fun of Guns 'N Roses' Chinese Democracy release but the band actually ended up releasing said album. Metal fans make fun of Wintersun and definitely have point but even this group has at least released the first part of its Time cycle. I don't even know any case that is comparable to what X Japan is doing to its fans.

    To say it as it is: The band hasn't achieved anything noteworthy in the past twenty-one years and counting. Imagine a person who retires and stops working in its early forties and lets other naive people pay for its laziness for more than two decades while laughing at them. Would you like to support such a sucker? I guess nobody would to but that's ironically what anyone who buys this record actually does.

    X Japan hasn't done anything but breaking promises, failing to give updates about the new release and trying to make a maximum of profit with a minimum of effort. X Japan has released eleven compilations since its last regular studio album and I didn't even count the boxed sets and live releases with more material of the old days. Most greatest hits compilations came with no new material at all or with only one new song which was often a live or acoustic version that sounded unfinished. X Japan have become the equivalent of capitalist loan sharks that try to fool the high number of fans that blindly follow the band and buy, comment and worship anything they do. Even calculated plastic pop bands with exchangeable band members of the shallowest kind have more to offer than this legend that destroys its own status with every single new release that isn't the promised new studio record.

    We Are X is another release of this despicable kind. The band throws in an acoustic version of a new song called ''La Venus'' that hasn't even been published in its original form yet and that song turns out to be another shallow piano ballad like ''Without You'' that was exclusively included on the band's last greatest hits release just to be published again on this compilation here. The band's few promising new singles like ''Jade'' or ''Born to Be Free'' are however once again not physically available yet.

    Aside of adding a vapid new song, this compilation manages to fail at all other levels as well. It opens and closes with two boring piano ballads instead of kicking things off with a bang. The compilation randomly mixes live tracks, acoustic songs, instrumental tunes, edited versions and regular tracks on this release that doesn't have any coherence whatsoever. The songs and versions chosen for this compilation are almost exclusively tracks that have already been chosen numerous times for similar releases. Overlooked fan's favorites or rare material from the group's early years are obviously not included here. The band even destroyed its own songs by offering only an excerpt of its career highlight ''Art of Life'' which was at least included in its entirey on the last greatest hits record. This song should be released in its entirey or not at all. It's as if Led Zeppelin put an excerpt of about ninety second of ''Stairway to Heaven'' on a shiny new coaster.

    That isn't enough though because the band needs to fool its Japanese fans even more. The limited edition of this album comes with a different cover artwork and a bonus disc including including two live songs that had already been published before. The regular version of one of those songs is even already included on the first disc, so you get the same song twice instead of listening to something different for a change. How much are the fans supposed to pay for this special edition in Japan? While the regular release is available as an import version for about fifteen dollars, the vapid limited release costs about twenty-seven bucks. Yes, you have to pay almost twice the price for two extra songs that have already been published before.

    What is the context of this release anyway? It's called the soundtrack of an original motion picture which is actually a melodramatic documentary about the band's career that tells us nothing that X Japan fans haven't already known before. Instead of getting a proper soundtrack, the occasion of this documentary's release was used to produce another cheap compilation.

    I can't even eat as much as I feel the need to puke when I'm just thinking about that release. If you have any kind of self-respect, don't buy this piece of crap and actively try to convince other people not to waste their money on this hollow plastic record. If you support the band by buying this album, they will think that they actually have a point in releasing this. Instead, these so-called legends should be brought down to earth again and criticized for the way they treat their fans. They should deliver the goods or just retire instead of exploiting their misled supporters. I was a fan myself not so long ago and have chosen to ignore anything about this band until an actual new studio record will be released. As it is now, I doubt that this will actually happen one day but hope dies last.

    We are not X!

    0 %

    Manowar - The Lord of Steel (2012)

    Manowar have always been a controversial band because of their primitive lyrics, exagerated bombastic sound experiments and a ridicolously martial image. Even though the band’s last entirely convincing record was “Kings Of Metal” that came out almost twenty-five years ago, the band still delivered a couple of energizing metal hymns in the past years as “Call To Arms”, “Warriors Of The World United”, “The Sons Of Odin” and “Gods Of War” from to mostly heavily criticized records but also some exclusive single material as “The Dawn Of Battle”, “I Believe”, “Die With Honour” or the power ballad “Father” that was released in sixteen different languages. 

    Normally, everybody should know what to expect when one listens to this band: A superficial cover with many fantasy themes such as muscled warriors and naked princesses, epic metal tracks with simple but efficient choruses with lyrics that any immigrant could write after three years of English classes, interludes with bombastic choirs and artificially flavoured orchestras, fast banger for the old school fans and the usual kitsch ballad about an unsung fallen hero.

    This time, it didn’t exactly come that way and this new record came as a very negative surprise to me. The strange release policy with special editions for mediocre metal magazines, downloads and only a quite late release in retail stores was already confusing. The simplistic old school cover didn’t help, too. What finally counts is the music though and from that point of view, this record definitely is one of the worst records I have ever listened to in my entire life. I listened to this record once and I hope I’ll never have to listen to this again. 

    Let’s start with the production and the efforts the musicians put into this record. The boring, faceless and highly repetitive drumming sound so artificial that I think a drum computer was used rather than a real drummer. The bass guitar heavily dominates the production and sounds very irritating, noisy and unclean. After two sons, the bass sounds gives me ripping headaches. The guitar solos never sounded so uninspired as on this record. They sound emotionless, hectical and simplistic. They seem to never fit to the songs. Even the vocals can’t save this record and sound quite strange as if they were recorded in a hurry. Sometimes they don’t fit to the music and I have never heard the normally very strong Eric Adams sing that bad. The whole production lacks of energy, sounds sterile and very unprofessional. The band maybe tried to go back to their roots as there are almost no choirs or orchestral passages on this record but the loveless production only reveals that the musicians’ talent has heavily decreased as this lack of quality isn’t hidden by bombastic sound samples anymore. This record shows us the true face of these pretentious whimps and posers. 

    The song structures aren’t any better than the music itself. The lyrics are simplistic as usual but this time the band even cites itself and tries to honour its past days. They fail and damage, dishonour and soil their strong past efforts by creating something as bad as the album closer “Hail, Kill And Die”. The band’s straighter tracks sound repetitive and unconvincing and bore to death, even the shortest ones as “Expendable”. The half ballads or epic tracks have not only a predictable structure but are artificially stretched to unbearable lengths and lack of emotions as in “Black List”. Even the songs that could be mediocre and not plain awful are so repetitive in the end that they simply aren’t anything that disappointing in the end as the weak “El Gringo” that was written for a movie soundtrack and that is the only acceptable song on this record because it has at least some powerful vocals before they get redundant and are repeated to death. 

    In the end, the so-called kings of metal have fallen and this time, there are no glorious moments at all on this record. The band has become a caricature of their own past and this is their definite low after an unconvincing rerecording of their first record “Battle Hymns”. There are worlds between the band’s first energizing albums when they were still original, faithful to their fans and did many amazing live shows and what they have become today - a faceless bunch of defeated and tired warriors that dig in their own past and who have lost all their promising musicianship as they deliver the worst metal record I have ever listened to in my entire life. This record is not even worth to be written about and I only do this to warn the true metal fans out there to not touch this record and live the biggest musical disappointment ever. Manowar “fail, chill and cry” and have become the true losers of metal. 

    (Originally written for The Metal Observer)

    1%

    Bohse Onkelz - Memento (2016)

    Böhse Onkelz is one of the most popular German hard rock bands despite being ignored by mass media. The fact that the group is ignored by mainstream media is especially due to the fact that the band had some racist lyrics in several tracks and was quite popular in the skinhead scene in the first five years of its career. The band claims that it has changed its views since its early days. The group however has remained a quite controversial band that has often victimized itself, protested against governmental institutions and attacked the media for overlooking them. Most of the band's lyrics can be resumed by the phrase ''us against the world''. Some of the band members, especially lead singer Kevin Russell, also had to deal with alcohol and drug addictions and that's why the group decided to call it quits thirteen years ago and played two last farewell shows in front of over one hundred thousand fans. A few years after the split, singer Kevin Russell caused a violent traffic accident that severely injured two young men, escaped from the scene of his crime and apparently acted without any visible remorse or respect during his trial according to the media. He had to spend some time in prison and had to do a therapy.

    And now that band that had split up and celebrated its departure with a festival has come back to cash in. The man that has crippled two young men and done so much harm is back on the stage and sings about how the world has always been unfair to him. The band that had split up because its members couldn't get along and support one another anymore sing about their eternal friendship. Despite releasing its fifth number one studio record in a row and getting massive attention from rock and metal magazines, the band still victimizes itself and tries to tell its fans who are paying elevated prices to attend their shows that they are unlucky outsiders. The music on the band's new album sounds as conservative as it gets and the lyrics deal with the same topics as ever. It's still ''us against the world''. That band's entire attitude, behavior and career sound like a lie to me. The fact that this group is still so popular in Germany tells us a lot about the current state of that nation. People feel like outsiders and can identify themselves with the band's fake image. If you take a look at a majority of the audience during the group's numerous live shows, you will get a very revealing portrait of what kind of people support those hypocrites. Concert halls are filled with aggressive soccer hooligans, racist skinheads, frustrated outsiders, rebellious kids or those who are still on a mentally immature level, rock and metal journalists who want to keep some cool underground credibility and feeble-minded bullies who think rock music is too soft for them and heavy metal too brutal and who wouldn't be smart enough to understand lyrics in any other language than their mother tongue anyway. There are obviously some positive exceptions but a band with such a stereotypical identity attracts a lot of stereotypical people as well. If you have any kind of self-esteem, you avoid that kind of music, fan base and band at all costs.

    Why am I telling you about all those things? It's because the new album isn't actually even worth to be discussed in more than a very short paragraph. What we get to hear is uninspired, simplistic and conservative hard rock music with raw and throaty vocals destroyed by alcohol and drugs and whiny lyrics about the band's fake image of friendship and togetherness, the flaws of Church and State and some pseudo-morality where the band tries to convince us how wise they have become which is clearly proven wrong by the reunion and release of that album alone. To be fair, exactly two songs are remotely interesting on the new record. The best track on here is the bluesy epic ''Der Junge mit dem Schwefelholz'' and it proves that the musicians could actually pull off a skilled blues rock project if it weren't for their limited singer and simple-minded fan base even though the lyrics offer the tired stereotype of a young man corrupted by its religious education. Opener ''Gott hat ein Problem'' offers a surprisingly melancholic punk tune and starts the album with a pleasant surprise despite the vapid lyrics where the band worships itself without any obvious trace of irony.

    To keep it short, Böhse Onkelz is one of the most antipathic bands on the planet for me. It's not because of the band's past because everybody can make mistakes and deserves a second chance. No, it's because of the band's present concerning its shallow reunion to make money and this vapid record where the group repeats the same tired stereotypes it had already dealt with numerous times over the past three decades. Memento is absolutely not memorable and one of the most boring and conservative rock albums I have heard in a very long time. If you feel that the whole world is against you and don't like changes of any kind, this album might be interesting for you. Anyone else should stay away from this record at any cost.

    10%

    Metallica & Lou Reed - Lulu (2011)

    This album will beat all the scores on any metal portal. This collaboration record between the old and tired experimental rock singer Lou Reed and the aged thrash metal legend Metallica will probably get the lowest average rating ever by the fans. My rating score will probably be amongst the most favourable reviews because I try to analyze this output from an objective and not an emotional point of view. I may accord a score of twenty-five to this album but emotionally, this is not even worth half of this score indeed. Let's take a look on what happened.

    Lou Reed and Metallica decided to work together after having played together live at the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame 25th anniversary show. Lou Reed had been working on a conception album featuring passages inspired by the controversial German playwright Frank Wedekind. Lulu tells the story of a desperate and disillusioned woman that is only a shadow of her past and lives a fatal emotionless circle of sex, abuse and despair. The emotionless spoken word vocals by Lou Reed, the minimalist instruments, the experimental style of this album and the cold and simple album cover underline the concept. Let’s note that this album doesn’t feature much of James Hetfield’s vocals and only a few lost thrash riffs. This album is eighty percent Lou Reed and maybe twenty percent Metallica and this estimation is eventually even quite optimistic.

    So far, so good but the music itself is even harder to digest as the story itself. The two artists created a lot of overlong tracks with a lack of variation, emotion and diversity. This is no accident but an effect they really wanted to create to bring the story to life and give an authentic and unique twist to this experimental collaboration. The final result included though too many emotionless overlong passages that may even bore the most open-minded and intellectual music fan in the world to death. After two or three minutes, everything is said but the songs are stretched at least three times too much with a peak of almost twenty minutes of dumb and hypnotizing boredom in the final "Junior Dad". Metallica sad that the section of classic music in the second half of the track made them cry and really touched them but I never heard such a boring and closed minded piece of classic music. There are a few additional musicians that play viola, cello, violin and electronic instruments but everything sounds as one big indefinable potpourri. Don't even think about symphonic metal bands such as Therion, Apocalyptica or even Savatage if you read about those guest musicians who know how to mix metal music with classic passages. Even Metallica's controversial "S&M" experiment which I actually liked was way more convincing than this failure.

    Almost all songs are overlong, boring and dumb but I really must point out the track "Little Dog". This is by far the worst metal song I have ever listened to in my life. Well, I would not even call this music. It has a more than minimalist and exchangeable instrumental work while Lou Reed uses a completely emotionless and blurry murmured voice to put some almost random spoken word passages over the music for eight long minutes. He has no charisma, no variation and no energy. This can't even be defended by the fact that the band wanted to bring a desperate and emotionless character to life. Music, vocals and lyrics just don't fit together. If you are at this kind of emotional degree, you are already more than suicidal. Even a dog would moan and run away by listening to this incredible piece of garbage and try to commit suicide by biting his own tail off until there is no blood left to be shed. This song is an open insult to psychedelic rock, Krautrock and any progressive Stoner metal as any amateur band of any of these kinds is better and more authentic than what Lou Reed and Metallica deliver with this anti-effort. This sounds like Johnny Cash on a heavy dose of cannabis just before his death. I declare this the worst metal song ever.

    Compared to this disasterpiece even the really bad tracks on this overlong double-album merit a few low percentage ratings and vary between horrible and pretty bad. The longer the tracks are, the worse they get. Many critics laughed about the weird "The View" with its strange and ridiculous lyrics but this track turns out to be the most dynamicle and diversified track on the album which is only beaten by the solid opener "Brandenburg Gate" which is simply too short to get redundant even if the chorus is already repeated way too much. I want to underline that we talk about acceptable to mediocre songs and not about good efforts but next to the eight disasterpieces that follow these songs sound like a relief. Anybody that bashed "The View" will be stunned by the high degree of failure of the rest of the record if he or she is tough enough to make it entirely through this record. Sometimes, you can skip five minutes within the song and everything still sounds the same. Let me give you an advice: Don't waste your time and money on that. Don't buy this because you have all the other Metallica records. Don't expect this to grow on you. It will probably even get worse the more youi listen to this. If you didn't like "The View", you'll hate the rest even more. If you liked "The View", chances are elevated you may nevertheless hate the rest. This is the kind of record one person among ten thousand will like but I'm not into this at all. 

    In the end, the acceptable two first tracks, the story and the at least interesting concept itself and the acceptable sound of the record add a few points to a very bad final rating. I always defended Metallica and I liked all of their experimental works in the past. I'm one of those who adored "Load" and especially "ReLoad" quite a lot and who was able to accept the "St. Anger" record which really grew on me over the years and happens to be among my favourite Metallica albums. "Lulu" just won't grow. There is no diversity. There is no energy. There is no authenticity. Even harsh critics must admit that the controversial "St. Anger" is a masterpiece compared to this, anybody else is really out of his mind. The release date of this garbage is a hard day for the heavy metal universe. But let's see this from a positive point of view. No matter what Metallica will record in the beginning of the next year, the band's upcoming solo record can definitely only be an improvement. But they surely lost a lot of fans with "Lulu" who won't give them any new chance and I can really understand this. What did Metallica think by doing this? I really think they do whatever they want and don’t give a damn about anything else. That’s artistically interesting but commercially suicidal. There is no excuse this time.

    25%

    Beyond the Black - Songs of Love and Death (2015)

     “A spectre is haunting Europe…” No, it’s not called communism. It’s called the new wave of pop metal. Beyond The Black is next in line to deliver a mixture of tired symphonic metal from the beginning of the millennium with a touch of dated pop music from the eighties on the stupidly entitled Songs Of Love And Death. The album title alone makes dated commercial acts like Good Charlotte and HIM look like geniuses. I'm mentioning these bands because their sounds are not a far call from Beyond The Black and the target audience could be the same.

    Beyond The Black seems to be influenced by symphonic metal with a penchant for commercial success. The band tries to include a few folk-inspired melodies to sound like Within Temptation’s “Mother Earth” in “In The Shadows”, rehashes the mixture of pseudo-harsh male vocals and a fragile female performance to recall Evanescence’s “Bring Me To Life” in “Running To The Edge”, and comes around with pop music with some guitars in the background on “Songs Of Love And Hate”, a song that wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Anette Olzon’s solo album Shine. Sometimes, the band includes all three categories in the same song in a predictable and tame verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus structure as seen in “Hallelujah”. A few predictable and uninspired piano ballads such as “Love Me Forever” or “Unbroken” interrupt the compositions by numbers with more boredom. Most songs are reduced to lengths around four minutes in order to fit radio play standards. All these elements prove to me that this band is purely a commercial product without soul, and is making an obvious attempt at commercial success rather than artistic authenticity. Another proof is that both the symphonic sounds and the vocals of their debut performance at Wacken actually came from a tape and weren't live. If you are still not convinced, check out the singer's biography. She has already sung in the casting pop band for children called Saphir at the tender age of fourteen.

    The vocals sound in fact like a female parody of Modern Talking or a limited teenage version of Jennifer Rush. The keyboard passages sound less impressive than a Nightwish cover band, and the guitar play sounds about as authentic as gothic pop casting band Nu Pagadi. Rumors say that the band features a bass guitarist, but this instrument is completely inaudible. The drum play is also mostly buried and plays the usual repetitive patterns in the background. It’s hard to tell if this is due to horrid song writing, the lack of overall musical talent, the overproduction, or all of these options combined. The lyrics are also completely dull, and too closely inspired by the bands mentioned in the second paragraph.

    Why is a band like Beyond The Black signed to a big metal label these days? It must be a mixture of an attempt at elevated sales figures among inexperienced children and the fact that sex sells as the label tries to make the singer look cute which is the reason why she alone is featured on the album cover. Don’t get me wrong, I adore many female-fronted metal acts like Edenbridge, Epica, Krypteria, Nightwish, Seraphim, and many more. I think, however, that the wave of female-fronted pop rock bands is generally a short-living trend that repeats itself every fifteen years or so. This fits with the current trend of exchangeable dystopian movies with horrible female lead actresses like “The Hunger Games” and “Divergent”. I guess the target audience is quite similar as well. This product here might at least help introduce some young and inexperienced female teenagers to the universe of rock and metal music in a smooth way. If the target audience ends up listening and identifying itself with real rock and metal music at a certain point in the future, these bands might have had some sort of purpose in the end. Until then, all fans of authentic, creative, and organic rock music of any kind should ignore these bands. “Metalheads of the world, unite!”

    Originally written for Black Wind Metal

    28%

    Saxon - Live to Rock (2008)

    Saxon is one of those exchangeable old and tired heavy metal bands that constantly repeat themselves. They have released the same type of music in slightly different variations for roughly four decades. Over the past few years, singer Biff Byford has given more and more confused interviews about what heavy metal lifestyle is supposed to mean and that it should even be considered a religion. This kind of mindset is just one step away from the stereotypical image of Manowar. I'm still not sure whether both bands' opinions are an elaborate parody or a megalomaniac case of loss of reality. All these statements made by Biff Byford have driven the band to release another anthem about rock'n roll spirit entitled ''Live to Rock''.

    And this song sucks. A pseudo-epic introduction with poorly sounding distorted guitar riffs and electric sound elements that would have already sounded dated two decades prior to this release lead into a tired verse with simplistic riffs and a chorus that was stolen from an AC/DC song. Even the vocals sound like an average Brian Johnson copy. The plodding bridge of the song with overtly repeated lyrics and those horrible electric sound elements is saved by a short guitar solos that makes at least thirty seconds out of three hundred thirty-one enjoyable. At least the single version of the title track is shorter but not better for that matter. The worst thing about both versions is obviously the lyrics. Biff Byford tells us how rock music is the essence of his life and that we should also live to rock. Of course, he blames education and society for being too conservative and makes a list of all the jobs he doesn't want to have like being a teacher, solider or lawyer. While people with these professions are not as closed-minded as the singer might think and are actually also able to rock, they have a significant impact on society and make the world better every single day which can't be said about an average rock singer whose band already declined in popularity two decades before the release of this shabby anthem. The spirit of this song might sound cool if you're a rebellious teenager who got tired of high school or if your friends and you are drunk and decide to attend a rock show. If you listen to this tune when you're sober however, it's just plain boring and cringeworthy even though I must admit that the simplistic chorus is somewhat catchy. To keep it short, there are already thousands of songs with similar lyrics and the world didn't need another one. Even Saxon had much better songs about the spirit of rock music like the historically inspired ''Denim and Leather'' that was released almost three decades prior to this coaster (or frisbee if you take the vinyl version into consideration).

    Aside of the two versions of the dull title track, the single also includes an acoustic version of the song ''Coming Home'' from the Killing Ground record. The track sounds like a country song that could be played as a filler on some redneck radio station in the southern part of the United States of America between Johnny Cash's ''Ring of Fire'' and Lynyrd Skynyrd's ''Sweet Home Alabama''. At least the track sounds differently from what Saxon usually do and improves this overall vapid release slightly. 

    In the end, I can recommend this song to those who believe rock 'n roll is the essence of their lives and those who like to listen to some old-fashioned country music in between their hard rock albums. If you believe AC/DC and Johnny Cash are the greatest musicians of the twentieth century, go grab this release and continue living in the past. Any fan of rock and metal music beyond cringeworthy stereotypes should skip this release. Same goes for all the teachers, soldiers and lawyers out there. I'm glad I got a promotional copy and didn't have to spend any money on this.

    40%

    Wintersun - Time I (2012)

    “Time, what is time?” once asked Blind Guardian on their legendary Power Metal release “Somewhere Far Beyond”.

    Sometimes, good things need some time to be done but this is not the case at all for Wintersun’s new output that has been released eight years after their first strike following many complicated recording sessions, lots of strange announcements and wrongful promises and more and impatiently growing expectations from critics and fans. The difference between Guns 'n Roses' “Chinese Democracy” and the new Wintersun record is that nobody really expected anything special coming from the one man project of Axl Rose but the record turned out to be quite decent without being a masterpiece while in the other case what has become a one man project of Jari Mäenpää was expected to be a masterpiece and is nothing but a big deception. After all the dramatic events over the last years, they could only fail. In the end, couldn't one have seen this coming?

    “Only time will tell.” realized the British Heavy Metal flagship Iron Maiden on its dark “A Matter Of Life And Death” release.

    Jari Mäenpää announced in fact that his new material was so complex that it needed new and revolutionary recordings procedures. This complexion led to a quite predictable result as the new overhyped record turns out to be completely overloaded. The guitar riffs feel lackluster and are buried under a too big amount of symphonic elements. Despite the length of the single tracks, they show no progression whatsoever. The calmer moments lack of emotions, the louder parts lack of energy and the productions is without dynamics.

    “We got a little time to make up our minds.” stated the pioneer band of European Power Metal Helloween on the first part of their legendary “Keeper Of The Seven Keys” trilogy.

    During the whole process of that difficult birth that Jari Mäenpää gave to his new baby, he seems to have either worked too much on the tracks as they feel very complicated and inaccessible or not worked enough on them as they lack of consistency. The whole record has no catchy moments even though the same patterns are heavily repeated. Apart of the instrumentals, all songs vary from calm ambient or folk rock introductions to extreme symphonic metal or melodic death metal parts to calmer folk metal sections before the entire circle is repeated again and again and soon starts to get quite predictable. The few new elements such as the Japanese folk parts are overused in the genre and don’t fit at all to the topic of ice and snow. That being sad, the song titles lack as much of originality as the tracks themselves do.

    “I’ve been here before, was it all just wasted time?” questioned the German power metal band Edguy on their “Rocket Ride” release.

    In the end, there is nothing left to say but that this record collapses under its own pressure and feels directionless and overloaded. Maybe the sound would have been more mature and natural if the release would have taken less time. I can understand that the band finally wanted its material to be released but maybe they should have worked on something completely different and new as time went by. The plan to make two records out of one is a good commercial idea but artistically, it just stretches the whole chapter and people like me are not looking forward for the second part of this release at all. But maybe time will change things again and the band will actually revise its initial decision or work on their songs to make them sound more natural. As most of the reviews on here are surprisingly positive, they though surely don’t feel the need to improve so that my expectations are very low for the upcoming release.

    “Tears of time – just an illusion.” concluded the legendary German gothic metal band Crematory on their well entitled “Illusions” release.

    44%

    Morbid Angel - Kingdoms Disdained (2017)

    There are bands which protect their integrity and realize their full artistic potential by broadening their horizons in spite of disappointed fans, negative critics and lukewarm sales figures. These bands might have to stand their ground to face the negative external influences but at least these band members don't have their ass stuck in their manager's butt and don't feel like vomiting when they look at themselves in the mirror in the morning. Integrity is worth more than any fame and money in the world.

    Only few bands have carried the torch of this free-spirited approach throughout their careers. Many of them have tried out different things in experimental phases but decided to keep things safe in their late careers which is acceptable at that point. This is the case for many famous bands from Iron Maiden over Judas Priest to Metallica. The only band I could think of that still surprises with each new record and does what it feels is right for it would be In Flames. A German proverb says: the more danger, the more honor. It means that if you get massive negative feedback, you're doing something right because you're moving people in one way or another.

    Morbid Angel has done exactly that. The band had already experimented with industrial music in the nineties but the band's last output Illud Divinum Insanus was a radical step forward to cover new ground after eight years of silence. Obviously, capitalists, critics and fans passionately despised this output but it seemed to be the right release for the band at the right time.

    Six and a half years later, the previous release turns out to be only a storm in a teacup. Kingdoms Disdained is the band's mea culpa and represents a solid loss of credibility. Morbid Angel has gone through numerous line-up changes during the past few years, almost doesn't play any songs from the last record live anymore and desperately tries to go back to its technical death metal roots on this bland, repetitive and soulless output.

    Kingdoms Disdained isn't particularly bad or good, it's actually worse because it's painfully average, exchangeable and predictable. Generic grunts meet senseless blast beat patterns, worn-out riffs, uninspired guitar riffs and powerless bass guitars. To suggest an illusion of diversity, overtly fast passages are occasionally interwoven with chugging mid-tempo parts. The unbalanced production focuses on hyperactive drum passages and monotonous vocals while the guitars sound bland and the bass is often barely audible. This kind of music might have been emotional, exciting and original three decades ago but today any amateurish high school death metal group comes around with more interesting ideas. This record is bland and by the numbers. No effort whatsoever was put into the musicianship and songwriting aside of the omnipresent drum patterns that are so overused that they become just as boring as everything else. Not one single song sticks out among the eleven new tracks. In a few years, nobody will remember any of those tunes as even the band's most faithful fans will always prefer the idealized old days due to some misplaced nostalgia.

    Grow some balls and listen to something exciting once in a while. Morbid Angel's new coaster is everything but that. The band should stand its ground and do what it thinks is right instead of playing charades among band members to assemble a group of exchangeable yes-men without any own artistic vision that copy their idols of yore in the case of the drummer and guitarist or repeat themselves in the case of the two older members. Kingdoms Disdained is a headless assimilation to nostalgia. Playing it safe and boring to death is always worse than taking risks and offending people in my book. This isn't death metal but dead metal. Shame on you. This faceless release only deserves the most average rating possible.

    50%

    Queensryche - Dedicated to Chaos (2011)

    The album title resumes in a quite perfect way the musical, lyrical and overall direction of Queensrÿche anno Domini 2011: "Dedicated to chaos".

    Let’s say that Queensrÿche have surpassed their zenith of creativity since almost twenty years and desperately tried to get a connection to their roots with the disappointing “Operation: Mindrime II” and the weird conceptual record “American Soldier” which had a lot of lights and shades. As the last records still had some glimpses of what I have loved about Queensrÿche and as there were still some signs of hope and elements for a better future within those records, I defended those albums and was faithful to the band. But even for an open minded and patient fan of progressive music, the new record “Dedicated to chaos” seems to go too far in the beginning. But as I already expected to listen to the worst album of the year which I thought I had already heard with the last HammerFall record I got a big surprise after a while just like on the last record. 

    This album is kicks off so bad that I don’t know where to start. The last album had a guiding line while the first songs of this album don’t fit together at all. The sound of this album is more commercial and weak than ever. Queensrÿche seem to want to sound like a mixture of U2 and Three Doors Down but they don’t even get near at their level. Even the last Puddle of Mudd record seems to be masterpiece of rock music compared to the beginning of this release of Queensrÿche with songs like the faceless opener “Get started”. The ancient metal and progressive rock musicians have lost their feeling for haunting melodies, progressive structures, catchy hooks, gripping lyrics and emotional passages in here. A few plastic keyboards and artificial folk, jazz or symphonic sounds can’t take the place of the melodic guitar solos, pumping bass lines and intense vocals that have made this band famous. The band really “Got it bad” at many points in weird funk-folk-pop tracks with crappy radio sounds and “Around the world” has the same problem. “Higher” sounds like a mediocre plastic jazz track for a Phil Collins record with some modern metal influences. I mean that just the description of this is completely weird and they completely lose me there. It’s though still better like commercial attempts in the style of one dimensional modern metal tracks like “I take you” and “Hot spot junkie” that the band offers us on the album. 

    But once again the band got me by surprise after five truly horrible tracks. They suddenly pull out “At the edge” which is a rather calm, experimental and progressive song that reminds of the old days but is too hectic, weird and incoherent to entirely convince and strangely fits to the previous songs that had no focus either. But for the first time, there is a song on here that is surely intriguing and courageous but after so many boring pop songs I honestly ask myself what those guys smoked to write a strange track like this. The other epic track with the strange title “Big noise” that fits more to a hip hop record misses even more focus and goes straight nowhere in over six minutes. I don’t know if that’s something good or band in comparison to the first commercial songs. Sometimes, the band is very strange on this record and hard to follow. “I believe” has strange tribal drum loops, artificial oriental string sounds and vocal effects and sounds like a sound collage of a junkie. Those are the same ingredients as in “Got it bad” for example but this time the mixture is so experimental and lacks of focus that the radio pop fans might quickly feel frightened while the traditional fan just shakes his head and is taken by a surprise which could be as well positive as negative. The slow and somewhat weird “Luvn’u” or “The lie” could be tracks written by Jane’s Addiction or the Red Hot Chili Peppers in their weirdest eras and they need a lot of time to grow on me and sound simply like a mixture of weird and incoherent structures with experimental flows while having a commercial attempt at the same time. Even though those songs are hard to digest, I have never heard anything as strange as this and at least the band still surprises and is able to innovate in times like these. 

    But next to many too commercial or simply too weird and ambitious songs, there are also some true pearls that can be found on this record and that might be easier to be appreciated by the classic fans. The slow and haunting jazz ballad “Broken” and the very progressive “Hard times” hit into a calm and progressive same vein with dreamy lounge atmospheres, strange keyboard sounds and in the latter pumping bass lines. Those two songs happen to be probably the best tracks on the record. They have more focus than the other rather progressive songs and still add some new styles and elements to the band’s sound after so many years without sounding too modern, trendy and one dimensional. The songs don’t have anything to do with metal music but are great experiments and experiences for the band and their fans. “Drive” has pumping drum loops and a strange aggressive cold atmosphere and even though it sounds like a rather modern metal track, it has an addicting style and something more to offer. The song is monotonous but has many progressive little changes in style that make the whole thing a great listening experience. The jazzy passages of “Wot we do” that are used in a wrong and strange way several times on this record happen to sound fresh on this track that stands out as another highlight even though the song title is once again horrible. It’s a long time ago that Queensrÿche sounded as progressive as in the few mentioned tracks and after a terrible first third the band improves a lot. 

    In the end, this record is maybe the weirdest and most incoherent one I have ever listened to in my life. There are so many influences of different genres, weird ideas and experiments that the band could have created three albums with this material and they prove us that they still have something to say. The band is maybe more creative than ever in the last two decades but there is some soul, emotion and elegance missing that made those guys a pioneer band for many progressive rock and metal bands. I don’t know any other band that has fallen so down in a career and that went from a permanently excellent level on a permanently mediocre to low level. This album underlines the band’s fate.

    They have nothing left to lose and nobody expects much from them but by risking so much as on this release, the band still loses focus and goes too hard into a commercial direction or too hard in a progressive direction. This record is difficult to digest and has a more than mellow start and appears to be the worst album of the band history in the beginning. Finally, there are some songs that find the right way between commercial attempts and progressive sounds and should hit the nerve of those who remained faithful to the band but this is not enough to justify a buy or give us a true sign of rehabilitation. This record is even more difficult to defend and appreciate as the last one. 

    Artistically, the band still has many possibilities, ideas and creative moments that keep themselves alive until the next deception. But if they really want to come back to form the next time, the band should focus much more and release maybe two different records which should be one with rather modern and commercial sounds and the other one filled with weird and experimental sound collages. This record here asks multiples listening, a lot of patience and an open mind for different skills and styles. This record is the most difficult, uneasy and controversial one Queensrÿche have ever created even if I didn’t think this was possible. There is no truly catchy potential hit single or outstanding progressive track on the record and even if you see the album as a whole it seems completely disturbing and there are a lot of lights and shades. Listen to this at your own risks but when you do so take your time, be patient and don’t expect too much from the beginning on. Be sure to get the special edition as the four bonus tracks happen to belong to the better songs on this crazy record. 

    In the end, I must admit that this album might be a grower of the weirdest kind after a few tries. Just carry on and expect that this record is truly dedicated to chaos as I told you. My final rating is a mixture of positive surprises and bitter disappointments and seems much more ordinary than it really is if you have read my whole review.

    60%

    Iron Maiden - Seventh Son of a Seventh Son (1988)

    “Seventh Son of a Seventh Son” is considered by many as the last effort in a streak of experimental, genre-defining and powerful heavy metal releases in the eighties by Iron Maiden. The record received overwhelming reviews from both fans and professional critics and each time the album grows five years older, the rock media are dedicating special contributions to this album. Recently, Iron Maiden got also caught by euphoric nostalgia and went on a new “Maiden England” style tour centered on songs from this record. Almost nobody really seems to disagree that this is a groundbreaking release.

    Well, I do. Believe me, as a long-time fan of Iron Maiden it’s quite tough for me to criticize this band for one of its most influential releases. Usually, I agree with both professional experts and fans from all around the world that records like “The Number of the Beast”, “Powerslave” and “Somewhere in Time” are untouchable masterpieces that revolutionized an entire genre but I have to disagree on this one.

    Let’s start with the positive things first. The record has somewhat accidentally become a conceptual release. The lyrics have a certain guiding line, include interesting narrative elements and are still open for interpretation. The lyrics work well as a whole but also as single songs. The album has a constantly progressive and smooth atmosphere characterized by a distinctive mellower production, the use of guitar synths and even keyboards and longer tracks with laid-back instrumental parts in form of both introductions and soli. One can really talk about a coherent and focused song writing effort.

    There is no doubt that this album also includes a few really outstanding songs. First off, there is the brilliant “Infinite Dreams” which is almost a perfect definition of a melodic progressive metal tune. It has soaring melodies, an emotional yet calm and harmonious vocal performance, meaningful and poetic lyrics, smooth changes of style including both really laid-back melodies and a few faster parts grabbing your attention and it doesn’t include any unnecessary breaks or soli. Objectively said, this is probably one of the very best songs of both its new genre and Iron Maiden in general. 

    Let me point out another amazing tune that goes in a really different direction. “The Evil That Men Do” is an obvious single choice because of its catchy and melodic chorus but the song offers more than just this. From the first seconds on, the melodic guitar tone builds up a chilling atmosphere. Despite its melancholic touch, the track has a pleasant pace with great riffs, a vividly pumping bass guitar and a tight drumming. The vocals are diversified and performed with passion as they vary from darker verses with narrative parts and a meaner tone to liberating and high-pitched but never annoying parts in the pre-chorus and chorus. The whole song sounds really balanced and focused but is still one of the most diversified and progressive singles ever written by the band. 

    As I said before, there is also the negative side of this release which sadly dominates over the positive aspects. First of all, the production is too mellow for a metal release in my opinion. It’s surely an interesting and courageous experiment to opt for a different mastering but the final result sometimes lacks dynamics in my opinion. In addition to this, the record is overall too fluffy and really looses my attention in the second half.

    Let’s give a few examples that elaborate on my controversial point of view. First off, there is the title track, the epic ten-minute heart and soul of this release. This is one of the major reasons why this album is less spectacular than its two predecessors in my opinion. The song is atmospheric and starts very well but goes downhill from there. The instrumental part at the end of the record is repetitive and unspectacular as it drags on for far too long as if the band had absolutely wanted to include a song near the ten-minute mark on the album. The guitar soli are not really emotional or unique enough to convince and one expects something to come after all the soloing but the song simply ends at a certain point. The circle never closes and the track also fails to end with a bang. It could have also ended three minutes earlier or three minutes later and it wouldn’t have made any difference and that’s why the end of the track sounds redundant to me. I also think that the calmer break of the song tries a little bit too obviously to copy the break in “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” which is maybe the most ambitious epic ever written by the band. It's actually the first time the band is directly copying itself which is never a good sign for the creative longevity of a group of artists. Not only that the band has been there before and doesn’t introduce anything new to the listener, the narrative section in this part is a lot less atmospheric than in the original epic that was brilliantly cinematic as the listener could almost feel as if he was on board of a doomed ship. This effect doesn’t work on the title track here as it doesn’t make me feel anything. A last negative point of this song is obviously the chorus of the track. Not only that such a progressive tune wouldn’t have requested a chorus but in this case it simply consists of hectically and repetitively singing the name of the track followed by forced sing along parts to fill the emptiness. I always felt as if the band had run out of ideas for this song after five minutes or so but artificially stretched this track to the double. 

    Another song I dislike for completely different reasons on the record is the single “Can I Play With Madness” that has neither the atmosphere nor the diversity of “The Evil That Men Do” for example. It’s an exchangeable and forcedly joyous melodic rock tune that aims for commercial success and airplay which simply doesn’t fit to what Iron Maiden has always stood for. The chorus is not only filled with childish melodies but also dull and unimaginative from a lyrical point of view. In this form, it feels like a foreign body on an otherwise elaborated and progressive rock inspired terrain. Even as an outstanding exception, this song doesn’t work because it even fails in what it tries to be. Several other hard rock and heavy metal acts had made similar guitar synth and keyboard driven singles that worked a lot better, for example the British colleagues from Judas Priest.

    The closing "Only the Good Die Young" tries to go back to the average opener "Moonchild" which is an interesting idea for a conceptual release. The problem is that both songs sound too similar to stand out on such a short release. Another thing that really bothers me is that this track has by far the mellowest production on the album. The track doesn't develop any pace and sounds like an average AOR song of its time that could also come from Dokken, Foreigner or Whitesnake. The song sounds way too tame and unspectacular to close a heavy metal record with. It's not a great and moving ballad either which would be acceptable. No, it's simply one of the most uninspired songs in the career of this band. Instead of ending the album with emotion or power, the song sounds like a confusing mixture of commercial melodic rock and conceptual progressive rock. This closer is though not unique and catchy enough to convince as melodic rock track and it's not original or profound enough to work as a progressive rock track. This song is caught somewhere in a no-man's-land in between both genres and goes straight nowhere.

    The worst thing on this album is though the exchangeable "The Prophecy". I don't know how many times I've listened to this song in my life but it simply fails to stay on my mind. Even the worst fillers from later Iron Maiden records have a certain something that makes them stand out, be it a catchy chorus, a gripping riff or at least a distinctive solo part. This song has none of these elements. It's a very faceless track. It's a useless filler. In my opinion a filler is even worse than a song that really sucks. A bad song manages at least to impress you in a negative way. This faceless filler doesn't even manage to do this. It's completely irrelevant and probably the most unspectacular song ever written by Iron Maiden.  

    All in all, this release has two really outstanding tracks that save this album, two good average tunes and four songs that vary between mediocre and utterly useless. I may give the band some credit for the courage that they tried to constantly develop the sound from the previous milestone record to an even mellower and slightly commcerial AOR inspired sound. I might also admit that this album has a certain guiding line in form of a slightly interesting intellectual concept. Apart of the shallow title track, Iron Maiden definitely tried to move on and create something completely new and unique at that time. Still, all these humble intentions can't compensate for a really fluffy and mellow execution that makes this release really hard to sit through for me. I didn't like this album at first contact when I first listened to it over nine years ago and it hasn't grown but probably even decreased in my perception since then. This album is not only a constant candidate for my bottom five records of Iron Maiden but also for my bottom five of the most overrated so-called classics in the history of heavy metal music. I can completely understand why this album was the beginning of the end for Iron Maiden as the band started to fall apart after this release and desperately tried to go back to a heavier and darker sound over the next few records because if the band had continued its journey towards even fluffier sounds, they would probably sound worse than Def Leppard today. If you like AOR or worship anything old school metal heads praise since this is a release from the eighties, you can give this release a spin and follow the masses. If you are looking for solid song writing without any lengths, the fierce energy one could usually expect from a legendary heavy metal band or different exciting approaches and ideas connected to a progressive metal release, you should rather go for Queensrÿche's "Operation: Mindcrime" which was released at the same time and which might have a similar concept but which turns out to be much better than this album from an emotional, intellectual, musical and even productional point of view.

    65%

    Opeth / Enslaved - Live in Plovdiv (2017)

    This interesting split release came along with the eighty-first issue of the great but expensive Prog magazine. It includes five live tracks recorded two years ago in Bulgaria where Swedish progressive metal quintet Opeth performed with orchestra. In addition to this, this release also includes a new song by Norwegian progressive extreme metal band Enslaved. Clocking in at about an hour of running time, the six songs basically promote a tour of the two bands by offering exclusive material.

    This record has many positive elements going for it. First of all, it's a record with five exclusive live tracks by Opeth plus an exclusive video edit of a new studio track by Enslaved which makes this record valuable for collectors and fans. 

    Secondly, with a running time just above one hour, one gets value for money with this limited release. The material is also so detailed and diversified that it requests multiple spins. This means that this release isn't just a nice gimmick but offers both quality and quantity. This output will keep you entertained for a long period of time.

    Thirdly, the atmospheric, colorful and inspiring cover artwork is simply gorgeous and one of the most beautiful in Opeth's career. It would have been even better to offer a poster of this piece of art with the magazine. 

    Fourthly, the sound quality of both the live material and the studio song is balanced and organic. I would even go as far to say that this is Opeth's greatest live record regarding production values. 

    Fifthly, the set list chosen for the live concert is quite diversified as it includes five songs from five completely different records representing Opeth's evolution as a band. We get one track from the third studio record My Arms, Your Hearse representing the band's eerie early years, the title song from the sinister Deliverance representing the band's most acclaimed phase, another one from the highly atmospheric Ghost Reveries representing the band's middle years, one tune from the much calmer and traditionalist progressive rock release Heritage as well as one selection from the band's then-current release Pale Communion. This selection isn't only a perfect representation of the band's different phases but also a great introduction to the group for those who don't own any of its releases yet. 

    Sixthly, the harmonious combination between Opeth's traditional soundscapes meandering between epic progressive rock with death metal outbursts on one side and decently employed orchestra on the other side makes the five live versions sound much more atmospheric, diversified and epic than the respective studio versions. Traditional rock instruments and classical elements complement each other perfectly. This combination sounds surprisingly balanced, fluid and organized. It sounds as if these five songs were always meant to be played this way. None of the tracks sounds overloaded. Opeth have achieved something many other metal bands such as Metallica struggled to achieve when combining classical music and heavy metal. Obviously, Opeth aren't Therion yet but the result of this collaboration sounds surprisingly strong. 

    The seventh element that needs to be pointed out is the authentic live atmosphere of this release. We don't just get live versions of five songs but witness entertaining communications between Opeth's singer and the audible audience that give some welcome breaks after the long individual tracks.

    The eighth and last but not least point that makes this release stand out is Enslaved's new studio track. It's a quite atmospheric, meandering and progressive track with a solid balance between dreamy interludes with choirs and fast-paced black metal outbursts. This combination is interesting enough to make me want to check out the band's new regular studio release.

    On the negative side, there are only two elements. First of all, Opeth played a total of sixteen songs during the show two years ago, including eight with orchestra. The band should have released its ambitious project as regular live record with all tracks played that night or at least all eight songs performed with orchestra. On a side note, the missing three songs performed with orchestra are included on some limited editions of the last studio record Sorceress.

    Secondly, the great cover artwork would have deserved a jewel case release with a small booklet with pictures from the show. The cardboard sleeve doesn't do this great release justice. If one takes into consideration the quite steep price of Prog magazine, it's not exactly a fan-friendly decision to only offer a cardboard format.

    Still, the two negative points are only minor details while the eight positive points all contribute to a highly recommendable high-quality release for occasional and faithful fans and collectors. This release is the best is a highlight in Opeth's discography. the best split release I have come across this year and one of the greatest live releases of the last twelve months as well. Finally, the bonus track by Enslaved is very atmospheric and progressive which makes it exciting and promising regarding the band's new studio release.

    80%

    Turisas - Turisas2013 (2013)

    Do you remember the Turisas that got a lot of attention with their mixture of folk, power, and symphonic metal over the last decade with tracks like “Battle Metal”, “To Holmgard And Beyond” or the funny Boney M cover “Rasputin”? Do you recall their stereotypical Viking image, including strange caveman clothes and exaggerated body paint in black and red? Two years after their bombastic and cinematic symphonic metal opus Stand Up And Fight, the band is back with a really weird release that is simply entitledTurisas2013, and features some of the worst cover artworks I have ever seen.

    As strange as the odd album title and the ugly artwork happens to be, it’s nothing compared to the music here. This record is a true hit-or-miss release. The band employs many experiments that you either adore or hate, but I’d guess that the vast majority might feel negatively about the band’s progression. This album doesn’t have a clear purpose at all. Each song is quite different and should be analyzed as a single rather than an album track. With each new song, there is a chance for you to find something surprising that you dig or to press the skip button as quickly as possible. In addition to this, the album needs multiple spins and requires time to grow on you. After the first try, there were just too many overwhelming details for me to judge this record on, and I’ve found it’s really tough to review this unique album.

    Let’s take a look at the opener “For Your Own Good”. The song sounds like a metal version of a track taken from a gothic musical soundtrack in the key of a Tim Burton movie- with childish but menacing piano and expressive vocals. A few harsher parts remind me of Crematory or Orphanage. The progressive metal influenced keyboard solo à la Ayreon comes as a complete surprise in the middle of the song. At first glance, I thought this song was quite incoherent, and it definitely isn’t a good choice as an album opener. But the song is a courageous grower, and after a while all the different genre elements started to fit together, and the final result works, in fact, very well.

    What can one think of a song like “The Days Passed”? It mixes a lot of keyboard beats (reminding me of disco hits from the late seventies or eighties) with overwhelming orchestrations and a few harsher folk metal parts. I would describe this as a weird reinterpretation of Survivor’s “Eye Of The Tiger” by an autistic metalhead that just discovered MAGIX Music Maker or a similar program. The mixture sounds strange, and it is. Old school fans might judge this as being too commercial because of the disco and stadium rock elements. More commercial fans might get upset about the few harsh vocals in here, as well as the eclectic mixture of genres. Only experimental free minds will truly love this song.

    You think it can’t get weirder? Enter “Run Bhang-Eater, run!”. Well, the title is very fitting. Indian folk elements meet up-tempo metal passages, childish background voices, anarchic jazz passages, a sample of a woman having an orgasm, hectic guitar, saxophone and violin performances and finally an epic mid-tempo break. The whole thing sounds like a mixture of Panjabi MC, Charlie Parker, UneXpect, Therion, and a sample from a porn site. What the hell did these guys smoke? But, guess what! I like this weird piece of music.

    Even most of the Turisas songs that remind me of prior records include a few new elements. The diversified epic mid-tempo anthem “Piece By Piece” features everything that made the band famous: from powerful choirs over cinematic orchestrations to energizing metal music. A few almost spacey guitar chords and keyboard samples in the slow middle section add another surprising note to this.

    Are there at least a couple of traditional Turisas songs on here? Yes, there are. The cinematic track “Ten More Miles” would have fit well on Stand Up And Fight, and should calm down the upset old school fans. The vivid up-tempo track “Into The Free” has all the glorious Turisas trademarks. However, it doesn’t sound like the anthem of a Viking movie anymore, but rather like a song for the soundtrack of a Western movie. The closer “We Ride Together” hits the same vein, and is a rather joyful track that has some prominent Queen influences concerning the mixture of orchestral passages, male choirs, main clean vocals, and symphonic rock elements. The instrumentals, including trumpets, make me think of Ennio Morricone instead. These two influences stick together very well and end the record on a positive note for me.

    In the end, this record is composed of a couple of well done, more traditional Turisas tracks, and a whole bunch of courageous experimental songs. Even though the experimental tracks are quite eclectic and might not appeal to everybody, I really enjoy most of these original songs. My reasons to cut off a few points were one or two less impressive and memorable tracks, as well as the lack of a coherency that makes this album sound a bit directionless. Apart from that, this album isn’t better or worse than the band’s three previous releases, in my opinion. I guess that it might even grow on me further because it’s so diverse and hard to digest despite its balanced mixture of epic and fun moments.

    I would suggest that all Turisas fans give the experimental tracks a few spins before purchasing this record. These spicy songs are very dominant and add a certain something to this album. If you dig them, go and grab the album, but if you can’t build up a connection to them, wait and try again later and invest your money instead in a concert ticket. 

    Originally written for Black Wind Metal

    82%

    In Flames - Siren Charms (2014)

    For the last fourteen years it has been a popular trend in the metal scene to bash any new In Flames release because many closed-minded old-school metal heads are still living in the past millennium, unable to turn the page and accept that In Flames is willing to experiment and play a more alternative metal orientated style with a certain mainstream touch. Instead of giving up on the band, these self-declared true elitists still expect the band to return to a genre it has pioneered and importantly improved during the first ten years of its career. I’m completely on In Flames’ side because it’s useless to keep on reproducing music the band has already played in a nearly perfect manner on its great debut record “Lunar Strain”. Instead of becoming an irrelevant copy of its former years, the band has experimented for the majority of its career over the past fourteen years. In Flames continues to do so and the new album is another big slap in the face of those grown old nostalgics. And that’s the way it has to be.

    Enter Siren Charms. This record is as experimental as “A Sense Of Purpose…” but less accessible than this release and continues the style of the previous effort “Sounds Of A Playground Fading” with a few electronic and modern alternative rock influences influenced by “Soundtrack To Your Escape”. The great thing is that the progressively fusions and continues its very own sound without copying any particular record to extent.

    This record still includes quite a few surprises. The dirty, fast and misanthropic “Everything’s Gone” could come straight from a Marilyn Manson record and is definitely one of the best songs on here. 

    The slow and plodding “Through Oblivion” has a modern gothic rock style I would expect from a band like HIM. Once again, if you like this kind of music as much as I do, you are going to worship this song as well. 

    The melancholic and floating “With Eyes Wide Open” with its crystal clear fragile vocals and its catchy chorus reminds me of Thirty Seconds To Mars. “Dead Eyes” hits a very similar way and comes around with so beautiful guitar and keyboard melodies that this track should definitely be the second single. In this song, In Flames sing: “This is my world now.” And they sing with as much conviction as Metallica did on the song “My World” on the album “St. Anger”. Many people call Siren Charms In Flames’ personal “St. Anger”. Even though these two records are miles away from each other stylistically, this comparison is not completely wrong. Both bands do what they want to do with passionate authenticity and unbowed power and don’t care about being popular. That’s why I like both records quite a lot. Some people will call the two aforementioned tracks emo rock but it is performed with this certain conviction and passion and that’s why these songs have really grown on me. 

    “When The World Explodes” starts like a mixture of a metalcore and a melodic death metal song that could have appeased the old fan base. But In Flames wouldn’t be themselves if they didn’t include a couple of controversial elements in this song and just thinking of the stupid faces of the extreme metal elitists makes me enjoy this track. Its second part features soft and enchanting female vocals and highly atmospheric and floating electronic elements. In Flames shows one of its most creative song writing capacities in this track. 

    The first single “Rusted Nail” includes it all. Longing guitar solos, melancholic and fragile clean vocals that sound better on each album, depressive lyrics and an extremely liberating, majestic and melodic chorus you won’t get out of your mind. This is the kind of song that continues the style of the previous record. Imagine a mixture of “Sounds Of A Playground Fading” and “Liberation”. This is where In Flames shows its consistency and how their albums logically build up on each other. 

    Album closer “Filtered Truth” comes around with mechanical vocal effects and opening guitar riffs that make me think of Billy Talent. I mean how cool is that? The short passionate chorus simply blows me away once again. The consistent song without one unnecessary second is crowned by a melodic but twisted instrumental bridge. This track ends a very good album on a high note. Hello, third single! 

    In the beginning, I thought a couple of songs on this album were a little bit hard to digest or unspectacular at certain moments such as the short title song “Siren Charms” and the “Monsters In The Ballroom” that recalls several modern melodic death metal songs from the past three In Flames releases. Even these average tracks have grown on me after three spins. It’s hard to tell if I like this record as much as “Sounds Of A Playground Fading” in hindsight but my first impressions are pretty much as positive as they were three years earlier. So please don’t give a damn about rude comments on social media or average scores on the Metal Archives that may drop below forty percent this time. If you liked In Flames’ previous records and don’t mind the experiments described above, you have to purchase this record. By the way, the two bonus tracks “The Chase” and “Become The Sky” are excellent modern melodic death metal as well that should even please to a couple of fans that liked “A Sense Of Purpose” but none of the other recent releases, so be sure to look out for them. There is no doubt that this release will easily make it on my list of the twenty best records of the year 2014. Right now, this album is even in my top five. Be courageous and check this out. In Flames we trust.

    87%

    The Foreshadowing - Oionos (2010)

    The Forsehadowing is a gothic doom metal band that sounds so melancholic that one would expect them to come from Finland but they are actually based in sunny Italy. “Oionos” is their second out of three full length releases so far, with a fourth output being recorded right now. This album may sound minimalist at first but it has enough subtle changes to remain interesting even though it takes a few spins to open up for this kind of sorrowful music. The record has a clear guiding line in form of a slow, melancholic and depressive atmosphere and post-apocalyptic memento mori lyrics that are truly worth to be read while listening to this piece of art.

    In my book, the most outstanding element of this band is the vocals. Marco Benevento is one of the very best singers in the doom and gothic metal genres. His clean vocals remind me a little bit of Amorphis’ Tomi Joutsen, especially when he was still active in Sinisthra. Fans of depressive rock and gothic metal bands like Anathema, Katatonia, Moonspell, Opeth and Paradise Lost should also immediately appreciate Marco Benevento’s elegant, low and rich singing style. His charismatic and charming organ almost works like an additional instrument that complements the sometimes lethargic, at other moments dominatingly heavy drums, the low and oppressing bass sounds, the melancholic and sad keyboard tones and the longing and numbing guitar sounds. In the melancholic ballad “Survivors Sleep”, his vocals along with the inspiring lyrics and the hypnotizing piano melodies make this simplistic tune actually incredibly intense.

    The band adds some smooth diversity in several tracks by decently adding male choirs that aren’t a far call from Gregorian chants which give some tunes like the sacral instrumental “Solilo Uium” a more epic and symphonic touch. Sometimes, Marco Benevento himself chooses an almost meditative approach for his vocals, as in the middle passage of “Lost Humanity”. The keyboards add some subtle symphonic elements in the epic “Chant of Widows” that constantly changes and turns out to be not only the most diversified but also most representative track of this band for this album. A few narrative vocal samples also add to both the consistent atmosphere and the thoughtful lyrics, for example in the great title track “Oionos”. We can even here excerpts from Roosevelt’s famous speech from his declaration of war after the attack on Pearl Harbor in “Hope. She’s in the Water” and from Oppenheimer’s speech about a post-atomic world in “Revelation 3:11”. The chosen excerpts always perfectly fit in each song.

    And now it’s time to kneel down for one of the very best cover songs ever done. Sting’s “Russians” is an emotional track with intense and truly meaningful lyrics that are maybe more meaningful in 2015 than ever before which is actually a sad thing. The Foreshadowing transformed the timeless original into a gripping and tear-jerking song that perfectly fits the atmosphere of the record somewhere between despair and hope. The track is a little bit slower, more melancholic and epic than the original. The introduction and closure features hypnotizing keyboard sounds and a thunderous drumming that sounds like exploding bombs. The vocals in this track are simply incredible. If you still doubt Marco Benevento is one of the very best of his kind, listen to this song. 

    What kind of rating does this album deserve? It’s definitely not a record which is easy to digest and which I could listen to all day long but that automatically comes with its genre. The only other thing I could criticize is that the band’s other albums are somehow more diversified than this one but on the other side, this minimalistic approach makes Oionos really stand out and there is still a high amount of creativity in each tune. Objectively said, this record has a crystal clear production, an intriguing cover artwork designed by Septicflesh’s Spiros Antoniou, a clear and coherent guiding line, meaningful and outstanding lyrics, a fitting musical performance and absolutely charismatic and outstanding vocals. Any doom and gothic metal fan should worship this band and record and spread the name of this overlooked and underrated band.

    90%

    Tang Dynasty - A Dream Return to Tang Dynasty (1992)

    Tang Dynasty are often cited as one of the first Chinese metal bands that ever existed and they are even less respected than many of their exotic brothers in arms like Aria or Loudness. When I first stumbled over the band and discovered that the band had produced many truly well done video clips for several songs on this album, that the lyrics are very poetic and well written as far as I can judge it with my minor Mandarin skills and that the sound of this record is nearly as good as of any other classic Western heavy metal record from the eighties, I never thought that this was the debut record of a band as they already sound very professional. 

    The opening track, probably their most famous song to date and only track that got some minor airplay outside of Asia is already an absolute killer. Each time I start the record, I'm not even able to get to the second song because I push the repeat bottom at least twice after the amazing opener. The song starts with a mystic and epic intro that creates many images in your mind and makes you think about Chinese culture, history and nature. "A Dream Return To Tang Dynasty" is indeed already accomplished after a few minutes. When the might drums get in and create a hell load of tension you can't wait for the song to kick off after the majestic introduction. When the track finally starts, it's even better than what you might have expected. The melodies are catchy, the vocals very emotional and somewhat high pitched and operatic but always diversified and never annoying. The chorus is unforgettable and you simply have to sing along to it which mind sound and look very ridiculous in my case. The Chinese vocals fit surprisingly well to the classic heavy metal guitar solos that could directly come off an Iron Maiden record. The atmospheric bridge leads to heavy riffs filled with emotions and come back to the excellent chorus that lead to an energizing fade-out. Yes, energizing fade-outs exist to my big surprise and even though I usually don't like this technique, it sounds very well on this song.

    What can you do as a band when you pull off an album with a one hundred percent killer track like this? You can't top this kind of heavy metal song and the band did the right thing. After so much energy, they put a very calm, inspiring and truly meditative song on the second position with great acoustic folk passages. You really feel "The Sun" rising while you listen to this track. The calm and hypnotizing vocals, the great tribal drums and the mysterious back vocals and acoustic guitars lead to one of the best choruses on the whole record. It has a great folk feeling and is truly addictive and touching. Once again you sing along to one of the band's masterpieces. This track is nearly as perfect as the opener.

    To keep it short, these two songs are extremely close to perfection and remain my favourite tracks on this excellent debut record. The other songs are all very good but not as essential. There is not a single stinker on the whole record that varies between classic heavy metal, calm hard rock and diverse folk elements. Great guitar solos, very charismatic vocals and poetic lyrics dominate all songs on this release. Just to give you an idea, the track "Choice" even has a very dominating bass guitar and reminds me of glam rock bands such as the legendary T.Rex in the chorus or the music of Cat Stevens in the laid back passages. This means that the band has a high degree of influences and is truly open-minded. At the time of the release, classic heavy metal bands didn't release heavy metal albums of this high quality anymore and the Chinese keep the flame of that genre alive and add their very own touch to it on this album.

    Even the Chinese version of the "Internationale" is truly epic and fits to the rest of the record. While the other tracks praise the Chinese culture and history, this album closer was omitted from the original release for political reasons and it's though somewhat sad that this great album has this song as a bonus song now because art and politics should be separated. In many Chinese albums, books and movies, there is though quite often some kind of political propaganda which seems annoying to a person like me that is not very patriotic. In fact, the socialist revolution has nothing to do with the fascinating and long era of the Tang Dynasty and I think one should not have included this closing track on the recent reissues of the album.

    Any fan of melodic and epic heavy metal and hard rock music with some folk elements and an exotic touch should definitely try to purchase this record and spread the word about it. This band is definitely in my all time favourite bands of the classic heavy metal genres and one of the greatest things I discovered in music this year. I never thought that there were so many amazing Chinese metal bands out there but the discovery of groups like Tang Dynasty, Screaming Savior (who did a quite good symphonic black metal cover of this record's opener that you should definitely check out), The Last Successor, Fu Xi, Magic World Fantasy and many more proved me wrong and I start to dig deeper and deeper into this emerging and fascinating metal scene. Thanks to globalisation I discover more and more outstanding music from these countries that were still rather isolated from an artistic, cultural and also political point of view not even three decades ago. I hope you also take a chance and ride on these wings of tomorrow to open up your mind for this kind of music from a very charming country that offers much to discover.

    98%

    Last Successor - Last Successor (2010)

    The Chinese metal band The Last Successor delivers great epic progressive metal with power and folk influences. I found their debut record by pure coincidence and consider myself as a fan right now. This band surely merits a larger focus and not only because they are exotic. Their music is really professional and elaborated. The music is diversified but still filled with straight riffs and catchy piano melodies. The vocals are exotic but never oout of place and powerful. The production is quite good and the box set of this record is very beautiful, too. This is a beautiful gem I would like to purchase if I have the occasion to do so.

    From the amazing introduction called "Roots" on that mixes floating Tangerine Dream vibes with traditional Chinese folk sounds and score orchestrations worthy of an epic movie, the album drowns us into a very profound atmosphere. 

    The band delivers a perfect cinema for your mind and your ears from then on. "Way Back" starts with sounds of rifles and machine guns reminding me of Savatage's "Of Rage And War" or even Godsmack's "Straight Out Of Line". The track quickly becomes a very epic gothic track with growls, sharp riffs and also very melodic clean vocals that are surprisingly solid. Even though the song has some power metal elements, it always sounds dark and the vocals are not high pitched at all. The Chinese lyrics fit surprisingly well and don't sound out of place at all. The track has small progressive breaks that keep the tension and attention of the listener on a high level. In comparison to other bands with progressive elements, this band doesn't need endless shred guitar solos to do so but uses inoffensive keyboard sounds that create a bombastic atmosphere. 

    The great thing is that the band keeps this high level all over the record. "Abyss" has sharp and almost thrash riffs and starts with a pumping bass line. In contrast to this, folk elements can be heard in the beginning and the chorus is very melodic without sounding cheesy and used. The songs manage to be diversified but only in the details as they sound coherent and easy to digest. 

    From almost commercially orientated half-ballads such as "See Jasmine Again" to heavier tracks with epic passages and vocals somewhere between J-Rock, Gothenburg melodic death metal and Nu Metal as we can hear it in "The World", the band manages to play many different styles in a perfect manner and also has the ability to make the whole thing sound coherent and structured.

    The band even gets better and better on this record. Even though there is not a single bad song on the record I must point out "Behind Lies". It's maybe the strongest track on here. It is a very harsh track with some modern elements. Powerful gothic and death growls meet hectic keyboards sounds reminding me of Dream Theater. This song is completely unpredictable with its sound effects, weird heavy riffs and an outstanding guitar solo.

    In the end, this is the first Chinese metal band and album I have ever listened to and it really leaves me wanting more. My copy of this record is ordered by now and I can't wait to hold this precious gem in my hands. This is by far the greatest surprise and best album I have listened to in a while. I somewhat hesitated to give this record such a high rating but as it really impressed me and I'm sure it will even grow on me I honestly think I don't exaggerate in here. Be sure to check this out if my review awoke some interest in you as the album can easily be found online.

    98%

    Orphaned Land - All Is One (2013)

    Orphaned Land is an ambitious band from Bat-Yam and Petah-Tikva in Israel that started as a death and doom metal band back in 1991. As time went by, the band shifted more and more towards Middle Eastern folk metal and developed a musical and lyrical approach that tries to unite the different cultures and religions of the Middle East. The band plays folk music with a heavy twist inspired by many intriguing subcultures. Their songs feature lyrics in Arabic, English, Hebrew, Latin, Turkish and more. Above all stands the clear message that people should unite and live peacefully together instead of fighting each other. All these elements caracterize this motivated and unique band. Some fans even started a petition to help the band getting the Nobel Prize for their commitment to allowing the Arab World to listen to their music despite ongoing conflicts and to spread their peaceful message. If you buy a new Orphaned Land record, the concept always plays a central role and you should be aware of that fact, have a minimum of knowledge about the different cultural and religious conflicts and be in favour of the message of peace to fully enjoy what the five band members and their high number of guest musicians on different exotic folk instruments, choir duties or orchestral arrangments do. To spread their message, the band has also become more and more accessible and soft without losing a certain progressive and symphonic inspiration. The band though quit growling passages apart of one short exception, brutal riffs or all too dark atmospheres in their sound. The music has become as positive as the message behind without sounding vapid but rather liberating and magical. "All Is One" is definitely the band's most accessible record and old fans might feel a little bit disappointed about that development but anybody else should immediately dig this release. Personally, I don't miss the band's earlier sound on here at all because these musicians have developed into something better and more important over the last ten years.

    On the other side, the songs on here are catchier and less challenging than ever before. The epic half ballad "Brother," the symphonic folk metal opus "Let The Truce Be Known," or the joyful and danceable "The Simple Man" are instant hits and kick off the record on a very high note. My favourite song is though the opening title track "All is One" that isn't a far cry from Therion with its majestic symphonic arrangments, positively overwhelming choirs and charming Middle East folk melodies. This song is probably the best song the band has ever written.

    The greatness doesn't stop after the first four tracks. An absolutely outstanding highlight is "Fail," one of the most thought out songs ever written in any musical genre. The track combines gripping narrative passages and dark and slow growls with enchanting clean vocals. Musically, the song includes dark and slow passages but also many melodic guitar riffs while the drumming turns out to be quite dynamical and diversified. The epic story that is told in six unique minutes is also worth some attention. This song doesn't stop creating colourful images in my mind. These six minutes definitely have more content than many entire albums, books or movies but it all sounds so light, peaceful and relaxing at the same time. Later on we get two duets with clean male and female vocals in Hebrew with "Shama 'Im" and in Arabic with "Ya Benaye." Both songs are exotic but accessible and transport a dreamy, positive and spiritual atmosphere. Both songs impress me much and are absolutely authentic and very interesting for those who are interested in foreign cultures and languages. For the very first time in the band's career, there are no unnecessary lengths and no filler tracks on this album. The album gets more and more experimental and progressive as it goes on instead.

    In the end, these entertaining fifty-four minutes are a stunning and intellectually appealing discovery of different cultures, languages and even music genres that all are an essential part of the heart, mind and pulse of the Middle East. This record tells you more about this fascinating region than many documentaries I have watched. When you really take your time to listen to "All Is One," you can feel this certain kind of magic that only a few records have. This record is about more than just music because it builds a bridge between all these different cultures and despite this noble attempt, the music itself still remains catchy, emotional and innovating. That's where Orphaned Land become authetntic and sympathetic in comparison to the Bonos and Geldofs of this world even though I respect what these guys have done and are still doing. Orphaned Land though come directly from a place that is not always easy to live but they concretely try to make things better and they surely love their origins more than anything else. This album even beats the band's own groundbreaking 2004 progressive folk metal opus magnum "Mabool – The Story Of The Three Sons Of Seven." Along with Amorphis' emotional firework "Circle" and Stratovarius addicting hit album "Nemesis," this album is definitely the best of the year 2013 on my list. There is no excuse for you to not try this record out right now.

    Originally written for The Metal Observer

    99%

    Unbeing - Ceres (2016)

    They have done it again! I didn't expect the band to be able to beat their amazing previous outputs but here it is and it wasn't even a close call. Unbeing delivers a progressive metal record that should revolutionize the entire genre. This is more than simple music, it's a cinematic experience for your ears, heart and soul. ''Ceres'' tells a mysterious and haunting science-fiction horror story that is intense from start to finish. If you like movies like ''Alien'' or video games like ''Soma'', then this record was made for people like you! The plot unfolds in the massive title track but those who don't care about the story also get the six different instrumental parts of the title song as separate tracks without the dialogues. This is an interesting alternative but you should actually care about the story. Let me tell you that the story isn't always chronologically and completely told and it's up to the listeners to put some of the pieces together which makes this record an intellectually challenging experience in a very intriguing manner. I might suggest you to put your headphones on, get the beautifully crafted digital storyboard ready, dim the lights and experience the title track right away in its entirety without any pauses or disturbances. 

    You might now say that conceptual science-fiction stories are nothing new in the genre since Ayreon has released numerous records of this kind but ''Ceres'' is still absolutely unique. First of all, this intense story is told in twenty-nine compact minutes and isn't stretched to a double-album around two and a half hours. Secondly, the title song is composed of six intensively atmospheric tracks connected with a few samples from the NASA archives and some dialogues of the different characters as the story slowly unfolds. The samples and dialogues sound incredibly authentic as if you were living the events in a space shuttle and there are no distracting guest musicians or singers requested here. Thirdly, the plot and the atmosphere it builds up are the essence of this release. The music actually serves the story. You get dramatic riffs, pumping bass guitar sounds, vivid drum passages, floating keyboard sounds and spacey guitar melodies. What you don't get are useless distractions such as pretentious chapman stick sounds, endless guitar solos, pointless symphonic bombast, theatrical choirs and unrelated exotic folk sections. Unbeing still plays great music but what matters is the listening experience as a whole. That's why I won't recommend any particular passages.  

    As I said before, this record is a revolution of progressive music. It's a milestone many people won't have the chance to witness in their lives because Unbeing is an overlooked underground band. Here is your chance to be one of the few to actually get to hear this monolith of majesty. Go on the website of the band, download this album and enjoy. If you like what you hear, spread the word about these unknown geniuses. If you ignore this review however, you will never know what you have missed and believe me that this won't be a wise choice.

    99%

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  • Noël féérique NF

    Discours et présentation du montant ramassé pour une bonne cause

    Noël féérique NF

    Illumination de notre arbre de Noël devant le collège

    Noël féérique NF

    Prestation de notre chorale

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  • Nevermore - This Godless Endeavor (2005)

    Rest in peace, Warrel Dane!

    When I started getting into metal music twelve years ago, I remember purchasing the German Rock Hard magazine. Nevermore's The Godless Endeavor had not only won the soundcheck of the month but some journalists even already called it the best metal record of the decade. My expectations were quite elevated but when I finally listened to ''Final Product'' on a sampler, I was rather disappointed by the song's repetitive structure without any coherent overture or coda. Was this really supposed to be the album of the decade, of the year or even of the month? I couldn't believe that so many great records by artists and bands such as Bruce Dickinson, In Extremo, Rebellion, The Old Dead Tree and The Vision Bleak were supposedly weaker than This Godless Endeavor.

    Today, I still think Nevermore's This Godless Endeavor isn't as great as its reputation. However, I now understand what makes this record so special and think it's a very good release. Exemplified by the sinister cover artwork, the album title and the thought-provoking lyrics, this record has a constantly oppressive and desperate atmosphere. This works as much for the more streamlined and fast tracks such as ''Final Product'', the more elaborate and laid-back songs like the excellent ''Sentient 6'' and the introspective instrumental ''The Holocaust of Thought''.

    The band has great chemistry which amplifies this record's oppressive atmosphere. The thunderous drum play is as tight and relentless when slowly hitting cymbals as when pitiless double-bass attacks erupt. The bass, sadly not always too audible in the production aside of a few noteworthy exceptions, supports the vivid drum play accurately and on a technically stunning level. The guitar play is extremely good because it finds the right balance between simple but gripping riffs on one side but quite challenging and almost progressive solo parts on the other side as can be witnessed in tracks like ''A Future Uncertain'' which happens to be my favorite track on here.

    Last but not least, there are Warrel Dane's vocals that make this release so special. He has an absolutely unique desperate undertone that suits the record's atmosphere and concept flawlessly. He manages to sound melancholic in both the laid-back passages as well as in the fast-paced moments. His vocals have a hypnotizing power reminding me of progressive rock vocalists of the seventies rather than modern metal singers. The fact that his vocals sound sometimes out of tone in ''This Godless Endeavor'' or somewhat distorted in ''Born'' don't take away anything from their charismatic despair. These little details make the record even more emotional. While the musicianship has atmospheric purpose but is ultimately technically skilled, Warrel Dane's unique and unusual performance adds a heart and soul to this release. Despite everyone involved giving his very best, Warrel Dane is the shining star on this release in my book. His performance here proves that genuine emotions are so much more important than technical skills. 

    Twelve years after its release, I finally understand the atmospheric, conceptual and technical greatness of this record even though I still wouldn't call it album of the year material. I'm not yet familiar with all of his works but Nevermore's This Godless Endeavor might be the greatest accomplishment of Warrel Dane's impressive career. He will be missed.

    Warrel Dane (1961 - 2017)

    Image copyright at KNAC

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