Sexto Sonar is a progressive metal band from Maracay in Venezuela that mixes elements of heavy and power metal with symphonic ingredients into their distinguished sound. The band has released one full length effort with Spanish lyrics to date, entitled Enfrentando La Realidad. This record from 2009 features cinematic opening and closing numbers, along with five pretty strong tracks in between. Some limited editions include four bonus tracks from which three are live versions of tracks from the album, as well as one more song in English.
The music itself reminds me of progressive metal acts like Dream Theater and Symphony X, but also recalls some epic Iron Maiden classics at some points. Powerful guitar riffs and a versatile rhythm section meet atmospheric keyboard layers. All five songs have a great balance between grace and power. The imaginative bridges and solo sections include piano driven breaks, wild guitar solos, and keyboard solos that make my heart beat a little faster.
The vocals on the record are quite versatile and vary from more aggressive and powerful passages to more high pitched parts that are not far removed from Primal Fear, for example. Many progressive bands convince instrumentally but have less impressive singers. This is definitely not the case for Sexto Sonar.
Let’s go quickly through each of the five main tracks. The extended middle and closing parts of the opener “Visiones” sound like a mixture of Dream Theater’s “Metropolis Part 1: The Miracle And The Sleeper“, Metallica’s “Wherever I May Roam”, and maybe Iron Maiden’s “Rime Of The Ancient Mariner”, but the band also adds some unique folk passages to the sound that remind me of Alma Eterna. The faster parts in “Soledad Occulta” have a strong Symphony X touch, while the organ sounds almost recall Deep Purple.
The atmospheric keyboards in the opening of the more laid back “Olvidando El Ayer” make me think of Falkenbach, but also Dio, while the emotional guitar play is an absolute stand-out moment of the record. This song has a few very epic vocals, and is probably the record’s catchiest track from that point of view.
“Luces Y Espadas” starts with some sound effects and dark bass guitar play reminding me of Helloween’s “Occasion Avenue”. This track is indeed the darkest and heaviest on the album. In contrast, the track includes flamenco elements (handclapping and Spanish guitar). To my surprise, this rather soft element fits quite well in this rather straightforward track.
The title track “Enfrentando La Realidad” starts with some wind and wuthering sounds, as well as a few radio samples that announce the concept of the eleven-minute long track. What follows is indeed a diverse progressive power metal song with epic chants and extended solos where the phenomenal keyboard work really stands out.
I’m trying to think of any negative elements on this album, and I simply can’t find any. The record has catchy parts, it has laid back and vivid moments, the vocals are gripping, and the instrumental work is absolutely convincing. Even the production is surprisingly good here. Progressive metal fans should definitely try out this band. Sexto Sonar is working on a follow-up, due this year, and I already can’t wait to listen to their new material. Even with as good as this first strike is, I can’t help but hope that they can accomplish something even greater.
Since the famous Japanese power/speed metal band Sex Machineguns is on hold since the departure of drummer Ken’ichi, the two remaining members Achang and Shingo decided to go on hold and form a new band called Maintenance (which is the most accurate translation I could think of for “ザ☆メンテナンス”). The band released its debut record in 2013, entitled Under Construction (or more precisely “工事中”). The cover artwork features a work sign and the likeness of a construction worker as well, making the imagery complete.
Actually, this record could have come from the original band (Sex Machineguns) and features ten fast-paced and joyous anthems somewhere between power, speed, and thrash metal. Clocking in at forty minutes, the band even comes around with a few strangely humorous topics in their unique lyrics. It’s easy to hear that the energizing quartet has a great chemistry and also a lot of fun.
This kind of approach has its obvious flaws and strengths. A clear negative aspect is that many of the ten tracks sound quite alike, and a truly experimental or outstanding song is missing here. This doesn’t mean that the musicianship isn’t great or that there are fillers, but the record is missing an obvious live anthem or hit single. The band missed the chance to create something fresh with its new band members. This release pretty much sounds like a Sex Machineguns record released under a different banner.
On the other hand, the album is quite straightforward, and doesn’t waste any time with overambitious introductions, instrumental transitions, or hidden cover tracks as some colleagues tend to do these days. Forget about half-hearted ballads, intellectually inspired lyrics, or progressive experiments. Even from the shortest to the longest track here, there aren’t too many differences.
The shortest song on the album clocks just below three minutes and is called “Blue Whale”. This track has a heavy/thrash metal approach with a few simple sing-along parts reminding me of American big four thrash metal band Anthrax, Japanese legends Loudness, the British icons from Motörhead, or the Canadian speed metal institution Razor.
The longest track is the hyper-fast and extremely aggressive five-minute madness “Emergency Alert”, which comes around with tinny drum play, bumblebee guitar tones, a few fast and funky bass guitar licks, dirty and raw vocals, and a chaotic mixture of background shouts, vocal samples, and siren sounds. This track sounds like a mixture of Metallica’s “St. Anger”, Slayer’s “Reign In Blood”, Stormtroopers Of Death’s “Speak English Or Die”, and maybe System Of A Down’s “Toxicity”. To keep it short, this track is absolutely stunning and my personal highlight on the album.
If you like any of the aforementioned bands, and if you are familiar with the extreme and uncompromising sounds of Japanese music (where anything can peak the charts – from psychedelic piano ballads up to unchained metalcore headbashing), this release is for you. Under Construction is a powerful, fun ride for heavy, thrash, and speed metal fans. It’s nothing groundbreaking or original and has a few obvious flaws (such as the extremely edgy and raw production, which is absolutely authentic but hard to digest), but for what it is, this release is quite amazing. Sex Machineguns are dead, long live Sex Machineguns!
Ewigheim is a German band composed of members from the atmospheric gothic metal outfit The Vision Bleak, the controversial, explicit, and grisly extreme metal band Eisregen, and the modern groove and industrial metal group Hämatom, among others. Ewigheim has been around since 1999 and released a convincing comeback release entitled Bereue Nichts last year. The album had a very morbid and nihilistic atmosphere centered on doomy riffs, a few danceable electronic elements, and sarcastic lyrics filled with tons of black humor. The band’s new release, Nachruf seems at first to hit a very similar vein with its morbid title and the explicit cover artwork, but to my positive surprise the band changed its formula quite a bit.
Of course, some songs like “Himmelfahrt” still talk about the ephemeral nature of life and the longing for death, and are not for the more sensitive minds among us. The band still introduces us to characters that are fed up with the negative sides of their lives and dream about escapism and suicide, but the new record also shows us new perspectives. Many songs bear a rebellious soul, and tell us stories filled with hope and rebellion where the protagonists stand up to fight their desperate fate, or where they remember the brighter sides of life as in “Liebes Lied”, “Glück im Unglück”, or “Wenn Es Am Schönsten Ist”. The closing epic “Sanctum Imperium” features a grisly performance by guest vocalist Michael “Blutkehle” Roth that complements main vocalist Allen B. Konstanz’ melancholic and melodic clean vocals very well in a track somewhere between black, doom, and symphonic dark metal. Even this song seems to spread the hopeful message that there might be something more and glorious after the end of our lives. Some lyrics are also very poetic, reminding me of the Neue Deutsche Todeskunst genre, and have some sort of a double sense where the interpretation could be optimistic or pessimistic. That’s what I like about this record’s lyrics. Instead of presenting us only a negative or a positive solution as on their previous records, the band offers oracular, overthought, and philosophical lyrics that deliver some real and challenging food for thought.
Musically, this record is much easier to digest than the previous effort. The songs are all rather short, the riffs are simple but atmospheric and efficient at the same time, and the bass guitar and drum play are tighter and more dynamic than before. The electronic elements are more prominent than ever and create quite a few danceable patterns that should appeal to the gothic community. More effectively used symphonic passages can be heard as well. Atmosphere, catchiness, and diversity are the winning key elements, and the band still keeps in touch with its previous material in terms of lyrics and style. The choruses include intelligent lyrics but are nevertheless catchier than ever before. Ewigheim offers some very addicting melodies in the rebellious and almost romantic “Die Augen Zu” which is maybe the best song the band has ever written. The brilliant “Falsches Herz” has more of a Type O Negative vibe, and has some hit potential as well. Fans of bands such as The 69 Eyes should also dig this track. The epic atmosphere of the gothic metal anthem and title track “Ein Nachruf” is also quite addicting, and manages to mix a faster overall buildup with a dark and dragging atmosphere in only four minutes.
In the end, Ewigheim delivers its catchiest, most diverse, and intellectually appealing record that should please anybody who cares for the gothic scene and anything between danceable dark wave, doomy gothic rock, and symphonic extreme metal. In its genre, this release is easily the highlight of the year. It only depends on your willingness to join this bleak, hypnotizing, and intellectual dark ride.
Leah is the name of a new symphonic metal band with charming new world and Celtic folk. I would describe its music as a mixture of female fronted metal bands such as contemporary Delain as well as old Elis, Evanescence, and Xandria, mixed with more eclectic world music acts such as Enya or Loreena McKennitt for example.
The beautiful and talented band leader, Leah McHenry, wrote the songs independently over two years prior to the album’s release. She performs ethereal vocals and also plays the keyboards and piano. Three young men support her on bass guitar, lead guitar, and drums.
The debut, Of Earth & Angels, takes the listener on a colorful and relaxed trip to a mysterious past filled with passionate love tales, mystical legends, and some spiritual passages. From slightly Oriental tunes like the opener “Prisoner” (which sounds like Edenbridge), joyous Celtic rock anthems like “Old World”, (which could appeal to fans of Gwyllion), and on to more symphonic ballads like “Ex Cathedra”, this album develops a very enchanting atmosphere.
Some listeners might argue that the record doesn’t really have an outstanding anthem, that the guitar work isn’t very dominant, and that this album is not hard enough to be called a metal release. While I perfectly understand these points of view, I must admit that I find almost all songs very catchy and enchanting, so that the record doesn’t need a true hit single in my opinion. The guitar work is as laid back as the rest, and gives the wonderful orchestrations and the angelic vocals enough space to unfold in a perfect way. Some songs, such as the touching ballad “Ocean”, sound better to me than anything Enya has written over the last ten years, and include beautiful guitar solos as well. You just need to give this album some time, and you will discover how detailed and passionate every single song is despite its appeasing spirit. This isn’t the kind of record you can simply listen to while you’re on the bus, during a dinner with your best friends, or in between a Nightwish and a Krypteria album while you chat on your computer. Of Earth & Angels deserves to be fully and profoundly discovered. It will open up to you and make you dream far away. In times of more and more dramatic and almost megalomaniac orchestrations and high-pitched divas in exchangeable female-fronted symphonic metal bands, Leah’s natural sound really stands out and represents a truly intriguing alternative in my ears. It’s by far the best female-fronted album I have heard in years. I invite you to give this release a fair chance.
Éric Lapointe is the most famous rock performer in Quebec, and has been around since his surprising debut record, Obsession, almost twenty years ago, which made him very famous even though many radio stations refused to play his songs at first, due to his raw vocals. The mixture of sweating hard rock anthems, country songs, emotional ballads, and a couple of well chosen cover songs created a wide fan base around the charismatic performer who unites old country fans, housewives, and younger generations of my age or even younger. Despite his image as a bad boy due to his alcohol problems, this l’enfant terrible has become everybody’s darling over the years.
During recent years, his music has become somewhat predictable despite a few recent hits. Éric Lapointe tried to add something new to his back catalogue with two compilations entitled Ailleurs, composed of rare songs and collaborations with artists such as Quebec’s biggest pop icon Céline Dion, pop singer Isabelle Boulay, and the charismatic First Nations’ performer Florent Vollant. He performed with the critically acclaimed Montreal Symphony Orchestra and put out a live record with them. He also released a new album entitled Le Ciel De Mes Combats that had its moments, but didn’t get as much attention and success as his previous releases. The rebellious rocker had become rather mature, sophisticated, and even slightly boring in the eyes of many.
The new record, Jour De Nuit, was announced as a more authentic record with a rawer and more hard rock-oriented edge that would go back to the roots. I was eager to discover this harder side of the singer that I had always preferred in songs like “Priez!”. In the end, Éric Lapointe didn’t change the formula at all. The opener “Donnez-moi Du Gaz” is a tight rock song with sing-along passages and a lot of energy, but the music, the vocal performance, and the lyrics immediately recall several past efforts of the singer’s. Despite some similarities to past successes, this track is the most convincing one on here, along with the catchy country rock anthem “Faire Et Refaire” and “Tout Ce Que Je Veux”, a warm and catchy rock ballad with string passages, a shy guitar solo, and hooks somewhere between The Police and maybe Turbo-era Judas Priest.
As soon as the second song, “Homme Sauvage” kicks off, one realizes that this is another predictable record from a predictable performer. After the rawer opener comes the epic atmospheric ballad with string sections for the bored soccer moms, whose biggest dream is to escape from their everyday lives by spending Christmas and the New Year in Mexico, Cuba, or Costa Rica. In fact, Éric Lapointe has by now given several concerts in those places for the exiled Quebeckers who try to escape from the winter each year.
In the end, Éric Lapointe offers ten solid but highly predictable songs, and even the usual couple of surprises included on the previous album can’t be found here. A true hit can’t be found here at all, and it’s definitely not the lifeless country ballad and first single “Ça Me Manqué” that sounds like a stereotypical and weak copy of “La Bartendresse”. Jour De Nuit is probably the singer’s weakest release to date, along with the overrated À L’ombre De L’ange. Despite its obvious flaws, I still happen to like this record because I’m an old fan and can’t help but find the singer’s unique vocals andimage quite addicting and even charming. As a fan and collector, I will purchase this release as I have done with all his other works, but occasional or new fans should ignore this record. The compilation record N’importe Qui is good enough for anybody who just wants to own one record with the singer’s greatest hits. If you prefer a real studio album, go for the groundbreaking Invitez Les Vautours to start with. As it is now, the new album lacks a true highlight and is only solid average at best.