• Who's the man? He is! Ladies and gentlemen, Mike Smith from the Arizona Coyotes!

    And he has done it before!

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  • Xandria - Theater of Dimensions (2017)

    While Theater of Dimension clearly doesn't reach the diversity, inspiration and quality of the outstanding predecessor Sacrificium, it's still an above average symphonic metal release and convinces me much more than what Xandria's colleagues Epica, Nightwish and Within Temptation have recently been releasing.

    Xandria's biggest advantage is lead vocalist Dianne van Giersbergen who manages to perform operatic chants, soothing lullabies and more mysterious spoken word passages perfectly. The record also features a few male guest singers who add some fresh diversity to several tracks. They manage to complement the female vocalist differently but always appropriately. Most of these duets can therefore be seen as highlights on this release. The orchestral elements are employed playfully and create elegant, folkloric and melancholic soundscapes. They give this album a bombastic atmosphere and never sound too dominant.

    On the other side, this album is less spectacular concerning the guitar work. Only a few tracks like the opener ''Where the Heart Is Home'' and the single ''We Are Murderers (We All)'' include gripping riffs with a melodic death metal touch while the vivid ''Death to the Holy'' and the ambitious and diversified but incoherent and overlong title song ''A Theater of Dimensions'' occasionally convince with melodic power metal soundscapes. Otherwise, the guitar work is quite generic and can't compete with the orchestral passages. The rhythm section is solid but nothing more as it fails to have its shining moments as on the last record. The acoustic bonus tracks of the limited edition sound too boring, fluffy and saccharine and I would rather recommend purchasing the regular edition.

    While the regular album only includes above average to great material, three tracks manage to stand out particularly. ''We Are Murderers (We All)'' convinces with its gloomy atmosphere where apocalyptic choirs meet dramatic operatic chants and fierce growls by guest singer Björn "Speed" Strid of Soilwork fame. The guitar work is unusually brutal and the rhythm section is tight enough to counterbalance the symphonic elements intriguingly. The band expands its horizons with this song and this exciting experiment works rather well. ''Ship of Doom'' also has a gloomier atmosphere but contrasts it very well with folkloric components in form of Uillean pipes sounds. Classically trained Van Canto singer Ross Thompson adds a more epic touch to the cinematic track that finds the right balance between gothic stylistics and symphonic power metal soundscapes. The uplifting ''Burn Me'' is one of the catchiest tracks on the album which goes slightly back to the band's early years. It features guest vocals by Myrath's Zaher Zorgati who convinces with his melodic and unique vocal style that gives the song an exotic touch. If the band were to chose another single from this release, they should pick this successful duet.

    In the end, Xandria delivers value for money with more than seventy-four minutes of diversified, epic and inspired symphonic metal. While some songs are in the same vein as the strong predecessors Sacrificium without adding anything new to the mixture, this album also includes a few experimental and fresh tracks that are mostly successful. While this record isn't a milestone as the predecessor, it's still high-quality symphonic metal and any genre fan should definitely purchase the regular version of this release.

    Final rating: 80%

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  • Ladies and gentlemen,

    German thrash metal legend Kreator has released three new outputs in the past few weeks: an EP, a short live album and a new full length release. I have listened to all these outputs, analyzed them and written reviews for each of these records. Enjoy!

    Kreator - Violence Unleashed (2016)

    "Violence Unleashed" is a nice EP and collector's item that promotes Kreator's upcoming "Gods of Violence" release. This release is available with the highly recommendable 01-2017 edition of the German Legacy magazine. The first song is the title track from the upcoming album. The next three songs are rare tracks recorded during or shortly after the sessions for the great melodic thrash metal milestone "Phantom Antichrist". The last two songs on this output were recorded at Wacken Open Air in 2014 and will be included on the bonus CD/DVD/BluRay of the upcoming record.

    The new track starts surprisingly smoothly with harmonious acoustic guitar melodies and dreamy Asian folk elements that develop an appeasing yet mysterious candlelight atmosphere. After about one minute, the track becomes an epic heavy metal anthem for about thirty seconds before the band speeds things up and delivers a great melodic thrash metal anthem in the key of the last studio album. The song perfectly captures Kreator's more melodic thrash metal of the past few years and is one of the very best tracks of this kind. It combines typical elements of the genre veterans with a few fresh ideas and a powerful production.

    The most interesting parts about this release are obviously the rare tracks. My personal highlight is the ferocious yet melodic anthem "Iron Destiny" that perfectly captures the anticonformist spirit of the band and of the metal scene as a whole. This unknown and underrated song is one of the very best in Kretaor's extensive career in my opinion.

    The slightly edited live tracks have been recorded authentically and sound so straight that you feel as if you were standing in front of a stage during one of the band's energetic live shows. The two cuts chosen for this release seem to indicate what could be Kreator's very best live release in my opinion. Especially the unchained mixture of anger, melody and speed in the frantic band anthem "Violent Revolution" sounds better than ever and represents what Kreator stands for.

    To keep it short, this EP is worth its reasonable price; especially since it comes along with another compilation and an entire great magazine. Faithful fans will get an excellent new track. Occasional fans will get an excellent idea of what the band sounds like nowadays. New fans will discover everything that represents one of the most rebellious thrash metal bands around the world. Go grab this beautiful gem, crank up the volume and be prepared for total destruction.

    Final rating: 80%

    Kreator - Live Antichrist (2017)

    ''Live Antichrist'' is a free live album by German thrash metal quartet Kreator. It consists of ten unreleased live tracks recorded during different shows in the past few years. The album was released with an issue of the German Metal Hammer magazine. 

    The different tracks have a solid production that sounds raw and unpolished but also manages to showcase the band's great musicianship. Especially Sami Yli-Sirniö's guitar leads and solos really stand out in concert. Rhythm guitars and drums also sound powerful enough to convince. On the other side, the vocals are sometimes out of breath and rhythm and sound a little bit too dominant in the mix. The bass guitar could have been a little bit more present on the other hand but I have heard worse.

    The track list is quite interesting as it features new tracks from the more melodic Phantom Antichrist as well as the brutal Enemy of God records, forgotten pearls from the band's experimental years with albums such as Renewal and Outcast and one classic track from the early release Pleasure to Kill. To my surprise, the harsher tracks are less convincing as they all sound quite similar and are mostly fast-paced and one-dimensional. The vocals often can't follow the fast instrumentation which makes these songs sound even more chaotic than usually. The more melodic tunes from the experimental years have some more punch in concert and offer very interesting listening experiences that will please both to the band's more traditional fans that might rediscover these tracks and those who liked the band's shift in style during the nineties. The tracks from the last studio record blend in very well and offer a welcome mixture between melodic heavy metal influences and rhythmic thrash metal parts. 

    Despite having a great track list that gives potential new fans a very good idea of Kreator's discography, the order of the different tunes isn't very well chosen in my opinion. The record kicks off without any introduction in form of the chaotic ''Enemy of God'' which might be the worst track on here. In the middle of the album, we suddenly get to hear the instrumental ''Mars Mantra'' followed by the vivid ''Phantom Antichrist''. These two songs should have kicked this release off instead of ''Enemy of God''. Closing the record with ''Civilisation Collapse'' is also quite weird as a vivid and fast-paced thrash metal track like ''Pleasure to Kill'' or ''Suicide Terrorist'' would have been more suitable to end this release with a violent bang.

    Due to the fact that these tracks are taken from different live shows, the ten tracks don't really build up a coherent and fluid atmosphere. In fact, communications with the live crowds in some songs are done in German while others are suddenly in English which makes the listening experience oddly confusing. Some tracks also have fade-outs instead of offering organic transitions to the next songs.

     

    While Kreator has released much better live albums, ''Live Antichrist'' is good for what it is as free gift of a metal magazine. It's not essential to own this record for occasional listeners or faithful fans who already own live albums such as ''Dying Alive'', ''Terror Prevails'' or the limited edition of ''Gods of Violence'' that includes the band's entire 2014 Wacken performance. This record is only interesting for new fans who want to discover Kreator's different soundscapes in live form for free as well as for avid collectors who would buy anything this band releases.

    Final rating: 70%

    Kreator - Gods of Violence (2017)

    After the outstanding Phantom Antichtist that mixed furious thrash metal and melodic heavy metal in a balanced way, Gods of Violence offers a very similar style without having the consistent high-quality songwriting of the predecessor. The first half of the record mostly offers formulaic thrash metal that one has heard over and over again from this band while the second part is much more epic and melodic but is often lacking memorable passages.

    The band seems to offer a few experiments here and there in form of short piano and orchestral passages and bagpipe sounds or with extended instrumental introductions and unusual bridges with poem recitations or even with some unexpected German lyrics. However, these ideas often feel like unnecessary gimmicks since they rarely add anything to the different songs and are much too short to elaborate towards something more consistent or interesting. This even concerns the better tunes on the album. Let's take ''Hail to the Hordes'' as an appropriate example. This is an enjoyable homage to the fans and has an anthemic atmosphere that will surely work much better in concert than on this studio release. The bagpipe sounds played by In Extremo's Yellow Pfeifer are performed as perfectly as we are used of him in the bridge. However, they don't add anything to the song and feel completely out of place.

    The repetitive ''us against the world'' topics also get quite redundant and show that this band is running out of ideas lyrically. The vocals sound as they have sounded over the past three decades and offer an angry mixture of poignant screams and nervous up-tempo parts where they often sound out of rhythm. The pronunciation of the lyrics also got worse over the past few years. The thrash riffs feel rehashed an uninspired. They recall records such as Enemy of God and Hordes of Chaos without adding anything new to this style. The rhythm section remains formulaic throughout the entire release and is neither brutal enough to go back to the band's roots nor diversified enough to add anything new to the band sound.

    The only truly positive point of this album is Sami Yli-Sirniö's guitar play. He pulls off some emotional melodic leads as in the mellower parts of  ''Gods of Violence'' which starts promisingly to fall flat or in the mysterious overture of ''Lion with Eagle Wings''. He also pulls off a few excellent solos as in the otherwise average ''Satan Is Real'' or in the Japanese bonus track ''Earth Under the Sword'' which clearly isn't as great as the epic ''Iron Destiny'' five years earlier.

    To keep it short, you might be impressed by this record if you have never heard of the band before. If you are familiar with Kreator's more recent material, you will realize that Gods of Violence is basically a mixture of the last three albums and offers more of the same without adding anything new to the mixture. Thanks to a few solid individual tracks like the fan anthem ''Hail to the Hordes'', the melodic heavy metal track ''Lion with Eagle Wings'' and the melancholic ''Fallen Brother'' which is probably the most creative tune on here, this album is still overall enjoyable. The additional live concert that comes along with the limited edition of this release also rates this release up. However, Gods of Violence is a minor disappointment after the strong Phantom Antichrist. Personally, I won't purchase this record because I know Kreator can do much better than that.

    Final rating: 67%

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  • Ladies and gentlemen,

    Did I already mention the greatness of contemporary South Korean cinema? ''The Handmaiden'' is another perfect example and offers an emotional drama with a surprising, tense and twisted story set in the first half of the twentieth century. Precisely shot by talented director Park Chan-wook who offered milestones such as ''Sympathy for Mister Vengeance'', ''Oldboy'' and ''I'm a Cyborg But That's OK'', this film explores the diversified facets of eroticism and romance in an artistic way starring highly skilled veteran and rookie actresses and actors. This courageous, gripping and unconventional movie is a unique experience and highly recommended for adults with a genuine interest in exploratory cinema.

    Please read my detailed review for more information,

    Sebastian Kluth

    Ah-ga-ssi / The Handmaiden (2016)

    ''The Handmaiden'' is a mesmerizing period drama that convinces with a twisted story, gloomy settings, an atmospheric score, precise cinematography, profound characters and incredible acting performances. It consists of three parts, the first two leading to clever twists and the last one to a satisfactory conclusion that leaves no questions unanswered if you watch carefully. The story is set in Japanese-occupied Korea and tells the story of a thief's daughter who is collaborating with a clever crook in order to steal the inheritance of a rich Japanese lady living in seclusion with her perverted uncle. Telling you anything more would take away from the movie's brilliant storytelling.

    The movie has a slow pace but develops a melancholic atmosphere right from the start with the very first scene until the final freeze frame. Despite a few necessary repetitions in the story due to a few shifts in perspective, the movie passed surprisingly quickly despite a running time of nearly two and a half hours.

    The story is clever and emotional with its twists and turns. Some twists are hard to predict while others are easier to figure out and others again aren't directly revealed throughout the movie but they are all told carefully, elegantly and profoundly. This movie doesn't only stimulate your genitals and your heart but also your brain.

    The film should only be watched by mature adults since it includes a lot of eroticism. The movie carefully contrasts cold sexual abuse and passionate romance in a balanced way. This isn't only done by performing credible sexual intercourse in front of the camera. This is also told through facial expressions, quotes from erotic novels and appropriate settings. While more conservative minds could be shocked, one should note that every single scene adds to the clever story and the depth of the characters. This movie doesn't include any sexual innuendo and no pornographic movie could even slightly achieve what this movie does. This is truly a lesson in eroticism performed by highly skilled actors and actresses and this combination makes this movie stand out.

    In the end, the combination of intense emotions, profound eroticism and an intelligent story in a movie involving outstanding actors and actresses and directed by one of the world's best directors makes this one of the very best period dramas ever made in the history of cinema. Not only genre fans will adore this movie but any adult with a genuine interest in cinema should watch this contemporary masterpiece.

    Final rating: 10/10

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  • Ladies and gentlemen,

    Did I tell you how great contemporary South Korean cinema is and that it easily beats most of Hollywood's mediocre movies since the beginning of the new millennium? ''Train to Busan'' is another perfect example how to do things correctly. Even though there are at least half a dozen new zombies movies coming out in North American cinemas each year, they disappoint with laughable special effects, poorly scripted dialogs and wooden acting. South Korea's first professional zombie blockbuster easily beats anything done in this genre before. A gripping story line meets astonishing characters with depth portrayed by skilled actresses and actors. Dramatic and emotional moments meet energizing action sequences. Vivid horror elements meet realistic relationship problems. Even the ending is completely unpreditable and offers neither the stereotypical happy end nor an annoying cliffhanger requesting numerous potential sequels. This is the real deal. Anyone who likes horror movies, action films or even dramas must watch this groundbreaking masterpiece!

    Please enjoy my review for further details,

    Sebastian Kluth

    Busanhaeng / Train to Busan (2016)

    There have been numerous stereotypical, repetitive and gruesome zombie movies since the beginning of the millennium and now South Korea has officially jumped on the bandwagon... and revolutionized the entire genre with the very best movie of its kind.

    "Train to Busan" convinces on every single level. The settings are diversified and very well chosen and the gripping atmosphere is pushed forward by the idea of a few random passengers being caught on a train with a horde of zombies. The cinematography is perfectly balanced between intense close-ups and larger angles. There are almost no shaky camera passages as opposed to the disappointing contemporary Hollywood standard. The story finds the right path between brutal intensity and great acting skills. The film is never slowing down and highly intriguing from the very first until the very last scene.

    What really makes this zombie movie stand out even compared to the better genre flicks is the depth and diversity of the intriguing characters that are perfectly portrayed by skilled actresses and actors. We get to meet a busy and divorced hedge fund manager and his estranged daughter who is desperately trying to get his attention. We follow the actions of a tough, honest and brave working-class man and his more serious pregnant wife. We are introduced to two old sisters with an intense connection who are inseparable. We meet a naive cheerleader and the baseball player she has a crush on and witness how they mature and become adults within just a few hours. The movie also has a strong antagonist in form of a pitiless chief executive officer who will do anything to survive. I have rarely watched a movie with so many addicting, authentic and profound characters. A special shout- out goes to child actress Kim Su-an who is more convincing in her role in this single film than many ambitious adult actresses in Hollywood in their entire careers.

    One has to be aware of the fact that this isn't a Hollywood movie. This movie doesn't try to be politically correct by adding a character of each possible visible minority in the world to the cast but we get a refreshingly realistic portrait of South Korean citizens fighting for survival instead. The film doesn't have a deeper philosophical meaning or tries to explain the zombie outbreak in melancholic images and words because this movie simply focuses on the dangerous situation where the characters don't have any time to over-analyze the situation. The sympathetic heroes of the story won't necessarily survive at the end of the movie and the last half hour includes several shocking and heartbreaking moments that will get you emotionally involved without being pathetic.

    In the end, there isn't anything negative to say about this movie that mixes horror, drama and action elements to what might be the best zombie movie of all times. If you haven't watched this movie, you have missed out on one of the greatest movies of the past few years. Along with the stunning South Korean horror film "The Wailing", the epic "Train to Busan'' is the best film of the year 2016.

    Final rating: 10/10

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