• Kamlath - Stronger than Frost (2011)

    Kamlath call their style Siberian metal. Sorry guys, first of all this isn't even a genre. Secondly, this record's atmosphere might be gloomy but not cold enough to recall Siberia's majestic northern nature. Thirdly, there are no Russian folk elements or even Russian lyrics throughout the record. Let's just call Stronger than Frost what it is: a very good gothic doom metal record.

    Among the positives, the release is carried by Marco Benevento's charismatic baritone vocals. They are as atmospheric, enchanting and hypnotizing as in his main band The Foreshadowing. A few short guttural spoken word passages add some diversity to longer tunes such as "Thy Revelation". The guitar play is also quite potent with quite mysterious melodic solos, colder and more simplistic riffs and occasional down-stripped moments in overtures, transitions and codas as in the dynamic opener "Isgher". The bass guitar is audible and dominant enough to add to the record's gloomy atmosphere. The different songs have different intriguing ideas despite their similar stylistic approaches. The production fits the record's gloomy atmosphere and lyrical concept. The sinister cover artwork underlines the lyrical and musical concept as well.

    On the negative side, the album's few up-beat parts as in "Seven Thousand Winters" sound poorly interwoven with the numerous mid-paced and slow structures as they often interrupt the record's gloomy atmosphere. The drum play is at times a little bit too dominant, varied and vivid for this genre. The band loses it when it occasionally enters extreme metal territories and convinces most in its lush gothic metal soundscapes. Despite each song being different and diversified in its gothic metal boundaries, the album might be lacking a truly memorable and outstanding song that makes it stand out if compared to the main bands of the involved musicians.

    To keep short, intellectual gothic metal fans will love this atmospheric, conceptual and efficient release with its seven fleshed-out compositions. The concept and lyrics are quite intriguing and request serious attention and multiple spins to open up. This release is the opposite of background music or easily accessible material but the gloomy atmosphere and detailed songwriting are rewarding for the patient target audience. Stronger than Frost exponentially grows on you as you listen to it. The project is though lacking its very own unique sound to really stand out. It also misses a particularly outstanding track. Still, Kamlath's first and so far last full length record is an atmospheric grower on a very strong level and leaves me wanting more. I certainly hope to hear from this international quintet in the near future.

    Final Rating: 80%

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  • Ensiferum - The Live Path (2017)

    Ensiferum's The Live Path is a respectable supplement to German metal magazine Legacy that supports Ensiferum's new record Two Paths as well as its tour. This exclusive release comes around with one new studio track as well as four live cuts from two different locations representing three different studio albums.

     The new track "Way of the Warrior" is a typical Ensiferum track. It's energizing, fast and joyous, finding the right balance between raw vocal efforts in the verses and melodic vocal lines in the chorus. The song isn't original by any means and could also come from the band's first album but it's the kind of party tune that still sounds appropriate in your local rock or metal pub. Faithful fans will appreciate the song while new or occasional fans get a perfect example of what Ensiferum is all about.

     The live tracks also underline the fact that Ensiferum is a band that enjoys itself on stage and that transmits this vivid party vibe to the crowd. I have seen this band live a few years ago and it has been a blast. The band's only live record was released more than a decade ago and a new live release is long overdue. None of the four live songs was included on the previous release and the four tracks sound great. They might not impressive with the most balanced sound and technical skills but make you think of a ferocious Viking tribe ready to conquer the crowd without taking any prisoners. The band's authenticity and energy are highly addicting.

     The are only three minor downsides to this release. First of all, the crowd isn't too audible, especially in the odd introduction to "Ahti". Another issue is that the live songs are taken from two different locations which leads to the confusing fact that one song is introduced in English and the other three in Finnish. A continuity error is the fact that the band announces its song "Two of Spades" at the end of "Heathen Horde" before the sound fades out and the band starts to play "In My Sword I Trust" instead. Those who put this EP together should have paid more attention on such little details. Obviously, one might discuss the choice of the four tracks as there are better live tracks than those but the fact that none of those four songs was included on the last live record is enough for me to make this release relevant.

     If you like Ensiferum or folk and pagan metal in general, you should get your hands on The Live Path. The solid new studio track is in the key of classic Ensiferum material and the four exclusive live tracks are very enjoyable. In addition, you get a copy of Germany's best metal magazine and another extreme metal compilation with this release which is a very good deal. This EP offers twenty-three minutes of pure fun, so go ahead and enjoy yourselves!

    Final rating: 75%

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  • Adagio - Life (2017)

    Adagio is a French-American progressive metal sextet that released its first record in more than eight years and its fifth studio album in total. The band makes me think of a slightly more symphonic version of Symphony X, especially due to new singer Kelly Sundown Carpenter's husky but melodic vocals recalling Russell Allen.

     Like many other contemporary progressive metal bands, Adagio has managed to modernize its sound if compared to its previous outputs. First of all, the record has an overall slightly dark and oppressive tone giving it a cinematic and tense atmosphere recalling Ayreron's more dramatic moments. Secondly, several songs include minor folk influences, especially related to Indian culture and mythology like Kartikeya for instance. Thirdly, several tracks have strong djent influences with a technical side recalling Tesseract. This combination works best in the quite technical single " Subrahmanya" that even includes a few decently employed harsh vocals. The epic "The Grand Spirit Voyage" also unfolds its cinematic atmosphere elegantly but steadily with these multiple influences.

     Despite this revamp, especially the djent sounds and husky vocals can get somewhat repetitive and tiring. The band actually sounds best when its opts for a calmer and smoother direction in the second half of the release. The mysterious "I'll Possess You" with its enchanting piano tones giving Kelly Sundown Carpenter the backdrop to fully unfold his vocal skills is a nicely done example for this organic and stripped-down approach. The relaxed ballad "Trippin' Away" could even come from a seventies' progressive rock record and impresses in its smart simplicity with piano melodies, simple riffs and powerful vocals.

     In the end, Adagio might not be able to compete with its obvious influences' best hours but Life surely is a coherent contemporary progressive metal release with a slightly dark and oppressive tone, technically skilled djent soundscapes and smartly employed Indian folkore elements. If the djent influences were a little less dominant and the vocals less a poor man's Russell Allen imitation, Life would sound even more unique. A honorable mention goes out to the flawless cover artwork that would make for a beautiful poster. Contemporary progressive metal aficionados should give this release a few spins while occasional genre fans should try out Symphony X's discography first.

    Final rating: 77%

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  • Watain / Tribulation - Rock Hard Sampler Jan 2018 (2017)

    This split sampler was exclusively released with German Hard Rock magazine to promote Watain's upcoming studio record Trident Wolf Eclipse and Tribulation's future release Down Below. Along with two new tracks in each case, this release also includes a rehearsal song from Watain's last release The Wild Hunt as well as a rare The Cure cover from a single released by Tribulation two years ago. I had heard about both bands before but wasn't familiar with their styles yet. This release shows that I didn't seem to have missed much.

     Watain plays atmospheric black metal with a few early thrash metal influences that work best in the more elaborate "Sleepless Evil". Tribulation rather sounds like a gothic metal band with atmospheric, numbing and smooth riffs that sounds best in the elaborate and gloomy "The Lament". I would compare the former band to Dissection and the latter to early Moonspell.

     Overall, Tribulation's sound is a little bit more down my alley even though the three songs already have overlong, predictable and repetitive patterns. Watain's cuts sound like quite generic black metal and fail to grab my attention. The songs of both bands aren't bad but rather qualify as background music at an extreme metal party or gothic festival in my book. This split release with an old school cover art in the key of old cassette tapes isn't a shabby gimmick as free giveaway with a metal magazine but I wouldn't buy any of the band's new outputs so far.

    Final rating: 55%

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  • Hap Dou Lyun Mang / The Adventurers (2017)

    The Adventurers is a Hong Kong action-thriller by experienced director Stephen Fung who had been responsible for movies such as Tai Chi Zero in the past. Starring Hong Kong star veteran Andy Lau as lead actor, Taiwan's Qi Shu as lead actress and French star Jean Reno as leading supporting character, the film tells the story of a thief who got betrayed by an unknown opponent while trying to steal one out of three valuable pieces of jewelry that form an incredibly valuable necklace. After spending five years in prison, the thief wants to complete his mission by stealing the three pieces of jewelry and uncovering those who betrayed him five years earlier. The skilled thief teams up with two youngsters and his former boss but can't be sure whom to trust, must face a determined French cop and has to deal with his former girlfriend who wants him to settle down.

    The Adventurers convinces with an intriguing story with a few twists and turns in the last third that keep you hooked until the very end.

    The numerous star actors deliver the goods. Andy Lau convinces as skilled thief who looks balanced on the outside but feels tormented inside. Qi Shu impresses as expressive and quirky thief who easily seduces men to take advantage of them. Jean Reno is great as haunted police officer who has his very own reasons to try to bring the thief down.

    The film also intrigues with numerous charming locations around Cannes in France and Prague in Czech Republic. The thieves have to rob out a French auction house, a Chinese star actress and a Czech castle in the forest.

    The movie convinces with tense situations where the thieves have to deal with unexpected opponents and difficult security systems leading to intense car chases and dramatic standoffs. They have to use technology, talent and intellect to solve numerous challenging problems.

    The camera work is enjoyably calm for a contemporary action-thriller. Instead of focusing on shaky cameras for a more immersve experience, the director opted for precise shots that point out the thieves' cleverness which was the right decision.

    There are only a few minor elements that kept this film away from being more than a good movie. First of all, the story of the film is partially inspired by John Woo's Killer Target. Some sources call this film a remake but I wouldn't go that far. Still, the resemblances are at times obvious. I always prefer original movies with new scripts over films copying or honoring classics.

    Secondly, as so many Hong Kong action flicks, this movie also tries to include a few slapstick elements. However, these elements are quite wooden here and only distract from the interesting characters, locations and plot. It also takes away from the thieves' credibility when they are joking around on their extremely dangerous missions.

    Thirdly, this film really didn't need any stereotypical love stories but includes two rather shallow examples of it. First of all, the relation between the veteran thief and his former girlfriend is predictable and shallow and doesn't add much to the movie. The script could have cut out and re-written these passages for a more vivid pace without too many unnecessary flashbacks. However, the second love story is even less intriguing and also adds some unwelcome slapstick elements to the film. The younger male thief constantly tries to impress the younger female thief and behaves like an inexperienced teenager while his arrogant love interest rejects his attempts in an overtly cool and dramatic way. Their relationship doesn't add anything to the story and even makes the characters less credible because personal and professional interests shoulnd't interfere when you're trying to raid a higly secured castle in the middle of nowhere.

    Still, The Adventurers is an entertaining action-thriller with an intelligent plot, very solid acting performances, beautiful locations and costumes, interesting and challenging situations and smooth camera work. Despite a few flaws such as references to another movie, slapstick elements and shallow love stories, The Adventurers will entertain you from start to finish.

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