• Ministry - AmeriKKKant (2018)

    When the infamous Iraq War started one and a half decades ago, I was still in high school but I remember many students of my age demonstrating against said war and the American President George W. Bush. I recall a classmate of mine who brought a poster to a local demonstration that asked ''Has Bush got a small penis?''. I also remember how the Rock Against Bush compilations were extremely popular among teenagers. I recall how famous artists and bands such as Eminem or Green Day were inspired by said war and wrote songs or even entire albums about it. Back then, everybody had an opinion on that war as even teenagers got interested in politics and history. Ministry released a whopping three albums dealing with the state of the United States of America and its President.

    These days, many people would like to have George W. Bush back because an egocentric, populist and selfish businessman whose name isn't even worth mentioning has taken over a country, drastically reversed its development and become a danger to the world, his own country and even himself. Yet, people have become disillusioned by politics and it's surprising that the heroes of yore release a select track criticizing that opinionated madman but don't try to use their popularity more to demonstrate against that government. At least Ministry has decided to voice its opinion and release a conceptual record about the current state of the United States of America called AmeriKKKant. Some people might claim that this was predictable, that it wasn't necessary and that politics and arts shouldn't mix. However, I believe that it's more important now than ever to speak up against what's happening in the United States of America since last year, especially if you are unlucky enough to be a citizen of this country. Ministry's intention to try to change things through its music and lyrics is a very honorable position.

    On the other side, an album isn't just about its concept and its lyrics trying to release anger, speak the truth and warn the world. It's obviously also about the music. And the music on this record is plain horrible. The lengthy tracks are filled with numerous distorted sound samples and seemingly infinite turntable sounds that make bands like Rob Zombie and Limp Bizkit go green with envy. The guitar riffs are simplistic and lackluster. The rhythm section is plodding along without any inspiration. There are very few vocals and the few passages that are actually sung always sound the same and consist of hoarse screaming of almost incomprehensible lyrics. The idea to hire a new guitarist, a new drummer and a professional disc jockey on the turntables isn't too bad and the initiative to another metal vocalist as well as a rapper sounds quite intriguing. However, none of these musicians is able to add anything relevant to the album and only the omnipresent disc jockey is audible but for for all the wrong reasons. There only a few minor passages that are even remotely interesting on the album such as the thrash metal stylistics of ''We're Tired of It'' or the few more melodic passages of ''Wargasm''.

    Musically speaking, this album is one of the worst I have ever heard in my whole life. It's just one notch above projects like Sabazius and Sloth which means it's truly terrible. The only redeeming quality is the record's concept found in thought-provoking lyrics even though they are at times a little bit too rude and straight-forward as in the controversial ''Antifa''. In the end, the interesting album cover can be interpreted in two ways. First of all, the Statue of Liberty is face-palming because of the disastrous state of the United States of America. Secondly, it might be face-palming because Ministry's AmeriKKKant is wasting its potentially valuable lyrics with absolutely terrible music. If you want to hear a better album about the current state of affairs in the United States of America, you might try out the new record of American progressive metal band Leviathan called Can't be Seen by Looking: Blurring the Lines, Clouding the Truth.

    Final rating: 17%

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  • Nightwish - Decades (2018)

    Nightwish has released a high number of compilations so far in its career but in the band's defense, these compilations were often released by former labels who tried to cash in. Now, Nightwish itself tries to cash in which doesn't make much difference to be honest. Decades is a compilation that covers all records this band has ever made and even goes back to the group's very first demo released twenty-two years ago. Those who haven't bought a Nightwish record yet or who haven't checked the band out have a competent compilation that retraces the band's career in anti-chronological order with twenty-two tracks celebrating twenty-two years of existence. That is also the only positive point of this release aside the fact that the cover artwork and booklet look very nice.

    On the other side, are there really still any metal fans who haven't heard about the band and either purchased one or several records if they liked what they heard or not purchased any album if they didn't like what they heard? In the case of such a popular band, this case shouldn't be very common. 

    There are several obvious problems with such a release. First of all, it doesn't offer any new songs for fans of old date. The fact that the songs got remastered doesn't change anything about that. Secondly, the track list is quite debatable as someone needs to tell band leader Tuomas Holopainen that ''The Greatest Show on Earth'' isn't the pinnacle of his career but rather the opposite. Let's assume you're not familiar with this band and you check out this record that starts with that bloated and boring song that is twenty-four minutes long. I guess ninety-nine out of one hundred people wouldn't even make it through the song or feel like checking out any of the band's other songs. Opening a compilation with this song is commercial suicide.

    Another thing needs to be addressed in relation to this release and its tour. Concert tickets cost between ninety and about two hundred Canadian dollars plus service fees which are usually between ten and twenty bucks. The tickets include a copy of this album but paying one hundred dollars for a compilation nobody needs plus a two-hour concert is over the top. Two years ago, I paid about half of the lowest price for this new tour to attend one of the band's concerts. Attending concerts of veteran legends like Black Sabbath, Iron Maiden and Judas Priest costs about half the price and you even get one or two opening acts to check out. One has to wonder whether Tuomas Holopainen has become delusional and megalomaniac at this point.

    It's time for the band to slow down with unnecessary compilations, expensive concerts and bloated twenty-four minute epics. Nightwish has to get back to the basics and deliver value for money. Otherwise, the group won't survive for another decade.

    Final rating: 15%

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  • Visions of Atlantis - The Deep & The Dark (2018)

    I have often come across the name Visions of Atlantis but never bothered to check out a record so far. If I had to describe the band's style briefly, I would say it's the type of female-fronted power metal with symphonic elements that was all the rage among teenagers one and a half decades ago when bands like Evanescence, Nightwish and Within Temptation hit the charts. 

    In its calmer and more experimental tracks with Irish folk instruments as in ''Ritual Night'', the band recalls Austrian progressive power metal band Edenbridge while the more traditional tracks like the dynamic duet between clean male and female vocals in ''Return to Lemuria'' make me think of Nightwish and a smooth ballad like ''The Last Home'' in particular could also come from an Anette Olzon solo album. Visions of Atlantis offers quite melodic and up-lifting symphonic power metal that should appeal to younger audiences who are starting to discover metal music.

    What the band offers isn't bad at all and quite entertaining over the course of compact forty-one minutes. However, the band fails to stand out among its colleagues which applies to the group's style in general and to the songwriting of this output in particular. The folk-ridden ''Ritual Night'' has a few memorable moments but the rest is just typical genre music by the numbers. The most impressive element about this album might as well be the gorgeous cover artwork.

    In the end, I would recommend Visions of Atlantis' The Deep & The Dark to those who still like melodic female-fronted power metal with symphonic elements and to younger audiences who are about to discover metal music because this type of music is quite accessible, harmonious and smooth.

    Final rating: 70%

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  • Ne Obliviscaris - Urn (2017)

    About five decades after the emergence of metal music, it isn't easy to create something new, impress critics and fans alike and push boundaries. Australian quintet Ne Obliviscaris does just that. The band has its very own style that is compared to groups such as Persefone, Opeth and Enslaved among others. While those comparisons make sense for certain aspects of the band's style such as the progressive musicianship for Persefone, the combination of moody interludes with emotional outbursts for Opeth or the epic soundscapes for Enslaved, Ne Obliviscaris is one of the most unique bands in the contemporary metal scene and deserves more attention and acclaim. The only contemporary band I could think of that has a slightly similar sound minus the classical string instruments would be the excellent Black Crown Initiate.

    One element that stands out is how fluid the band sounds despite the technical challenges of its extreme progressive metal style. Most bands get lost in tracks above ten minutes but Ne Obliviscaris never repeat themselves and make their tracks sound half as long as they actually are and even have the audacity to add a second part to such tracks of epic proportions. Rarely has progressive metal sounded as clever, coherent and entertaining. 

    The way the band combines aggressive parts with smooth parts sound stunningly smooth. They can start a song with decent acoustic guitars, melancholic viola sounds and longing violin passages and then quick up the pace with fast and versatile drumming, complex yet emotive guitar play and even make the classical instruments sound dramatic, energizing and fast. The combination of clean vocals and harsh vocals also works perfectly. The male clean vocals almost sound androgynous, reminding of alternative pop and rock bands such as Pet Shop Boys and Placebo without ever sounding bland or predictable. The vibrant harsh vocals remind of death and gothic metal of the early nineties, recalling bands such as Amorphis and Darkthrone in their early years. The vocalists complement each other perfectly and add to the instrumental intensity. Even the production offers the best of both worlds. In the calmer passages, each instrument can be distinguished as perfectly as in the most professional recording of classical music while the heavier parts unleash a furious storm upon the listener.

    The decent use of classical string instruments and acoustic guitars make the band stand out among other progressive extreme metal bands. This band can't be classified as symphonic metal however since these instruments don't dominate the others but are skillfully employed to complement them. These instruments are equally used in dramatic and melodic finales of many songs but also in instrumental interludes that calm the overall atmosphere down and give the listener the chance to take a breath, live the music more intensively and give the listening experience some thought.

    Urn is an album that exploits Ne Obliviscaris' strengths incredibly. Dramatic up-tempo tunes like ''Intra Venus'' are followed by smoother songs like ''Eyrie'' while other tunes like the incredible opener ''Libera (Part I) - Saturnine Spheres'' discover the band's numerous soundscapes in coherent progression without ever getting lost. The songwriting is so skilled that it's hard to believe this is only the quintet's third full length effort. The musicians play their respective instruments perfectly. The vocalists are so different yet united by their passion and complement each other perfectly. If you are looking for something brave, fresh and intellectual in the metal scene, pick this album up and spread the band's name.

    Final rating: 97%

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  • Judas Priest - Firepower (2018)

    Look who's back! Judas Priest sadly sounded quite old, tired and uninspired on the depressing last output Redeemer of Souls. On Firepower, the band still sounds somewhat uninspired but it doesn't sound old and tired anymore at all. 

    This album might be the band's most energizing record since Jugulator two decades earlier. Rob Halford's vocals sound quite diversified as he hits high notes perfectly as in the strong opener and title track ''Firepower'' but he also nails the lower registers in ''Evil Never Dies'' which is one of the very best songs of the band since the singer rejoined the band fifteen years ago.

    Richie Faulkner's guitar play already sounded promising and was one of the few positive elements on the last output. He certainly is an integral part of the band today. His melodic and skilled guitar play harmonizes perfectly with Glenn Tipton's classic heavy metal riffing. This means that the guitar play on this album sounds equally fresh and traditional. ''Necromancer'' is a song with modern production and sinister riffs recalling more contemporary genres such as industrial metal but its backbone is still melodic heavy metal of the early eighties. The infectious melodies of ''Spectre'' are played with feeling but the track also offers pounding mid-paced riffs supported by a vibrant rhythm section and finally comes along with a technically impressive and gloomily atmospheric guitar solo that might as well be the best on the record. Firepower might be Judas Priest's most balanced record between experience and freshness.

    The rhythm section isn't spectacular by any means but adds a solid dose of oomph to the record. Even a more mid-paced and melodic tune like ''Never the Heroes'' convinces with a few vibrant bass lines and a drum play that follows the smooth undertone of the tune but plays it with a lot of feeling. The energizing and melodic ''Traitors Gate'' has a vivid pace and even a few select up-tempo drum passages that make all the band members sound at least thirty years younger than they actually are. While the rhythm session wasn't too spectacular on some of the more recent records, it really has a bigger impact on Firepower without being overproduced.

    The only element one could criticize is that Judas Priest certainly doesn't reinvent the genre. There are a few nice ideas like the vintage instrumental ''Guardians'' with its melancholic piano sounds leading towards almost anthemic guitar melodies but large parts of the album offer heavy metal by the numbers. One could argue that a band of old age doesn't need to innovate anyway and I certainly would agree. However, the band recently came across with a doom metal monster like ''Lochness'' or the conceptual double record Nostradamus which proved that the band was still willing to experiment. This will isn't present on Firepower which recalls the gripping heaviness of Ram It Down, at times even the power and speed of Painkiller and on a few select occasions the more industrial and sinister sound from Jugulator. While Firepower isn't surprising, this mixture makes for a fluid record that is enjoyable to listen to from start to finish. If you like Judas Priest, you will certainly enjoy Firepower.

    My final verdict on Firepower is very positive. The band proves it still has its reason to be and offers an album that sounds both fresh and traditional. Rob Halford's vocal performance is spectacular for his age, the rhythm section takes some more presence that before, the guitar players develop great chemistry and the song writing is more concise than on the predecessor. The record even includes some songs that have the potential to be remembered like the skillfully sung mid-paced ''Evil Never Dies'', the experimental ''Spectre'' meandering between gloomy and melodic parts and the heavy stomper ''Lone Wolf'' that recalls Black Sabbath at its very best. Judas Priest easily beats the recent outputs of similar bands like my favorites Iron Maiden or Saxon. I'm going to attend one of the band's concerts by the end of the month and after listening to Firepower, I'm really looking forward to it.

    Final rating: 85%

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