• Bow Wow - XXXV ~Thirty Five Years of Maximum H.R. (2011)

    Bow Wow is one of Japan's most important veteran rock and roll, hard rock and heavy metal bands that has been active through five decades. This beautifully designed boxed set includes four discs and a DVD with concert excerpts.

    The first two discs focus on the band's early years between the mid-seventies and the early eighties. The songs are taken from the first ten studio albums and numerous singles released in only seven years. The band was mainly inspired by Western rock bands varying from The Beatles over Led Zeppelin to Rush. Bow Wow plays melodic rock music with commercial appeal, tight hard rock with strong rhythms and a few more atmospheric pieces with slight progressive influences. The band also offers technically appealing and rhythmically engaging instrumental tracks that stand out as highlights. If you are expecting heavy metal sounds however, you won't get much of them here.

    The third and fourth discs focus on material released between the late nineties and mid-years of the first decade of the new millennium. The more recent tracks are heavier than the early material as the band meanders between hard rock and heavy metal with lots of swagger. The band has found its own style instead of looking up to its idols like they did in the late seventies and early eighties. While most veteran bands started strong but lost steam towards the end of their careers, the material Bow Wow released on its last regular studio album Era might be the best it has ever written. The fourth disc even includes three completely new songs that are catchy, focused and powerful heavy metal and show that this band would still have lots of great material to offer. The veterans haven't come around with any new material since then and if these three songs were to be their last ones, the group would certainly leave on a very high note.

    The only negative aspect of this wonderful boxed set is that material from the band's records between the mid-eighties and mid-nineties isn't included here. This includes nine regular studio records and numerous singles as this band has always released plenty of great material throughout the first forty years of its career. If you are interested in that material you should grab another boxed set entitled The Vox featuring eight discs and a DVD released under the Vow Wow banner. Still, if you like vibrant Japanese hard rock and heavy metal, this release can be considered another holy grail along with Anthem's phantastic 30th Anniversary of Nexus Years Limited Collector's Box.

    Final rating: 90%

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  • Loudness - Live in Tokyo (2019)

    Loudness is one of the best heavy metal bands on the planet and after the release of its great studio record Rise to Glory about a year ago, Live in Tokyo attempts to capture the band's energetic live shows for international audiences. However, the release has numerous important flaws that prevent this overall just solid release from being a potentially excellent one.

    First of all, the two discs don't feature one single concert but excerpts from several shows which harms the atmosphere, coherence and flow of the album. The album starts without a proper introduction and overture which already leaves a very negative impression. Numerous songs fade in and fade out which is inappropriate for live records. The audience is barely audible. The tracks ''Crazy Doctor'' and ''In the Mirror'' are included twice for no reason whatsoever while the release leaves out any more recent tunes that would have been performed live for the first time on that tour. Those who put the random track list together did a horrible job putting fan favourite ''Crazy Nights'' so soon and a ballad like ''Ares' Lament'' towards the end just to give two specific examples. The additional DVD including a proper show from start to finish does a better job in that regard.

    Not everything is negative here since Loudness remains an incredibly charismatic live band. The crowd interactions during ''Crazy Nights'' are as energetic as they have ever been, band anthem ''Loudness'' is performed with grit and cool backing vocals, ''Ares' Lament'' has a wonderful melancholic and melodic vibe and ''Esper'' convinces as unusually tight closer.

    Still, there are much better live records than Live in Tokyo in Loudness' extended discography. Live Terror 2004 is an excellent release focusing on the band's doom metal side while The Soldiers Just Came Back captures the spirit of the band's reunion shows and offers an extensive greatest hits set list with a few new tunes.

    Final rating: 60%

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  • Cloven Hoof - Who Mourns for the Morning Star? (2017)

    After a decade of silence, New Wave of British Heavy Metal legend Cloven Hoof has come back in strength with the beginning of the new millennium and the quintet's seventh studio record Who Mourns for the Morning Star? underlines the group's qualities on a high level.

    The band plays with rejuvenated energy and especially the mid- to fast-paced riffs are truly vivid while the numerous melodic guitar solos are executed with passion and care. The thunderous rhythm section is also above average and especially the drum play is quite creative at times. The vocals find the right balance between energy and melody and perform convincingly in higher and lower registers. New singer George Call seems to have great chemistry with the rest of the band and he even brought his bandmate Danny White from Aska who has become the new drummer. 

    Among the highlights, one needs to cite the powerful opener ''Star Rider'' that doesn't take any prisoners and convinces aggressiveness, precision and speed that most younger heavy metal revival bands can't compete with. Another outstanding song is certainly ''Go Tell the Spartans'' that might be the record's most creative and diversified song with numerous dynamic changes of pace where the vibrant bass guitar and clever drum play convince particularly well. Album closer ''Bannockburn'' is at times atmopsheric, epic and melodic but doesn't forget to intensify the performances and quicken up the pace at the right moments.

    In the end, Cloven Hoof's Who Mourns for the Morning Star? certainly doesn't reinvent traditional heavy metal but is performed with so much accuracy, grit and playfulness that it can be considered a genre highlight. Heavy metal fans should certainly rather check out this legend that has aged very well instead of the numerous exchangeable heavy metal revival bands. Especially the beginning and end of the record are very convincing and show that the legend is still alive and kicking.

    Final rating: 82%

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  • Ewigheim - Irrlichter (2019)

    Irrlichter is the seventh studio album of poetic depressive gothic metal band Ewigheim and follows the style of the smooth predecessor Schlaflieder. Just like all Ewigeim records, the album mainly deals with topics regarding death. The music focuses on soothing clean vocals, equally domineering melancholic guitar and piano sounds and slow and stoic rhythms.

    Especially the first half is rather calm, introspective and slow. Opening piano ballad ''Und es wird Licht'' is one of the slowest lullabies the band has ever written but oozes with atmosphere that lures into a peaceful mood while the menacing guitar undertones evoke that the incoming lyrical salvation is a poisoned chalice. Even by Ewigheim's smooth standards, this is one of the band's slowest tracks ever and underlines that the band focuses much more on atmosphere than musicianship. ''Alles wird gut'' introduces stoic drum patterns and domineering bass guitar sounds to the smooth vocals and piano sounds while the lyrics that portray a narrator who seems to help a plagued soul who can't fall asleep by bringing that poor character eternal sleep.

    The band slightly quickens up the pace in the second half. The melancholic ''Spinnenkind'' haunts with desperate melodic low vocals accompanied by a steady rhythm section and a combination of melodic mid-paced guitar and piano sounds. Quasi-title song ''Irrlicht'' is a track that could come from a record by Anathema, Katatonia and Paradise Lost about a decade and a half ago and contrasts calm piano passages and smooth vocals with mid-paced gothic metal outbursts and more passionate vocal lines.

    In the end, Ewigheim's Irrlichter should appeal to those who like particularly smooth, slow and poetic gothic metal and are willing to embrace the music's atmosphere and read the lyrics while enjoying this sinister yet beautiful output. This record might be the hardest to digest in Ewigheim's career up to this point but patience gets rewarded as the album progressively opens up. It's best enjoyed with a glass of wine on a dark night to unfold its bleak vibes.

    Final rating: 78%

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  • Fleshgod Apocalypse - Veleno (2019)

    Ambitious Italian trio Fleshgod Apocalypse combines technical death metal with vivid rhythm changes, complicated guitar riffs and aggressive vocals with classical music in form of professional opera singers, vibrant string sections and domineering piano melodies. The band's fifth studio record certainly needs some time to open up because many songs include too many ideas performed at high speed to digest them at first contact. However, once one gets used to this ferocious clash of genres, the song material certainly grows on the listener.

    The most outstanding song is however the record's calmest and smoothest track in form of ''The Day We'll Be Gone'' with melancholic piano leads, cinematic orchestral sounds, smooth drums and percussive elements, elegant female lead vocals and atmospheric growls that make for a wonderful gothic song that would do the soundtrack to any dark fairytale justice.

    An honourable mention goes out to the wonderful cover of Rammstein's epic ''Reise, Reise'' that can be found on the limited edition which also includes one more bonus track, a BluRay featuring an entire concert in the band's hometown that covers its greatest classics and a cool patch. The Rammstein cover makes the melancholic original song even greater with enhanced orchestral arrangements and choirs while the raw lead vocals and vivid drum passages create an intriguing contrast.

    In the end, Fleshgod Apocalypse's Veleno combines technical death metal with classical music in an ambitious, balanced and challenging way that needs some time to open up. Especially the calmer tracks manage to stand out and convince emotionally and intellectually. If the band enhanced its calmer soundscapes on future releases, it might even appeal to a wider audience and broaden its own horizons.

    Final rating: 75%

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