• Primal Fear - Angels of Mercy: Live in Germany (2017)

    Angels of Mercy: Live in Germany is Primal Fear's first live record in seven years which is available as a set consisting of a CD and a DVD or alternatively as a set consisting of a CD and a Blu-ray. Despite a promising set list and an overall solid performance, this release is only average at best.

    First of all, the sound is far from being perfect. In certain songs, the audience is almost inaudible but in others, the microphones got cranked up and the crowd sounds too noisy. The transitions between the songs aren't always perfect either. There isn't much communication between the band and its audience which decreases the record's live atmosphere. When the band communicates with the crowd from time to time, it is done in English even though the band is German and the concert took place in Germany. It becomes obvious that this was only done to release this live set internationally but I personally think that idea isn't very authentic.

    Among the highlights of this release, let's underline the catchy and gripping opener ''Final Embrace'', the unusual bluesy ballad ''The Sky Is Burning'' that convinces with a skillful guitar play and the epic closer ''Fighting the Darkness'' which might be an unusual choice to finish the concert but manages to end it on a high note.

    The DVD or Blu-ray includes some welcome additional gimmicks such as five recent video clips, another live track of a song that wasn't included in the set of the main show and an interesting tour documentary.

    In the end, the concert is of a slightly above average quality and the bonus material is interesting enough to make this release acceptable. My final verdict is that only faithful fans of the band should pick this live package up. Occasional or new fans should only buy this for a reduced price or get a studio album or the great greatest hits album Metal Is Forever - The Very Best of Primal Fear instead.

    Final rating: 60%

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  • Grand Courage / Гран-КуражЪ - Live Like No One Else / Жить как никто другой (2016)

    In most places around the world, heavy metal has become a dying genre. The few heavy metal bands that are still around are either veterans like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Saxon or rather exchangeable revival groups such as Enforcer, Striker and White Wizzard. Russia is a positive exception to this rule as heavy metal is still a quite popular genre in this country. Contemporary bands such as Alexy's Square, Charizma and Grand Courage hold the heavy metal banner high while bands of past glory such as Aria, Black Coffee and Master are still quite present with some new members in their line-up. Both parts of this heavy metal movement also have positive influences on each other. Grand Courage's former singer has joined Aria and given this group a real boost and Charizma's drummer is having a second stint with Master to only name two examples. These new members have a rejuvenating effect on Russia's very first heavy metal bands while people become aware of the new members' former bands and discover their groups.

    Grand Courage has moved on even though its former vocalist has permanently joined Aria. The new record which could be translated to Live Like No One Else is the group's first studio record after this important line-up change but the band picks us up right where the last release left us five years earlier. This album offers melodic heavy metal with all its classic trademarks. The opening title track ''Жить как никто другой'' has a slightly epic and mysterious atmosphere thanks to decently employed keyboard sounds but the passionate and variable melodic vocals add a solid dose of energy to this balanced opener. The band also offers a few hard rock ballads such as ''Огненный закат'' focusing on harmonious piano melodies and emotional vocals that are once again perfectly performed by new singer Evgeniy Kolchin who also collaborates with another Russian heavy metal legend named Sergey Mavrin who once was a member of Aria. ''Да будет эта ночь'' proves that heavy metal can harmonize with modern elements. The sound is a little bit more contemporary with heavier riffs than usual and dominant bass guitar sounds that seem to have a funk rock influence while the gripping melodic chorus recalls contemporary radio rock bands in a positive way. This song could please both fans of the veteran bands and younger audience as it mixes traditional and contemporary elements in a clever way.

    While Grand Courage's music is crafted with undeniable passion, inspiration and freshness, it obviously doesn't reinvent the genre either and fails to come around with a truly impressive song that adds something new. The band isn't on the level of the legends of the early years yet but it's getting quite close which is promising for the future of heavy metal. In the end, this album is highly recommended to those who like melodic heavy metal and don't mind the occasional ballad or slightly more commercial radio rock tune in between honest heavy metal tracks. This album represents what contemporary heavy metal should sound like in order to survive. It appeals to a larger audience and doesn't mind adding a few minor experiments here and there which might not please metal purists but which will get a new generation into this type of music. The band isn't just copying its idols like so many bands in Western Europe and North America do but already has its very own distinctive sound which deserves some attention and respect. In my opinion, this release could have been a little bit heavier but it's still overall balanced, creative and entertaining. It fusions classic trademarks of the eighties with a more modern, mellower and slightly commercial sound that proves that the group is living in the here and now without forgetting about its original inspirations.

    Final rating: 73%

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  • Nine Treasures - Wisdom Eyes (2017)

    A few years ago, Mongolian folk metal was a really big thing. Every second new Chinese metal band seemed to play this type of music and new albums popped out on obscure websites on a regular base. The trend even spread to other countries and soon there were even Canadian bands playing Sino-Mongolian folk metal. Ironically enough, not one single band of this genre actually came from Mongolia. Nowadays, many of these bands haven't released anything for a while, emigrated to other countries and have become a pale copy of their former selves or have moved on to play something different. Right now, Nine Treasures is the only band that is still holding the Mongolian folk metal banner firmly, highly and proudly.

    That being said, Nine Treasures is one of the mellower genre bands. The band's riffs are often closer to heavy rock or proto metal than to actual metal riffs. The closing riffs of the epic ''Us'' and the main riffs of the vivid album closer ''The Stubborn'' are heavy but that's it. These heavier soundscapes often don't harmonize with the folk instrumentation to be honest. The songs are either dominated by balalaika and morin khuur sounds or they focus on simplistic mid-paced to up-tempo heavy rock riffs. Both elements rarely complement each other. Nine Treasures should rather be called a band with both folk and rock songs. Ironically enough, that's what makes them sound differently from their numerous former genre colleagues. Even the throat vocals sound much more accessible and melodic than what other groups have to offer.

    Wisdom Eyes is diversified and entertaining enough to remain interesting for about forty minutes. The opener ''Ten Years'' manages to have both a melancholic and an uplifting tone thanks to longing folk sounds and inspired vocals. The heavier middle section doesn't really fit in though and does't add anything to the song which is often the case on this release. Nine Treasures had some memorable hit songs on previous outputs which isn't the case here but the opener comes closest to a catchy and distinctive song.

    My personal favorite on the new album is probably ''The End of the World'' with its longing melodies, diversified vocal performance and dynamic shifts between slow, epic and fast passages. This song represents everything Nine Treasures stands for. If you like this song, you're going to like this band and the entire album.

    If you like folk rock, you are going to appreciate the band and it's inspired release. If you are looking for actual folk metal, you might find this release too mellow. Nine Treasures' tracks are uplifting, short and melodic and that's what makes them stand out. Wisdom Eyes is an authentic, distinctive and entertaining release that is easy to digest but that won't really impress you emotionally or technically or try out anything new. It's good for what it is and genre fans will be satisfied but that's pretty much it.

    Final rating: 75%

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  • The Vision Bleak - The Kindred of the Sunset (2016)

    The Kindred of the Sunset is an EP that was released during a tour to tease The Vision Bleak's forthcoming record The Unknown. The EP consists of four tracks with a total running time of eighteen minutes. The first two songs would be included on the next studio album two and a half months later while the Tiamat cover and the instrumental track are exclusive to this release. The atmospheric cover artwork must also be pointed out positively. The EP was released in limited numbers on CD and vinyl which makes this record an interestingt collector's item for fans of the band specifically and fans of gripping gothic metal in general. If you aren't familiar with The Vision Bleak yet, any record is good enough to start with, so you might as well go for this release if you happen to find it in an underground record store.

    The two new tracks showcase the band's typical trademarks perfectly. ''The Kindred of the Sunset'' has up-tempo and mid-tempo sections, convinces with melancholic riffs but also with a dominant bass guitar sound in the verses and tight drum sections. Konstanz' gloomy baritone vocals meet a few cleverly employed black metal shrieks by Schwadorf. The majestic chorus is catchy and in the line of band classics such as "The Outsider" and "Carpathia". The other new song called "The Whine of the Cemetary Hound" is even more atmospheric but has also a more complex build-up. It's much slower than the first tune and can be decsribed as a gothioc doom metal track. The song unfolds a creepy atmosphere but needs some more time to grow and isn't an instant hit like the previous tune. The song has a very slow and awkward break in the middle section but surprisingly speeds up towards the end. The different sections are convincing but don't always fit perfectly together in my opinion. The transitions could have been more fluid overall.

    The two exclusive songs are quite nice gimmicks, no more, no less. The Tiamat cover "The Sleeping Beauty" is quite heavy by The Vision Bleak standards and performed with oomph and passion. It sounds quite close to the original but the vocal performance is more elegant here and the sound is obviously much improved over the original. I must admit that I prefer The Vision Bleak's take on the track since the band really manages to make the tune sound like one of their own tracks. "Purification Afterglow" is a short and atmospheric instrumental that closes the release on an appropriate note but there really isn't much more to say.

    If you have already purchased the studio record The Unknown, paying ten bucks for this EP might be a little bit exaggerated. However, this EP does a solid job as an album teaser, the additional two songs are quite good, the cover artwork is stunning and the limited number of copies makes this a great collector's item. My final verdict is that faithful fans should purchase this release while occasional or new fans should rather go for the great studio album The Unknown or the stunning compilation Timeline - An Introduction to The Vision Bleak.

    Final rating: 80%

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  • Deep Purple - Limitless (2017)

    Deep Purple's Limitless is a nice compilation given out with an issue of Classic Rock Magazine. It consists of four studio tracks and four live cuts. The material consists of recent singles and rare b-sides as well as songs recorded during concerts in Europe and Asia during the last four years. Limitless represents the sound and form of contemporary Deep Purple very well. It can be seen both as a nice collector's item and an appropriate introduction to the band's current sound. To me, it was the latter and it made me discover more of the band's recent recordings.

    Among the studio tracks, the futuristic and moody progressive rock opener ''Time for Bedlam'' convinces with great guitar harmonies, powerful organ sounds and intellectually appealing lyrics. It's impressive how sharp the band sounds after having been around for almost five decades and this song proves that the group is still going strong. Among the live cuts, the compilation closer ''Black Night'', that was first published on this record and later included on a special edition of the new studio album, convinces the most because the band sounds very playful and the audience is audible and sounds very enthusiastic.

    In the end, Deep Purple's Limitless can be seen as a greatest hits compilation of what the band has accomplished in the past four years. The eight songs are all extraordinary progressive rock tracks performed with energy, inspiration and skills. They all remind of the classic Deep Purple sound based upon vivid rhythm sections, outstanding guitar melodies, melodic vocal lines and majestic organ sounds. Despite this traditional sound, the band sounds as fresh, hungry and strong as newcomers which makes the listening experience even greater. Let's hope this band carries on and continues to prove its status as one of the world's best rock bands.

    Final rating: 90%

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