• Alice Cooper - Paranormal (2017)

    Alice Cooper still got it. Six years after the last release Welcome to My Nightmare, Vincent Damon Furnier is back with a twenty-seventh studio album entitled Paranormal. This album offers a quite intriguing mixture for old and new fans. It includes a first disc with ten new tracks recorded by the current line-up and a few guest musicians such as Deep Purple's bassist Roger Glover or ZZ Top's guitarist Billy Gibbons. The second disc offers two new songs recorded by the original Alice Cooper band from the late sixties and early seventies. On top, we get six new live songs of Alice Cooper's greatest hits such as the psychedelic ballad "Only Women Bleed" or the party anthem "School's Out".

    The best song of all is the opening title track "Paranormal" in my opinion. The melodic main guitar riff is one of the most beautiful things I have ever heard. The vocals are also quite variable as Vincent Damon Furnier proves that he handles both the smooth and melodic parts as well as the more powerful and rocking passages very well. The other two highlights are the two tracks recorded with the original line-up. "Genuine American Girl" is a danceable rock 'n roll tune that could come straight from the late sixties or early seventies. Thanks to an inspired performance, the song doesn't sound too old-fashioned but surprisingly refreshing. "You and All of Your Friends" has strong rhythms and vibes and I particularly like the vivid drum play as well as the playful guitar solo. The catchy song gets to the point in only two and a half minutes which has become a forgotten art among contemporary rock bands.

    The other new tracks aren't as great as the three mentioned above but they offer solid hard rock music. Some songs are slow and rhythmic, others are a little bit faster and very lively and others again are quite hypnotizing and smooth. These tracks don't offer anything new but present a good mixture of everything Alice Cooper is about.

    To keep it short, Alice Cooper's Paranormal might not be the band's greatest hour but it's entertaining and well-crafted hard rock that hasn't lost its charm and energy after all these years. Especially the second disc delivers the goods and proves that Alice Cooper is still an outstanding live act. Buying the new album is recommended but not mandatory but seeing this band live is something any fan of rock music should try to do once in his life.

    Final rating: 75%

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    Paradise Lost - Medusa (2017)

    Paradise Lost has often been described as a gothic metal institution and even though I'm a huge fan of this genre, I was unable to get into this band. I saw Paradise Lost in concert at the M'era Luna festival back in 2008 but found their performance lackluster. I listened to several songs but they weren't memorable enough to motivate me to check out an entire record. As you might guess by now, things have finally changed. I picked up the latest edition of the great German metal magazine Legacy that had a three-track compilation promoting Paradise Lost's new record Medusa. I immediately liked the new songs and decided to check out the entire release as soon as I could. Let me tell you that Medusa is one of the most brutal, intense and sinister gothic metal records I have ever come across.

    This brave, pitiless and unique direction works right from the start. The band opens the album with a monster of epic proportions entitled ''Fearless Sky'' with a stunning length of eight and a half minutes. Commercial ambitions? Forget about that. Numbing occult organ sounds, melancholic guitar melodies, humming bass sounds, slow-motion drum beats that hit your soul and guttural growls set the tone for this great album. The opening song is already the perfect soundtrack to any sinister horror movie that takes itself serious. Title songs ''Medusa'' is another track of this kind with melancholic piano sounds, droning bass sounds, precise drumming and desperate guitar melodies that are this time accompanied by comforting yet mysterious clean vocals. The track unfolds a hypnotizing vibe drowning you into the darkness. This song is best enjoyed with your headphones on late at night. The mysterious and magic guitar sounds of ''No Passage for the Dead'' have almost an Arabian soundscape and contrast the particularly low growls. Paradise Lost manages to mix the sinister and sweet like very few bands on this output. If you are an innocent child, a deeply religious person or someone who thinks Evanescence are gothic metal, stay away from this beast of an album.

    As if eight gripping songs weren't enough, the special edition includes two additional tracks and these aren't uninspired alternative versions that so many other bands have to offer but two more high-quality gothic metal monsters. The plodding and sinister ''Symbolic Virtue'' in particular manages to be emotionally profound, melodically catchy and yet musically simple. Other genre bands would chose this track as single but Medusa is so convincing that it's only a bonus track on this album which speaks volumes. The Japanese edition even features a third additional bonus track entitled ''Frozen Illusion'' which is a bleak, complex, slow-paced sinister death metal track that could come straight from the early nineties. It reminds me of the early years of Amorphis and Therion. If you've got some money to spend on an outstanding record, go and get this import version.

    This album is like a drug for your heart, mind and soul. If you like to discover your dark side and embrace it to escape from reality, go and buy this record that is one of the few highlights of a rather underwhelming year concerning releases of metal records so far. Paradise Lost has finally managed to get my attention after all these years with a bang. Consider me a fan now.

    Final rating: 95%

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  • Edenbridge - The Bonding (2013)

    Edenbridge has been one of the world's greatest symphonic metal bands in its early career. The band had the talent to mix ambitious symphonic soundscapes, intellectual progressive elements and memorable choruses in songs like "Sunrise in Eden", "Shine" and "The Grand Design" to only name a few potent examples. However, the band has lost steam since the beginning of the decade. The band started to repeat itself and was rarely able to mix the three components mentioned above as efficiently as in its early years. The Bonding presents a band that is still better than the gros of symphonic metal groups but it also can't compete with any of its own first six albums.

    Things start promisingly with "Mystic River". It opens with a gripping riff before it gets more ambitious, bombastic and elegant with a great mixture of smooth and vivid passages and Sabine Edelsbacher proves that she is one of this genre's most underrated singers as her enchanting vocals are absolutely unique. Everything seems to lead to an epic finale when the band suddenly starts to fade out the track thirty seconds before it ends. That is possibly the worst ending for such a song. Fade-outs have never been good, are still not good and won't ever be good. It's a lazy and unoriginal way to end a song. If this were the very last song on the album, I could maybe tolerate this but in that case, it becomes the auditive equivalent to a coitus interruptus.

    After spoiling the song that would have potentially been the best on this album, Edenbridge delivers a good genre record but fails to add anything new to the formula. "Alight a New Tomorrow" is the potential single focused on a strong chorus, garnished with exotic folk soundscapes and dramatic symphonic elements but the guitar riffs are bland and exchangeable. "Star-Crossed Dreamer" has a very appropriate title because it's a smooth ballad with classical soundtrack elements but it misses an emotional climax. "Death Is Not the End" is another ballad that comes around with wonderfully played acoustic guitars and piano parts and soothing vocals but it once again misses a climax, overstays its welcome and ends with another vapid fade-out. Every song on this record has many positive elements which is mostly due to creative multi-Instrumentalist Lanvall and Edelsbacher's fascinating vocals. However, each song has some songwriting issues and fails to get to the point. The title track "The Bonding" once again exemplifies my thesis. It features haunting atmospheric parts and strong melodies but clearly overstays its welcome with a length beyond fifteen minutes.

    If Edenbridge wants to reclaim the genre throne, three things need to be done. First of all, less can be so much more. The songwriting needs to be more concise, the songs should be shorter and get faster to the point. Secondly, the band needs to find the perfect balance between symphonic, progressive and catchy elements again and this can only work by trying out new things and challenging itself instead of sticking to the formula of past glory. The idea to invite some skilled guest singers is already a good one, the guitar riffs could be heavier and the rhythm section should also be more involved to make for a more organic sound. Thirdly, the band has to find more original ways to finish its songs. fade-outs or abrupt endings aren't acceptable for experienced songwriters. A bombastic climax on one side or a smooth coda are options that should be explored more often.

    In the end, The Bonding is a good album but it's also a little bit frustrating because the band has the potential to be so much better. Genre fans and faithful followers of the band should grab this release but anyone else should discover the band's early records such as Sunrise in Eden, Aphelion and Shine first.

    Final rating: 70%

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  • Beyond the Black - Lost in Forever (2016)

    I got a lot of angry feedback regarding my review for Beyond the Black's debut record Songs of Love and Death because I called this band an exchangeable plastic product centered around an egoistic singer who had already started her career in a teenage pop band at the tender age of fifteen. Some people told me that my judgement was too harsh and unprofessional, others said I shouldn't review this kind of music and go listen to something else and others said I should give this band another chance. Recently, a close friend of mine spoke positively of this band and a close family member even bought the new album and was very enthusiastic about it. I'm always open to change my mind, so here I am giving Beyond the Black a second chance.

    First things first, everything I mentioned in my first review proved to be absolutely right. Even though the cover of the album seems to suggest that Beyond the Black is a real band and not only centered around singer Jennifer Haben, the lead vocalist decided to kick her whole band out shortly after the release of this record. The five men that had helped her kickstart her career weren't allowed to make any comments and Jennifer Haben herself justified this split by saying that Beyond the Black was her baby and nobody else's. She started auditions to chose new associates soon after the album was released. These events only prove that Beyond the Black was never a band but a plastic product centered around an overambitious woman who used her bandmates for her very own purposes. A closer look at the line-up for this release even reveals that the former band members weren't much involved in the creative process of this album. A total of sixteen guest musicians and singers participated, including big names such as Herbie Langhans, Sascha Paeth, Michael Rodenberg, Amanda Somerville and Cloudy Yang. All these people have been involved in Tobias Sammet's Avantasia project which can also be described as an assimilation compilation rather than an actual band with heart and soul. In order to raise sales figures even further, the tour edition of this record, released in two different versions less than a year after the original release, includes the Official Wacken Hymn 2015 as well as the song for a German movie called "Die Ketzerbraut" that received massive airplay and promotion and which features Jennifer Haben as a side character. Beyond the Black has become a prime example for aggressive capitalism, clever marketing strategies and plastic pop disguised as symphonic metal.

    As much as any fan of authentically crafted music with heart and soul should despise the story behind Beyond the Black, this review only takes the final product into consideration. From that point of view, Lost in Forever is an improvement over Songs of Love and Death. While the predecessor openly copied bands such as Within Temptation, the sophomore output has a more authentic and distinctive sound centered around Jennifer Haben's soft, emotional and catchy vocals. It's also obvious that a lot of genre experts were involved in the creative process of this record because nearly every song has a catchy hook that would make for a great single with a lot of radio airplay. One can't deny that the songwriting is very professional and will attract new fans to the band, especially younger female audiences who can identify with the lyrics and image of the band. The atmospheric, bombastic and dramatic opening title track "Lost in Forever" won't get out of your mind. Up next comes a melodramatic duet with Masterplan's Rick Altzi whose raw and romantic vocals harmonize very well with Jennifer Haben's enchanting performance in "Beautiful Lies". "Halo of the Dark" comes around with campfire acoustic guitars and dreamy orchestrations to evolve into an emotional gothic ballad for rejected loners. Again, this type of music isn't anything new and reminds me of Evanescence and similar acts fifteen years earlier but the songs are more focused, skilled and unique than the material on the predecessor and Jennifer Haben slowly develops her own style. Lost in Forever loses steam towards the end and has some repetition here and there as seventeen or even just thirteen tracks are a little bit too much to keep a constant quality level. On the other side, I have to admit that the album is listenable and even features a handful of truly well-crafted tracks.

    It's up to you to decide whether you want to support a commercial plastic product like Beyond the Black. Concerning the music however, Beyond the Black delivers a very solid job. If you like melodic symphonic metal or commercial gothic metal in the key of early Evanescence and Within Temptation, you will love Lost in Forever. Since bands of this type have become a rarity or have lost their quality nowadays, Beyond the Black has spotted a market niche and receives more attention than it actually deserves.

    Final rating: 70%

    Beyond the Black - Lost in Forever (2017 German Tour Edition)

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  • Wintersun - The Forest Seasons (2017)

    Can you disscciate an artist from his art? This is a very difficult question. It's up to each individual to answer it. Jari Mäenpää is at constant war with his label, tries to lure fans into spending an exaggerated amount of money to support his megalomaniac visions and has offended numerous supporters with his questionable release strategies. The Forest Seasons is a very controversial release. Instead of the promised second part of Time, this record is more like a filler release which was nearly entirely made by Jari Mäenpäa. He performed vocals, played the guitar and the bass, worked out the keyboard orchestrations, programmed drums and percussion and even took care of the mastering and production. The name Wintersun on the album cover is pretty much a lie because this is nothing but a Jari Mäenpää solo record. Many people didn't give this record a chance because of those controversial circumstances. Others genuinely hated the album. Some praised this release as a masterpiece. While reviews are always subjective, most people had a biased judgement of this release because of its release history and often failed to solely analyze the qualities of the final product. Just take a look at the numerous reviews on the internet. I'm aware that this is difficult but this is what I'm going to try now that this formal introduction is out of the way. I will dissociate the artist from his art.

    The Forest Seasons is a positive surprise to me. The predecessor included two instrumental tracks out of five songs, sounded all over the place concerning the instruments, the production and even the songwriting and had massive ups and downs concerning its quality. The Forest Seasons has a simpler and more coherent topic, structure and instrumental guideline. The record has a great flow and rarely feels out of focus. There are no filler instrumentals, overtly overproduced orchestral passages and this album isn't the first part of something either. Each of the four tracks has some positively outstanding elements. The songs all make sense separetly and as a whole unit. The opener "Awaken from the Dark Slumber" has an appeasing atmospheric overture that gets you into a hypnotizing and relaxing mood before the song evolves into a gripping symphonic extreme metal track that takes the better elements from both black and death metal with cold riffs and harsh vocals before the songs ends with an epic finale thanks to majestic choirs. In my book, this might be the best song in the history of Wintersun or even the greatest track Jari Mäenpää has ever written. "The Forest That Weeps" convinces with its vivid folk influences and epic choirs, "Eternal Darkness" surprises with the record's best guitar solo and an abrupt finale and "Loneliness" is a melancholic mid-tempo track that takes its time to develop a haunting atmosphere. All four songs are at least clearly above average and I would consider the opener a nearly excellent track and the closer almost on the same level.

    The record also has a few imperfections however, especially in the middle section. "The Forest That Weeps" has an overlong and repetitive middle section despite being the shortest song on this release. The track would have sounded much more compact and impactful if it had been three minutes shorter. "Eternal Darkness" suffers from uninspired and clinical blastbeats throughout the track's most important passages. The record's biggest issue is the production. The drum computer sound is clinical and takes away from an otherwise vivid atmosphere. The lead guitar riffs are sometimes static and buried under the keyboard orchestrations. The production isn't as overloaded as the predecessor's but would have been much better with a more dynamic and organic sound.

    On the other side, the choirs and orchestrations sound majestic and the diversified vocals sound very gripping, no matter if they are rooted in the black, death, folk or even power metal genres.

    An additional positive aspect is the absolutely stunning cover artwork which is one of the most gorgeous I have ever seen. It really captures the four seasons and the spirit of nature. As someone who loves nature, I can really relate to the artwork, some of the lyrics and most of the music.

    From a point of view that solely focuses on the final product, The Forest Seasons is a very good album and a highlight for epic folk metal and symphonic extreme metal fans. It's a very creative, detailed and diversified album that does its ambitious topic justice and brings the different seasons and the spirit of nature to life. Only the flawed production and a few repetitions in the songwriting keep this record away from being a serious contender for metal album of the year. It's definitely a record to discover over and over again which justifies a purchase rather than just listening to it via Bandcamp or other legal streaming websites.

    Now, if you can't dissociate the artist and his art, I might understand that you wouldn't want to purchase this release. If you are however able to do so, I would recommend you to buy this gem.

    Final Rating: 80%

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