• Seven Kingdoms - The Fire Is Mine (2012)

    Seven Kingdoms is one of the better female-fronted power metal bands thanks to a powerful instrumental execution and a versatile lead singer who manages to sound enchanting without drifting off into pompous symphonic innuendo. On the other side, the band's songwriting is at times a little bit too predictable and tame to leave a deeper impression among the elevated number of similarly sounding bands.

    The Fire Is Mine is probably the band's greatest accomplishment so far. Especially the record's middle section is quite strong. ''Symphony of Stars'' has speed, power and melody that keep the up-tempo track engaging from start to finish. 

    Title track ''The Fire Is Mine'' is particularly dynamic with extended instrumental sections offering interesting shifts in atmosphere and pace. Aside numerous great guitar solos, the bass guitar is quite audible and dominant and even the drum play is versatile enough to leave a mark. One can hear that the band members enjoyed themselves while recording this song and quite appropriately chose this song to represent the record. 

    ''Kardia'' is probably my favourite song on this output. It's a ballad that starts with enchanting acoustic guitar sounds and soothing female lead vocals supported by passionate male backing vocals by Theocracy's Matt Smith. The song starts like a folk ballad before guitars, drums and bass guitar kick in efficiently for the final one minute and a half. This structure is quite simple but works very well because it's executed with true passion. It might remind of Evanescence's My Immortal at times but that certainly isn't a shame since it's a great song as well.

    ''Fragile Minds Collapse'' is probably the greatest song from an instrumental point of view. It incorporates a contemporary production with a few minimal sound effects into a classic heavy metal structure flirting with power metal tropes and even a few progressive metal hints. The track convinces not only with perfectly executed guitar solos but also a tight bass solo. The diversified and relentless drum play is the backbone of the song structure. Those who like their power metal a little bit more adventurous, creative and sophisticated will enjoy this song for sure.

    If you like imaginative power metal with a charismatic female lead vocalist, you should give Seven Kingdom's The Fire Is Mine a chance. The record doesn't reinvent the genre but it performs with enough passion, diversity and atmosphere to be entertaining from start to finish. If you like bands in the key of Evanescence, Epica and Elis, you are going to enjoy this release.

    Final rating: 80%

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  • Calling your record Evolution is a quite bold statement. It could announce important changes, experiments and risks for a commercially successful band like Disturbed. But it could also be a stylistic device in form of an ironic statement. The latter has to be the case because Disturbed offers the same old tropes on Evolution that turns out being the band's most boring output.

    The first two singles already confirmed the usual stylistic range of the band that hasn't been extended at all. Opener ''Are You Ready'' is a tough rock song with up-beat riffs and rhythms and a few tame electronic sounds. ''A Reason to Fight'' is a cheesy ballad.

    These two songs represent what you get on this new output as half of the tracks consist of contemporary rock songs that are lacking the drive, energy and uniqueness of yore. The band has moved away from its metal stylistics and opted for an overall mellower mainstream approach closer to alternative rock. The other half of the record consists of ballads with melodic vocal lines and a few acoustic guitar sounds here and there. Some of these ballads work well on their own but the sheer number of calm tracks reduces their intensity and none of the songs equals the surprising success of the popular Simon & Garfunkel cover ''The Sound of Silence'' from the band's previous comeback record Immortalized.

    Speaking of the devil and in order to cash in on the success of the aforementioned song, the band even included a live version featuring Alter Bridge's Myles Kennedy of the popular Simon & Garfunkel cover ''The Sound of Silence'' on the deluxe version of the new output. This choice is as boring as logical. Simply put, this band is trying to sell out.

    This safe strategy might just work out in times when the music industry is weakening. Don't dare too much, don't push the limits, keep the momentum going. However, Disturbed seems to have forgotten what got them in the driver's seat in the first place: the band's will to create unique rock music. One couldn't expect Disturbed to release a crunchy heavy metal record, an experimental rock output or a tender flirt with pop music. However, Evolution is the band's most toothless record and the nadir of its career so far. It's comparable to Godsmack's similarly hollow release When Legends Rise that doesn't have anything legendary about it. The rock stars of yore have grown old and listening to some fresh blood like Greta Van Fleet is much more exciting even though they shamelessly copy bands like Led Zeppelin. Their success shows that Disturbed and their colleagues need to reinvent themselves in order to remain relevant. The next album will show whether Evolution was just a misstep or whether Disturbed will be a relic of the past. Even as a huge fan of former outputs, I would only pick Disturbed's Evolution up for a reduced price to complete my collection at a certain point in the future at best.

    Final rating: 50%

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  • Daylight Dies - Dismantling Devotion (2006)

    Daylight Dies is an American quintet that combines atmospheric doom metal with melodic death metal stylistics in the key of Katatonia and Opeth at the heights of their careers. How come I had never heard of this band until recently? The answer is quite simple since the group hasn't released any new music in more than six years now. Dismantling Devotion is a timeless record however and has therefore aged quite well.

    The key element behind this gripping record is its floating, gloomy and mysterious atmosphere. The riffs can be chugging, melancholic and slow at one moment but are then contrasted by much faster, meaner and more vivid passages. These contrasts also work well for the rhythm section that can be smooth and laid back at one moment just to accelerate and push rapidly into the foreground. The band also works with two vocalists. The band has a slightly bigger focus on the lead singer's passionate growls but the bassist's uplifting clean vocals offer some hopeful notes on a record filled with despair. The main focus lies on the instrumental work anyway that invites the listener to close his eyes immerse himself in a world of darkness to dream himself far away. Therefore it is useless to point out any particular songs since the sum is greater than its parts.

    There are only two minor elements to criticize in my opinion. First of all, some tracks offer unnecessary fade-outs instead of leading fluently into one another which is something I have never appreciated. Secondly, a few songs slightly overstay their welcome and end up being somewhat repetitive instrumentally. Most songs could have been cut down by a minute or two to sound more diverifsied, efficient and fresh.

    Still, if you like melodic doom and melodic death metal, Daylight Dies is a band you should be familiar with and Dismantling Devotion is rightfully considered a highlight in the band's career. The album was recently released again in a highly recommendable boxed set called The Candlelight Years with Lost to the Living as well as A Frail Becoming. If you're looking for a similar band of great quality that is still actively releasing music, give Black Crown Initiate a try.

    Final rating: 90%

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  • Rest in peace, Katharina Kluth (1929 - 2018)

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  • Stratovarius - Enigma: Intermission II (2018)

    Seventeen years ago, Stratovarius released Intermission, a compilation consisting of new and rare material, to celebrate its seventeen years of existence. Now the time has come to celebrate another seventeen years with Enigma: Intermission II. Just like the first release, this one features brand new songs, rare bonus tracks from the previous four regular studio albums and an experimental section with orchestral versions of four songs.

    Opener and new track ''Enigma'' is a potent and powerful song that would have been a highlight on the average previous studio album Eternal. There are also a few pearls among the rare tracks. The atmospheric ''Second Sight'' would have been a highlight on the disappointing Polaris record. ''Giants'' is an epic power metal anthem with intellect and emotion. ''Old Man and the Sea'' is a simple and smooth ballad that unfolds its warm atmosphere after several spins and sounds like no other song the band has ever released. The rearranged orchestral songs focus on classical instruments and soothing vocals, giving vivid tracks like ''Unbreakable'' and ''Shine in the Dark'' a completely different identity, showcasing the band's large set of inspirations and its open mind to walk off the beaten path.

    Obviously, such a compilation is lacking the coherency, fluency and quality of most regular studio records. A few of the rare tracks are average at best as they fail to leave a deeper impression. The overlooked instrumental ''Endless Forest'' with its simple yet atmospheric approach reminding me of video game music of the nineties which was included on the Japanese version of Eternal sadly didn't make it onto this compilation.

    Still, Stratovarius fans should pick this diversified release up and will get sixteen mostly good songs with a generous running time of seventy-five minutes. In addition to the songs, the record convinces with yet another gorgeous cover artwork and a detailed booklet. Fans of European power metal with some creative twists here and there should wait and pick this release up for a reduced price.

    Final rating: 75%

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