• Batyushka - Apostol (2019)

    If anything, then this second studio album released within three days, proves that it's not too complicated to reproduce the sound that made the original band of the same name so unique four years ago. Try to hide your real identities, take a mysterious cover artwork inspired by Eastern Orthodox culture, add some Cyrillic song titles, plug a few smooth chorals in the opening tune, mix droning guitar sounds with stoic drumming, add a muddy underground production and end the record on a high note with the heaviest track. If you follow these steps, you might as well create the sixth, twenty-second or three hundred nineteenth group of the same name.

    In the band's defense, the second release Apostol is a very slight improvement over the redundant debut record. The drum patterns are a little bit more diversified and adventurous but still overtly present in the production and too smooth for a black metal direction. The guitar work is droning yet again but overall heavier than on the predecessor which puts this successor closer to drone or black metal while the previous output was best described as simplistic ambient release. 

    Aside these few positive elements, Apostol has similar flaws as its predecessor. The Eastern Orthodox elements are very minimal and the band lacks creativity, direction and identity. The musicianship is fairly limited and mostly based upon simple industrial metal drum patterns and repetitive guitar patterns. The song material ends up sounding boring, redundant and repetitive. It's very difficult to distinguish the different songs that just rush by and fail to leave a deeper impression. In addition to this, the joke of bringing to life a fourth band of the same name might have worked with the unexpected debut record but this follow-up doesn't have that amusing momentum anymore.

    Still, one has to admit a slight improvement in the musicianship and production and if this band continues like this, its tenth studio album might actually turn out to be a masterpiece and could be released right on time for Halloween. On a more serious note, despite some minimal improvements, this band in general and this record in particular still aren't worth your attention, money or time.

    Final rating: 20%

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  • Batyushka - Batyushka (2019)

    This fourth band called Batyushka is obviously just a copycat trying to cash in on the success of the first band that combined Eastern Orthodox liturgy with moody black metal. This group that apparently consists of Russian priests is so ridiculously fake that it's not even mildly entertaining anymore. Save forty minutes of your life and don't listen to this garbage.

    Musically speaking, this album only includes very few religious chants as in the opener ''Песнь 1 (Молитва)'' which is also the only remotely interesting tune. Most songs simply consist of coldly droning guitar sounds and loud drums playing unskilled rhythm patterns. The tracks don't vary, innovate or entertain at all. They don't even have a structure and start as randomly as they end. The songs are also lacking pace because even though the drums attempt to add some rhythm, the meandering guitar tones annihilate any potential dynamics. The tracks sound like poorly executed instrumental jams recorded in a lonesome multi-instrumentalist's basement. The material barely qualifies as metal and is rather an odd mixture of ambient music with a few minor rock 'n' roll drum patterns, unimaginative drone elements and tame black metal riffs. The production is indeed absolutely horrible since the instruments bury one another and especially the drums are way too present in the production.

    This release is a very cheap way to cash in. Curious minds might listen to it once but will quickly realize how utterly bad it actually is. If you purchase it, you've simply stated got pranked. The only reasons why this record didn't get the worst possible grade are because it actually parodies the mess the original band has sadly become and because the cover artwork looks decent enough for a trolling joke band.

    Final rating: 10%

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  • Visions of Atlantis - Wanderers (2019)

    I will start my review of Visions of Atlantis' Wanderers with a little anecdote. This summer, a friend of mine played a power metal playlist on Spotify and made me guess the different bands. I'm usually quick to recognize metal bands but there are so many female-fronted symphonic power metal bands out there, that it's impossible to keep track of them. Whenever there was a band whose identity was oblivious to me in the playlist, I would randomly take Visions of Atlantis as a guess. Funnily enough, my guess was right at a certain point. Why did I pick this band to guess obscure female-fronted symphonic metal bands and not Battle Beast, Beyond the Black or Within Temptation? The main difference is that these bands have their own distinctive styles while Visions of Atlantis doesn't. That isn't necessarily a bad thing because I would easily prefer Visions of Atlantis's more generic but solid brand of female-fronted symphonic power metal over Batlle Beast's bland flirts with pop music of the eighties, Beyond the Black's one-man project ripping off Evanescence and the likes or Within Temptation's somewhat tame tearjerkers of late. However, Visions of Atlantis doesn't play in the same league as genre leaders like ambitious and epic Nightwish, creative and progressive Edenbridge or dynamic and vibrant Epica.

    The quintet's new record might overstay its welcome with a running time of sixty-two minutes on the Japanese version of this release but the album sounds more coherent, fluid and inspired than immediate predecessor The Deep & The Dark which was a little bit too nostalgic and predictable. The band sound is best compared to Nightwish's era with pop-influenced lead singer Anette Olzon. Sadly, the music is missing the epic inspiration of Dark Passion Play but has the diversity of Imaginaerum.

    The record's first three songs expose the band's stylistic boundaries best. ''Release My Symphony'' isn't only by far the longest tune on the new record but also the best by a mile. It's a cinematic, diversified and epic symphonic metal masterpiece with great use of classical instruments, efficient guitar riffs, vibrant rhythm section and a balanced combination of angelic female lead vocals and melodic male vocals. The song entertains from start to finish without any lengths and invites to press the repeat button right away. This is certainly one of the best songs in the band's career and one can only encourage the quintet to explore its epic, inspired and progressive soundscapes further.

    ''Heroes of Dawn'' heavily flirts with Celtic folk instrumentation in form of enchanting flute sounds recalling new age elements. The male vocals sound even more emotive than in the opener and harmonize very well with the soaring female lead vocals. The chorus manages to be catchy without being bland. This is the perfect single candidate. The band should use even more folk sounds in the future since this experiment works particularly well on this album highlight.

    ''Nothing Lasts Forever'' is on the softer side with melancholic piano sounds and decently employed string sounds underlining fragile but beautiful female lead vocals backed up by equally melodic and soaring male vocals in the beautiful chorus. These roles are inverted in the second part of the song and show how skilled both vocalists are and that they already have great chemistry on their first studio record together. The guitar solo in the last third is a highlight on the album and certainly makes this one of the most inspired ballads in the band history.

    These opening three songs are easily the best ones on the album and while the ten or eleven songs that follow aren't bad either, they can't equal the inspiration of the opening trio. The band repeats itself at times, the songs slowly become more and more exchangeable and the record's second half loses so much steam that it becomes almost dull. If the band had placed its three album highlights better and focused on only eight or nine tunes in total, Wanderers could be a candidate for best record the band has ever released and symphonic metal release of the year alike. As it is now, only the absolutely gorgeous cover artwork might compete for highlight of the year along with Stratovarius' Talviyo.

    Visions of Atlantis has the chemistry, creativity and talent to become one of the best symphonic metal bands out there if the quintet focuses on its strengths and keeps a stable line-up over the next few years. Wanderers certainly is a big step in the right direction and should already appeal to genre fans. One should definitely keep this now international band that once entirely hailed from Austria on the radar for future endeavors.

    Final rating: 80%

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  • KoRn - The Nothing (2019)

    KoRn is back with its bouncy nu metal with electronic and industrial soundscapes on its thirteenth studio album The Nothing.

    The record starts and ends on truly intriguing notes. ''The End Begins'' combines atmospheric electronic soundscapes with creative bagpipe melodies while the vocals meander between nervous whispers and desperate cries. ''Surrender to Failure'' sounds as if it were taken from a horror movie soundtrack and combines menacing undertones with vibrant percussive patterns with airy clean vocals. If the American veterans were as creative throughout the album as in these two short tunes, they might have a candidate for album of the year.

    The main problem with this record is that it doesn't offer anything new and that many tracks are exchangeable fillers recalling songs one has heard decades earlier.

    There are still a few solid tunes to be found. The rough, mechanical and cold ''Idiosyncrasy'' stands out with its domineering electronic effects and variable vocals that culminate in an oppressive chorus that recalls the band's middle years. 

    ''Can You Hear Me'' has a similar approach at first sight with sinister bass vibes and nervous electronic sounds but the memorable chorus could also come from an old Nickelback record which makes this song the record's biggest hit and should find a regular spot on the set list for the band's upcoming concerts.

    In the end, KoRn's The Nothing will please band and genre fans as it finds a coherent balance between eclectic electronic sounds and gritty riffs, memorable choruses and more experimental tunes as well as melodic vocal lines and manic whispers, screams and cries. While the band offers nothing new and the record includes some filler material in its middle section, the listener gets what can be expected from the nu metal veterans. The Nothing is neither among the band's best nor its worst releases but has all the trademarks that made the quintet what it is today.

    Final rating: 70%

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  • Puddle of Mudd - Welcome to Galvania (2019)

    It's a miracle that Puddle of Mudd still exists after all these years. The last studio record with original material was released ten years ago. The line-up has changed on numerous occasions throughout the past ten years. Lead singer, guitarist and founder Wes Scantlin had its issues with several conflicts with the law, a failed marriage and regular substance abuse. The latter also had negative impacts on the band's performances when the singer didn't show up at all, forgot his lyrics or got sick on stage. All things considered, one has to be grateful that Welcome to Galvania has now been released, regardless of the final result.

    One couldn't expect much from this release in advance but lead single ''Uh Oh'' was surprisingly solid. The song features simple but efficient musicianship inspired by pop punk music two decades ago, the personal lyrics are truly tongue-in-cheek and the chorus is so catchy you won't ever get it out of your mind. This song is the obvious hit single and had been performed live for years. While the new record doesn't feature any other potential singles, the album includes a few great tunes that recall what made the band famous in the beginning of the new millennium.

    ''Kiss It All Goodbye'' for instance combines the band's gritty neo-grunge attitude with distorted guitars and snotty vocals and catchy and memorable underlying melodies accompanied by a punchy rhythm section.

    ''Time of Our Lives'' is one of the band's clever power ballads with wonderful acoustic guitar melodies, uplifting guitar chords and variable vocals that prove that the lead singer can't only perform dirty hard rock tracks but also emotive pop rock tunes.

    Not everything on the new record is perfect however. The production is somewhat uneven and polished in a few songs and should sound a little bit grittier and coherent from start to finish. The lead vocals still sound charismatic but Wes Scantlin is unable to hit the high notes like he still did a decade ago and could overall sound more enthusiastic. The new version of ''You Don't Know'' from the band's overlooked debut extended play Stuck released twenty-five years ago is completely unnecessary and opens the record on a low note as it's probably the least convincing track on the album.

    Still, Puddle of Mudd's Welcome to Galvania is a slightly above average record that combines the band's grit from the early years with the powerful hooks from its successful middle years and the more commercial drive from the latter records. The album is pretty much on the same level as predecessors Volume 4: Songs in the Key of Love & Hate as well as Famous. This is no album of the year material but a fun release to listen to that leaves you wanting more. Welcome back, Puddle of Mudd!

    Final rating: 70%

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