• Sweet Oblivion - Sweet Oblivion (2019)

    There is no doubt that Geoff Tate is an excellent singer who has recently redeemed himself with strong collaborations in the renowned Avantasia project. After numerous failed and short-lived projects, Frontiers Records attempts to put a stable band around the singer. The result is Sweet Oblivion and the first strike is the self-titled debut.

    On the positive side, Geoff Tate's vocals sound great. He still has a crystal clear and dynamic voice that balances gloomy undertones and melodic lines quite efficiently.

    However, the musicianship and songwriting on this album are bland, boring and exchangeable. The dull atmospheric keyboards are omnipresent. The guitar play is simplistic, repetitive and powerless. The bass guitar is nearly inaudible. The drum play is so slow and smooth that one gets the impression the drummer is on auto-pilot. The fluffy and muddy production makes the final product even less dynamic than it already is. The songwriting isn't much better and predictably focuses on Geoff Tate's vocal skills alone. All tracks are around four and a half minutes long and consist of fluffy musicianship to give all the attention to the singer who can unfold his skills eagerly. There isn't one single track that comes around with an exciting, memorable or unusual idea. This record is best described as particularly mellow melodic metal with great vocals but without any inspiration.

    Sweet Oblivion isn't a band but an exchangeable instrumental backdrop put together by a label that has done this on numerous occasions for other artists in the past to showcase Geoff Tate's undeniable skills. The vocals are great but the other three members can't convince at all and the fluffy production only makes things worse. Listen to Avantasia songs featuring Geoff Tate or try to catch them on tour but ignore this cheap label product that doesn't do the great singer justice.

    Final rating: 25%

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  • 66Samus - Fart Metal (2014)

    After ridiculous releases like Penis Metal by Hades Archer, one thought one had heard it all but there is always a desperate soul begging for attention who manages to make matters worse. Sam Paulicelli is a talented multi-instrumentalist involved in numerous international low-key projects but that doesn't seem to be enough for him. Under the misunderstood disguise of humour, he has released numerous short singles under the 66Samus moniker in a lazy attempt to make some extra money. It's not as bad as Sloth that releases noisy sound collages on a daily basis which can only be explained by the assumption that somebody lost a bet to the creator and must purchase anything Sloth releases until the end of days but this project here is not a far cry away from the bottom. Fart Metal is the first single and already lowers the bar in such a way that it might never get worse. It's quite a statement to kick off a solo career with something as goofy, disgusting and childish.

    I must admit that I had to laugh the first time I listened to this single and watched the goofy music video that came along with it. I didn't laugh because the song is so funny but because I couldn't believe that someone willingly decided to make himself look so utterly stupid on the internet. While the internet can be a helpful information source, it can just as often be considered as society's trash bin where people rudely insult others under fake pseudonyms to increase the self-esteem they can't get in their real everyday lives. That also happened to a certain degree to the creator of this song who was called insufferable and charmingly asked to fuck off and shut up. While such comments are yet again poorly veiled internet bullying, one has to admit that the creator of this song was obviously looking for controversial reactions. Someone who shouldn't have been looking for attention got reactions by those who shouldn't have been reacting. Unsurprisingly, some people really described this song as the coolest thing they have ever heard and claimed that it sounds much better than anything from Justin Bieber. The former statement unveils that the commentator must have an incredibly boring life to make such a statement while the latter underlines the stereotype that metal fans are quite closed-minded and vividly attack any artist who has commercial success and critical acclaim. That kind of song only seems to attract unlikable characters along some curious people.

    As for the song itself, we have a vivid thrash metal song that doesn't even last ninety seconds intertwined with farts instead of vocals and a breakdown with diarrhea sounds to finish things on a dirty note. The instrumental work itself and especially the dynamic drum play is actually decent while the rest is a poor joke that lasts much too long.

    The fact that I stumbled over this song, its music video and the numerous controversial reactions might prove that I'm spending too much time on the internet myself. Maybe the time has come to reduce time spent on the internet and focus on essential hobbies only or to take a constant break from it for quite a while. The only thing Fart Metal inspires me are face palms but I wouldn't be surprised if some desperate loner created something called barf metal in response to this.

    Final rating: 10%

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  • Chaos Magic - Furyborn (2019)

    Many things have changed and yet many things haven't changed at all for Chaos Magic. Four years ago, the band started as a collaboration between Finnish guitarist, producer and songwriter Timo Tolkki who had met Caterina Nix years earlier. Now, Chaos Magic is a band consisting of four Chilean musicians along side the female singer. The album also features several guest vocalists with Evergrey's Tom Englund, Rainbow's Ronald Romero and former Sirenia vocalist Ailyn. Despite these important changes, Furyborn is similar in style to predecessor Chaos Magic.

    The quintet offers contemporary symphonic power metal with a few electronic music touches. The songs vary from powerful rock tracks like ''You Will Breathe Again'' to airy ballads like ''Beware of Silent Waters'' with its enchanting acoustic guitars. The band still recalls numerous female fronted commercially successful symphonic rock and metal bands one and a half decades ago like L'Âme Immortelle, Evanescence and Within Temptation. Furyborn would have been all the rage fifteen years ago but isn't too impressive these days. The album is enjoyable to listen to thanks to the skillful melodic lead vocals, the numerous guest vocalists and the diversified song writing but the record fails to leave a deeper impression due to a lack of creative ideas, crunchy production and energetic instrumental performances.

    In the end, Furyborn is only a slight improvement over the average predecessor and should only be interesting for fans of melodic symphonic metal fans. This album could also be a good record for younger audiences to discover metal music like L'Âme Immortelle, Evanescence and Within Temptation fifteen years earlier. This record is good for what it is but ultimately rather forgettable.

    Final rating: 65%

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  • Timo Tolkki's Avalon - Return to Eden (2019)

    Before legendary Finnish guitarist Timo Tolkki started his Avalon project, he was in the process of recording an ambitious solo album but he must have seen Frontiers Records' offer to release a metal opera consisting of three albums as the better financial option. Despite jumping on the bandwagon, the first album The Land of New Hope could convince thanks to great guest singers like Helloween's Michael Kiske, Sonata Arctica's Tony Kakko and Symphony X's Russell Allen. The second output Angels of the Apocalypse was a disaster with less renowned guest vocalists, terrible sound effects and the worst production I have ever heard in my life. Timo Tolkki went through numerous personal issues as well and had pretty much vanished from the metal scene for three years. A little bit more than five years after the last output, the trilogy finally comes to its conclusion but it's obvious that it has only happened because both sides had a contract to respect. The label hired Italian session musicians, contacted a few less renowned guest vocalists and the Italian guitarist made sure to take care of the production himself to not let Timo Tolkki mess things up this time around. The Finnish guitarist was simply asked to write some generic power metal song structures by the numbers. 

    The final result sounds as exchangeable as it gets. The guest vocalists fail to leave a deeper impression since they lack the charisma and talent of those involved in the first record. The session musicians do a solid routine job but it's obvious why they aren't involved in any bigger bands because they are lacking creativity, identity and ultimately talent. They also have no chemistry with Timo Tolkki since his signature guitar solos simply sound phoned in. The melodic mid-paced songs all revolve around the five-minute mark and mostly follow the conventional verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus structure. No single track manages to surprise, innovate or energize.

    There are few positive things to mention. The varied vocal performance in ''Promises'' is decent and the label made a mildly intriguing music video for the song. However, the second music video ''Godsend'' was already disappointing in that regard since it rehashed ideas from the first clip and presented a less skilled vocalist. ''Give Me Hope'' offers optimistic power metal tropes that would have been all the rage twenty years ago and is at least technically compelling which makes this average tune the highlight of the album. 

    Still, it's obvious that the heart simply isn't there. And even though the previous release was a disaster objectively speaking, it was at least Timo Tolkki's brain child, made critics and fans react controversially and had an unconventional style. Return to Eden is boring, faceless and forgettable and won't inspire any discussions, questions or reactions. That's why I consider this record the nadir of Timo Tolkki's career even though he is only partially to blame as he rather seems to be the pawn in the record company's game.

    Return to Eden offers bland melodic power metal by the numbers and doesn't deserve any attention. If you really like melodic power metal, revisit Timo Tolkki's career highlights from the late nineties or support a young, hungry and creative band or project like Orion's Reign, Light & Shade or Guardians of Time. I wish Timo Tolkki all the best for yet another comeback and would suggest him to lower expectations and take his time to finally bring his solo album to life.

    Final rating: 25%

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  • 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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