Reviews: A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
Mini Reviews - Alpha List
           
Band/Artist Title Style Label
Year
Grade
Amos Lost Essence Gothic Hard Rock Independent 2007 70%
Mike Botello A Timeless State Acoustic Rock Mijaces 2006 55%
Eleventh Hour Eleventh Hour Progressive/Gothic Metal Independent 1994 75%
Faith Factor 07/07/07 Power Metal Metal Archangel 2007 90%
Terry Frieson Mowing The Lawn Melodic Hard Rock Independent 2009 75%
Harmony End Of My Road Melodic Power Metal Ulterium
2008
85%
HarvestBloom Let It Go Hard Rock Independent 2011 80%
Hguols Depiction Under The Obscure Seclusion Instrumental Black Metal Independent 2011 80%
Hguols Celestial Powers Intervened To True Supremacy Instrumental Black Metal Independent 2010 75%
Jon Hooper Doorways To Other Worlds Instrumental Hard Rock Unforsaken Productions 2008 80%
I-Dragon-I I-Dragon-I Gothic Rock Independent 2006 75%
Mad Max In White Acoustic Rock AOR Heaven 2006 75%
Bill Mason Band No Sham! New Wave Punk Born Twice 2011 80%
Mass 84 Unchained Melodic Metal Retroactive 2010 75%
Miracle Soldiers Of Light Power Metal Independent 2007 70%
Miriam Karu Maa Metal/Hard Rock Bullroser 2011 60%
Orphan Project II Progressive Hard Rock Independent
2008
85%
Pospolite Ruszenie Swiebodnosc Medieval Metal Independent 2011 75%
Promise Land Demo Power/Progressive Metal Independent 2005 80%
Strangeland Strangeland Melodic Metal Indepedent 2005 80%
True Wisdom True Wisdom Instrumental Gothic Rock Independent 2007 75%
Various Artists A Salute To World Class Rock! Varies Retroactive 2010 No Quote
Various Artists Roxx Summer Sampler 2012 Varies Roxx Records 2012 No Quote
Mike Visaggio Starship Universe Progressive Rock Independent 2006 75%
Voice Of Glass Song Of Songs Hard Rock Independent 2006 No Quote
V-Rats EPic Hard Rock/Metal Independent 2007 80%
Where The Truth Lies Secular Silence Modern Hard Rock/Metal Independent 2012 70%

AMOS – Lost Essence

Amos - Lost Essence

Amos, a three piece unit from Brazil best known for its gothic influenced progressive metal releases Gothic Soul (1999) and A Matter Of Time (2005), recently put together a three song EP entitled Lost Essence.  Recorded by Amos as a gift for its fans, the EP is an internet exclusive offering that can be downloaded for free at the bands website.  What we have in Lost Essence is a step by Amos away from the progressive leanings of its past efforts and a move in a heavier and more guitar based metal direction- all the while maintaining the same dark and gothic sensibilities.  The outcome is a work that might lack some of the catchy melodies that made A Matter Of Time such a fine effort; that being said, it must be noted the material here is well constructed and easily holds up under repeated play. 

“Stranger Love” is a plodder that almost comes across doom-like in capacity with its driving impetus and towering low end.  “Lost Essence” is another slower track, reflecting an atmospheric feel as a result of the highlighting trace of piano underlining a forward mix of rhythm guitar.  My favorite has to “Waiting For The Night”.  Ominous and portent, this one stands out with its catchy chorus and showy run of lead guitar work. 

Production values are a step up when compared to A Matter Of Time in that the band has captured a near perfect rhythm guitar sound.  Nevertheless, lead vocals remain an area in need of improvement in that vocalist Rodgrigo Shimabukuro continues to exhibit some shaky elements to his delivery.  Still, Lost Essence comes with a solid recommendation.  Please note that the download is no longer available at the time of this writing.

MySpace: www.myspace.com/theamosband

Grade: 70%

MIKE BOTELLO – A Timeless State

Mike Botello - A Timeless State

A Timeless State, the debut solo release from former Awake vocalist Mike Botello, moves mostly in an acoustic based rock direction.  No, nothing groundbreaking or worth writing home about, but the album is not without its share of quality moments either.  “Crossroad”, for example, is a solid hard rocking piece, while “Long Over Due” stands out with its atmospheric progressive rock feel.  The folk rock of the albums Dylan-esque title track must also be mentioned along with the U2 vibe reflected in the ethereal guitar sounds of “Follow Me”. 

That being said, I end up hitting the skip button a few too many times here in that many acoustically driven numbers such as “Narrow”, “Humanity”, “The Path” and others can border on the non-descript.  (Although the use of a saxophone on the laid back “Change” brings to mind the old Rez Band song “The Return".)  A few more hard rockers along the lines of “Crossroad” would have gone a long way towards the more well rounded effort.  Still, I can see fans of Guardian, Shout, Stryper and perhaps even U2 getting into this.  If you are looking for something mellow then Mike Botella might be your cup of tea. 

MySpace: www.myspace.com/botellomusic

Grade: 55%

ELEVENTH HOUR - Eleventh Hour

Eleventh Hour - EleventhHour

It’s Sombre by name and somber by natures, but never mind that; the Sombre Holiday project of brothers Terry (vocals, guitars & keyboards) and Trevor Friesen (drums & percussions) specializes in melancholic metal and hard rock that walks a fine line between Gothic influenced progressiveness, the swarthy subdued doom-like and immediately recognizable melodic.  Those that correspondingly identify with the group as an amalgamating of mid-period Deliverance and Saviour Machine with hints of Stryper have the right idea.

The Sombre Holiday 3 album output dates to its 2009 debut In Search Of Understanding but also includes 2012 sophomore album Four Shadows and most recent offering from 2014 An Hour Of Light.  What many do not know, however, is that brothers Friesen got their start in the mid-nineties under the Eleventh Hour moniker in which they released a lone self-titled EP that provided foreshadowing in terms of the musical direction it would later taker under the Sombre Holiday heading.

This best reveals itself on the more progressive Eleventh Hour material, with “Last Breath” and “Bleed” exuding creativity from their quiet atmospheric to heavier doom-like time signatures.  Immediately recognizable on both are Terry Friesen’s deep and lower register vocal abilities, a Sombre Holiday staple.  Haunting interlude “God’s Acre” highlights the darker side to Eleventh Hour, as does “Mercy” with its overriding blues based metal overtones.  When the group picks up the pace in hard rocking fashion on “Jerusalem”, “Nothing” and “Naked Tree” quality fails to diminish.  The Sombre Holiday penchant for the unpredictable stands out in an unnamed bonus track that starts to an acoustic Country Western flair before morphing into an all out hard rocker at the end.

Some slight thinness in production is more than offset by artistic creditability in terms of multifarious songwriting and varied musical influences that prove a Sombre Holiday trademark.  In the end, Sombre Holiday aficionados would do themselves a favor by checking out Eleventh in that the EP, again, hints of the musical direction later to from brothers Friesen.

Grade: 75%

ELEVENTH HOUR online: https://sombreholiday.bandcamp.com/album/eleventh-hour-e

FAITH FACTOR – 07/07/07

Faith Factor - 07/07/07

Fans of old school power metal along the lines of Sacred Warrior, Recon, Jacobs Dream and Septer need look no further than New Jersey based Faith Factor.  Formed in the fall of 2005 but not releasing its debut 3 song EP until the summer of 2007, Faith Factor combines high end, melodic based vocals with a triple guitar attack to create a work that can best be described as heavy and energetic but catchy at the same time.  Former Deadly Blessing vocalist Ski fronts the group.  Bringing a commanding – almost operatic – vocal presence that hints at Johnny Bomma (River Bomma), Ski displays near unlimited range when he cuts loose and goes for a high note (think Lance King, Vett Robers of Recon or former Jacobs Dream vocalist David Taylor).  The lead work here is very adeptly performed as well, reminiscent to the aptly named Bruce Swift of Sacred Warrior fame.

The bands EP, released on July 7, 2007 and appropriately entitled 07/07/07, features two hard rocking tracks in “Prayer Warriors” and “Deceiver” and a first class power ballad entitled “The Angel And The Butterfly”.  All three come in at around six minutes each.  Lyrics are openly Christian.

“Prayer Warriors”, the most up-tempo of the three, brings a high energy vibe that would not sound out of place on Recon’s Behind Enemy Lines or any of Sacred Warrior’s four albums.  Introduced by a stretch of tight as a nail riffing, the song charges ahead in vibrant fashion until acquiring a sublime chorus driven by heavy duty backing vocals.  A fast paced stretch of lead guitar stands in perfect complement to the ardent scene.

“The Angel And The Butterfly” is as fine a power ballad as I have heard.  A piano slowly compels the song forward, gracefully underlining its verse portions until the rhythm guitar crashes into the mix to shore up its emotionally charged chorus.  Ski does a good job exhibiting the abundant range to his voice throughout this one.

A dark and weighty slab of classic metal, the apocalyptic “Deceiver” brings to mind some of the material on Saint’s 1986 offering Time’s End.  Technical is the overall feeling I get here, reflected in the numerous time changes made by the song and the bands frequent excursion into instrumental territory.  Very catchy chorus hook as well.

Give Faith Factor a great deal of credit for the potential it displays on its recently released 3 song demo/EP.  But if you are like me, however, and are left with the feeling of wanting more, it is good to know the band is currently at work on material for a full length follow up to be entitled Against A Darkened Sky.

Ordering information: www.faithfactorband.com  Samples: www.myspace.com/faithfactorrocks
 
Grade: 90%

TERRY FRIESEN - Mowing The Lawn

Terry Friesen - Mowing The Lawn

First impressions are lasting, right?  Well, the first impression I had upon receiving Mowing The Lawn, the debut solo release of Terry Friesen, and seeing the cover art with some guy standing in a corn field was “Oh no, they sent me a country western CD!”  I was getting ready to write an e-mail advising the artist he does not fit the sites style guidelines – my least favorite part of running a record review site – when I decided it would be best to give it at least one listen.

And it is a good thing I did because I ended up pleasantly surprised.  Country western?  Uh, no.  Rather a combination of eighties influenced melodic metal and hard rock for fans of Boni Jovi, Shout, Guardian, Def Leppard and Stryper.

So what’s with the title and artwork?  In the artists own words:  “These are the songs that go through my head when I’m mowing the lawn- somehow the consistent whirring and putting of my lawnmower helps me sing it out (in my head).”  OK, works for me but next time give us a cover more in line with the music at hand.  In other words, how about a heavy dose of spandex and several empty cans of hair spray?

In all seriousness, Friesen, who is better known as the vocalist and guitarist of the progressive hard rock project Sombre Holiday, has put together seven songs of big hook choruses and shredding guitars that anyone into melodic hard rock will be fond of.

Now, before going into detail about individual tracks it must be mentioned that the title themselves are often a “play on words”.   “Just Wanna Be With You” breaks down into two songs: “Just Wanna Be With” and “You” while “Better Than The Rest” is actually “Better Than” and “The Rest”.  Just to avoid any confusion…

Up-tempo album opener “Now” does a good job showcasing Friesen’s gritty and mid-ranged vocal presence.  Fans of Jamie Rowe (Guardian) and Ken Tamplin (Shout) should enjoy his style.  Other heavy hitters include “Just Wanna Be With”, an aggressive piece characterized by its metal guitar assaults, and “Better Than”, a bluesy mid-paced number shored up by some complementary cow bell.

Friesen maintains the quality when composing a song on the more melodic side of things.  The laid back “What It Means To Love” is highlighted by fitting touches of acoustic guitar and piano while “The Rest” is given the full ballad treatment with an even mix of keyboards and guitar adding to the emotional scene.

A couple of songs failed to register with me.  “You”, a five and a half minute semi-ballad, tends to drag at times, although I do enjoy the ethereal guitar based outro.  Melodic hard rocker “Remind Me” also falls a bit flat in that it lacks the notable chorus hook the better material here brings to the table.

Closing things out are “alternate universe versions” (around 1 to 2 minutes each) of the seven songs here in which the artist, humorously, explores different musical territory, including rap metal, power metal, blues, and, of course, country western.

Lyrics find the artist pouring out his heart and his dependence on God through the issues of life.

If you enjoy melodic metal and hard rock then you would be doing yourself a favor by checking out Mowing The Lawn.  Plenty of hooks and radio friendly melodies can be found along with rhythm and lead guitar in needed amounts.  I hope the artist explores this musical direction again in the future.

PureVolume: www.purevolume.com/terryfriesen

Grade: 75%

HARMONY – End Of My Road

Harmony - End Of My Road

The year was 2003 and a talented melodic metal band by the name of Harmony came out of Sweden with its well received Massacre Records debut Dreaming Awake.  Fast forward five years and Harmony, the benefactors of a new deal with Ulterium Records, returns in 2008 with its recently completed sophomore album, Chapter II: Aftermath.  As a precursor to the release of the album, Ulterium put out a five song EP, End Of My Road, made up of three songs from Chapter II: Aftermath (“End Of My Road”, “Prevail” and “Rain”) and two others, “Alone” and “Enter The Sacred”, exclusive to the project.
 
End Of My Road finds Harmony continuing to head in melodic metal territory but with a heavier and more guitar driven edge.  And nowhere is this more evident than on “Prevail”, an up-tempo number standing out with its forward mix of rhythm guitar and weighty but hook driven chorus.  “End Of My Road”, a classy mid-tempo piece, also delivers a notable chorus hook along with a stretch of riveting lead guitar from Markus Sigfridsson.  “Alone” features some hard hitting work on drums (courtesy of Tobias Enbert) and plenty of well placed keyboards, while “Enter The Sacred” smoothly flows its distance with occasional traces of acoustic guitar highlighting the backdrop.  Closing things out is “Rain”, an emotionally tinged piece allowing Henrik Bath to exhibit his melodic based vocal abilities.

End Of My Road does a solid job showcasing Harmony’s new material and heavier – but still melodic – musical direction.  The bands performance, particularly vocals, lead guitar and keyboards, and production remain strong points.  All in all, the quality of the two exclusive tracks makes the EP a recommended purchase.  MySpace: www.myspace.com/harmonyofficial
 
Grade: 85%

HARVESTBLOOM – Let It Go

HarvestBloom - Let It Go

Let It Go is the third EP to be released from Silver Springs, Maryland’s HarvestBloom in as many years.  The group put out its first EP in 2009, self-titled and featuring six songs, and second a year later, entitled Devil’s Poison and also made up of six songs.  Let It Go, released in the summer of 2011, includes just 4 songs.

The biggest change to report in regards to the HarvestBloom sound is its all around heaviness- at least in comparison to its previous material.  The overall feel to Let It Go is along the lines of guitar driven pieces from Devil’s Poison such as “Natural Compulsion” and “My Sweet Jesus” but even heavier.

Guitarist Patrick Cornette literally buries the albums first two songs, “In Her Head” and “Let It Go”, in layer after layer of rhythm guitar.  While the metal edged riffs opening “In Her Head” provide a good indication of what is to follow, the group does not forsake hooks in that quite the solid melody can be found as well.  A killer guitar solo rounds things out.

The albums title track brings just as much muscle but in a shorter and more explosive package: Chorus is curtly done and too the point while Anji Cornette showcases her trademark gutsy and powerful vocal style (this reviewer ranks her among the better female vocalists in the current Christian hard music scene).  Craig Sibal underpins things with a grooving bass line.

“Last Hour” finds HarvestBloom tempering things slightly, in a manner similar to Devil’s Poison tracks “Unmistakable Grace” and “Blood (The Creed)”.  This one finds Molly McGettrick shining with her ever present keyboards and piano, accenting what can best be described a moving and emotionally charged environs.  Patrick Cornette adds another stretch of adept lead guitar.

Closing things is a remix of “Let It Go”.  In addition to being roughly a minute longer, the remix places keyboards in the more forward position with some “dance” or “electronica” elements coming through in the process.  A few drum loops have been added as well.

It also must be noted the fantastic production courtesy of producer Tony Correlli.  As a matter of fact, everything about the project speaks of quality and attention to detail. Even the group’s promo material is professionally done (some of the finest I have seen in the five years I have run the site).

The lone complaint is that Let It Go is somewhat short in featuring only 4 songs; I wish HarvestBloom had come up with at least two more tracks to match the output of their first two EP’s.  The optimal scenario, of course, would be for the group to wait a couple of years and put together enough material for a full length album instead.

Review by Andrew Rockwell

Grade: 80%

Official: www.harvestbloommusic.com/fr_home.cfm  Facebook: www.facebook.com/harvestbloommusic

HGUOLS – Depiction Under The Obscure Seclusion & Celestial Powers Intervened To True Supremacy

Hguols - Depiction Under The Obscure Seclusion Hguols - Celestial Powers Intervened To True Supremacy

One of the perks about writing for Angelic Warlord is that, eventually, you get to break every rule.  What boundaries are we stretching this time?  Well, it comes down to the Angelic Warlord policy not to cover any form of extreme metal, which we decided to circumvent in order to review the two most recent releases from Hguols.  Why?  The deciding factor proved to be how Hguols approaches its art from an instrumental standpoint- instrumental symphonic black metal to be exact.  In other words, Hguols steers clear of what many consider the more trying aspects to extreme music: the growled-grunted-shrieked-snarled-cookie-monster style vocals!

Hguols represents a one man project of Edinburg, Illinois native Tom Eversole.  The artist cut his teeth in Slough, a gore-grind band in which he performed drums until leaving in 2004 over creative differences.  Eversole at that point made the decision to start a new project absent of the lyrical propaganda associated with Slough and based more around moral and spiritual promotion.  Hence, Hguols (Slough spelled backwards) was born.

Hguols debuted with two albums in 2010: Epitome came out in January of the year while Celestial Powers Intervened to True Supremacy followed in September.  The spring of 2011 saw the release of the most recent Hguols project, Depiction Under the Obscure Seclusion.

Hguols stays true to its instrumental symphonic black metal calling card, albeit there is somewhat more going on here.  Specifically, you will also encounter elements of blackened thrash, Floydian ambience and doom-metal.  The occasional progressive overtone can be found as well.  It all combines for a chilling atmosphere that has bleak, haunting and forlorn written all over it.

At this point it must be noted that the music of Hguols is 100% MIDI generated.  The artist offers further detail regarding the MIDI process: “It has an electronic/devoid of life feeling to it, being ruthlessly precise as well extremely atmospheric utilizing multiple layers in the sequencer. The wall of noise distortion accompanying all the songs, as well as the electronic and sampling elements fits ideally within the modern black metal formula.”

Depiction Under the Obscure Seclusion

I might describe Depiction Under the Obscure Seclusion as the more progressive of the two Hguols projects.  Attribute this to how the album breaks down into just five songs but close to 45 minutes of music- so not only expect lengthy songwriting, the average tracks falls within the 5 to 11 minute range, but also varying degrees of intricate time and tempo changes.

Opener “Depiction Unto Grief” reflects this best, a heavy hitter with a relentless tempo that can also taper for quieter passages carried by choir-like vocals and what sounds like a harpsichord.  Likewise “Under A Watchful Scythe”, with its mixture of the intensely driven and more lush moments featuring bombastic overtures and classical keyboards.

“The Inexorable Interlude” stays true to its title in playing an “interlude” role in dividing the albums two more forceful first and second halves.  What we have here is a calmer and more tepid piece highlighting some Goth-like flavorings but with rumbling drums making their presence felt in the backdrop.

“Obscure Entity Elapsing” and “Seclusion Being Assailed” return to the formula of the first two with their blistering - near thrash based - tempos but can also slow for more ambient (do I dare say doom-laden?) passages driven by classical keyboards and orchestration.

The lone complaint is that at time the non-stops blast beats can get a bit repetitious, but take this with a grain of salt in that this reviewer is not a natural connoisseur of the extreme metal genre.  Those more inclined to music on the extreme side of things, obviously, will feel much more at home.

Grade: 80%

Celestial Powers Intervened To True Supremacy

Hguols emphasizes shorter songwriting on Celestial Powers Intervened To True Supremacy in that the majority of its material is within the standard 4 to 5 minute length (broken down over 8 tracks).  Yes, a bit less progressive than DUTOS, but you will still encounter your share of faster to slower time signatures.

The album gets underway to three heavy hitters in “Destined To Find Sanctuary”, “I Found The Essence Of Darkness” and “Within The Grip Of Insanity”.  Blast beats abound as do choral elements, periodic doom-like excursions and a penchant for the bombastic.

“All But Life Was Lost” is over the top with its epic intensity while “In This Exchange Of Demise” proves and edgy nail biter with its bludgeoning rhythm section and aural assaults.  “Celestial Powers Intervened” combines furious angst with Gothic overtones to create a haunting vibe.  “My Eyes Have Opened” touches upon thrash aspects while cleverly mixing in some chilling keyboard orchestration.

Closer “To True Supremacy”, with its extended eight minute length, hints at things to come on DUTOS.  The song delivers a crushing low-end blow, although it can also slow to a near standstill at a moments notice for some classical leanings.  Dramatic and sorrowful yet full of inspiration at the same itme.

Similar to DUTOS in that some of the blast beats can get tiresome but, again, fans of the extreme will have no trouble embracing this.

Grade: 75%

Please keep in mind that both reviews were put together by someone not normally predisposed to extreme metal; despite this in time I grew to accept the swarthy and barren musical landscapes painted by the artist.  Fans of the extreme should add another 10% to the final scores and make it a priority to obtain both albums.  Those into other forms of metal would do themselves a favor by approaching as well.

Official: www.hguols.com  MySpace: www.myspace.com/hguols

JON HOOPER – Doorways To Other Worlds

Jon Hooper - Doorways To Other Worlds

Guitarist Jon Hooper is best known for his involvement in Unforsaken, an Ontario, Canada based eighties influenced hard rock project that put out its full length debut, Not Alone, in 2005.  What many metal fans do not know, however, is that a year earlier Hooper independently released an eight track (at the time) instrumental hard rock EP entitled Doorways To Other Worlds.

Fast forward to 2008 and Doorways To Other Worlds has been re-issued by Unforsaken Productions but with one less track (though the same amount of music).  The original version of the CD included an additional track, “Radio Intro”, that on the re-issue has been joined with the albums third song, “The Final Battle”, in order to help things flow better overall.  It also must be noted that the re-issue comes with improved artwork on the CD itself.

Fans of Joe Satriani, Steve Vai, David Chastain, James Byrd, Pastor Brad, Jeff Scheetz and Fourth Estate are in for a real treat here.  Delivering a brand of instrumental hard rock that is heavy but catchy at the same time, Hooper excels on crunch-laden album opener “Grind” (the lead work he cuts loose with at the minute and a half mark is jaw dropping), “The Journey” (unrelenting impetus on this one) and driving “War Machine” (a track featuring a literal sledgehammer of a guitar riff).  I find “The Final Battle”, with its tempered but melodic flavorings, to be the albums choice piece while aptly entitled up-tempo numbers “Industrial Groove” and “Radial Boogie” stand out as well.  “Frozen In Time” moves its brief (1:15) distance to a joining of open air guitar and keyboards.

Production values are quite sound.  The lead guitar stands out crystal clear while the rhythm guitar, thick and crunchy, is right up front in the mix.

Rounding out the project is guitarist Jeff Lewis (Mortification) and bassist Sheldon D’Costa, who lend their abilities to two and five tracks respectively.

Doorways To Other Worlds, all around, proves a quality instrumental guitar release from a talented musician I hope to hear more from in the future.  Give credit to Unforsaken Productions for making this available again.

Official: www.unforsaken.ca/Jon/main.html  Samples: www.unforsaken.ca/Jon/samples/door/door.html  Order: www.unforsaken.ca/UPOS/main.html

Grade: 80%

I-DRAGON-I – I-Dragon-I

I-Dragon-I - I-Dragon-I

I-Dragon-I represents a joining of William Ashton Knight (lead vocals & guitars) and Jamie McCavanagh (guitars, drums & keyboards), two former members of Wedding Party, an obscure Nashville based Christian Gothic rock group that released its first and only album, Anthem, in 1998.  The two formed I-Dragon-I in 2000 following the demise of Wedding Party but waited until 2006 to put out the groups debut, a limited edition 7 song self-titled EP.

What we have in I-Dragon-I is Gothic rock with occasional industrial and electronica flavorings.  Fans of anything from Saviour Machine to Pink Floyd (and all things in between) should find I-Dragon-I to appeal to their tastes.  No, not quite metal, but if you like metal on the darker side of things - think Mirador and 23:59 era Veni Domine - then I can see the group being of interest.

But what’s the meaning behind the I-Dragon-I name?  We’ll let the band explain things: “The church blames the devil for everything all the time, but we are the dragon ourselves. Instead of blaming the devil for everything we should look at ourselves and take responsibility.”

With the exception of atmospheric opener “Introduction”, I-Dragon-I stays true to its Gothic rock calling card.  This is best exemplified in “Dragonfly – Part 1”, an ominously somber piece in which traces of piano and orchestration are mixed with hard guitar edges.  The song, at the same time, allows Knight to showcase his varied vocal abilities, ranging from smoother and more even touches to some leanings on the courser side of things.

“Saviour” takes a similar heading with its pronounced keyboard elements and touches of heavier guitars, particularly for its catchy chorus.  “Angeldust” strains most towards a metal based sound of all the albums tracks, aggressive and resounding in its heaviness but giving rise to a pronounced melody in the process. 

“ICU” comes across relaxed but haunting, with a scratched record in the backdrop sustaining the calmly played guitar and portent keyboards that carry its distance.  “When I Fall” is another quieter piece, almost ballad-like but aligning with the groups Gothic influences with piano and swirling keyboards playing a leading role.

Closing things out is “Death Of A Century”, a menacing six and half minutes of acoustic guitar and more of the group’s signature chilling keyboard sound.  The occasional orchestral element helps uphold the moody and reflective scene.

All in all, I-Dragon-I showcases an interesting and compelling - albeit different - sound on its debut EP.  The overall feeling left is waning more, which is a good thing in that the group remains at work on the full length follow up effort Ocean Of The Divine Inferno.

Grade: 75%

MySpace: www.myspace.com/idragoniidi

MAD MAX – In White

Mad Max - In White

Germany’s Mad Max, a melodic metal outfit with a history dating back to the early eighties, has gained renown in recent years for its two very fine hard rock releases Night Of White Rock (2006) and White Sands (2007).  What many people do not know, however, is that in late 2006 the group recorded a six song acoustic EP entitled In White.  The EP finds Mad Max covering three of its classic tracks of the past in addition to delivering two new compositions and an instrumental reprise. 

Some of the better moments to In White revolve around the remakes in question: “To Hell And Back Again” and “Bad Day In Heaven” (both off Night Of White Rock) and “Lonely Is The Hunter” (from the 1985 release Stormchild).  “To Hell And Back Again”, originally a guitar driven hard rocker, is now a crisp sounding piece accompanied by a Spanish guitar while “Bad Day In Heaven” receives the ballad treatment with a piano highlighting its length.  Very well done in both cases.  Needless to say, my favorite has to be “Lonely Is The Hunter”.  A particularly aesthetic number, “Lonely Is The Hunter” stands out with its gracefully done chorus and instrumental section shored up by an acoustic guitar solo. 

The two new songs, “Open The Eyes Of My Heart” and “Hello Father”, both give rise to a worshipful feel that complements the instrumental reprise of “Bad Day In Heaven”. 

All in all, if you need a break from metal – and our looking for something mellow in the process – then In White comes with a strong recommendation.  I wish more bands would do this for their fans.

MySpace: www.myspace.com/madmaxmusic

Grade: 75%

BILL MASON BAND - No Sham! - Born Twice

Bill Mason Band - No Sham!

Here’s some classic new wave punk influenced rock for you, courtesy of Born Twice Records, A Retroactive subdivision that is dedicated to Jesus Music artists and their releases (both past and present).  Classic being the key word in that Bill Mason Band arose out of the mid-seventies UK based punk scene - alongside Sex Pistols and The Clash - and made its mark by gigging for several years, including three shows at the famous Greenbelt Festival, prior to releasing its first and only album, No Sham!, on the Kingsway label in 1979.

The punk label is not without merit, the group’s raw and driving sound has been described as the “first Christian response to the Ramones and The Clash (keeping in mind that Southern California groups such as Undercover, Lifesavers and Alter Boys, which BMB predates, also deserve mention), although some heavy new wave elements also make their presence felts.  In its press material, as a matter of fact, BMB even goes so far as to state “we always felt we were more new wave” and correspondingly, list Boomtown Rats and Elvis Costello as influences.  So I guess the best way to describe BMB would be combining many of the aggressive overtones of punk with the more pop aesthetics of new wave.

Up-tempo rockers “Billy & The Rola’s” (with its driving riff mentality), “Out On The Streets” (short but fiery at just two minutes) and “Stand Up & Be Counted” (energy and melody in equal doses) reflect this best.  Maintaining the one-two punch of angst and hooks are “Radio”, delivering the classic line “Ain’t no God on that radio”, and “I Got The Answers”, upheld by pounding drums, distorted solo and all!  “Mr. G” also proves a classic with some slightly smoother commercial flavorings.

When BMB throws us a curveball and slows the tempo, quality does not diminish.  “Detectives”, for instances, come across calm and laid back with some borderline jazzy moments, while “I Don’t Want You” hints at a reggae-injected The Police type sound.  “Get Inside” proves bottom heavy and sludgy with its distinct heavy rock vibe and “Lost Years” the albums best as a result of its atmospheric and emotional overtones.

Equally notable are strengths in terms of production, particularly for a late 70’s independent release (as always credit the re-mastering of J Power of Stenhaus), and musicianship.  No, nothing virtuoso but this is NOT some three chords and a cloud of dust punk-wave band either (the instrumental moments to “Get Inside” and “Lost Years” are quite deftly done).

In no way can BMB be classified as metal or even hard rock, keeping in mind they do get quite heavy in places, but if you are a fan of either genre then I can see No Sham! being of potential interest.  If, furthermore, your tastes strain towards a new wave or punk influenced sound then by all means get this (and add 10% to the final grade in the process) in that you will not be disappointed!

Grade: 80%

MASS – 84 Unchained (Retroactive re-issue)

Mass - 84 Unchained

Boston, Massachusetts based Mass got off to a rocky start.  The group, consisting of high school friends Louis St. August (lead vocals), Gene D’ltria (guitars) and Kevin Varrio (bass), signed with A&M Records in the early eighties and soon started work on their first album, Fighter.  Conflicts between the bands management and label, however, put the project on hold indefinitely.  It got to the point that A&M had to advise Mass it would not put out Fighter until they had severed ties with its manager, a process which took over two years, but by this time A&M had lost interest in the album and decided against releasing it.

Undaunted, Mass pressed on and soon returned to the studio and recorded a four song EP.  Originally self-titled and released in 1984, the EP sold over ten thousand copies in addition to attracting the attention of several labels, including RCA which signed the group in 1985.  The EP, out of print and hard to find for years, was re-issued by Retroactive Records under the new title 84 Unchained in late 2010.  The project was also re-mastered in addition to including one bonus track.

On 84 Unchained Mass continues in the raw and energetic melodic metal direction of Fighter, which was also released (for the first time after sitting on the shelf for nearly thirty years) by Retroactive Records in late 2010.

“Looking Good”, an up-tempo party rocker, delivers hooks and momentum in abundance (think Rage Of Angels) while the aptly entitled “Pedal To The Metal” brings some heavy duty guitar leanings that hint of classic metal.  “Still Of The Night” presents with three minutes of energetic groove and more hooks of the non-stop variety.

“Holy One” ranks with the bands finest.  What we have here is a sublime – almost theatrical – track that drifts between faster passages upheld by a driving rhythm guitar and others advancing at the slower tempo in highlighting quite the pronounced melody.  Lyrically, the song makes quite the bold statement:

Beg the Lord for forgiveness
Get down on your knees,
Pray while you’ve still got the chance to see

You must follow sweet Jesus
For the path He has made
Will guide us to the eternal, eternal Son

Note: The lyrics to the remaining EP material are similar to Fighter in focusing on life and relationships from a positive standpoint.

The bonus track “Bones” was the only piece written by previous bassist Rob Stephens, who replaced the departed Kevin Varrio. The song was originally recorded by Mass in 1985 as part of a three song demo and features Stephens replacement, Michael Palumbo, on bass.  Musically, it is a blues driven rocker along the lines of Stevie Ray Vaughan or Rex Carroll Band (it would sound right at home on That Was Then, This Is Now).  The song just plain kicks with its catchy chorus and Dl’tria’s blues driven licks and chops.

The other two songs Mass demoed in 1985, “Magic Train” and “Hello”, were later re-recorded by the group on its 2007 release Crack Of Dawn.
 
I am going to close the 84 Unchained review in the same manner I closed the Fighter review: And that is to advise if you own one of the Mass re-issues then it only makes sense to get both in that the two not only complement one another (in terms of musical quality) but also showcase the potential of one of the finer melodic metal acts to come out of the eighties.

Mass official: www.massrocks.com

Grade: 75%

MIRACLE – Soldiers Of Light

Miracle - Soldiers Of Light

Last month I reported on a new band out of Brazil by the name of Miracle and its three song demo entitled Soldiers Of Light.  What Miracle brings to the table is a double bass driven brand of power metal that fans of other Brazilian acts such as Eterna, Dynasty, Adiastasia and Destra will be certain to enjoy.  As a matter of fact, vocalist Allyson Oliveira, with his smooth sounding and high end vocal delivery, brings to mind Jeff Winner (Adiastasia) at times. 

Oliveira is at his best on the seven minute “Something To Say”, a semi ballad trading off between passages of a quieter, piano laced variety and others in which the rhythm guitar plays a prominent role.  The albums title track, another seven minute piece, stands out with its extended instrumental section allowing guitarist Felipe Vieria and keyboardist Alexandre Keiji to shine.  Finally, “From The Beginning” is an up-tempo number in which drummer Mike Vieria furnishes an abundance of double bass. 

Production values, it is worth pointing out, come across crisp and clean.  All in all, this is a fine debut from a band I hope to hear more from in the future.  

Note: The Soldier Of Light demo cannot be downloaded in that the band no longer has a presence online.

Grade: 70%

MIRIAM – Karu Maa

Miriam - Karu Maa

Miriam arose out of the burgeoning Finnish Christian metal scene and joins a host of talented bands from the region in question, including but not limited to HB, Mehida, Wingdom, Sacrecy, Desyre and Essence Of Sorrow.  Karu Maa, the groups 2011 Bullroser Records debut, presents with 12 polished songs that walk a fine line between melodic hard rock, melodic rock and classic melodic metal (all in the groups native Finnish).  The album brings a dark and weighty (almost low-key) feel in featuring plenty of forthright rhythm guitars and quite the pronounced low end.  Production, with this in mind, is excellent and proves one of the projects strong points.

All songs are ably performed, with vocalist Ossi Maki-Reini standing out with a fitting lower register touched with occasional elements of grit.  Kimmo Koykka delivers the goods guitar wise with his adept soloing abilities while bassist Ville Korkiamaki and drummer Ilari Taipalus comprise quite the formidable rhythm section.

The problem I have with Karu Maa is that I struggled to get into much of its material.  Despite repeated listen, I often found my attention wandering and more often than not skipping ahead to the next track.  Specifically, a good portion of the songs here trend towards the mid-tempo and, as a result, have too much of a “same-like” feel to them.  The likes of “Pahan Juuret”, “Aarre saviastioissa”, “Heraa” and “Samalla viivalla”, for instance, fail to stand out as a result of choruses on the repetitious side of things.

The project shines when Miriam is willing to change things up a bit, as it does on high energy rockers “Valentakaa” and “Koiruus”.  Standing out equally well is the symphonic based “Kymmenen kaskya rikottavaksi” and heartfelt ballad “Anteeksi”.

The group is not shy about their Christian beliefs (as outlined in its press material), but the overall feeling left is that I might potentially better embrace the songs if they were performed in English.  Another reviewer of Karu Maa that wrote “if you want your music to spread around the globe it’s a necessity that you put the extra effort into including an English language component to it” sums things up best.

I hate to give Miriam a critical review because the talent and effort cannot be denied.  That being said, no matter how hard I tried (or forced myself to listen to the project) the songs, for the most part, failed to grow on me.  Karu Maa, in the end, is pretty much 50/50 in terms of consistency.  Yes, that is an adequate percentage if you are shooting jump shots from behind the three point line but fails to cut it for a melodic hard rock album.

Grade: 60%

MySpace: www.myspace.com/miriammetal

ORPHAN PROJECT – II

Orphan Project - II

Orphan Project got its start in 2001 when vocalist Shane Lankford approached guitarist John Wenger (Mars Hill) with the idea of creating a concept album based around the themes of physical and spiritual adoption.  The end result was the hard rock meets progressive rock of Orphan Project’s full length self-titled debut from 2003.  Orphan Project proceeded to go on extended hiatus until the summer of 2007, returning with a new single, “Angels Desire”, prior to releasing a four song EP entitled II the spring of the following year.  II finds Orphan Project heading in a heavier musical direction while showcasing two new songs (in addition to “Angels Desire”) in “My Goodness” and “Empty Me” along with a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick In The Wall Pt. 2”.

Opening track “Angels Desire” does a perfect job showcasing the rich and warm sounding voice of Shane Lankford, particularly during its lushly delivered chorus.  Otherwise, the track stands out with its time changes – from the guitar driven to the symphonic – in addition to an instrumental section carried by a fiery guitar solo.

“My Goodness” slows the pace down to mid-tempo territory in backing a hard rocking rhythm guitar with a trace of piano.  Otherwise, this one allows the quality production of II to stand out in highlighting the textured – and at times classically flavored – instrumentation.

“Another Brick In The Wall Pt. 2” showcases some of the better moments on II.  What stands out is how Orphan Project adds its unique progressive flavorings while mixing in a variety of diverse elements in the process, including jazz fusion, heavy groove bass guitar, hard rocking rhythm guitar, crisp acoustic guitar, eerie synthesizers and a 70’s style organ.  Yes, a bit of variety but in the end it works to play up the group’s musicianship and creativity.

“Empty Me” closes things out as a classic Orphan Project hard rocker.  A Kansas-like piano opens the song, leading the way through its first verse before the rhythm guitar steps forward to shore up the anthem-like chorus that follows.  Rob Tahan (Ashes Remain) tops things off with a riveting run of lead guitar.

All in all, II proves a sound follow up to the group’s debut from 2003.  With its solid production, professional packaging and tasteful selection of material, I hope it proves a precursor of things to come from Orphan Project.  Ordering information: www.myspace.com/orphanproject
 
Grade: 85%

POSPOLITE RUSZENIE - Swiebodnosc

Pospolite Ruszenie - Swiebodnosc

It is always refreshing to discover a new artist that is not afraid to approach things from a different standpoint.  And such is the case with Warsaw, Poland based Pospolite Ruszenie and its three song debut EP from 2011, Swiebodnosc.  Playing what it refers to as “medieval metal”, Pospolite Ruszenie sets itself apart by taking a foundation of hard rock and fusing it with aspects of renaissance, baroque and classical music.

Staying true to form, the group draws its name from a pre-13th century Polish term for the mobilization of armed forces while the album title, every bit as fitting, is based upon a popular 15th century medieval song that means generosity or magnanimity.  Lyrics are centered around old Polish poetry.

Pospolite Ruszenie, as one might imagine, showcases a flair for classical and medieval instrumentation that reminds me somewhat of the apocalyptic rock group ArkAngel, albeit much heavier.  Opener “Zoltarz Jezusow, czyli Jezusa Judasz przedal” (translation: Lament over Jesus or Jesus betrayed by Judas), for example, emphasizes bag pipes, electric violin and metal guitars but carried over a driving, mid-paced tempo.

“Pan Bog Wszechmogacy” (translation: Lord God, the Almighty) maintains the heaviness and employment of bag pipes but mixed with acoustic guitars and a pronounced bass line.  The main difference is the balancing of occasional extreme vocals with the low-key and fitting darker register of lead vocalist  Jan Trebacz.

“Niescie chwale, mocarze” (translation: Ascribe unto the Lord, o Ye Sons of Might from Psalm 29) is the most upbeat of the three.  This one make effective use of flute, particularly for its light and airy verses, while the rhythm guitar cuts in to drive a weighty as it gets chorus.

All in all, if looking for something new or different (or enjoy medieval and classical instrumentation mixed with metal music) then give Pospolite Ruszenie a chance.  All three songs are available for streaming at the groups website:  www.pospolite.ruszenie.pl/home.html

Grade: 75%

PROMISE LAND – Demo

Promise Land - Promise Land

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is home to Promise Land and the symphonic power/progressive based sounds of its four song debut EP/demo from 2005.  Effectively combining elements of orchestration with metal, the band has created a work that, unfortunately, strays towards the flat and disjointed side of things.  One of the problems with the project is the watered down production in which a forward mix of keyboards drowns out a thin sounding rhythm guitar.  Another is the low key and gritty lead vocal abilities of David Ralston.  Lacking in range, Ralston fails to complement the progressive based sounds Promise Land brings to the table.  Often, for example, I am left with the feeling the music and vocals are going in two different directions at the same time.  Which is too bad because Ralston is not a bad vocalist; rather, he is miscast if not out of his element performing music of this type (put him in a gritty hard rock band such as F.O.G. and he would de just fine).  All in all, a Lance King-type is desperately needed here.

The demo actually gets off to a strong start with “Shock & Awe”, a symphonic instrumental allowing Ralston to showcase his neo-classical abilities on lead guitar.  Quite the talented musician, this track proves in no uncertain terms guitar is the area he should be focusing his efforts in the future.  The three remaining tracks here I might describe as above-average to good at best.  “Life?” is not bad musically but suffers from a way too overriding keyboard sound.  The ethereal flavored “Christ In Us” begins to a nice two minute instrumental opening and features some of the albums most progressive moments.  “Secret Of Tears”, a track focusing on child abuse, finds the band backing off on the keyboards to create the demo’s heaviest piece. 

Official: www.angelfire.com/theforce/trm/pland.html

Grade: 50%

STRANGELAND – Strangeland

Strangeland - Strangeland

Peoria, Illinois based Strangeland came together in 2000 prior to recording the eighties influenced metal and hard rock of its three song self-titled demo from 2005.  With a sound that is a throwback to an era when soaring vocals, searing leads, big hooks and even bigger hair dominated FM radio and MTV, Strangeland reflects the influence of Stryper, Whitecross, Bloodgood, Holy Soldier, Joshua and a host of others within the same genre. 

This is best demonstrated on opening cut “The Enemy Has Fallen”, a first rate piece standing out with its huge chorus line – you will be challenged to keep this one out of your head – and burst of skillful lead guitar work.  At this point it must be mentioned the very capable guitar team of Kevin Grose and Kevin Schmitt.  One track finding the two at their best is “Savior Jesus Christ” (check out the blazing Oz Fox-like guitar solo), an energetic number combining a melodic based chorus with some guitar riffs that bring to mind Eternal Ryte.  On “Jesus Walk” the band moves in blues based hard rock territory.  By far the heaviest song here, this one is a driving number in which Karl Mustand adds some grit and gravel to his normally smooth sounding vocal delivery. 

As one can tell from the song titles, lyrics are openly Christian.  Production values are solid as well.  Finally, it is worth noting that Strangeland, a band whose main mission is to use music as a tool to tell the world about Christ, has changed its sound over the past couple of years to move in a power metal direction (think Iron Maiden, Dream Evil, Kamelot, etc).

Official: http://strangeland.us

Grade: 80%

TRUE WISDOM – True Wisdom

True Wisdom - True Wisdom

What we have in True Wisdom is an ambient instrumental side project of My Darkest Time found Zarko Atanasov.  The music here, mostly of the keyboard driven variety, puts in place a near Goth-like setting that comes across dark, haunting and doom tinged in its capacity.  Featuring just four songs but 35 minutes of music, True Wisdom represents a nice change of pace if you need a break from metal but still need something that maintains the same panache of the genre. 

This is something best upheld in the albums ten minute title track, an orchestral piece that slowly moves forward until the rhythm guitar crashes into the mix.  “Ecclesiastes” is a moody plodder highlighted by a touch of piano, while the powerful “Vexation Of Spirit” combines a militant drum sound with a hard hitting rhythm guitar.  “In Memoriam”, the shortest track here at just over four minutes, almost gives rise to a classical feel with its lush use of keyboards and piano. 

MySpace: www.myspace.com/thruwisdom

Grade: 75%

VARIOUS ARTISTS – A Salute To World-Class Rock!

Various Artists - A Salute To World-Class Rock!

Compilation albums have always been hit and miss for me.  It has been my experience that most either leave off key tracks (or include those that should not be there in the first place) or offer little if any motivation to purchase them (as a result of featuring no exclusive or bonus material).

A Salute To World Class Rock!, the latest compilation from Retroactive Records, fortunately, falls within the “hit” category.

The album, encompassing 17 songs from recent Retroactive releases, features a well chosen combination of the old (Whitecross – “Lookin’ For A Reason” & Guardian – “Kingdom Of Rock”), new (Liberty ‘N Justice – “Treading On Serpents” & Jacobs Dream – “All My Fears”) and bands on the comeback trail (Bride – “Last Thing I Feel” & Saint – “Hell Blade”).  In between you will find top of the line tracks from Main Line Riders (“Broken Hearted”), “Boarders” (“Jump For Joy”), Hero (“Immortal”), Menchen (“Noon Sun”) and Faith Factor (“Armor Of God”).

At this point I am sure you asking: What reason there is to purchase this if you already own the albums including the songs at hand?  Well, A Salute To World-Class Rock! also features “Single Edits” of tracks from Fires Of Babylon (“Lazarus Rising”), Adiastasia (“Freedom Call”), The Seventh Power (“Heavy Laden”) and Titanic (“Sons Of Thunder”).  Now, what I mean by “Single Edits” is that the songs in question highlight subtle but noticeable changes, consisting of altered playing times, varied guitar mixes, changes in tempo, etc.

If you are not familiar with the Retroactive roster then this is a good place to start to learn of the labels varied line-up.  If, at the same time, you already own many of the albums represented here then still give A Salute To World-Class Rock! a chance due to its exclusive Single Edits.

MySpace: www.myspace.com/retroactivewreckage

Grade: No Quote

VARIOUS ARTISTS - Roxx Summer Sampler 2012

Various Artists - Roxx Summer Sampler 2012

It’s summer again… and that means another Summer Sampler from Roxx Records.  This year's edition is being offered as a free download to those that make a purchase at the Roxx Store.  A limited number of CD copies are available as well. 

What we have is eight tracks of the latest offerings from the label: The Sacrificed (classic power metal), Liberty N’ Justice (melodic rock/metal), Jump Ship Quick (punk), Join The Dead (thrash), Ultimatum (thrash), ForChristSake (modern heavy metal), and Ascendant (modern heavy metal). We have just over 30 minutes of music in this sampler, with quite some variety. Of course, Ultimatum and Liberty N’ Justice are well known (and The Sacrifice to a similar extent), but the newer bands have a chance to be heard through this sampler.

Now for a bit of a track-by-track:

First, we have the melody of “Get Down” by Liberty N’ Justice from the new release Hell Is Coming To Breakfast. The song can best be described as “fun” and melodic with a certain modern tinge. Good but not quite my cup of tea.

Next we have “Behold The Power Of God” from The Sacrificed’s new release III. Killer soloing with high pitched vocals and strong double bass.

After this we have the power punk of “Hollywouldn’t” from Jump Ship Quick’s Where Thieves Cannot Tread, which comes in at just over a minute and almost sounds like a joke track. Not quite the best that could’ve been included in my opinion.

Immediately kicking in is what I consider the high point of the album, the Metallica-influenced “Out Of Breath” from the newcomers Join The Dead with a self-titled EP coming soon. Quite a powerful metal track and my favorite from the sampler – be looking for this in August!

To continue, we have the strangely named “Jesus Love Shout” from Liberty N’ Justice on a compilation entitled Before the Revolution - Best of LNJ The Early Years. It’s quite a bluesy song which actually brought to mind Petra's “Let Everything That Hath Breath” (off More Power To Ya from 1982) as a result of its riff and feel.

Following this, from thrash veterans Ultimatum we have the famous song “Heart Of Metal (Metal Pulse Radio Mix)” from 20 Years Of Ultimatum. The only thing that has changed to my ears is the intro, which starts to some beeping and “initiating resuscitation” in order to fit the theme of Metal Pulse Radio (which incidentally you should check out). Great song.

Next, we have the live track “Red Moon” from the new band ForChristSake’s upcoming album Apocalyptic Visions Of Divine Terror, which has a hardcore sound to it. The live recording is pretty bad and sounds almost as if a bootleg; however, the sound is just tolerable and not completely unlistenable.

The sampler closes with “The Alteration” from the album of the same name by Ascendant, which offers a sound similar to that of ForChristSake.

I recommend that you check out this sampler as there are some great tracks on it, and it would do no harm to support Roxx Records and the bands they support.

Review by André Renault (courtesy of http://danielbandfan.wordpress.com)

Official: www.roxxproductions.com  Facebook: www.facebook.com/Roxx.Productions

MIKE VISAGGIO – Starship Universe

Mike Visaggio - Starship Universe

Mike Visaggio is a talented keyboardist who can trace his roots back to the progressive rock scene of the early seventies, having performed with the likes of Randori and Billy Falcon’s Burning Rose (a group which featured Foreigner bassist Ed Gagliardi).  After spending the better part of the eighties playing with several New York based Christian rock groups, most notably InnerVision and The Ambassadors, Visaggio returns in 2006 with his debut solo release Starship Universe.  The album finds the artist taking a foundation of progressive rock and joining it with occasional hints of classic rock, blues and even jazz fusion- all the while mixing in subtle Christian lyrics.  The end result is a keyboard driven outing – Visaggio plays a five-keyboard setup and specializes in the Hammond B-3 sound – that reflects the influence of seventies progressive rock giants such as Yes, Genesis and Emerson, Lake & Palmer.

The keyboards holding sway over album opener “In The Nazarene Church”, for example, would not sound out of place on any early album by Kansas.  That being said, the song serves to showcase several of the problems I find with Starship Universe.  The first being Visaggio’s low key vocal delivery, which can come across a bit uneven and on the flat side of things.  The second is the near complete lack of guitar found throughout the project.  Visaggio literally buries this track and others in layer upon layer of keyboards; while that is not necessarily a detracting factor, I cannot help but think an occasional rhythm guitar track would help break up what at times can border on a predictable environment.  To understand my point, please consider the emotionally charged ballad “My Elder’s Son”.  One of the albums few songs to be highlighted by a trace of guitar, it is also one of its finest.  Another quality number is “The Synchronized Life”, a technical piece standing out with its sweeping instrumental section and catchy hook in its chorus.

Where Starship Universe is at its best, however, is on its creative instrumental compositions.  “Blues Variation”, a remake of an old Emerson, Lake & Palmer song, showcases a romping low end along with plenty of screaming work on keyboards.  I might describe the ten minute “2001: Also Rocked Zarathustra” as a jazzed up version of the theme music to the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey- plenty of spacey sound effects help give this one its science fiction feel.  “Starship Universe”, on the other hand, is a low key composition accentuated its full distance by a church organ.

Starship Universe, without a doubt, proves an enjoyable listen with its over the top progressiveness and Visaggio’s skillful work on keyboards.  On the other hand, I would like to encourage the artist on any project he records in the future to make it more of a “band outing” – Visaggio performs nearly all the instrumentation here using his keyboards (all the drums were programmed with the exception of three songs) – by bringing in both a full time vocalist and guitarist.  I cannot help but think the end result would be the more balanced and well rounded effort from a musical standpoint.  Still, you would do yourself a favor by checking this out. 

Official: www.mikevisaggio.com/home.html

Grade: 75%

VOICE OF GLASS - Song Of Songs

Voice Of Glass - Song Of Songs

Founded in 2002 by American guitarist David Meek while initially under the name 10 Seconds Of Silence, Bulgaria based Voice Of Glass plays a unique style of metal joining elements of hard rock, gothic and alternative.  The band did not records its first single, a track based upon Psalm 23 entitled “Valley”, however, until 2005 (the same year it changed its name to Voice Of Glass).  A second single, “Song Of Songs”, followed in late 2006, a creative piece more than achieving the bands goal of “creating music that (is) original and modern with a heavy groove mixed with melodic and powerful vocals”. 

Based upon the book of the Bible of the same name, “Song Of Songs” opens quietly to a Middle Eastern flavored introduction before the rhythm guitar crashes into the mix.  As the song moves forward, the scene evens out as a pronounced bass line underscores the smooth female lead vocal abilities of Olya Meek, momentum not picking back up until the rhythm guitar returns to its place of prominence in full fury. 

My overall feeling?  If this is any indicator of what Voice Of Glass is capable, then any follow up material it records should be outstanding.  In a Christian metal scene characterized by a dearth of female fronted bands, I find the creative music of this talented four piece act to be a refreshing change of pace.  Samples: www.myspace.com/voiceofglasss

Grade: No Quote

V-RATS - EPic

V-Rats - EPic

The hard rocking UK based outfit The Vaseline Rats was founded in 2004 by lead vocalist and bassist Pete MZ Emms.  A three piece unit that frequently performs live, the V-Rats gained notoriety in recent years as the live “back bone” of a US tour celebrating 20 years of the New Wave of British Heavy Metal.  And all the hard rock paid off reflected in the tight sounding feel to the bands recently released 4 song EP entitled EPic.  Actually, what we have in the V-Rats is traditional hard rock giving rise to the occasional metal or even blues based tendency.  Think early nineties Bride, Love War, Die Happy or Gethsemane Rose (a little known hard rock act also from the UK that in the mid-nineties released an underrated CD entitled Poetranium).

“Et Al”, the opening track to the CD, is an up-tempo groover in which Emms showcases his strong mid-octave ranged vocal style.  Good chorus hook here along with a red hot stretch of lead work from guitarist Mike Dejager.  “So Over You” slows the pace down a bit but proves no less notable in combining a raw edged feel with a surplus of guitar driven momentum.  A lengthy stretch of lead work at the end helps carry this one out past five minutes.  A forwardly placed bass line proves instrumental in allowing “All The Ones” to stand out.  Quite the attitude laden track, “All The Ones” would not sound out of place on Bride’s classic 1992 release Snakes In The Playground.  “Licking My Wounds”, the shortest track here at just three minutes, can best be described as another up-tempo rocker with a driving guitar sound and a bountiful amount of bluesy soloing from Dejager.

While I would hesitate to call V-Rats a Christian band, Pete Emms is a believer (he helped form A.N.D. with guitarist Paul May).  Lyrically, the V-Rats focus on life and relationships – with the occasional emphasis on lost love – from a positive standpoint (think AdrianGale or Line Of Fire).

My overall feeling is that I hope this proves a precursor of things to come from the band.  Keeping that in mind, the V-Rats remain at work on new material for their follow up debut release (which will feature Paul May on guitar on a couple of tracks).

Further reading and samples: www.thevaselinerats.com

Grade: 80%

WHERE THE TRUTH LIES - Secular Silence

Where The Truth Lies - Secular Silence

Joining the growing ranks of bands that combine aspects of the old and new is Hollidaysburg, Pennsylvania based Where The Truth Lies.  Releasing its 7 song debut EP Secular Silence in the summer of 2012, the group places emphasis on a foundation of modern metal while staying true to the sensibilities of the past.  In other words, if you enjoy Sins Of A Nation, Beyond The Rage and End Of September (“modern metal” bands recently covered at Angelic Warlord) then I can see Where The Truth Lies being of interest.

What sets the group apart is its use of “screamed” and “extreme” vocals while also playing up the “clean” vocals of Jacob Raskin (who sounds somewhat similar to Billie Joe Armstrong of Green Day).

Opener “All Your Fears” features aggressive growling for its verses only to smooth out for the more even touches of its chorus (in which Raskin takes center stage).  “Not Forgotten” and “Make Your Stand” also highlight extreme vocal touches, with the former one of the albums heaviest and including a melodic guitar solo and latter a heavy set joining of driving riffs and melody.

Making use of tight guitar harmonies and strong melodies (but with growled vocals playing the less pronounced role) are “Make Your Stand” and “Thrown To The Wolves” while the low-key and moody “Darkness Overcomes Her” and spirited tension of “Temper” showcase clean vocals throughout.

Where The Truth Lies displays a deft touch songwriting wise, reflected in how they imbue their better material with solid melody structures and back it with the needed heaviness to keep things fresh with repeated listen.  That being said, a slight touch of polish is needed as well in that at times the screamed vocals can get in the way, particularly when they take on too much of a prominent role (at least as far as my tastes are concerned).

I would also like to hear a few more guitar solos.  When guitarist Sean Beckel cuts loose, as he aptly does on “Not Forgotten”, he displays a high level of aptiude from a soloing standpoint.  Consider Sins Of A Nation and Beyond The Rage how lead guitar work proves beneficial to music of this capacity.

I always encourage a band to stay true to both themselves and their true sound and make good music in the progress.  With this in mind, the potential displayed on Secular Silence points to a very bright future for Where The Truth Lies.

Facebook: www.facebook.com/wherethetruthlies

Grade: 70%

 

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