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February 2007

Outworld: Self-Titled

Heavy/Progressive Metal
Rating: 4.5/5.0

Who the hell is Rusty Cooley and why does he and his band Outworld get praise from the likes of John Petrucci (Dream Theater) and Jeff Loomis (Nevermore)? Because Cooley and Texas-based Outworld prove that metal is alive and well in America! Forget the shit (sorry for my vulgarity) that the American labels force feed you every day (read Lamb of God or Mastodon as examples): this is next generation metal: melodic, progressive, experimental, and memorable: in a word, this is brilliant heavy metal!

Mr. Cooley is an exceptional guitarist. His arrangements and fret work transport you into new new realms of creativity and class in heavy metal: he is a wizard! And Cooley assembled a dazzling cast of characters to assist him. Case in point: Carlos Zema (ex: Vougan and Heaven's Guardian) on vocals. This man can sing and scream with the best. When I listen and if I wonder how he does it; it makes my vocal chords and lungs hurt. Mr. Zema is that good. The cut 'War Cry' is a perfect example of what I'm talking about. Adding texture and melody to the work is keyboardist Bobby Williamson. He also can 'solo' and does so on many songs. However, in the end, this is a showcase work for Mr. Cooley: he can shred with the best. His fret work is sophisticated and, at times, unpredictable.

If I sound overly enthusiastic about Outworld, I will not apologize! Finally, here is an American metal band that does not acquiesce to mainstream American labels and produce the latest passing fad. Outworld stands alone in a sea of contemporary American metal mediocrity.

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Messiahs's Kiss: Dragonheart

Heavy Metal
Rating: 4.5/5.0

I love these guys! Messiah's Kiss is true heavy metal! I like everything about this album. This album grabs you by the throat from the very first scream to the last guitar solo.

Mike Tirelli's vocals remind me of Ronnie James Dio on a lower register. He knows how to sing metal! The rest of the crew is just as proficient. Georg Kraft and Alex Hits draw their influences from Tipton and Downing of JP and it shows. They know how to rip it up! There is blistering and blazing guitar work on this work. The rhythm section of Eddy Ostra (drums) and Wayne Banks (bass) is quick and strong. They set an incredible pace that could easily leave the immature behind.

Every song is a true gem. And every song easily moves into the next with great continuity and consistency. It is obvious to me that Messiah's Kiss worked hard on each tune to create a singular metal experience. Honestly, I cannot pick one song above another: each song is a true heavy metal experience. But I will pick one: Open Fire. This song is so much fun! Great vocals! Great melody and harmony! Great and catchy chorus! Great guitar hooks! This is why I listen to melodic heavy metal. This song rocks!

If you love classic heavy metal, buy this album! You will not be sorry.

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Blind Guardian: Twist In The Myth

Power/Progressive Metal
Rating: 4.5/5.0

I'm about four months late to the latest release by Blind Guardian. I shouldn't have waited this long to get and review this album. 'A Twist In The Myth' is another terrific work. It has all the elements you would expect from Blind Guardian: grand storytelling, strong vocals and choruses, pleasurable melody and harmony, and stinging guitar solos.

Though not as intricate as 'A Night At The Opera' or epic as 'Nightfall In Middle Earth,' 'Twist' still delivers memorable power metal. After listening several times, I found that 'Twist' seems to have a more straight forward heavy metal approach with some interesting progressive metal elements. This is evident on 'Turn The Page, where the drumming is more sophisticated and clever. In addition, 'Fly,' (released on EP and as a single in Europe) has progressive elements in the rhythm and vocal arrangements.

All in all, this is another fantastic and creative work by Blind Guardian. I sense a new move in the evolution of their sound. It is a definitely a must for fans and worth the purchase for newcomers.

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Divinefire: Into A New Dimension

Power Metal
Rating: 4.0/5.0

Established in 2004 by Finnish composer and multi-instrumentalist Jani Stefanovic and vocalist Christian Rivel (also Narnia), Divinefire delivers power metal with a distinctly Christian message. Though the Christian themes are clearly evident, there is no need to turn away from this work. This is powerful and sophisticated power metal with neo-classical undertones. The music moves along with both speed and strength. And it is much heavier than their previous releases.

Mr. Rivel's vocals are raw and, at times, border on the 'dirty vocals' found in death metal. Yet his range is strong and versatile. At times he reminds me of Ralf Scheepers of Primal Fear (ex-Gamma Ray) or even Rob Halford. Mr.Stefanovic proves he is comfortable in many roles whether burning off a guitar solo, pounding the skins or manning the recording board. His fret work is proficient and thrilling; his drumming is furious and steady; and the production is sleek and clear.

Some may be troubled by the harsh vocals. I can understand: I do not understand the usefulness or musical viability of dirty vocals. But considering the sheer power and heaviness of this recording, they work. Others may be put off by so-called Christian or White Metal where the songs are about God's glory, salvation in Christ or the Christian life. However, I've always thought heavy metal was the perfect medium for this powerful and provocative message.

With these caveats, this is probably a 'try before you buy' venture for most people. But for fans of this genre, Christian or not, this is an album worth adding to your collection.

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