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April 2007

Red Circuit: Trance State

Progressive/Heavy Metal
Rating: 4.0/5.0

I've had this album for quite sometime. Finally, here is my review. Somewhere in the mix of melodic hard rock, power metal, and progressive metal, lies Red Circuit. I was attracted to this band because of their vocalist, Chity Somapala (ex-Firewind and Avalon); Mr. Somapla is a formidable and impressive talent. I loved his work on Firewind's 'Forged By Fire; I hold him in high regard.

Now add to this brew, producer, engineer, and keyboardist, Markus Teske (Vanden Plas, Neal Morse, Saga, Symphony X, et al). Mr. Teske also recruited Vanden Plas vocalist Andy Kuntz to help with production. But there is more: consider the skills of relatively unknown Oliver Noerdlinger on guitar and Christine Wolff on backing vocals. Red Circuit benefits from professionalism and the talents of both old and new musicians.

Yet, their is much more to enjoy on this album. There are very stunning arrangements on this work. Consider the symphonic intro, as well as the whole song, of 'Where You Are.' But this does not match the complexity of other songs where the progressive metal style is evident. This includes 'Under The Sun' and 'The Veil,' among others. 'So Hard To Be Like God' is the single song (in my view) that represents the style and versatility of Red Circuit.' It has intricacy of progressive metal combined with strength and melody of classic power metal.

There is much on this work to be excited about. Some may pass off 'Trance State' as another offering in the milieu of Euro-metal, and this may be true for another listener. However, I think there is real creativity and power here. I hope this is not another ' one off work' which will never be followed by another release. Red Circuit has a promising future: I hope to here more in the future.

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Benedictum: Uncreation

Heavy Metal
Rating: 4.5/5.0

Here we are again: an American heavy metal band worthy of all consideration. To repeat myself, it is difficult to find any American metal that isn't a product of industry label marketing and so force fed to us without regard to creativity and history. This is why Benedictum will not find a home or a great audience in the States. What a shame! Benedictum is a fine heavy metal band.

The first thing you notice is Veronica Freeman's rough and raw, but excellently controlled, vocals. Ms. Freeman is a true heavy metal vocalist, inspired and enthusiastic. Some may listen to 'Uncreation,' and find comparisons to a great range of metal, from Black Sabbath to the stoner metal of Monster Magnet. This may be because Benedictum covers two Sabbath songs, 'Heaven and Hell' and 'The Mob Rules.' I find it interesting that both these songs are from the Dio era of Sabbath. This is a worthy and excellent assessment, for Ms. Freeman definitely has the lungs for Dio-like work. In the end, when you listen to their own compositions, you discover originality of purpose: the heavy metal vocals (and screams) are present, as well as the thundering bass and drums and the searing guitar solos. Benedictum knows their craft and performs it well.

I wish I could point to a standout song, but every song delivers! They have done an excellent work! I love their Sabbath covers, too, possibly above all. But this is unfair because they know how craft excellent metal. I think I said that before. Listen up, dudes! I'm not kidding! This is the real deal! And from America, who would've thought?

I hope two things for Benedictum. First, I hoe the continue to compose and perform metal in their own style. Second, I hope they receive the recognition they deserve in the home country. This is a great American metal album far above other works. Get this album!

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Lordi: The Arockalypse

Melodic Hard Rock/Heavy Metal
Rating: 4.5/5.0

Who or what is Lordi? Part GWAR and part Kiss, part rock and roll and part heavy metal, part substance and part theater, but most definitely, Lordi is all fun! At first glance Lordi, hailing from Finland, should be passed over because of their sensational appearance and pompous performance. You want to ignore them like you ignore Marilyn Manson and Green Day. Nevertheless Lordi, in full monster costume, produce and perform some epic and catchy melodic hard rock which easily borders on heavy metal. This is really good stuff!

'The Arockalypse' is their fourth work and defines their style and momentum; Lordi has reached their groove. There is no filler in this work; all the songs are good. Passing over the introductory track, the songs move along at light speed. When you listen to 'Bringing Back the Balls of Rock,' you know you're in for some good fun and good rock and roll. This song is thematic for the whole album: balls to the wall heavy (and melodic) rock and roll. You are not disappointed. Other fine examples include 'Who's Your Daddy' (mildly pornographic, but so catchy), 'Hard Rock Hallelujah,' and 'Supermonsters.' Yet, as I said, all the songs are good. What I like best is that there is some definite and superb guitar solo work on this work that was not as clearly evident on 'The Monster Show.'

'The Arockalypse' is Lordi's best work to date. It is all rock and all fun. Run, don't walk, and buy this album!

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Evergrace: Self-Titled

Power Metal
Rating: 4.0/5.0

First, let's make a major adjustment: Evergrace is no longer Evergrace. They are now known as Incrave and their self-titled debut will be released as 'The Escape' with an additional track, 'The Masquerade,' on Ulterium Records on April 20th. Their website offers a mysterious explanation for all this confusion: 'Due to different reasons we have decided to change (our, sic) name to Incrave.' We can speculate concerning another 'ever' metal band in the immediate area, but this does not dismiss the fact that Evergrace/Incrave is a promising power metal band from Sweden.

I found and purchased this album well before this change, so I will still refer to Evergrace as Evergrace throughout this review.

This is good, if necessarily routine, power metal. Upon listening to the opening cut 'The Escape,' I heard hints of Supreme Majesty. This is an excellent comparison because I love Supreme Majesty. I had high hopes for the rest of this work. But here the comparison ends. Where SM creates clever and incredibly memorable metal, particularly on 'Danger,' I did not find this to be so with Evergrace.

Nevertheless, there is more to Evergrace than a simple comparison. With some exceptions, this band knows how to do heavy/power metal near equal to their Scandinavian peers. Following the first cut, 'Life Has Just Begun,' Enough Is Enough,' and Alive,' keep the metal rolling strong chords, melodies, and choruses. Evergrace stumbles a bit on 'Plastic Ideals,' a thumping rocker with that bores rather than satisfies. They redeem themselves on 'I Am You,' because of the soaring vocals, and harmonious chorus and majestic guitar solo.

As we near the end of the album, I was struck by the aforementioned 'routiness' of their work. 'Ulterior World' and 'World of Nothingness,' seem to merge together. Both are very heavy songs, but neither impress as do earlier songs. The final two cuts, 'I Am Sorry For You, Parts One and Two,' return you to some of the greatness on the first half of the album, and remind that Evergrace is a metal band of promise. It is only right to hope that they will excel more with their sophomore release.

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HolyHell: The Apocalypse

Symphonic Heavy Metal
Rating: 5.0/5.0

Even before HolyHell released this, their first EP, they have toured with Manowar and Rhapsody of Fire. They appeared at the German Earthshaker Fest 2005 and the Czech Masters of Rock Festivals. Add to this some more notable Manowar credentials: Rhino (ex-Manowar) is the drummer, Eric Adams assists with vocals on the live 'Phantom of the Opera, and Joey DeMaio produces their first work. I think we all get the message: there is something significant here and worthy of our attention.

Of greatest significance is the sterling vocals of classically trained singer, Maria Breon. Her voice is pure and compelling. On every song (there are only four on this EP), Ms. Breon's voice is stunning and proud. When paired with Mr. Adams of Manowar, there is a chemistry that is both beautiful and profound. I could listen to her all day. Yet this is only one element of the versatility of HolyHell. The enitre band is phenomenal: the rhythm section is tight and thundering, the keyboards sound as majestic as the best cathedral organ and the guitar work is brilliant. I kid you not!

One could easily say that it takes a lot of balls to add a live song to one's first effort, yet 'Phantom of the Opera' displays the talent and course of HolyHell's music. It is everything that defines HolyHell: melodic, symphonic, and powerful heavy metal. If 'Phantom' does not convince you, then listen to 'Last Vision.' This is a beautiful and exciting piece. If this is a sign of things to come, then I cannot wait for a full-length HolyHell recording. HolyHell is that good. Buy this album and pray for more!

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Thunderstone: Evolution 4.0

Heavy/Power Metal
Rating: 4.0/5.0

I have all of Thunderstone's previous releases. Honestly, I never found them to be extraordinary. Certainly, Thunderstone knows power metal, but their work never captured me to the point of saying, 'You got to listen to this band, they're freakin' incredible.' However, I do like them: they possess the talent and skills to produce consistent and powerful metal. 'Evolution 4.0' is, of course, their fourth and latest release. Thunderstone kicks it up a notch and shows their maturity on this work.

Following the obligatory preface 'Evolution 4.0,' things kick into high speed with 'Forevermore,' a powerful opener to a great metal album. Pasi Rantanem's gruff, yet melodic vocals, shine with clarity and control. On 'Roots of Anger,' his vocals are stretched into new (and good) avenues. This song is also a good example of what I've always enjoyed about Thunderstone: heavy and melodic songs with quick and exciting guitar work. Nino Laurenne can rip it up with the best guitarists of power metal. Another example is his fine fret work is found on 'Holding On to My Pain.' However, even with this praise, I found myself disappointed because there was not enough his excellent musicianship throughout the album.

There are more highlights on this album as found on such songs as 'Swirled,' a brief, yet complex metal song with both progressive and modern tendencies. In addition, 'Down With Me' is a highly listenable song (and probably the finest song on the album) with subtle vocals surrounded by a heavy rhythm section. It also excels with a fine duet between guitar and keyboard. But in the end, like Mr. Laurenne's guitar solos, the highlights on the entire release are few and brief.

Thunderstone has definitely excelled beyond previous works: their composition, skills and technical production far exceed former material. But despite the variety and superb skills, something is lacking. And I can't put my finger on what it is. Nevertheless, I enjoyed 'Evolution 4.0,' and I think all enthusiasts of power metal will too.

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Sirenia: Nine Destinies And A Downfall

Gothic/Symphonic Metal
Rating: 4.0/5.0

Sirenia, a Norwegian symphonic metal band, knows their genre and craft well. Their compositions are at once melodic, symphonic, and atmospheric. New singer Monika Pedersen's vocals are clear and compelling; she has absolute control. Add to this, the anthem-like background chorals from the rest of the band, and you have all the makings of a traditional gothic/symphonic metal band. The band itself is heavy when necessary, subtle and simple also as on 'Sundown' and 'My Mind's Eye.'

So what's missing? Certainly the production is profound and clear. What else can you expect from Scandinavian producers and engineers. 'Nine Destinies' has the obligatory (but not overwhelming) dirty vocals found on many bands in this genre: note 'Sundown' again and also 'Seven Keys and Nine Doors,' also. Yet, I think I have heard this before from Nightwish, After Forever, and many others. What I did miss is some crafty and creative fret work from Morton Leland (ex-Tristania). Honestly, I felt that he was either slumping or resting on his laurels. There is nothing extraordinary about his guitar solos. A possible exception is his work on 'Seven Keys and Nine Doors,' but it is too brief to be noteworthy.

Having said all this, you know I'm a big fan of this genre of heavy metal. 'Nine Destinies' is an incredibly listenable work with unique and subtle tendencies in each song; consider, by example, 'Absent Without Leave.' The singular efforts of Ms. Peterson's voice and the rich arrangements make this a worthy album. However, Sirenia does not distinguish themselves from a very broad field. This is not an excuse for fans of Sirenia, or this style, to abandon the band. Instead, you should find great pleasure in their new release.

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Paganize: Evolution Hour

Power Metal
Rating: 3.0/5.0

I like to say something positive in every review I write about a band, even if I don't find their current release particularly pleasing to my listening ear. Frankly, I'm having a real dilemma with Paganize's freshman release 'Evolution Hour.' As much as I'm a fan of power metal, I found Paganize to be indistinguishable from current offerings in this field. My first clue was their strange name: Paganize, where did that come from?

However, even though this is generic power metal, to be positive, I must say that Paganize delivers the goods. All the elements of power metal are here (and you know what they are). They perform power metal with precision and accuracy. However, I feel there is little creativity here. In other words, Paganize does not break any new ground. Actually, I felt them to be confused between power and progressive metal. Unless they aspire and develop, they are destined for the backwaters of the power metal swamp.

Yet, integrity and fortitude go along way: I hear strength and determination in their music. Hopefully, there are good things to come on their sophomore release.

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Saidain: Phoenix

Melodic Power/Heavy Metal
Rating: 4.0/5.0

I'll give you just one song and one listen to that song to tell me who Saidian sounds like. Need a clue? Listen to the vocalist. If Tobias Sammett has a doppelganger, then it is vocalist Markus Engelfried. Were they separated at birth? If Edguy has a probable clone, then it is Germany's Saidian. Yet this begs the question: which came first, the Saidian or the Edguy? (Sorry, I couldn't help the pun.)

This is inconsequential. I'm sure the members, especially founding member, keyboardist, and song writer Markus Boher, get tired of the comparison. Comparisons will come and this was my first impression. But moving on ...

'Phoenix' demonstrates that Saidian has several important qualities: strong musical talent, excellent songwriting and arrangements, and, above all, power and passion. In the over-crowded field of euro-power metal, these are important characteristics. I think they begin with Mr. Boher's fine songwriting and keyboard arrangements. Always present, but never overbearing, they join with passionate vocals, singular and clear guitar work, and a cohesive rhythm section of bass and drums, to produce fine power metal. Particularly representative, and enjoyable, tracks, include 'Praise the Lord,' Crown of Creation,' and the extremely versatile and varied songs, 'Never Surrender' and 'The Jester.' This is truly a powerful and enjoyable work by Saidian.

Although a purely subjective opinion by any listener or reviewer, the third characteristic of passion is, to me at least, self-evident on each song. I believe Saidian believes in every one of the songs, and so, they play with a strength of heart. You can feel this passion in a song such as 'Power and Glory.' Passion and power always trumps the mediocrity, passing for ingenuity, in today's power metal field. If Saidian can maintain their course, they can be the new standard bearers in this genre.

Forget the comparisons to Edguy. If you love power metal, this album is an excellent buy. Saidian is a metal band of promise who can easily escape any shadow they find themselves behind.

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Bible Of The Devil: The Diabolic Procession

Heavy Metal
Rating: 4.0/5.0

Just when I think there is no hope for American metal, I discover something new and significant. Bible of the Devil is such a band. This is throwback 'true metal' (in my opinion) with a modern feel. At times I hear thrash, at another time I hear The Ramones on too many lines of speed. In the end, I can't qualify or quantify BOFD of 'The Diabolic Procession.' The only equivalent comparison is to another American metal band with a retro/modern sound, Pittsburgh's Icarus Witch.

Admittedly, the production on this work has all the quality of an early Metallica demo tape. However, this is exceptional and quintessential metal done very well by obvious students of history. Bible of the Devil rocks, rolls, wails, and shreds with melody and harmony with the best of the past and, hopefully, the future. Great songs include: 'Sepulchre,' Millennialism,' and 'The Elusive Miracle, all of which define sinister and aggressive metal!

Hail, the future of American metal: consider and listen carefully to Bible of the Devil. There is a future for American metal! Unfortunately, few will recognize or accept it.

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Pride Of Lions: The Roaring Of Dreams

Melodic Hard Rock/AOR
Rating: 4.5/5.0

A good deal of pomp and circumstance surrounds Pride of Lions. Reviewers have praised the work of Jim Peterik (ex-Survivor) and the versatile vocalist, Toby Hitchcock, from their brilliant first work. It is well suited praise. Peterik excels at creating fine melodic hard rock. It is layered and sophisticated. Pride of Lion's latest work, 'The Roaring of Dreams, only adds to their creativity and credibility.

Two words essentially describe 'Roaring:' strong' and 'consistent.' Where POL rocks they rock! This apparent in songs like 'Heaven On Earth' and 'Let Me Let You Go.' POL is strong and thorough on these songs and the album as a whole. This where the consistency comes in: POL does not hold back in any performance. Mr. Hitchcock's vocals are always powerful and emotional whether it's a rocker or a ballad like 'Faithful Heart.' He has amazing range and ability well-suited to the breadth of style found on 'The Roaring of Dreams.'

Another positive element is the quality of production. Every element of composition whether vocals, lead guitar or the rhythm section is equally represented and profound. This, in itself, is a remarkable achievement. To many times, bands muddle production erring on the side of vocals or guitar or, horribly, scuttling all elements into a miry mud. Not so on 'The Roaring of Dreams:' clarity and equality reign well.

Enough with the incisive evaluation that is required in a review. This is a very good work. There are some exceptional songs on this album. I've mentioned several above. Add to this, my favorite song, 'Turnaround.' Wow, this is a powerful song and wills you to have pride in Pride of Lions. The vocals are powerful and atmospheric (thanks to the female accompaniment by Toby's sister) and Mr. Peterik's guitar work is astonishing. This song is worth the price of the album.

Yet, this is the nature of Pride of Lions: producing exceptional and stunning sonic achievements. Buy this album and enjoy!

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Cornerstone: Two Tales Of One Tomorrow

Melodic Hard Rock
Rating: 4.0/5.0

Cornerstone is another one of those marginal, if not unknown bands, to come along with great creative talent. This talent is not developed from some stint with an otherwise well-known or exceptional band, but honed from personal and professional experience. To learn more about the principals of the band, vocalist Dougie White, and guitarist, Steen Mogensen, check their website. They have impressive, if not some what obscure, credentials.

But on to 'Two Tales of One Tomorrow:' this is essentially a melodic hard rock work which has some elements that border on heavy metal. Mr. White's vocals remind me of Danny Bows of Thunder (England), and that is a very good thing. Dougie has control and range that others can only can aspire to. The guitar work of Mr. Mogensen, though accomplished and skilled, is, nevertheless, ordinary with moments of great brilliance, note 'The Dance' as one example. To be completely honest, no song on this work grabbed me by the throat and said, 'pay attention and listen.'

If there are exceptional songs on this album (and there are), then they are the title track and also 'Misery,' 'Pray,' and 'Starlight and Mystery.' But in the end, I've heard this before. I liked 'Two Tales of One Tomorrow,' yet my expectations were greater. Maybe I need to listen to this release more. Maybe you need to listen and make your own evaluation. Despite my ambivalent review, do not give up on Cornerstone. I'm looking forward to future works.

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Steel Seal: By The Power Of Thunder

Melodic Power Metal
Rating: 4.5/5.0

You may never have heard of the Italian power metal band, Steel Seal (I didn't), but I'm sure you know vocalist D.C. Cooper. After some extensive research, I have found little information on the Internet about this band except that which is provided by their label, Underground Symphony (mysteriously insufficient). 'By The Power of Thunder' is traditional and acceptable Italian power. By acceptable, I mean Steel Seal knows their craft and performs it quite well. Having Mr. Cooper on vocals is a definite plus. He always excels whatever the context may be. I might even say his vocals are equal to those on the latest Silent Force release, 'Walk The Earth.' Even though I found his vocals to be muddled in the production on both these works, Mr. Cooper always rises to the occasion: man, can he scream!

Whoever these guys are, there is enough exceptional music on this album to say that they are good musicians. Consider the grand piano intro on 'Theatre of Pain,' as an example: remarkable! Throughout the album there is the power and subtlety that marks true power metal; the song 'Sun and Steel' is a perfect example. Listen more carefully, I think there is more profound work on this album. 'Vahalla,' though typical power metal, is as strong work that leaves you breathless in the end. The guitar solo is raw and ferocious as the following keyboard solo is subdued and melodic. And there is a true metal sound ala Dio on 'Townrazer;' which adds another dimension of versatility to Steel Seal's sound. The guitar rages and vocals cascade into infinity.

By the time you get to the acoustic intro on 'Crying My Heart Away,' you begin to wonder if Steel Seal hasn't explored every possible avenue of power (and, may I add, progressive) metal. Have they expended themselves on their first accomplishment? Or can they build upon a fine work in future releases? I wonder and hope so. What if Mr. Cooper is unavailable or unwilling to cooperate on another album? This is not to say that he is indispensable, but he does add a fine and professional aspect to this release.

Whatever my come on Steel Seal's sophomore album, new vocalist or not, they have built a firm foundation: a foundation that is ripe with great expectations. This is a very good freshman release; let's hope for more!

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Masterplan: MKII

Melodic Power/Heavy Metal
Rating: 4.5/5.0

What do you do when you're one of Germany's leading metal bands and your brilliant and talented vocalist leaves for new horizons? I'm speaking of the incredible Jorn Lande, of course. A talent of his nature is not easily replaced. Yet, Masterplan has not skipped a beat. They've enlisted the equally talented Mike DiMeo (formally Riot and The Lizards) to handle the metal microphone.

Mr. DiMeo provides both quality and quantity to the new version of Masterplan. He is gifted and versatile metal vocalist. He was an excellent choice to fill some very big shoes. Actually, Mr. DiMeo seems more inspired here than on his previous work with Riot, 'Army Of One.' This probably due to a new metal environment and some very exceptional musicians. He joins veterans Roland Grapow (guitar, ex-Helloween) and Mike Terrana (drums, and Rage, Germany) to create another great Masterplan record.

'MKII' thunders along from beginning to end. it starts with an impressive and captivating song, 'Lost And Gone,' and continues with strong power metal works such as 'Keeps Me Burning' and the beautiful (if I can use that word to describe a metal song) 'I'm Gonna Win.' 'Call The Gypsy' also excels as a traditional metal song. It may be my favorite cut on the album. Check out the next song, 'Trust In You:' it puts the power in 'power ballad' without the sweet sugary texture of an 80's pop metal ballad. But there is more: keep listening! Your ears will be happy!

Without excuse, Masterplan creates and performs traditional German/European power metal without equal. It has all the necessary elements: consistent song writing and arrangement, strong vocals, thrilling guitar work, a thundering rhythm section, and, of course, strong melody and harmony coursing through each song. 'MKII' begins a new chapter in Masterplan's life and this new version has great promise. Buy it!

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Pain Of Salvation: Scarsick

Progressive Metal
Rating: 4.0/5.0

When first discovered Pain of Salvation, I thought, 'Wow! This is something new, interesting, and refreshing!' I can't say I'm a huge fan, but POS, in the past, has shown itself to be both creative and unique in the field of modern progressive metal. I don't know if I can say the same for 'Scarsick.' I stumbled over the rap-like vocals and the excessive use of the f-word that permeates several early songs on this album. It so reminded me of American rap-metal or nu-metal that I found myself cringing and turning away. Thankfully, there are no 'dirty' vocals on this work which would have made me toss this record into my circular file.

Yet, there are some truly great moments on this work. 'Cribcaged' is a wonderful song that demonstrates the musical brilliance and honest conscience of POS (despite the relentless f-word). If anything, POS has a significant political and social agenda at the expense of America, of course. I'm not criticizing them because I have many objections to American culture and politics as well. But I live on the inside, where POS has the luxury of looking from the outside without actually living in the very context they are more than happy to attack. Moving on ...

There is much to enjoy musically on 'Scarsick.' There is a very funny (and pleasing moment) on such a song as 'Disco Queen.' You may find it strange or even goofy. Yet, in the end, I appreciate their progressive experimentation. You must listen to this album carefully or you'll miss the subtly of it's unique sound. And simply, this is why I listen to them. Where other reviewers have panned this album, I say listen to it! This is true Pain of Salvation.

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Dark Empire: Distant Tides

Power/Progressive Metal
Rating: 4.5/5.0

What's this: power and progressive metal from America? And can it be both creative and good? Dark Empire is the project of New York based guitarist Matt Moliti and, as he states on his website, his goal was 'to create what in his eyes would be the epitome of the perfect metal band: thrashy riffs, blazing solos and aggressive yet melodic vocals, full of energy and emotion.' Answer: yes, he has succeeded!

What's the matter here? Answer: plenty, read on! Was not Mr. Moliti listening to latest metal from America? Obviously not, one of his main influences is Symphony X, a band far from current American metal.

How dare he buck the trends established by the all-knowing and all-seeing marketing departments of the American record labels? Answer: easily: do what you believe in and show the label bastards your middle finger. After all, they deserve it for force feeding a consistent pile of mainstream crap down this MTV generation's throat.

I can hear you: 'There you go again, Craig. You're on another rant. But is this album any good?' Answer: It's damn good! As I said above, I believe Mr. Moliti accomplished the goals he set out to attain. There are powerful and progressive arrangements on this work, consider 'The Alchemist' and the title cut, 'Distant Tides.' This is complimented by strong fret work and even stronger vocals by Jens Carlsson (Persuader, Sweden). There is only one flaw on this work: Distant Tides succumbs to the (commercial) need for 'dirty vocals' on several songs. You know my feelings about this: forget it! Otherwise this is an exceptional recording that belongs in the same category with another promising American metal band, Outland. Get it!

P.S. Dark Empire promises a new release in the months to come entitled, 'Humanity Dethroned.' I'm looking forward to it.

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Sinner: Mask Of Sanity

Melodic Hard Rock/Heavy Metal
Rating: 4.5/5.0

I'm going to brief (Ha! Fat chance!) in this review of Matt Sinner's latest release, 'Mask of Sanity.' This is a far superior release than his previous album, 'There Will Be Execution,' which was incredibly mundane. I must admit that my first listen of 'Mask of Sanity' left me unimpressed. But after several more spins, I have found this to be an great recording.

If you were expecting something similar to Primal Fear's 'Seven Seals,' you will not find it here. This is more melodic hard rock than powerful, in-your-face metal, which is the single defining characteristic Mr. Sinner's alternative works. Yet, this does matter in the case of 'Mask.' There are some great melodic hard rock/metal songs on this release especially the first cut 'The Other Side,' 'Badlands,' Black' and 'Thunder Roar' and 'The Sign' which both include some provocative piano work. Most songs clock in at less than four minutes making them seem more like pop rock/metal songs ala 80's metal.

Honestly, I did get a little bored towards the close of the album. 'Can't Stand the Heat' is a mediocre rock song although the guitar solo is very cool. But my hopes rose with 'No Return,' a quasi-ballad with a catchy chorus and a subtle, yet great guitar solo. The album closes with a cover of Thin Lizzy's 'Baby, Please Don't Go.' As I listened to this song, I did hear Phil Lynott's voice in Mr. Sinner's vocals. I can't fault Sinner's enthusiasm, but something is missing here. Nevertheless, enjoy this song and appreciate Mr. Sinner's respectful salute to this roots.

Matt Sinner has the quintessential rock/metal voice: gruff, strong, and yet melodic. There is also some very strong fret work in the guitar solos thanks to Christof Leimn and Tom Naumann. There is enough predictably mixed with subtle surprises to make 'Mask' a great album and worthy of your appreciation.

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Tribuzy: Execution

Power/Heavy Metal
Rating: 4.0/5.0

How I stumbled across Tribuzy I do not remember. But I am late to this work which was released in 2005. It does not matter: this is a great album of heavy heavy metal. Brazilian native Renato Tribuzy has released an impressive metal thanks to his sterling vocals and the help of some true heavy metal heavyweights. First, consider Mr. Tribuzy who has been manning the mic since he was twelve years old and singing Iron Maiden covers to when he formed his own band, Thoten (an accomplished act recognized by his peers in his native land as well as Europe.

Secondly, if you had the opportunity to enlist some of metal's greatest stars who would you choose? Mr.. Tribuzy choose some premier talent: Bruce Dickinson (on 'Beast in the Light'), Michael Kiske (Helloween and Masteplan), Matt Sinner (Sinner and Primal Fear), Rolf Scheepers (Primal Fear), Roland Graspow (Helloween and Masteplan) and many others. These artists add, not only talent, but also credibility to an eventual superstar in the metal genre.

The result is an exceptional work of heavy power metal. Take note of 'Forgotten Time,' 'Nature of Evil,' and 'Beast of the Light.' These are some of the best songs on this album.

I've heard that Tribuzy may release a live album in the future. He may be ahead of himself in this arena.

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Domine: Ancient Spirit Rising

Power/Heavy Metal
Rating: 4.0/5.0

Italian stalwart, Domine, returns with another excursion into the realms of metal with an album characteristic of a true heavy metal style with overtures into an epic and symphonic sound. To be honestly, I had to give this work several listens to appreciate it. Most would probably agree that is pretty standard stuff from Domine (and so many of their Italian compatriots), and it is. But after listening to the cuts 'Lady of the Shalott,' an exceptional song, and 'I Stand Alone After The Fall,' that I became convinced that something more was happening here.

Domine have become purveyors of really good heavy metal. The songs are fast, heavy, and sweeping in grandeur. Of particular interest is the versatility and control of vocalist Morby; he excels at his craft and this is particularly notable on the title cut, 'Ancient Spirit Rising,' possibly the best song on the album. And this another track that displays Domine's commitment and excellence to their chosen metal genre.

Conclusion: There is much to enjoy on Domine's 'Ancient Spirit Rising,' but don't expect something incredibly. Rather, expect the quality and consistency of a band committed to performing true metal. Domine does it quite well.

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Dionysus: Fairytales And Reality

Power/Heavy Metal
Rating: 4.0/5.0

My apologies for not getting to this new release by Dionysus sooner; it just slipped under my radar. Released in late 2006, this is Dionysus' finest work to date. The production, arrangements, and particularly, the vocals far exceed previous works. This is definitive euro-power metal and can easily be held up as a standard by which other bands of this genre could be judged. Nevertheless, read on: there is a caveat!

Having given 'Fairytales' such high praise, I must bring a dose of reality to this review. There is nothing new here. This will not be a 'classic' album that defines the genre; and I doubt that this will be an album that I will reach for to give multiple spins.

I give such a high rating because Dionysus is doing what they do very well and that is my singular definition of 5.0 rating. They have hit there groove. In other words, they've nailed it: they do power metal extraordinarily well in their own style. This is noticeable in such songs as the opening cut, 'Illusion of Life' and later on 'Queen of Madness,' and 'The Game.'

But all this begs the question. As much as I love euro-metal, sometimes all the bands become indistinguishable from one another. As good as Dionysus is, I'm afraid they will fall into the murky marsh of all the many power metal bands from across the pond. This is undeserved for them (and others) because they are only trying to be true and creative to a great metal art form. The bottom line is that they (and others, to force my point again) are light years ahead of commercial American metal which is driven less by creativity and more by label management and consumer whims. Consistency and integrity to an historic style, delivered with one's own style, is a good thing. Dionysus proves this by delivering the goods: excellent power metal by their own terms.

I'm sorry (or maybe not) if this review sounds more like an editorial rant than a critique. Power metal fans cannot go wrong by considering 'Fairytales and Reality.' Though never breaking new ground, this is a very good release from Dionysus.

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