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June 2007

Symphony X: Paradise Lost

Progressive Metal
Rating: 5.0/5.0

When I heard that Symphony X was recording again, I began salivating like one of Pavlov's dogs. I love these guys; I'm a big fan! And you know what? They're Americans doing impressive and creative progressive metal. SymX hails from New jersey which is not exactly a hotbed for metal; it's best known for Bruce Springsteen and Jon Bon Jovi. Culturally, it's both a cesspool of malignant corruption (Atlantic City and state politics) and a picture of coastline beauty (Cape May). So, can anything good come from New Jersey in the way of metal? Symphony X is the clear answer. And 'Paradise Lost' is an incredible masterpiece from these American maestros of metal.

Symphony X has been absent from the studio since 2002's magnificent offering 'The Odyssey.' Since that time several members have been busy on other projects. Keyboardist Michael Pinnella released; 'Enter By the Twelfth Gate' in 2004. But the hardest working man is vocalist Russell Allen who released 'Atomic Soul' in 2005 and paired with Jorn Lande for 'The Battle' (2005) and this year's 'The Revenge.' The latter are both great works (look for a review of 'The Revenge' on these pages).

But what about 'Paradise Lost?' Expect progressive metal with heavier riffs, rougher vocals, stronger bass and drums than previous SymX releases. Some would say that this is more metal than prog. But this is no matter for us. 'Paradise Lost' thunders along from the beginning. We are introduced to this concept album by a masterful symphonic and choral instrumental. This only sets the stage to be attacked by a lightning dose of heavy prog metal in the next three songs. It's only when do you get to the title track that things calm down a bit. But then you're blistering ahead again with great combinations of Mr. Allen's raw, yet versatile, vocals, Mr. Romero's technical shredding, and Mr. Pinella's intricate and pleasing keys.

And this demonstrates some significant characteristics in this work. First, there is great balance; nobody is overshadowed by another on this creation. I loved Pinella's keyboard work throughout even though I would naturally lean to the performances of Allen and Romero. Second, the production is freakin' incredible: every artist in every song is distinguishable and clean. Finally, Russell Allen out does himself on 'Lost.' Maybe it's the time off with his band or the opportunity to do other things, but whatever the case, he demonstrates that he is a true artisan: he works hard at his craft and wants to do well and expand his abilities.

I know I've been longwinded in this review. And actually I could say a lot more. Do I have favorite songs? It's hard to chose. 'Set The World On Fire' and 'Revelation' are tracks of mammoth expression. Yet my single favorite song is 'Paradise Lost;' it just sounds so beautiful: the lyric, arrangement, and vocals create a piece of incredible significance for any genre of metal. The whole album is incredible and deserves repeated attention.

Conclusion: get this album immediately!

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The Dogma: A Good Day To Die

Symphonic/Gothic/Power Metal
Rating: 5.0/5.0

For any band, the sophomore release can be challenge of extraordinary consequence. It can be a musical implosion which sends their career reeling into obscurity. Or it can be a great opportunity to demonstrate that they have the strength of talent and creativity to press on to greater heights. Thankfully, for The Dogma, 'A Good Day To Die' is the latter case. This is an exceptional work from start to finish. Once again they have enlisted producer Siggi Bemm (Tiamat, The Gathering, et al) who clearly understands Dogma's style and vision. The result is a release of professionalism and clarity.

I was hooked from the start with the title track 'A Good Day To Die.' Daniele Santori's vocals are smooth, and brilliantly complemented by the backing vocals from guest vocalist Lisa Middelhauve (Xandria); the melody and chorus are dangerously contagious. Though this song has both a gothic and symphonic feel, do not be quick in your expectations. Following this comes 'In The Name of Rock' and 'Bitches Street:' these are straight ahead heavy metal rockers that keep your foot tapping and your head banging. After listening to these two songs you may think you've heard these vocals before. Daniele Santori sounds much like Tobia Samment of Edguy. Mr. Santori can scream and be as rough as Tobi on any song, but he is more controlled and subtle on such numbers as the title track, 'Autumn Tears,' and the closing song 'Christine Closed Her Eyes.'

I was perplexed and somewhat troubled in assigning The Dogma to any particular metal genre. There are many elements here: gothic, symphonic and heavy/power metal. However, they all work together beautifully. As a band, The Dogma has recognized their individual interests and have created together a singular outstanding creation. Is this representative democracy in action? Irregardless, The Dogma have created a band and a musical presence that puts them several echelons above their Italian compatriots. I honestly think they could be as big as Rhapsody (of Fire) in the future.

This is a fantastic album, worth every penny. Check it out today!

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Visions Of Atlantis: Trinity

Symphonic Power Metal
Rating: 4.0/5.0

With 'Trinity' Austria's Vision of Atlantis brings their third album of symphonic power metal. If you liked their previous work you will not be disappointed one bit. There is enough bombastic power in the vocals, guitar solos, keyboards and atmospheric arrangements to give any fan great pleasure. Though this work breaks new ground for VOA or this genre, this album is a monument to sterling and efficient production having been mastered at the reputable Finnvoxx Studios (Nightwish, Children of Bodom, Sentenced).

I found the tag team vocals of Melissa Ferlaak and Mario Plank to be pleasingly divergent from the many other bands of this type. Neither one can be called the 'lead' vocalist. At times there are simple duets, at other moments one is backing up the other. It sounds great, too. Thankfully, where some bands require the male vocal to be dirty in this genre, VOA allows Mr. Plank to sing clean with the occasional gruffness necessary to carry the emotion of the lyric and the tune. Additionally, though some would see an obvious Nightwish analogy, Ms. Ferlaak's vocals are a bit sweeter and smoother than Tarja and therefore much more accessible. Overall, the vocals are a singular highpoint.

To my ears, another compelling feature of this work is that it is more 'power' than 'symphonic' metal. What I mean is this: generally, in the more symphonic and gothic metal scope, guitar solos are often downplayed or nonexistent. With VOA, there is fabulous fret work: tight, prolific and soaring. And you know how much I love guitar solos.

Several songs require mention. The opening cut 'At The Back Of Beyond' thoroughly establishes VOA's symphonic power metal chops. The ballad 'The Poem' has Plank at the forefront in a power song with memorable chorus. And 'Passing Dead End' and 'Seven Seas' are excellent numbers displaying vocal versatility and grandeur well-constructed power metal.

By far, this is Vision of Atlantis' best work to date. Fans should snap it up immediately. Newcomers (but not skeptics) to this genre, will find 'Trinity' to be a far better example of this style than most other bands in this swamped field.

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Ozzy Osbourned: Black Rain

Heavy Metal
Rating: 4.0/5.0

Will Ozzy Osbourne ever go away? Not hardly! Will Ozzy ever be able to construct and speak a complete sentence in an interview? Shit, are you kidding me? Sorry, that one was a sarcastic rhetorical question (and answer). Our beloved guru and senior citizen of metal who, with Black Sabbath, put the 'heavy' into heavy metal sings, 'I won't give up, after all I'm still crazy; I'm not going away, I'm not going' on the Sabbath-like opening cut, 'Not Going Away.' Good News or bad?

On the single that you've probably heard to much of already, I Don't Wanna Stop,' Mr. Osbourne adds, 'All my life Iíve been over the top, I donít know what Iím doing, All I know is I donít wanna stop.' Despite the overplay, this is by far the best song on the album. If Ozzy could keep this up, I'd withhold his pension for a little longer.

Frankly there's enough on this album to keep you interested in Ozzy for some time to come. Thanks to the modern rock zest and guitar of Zakk Wylde, the Ozman keeps current on 'Silver' and 'Civilize The Universe.' Fans of his Black Sabbath style will not be disappointed when listening to 'Not Going Away' and 'The Almighty Dollar.' However, there are some horrendous songs on this new release. Specifically, the sugary and slow ballad 'Lay Your World On Me' is horrible; the tape should have been soaked with lighter fluid and burned immediately after recording. The second ballad, 'Here For You' is far superior and deserves serious rotation and a music video

'The Almighty Dollar' is a stinker also for a number reasons. First, it's feel is way too modern for classic Ozzy no matter how much he wants to remain trendy. Secondly, it's blatantly hypocritical: Ozzy is already swimming in dollars and lives an extravagant lifestyle besides; he's no longer a 'commoner.' The psalmist asks, 'Why do the wicked prosper?' It's because he's married to a shrewd businesswoman named Sharon Osbourne. She spits and it turns to gold. (And I don't care what anybody says about this year's free Ozzfest.) 'The Almighty Dollar' is an almighty loser.

Mr. Osbourne also ventures into the political incorrectness of antiwar sentimentality on 'Black Rain' (akin to 'War Pigs'), 'Civilize The Universe,' and 'Countdown's Begun,' which is another stand out song on the album.

After several spins, I can say, with the aforementioned disclaimers, that I liked this new work by Ozzy. Despite the obvious modern rock overtones, this is new 'classic' Ozzy.

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Gotthard: Domino Effect

Melodic Hard Rock
Rating: 4.5/5.0

Few bands offer consistent work from album to album. Gotthard is not one of them. 'Domino Effect,' with 14 tracks and clocking in at almost an hour, is a sterling achievement by this Swiss band. Every song is worth your attention because of the variety of style within the firm root of melodic hard rock. The album kicks off with the rocker 'Master of Illusion' and does not quit or cease to satisfy fans of the band or the genre. Without doubt it takes skilled and creative musicians  to produce quantity with consistent quality.

The appeal for me is not just the melodic rock throughout, but also the Bryan Adams-esque vocals of Mr. Steve Lee. His voice is raspy and rough enough to deliver great rock 'n roll on such songs as 'Come Alive' and 'Bad To The Bone,' and smooth enough to deliver soothing emotionalism as on 'Letter To A Friend' and 'Where Is Love When It's Gone.' The rhythm section is tight, the guitar work fabulous.

This is a great album. I only wonder if Gotthard can keep up the pace. They work hard and play hard to create excellent melodic hard rock. Pick up this album today!

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Saracen: Vox In Excelso

Progressive Rock
Rating: 5.0/5.0

It's been far too long, three years to be exact, to hear from England's Saracen. Yet, it was worth the wait. Saracen delivers their best work in the fantastic 'Vox In Excelso.' 'Vox' is a concept album of symphonic and melodic rock based upon 'Da Vinci Code' theory of the royal bloodline of Jesus and Mary. The story is preposterous one based in legend and mythology (without an ounce verifiable empirical evidence). However, it's a great story and Saracen's tells it with clarity and musical pageantry.

The story is told through spoken introductions before each song and the lyrics within the songs. The songs themselves are varied and sweeping compositions filled with lush vocal arrangements, ornate keyboards and sophisticated guitar solos. At once we have traditional melodic hard rock in 'Meet Me at Midnight,' only to be followed by the glorious symphonic 'Exile' (my favorite song). 'The Order's starts out as strong as any power metal could. You will be greatly pleased by the acoustic variety on this release.

'Vox In Excelso' is Saracen's masterpiece. This is the kind of album that once you listen to it, you want to play it again immediately. This is an album that you will remember and should collect little dust on your shelf. It is that good!

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Sonata Arctica: Unia

Power/Progressive Metal
Rating: 4.5/5.0

Finland's Sonata Arctica, in the last decade, has risen to become the premier power metal band of their country. Their tireless dedication to their craft has produced albums of increasing quality and creativity. 'Unia' (translated 'dreams') is no exception and probably their finest work to date.

On 'Unia,' Sonata Arctica delivers the strong power metal they are known for. The first cut, the thunderous 'In Black and White,' certainly confirms this. But listen carefully because you can expect much more. There are strong progressive elements on this work than ever before. 'It Won't Fade' is a perfect example of a power metal song with with strong and sophisticated progressive threads. These elements resurface in the potent songs 'The Vice' and 'My Dreams But A Drop Of Fuel For A Nightmare' (great title).

There are more compelling features on 'Unia.' Henrik "Lance" Klingenberg keyboards sparkle like icicles on the eaves of a house on a sunny winter day (in Finland, of course). I'm also considerably impressed Tony Kakko's varied vocal performances; his voice can both scream and soothe depending upon the musical context. Again, the production is sterling giving every instrument its due. The songs are lyrically interesting and exceptionally arranged. Except for 'Fly With The Black Swan' (yawn!), I found every song to be a treat for the ears.

'Unia' is Sonata Arctica's fifth studio release and worthy of your attention.

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