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July 2007

Kamelot: Ghost Opera

Progressive Metal
Rating: 5.0/5.0

Every time a new Kamelot release appears, I smile with great expectations of another phenomenal masterpiece of metal from this American(!) band. Like the previous 'The Black Halo,' 'Ghost Opera' is such a work. When I first listened to 'Halo,' I wondered how four guys could deliver such a creative and musically diverse project. Now, Kamelot has recruited exceptional German keyboardist Oliver Palotai (Doro, Blaze) as a fifth member. Mr. Palotai made his debut on tour with Kamelot for 'Halo' and his contributions appear on last year's CD/DVD, 'One Cold Winter's Night.' Making yourself a five-piece band probably does not make the creative process easier; however, it does make it better.

I cannot say much more than this about 'Ghost Opera:' every song is brilliant. You are immediately hooked and mesmerized by the introductory violin on 'Solitaire;' you know your ears are in for a musical treat as you venture into this album. 'Rule The World' reminds you why you love Kamelot to begin with: Kahn's rich and often mysterious vocals, the atmospheric keyboards, diverse drumming, and singular guitar solos. And things only get better along the way. The title track is a song of great strength, fast paced with a catchy chorus.

I could mention other songs here, but I think you get the message. Yet, let me add one more, 'Love You To Death: this is a song of singular beauty, a ballad of epic proportions. Kahn teams with vocalist Amanda Sommerville to create a vocal tour de force. The subtle keyboards add to the rich texture of the arrangement and the guitar solo soars and thrills.

'Ghost Opera' is everything you would expect from Kamelot. You should buy it and listen to it over and over again.

Addendum: I gave this album to wife to listen to. As you know, she's not really into metal, but she loves this album especially when she's quilting on the sewing machine. I've never thought of metal as 'music to quilt to,' but it works for her!

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After Forever: Self-Titled

Symphonic Metal
Rating: 5.0/5.0

This is a powerful new album by After Forever. All the songs are great demonstrating fine arrangements, sterling production and superb musicianship. Flor Jansen's vocals have never been better showing more skill and range which only time and experience can develop. Ms. Jansen's vocals are far more accessible than, say, Tarja Turunen (formerly of Nightwish), and quite possibly, the female vocals for all current and aspiring bands of this genre. Another significant attribute, which makes this a great AF album, is the use of a real symphony orchestra from Prague to give an authentic symphonic quality to this massive metal work.

Also, I can say I enjoy Sander Gommans' dirty vocals even though the have a prominent place as in AF's first two works. As regular readers know, I'd rather listen to rap music than listen to a band that puts dirty vocals at the forefront. However in After Forever's case, they fit and are done extremely well.

Not everything on this album is the stuff of the traditional Symphonic/Goth Metal genre. 'Transitory' come across as power metal song because of the velocity of the pace and the thundering drums. Then there's 'Equally Destructive' which has a distinctive heavy metal guitar opening (also note the beginning 'De-energized') and leads into a song with a catchy rhythm and beat. Yet most songs begin and course with that bombastic symphonic metal sound. The initial cut 'Discord' is a perfect example. The sweeping intro grips you and never lets you go. 'Energize Me' is an example of the sheer beauty of Ms. Jansen's captivating and colossal vocals. This song is true symphonic metal.

This might be After Forever's best work to date. With Nightwish in a state of transition as it welcomes a new lead singer, I believe After Forever to be the best band in this genre at this time. 'After Forever' is a must buy for all metal fans.

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Velvet Revolver: Libertad

American Modern/Melodic Rock
Rating: 4.5/5.0

Let's get a one thing out of the way at the start. Yes, I do review American music. The new release by Velvet Revolver is an example of what I will review. Why? For one, 2004's 'Contraband' was one of the best albums of the year. Two, VR has roots in two great American bands: Guns N' Roses and The Stone Temple Pilots. Third, this is a pretty damn good record! It's not what I expected, but it's good: it rocks for me! Moving on ...

This is not 'Contraband,' although there are some subtle similarities. One of which is the sterling production. Yet, 'Libertad' has a more modern rock feel in many compositions than their freshman release (consider 'She Mine' and 'She Builds Quick Machines). Yet, 'Libertad' still rocks even within the modern rock context. If anything, there is a helluva lot more melody than I expected. Additionally, Slash's guitar work is more innovative and clever than previous works. Scott Weiland exhibits more control to the point of calm and subtlety. (This only goes to show that you don't need some drug or alcohol addiction to have great vocals.) Maybe he has found some peace within in himself in 2007. Foremost, his vocals show his range and skill: simply put, this is why Mr. Weiland is a great rock singer. Check out the aforementioned 'She Builds Quick Machines' and 'The Last Fight.'

Overall, the music is exciting and innovative enough for me to call it 'road trip' music. I would have no problem putting this CD in and stomping the accelerator. It rocks, it rolls and it's a lot of fun.

Addendum: VR covers ELO's 'Can't Get It Out Of My Head' with even better results than the original. Frankly, I've never liked Jeff Lynne' vocals. ELO was too Beatlesque and pompous for me. And I never liked the Beatles anyway. But I'm on an editorial tirade now: Sorry!

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Knight Area: Under A New Sign

Progressive Rock
Rating: 4.5/5.0

I had little or no idea of what to expect from Netherlands' Knight Area when I purchased 'Under A New Sign' awhile back. I didn't know who they were or their music. I don't even remember how I stumbled across them. However, I quickly found their myspace home and listened to some samples from this new release. I was pleasantly surprised by the music enough to make the purchase.

This is a sonically pleasing album of diverse and intricate progressive rock. Though Knight Area reminds me in some respects of early Genesis, I have yet to find a category or comparison for them. The music is heavily keyboard driven thanks to main composer and keyboardist, Gerben Klazinga. But this is not a bad thing because his influence shows craft and precision without no pretension. As I listen, I never feel that he wishes to control the show. His keyboards are complimented by sophisticated guitar work of Rinie Huigen and Mark Vermeule, the additional keyboards and flute of Joop Klazinga, and the both compelling and subtle vocals of Mark Smit.

The music itself travels into many pleasurable directions. 'Mastermind' is a harder rock song with progressive elements. The guitar work seems to take the forefront throughout. 'Dreamweaver' should keep rock/metal enthusiasts happy: it has solid vocals, vibrant guitars, and a generous rhythm section. The title track is a sumptuous instrumental mix of prog with obvious jazz influences; I think it is the finest cut on the album.

Overall, 'Under A New Sign' is a spectacular offering. It delivers the goods with enough prog quirks and hooks to satisfy. I enjoyed it immensely; I think you will too.

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Black Sabbath: The Dio Years

Heavy Metal
Rating: 5.0/5.0
www.ronniejamesdio.com

Without a doubt, my favorite years of Black Sabbath were always the ones where Ronnie James Dio handling the vocals. For sure I cut my teeth on the original Ozzy version as a teenager. Yet I prefer Mr. Dio's vocals and the music of the Dio years.

This compilation is perfect for me and all others who treasure those years. The selection of songs is fundamental. Every song is a true gem and an excellent representation of the Dio-led band.

Yet, the greatest highlight of this release is the three new songs. You need only listen to the first, 'The Devil Cried,' to realize several important things. First, each song is well-crafted. Two, Ronnie James Dio still has the stuff; he is truly one of the best metal vocalist of any decade. Finally, you will think you never left the 'Heaven and Hell' days: each song could easily fit on that album. Dio Sabbath has not lost any of the power and glory of their best years together. This is a phenomenal collection that any fan of The Dio Years should have.

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