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August 2007

Vision Divine: The 25th Hour

Progressive/Power Metal
Rating: 4.0/5.0

Vision Divine began in 1998 as a solo project of Olaf Thorsen (then the lead guitarist of Labyrinth). His collaboration with Fabio Lione, lead singer of Labyrinth (now Rhapsody of Fire), turned a solo venture into a full scale band. After several releases and many personnel changes we come to 'The 25th Hour,' with Mr. Thorsen still steering the VD machine and the very talented Michele Luppi on vocals. 'The 25th Hour' is essentially a sequel to 2004's 'Stream Of Consciousness.' The plot of this well-conceived album is best explained on VD's website (use the link of above). Essentially our protagonist has awakened 40 years later from his bondage only to find another prison: determining his purpose in life. 'The 25th Hour' tells his story.

And this is the single thing that makes this a phenomenal work: the story and the music work harmoniously to create an enjoyable work of progressive metal. Mr. Luppi's vocals are extraordinary: clear, controlled and passionate. The song composition and arrangement is masterful in power and complexity. The production only compliments the clarity and creativity thanks again to the help of Timo Tolkki (Stratovarious).

I find the whole album to be impressive in its scope and continuity, so it's very difficult to pick favorite songs or just songs that define the album. However, 'The Daemon You Hide' may be the single song that encapsulates the beauty and diversity of the composition and musicianship on this work. Personally, it's a favorite along with the title track and 'Heaven Calling.'

Vision Divine is probably one of the best Italian prog/power metal bands going in 2007. We should all hope for more. On their website, VD suggests a trilogy based upon this story. Whether they continue the story or not, I look forward to more from this talented band. 'The 25th Hour' is a must buy!

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Moonlight Agony: Silent Waters

Progressive/Power Metal
Rating: 3.0/5.0

I hate writing anything negative about a band and their work. I know most bands work very hard on their music defining their style and crafting their songs. In the end, I'm more of a fan than a 'music critic.' Nevertheless, since taking on dangerdog.com and reviewing music, the perils of critiquing music have become self-evident. Not everything I hear is going to please or satisfy me. This is the case with Moonlight Agony's 'Silent Waters.'

I pursued Moonlight Agony when I heard that one of my favorite vocalist, Chitral 'Chity' Somapala, was their lead singer. Unfortunately, I failed to do my research (one of the perils of being more fan than critic). Much to my surprise, Mr. Somapala had left the band to be replaced by Mr. David Åkesson, a young man studying at Malmö Acadamy of Music in Sweden.

Now, I'll get right to the point: I do not care for Mr. Åkesson's vocals at all. I first listened to 'Silent Waters' on my mp3 player, the music pumped directly into my eardrums. However, I could not get past more than four or five songs. The vocals are tedious and grating; there's seems to be no variation or depth. As I listened to Mr. Åkesson who seemed to be straining to sing (or scream), I thought somebody was constantly rubbing two pieces of sandstone together. Having said this, Mr. Åkesson sounds best when his vocals are kept within the more subtle and smooth moments of each song or when harmonized with other members.

This is not to say that the music is wholly terrible. 'Silent Water' contains some very good if not generic prog/power metal. Highlights include 'Leaving Solitude' and 'Through The Desert Storm,' but that's about as far as I got. (I'll try to get through the whole album at another time!) Additionally, production is a bit cloudy; the guitars, for instance, seem muddled and inconsequential. 'Silent Waters' is an album only for diehard fans of Moonlight Agony; it's not for me.

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Evidence One: Sky Is The Limit

Melodic Hard Rock
Rating: 4.0/5.0

With 'Sky Is The Limit,' veteran German rockers Evidence One seals their style making them one of the best melodic hard rock outfits traversing the European landscape.

E1 is fronted by excellent vocalist Carsten 'Lizard' Schulz (also Domain) and major members of Frontline (another great German melodic hard rock band) including Rami Ali on drums and Thomas 'Hutch' Bauer on bass. Original co-founder (with Schulz), Robby Boebel steps behind the production board allowing Joerg 'Warthy' Wartmann to handle guitar duties with veteran E1 member Wolfgang 'Schimmi' Schimmer. The result is this: Evidence One produces straight ahead melodic rock filled with massive melodies and great guitar work within a lush, multi-layered production creating an awesome 'wall of sound.'

From beginning to end you are treated to some fantastic melodic rock which moves hard and fast. There is no filler here. If there are slower, more subtle, moments like on 'Won't Sleep Alone' or 'Raging Winds,' the formidable rhythm section and ripping guitar solos remind that you are still listening to hard rock. Being a guitar fan, I'm pleased that every song has guitar solos that are both impressive and unique; there is certainly no monotony here! As to the songs, other than the aforementioned, my personal favorites include the title track 'Sky Is The Limit,' 'Mr. Madness,' and 'Can't Fight The Past.'

'Sky Is The Limit' is simply a great record. If you long for melodic hard rock, do not look any further. Evidence One is the real deal! They define the genre with their creative and edgy music.

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Civilization One: Revolution Rising

Melodic Power/Heavy Metal
Rating: 4.0/5.0

With Chitral 'Chity' Somapala on vocals, I knew the debut album by Civilization One would be right up my alley. I loved his work with Firewind and Red Circuit. He is a premier metal vocalist. Civ One also includes Secret Sphere members Aldo Lanobile (guitars) and Luca Cartasegna (drums) and Pierre-Emmanuel Pélisson (Heavenly) on bass. I would not call this an all-star cast, yet they are definitely veterans in this genre. What you can expect from Civilization One is expert metal which blends classic, power, and progressive metal in fine form. Consider this note from their website: Chity and Aldo wanted to create a band that combined heavy, aggressive guitar riffs with the melodic sensibilities of classical music, and featured memorable vocal lines and choruses, such as those created by the legendary, classic bands of heavy metal. I think they have succeeded and so, on to the songs ...

I will mention several of my favorite tracks on 'Revolution Rising.' 'Legends Of The Past' is a song of mixed breed: it has aggressive power metal blended with some thrilling neo-classical guitar work in the solo. Yet again, 'The Lost Souls' begins with the neo-classical guitar work and then bombards you with a heavy rhythm section. Also 'The Lost Souls' expresses the diversity of Mr. Somapala's vocals, subtle and smooth at times, and assertive when necessary. 'Life Of Agony' is a perfect example of Misters Somapla and Lanobile accomplishing their aforementioned goal: very heavy riffs (and vocals) tempered by layered keyboards and accentuated by aggressive guitar breaks and solos. 'Sacred' slows things down a bit (if that's possible on this work); it moves with a purposeful pace yet remains heavy with a significant guitar solo.

Other songs could be summarized here, but I think you get a general feel of this work. This single negative is (again) the use of dirty vocals, consisting of nominal grunts and growls, on two tracks ('16' and 'Welcome to Paradise'). This addition is highly unnecessary and makes me wonder if Civ One (and other bands across the pond) are succumbing to the influences of American metal. They're not bad, yet still seem contrived.

Notwithstanding the above caveat, this is a great release by Civilization One. Fans of this style need to get on board. My only hope is this not another 'one off' collaboration. I definitely hope for more. These guys are good.

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Serenity: Words Untold and Dreams Unlived

Melodic Progressive/Power Metal
Rating: 4.5/5.0

With a name like Serenity, my first expectation was another Symphonic/Goth metal band. To my surprise and delight, Serenity is an Austrian metal band that plays an excellent blend of European progressive and power metal. As we all know, there is a huge glut in this genre. Any new (or old, for that matter) band must have something special to rise above this overcrowded field. I believe Serenity has that something. Specifically, Serenity delivers melodic prog/power metal with excellent musicianship, stylish arrangements, and intelligent songwriting; the production is sterling.

You know your ears are in for some very interesting music when you listen to the opening moments of 'Canopus 3' with its blend of sitar and keyboards. Then after a short growl, the drums and bass kick in for some rather heavy prog metal with elements of thumping power metal. The richness and versatility of the music continues throughout the rest of the album. And this is the significant thing: where you can listen to most any euro power metal album and find the songs indistinguishable from each other, this is not the case with Serenity. Each offering stands alone and complete; this is a sign of excellent craftsmanship. But moving on to more of the songs ...

'Reduced To Nothingness' is a fast-paced number laced with a few well placed growls, luxurious keyboards, and plenty of significant tempo changes. A personal favorite is 'Circle Of My 2nd Life' simply because of it's melodic power and beautiful chorus. 'Engraved Within' begins with a mixture of simple piano and guitar before rushing into a definitive prog arrangement driven by that same piano. It's a great cut! 'Forever' is another song that features the diverse tempos and unusual breaks of prog metal with generous helpings of the double bass drums and soaring guitar solos of power metal, and the chorus is fantastic. Another great track! If this is not enough, Serenity mixes in two instrumentals based upon the title of the album, 'Words Untold' and 'Dreams Unlived;' both are beautiful in their brevity and arrangement.

By now you're wondering: is there no downside to this album? To this point my review has been glowing. Admittedly, I did get tired with two songs, 'Dead Man Walking' and 'Thriven.' Though I would not recant my previous comments about the album, these song did not move me quite as much as the others. 'Thriven,' as an example, seemed monotonous and contrived in composition and the vocals flat even with the intermittent growls. However, neither song diminishes the quality of this work.

Fans of progressive and/or power metal should definitely give Serenity's 'Words Untold and Dreams Unlived' their immediate attention. This is a class act. They have nailed this genre with this great work. Serenity is a band to watch now and in the future.

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3 Inches Of Blood: Fire Up The Blades

Heavy Metal
Rating: 4.5/5.0

3 Inches Of Blood returns in 2007 to shock your senses, bleed your ears, and melt the flesh off your skin. 3 Inches hails from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada which is not exactly a haven for heavy metal. For those who flunked geography in high school, this is not far from the region of the United States that gave us Nirvana and grunge rock. But, these boys have resurrected classic metal in a modern form. They blend near dirty vocals (they admit they are influenced by black metal vocals) with a twin guitar attack, blood and guts mythology, and yes, outright melodic metal. Strange as it may seem, this works. Check out 'Night Marauders' and 'God of The Cold White Silence' for example.

Readers know how I feel about dirty vocals in any form: it takes a lot of creativity to use them, otherwise I hate them (passionately). But the best thing about 3 Inches Of Blood and 'Fire Up The Blades' is the music; I can live with the vocals. And actually I like them. Yes, I wish they would sing cleaner, but they kick the asses of other American metal bands. Hey, even Rob Halford likes them. And that's a darn fine endorsement. Prepare to be assaulted!

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Autumn: My New Time

Symphonic/Gothic Metal
Rating: 4.5/5.0

Dutch band Autumn has some tough competition: too long they have played second fiddle to fellow genre stalwarts After Forever and Within Temptation. Frankly, this is a damn shame. Autumn is a fine symphonic/goth band worthy of all recognition. They have been troubled with personnel changes prior to this release, but have traversed these dark valleys to become a better more eloquent band. 'My New Time' is a renaissance of sorts for vocalist Nienke de Jong and company. The result is an album full of rich vocals and sound arrangements.

Ms. de Jong's vocals are unhindered by over production: she has a deeper, fuller quality than Floor Jansen (After Forever) and Sharon den Adel (Within Temptation). I would say, if she wanted to, Ms. de Jong could muster enough gravel and soul to sing the blues. In the end her voice fits the music and the music is outstanding. Consider 'My New Time' which is not necessarily a song that fits the symph/goth metal model: it rocks and rolls with blistering speed more akin to melodic rock or metal and the chorus grabs you with great sincerity. On the other hand, songs like 'Blue Wine,' 'Angel of Desire,' and 'Communication On Opium' bear witness to their chosen genre. As for 'Communication On Opium,' this song in content and form is both beautiful and mysterious as the title suggests. Still, I find 'My New Time' to be even more multifaceted in style: 'Shadowmancer' easily blends the symph/goth genre with prog elements. Just listen to the beginning drum work and then the shifts of tempo and breaks throughout.

Just when I thought this whole genre has become monotonous and tired, along comes a band like Autumn with a refreshing perspective. My hope has been in the Nightwish 2.0, but I don't think we have to wait that long. Autumn may be the future.

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Halford: Metal God Essentials Vol. One

Heavy Metal
Rating: 4.5/5.0

The man, the myth, the legend: what can you say about Rob Halford? Anybody who knows metal, knows Rob Halford. He's up there with Ronnie James Dio as one of the true great metal vocalists. But Ronnie still has his hair (for now!). I remember buying my first and favorite Judas Priest album, 'Sad Wings of Destiny.' For me, this will always be the quinessential Halford/Judas Priest album. Yet he was not always among the Priests; Sir Halford went his own way in the 1990's. What we have here is a collective retrospective of his solo work.

So what do you need to know? If you're a Halford fan, you've probably already bought this album. If not, you should for this is an excellent compilation of his solo work. This is the first noteworthy reason to review and/or buy this album: it is a fine introduction to Mr. Halford sans JP. Secondly, you need to know that there are two new songs accompanying history: 'Forgotten Generation' and 'Dropout.' Of the two, 'Forgotten Generation' is the most pleasing: it hints at Judas Priest, yet has significant modern Halford fingerprints upon it to make it uniquely his own. 'Dropout' merely reminded me of 'Electric Eye' only with less keyboards and more stamina. It's not a bad song, but I'm sure Rob had other better compositions waiting to see the light of day.

This collection is worth every penny for newcomers to Halford's solo work and for us longtime fans. However, my guess is that if you're a fan, you have have all his previous releases. Maybe you should just download the two new songs.

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Allen/Lande: The Revenge

Melodic Power Metal
Rating: 4.5/5.0

I loved the first Russell Allen (Symphony X) and Jorn Lande (Masterplan and others) collaboration, 'The Battle,' released in 2005. I found that work so addicting and enjoyable that it would easily be in my top five, even number one, for that year. The strength of that release was the genius of Magnus Karlsson (Last Tribe, Starbreaker, Planet Alliance, et al) in writing brillant songs and delivering fiery guitar work. Why change a good thing? Misters Allen and Lande did not. The result is another thoroughly enjoyable work!

If you find similarities when listening to 'The Revenge,' do not be put off. There is nothing wrong with consistency when you're speaking of the exceptional song craftsmanship of Mr. Karlsson and the brilliant vocals of Allen and Lande. The title track grabs you just like the 'The Battle,' having like characteristics yet with a heavier and more urgent feel. A better example of the progression of quality is 'Victory,' a vibrant song with vocals that leave you breathless in the end. Another compelling cut is the quasi-power ballad 'Master Of Sorrow:' a song that mixes a beautiful piano background with a great duet, and you don't have to wait too long before Karlsson rips into blistering six string work.

Things just get better with 'Just A Dream,' a song that begins with suspiciously benign acoustic guitar, but turns into a thumping rocker. 'Wake Up Call' gives you everything you hope for in melodic metal: an arrangement of subtlety and complexity, a thundering rhythm section, vocals on the edge of sanity, and a kick-ass guitar solo. Magnus Karlsson is a force to be reckoned with; youngsters take note! And the hits keep coming! Every song is golden on this new work by Allen and Lande.

'The Revenge' is a blessing for all melodic metal fans. A true believer should buy this immediately. This is a great album!

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Kolipelto: Serenity

Power Metal
Rating: 4.0/5.0

Timo Kotipelto, lead singer for Stratovarius, returns in 2007s with a new solo project. Essentially, this is standard European power metal with a dash of brevity, most songs clock in around three minutes, and pinch of simple melodic metal, as found on 'Serenity' and 'Mr. Know-It-All.' Mr. Kotipelto sings with strength and the arrangements are full of catchy choruses, clever keyboards, and stinging guitar solos. 'Sleep Well,' the radio single, probably best characterizes the current of this album: it's short, clever in its movement and chorus, and has an enthralling guitar solo. Otherwise, there is a more than obvious monotony as you move from song to song.

In the end, Mr. Kotipelto breaks no new ground on this album. Even with his strength and enthusiasm, it seems that he is merely taking up time until Stratovarius moves on. However, if you dig his work and that of Stratovarious, this is definitely worth your interest. But it did not move me.

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Within Temptation: The Heart Of Everything

Symphonic/Gothic Metal
Rating: 4.5/5.0

As I write this review, Within Temptation is breaking into the American music market through Roadrunner Records distribution. Their first single in North America is 'What Have You Done Now' which features Keith Caputo (formerly Life Of Agony) sharing vocals with with Sharon den Adel. This song gives you an idea of where WT maybe going now with 'The Heart Of Everything' and in future works. Within Temptation breaks no new ground on this work. Instead, they demonstrate the continuity of quality they have established in this genre. Every song is well-crafted and solid.

Yet, to my ears, there is a certain accessibility that verges on 'pop' sensibility. Consider the aforementioned 'What Have You Done Now' which reminds me of Evanescence’s debut single 'Bring Me To Life.' If you liked that America, then you will dig this. (Hopefully, Americans will see the trendsetters are in Europe!)

But is this too many years too late? I wonder. What has Evanescence done lately of consequence? Not much! And who remembers Keith Caputo? If you visit his website you will discover another inflated ego who thinks he is both a poet and muse to this generation of vocalists. He's good and sounds great on this single, but WT did not need to stroke his pride or fund his bank account with 'featuring ...' on this single.

Other songs also seem to fit this desire to appeal to America's fickle musical taste. It seems each song was crafted to stand alone musically so that we might pick and choose the best one for the market. The first cut 'The Howling' could have easily supplanted 'What Have You Done' as the lead single. But I could say this also of 'Hand of Sorrow,' 'Our Solemn Hour,' and especially, 'All I Need,' the best cut on the album.

To say all this is not to say that this a poor album. It is a great album! Within Temptation shines in their field. This is by far their best work to date. There is nothing wrong with accessibility even if you may be appealing to the American market. Within Temptation deserve attention because of their exceptional musical talent and experience.

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Echoes Of Eternity: The Forgotten Goddess

Gothic/Symphonic/Heavy Metal
Rating: 4.0/5.0

On first impression, I want to say that there is 'nothing new under the sun,' in Echoes Of Eternity's debut release 'The Forgotten Goddess.' Yet, after several listens, I have to commend this young band for their spirit and desire to dive into the already crowded pool of this genre. What distinguishes them is their mixture of heavy metal heaviness with progressive elements. One listen to 'Towers of Silence' confirms this fact. It blisters along with rich drums, hard guitars, and a spirited and complex arrangement. Beyond this is this luxurious vocals of Francine Boucher. However, sometimes it seems that her voice is secondary to the rest of the band.

One of the great things about EOE is that they are an American band. Thanks to the creative composition in their songs and the vocals of Ms. Boucher, they can easily compete with their European cousins in this field. Ms. Boucher will give Flor Jansen (After Forever) and others a run for their money. Additionally, Brandon Patton and Sam Young are no slouches on guitar either. The fact that there are very few bands, if any, in America doing this style of music is a large accomplishment. Add to this the fact that they are on tour with Symphony X in America and Edguy in Europe. This is excellent company to keep and a good start for any band.

I really like this work even though some may find too subtle similarities to others occupying this genre. Other great songs include 'The Kingdom Within' and 'Circles In Stone' which have acoustic melodies introducing and weaving through the songs. The closing cut 'Adrift' may reveal something of the EOE's status (or future depending on your impressions) among the bands in this genre: afloat, yet without anchor. Nevertheless, I have high expectations for Echoes of Eternity and hope for a long and prosperous future.

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Cage: Hell Destroyer

Heavy Metal
Rating: 4.5/5.0

American (west coast) metal band Cage returns after a significant four year absence to deliver a powerful metal concept album, 'Hell Destroyer.' According to their website, this work took three years to write and one year to record. It is an apocalyptic adventure based (very) loosely on themes in the Book of Revelation. Hell Destroyer is God's most powerful angelic defender of the faith who succeeds in defeating Satan's invasion of Earth by laying siege to his Hell City. Though another preposterous misconception of Biblical proportions, it definitely makes for heavy metal mythology and music. And that is one reason we love heavy metal so much: we're not asking them to be theologians, but to overwhelm us with screaming vocals and guitars. Cage does this on 'Hell Destroyer.'

Practically speaking, the significant components of this work, in my opinion, are three fold. First, being an American band, they have not bowed down to current American metal trends. Instead Cage has produced pure heavy metal in the classic tradition in the context of their own style and creativity. Secondly, Sean Peck's vocals are consistently strong and daring. He has quite the range in style which makes him one of the premier metal vocalists in America (and elsewhere) and this genre. Thirdly, there is the unquantifiable characteristic of artistic bravery and determination. This relates much to my first point with some additions. Very few bands take the time to hone their craft. Cage, on the other hand, took the time and exercised their collective creative skills to produce a significant work.

Now, on to the music, where I'm going to brief (if you can believe that!). As I mentioned before, this is pure heavy metal with mixtures of power and progressive metal. The drums thunder, the guitars wail, and Mr. Peck screams with masterful intensity. Significant songs include 'Rise Of The Beast' with it's dramatic and thrilling guitar work and 'Legion Of Demons' which is a tour de force of metal equipped with soaring guitars and enough changes of style and tempo to make a cabbie consult a map to find direction.

Like the work by Pure Reason Revolution (reviewed below), there is a continuity in this concept album that borders on monotony, but only if you have a narrow vision of heavy metal. Those of us who know ebb and flow of metal arrangements can easily appreciate this wonderful work. This is a satisfying accomplishment for both fans of Cage and solid, 'true-to-form,' heavy metal.

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Pure Reason Revolution: The Dark Third

Progressive Rock
Rating: 4.0/5.0

If you hunger for some Brit prog rock with Pink Floyd influences in a modern context, then Pure Reason Revolution is the band for you. From the opening moments of the instrumental 'Aeropause,'' your journey into past and time begins for this song borrows heavily on Floyd influences. Things become a little heavier and the pace quickens as you move on to 'Goshen's Remains.' However, there remains a simple subtlety as Chloe Alper's vocals and James Dobson's combine for a hypnotic effect. So goes this album, 'Apprentice to the Universe' revisits similar musical themes as the preceding song.

Lyrically, the songs follow a simple theme: exploring sleep and dreaming. Songs like 'Exact Colour,' 'Voices In Winter,' and 'He Tried To Show Them Magic' display this concept with ethereal and mysterious music.

Generally, as I hinted above, there is little variance as you travel through the songs. This does not necessarily suggest a lack of originality. Rather, with a premeditated concept and a distinct musical style, a certain expectation of continuity should be found throughout the work. Elsewhere, I read a comment by a fan who said, 'the tracks just flow into another and it has all the influences of the classic prog bands such as Rush, Pink Floyd in a modern light.' Though I do not agree with the reference to Rush, I believe this fan hit the nail on the head in his summary.

This continuity may seem as monotony to some listeners. Yet, this is serious, and often compelling, prog rock. If this is your cup of tea, then definitely seek this album out.

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Waltari: Release Date

Progressive Rock/Metal
Rating: 4.0/5.0

Waltari is a Finnish progressive rock/metal band in existence since 1986. I discovered their latest album by surveying the upcoming releases from music vendor Impulse Music several months ago. I thought I'd give 'Release Date' a try after visiting their Myspace site and listening to several cuts.

To say that Waltari is eclectic and draws from many musical influences is a mammoth understatement. This band is all over the board: there are varieties of pop, rock, and metal with dashes of jazz and international music, if only to confuse you. To be sure several cuts are very accessible, for instance, the modern rocker 'Get Stamped' and the curiously addictive 'Let's Puke Together,' with its sterling guitar solo.

When you move to the five part piece, 'City Shamaani,' you need a musical roadmap to decipher the many elements. My ears heard everything from nearby Scandinavian death/black metal to Metallica to Beastie Boys to Red Hot Chili Peppers (slap bass). Only the final part, 'Sympathy' with its Pink Floyd meets metal characteristics, roots you in traditional progressive music (and you feel strangely at ease).

'City Shamaani' is an impressive, if not strange, mixture of styles. Either this shows that Waltari is either very creative or simply has too much information and way too much time on their hands. Obviously, this is a band that feels no restrictions when composing music. Though bizarre in many ways, 'City Shamaani' is probably the best piece on this work.

Having listened to 'Release Date,' several times, I'm astonished that I even considered listening in the first place. I'm pretty much a straight forward melodic rock and metal guy with an appetite for progressive things as well. At nearly 50, I should be stuck in my ways. Waltari's 'Release Date' proved once again that you can teach an old dog new tricks. If you want to challenge your audio senses and musical sensibility then you should give this album a try. This is a very good listen.

Otherwise, don't waste your money because you will be trading the CD in the very next week for your favorite metal band's new release.

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Nightwish: Eva (Internet Single)

Symphonic/Gothic Metal
Rating: 5.0/5.0

Nightwish, by this time, is a national institution in Finland, and probably the single most influential ambassador of Scandinavian symphonic metal. But even prominent associations succumb to the ebb and flow of change. Despite the lamentation by fans regarding the exit Tarja Turunen, Nightwish begins anew with the introduction of a new female leader singer, Swedish singer Anette Olzon. (To read her bio click here; to read an interview click here.)

Surprisingly, Ms. Olzon was unfamiliar with Nightwish. Her introduction came by a niece who was a fan. Upon the advice of friends, she submitted her audition tape. Obviously, the boys in the band were impressed.

This brings us to the internet single, 'Eva,' a singular example of enduring Nightwish and a fine introduction to Ms. Olzon's vocals. This is a symphonic ballad that pushes no boundaries. And this is not a bad thing for it showcases the simple sweet qualities of Anette's voice. As much as I enjoyed Ms. Turunen's vocals, I always felt because of her piercing high range she was driving stilettos into my ears. Her voice was at once impressive and fearsome. What can we expect from Ms. Olzon? 'Eva' shrouds her voice in some mystery: it is soothing and controlled. This makes me believe that we are in for much greater things with the release of 'Dark Passion Play' in September.

Until then we must be content with the 2 CD set 'Amaranth' being released later this month. The single is already in play in Finland. The video begins playing on MTV Finland on August 11. I look forward to more from Nightwish.

Godspeed Anette Olzon! May your hopes and dreams be glorious and fulfilling!

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Dream Theater: Systematic Chaos

Progressive Metal
Rating: 5.0/5.0

Dream Theater returns with 'Systematic Chaos:' an appropriate title for an album that challenges fans and puts their minds in cognitive dissonance, in musical chaos. We all expect DT to defy our expectations and turn their creativity to new directions. I believe 'Systematic Chaos' does exactly that. This is the DT you know and love with a brilliant twist of ingenuity.

I shoved this CD in my player and what did my ears hear? Is this Rush? Is that Neal Peart? No, it's Mike Portnoy in his finest form. 'In The Presence Of Enemies' is an epic work that begins and concludes the album. If there is anything on this album that is signature Dream Theater it is these two works. 'Forsaken' follows as a pleasant, if not derivative, prog number with a simple arrangement with a memorable chorus. 'Constant Motion' rocks heavy and gives an almost Metallica feel in the vocals. But this is hardly Metallica for their is more sophistication and creativity in this song.

A real challenge comes in 'The Dark Eternal Night,' a compelling number with enough twists and turns to keep the best mystery lover guessing. The mystery begins with the near dirty vocals that appear at the beginning and run throughout the song. If that's not enough, the keyboards infiltrate your mind like acid with a jazz soundtrack. All the time, the arrangement thunders along with bass, drums, and guitar playing parts so incredible I thought my ears would bleed. 'The Dark Eternal Night' raises the bar for Dream Theater and their listeners. What can they do next?

I didn't intend to review every song on this album, but there is much more to say regarding this new work. 'Repentance' is probably my favorite cut on the entire album because of its diversity. Its delicate vocals and guitar weave together with moments of eclectic heaviness to create a song of extraordinary caliber. There's a Pink Floydishness to it that makes you want to repeat the song more than once. 'Prophets Of War' is both satirical commentary on reality in this world as it is a song of complex proportions. Outside of 'Repentance' and 'The Dark Eternal Night,' it is worth the price of the album.

'Systematic Chaos' is a seminal work for Dream Theater. The band is not resting on a catalogue of laurels. Rather, they are pressing on to an imaginative future. Dream Theater is a prog metal band to contend with; new and existing bands in the same genre should take note: the masters have not retired, they reign. Bow down and listen: you will better for it!

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Eldritch: Blackenday

Progressive/Heavy Metal
Rating: 4.5/5.0

Eldritch is a band that continues to mystify me. Early works bore characteristics of a thrash and power metal in a very heavy package. I can't say 'Headquake' or 'El Nino' are personal favorites, but they were intriguing. Then a creative wind must have blown because 'Portrait Of The Abyss Within' and 'Neighborhell' brought significant and satisfying musical directions, at least to my ears. Now, 'Blackenday' shows both continuity and advancement.

After two spins, my first thought was this: any American into modern American metal should listen to this album. Why? The album is reasonably dark enough (without the angst prevalent in much of NWOAHM); it has equal, if not better, musical creativity and complexity than a Mastodon (and others); and it has enough semi-dirty vocals and shouts to please any listener. The benefit is, within the heaviness, you have the blessing of melody and harmony, something rarely found in American Metal these days.

But alas, my advice will come to naught. Heaven forbid if some pimple-faced American teenager would even hear, let alone stumble across, Eldritch while seeking Linkin Park or some other dribble.

I was hooked from the beginning with 'Silent Flame,' a powerful number that starts with subtle vocals until it grabs you with a great chorus and some fiery guitar work. When you get to the next number 'The Deep Sleep' and it's thundering start, you know you're are in for a musically diverse treat until the end. 'Black Rain' and 'The Fire' have respectable harsh vocals and shouts. 'Rumors' begins with a pleasing bass intro and then mixes more subtle vocals with intermittent heaviness. 'Broken Road' and 'Never Dawn' (my favorite song) have mesmerizing moments of quiet vocals and blistering guitar solos.

All in all, 'Blackenday' is a quality work filled with musical creativity and memorable songs: a worthy addition to your metal library.

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