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November 2006

Brother Firetribe: False Metal

Melodic Hard Rock
Rating: 5.0/5.0

There is one thing you can say about our friends across the great pond: they have an honest sense of musical history. Where American bands seem to forget those who have gone before (even though they would deny this by citing several influences) and appear only to mimic current trends, artists from Scandinavia to the British Isle to the main Continent remember and recognize their predecessors. They are unashamed when drawing from and paying tribute to their musical heritage even if that heritage has an American lineage. Witness Brother Firetribe! I simply quote the synopsis on their MySpace entry:

... the lush melodies, big choruses and carefree attitude of the late '80s are back with a bang!

Evoking mental imagery of bathing in the sun on a Venice Beach walkway ... Brother Firetribe's smooth hard rock has that huge American AOR sound that no one in Finland has ever even ventured to attempt.

Proudly taking a bow to their influences from the '80s in the form of Van Halen, Journey and other chartbusters of old, Brother Firetribe's sound is built on a plethora of melodies that most composers wouldn't dare to dream of. In true '80s fashion ... killer vocal harmonies and airy keyboard lines that will stick to your ears like bubblegum. The cherries on the pie are Pekka Heino's smooth, dreamy voice and Emppu Vuorinen's guitarwork ...

Frankly, I cannot add more to this description. I love this album! It has everything that I would want in melodic hard rock and AOR music: strong, vibrant vocals of incredible range; lucid, soaring guitar solos; brilliant and pleasing keyboard play; an unmatchable and aggressive rhythm section; and all this is surrounded by arrangements of beautiful harmony and melody. This is melodic hard rock! This is road trip music: it both pleases and inspires and drives you on. Put it on and turn it up!

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Delain: Lucidity

Symphonic Metal
Rating: 4.5/5.0

Delain was founded by keyboardist Martijn Westerholt (ex-Within Temptation) who, with the help of an impressive cast of musicians, has created a new goth/rock/metal experience. As I am a sucker for symphonic rock or metal with a female lead vocalist, I was instantly drawn into this music.

But the question remains: what, if anything, makes Delain different from or succeed where their predecessors have not? Bands in this genre are a 'dime a dozen,' and more arrive yearly. Nightwish, Within Temptation, Theatre of Tragedy and Xandria to name a few have many a listener and this reviewer saying, 'been there, heard that before.'

There are a least four things which make Delain a worthy heir to the mantle of this genre. Mr. Westerholt gave himself thoroughly to creative composition. He sought to craft well conceived songs and succeeded. Second, to accomplish his purpose he surrounded himself with exceptional musicians by enlisting the likes of Liv Kristine (Theatre of Tragedy, Leave's Eyes), Marco Hietala (Nightwish), Sharon Den Adel (Within Temptation) and many others.

A third ingredient to Delain's success is simply vocalist Charlotte Wessels. Because she is not as well known as her contemporaries, Ms. Wessels arrives without pretense having her own vocal style of great range and control. Even better, I can understand her unlike Tarja Turunen whose vocals blister into the undecipherable range. Even when paired with the dirty vocals of a male singer, Ms. Wessels shines above this all too unnecessary trait of this genre.

If there is anything on this album that I can do without it is the dirty vocals. They work, but my question is always the same, 'why?' Fortunately, most times you can understand them.

Finally, the sonic atmosphere of the album is symphonic and even bombastic thanks to the preceding points and yes, my first love, soaring guitar solos. Some call this grandiose, but this is the nature of the gothic rock experience.

Conclusion: Because of these things I found Delain's Lucidity extremely accessible and enthralling. I can easily recommend this title if you love this genre. And, with the exception of the sporadic dirty vocals, if you love your rock/metal large, sweeping, and symphonic, you should give this a spin, too.

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Slamer: Nowhere Land

Melodic Hard Rock
Rating: 5.0/5.0

I'm going to say this once: this is a fantastic album! Every cut is tremendous! If you like melodic hard rock (and you wouldn't be here if you didn't), then you must buy Nowhere Land by Mike Slamer and company.

Mr. Slamer has an excellent pedigree including work with Streets, Fiona, House of Lords, Warrant and more recently prog-rockers Seventh Key (Billy Greer). This is his first solo effort and it is marvelous. (Pardon my excessive use of superlatives but this is a great album.)

So what makes it work? Several things. Time: Mr. Slamer had several years to develop every song to its potential. Every tune benefits from skilled arrangement and production. Mr. Terry Brock: I remember him from Kansas' Drastic Measures (I'm dating myself again). His vocals naturally fit with Slamer's arrangements. They soar and compliment every song. The final ingredient is Mike Slamer's guitar proficiency. This is exceptional work: vibrant and alive. It grips you from the first hook and solo on the first song and does not let go. Basically, you don't want it to end. So you play the album over and over. I did!

So I will say it again: you must buy this album!

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Felony: First Works

Melodic Hard Rock/Metal
Rating: 4.0/5.0

After several spins in the player, I have two conclusions concerning Felony's debut album 'First Works': these are highly skilled musicians who also worked hard to craft their songs. 'First Works' reveals craftsmanship. Each song stands alone on its own merits. There is no monotony here, a least to this listener.

I classified this album as a hybrid of melodic hard rock and metal only because their are elements of both in many songs. Their is nothing heavy to make this only metal. But there is enough: soaring guitar solos and gutsy vocals. On the hybrid side, the songs are without doubt melodic and even symphonic at times. There are moments of bombastic grandeur and straight ahead rock and roll.

I could make a fuss about the lead male and female vocals, but that would be redundant considering the current times. Andy and Andrea are consonant. She is clear and vibrant, harmonious when needed. He is hard yet melodic. Andrea does not offer the operatic vocals found in Nightwish or Within Temptation; however, I've got suspicions that she could.

Bottom line: I was captured by the inspiring and soaring guitar work, the congruous and strong male/female vocals, and the excellent arrangement of each song. I believe that you will not be disappointed when adding 'First Works' to your album collection.

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Heavenly: Virus

Heavy/Power Metal
Rating: 4.0/5.0

France's power metal band Heavenly is back with a great new offering, 'Virus.' And this is why we fans of this genre listen to this music. This is power metal! But before I lump Heavenly in this very broad category, I must add that there is enough traditional heavy metal to make their sound a hybrid. Think Iron Maiden blended with the likes of HammerFall or Gamma Ray.

Additionally, certain elements caught my attention. First, the complimentary keyboards that shadow the melody in many of the songs. Second, the clear and soaring vocals of Ben Sotto. Comparisons are futile in this business, but Mr. Sotto's style grabs me like that of Joakim Olsson of Supreme Majesty. Third, the excellent guitar work: stylish rhythms and exquisite solos. I could also mention the catchy melodies and choruses like that found on 'Spill Blood On Fire,' but I'm beginning to ramble about things typical in power metal.

Ultimately, the one thing that hooks me on 'Virus' is the soaring, almost symphonic nature of many songs even when they are heavy. This is particularly evident on the title track.

If you enjoyed their music in the past and you're a fan, this is a definite buy. I don't believe Heavenly is break-ing any new ground with 'Virus.' But there is no doubt: they have established themselves as significant force in European heavy/power metal.

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Hammerfall: Threshold

Power Metal
Rating: 4.5/5.0

HammerFall returns with another great power metal offering: Threshold. And as you would expect from these modern masters of the genre, it is a performance of classic consistency.

It is classic because HammerFall rarely depart from their chosen style. They are certainly not innovators, but they are consistent. They offer pure no-holds-barred power metal with all the necessary ingredients: mythical and imaginative lyrics, tight melodies, strong guitar solos, powerful drumming, and catchy choruses. To some this means more of the same which in turn means boring. For those who love this branch of metal, we smile kindly at our detractors and rock on with fists raised high.

Honestly, I don't think there's a bad cut on the whole album. Themes are revisited as in 'Reign of the Hammer' (and again our detractors wail with indignation). Yet 'The Fire Burns Forever' and 'Natural High' display signature HammerFall power metal. For fans of the band and this genre, it's a definite buy. For those who don't quite 'get' the classic beauty of traditional (I hate to use that word!) power metal, 'Threshold' is the place to start.

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Dream Evil: United

Heavy Metal
Rating: 5.0/5.0

This is kick-ass heavy metal! As I write this review, I'm listening to this album for the fourth or fifth time. But who's counting? The latest title from Dream Evil is that good.

Begun in 1999 by Fredrik Nordström, the famous Swedish producer, and guitar great Gus G. (now with Firewind), Dream Evil was designed from its inception to be a true heavy metal band in the classic tradition of Priest, Maiden and others. With each recording DE has evolved into a more remarkable metal band. They have developed their own style by mixing in the brew the elements of power metal.

The strength of 'United' is in the songwriting and arrangement. There are strong and flexible vocals, a thunderous rhythm section of bass and drums (you will not miss Snowy Shaw), and, of course, exceptional lead guitar solos. All this is wrapped up in pleasing melodies and crisp choruses. Sure they have the clichéd over-the-top metal lyrics that verge on self-parody. On The Book of Heavy Metal it was the title cut. On 'United' it's the first cut, 'Fire! Battle! In Metal!.' But this only makes them more loveable or 'evil' as they would probably say.

The previously mentioned first cut grabs you by the throat immediately causing you both to tap your foot and bang your head. Now you're sucked in and will certainly soon be 'evilized' as you continue on to the end. 'United' will have you singing along well after the song is over. Other standouts include 'Kingdom At War,' another song that marches to an agreeable chorus, and 'Back From The Dead,' a song that offers progressions of power and moments of reserve all of which are secured with the requisite bold screaming metal vocals. Finally, words can't begin to describe 'My Number One.' It's a love song (?) with a thundering bass and rhythm line complimented by some tricky and unusual guitar hooks. It's all good.

Dream Evil is firing on all cylinders on 'United.' It's great metal! Don't miss the fun of being 'evilized' once again.

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Sabaton: Attero Dominatus

Heavy/Power Metal
Rating: 4.5/5.0

War! Nobody favors war. Some may find it necessary especially when battling an oppressive all-consuming dictatorial evil. Being from America, some may even see our country and its representative government as warmongers, proponents of this ultimate act of justice or vengeance. Be that as it may, war is a reality of this world. Yet War and its subsequent horrors is what Sabaton addresses on it's latest album, Attero Dominatus.

And Sabaton addresses this subject well. Power metal is an essential genre of metal to speak to such a subject as war. They do it with sophistication and intelligence. Sabaton combines the brute power of speed, lyric and melody to illuminate the reality of warfare. I'm hardly an authority on linguistics, but Joakim Brodén's vocals heighten the emphasis on the topic with his Swedish accent which borders on sounding German (which would fit the many topics on the album). His guttural voice brings forth the deep brooding of a person or nation at war.

Even more, what makes this album significant is that the songs combine a terrific topic with the harmony and melody found in a very good power metal. I guess this is what makes the whole album work for me. Though the style fits, it is also oxymoronic: the beauty and sophistication of melodic power metal with such a horrific subject. Iron Maiden did it in the past with such songs as 'The Trooper.' Sabaton does today with their songs 'Rise Of Evil,' Angel's Calling,' and 'Light In The Black.' The only cut that does not fit the theme is 'Metal Crue,' a tribute to the metal gods that have gone before. It's filler, and therefore unnecessary as related to the subject of the album. Having said that, it's still great fun and there is never anything wrong with paying tribute to your peers.

Conclusion: if you will forgive my somewhat political allusions when assessing this album, believe me when I say this album rocks! Great composition! Strong bass and drums and true, traditional and vital guitar work. And don't miss Joakim Brodén's vocals; he's worth the purchase of the album. Sabaton's Attero Dominatus is great power metal from a band destined to greatness!

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Firewind: Allegiance

Melodic Power/Heavy Metal
Rating: 4.5/5.0

Shades of Whitesnake and David Coverdale! I'm listening to Firewind's new delivery, Allegiance. And it just struck me, the song, 'Ready to Strike,' sounds suspiciously like some band I know and a vocalist I know. It must be my imagination. Yet, it sounds so good. Forgive me for that single comparison because, guitar god Gus G. and company have delivered an excellent new album. This is not a Whitesnake clone!

I want to say Allegiance is derivative in this genre of metal, yet there is something about Allegiance that secures my allegiance. I think it is the arrangement of the songs and more especially new vocalist Apollo Papathanasio's (ex-Majestic and Time Requiem) grand compliment to the songs. This is directly evident on 'Deliverance', a hard rocking tune accompanied by Apollo's versatility. Couple this with Gus G.'s fiery guitar work and you have a winning combination.

I'll tell you: I'm a sucker for a metal song that has a male-female duet. 'Breaking The Silence' is such a song. I don't know who 'Tara' is, but she fits perfectly with Apollo. This song in itself is worth your well earned dollars (or euros): it is beautiful.

Can I say 'beautiful' to describe a metal album? Maybe you want to hear may say, 'it kicks ass,' or 'this is a freakin' great album.' But my vocabulary is above the 6th grade level. Everything and everybody on this album clicks together. And I honestly admit I'm partial to melodic power metal; this album is great: from the aforementioned 'Deliverance' and all the rest, this is a fine album. Simply put: buy it!

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