Powerglove: Saturday Morning Apocalypse

So I found out that I somehow missed Powerglove’s new album Saturday Morning Apocalypse was released last Tuesday. For those that don’t know (I’m assuming that is many) Powerglove are a bunch of dudes in custom armor who play covers of video game music charged with power metal.  They are, in a word, awesome.  Sadly it seems that their two previous albums are currently unavailable, which is a shame, but I take solace in the fact that they are still touring and producing new tunes.

If the title wasn’t enough of a clue Saturday Morning Apocalypse is a CD loaded with power metal renditions of your favorite cartoons.   There are a number of missing tracks from cartoons that I would have liked to have heard, particularly G. I. Joe and a cover of “Under the Sea” the band mentioned in the news section of the website, but by and large these songs bring back fond memories of Saturday mornings (and in the case of “The Real Adventures of Johnny Quest” evenings) spent having fun.

The CD opens with perhaps the quintessential 90s cartoon:  X-Men.   An epic opener if ever there was one, the theme song from X-Men was already pretty metal so what the guys did here is pretty awesome and they didn’t have to stray too far from what already existed.  Next up is the theme to Pokemon, the original Pokemon, “Gotta Catch ’em All.”  The instrumental track is good but the album close is the vocal version featuring guest vocalist Tony Kakko of Sonata Arctica.  The track is pretty ridiculous and makes me wish that Kakko had lent his talents to the theme to Transformers that sits in the middle of the album.  Three Danny Elfman songs appear on the album.  The theme from Batman, This is Halloween, and The SimpsonsThe Simpsons in particular features some absolutely ridiculous guitar work that left me slack jawed though not nearly as much as the craziness that is the Inspector Gadget theme.  I was both surprised and pleased at the inclusion of the theme from The Real Adventures of Johnny Quest, a show I remember enjoying and a theme song that I’ve always thought kicked some major ass.

In truth I think that Metal Kombat for the Mortal Man was a stronger outing, the songs showing just a touch more originality and flair then on Saturday Morning Apocalypse.  Don’t get me wrong, Saturday Morning Apocalypse, is still 100% pure awesome but there is a more a straightforward approach to the arrangements then either Total Pwnage or Metal Kombat for the Mortal Man.   Regardless you can grab the CD for about $13 or the MP3 album for $7 over at amazon.com and if you’re a fan of cartoons (and grew up in the 90s) I highly recommend giving it a shot.  The band has been picked up by E1 Music so there will certainly be more to come in the future and hopefully they’ll find a way to reintroduce their older albums back into the market.

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Review: Warp Riders by The Sword

Warp Riders / The Sword
Warp Riders / The Sword

Austin based metallers The Sword are one of my favorite bands of 21st Century.  Age of Winters and Gods of the Earth with their mythology and fantasy themed songs are some of the best, groove-heavy metal of this millennium.   Warp Riders, their 3rd studio album, released today and it blows both earlier efforts into tiny particles of space dust.  I won’t lie; I was excited about this album.  Excited to a degree where I was already starting to cope with my inevitable disappointment; no album could possibly live up to the album that existed in my head.  Well, turns out I was wrong about that.  Warp Riders is exactly as amazing I hoped it would be and then some.

This also marks one of the few specific instances  wherein I feel a little less strange about posingt a review of a metal album on a mostly science fiction and fantasy book blog.   Why is that?  Take a quick look at a  synopsis of the story told on Warp Riders (courtesy of the band’s official website):

Warp Riders tells the tale of Ereth, an archer banished from his tribe on the planet Acheron. A hardscrabble planet that has undergone a tidal lock, which has caused one side to be scorched by three suns, and the other enshrouded in perpetual darkness, it is the background for a tale of strife and fantasy, the battle between pure good and pure evil. ….The story of Warp Riders, entitled “The Night The Sky Cried Tears Of Fire” (written by Cronise), follows Ereth as he discovers a mysterious orb and meets the Chronomancer, a being beyond time and space who enlists him in a quest to restore the planet’s balance. Along the way he encounters strange warriors, mysterious witches, ancient androids, and a crew of space pirates with a vessel that will alter the course of history…  a vessel known as, The Sword.

The Sword manages to tell this story not only through the lyrical content of each song but through the music that drive each track as well.  Album opener Acheron/Unearthing the Orb starts off with a quiet synthesized introduction that evokes the science-fiction theme quite nicely right before the Unearthing the Orb section takes off with a furious crunch of guitar. Tres Brujas, released earlier this year as a single, and show some improvement on J. D. Cronises’ vocal skills; though he never strays far from his “barely sung” style.  There are no metal wails or power metal screeches here and Cronises’ vocal style suits the band’s sound perfectly.  Both Cronise and Kyle Shutt take ample opportunity to show off their guitar chops, more than in any other album and I found myself grinning on multiple occasions as one or the other burst into a solo.  Production on Warp Riders sounds a bit cleaner than on previous albums.  While the sonorous drone of the heavy distortion favored by the band is still present and accounted for Warp Riders sounds tighter than the band has ever sounded in the past.

Hands down I love this album from start to finish.  While I found that the galloping rythmn of Lawless Lands to be my particular favorite every song on this album is an absolute winner.  As of right now, with just over 3 months left in 2010, Warp Riders is my favorite album of the year and it will likely take something impossibly amazing to unseat it.  I have no real complaints except that the damn thing ended!  Thankfully I have a video trilogy to look forward to (Tres Brujas, Lawless Lands, Night City) as well!  You can check out The Sword on their website or  listen to some samples on their myspace.

Metal Reviews (and one non-metal review)

I’ve actually managed to pick up a few (note: understatement) CDs over the last few months and figured I’d mention a couple that you folks out there might enjoy.  Not all of the stuff was released this year but they’re things I’ve purchased and enjoyed.

Eulveitie: Evocation 1: The Arcane Dominion
Eulveitie: Evocation 1: The Arcane Dominion

Metal is getting more mainstream every day but folk metal is still very niche and Switzerland’s Eluveitie is perhaps a niche within a niche.  Where folk metal pioneers like Korpiklaani tend to sing in their native languages, Eulveitie takes a different route, replacing their native language for the now extinct Gaulish.  The band also frequently employs the hurdy-gurdy.  Their latest album Evocation I: the Arcan Dominion is  surprisingly light on the metal and heavy on the folk.  As one amazon.com reviewer puts it “What was meant to be folk turned out to be more Pop.”   I don’t completely agree with that sentiment but there is a broader mainstream appeal here that fans of more popular folk-influenced music that is a far cry from Eluveitie’s much heavier albums .  Still, it is a more intimate affair than Crimfall’s debut but somehow slightly grander than much of Korpiklaani’s work and as whole an extraordinarily compelling piece of music.  Vocalist Anna Murphy is absolutely superb at conveying emotion that transcends the linguistic barrier while at the same time remaining diverse in both tone and timbre.  Metal fans might balk at the albums lighter production values but they would be missing out on some impresssive tunes that reveal a band willing to take risks with their art.

Murder By Death, Red of Tooth and Claw
Murder By Death, Red of Tooth and Claw

Changing gears a bit I also picked up Red of Tooth and Claw by southern “gothic country” quartet Murder By DeathMurder By Death isn’t completely dissimilar to in its somewhat niche-like appeal and certainly has a similar folk vibe.  The opening track I’m Coming Home has a very Johnny Cash feeling but tinged with a bit of a darker tone, leaving one to question if that coming home is entirely in everyone’s best interests.  Like on many of the track the more traditional use of guitar and drums in accent and, in my opinion (warning: former cellist) is enhanced by the addition of a cello that lends the stripped down sound of the band an very full sound.  Red of Tooth and Claw is an album obviously influenced by the western genre and includes a decent tribute to iconic western film composer Ennio Morricone but the album also mashes together that western-film sound with more traditional rock beats and the occaisonal groove-heavy riff.  Murder By Death has a sound that is both unique, familiar, and a sound wholly their own.

Hammerfall: No Sacrifice, No Victory
Hammerfall: No Sacrifice, No Victory

Changing gears again we have the latest from Hammerfall, No Sacrifice, No Victory.  Somehow I’ve been missing out on this power metal outfit and I have no explanation as to exactly why.  While on the one hand there are no real surprises on this album at the same time there is a quality to the production and a catchiness to the song writing that is difficult to ignore.  I find that many power metal bands get caught up in their own acts (or maybe it’s just power metal fans) but there is a sense of fun to this album that is highly infectious.  The anthemic opening track By Any Means Necessary grabs you from the start with its anthemic stadium-rock like chorus and galloping beats and the album doesn’t let up for a minute from there on out.  The title track is damned impressive and is one those big songs that will have you nodding your head and raising your fist in the air to chant the main chorus along with the rest of the band.  While it doesn’t really do anything new what it does do, classic power metal with big anthemic choruses, it does well.  This album is just plain fun and fans of power metal everywhere shouldn’t hesitate to pick it up.

Blood Ceremony
Blood Ceremony

Last but not least is doom metal outfit Blood Ceremony.  I came across this band on a CD from UK magazine Metal Hammer and was immediately enthralled and must have listened to it every day for almost a week before I gave in a purchased their album.  While I didn’t find the full album as engaging as that one single, Hop Toad, they are a highly original band.  If you heard them you’d be surprised to learn that they a new band, with a new CD rather than something recorded back in the 79s.  With its dancing flutes, prominent Hammond organ, and supernaturally themed lyrics Blood Ceremony comes off like the product of a union between Jethro Tull and Black Sabbath.  The flute and hammond, combined with female vocals and some groove-heavy riffs gives the band a surprsing and occaisonally off-putting balance of light and dark that, while not always a perfect combination, lends the band their own unique feel and manages to keep things very interesting.  While I’m not sure I’d recommend a purchase outright fans of retro-influenced music, especially those who enjoyed the J. Mascis side-project Witch, should definitely give this old school band a try.

Ok, one last honorable mention.  Though they don’t have an album yet (it’s due in July) you should definatley checkout the track High Speed GTO by White Wizzard.  Pure fun, old school metal.

Metal(and other) Aquisitions and Commentary

Haven’t felt inspired to write up any full reviews recently, but here are some of my recent music purchases and some brief comments for those who might interested.

Protest the Hero (self-titled):  Solid progressive metalcore.  Some really interesting music on here occaisonally obscured by the typical metalcore screeching.  It’s good that the iTunes version of the album came with an all-instrumental version of the album.

36 Crazyfists, the Tide and It’s Taker:  Polished metal with great energy but a bit unoriginal.  I admit that the band’s name has thrown me in the past (it doesn’t sound very metal does it?) but their recent review in Metal Hammer straightened me out.  Of course Metal Reviews hated the album and is on the mark to a point, but I’m less inclined to be that harsh.

North Mississippi Allstars, Hernando:  Southern rock with influences from metal, hard rock, country, and even a little hip-hop.  These guys haven’t released a bad album yet, great summer tunes.

Rage, Speak with the Dead (2006):  My favorite discovery of 2008 (so far) and one of the hardest bands to find searching by name alone.  A great album but certainly not as groove heavy as Carved In Stone.  The album does have a more epic feel thanks to the backup orchestra.  I really dig lead singer/bassist Peter “Peavey” Wanger’s vocal style, I don’t know why exactly, I just do.

Powerwolf, Lupus Dei:  Horror themed power metal?  Sign me up!  Not as stunning as I’d hoped but a solid album that is a lot more fun than you would expect.  I liked it better than Maiden’s latest, take that however you may but there it is.

Metal Review: Watershed by Opeth

Progressive music, whether it’s prog rock or prog metal, is an oddity. The genre (if it can even be called that) is definitely an acquired taste. Songs tend to be on longer side (some might say longer than absolutely necessary) and they usually incorporate a wide variety of musical sources. Call it what it is: a mish-mash of music. Weird time signatures and crazy instruments from 15th century Asia are the status quo. Why play that solo on a guitar when you can play it on a lute? But for all of the excesses that prog has given us over the years, it can frequently be a satisfying style of music. The bands in the genre tend to be both intellectual and musically talented. And they have produced some stunning works of art over the years (see Rush).

Continue reading “Metal Review: Watershed by Opeth”

Metal Review: Flies & Lies by Raintime

Of European nations Italy is perhaps last on a short list of providing truly awesome metal.  An opinion, after having listened to this album, I may have to examine with a more careful eye.  Lacking the outright silliness of fellow Italians Rhapsody, and lacking the weak/odd/annoying vocals of American progressive acts such as Coheed and Cambria and Dream Theatre, Raintime manages to combine pain, beauty, aggression and musicality into an impressively powerful brew.  Vocals range from death metal style growls to clean metalcore tones to gruff hard rock wrung from the gut.  The keyboard work is impressive but never overstated and lends an appropriate majestic air to the proceedings.  The sound is majestic but never pretentious, hard but never overly aggressive and intimate but never ranging into melodramatic. Raintime walks a delecite line between various lines of metal sub-genres creating a sound at once familiar and something totally their own.

Having listened through the album several times I’m still not tired of it, and after a long days work, is a worthy listen on the drive home.  It is an album almost meant to be listened to all of one piece, from start to finish, in one sitting with absolutely no tracks that make me reach for the skip button.  And that includes a cover song.  If you think you know “Beat It” think again.  It feels like the song was written for these guys to play.  Give these guys a listen, either on iTunes or their myspace page, if you don’t like what you here there is definitely something wrong with you.

Metal Review (Pellet): Sanctity, Road to Bloodshed

Sancity’s debut Road to Bloodshed is to Trivium what The Confession’s first full-length is to Avenged Sevenfold.  An up and coming band produced by a member/producer of another band, in this case Jason Suecof who produced both Trivium’s The Crusade and Ascendency and served as song-writer on a number of that band’s songs, that leads to an album strikingly similar to that of another band (The Confession’s first full-length was produced by A7X frontman M. Shadows).   Road to Bloodshed isn’t a bad album though and even excels over Trivium’s in several aspects.  It’s a well nuanced album that, while familiar, features top-notch production and a very mature sense of pacing.  Never veering into ballad territory Road to Bloodshed features enough musical texture that the frequent growls of lead singer Jared MacEachern don’t grate nearly as much as Trivium’s Matt Heafy.  I think these guys are worth keeping an eye on.  It’s hard to say on album like this exactly how much the producers creative element influenced the band in question, given the album’s similarity to late Trivium efforts I would suggest a lot, but I’d be interested to see how a freer creative hand in their own output effects the quality of their work.   In the end this is a solid, if slightly derivitive, outing that fans of melodic influenced thrash metal would do well to at least give a whirl.

Review: Worlds Collide by Apocalyptica

I just recently noticed that Apocalyptica’s entire catalog has been loaded up on Rhapsody.  Presumably it’s part of a larger plan to advertise their new album, Worlds Collide, which seems to be the trend for a lot of artists that have been holding out on “monthly fee” services. Since I’ve been only listening to their second album, Inquisition Symphony, up until this point (because it was the only one on Rhapsody), this gave me a chance to see what else a metal band founded by four cellists can do.

The Bad: I’m fully convinced that the addition of a drummer to the original quartet stripped away some piece of the band’s uniqueness.  On the initial few albums, the percussion section was either dropped entirely or picked up by one of the cellos. Either choice results in a unique sound in a genre where the drummer is heavily emphasized and that’s now missing. The only other problem with this album is that the collaborations tracks with vocals are clear attempts at sacrificing their sound to garner some play on rock radio (success…I actually heard I’m Not Jesus on WMMR recently). The results are some tracks that tend towards generic hard rock.

The Good: The instrumental tracks are fantastic. The band does an excellent job of letting the beautiful sound of the main cello come through while still maintaining an overall metal sound that proves they really understand the genre despite being trained in classical music. After the novelty of “cello metal” fades for the listener, the band can easily stand on the quality of their music. As an added bonus for Rammstein fans, there is clearly a lot of overlap between the two bands since they toured together in 2005. Till Lindemann makes a guest appearance with a German-language cover of David Bowie’s Heroes. A longtime Rammstein producer is also at the helm of Worlds Collide. Combining that with Rammstein’s frequent use of strings results in a couple moments that could have come from either band.

The Verdict: A strong B+. Find a way to listen to this album. Just maybe skip some of the generic vocal tracks.

Metal Review: Zimmer’s Hole, When You Were Shouting at the Devil…

Zimmer's Hole

Artist: Zimmer’s Hole
Album: When You Were Shouting at the Devil
Release: March 11, 2008

I’ve been trying to get this review out for days now but kept getting side-tracked by actual work. Let me say that as of today, April 15, this is Album of the Year stuff right here. Is this serious metal? Yes and no. Yes because it is hard-hitting ferocious sounding musical thunder that borrows from almost every sub-genre of the metal and roars at you with the amps turned up to 11. No, because while at the same time as paying homage to the metal genre, and doing it well, it does so with a satirical tongue-in-check air.

Songs like We Rule the F*cking Land and Hair Doesn’t Grow on Steel make fun of the opulence and grandiosity of power metal while at the same time reveling in those self same traits. Vocalist “the Heathen” manages death metal growls, hardcore screams, and 80s style howls with equal applomb and tracks like the titular When You Were Shouting at the Devil….We Were in League with Satan and Alright combine the heavy crunch of modern metal with old-school 80s style vocals/effects and boils everything down to a delicious reduction. Indeed, a satirical metal romp would be nigh incomplete without the special guest on The Vowel Song who I won’t name but will say that he is THE figure in the satirical metal world.

For a musical genre that often takes itself far too seriously for its own good an album that makes you headbang while grinning like a madman (if not outright laughing) is a rare and treasured thing indeed. If you even dare to call yourself a fan of metal you should buy this album. A solid A album, recommended with absolutely no reservations what-so-ever.

Metal Review: Carved in Stone by Rage

Carved in Stone Since I reviewed the newbies last week I figured I should show shine some attention on the veterans.  I’ll be honest, I hadn’t heard of Rage previously, but damn if this isn’t an impressive album.  Originally from Germany circa 1984 Carved In Stone marks an impressive 18th album and, while their lineup has changed over the years, the current trio here works wells together.

Peter “Peavy” Wagner on vocals eschews the death metal growl and the screamo howl for a more middle ground similar to Ville Laihialla of Sentenced (a band that formed the same decade as Rage but has since parted ways).   Victor Smolski is equally comfortable switching between heavy riffs and subtler materials.  Smolski’s verstalitiy is particularly apparent on “Open My Grave,” a track that also manages to feature some damned impressive fills by newbie drummer Andre Hilgers, and the slower balladesque “Without You”

I doubt the guys from Rage will win any metalcore fans over.   This is an album firmly entrenched in the European school of metal; a style that I have yet to see an American band pull off completely.   While there are bands that certainly pay homage to this “traditional” metal (Trivium’s The Crusade) and others that have their own American version (Megadeth, United Abominations) it just isn’t a typcial style for the US metal scene.  If you haven’t heard of Rage and are fan of more metal bands like Iron Maiden and, to a lesser extent, Manowar give this album a try.  A stellar from an old school band.  Now a bonus, “Open My Grave” music video, God Bless YouTube