Serious Black – Mirrorworld

The album honestly feels like something that was designed to be thrown into the bargain bin. It was released only a year after their initial debut, and is even shorter than said debut. Tracks like As Long as I’m Alive, Castor Skies, and to some extent Mirrorworld are decent tracks, but the rest of the album feels totally uninspired, by the book acceptable power metal. Serious Black does the bare minimum to make their songs entertaining, and as a result comes out with something that listens more like a bag of junk food. It fills the gap in your stomach, but gives no nutritional value, and acts as nothing more than a stop gap for when your next real meal takes place.


Divine Weep – Tears of Ages

Really nice balance between being melodic, and rhythmically moving. A lot of power metal albums seem to just focus so much on one or the other, instead of doing both well. You’ll either have something like Galneryus (though I wouldn’t say that’s really a bad thing) or you’ll have some random chug prog band that gets praised because they use folk instruments one time on the album. This has a nice mix of both. You can hear the influences of when this band used to be a black metal band on tracks like The Mentor. The type of riffs they use sound a bit like slowed down black-thrash riffs in a way. This is nothing absolutely amazing, but still very decent power metal without a single bad track on the album, if nothing really spectacular.


Sunburst – Fragments of Creation

Perfect, that’s how I wanted to end my evening, chug prog that desperately tries to disguise that fact with soulless technicality. Fantastic, this’ll be a short one. Fragments of Creation is another drop in a sea of unmemorable power prog that’ll be released this year, and the only reason I’m even being arsed to write a review about it is because I happened to be dumb enough to give it a shot. Not a single memorable song lies on this album, essentially being a 56 minute waste of your time. If you like solos that have been played endlessly, if you like prog metal that’s “totally not djent guys, really honestly it’s just a slight influence, we’re our own thing I promise”, and if you like dry reflections of power metal that do nothing but add insincere “cheese” to the album, be my guest. Go ahead, like it, I can’t stop you. I’ll admit, once in a while there’s a riff that kinda cocks my head a bit. Beyond that, there’s nothing worth saving here. Move along folks, nothing to see, just joining the endless crowd of other albums like it released on a yearly basis.


Almanac – Tsar

Well… huh. Since when is the obligatory overrated power metal album in the RYM [current year] metal top 40 actually good? I mean sure, this has very little replayability, and after the initial “hey this is actually pretty dang good”shock wears off, it leaves something to be desired, but considering all of those obvious faults, this rules.

Almanac debuts with a power metal rock opera with a very apparent progressive tinge, chronicling the reign of Russian Tsar, Ivan the Terrible. Of course, I can say that, but despite those facts, when it comes down it, this is chug power. Quite good chug power, but chug power nonetheless. Normally that instantly caps your max rating at around the 6 level on my scale, but I feel like Almanac manages to avoid this pitfall through pulling some shenanigans in how they do the chugging deed. Actually it’s not really shenanigans at all, they just use chugging as a form to setup tension and build backing for the fantastic vocals, as well as using the heavy guitars for chug-riffs rather than just mindless repetitive chords. I just really wanted to use the word shenanigans there. Fun word, needs more use outside of conversations between high school musical theater students.

Speaking of which, the theatrical aspects of this album are actually presented in quite a professional manner. I mean yeah, there’s the obvious amount of “cheese” you’re going get with power metal, but I put that in quotes here because nothing about this is actually over the top. Sure, it’s going to sound a tad goofy, as does any power metal album, but aside from sometimes slightly overly theatrical aspects of this record, I see this as quite a professionally done piece of music. The production in particular is top notch clean work, which makes me take this as seriously as I’ll ever take a power metal album. There’s a feel of genuine want to create a story that’s not just muh dragons and DnD, and I think that’s necessary for a good power metal album. As much as I like cheese, if it doesn’t feel like the band is trying to create something that’s not just goofy, it makes me feel like the band is almost mocking their genre rather than trying to embrace it, which doesn’t make them too rad of dudes in my book. Then again I like Gloryhammer, so what do I know?

The main part of Tsar that I enjoy the most is actually the guitar work. The internet has told me that Victor Smolski is a legendary guitarist, so I’ll believe them in an effort to look learned, and he displays what the lord our god Internet has told me. The single on this album, Self-Blinded Eyes, proves this fact, which as well as featuring a fantastic solo towards the end of the track, also features a bit of a riff cereal. It’s sort of like Lucky Charms, with all of the marshmallows being different colors and include all of that tasty processed sugar flavor that my 8 year old self loved. Each riff brings a bit of breakfast time memories to me, as I go off to school, ready to be picked on endlessly because my mom wouldn’t buy me Lunchables. That’s kind of a contrived analogy, but fuck it, I really like breakfast anyway, that’s good enough. Unsurprisingly, this is the best track on the album, and brings forth the driving rhythms that the appropriate use of chugging can do to a track.

However, I have to go back to what I said in the first paragraph: this is chug power, and after the initial pleasant surprise factor, the albums positive attributes wears thinner and thinner. This is a good album, definitely one of the better power metal records I’ve heard this year. But it’s the tolken overrated RYM power metal album of the month for a reason, even if it tries its best to break that stereotype.


Sinbreed – Master Creator

This album is actually magical. It has a good guitar tone, good vocals, good production, and sounds like it was made by a competent band, and manages to actually make nothing of note for 45 straight minutes. The second and third track are literally in the same key, back to back, and sound nearly identical. It’s astonishing. It’s like the rhythm guitar has a 20 inch cock, and the whole album is just a one long masturbation session. It isn’t even chugchore, it’s just nothing but pretty good singing and backup guitars for an entire album. Oh and there’s a weird emotional piano track that’s really bad, but that’s kinda par for the course in power metal so whatever.


Shortstacks 3/1/2016

The second ever batch of shortstacks has a bit of a drop at the top in terms of quality, but the same overall value across all the ratings. Yesterday we had one album crack the recommended tag, if just barely, in Eissturm’s The Oak, while the remaining two meddled in the average to bad category. Today we have two albums who have merit, but don’t quite reach that level, and two that are just… really bad. One of which being the second worst album I’ve rated this year. I guess that’s quality in itself, isn’t it? I mean, why else read the shitty rated albums if you don’t simply want to feel better about your own failed musical endeavors? Well don’t worry, we have that for you today. Without further adieu, here are today’s 4 horsemen of the mediocrepocalypse.


Witch’s Heart – The Crvshing Waves of Silence Wash Over My Wretched Soul

Well this certainly is spooky. I’m not sure how good it is, but it’s a hard listen. Witch’s Hearts create a really unique sound of combining droning sludge guitar tones with heavy and dark industrial synths and noises. It utilizes these disfigured blackened “vocals” (???) along with blast beats to create a terrifying musical sight to behold. At first it’s really a cool experience, opening up with these angelic choirs combining with darkness the rest of the influences hold. Unfortunately, the album gets old pretty damn fast. I love dark industrial stuff, but I can only take so much of one droning overall sound per track. There just isn’t the variety here to keep me interested. There’s potential for good stuff, these guys just need to figure it out.



Nova Serpens – Oculto en las sombras

Not bad. Generic, but not bad. Once the novelty of “Mexican power metal band that sings in spanish” wears off, there isn’t really much substance here worth mentioning. Standard stuff that’s done pretty well for what it is, but doesn’t break any mold in terms of the larger scale. I will say that the vocals are actually quite good, having a bit deeper range than most other power metal bands while still maintaining quality. That said, everything else here is something that’s been done before, and been done better.



Avitas – Pioneers

Complete mess of an album with equally messy song titles and production job. Everything sounds chaotic in all the wrong ways, like the band just doesn’t know how to write a song. When it isn’t just a mess, it’s just one riff over and over again over some incredibly insipid lyrics (which are mostly bigoted, but there’s reasons beyond that why they’re bad). It’s a real shame it isn’t anywhere near as good as the cover art, because I was pretty excited to listen to this based just on that. Awful album that is to be avoided.



Panoptitron – Swansong

Imagine Dream Theater, if they never got a record deal. If they never even left their garage. Having been disappointed in not getting attention, they go for a lofi-black metal aesthetic while still being a prog band. So what you get is some of the worst quality production jobs you’ll hear in a non black or death metal record, coupled with copious amounts of awful quality midis and drum machines, resulting in climaxes that have the extremely mediocre vocalist singing his guts out while nothing but midi horns and empty synth drums back him up. Swansong gives approximately the same feeling as watching a severely autistic child try to play the recorder. You feel a mixture of audible pain, immense sadness, trying empathy, and just a tiny but of happiness because you know that despite their poor results, they’re trying their best. This record is why you give your friends constructive criticism rather than just blindly praising their work. Because otherwise they never realize how shitty what they’re doing is, and go on to make albums like this, which is actually part 4 in a series of concept albums. So please, criticize your friends. It can save a life.


Helion Prime – Helion Prime ALBUM REVIEW

Holy mother of hell this is awesome. Picture this: female fronted power metal that is NOT over the top cheesy or cringeworthy in the slightest. Actually, let’s just put that as a female fronted power metal band that isn’t over the top at all. Hell we could simplify that to a power metal band that isn’t over the top, but it’s more impressive with a factor that’s often used as a detriment. When you think of female fronted power metal bands, you think of shit like Epica and Nightwish, shit that just goes above and beyond corsetcore. Not that those bands are inherently bad, but it’s certainly something you’re going to take with big old grain of “the people who listen to this probably masturbate to Harry Potter fanfiction” salt. In general, power metal bands with female vocals always have this feeling that while it sounds nice, a male voice would feel more natural. Helion Prime doesn’t give a fuck about that. They don’t care about any preconceived notions of what power metal should sounds and they do that in the best way possible: they accept all preconceived notions of what a power metal band should sounds like, and abide by them.

I know that sounds a bit confusing, so let me explain. One of the reasons women are not seen as much in metal is because of how masculine the genre is. Songs about gore, guts, satan, and drugs doesn’t sound like what a typical girl would foray into. And the community takes good measure to keep it that way, being sort of a no girls allowed club. That takes a step further with power metal. Power metal is stereotypically all about dragons, warriors, history, and lots of men doing manly things. It is the stereotypical metal for nerdy white men. Hell, Visigoth made an album literally about DnD last year. Power metal is the ultimate anti-girl vaccine. So naturally people tend to assume when an icky girl is involved in their just for men metal, it’s going to be subdued, lighter, and have cooties all over it. Going away from power metal for a second, it’s the reason people hate Myrkur so much, because she took something as dark, evil, and manly as black metal, and supposedly lightened it up.

Helion Prime doesn’t do that. This s/t is a concept album about fighting aliens in outer space. The vocals that had the potential to be so misused, not only are on par with what a male vocalist could do, it sounds BETTER. It gives the music a lighter, more upbeat quality, but not in a way that makes the story and tone of the album any less impactful. It doesn’t feel handicapped, it just feels different in a good way. I know I went on a lot about one aspect of the album, but I just wanted to hammer home how awesome I think it is that a band can break the gender barrier in a correct way: by not changing a damn thing of the genre to fit a more feminine style.

Onto other aspects here, the choruses are unbelievably catchy, especially on tracks like Life Finds a Way. There’s a sense that a lot of work was put in to every individual song to feel distinct and memorable. It doesn’t have the massive amount of gadgets and gizmos that all the other big production bands. There are no symphony orchestras, not folk instruments, no skits, nothing. It doesn’t do anything fancy, and comes out as feeling refreshingly natural. It just flows through so well, with every track feeling like a distinct moment in the story. Even though there is a moderate amount of chugging here, it feels more like a tool to establish rhythm rather than just filler (in about 95% of the cases, there are times where it slips into filler territory just a bit). The one negative thing I can really say here is the solo work ranges from pretty good to mediocre. I kept waiting for that one amazing solo to blow me away, and I kind of got it at Ocean of Time, but everything else just felt ok, nothing more.

Other than that, this is a fantastic work of power metal that besides breaking gender tropes, is also an amazing piece of music. Tumblr, if you’re looking for an album to actually show that women can do just as well as men in metal, please choose this one.


Primal Fear – Rulebreaker ALBUM REVIEW

What a sorry excuse for an album. Beyond the insipid lyrical content, which I can excuse somewhat for a power metal album, the songwriting and solo work are beyond the acceptable levels of mediocre. The solos are either glorified scale practice, or generic, nonsensical “shredding” (if you can even call it that). The main musical content itself is actually not a mix of power metal and heavy metal, more an either or. Each song is either an extremely uninspired butt metal piece, which abuse of rhythm guitar and chugging instead of any actual song material, or an actually pretty ok, but generic power metal track. Their split about 50/50 throughout the album, so the most excitement you’ll get out of this album is gambling on whether or not you’re going to feel unclean listening to the next track or not.

Riffs? What riffs? Oh you mean those basic bitch melodies that Primal Fear is calling riffs? Yeah those are here, what about them? Honestly, Primal Fear is probably too old to give a shit, they’re making money off this, why bother making any effort? There’s no other explanation to the tracks We Walk Without Fear and In Metal We Trust. We Walk is essentially a Powerslave era Iron Maiden wannabe, without any of the talent that made Iron Maiden good. It seemed like the track just started, then I look back at the song timer and I’m 8 minutes of 11 into the track, and nothing fucking happened. In Metal We Trust is just a travesty. Beyond the fact that no band makes a metal tribute song like that without being a massively washed up heavy metal band, the lyrics themselves are so damn insincere and obviously pandering to their fans it’s disgusting. I don’t think I would believe any band takes metal to heart if their song proclaiming so featured one repeated riff the entire song.

Rulebreaker is lazy, stupid, and a waste of space, made as a cash grab by a dying band who desperately wants to be relevant. Well, not entirely. If they were desperate they would actually put effort into things. Primal Fear just doesn’t give enough of a shit for something like that.


Civil War – Gods and Generals ALBUM REVIEW

I actually have a bit of history with Sabaton (and consequentially, Civil War), probably the most out of any band I’ve never intentionally listened to. At my last college I had a roomate/good friend who was a bit… weird. Perfectly polite person, awesome to hangout with, but he had a really dark and morbid look on the universe. Not in an emo way, but in a militaristic way. He once told me everything was a story to him. That’s a very nice way of looking at things, except when all of those stories are either Grimm Faerie Tale-like, or stories of war and battle. He also loved history, and him and one of my other friends would go on for hours about various historical topics, and I’d always learn something from them. Now, what band combines tales of war and battle with copious amount of history (keeping in mind this is the same guy I talked about in another review who liked Dimmu Borgir and bands of the like)? Sabaton of course! And oh he played Sabaton a lot. The same songs even. And sung along to them quiet loudly. While he was a fantastic friend and I miss him a lot, this was at the time very annoying. So because of that, I’ve always viewed Sabaton in a somewhat negative light.

Enter the new Sabaton, same as the old Sabaton. Or Sabaton 2, whichever metaphor you find more fitting. I had a bad feeling when the first time I saw it on RYM, it’s score was super inflated. That’s always a sign of fanboys, which is always bad. I also had images in my head of my roomate blasting Carolus Rex and singing along much louder than needed flashing in my head. So not off to a good start. I also happen to have a distaste for most symphonic metal, so even seeing that tag, especially next to the power metal tag, is always a bit of a red flag for me. Regardless, I hadn’t done a review in 3 days (busy helping my dad move), so I figured what the hell, might as well.

First thing that stood out to me was the the synths were actually quite good. There were definitely points where I almost couldn’t tell if they had hired an orchestra or not. You can often tell if a symphonic metal album is going to be good by the quality of their synths, and these certainly checked out. For the most part. There are times where it seems like they used almost intentionally bad, retro sounding synths, which I guess fits in with the theme of old history, but I don’t think the 1980s is the period they wanted to harken back to. The driving rhythm that moves along many of the tracks on this album is nice in that it isn’t rhythm based on chugging, but on actual rhythm guitar and drums. You know, how music normally works. The vocals are legitimately epic sounding, while at the same time not sounding cheesy at all, which is a stunning accomplishment for a power metal album in my mind. That’s typically a one or the other kinda deal. They’re also extremely clear with their lyrics, as in you can hear every word, which is certainly something even in power metal. This especially helps me, as I’m pretty damn retarded at hearing lyrics. And while Gods and Generals doesn’t really focus on riffs too heavily, it does have a guitar focus, something that’s missing from countless other Symphonic Metal bands (see the Cain’s Offering review). So overall, the foundations of the album are solid. It does most everything it needs to do right, right, and doesn’t do too many things particularly wrong. A good start.

Going back to the guitar focus, while this album doesn’t focus on riffs, it does focus strongly on melody. Strong and clear melodies. With choruses even! I know that’s not supposed to be something to get excited about, power metal is supposed to have a chorus generally, but the song structure and melody line is just so clear and out front that it’s a joy to hear. Mind you, it’s not really a joy of “wow this is so entertaining and pleasing to listen to!” as more as it is a joy of “wow I finally don’t have to deal with the bullshit, I can just get right into the meat and potatoes of music”. Which is really what this album is about, just getting down to what song is all about. None of this prog bullshit, or any other atmospheric bullshit, or any of the various bullshit metal as a genre throws at you to get away from what song is all about: melody. I once saw an analysis of why people don’t think of today’s video game music as good as older video game music. It wasn’t because today’s music has gotten worse, it’s because today’s video game music generally doesn’t focus on melody. For instance, you can’t hum any of the Gears of War music. So why did older music focus on melody more? It wasn’t because they had some secret to making popular music stored in the composers brains or something, it was because they had to. Why? Because they had less to work with. An NES only has so much memory it can fit in a game, that the songs need to take up less room. Consequentially, the songs have less tracks, so what you do make has to count. So how do you make great music with less tracks? You focus the melody. And that’s exactly what Civil War does with Gods and Generals. Every single track has a clear melody line, without too many moving parts and harmonies, that anyone can follow along with. There’s a reason my friend was singing along to what he was listening to, this is very sing-alongable music. There’s also strong structure in the songs, with an intro, first verse, bridge, chorus, second verse, chorus, maybe a solo in there, refrain, end. This is very standard in almost all music, but in metal this is actually not seen very much, at least not in such a clear and obvious manner. Ironically, by being so standard, Civil War actually manages to be extremely refreshing and new.

But at the same time, this is the modern world, and in today’s world, you need more than just a strong grasp of melody and structure to be good, you need the ornaments. This album certainly does deliver ornaments, though I wouldn’t say in spades. Tracks like Braveheart have a nice quirk to them in the way the piano is used, it sounds almost sounds it belongs more in a musical than a metal album, with it’s rhythmic chord repetition accompanying the recanting of a tale of a scottish soldier. It’s cheesy as hell, but it’s a good kind of cheese. There’s the kind of cheese that makes you groan with how awful it is, and there’s the kind of cheese that makes you smile, let go, and have fun. This album is in the latter category. While this record doesn’t have an excessive amount of that, it has just enough to not take the serious nature of the subject matter too seriously.

However the album does take a very serious, and even dramatic turn in the last 3 tracks, in which all 3 are epic ballads of various subject matter, the last of which, the title track Gods and Generals, being generally about war itself, and how much of it is pointless and they’ll all die anyway, but it’s ok because they’ll die fighting with their brothers in arms. It’s an extremely fitting end to the album that simultaneously sounds depressing as hell, but with a hint of optimism. That hint of optimism is really what makes this album enjoyable. Nobody wants to listen to a power metal album and then feel extremely sad afterward, that’s like asking for a happy ending at a massage parlor, only for the masseuse to tell you how she’s abused at home by her husband while she’s giving it to you. There are certain things that are better left unsaid in certain situations. Being as the 10th and final track on this album does give you that optimism, I’ll say it avoided the musical sad handjob. And it’s not as if the other tracks in this mini-section aren’t good too. Back to Iwo Jima has a really awesome guitar solo in it that perfectly reflects what makes the solos in this album great, in that they’re a good combination of skill wank, and melody. Schindler’s Ark is a nice change of pace track that slows everything down and focuses on being lyrical rather than having that driving rhythm I mentioned earlier in the review (though it really could’ve used without the cheesy sad piano). All three are good tracks in their own right, but make everything much better in the context of them ending the album.

So why isn’t this higher then? I’ve said nothing but good things about this so far after all. And it’s true that there are no glaring flaws in this. But the one thing close to being one is the middle 3 tracks of this album, tracks 5-7, which all seem incredibly dull and uninspired. Listening to those tracks was that moment in an album where you keep waiting for the album to be over and start to not pay as close attention. The aforementioned solo on Iwo Jima is actually what really woke me up from this state. USS Monitor is about the closest thing this album has to filler. The other tracks suffer from being in a weird spot where they don’t have any of the quirks of the earlier tracks, and don’t have the emotional pull of the later tracks, so you get this middle ground that doesn’t appeal to anyone and in the end, everyone loses, sort of like the united states congress except without the real world implications. Which, considering this is about the Civil War, is quite fitting.

So yes, I will admit, I did in fact like Sabaton’s twin brother. It’s a simple album, but simplicity is sometimes the key to good music (minimalism exists for a reason you know). And it executes what it tries to bring to the table very well, which is always important, as you can have a great idea, but if you can’t implement it, it’s useless. I only wish I had more of a historical background so that I could fully appreciate the subject matter of this music like my friend did. I feel like if I did, I would be giving this a much higher score. With that in mind however, maybe it is a good thing I don’t have that reference so that I remain unbiased, which is always a good thing. I can still say that I have never intentionally listened to the actual Sabaton before, but at least when I finally do, I will be prepared. And hopefully, the results will be similar. An album that knows it’s place, fights a good fight, and ends in a combination of triumph and sadness. Just like any good soldier’s journey.