Rhapsody of Fire – Into the Legend ALBUM REIVEW

God damn it’s been a long time since I got to actually review (which means Gloryhammer doesn’t count) a power metal album I really enjoyed. I was initially quite put off by the immediately use of the typical fantasy music vii-i resolution, which by the way, can we just stop that? It really doesn’t add anything musical, it’s like literal filler in music form. You’re modulating by unrelated half steps, how is that supposed to make me feel anything? Anyway, I was soon proven wrong by a BLAST of energy, a crashing wave of pure symphonic euphoria that completely blew my socks off.

Let’s just start with that fucking production. Holy shit, this is some absolute top notch quality material. It’s super clean, but you can’t really feel how clean it is because there’s so much going on. So many production jobs that are super clean make that fact really apparent in how empty everything is. But Rhapsody of Fire makes sure that this isn’t the case, sending sonic booms through your ears, washing your consciousness away with pure epic music. It’s sort of like going to a high budget 3D IMAX movie. The plot line is mediocre, but the special effects are so fucking good you don’t give a shit. And I would gladly not give a shit, but Rhapsody thankfully gives me a good reason to.

Beyond simple effects like orchestra and choirs and synths, musically this album is far superior to the large majority of power albums I’ve heard. It’s not in a super in your face way, but there are enough interesting chords changes, and twists and turns throughout each track to keep me interested in every note on almost every track (I’ll get to that later). Sure there’s plenty of awesome shredding galore. But what’s better playing fast on a guitar? How about playing fast on a guitar and STILL incorporating riffs and being completely on topic to the chord changes and music! It’s shocking, it’s almost as if playing lots of notes doesn’t have to be completely brainless! Whoda thunk.

And it’s not just the music or the extra material, it’s the entire textural variety of the album. Every song is unique in its own way, and throughout the large majority of the album, despite it’s over hour long length, I did not feel bored. Aside from there just being soft tracks and loud tracks, but unique varieties of instruments and musical tone. Even tracks like Winter’s Rain, which has a relatively consonant melodic contour, has the backing of soaring operatic female vocals, of which creates actual tension in a power metal album. Tension in power metal? Strong emotional reactions to the music in power metal? These can happen? Apparently so. This same operatics is displayed on Valley of the Shadows, and it’s fucking over the top that on any other album I’d just groan at it. But it fucking works here, because it’s just executed so perfectly. Nothing feels forced, and it never seems like the band is biting off more than it can chew.

If there is one failure in Into the Legend, it’s actually the finale. And it’s really only because the track previous, Rage of Darkness, makes for such a great closer in itself. While it’s no longer than any of the other tracks, it ends with such finality, and contains one of the most awesome shred solos I’ve ever heard in a power metal album. If the album ends there it’s approaching 9/10 territory. However instead we get a 16 minute “epic”. While yes, it is a pretty awesome track itself, The Kiss of Life doesn’t feel like it evolves the album to its final conclusion. If anything, it feels like any of the other tracks, but longer and on a larger scale. Not bad by itself, but after hearing all the same tricks for 50 minutes prior, the album finally runs out of steam. It’s like the band had exhausted all of its ideas, and decided to end by just taking all those other ideas, and being even louder about it. Listen to that track was the first time on the entire album I felt bored. The 67 minute play time finally started to feel like a 67 minute album. And it’ such a shame, because I was really looking forward to putting my 9 pants on. Unfortunately, they’ll have to be kept back into the drawer for now.

Still, regardless of one large misstep, Into the Legend brings out a legendary performance that looks to be a hot contender for best power metal album this year.


8.5/10

Kitties of Death – Valley of the Death ALBUM REVIEW

You guys remember Happy Tree Friends? Remember when you discovered them in middle school and thought it was the edgiest and funniest thing in existence? This is basically the musical equivalent of that. It’s music for middle school kids to discover and share with their friends so that they feel like they’re all grown up. It’s a necessary part of the life cycle, but I don’t grade on how good of a teenage learning experience an album is. As far as music goes, this is complete and utter trash. “Avant-Garde” my ass.


0.75/10

Mechina – Progenitor ALBUM REVIEW

OFFICIAL SHITTY ALBUM CHECKLIST

Bland Symphonic backtracks?: Check
Shitty electronic bits that have nothing to do with the music?: Check
Vocals that sound like they belong in “Generic Djent album #3849230348”?: Check
Cheese that is simultaneously not self aware, but not totally sincere either?: Check
Nearly indistinguishable tracks?: Check
Mindless chugging?: Check
BONUS – Is it a Mechina album?: Check, double check

About the only thing Progenitor doesn’t check is incompetent musicianship, but these guys don’t exactly show they’re virtuosos either. I’ll admit the main riff of Cryoshock is actually pretty groovy, but everything else about this album is complete, and utter trash.


2/10

Fleshgod Apocalypse – King ALBUM REVIEW

Disgustingly bland, though that isn’t anything new for Fleshgod Apocalypse. Beyond the that fact that every song sounds roughly the same, it’s the way it sounds the same that’s so especially awful. It’s bland in how not bland it’s trying to be, with those high quality symphonic midis disguised as a real orchestra (and if it is a real orchestra, I hope they got paid double what they were worth for having to play this shit), blasting tired chord changes over and over again over bland death growls and shitty, repetitive chugging. Over and over and over and over again. And then adding in cleans for the “emotional” and “climatic” section actually manages to make King blend in with the crowd even more.

Honestly I can barely tell where a track ends and where it begins. The whole things sounds like one giant blob of retirement home style tapioca pudding that you’re force-fed for 57 minutes, even more if you happen to hate yourself and listen to the second, full symphonic CD.

Fleshgod wanted to make their sound more distinct with a niche by pioneering symphonic death metal, but instead managed to sound even more stale than they were when they were “good”. In a phrase, King is above all, miserably inoffensive.


3/10

Zieler – ESC ALBUM REVIEW

Everyone has that one perfect album that they want to make. The one album that’ll change the game, get high scores, become a classic, and be basically perfect. Everyone has that master piece album that they envision in their head. Finn Zieler is no different, and I very much envision that this is what he had in mind when crafting a perfect creation. It would be an album that would be heralded throughout the ages as possibly the greatest album of all time, an album that musicians for years would aspire to try to even come close to replicating. At least, that’s what I think was going on in his head. In reality, it’s not the greatest album of all time. Nor is it even the greatest album of the year. Or even in the upper echelon. Or top half. Actually it’s not even good. Or average. Or bad. The reality is that ESC is an awful album that ranks among the worst I have reviewed this year, due to a fundamental disconnect between vision and actuality.

For starters, I was able to determine Zierler’s vision because it’s so damn obvious how hard this album is trying to be amazing. It throws the kitchen sink at you, and then adds a couple dozens more sinks just because. And it’s not just that this album has a lot, it’s how over the top it is. The piano in particular goes above and beyond reason, sounding more like one of those ridiculous, program made touhou piano remixes rather than a professional album. It makes it hard to take the music seriously. I’d say it even sounds goofy, like it’s from a cartoon. The way these guys blaze through notes like Paula Dean goes through butter makes this especially so, trading any kind of thoughtful song construction into “hey let’s see how many notes we can fit into here!”.

What’s worse is that there isn’t even any backup melody to offset this, it’s done almost entirely through chugging and rhythm guitar. It makes the music severely lacking in the depth department, often making the vocals the focus, despite them also being over the top and ridiculous. I’d even say they’re cringe worthy, and not in the fun power metal “let’s velveta on this track” way, but in the way where the band wants to be taken seriously, but they try so hard to get that result it ends up being laughable. One moment in particular that epitomizes this is on No chorus, where towards the middle end of the song they go into this spoken word rant about normality. It’s the typical shit some 16 year old would say on facebook as some sort of revelation, with the whole “normal doesn’t exist, it’s a construct of our society, I’m different and weird because I watch naruto and play pokemon in high school” etc. It makes me wonder if these guys actually think their music is weird. That would explain a lot about how they can think people would take them seriously. If they think this shit is weird, I’d love to hear what they would think of something like Beherit.

But the absolute worst part of this album is how god damn musically nonsensical it can be at times. The best example of this is on Dark to the Bone, specifically towards the middle end of the track. Normally I can write down what the riff/melody is on a song no problem. I couldn’t do that here, because there wasn’t any sort of main riff of logic behind the notes played. It’s essentially shitting around on the notes C D Eb G and Ab. Go back and listen to that, you’ll see what I mean. It sounds like essentially random notes. And that’s a constant throughout this record. Instead of going with distinct melodies and themes, it’s just fucks around on the keyboard and fret board as fast as they can, hoping something good comes out of it.

It’s a shame, because there are good sections on this record that display that this band has talent. The end of Evil Spirit is extremely beautiful, and god damn if it didn’t give me goose bumps and chills listening to it. And it happens because this is one of the only times on the album that this band slows down and gets musical. The background guitars play melodically. The solo guitar slows down. The pianist doesn’t piss all over the keyboard. Its good fucking music. If only this happened for the rest of the other 95% of the album, maybe this would’ve gotten a good score.


2/10

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.


8/10

Cain’s Offering – Stormcrow ALBUM REVIEW

Fun fact, I’ve never actually don a review under the influence of alcohol before. So this should be fun. Anyway, symphonic power metal has always been one of my least favorite metal genres for as long as I can remember. I’ve always thought of it as cheap and unsatisfying, kinda like the junk food of metal. However symphonic anything always has at least potential to cool because I’m a classical music guy, so if they don’t cheese it up, I can appreciate it. So did this band succeed in that?

Well first, let’s look at the positives. It’s produced well, and sounds at least like it’s made by a professional band.

Ok now that the positives are over, let’s look at the other side of the coin. The first impression was that this sounded a lot like Sonata Artctica, which upon further research it turns out this band is in fact made up of a lot of former Sonata Arctica members. That’s never a good sign. I know that synth instruments are pretty much a staple in symphonic metal bands, because most can’t actually hire an orchestra, which is understandable, except the effect is that it sounds like how I said before, cheap. In particular the harpsichord and synth pianos make it sound like one of those touhou metal remixes, which I would actually rather listen to than this. And then suddenly there are electro influences in there which just…. don’t make any sense at all. That seems to be the opposite of symphonic to me. It’s only in sparse sections of the album, but every time I hear it I just think there’s no reason for those electro synths to be there.

The lyrics are pretty standard bad power metal lyrics, though I did hear some dozies like “it’s 3 am, and I don’t know who I am”. Also the next time I hear the line “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” I’m going to hurt someone. There’s also some butchering of the english language even in the song titles like “Too Tire to Run” (and no, they aren’t talking about wheel tires, and the title doesn’t make sense even if they were). Speaking of that track, the entire thing sounds like something out of a bad romance movie. Like I can see the helpess heroine gazing into the eyes of the strong, shirtless man with long flowing hair that’s blowing in the wind. It’s awkward and uncomfortable as hell to listen to, especially since this is supposed to be a metal album. There’s a difference between cheesy and sappy, and this just crossed into the sappy territory, which metal should never even approach, even power metal.

Which actually brings me to the main fault of Stormcrow. Including the aforementioned track, this album tries to be as epic as possible, in any way except by actually using the guitar. Most of the climaxes in this lp are done with the synth orchestra, not with any sort of guitar melody. It feels like the guitars are mostly just along for the ride rather than the main point of the album, which would seem like it would be a given if it’s a metal album. For example, on Antemortem the guitars are really just rhythm rather than the driving force of the music. Which would be ok if what was supplementing their place was any good at all, but it’s not, it’s just this general symphonic noise that’s the focus. One problem is that you can’t really hear the individual instruments on the symphonic parts, so it just sounds like this mesh of symphonic sounds rather than anything actually concrete. One of my friends made a comment that power metal in which melody and riffs aren’t the focus is absolutely awful, and I agree with them. Melody is absolutely not the focus here. Even the solos are nothing more than skill wank rather than any actual musical writing. There are moments when the guitar does come out, such as on On the Shore and I am Legion, and it sounds good. But those are only moments, the majority of the album has nothing musically to offer that’s interesting. Especially on I am Legion, which despite the good guitar parts, sounds mostly like movie music rather than anything that should be on a metal album. And not good movie music, really generic movie music.

And that’s it, the album’s problems can be summed up in on word; generic. There is absolutely nothing special or anything I’ve never heard before about this. It was actually pretty damn hard to analyze, and not just because I’m a little drunk. There just isn’t much hear to talk about, which is why despite saying a lot of shit about it, I’m not giving it that low of a rating. Really I think the true main problem with this is in the way the band utilizes the genre of symphonic metal rather than anything particularly to do with Stormcrow. It’s the product of multiple generations that thinks classical music has to sound like epic movie symphonies rather than anything like actual classical music. So really you can’t fault even the band for this sounding bland and generic, that’s just what people are accustomed to hearing from orchestral works. And that’s probably going to be one of my comments for every symphonic metal album ever, because it’s just so relevant to the genre’s problems. Oh what I’d kill to hear a symphonic metal band utilize a prepared piano for their album rather than synths from the latest computer program. Until then, mediocrity will be this genre, and this band’s, middle name.


4.5/10