Battle Beast – Unholy Savior ALBUM REVIEW

I’ve been meaning to review this for a long time, ever since I started reviewing it’s seemed like an attractive album to review. It was popular, and it was a female fronted heavy metal band, something I’d never heard before. I also have a thing for well done heavy metal, and I always want to listen to more of it, but I didn’t have room for it on my backlog. Finally got to the point where I could add this album about a week ago, when I reset my backlog. One of my friends loves this band, so I was intrigued as to how it would be, considering his taste is not that great, mostly including really popular and entry level metal bands (not like metallica, but like Dimmu Borgir, Blind Guardian, Sabaton [so much Sabaton], stuff like that).

I will say that the female vocalist is not only different for a heavy metal bands, it work out very well for the most part. She does the soaring screams of heavy/power metal absolutely fantastically, almost to the point where I can’t tell that a women is singing. She also has a touch of roughness in her voice, so it doesn’t just sound girly even in the not so screaming sections. The problem comes in the soft sections. There aren’t many on this album, but on tracks like Sea of Dreams (which I’ll get to later in this review) the scratchiness of her voice just doesn’t sound right. Part of it is that there are certain things I except out ofa female voice depending on the situation. I have no background in heavy metal female vocals, so when she sings the real metallic parts, it’s a nice change of pace. But when I hear soft sections, I expect a soft female voice to soothe me. Her voice is not soft at all, and it challenges my preconceived notions of female vocals. Possible bias aside, it just doesn’t sound right to me. Actually, the entire track Sea of Dreams is awful, but again, that’ll come a bit later. Anyway, even when she does sing well, there isn’t a time in this entire album where I feel like a male voice wouldn’t be better. She doesn’t really add anything extra, she is just doing a really good replacement job. That’s all good for women’s rights and such, not so good for the music. It just seems like it’s a compromise to me, and that certainly detracts from the album.

One of the great things about heavy metal and power metal is the potential for awesome solo work. Death and black metal typically don’t have awesome melodies that legitimately sound epic, and don’t focus on how cool the epic whine of a guitar can be. The thing is that only works if you actually focus on melody. Battle Beast seems to just want to show off how fast they can finger tap. Most of the solos are essentially just scales and arpeggios played really fast, with the exception of the solo on Speed and Danger, which actually slows down a little bit and focuses on melody, and is consequentially the best solo on the album. And in general when this band actually does focus on guitar melody, good stuff follows. Unfortunately that’s not all the time.

Unholy Savior has some unholy use of symphonic and 80s styled synths in their music. The worst of it being on Sea of Dreams, and Touch in the Night, both the worst tracks in the album by far. The problem isn’t the fact that they add these elements, it’s how bad it sounds with them. They don’t utilize the symphonics enough to actually make a serious element to this album, it really just sounds like they’re adding for generic epicness effects, and it fails. The worst though is the 80s styled synths. Sea of Dreams literally sounds like a 1980s pop rock track, in every bad way imageinable. Start for the fact that you don’t actually hear a guitar until about 2 minutes in, and then the fact that it doesn’t even sound like a metal track until about 3:30, which is a result of a supposedly emotion climax gone horribly wrong. It really breaks the cheese meter in an awful way, which is made worse by the fact that it was absolutely not needed in this album. Actually they could’ve taken out about half the tracks on this work on it would’ve been made infinitely better. Touch in the Night is the other track that uses these kind of synths, to an arguably even worse degree. The intro to this track is just bad, like really fucking bad. Like, this sounds like it comes from 1983 bad. I don’t who thought bringing back 80s pop style was a good idea, but they need to quit being the music business in 2015. The rest of the song actually instrumentally actually isn’t as cringeworthy, and rather good. It’s more the extremely sensual subject matter that is a bit… uncomfortable. As you can tell by the title Touch in the Night, it’s rather predictably about sex. But not in the “I’m gonna fuck dat princess booty” way, but in the “super cheesy romantic novel which uses 56 euphemisms for the word vagina” way. It really doesn’t belong in a metal album, period. Call me sexist all you want, it just doesn’t fit. I don’t want to come off as someone who thinks metal is a dudes only genre, but if it’s going to be about a girls fantasy, it needs to still have that kind of edge you expect in a metal song. This just seems like it has no edge to it, which to me just doesn’t sound right.

The final thing I really want to mention is how utterly useless the 8th and 9th tracks are. The 8th track, The Black Swordsman, is actually an intro to 9th track, Hero’s Quest. That doesn’t sound so bad, until you realize that these tracks are 1:15 and 2:31 in length respectively. The fact that the intro is almost half as long as the track it’s introducing is one thing, but the fact that they are in total less tan 4 minutes long is another. What makes it even worse is that The Hero’s Quest is completely instrumental. It sounds like there’s going to be lyrics, but it never comes, it just kinda ends with a whimper. Not only is there 0 reason to separate these tracks, there’s 0 reason to include them in the first place. They are the definition of filler.

Actually there’s a lot of filler in this album, in that only about 5 of the tracks are good, 4 of which being the first 4 tracks on the album. 3 are mediocre, 2 are completely useless, and 2 are really bad. I also have confusion as to why the title track, Unholy Savior, is the second track on a 12 track album. Not only is it the longest track on here, it’s clearly the best and would make a fantastic conclusion. Overall, Unholy Savior is all over the place and has a lot of lot of bad wrapped around the good that there is to hear. I can’t really give it a below average score because there is some god here, but I’m certainly giving it the lowest 5 I can possibly give.


Winterage – The Harmonic Passage ALBUM REVIEW

I feel like I have to give at least some kudos to any band that uses actual symphonic instruments instead of midis. Or at the very least, uses extremely high quality midis so that I can’t even tell they’re midis. It’s even better when the actual instrumentation and use of these actual instruments is very well done. Symphonic metal is a genre full of so much absolute garbage, in that so many bands try to imitate the classical music sound, but contain absolutely none of the substance. I’ll give this band a 1 1/2 on a scale of 0-2 in accomplishing either of those things.

The album opens with a recognizable sound of instruments playing the standard concert favorite “tuning”. And I won’t lie, it sounds god awful. I know what tuning sounds like, and this was an extra special kind of bad. Tuning should never sound like a dying animal unless it’s at a middle school band concert. Fortunately the very next time they play it sounds infinitely better, I would even venture to say good. Really one of the major things to comment on this album is how well they execute the symphonic instruments. Sure, it sounds like glorified movie music, but that’s pretty much every single symphonic bands idea of classical, so I’ll somewhat excuse that. It’s the fact that it’s not shit that’s more important. The rest of the album is a mixture of symphonic metal and folk metal (duh) tracks, mostly leaning on the folk side. One track I did find particularly enjoyable was the ninth track “La Grotta Di Cristallo”, in which the main focus is maritime, coastal canadian (even though they were probably aiming for Irish) folk music. It’s really well done, and while I wouldn’t necessarily call it authentic, it’s about as good as it gets for an imitation. The final track concludes the album with an approximately 9 minute track that heavily quotes Swan Lake by Tchaikovsky. It’s both a nice tribute, and a bit of a tacky cover (it really could’ve done without ending with a music box playing the melody as the song fades away). In all honesty, this is a good attempt to create symphonic metal that doesn’t make me want to hurt people when I hear it.

But I am not so easily appeased. Here’s a hint: if you’re going to make a 70 minute album, make each song count. Otherwise it’ll just all sound like filler and you’ll get a totally uninterested listener who loses track of where they are in the album and doesn’t even really care at that point. My mind tended to wander as I listened to this, and I never got fully engrossed in this album. A lot of the songs sounded like filler, even if they weren’t necessarily meant to be. Typically when all else fails, that’s when the vocalist comes to salvage the day, right? Wrong, very much wrong. While I definitely can appreciate the extremely high pitched soaring roars of the voice, that doesn’t particularly matter when your english sounds awkward. That’s why I typically like it when bands from other countries sing in their native tongue, because it sounds so much more natural, even if I can’t understand the lyrics.

The Harmonic Passage is a good attempt at symphonic metal that succeeds more than it fails, which is a lot more than I can say for other bands of that genre. At the very least, this was much more riff based music, which is always a plus in power metal. But ultimately it has many of the same faults that other bands of the type have, and coupled with the extremely long length with not enough substance, make this hard to view this work as anything other than just above-average.


Orden Ogan – Ravenhead ALBUM REVIEW

First off, a moment of silence for the massive back problems the zombie girl on the cover is going to have later in life. Moving on, I wasn’t sure what to expect of this album. As I made my way around the music scene, I had either heard that this album was fantastic (mostly by power metal fanboys) or that this album was extremely awful (mostly by people who hate power metal). Considering I’m more with the not liking power metal crowd, I assumed this would be shit. To my pleasant surprise, this was indeed not shit, and actually quite enjoyable. One of the key aspects of this album is the fact that every song sounded different in some way. Power metal has a habit of making everyone song sound similar, and this avoided that by having lots of different style of tracks, from straight power metal to just plain folk tracks, and different instrumentation. But probably the biggest contributor to this is the extremely catchy choruses and melodies. That in itself is probably what separates the tracks the most, you can identify each one with it’s own separate theme, something I think all power metal should have to some extent.

Of course this is the section where I say bad things about the album, and I do indeed have bad things to say about this album. I made a comment in another review about how I hate mindless chugging to fill space. And while this doesn’t have that to an extreme degree, tracks suck as “The Lake” are almost entirely chugging (there are a few like that on this album) and that ruins the entire song. Also there’s always going to be a limit to how far catchy can take an album, and this is approaching that limit.

Still, it has that fun factor to it that I always love in power metal, so while it may not be AOTY material, it’s certainly something I would definitely not mind popping in again if I’m in the mood for it.


Nightwish – Endless Forms Most Beautiful ALBUM REVIEW

I’m typically adverse to the whole symphonic metal business. Not because I innately dislike symphonic sounds (I study classical music in college and very much enjoy it), but because it’s usually done very poorly with bad synths and extremely campy and generic “epic” sounds that are supposed to mimic what a classical piece sounds like, but never actually sounds like anything resembling classical music. Fortunately for Nightwish, they’re famous and have money, so they don’t need to worry about crappy synths and can actually hire an orchestra to do their bidding. So props to them for that (I never said I graded fairly). So they avoided the first pitfall of symphonic metal. But what about the generic “epic” sound? Unfortunately, they did not avoid that, though if you’re going to cheese, you could at least do it in style, which there certainly is plenty of in this album. Lush symphonic timbres are abound in this lp, which combines aspects of power metal, symphonic metal, and elements of celtic folk music, and it does it in a way that doesn’t seem like they’re trying too hard, which is a major trap that a lot of symphonic/power metal bands fall into. Part of that is I think, again, that they have money, and can actually create what they are trying to achieve without taking any cheap shortcuts. I also felt the rather subdued, but not exactly bored female vocals added a nice touch, which to me made the celtic influences more authentic (I’ve actually only ever heard celtic style singing preformed by a male once, and that was at a live concert at a church in front of about 20 people. It was great stuff though, they combined celtic, american, and indian folk music into an amazing performance, I really wish I’d remembered the name of the band and I’d link their site). The highlight of the album is easily the 24 minutes track aptly labeled “The Greatest Show on Earth”. And it is a great show. A spoken word tale told with the massive help of a variety of instrumentations, from the obvious (metal and symphonic orchestra) to the less obvious (dark ambient and some electronic tracks), to even quoting a Bach prelude, which I thought was a nice touch.

So then why “only” (as if it’s a bad grade) a 7/10? Well for one, I’ve always had a hard time rating symphonic metal high because I’ve always heard it as a cheap imitation of classical music. That’s not really the genre’s fault, that’s my own interest in classical music’s fault. But above anything else, if there’s one thing that brings down this album, it’s its length. That 24 minute track? That comes after already hearing about 55 minutes worth of music. This is a 79 minute album in all. Usually when an album is that long, it’s a double album, or it has a massive amount of progression and different styles to where it’s almost like you’re listening to multiple short albums. This doesn’t have that. While it’s nice hearing properly implemented symphonic and celtic sounds in metal, and I wouldn’t say that all the tracks “sound the same”, the entire album really only has one atmosphere throughout. That isn’t a bad thing, it’s typically expected, but it’s hard to do that for so long and keep the listener interested. Had they gotten rid of the 4 tracks previous to the last track (or really any 4 tracks previous to that, none of them are indispensable, which is part of the problem), this would’ve been a much easier album to digest. But alas, as it is it’s very difficult to listen to this lp without at least some sort of a break. I didn’t however, and maybe that’s why I didn’t enjoy it as much as I could’ve.


Damnation Angels – The Valiant Fire ALBUM REVIEW

You know, it’s been a while since I listened to a good power metal album. Not because I inherently think a lot of power metal is bad, just because I don’t listen to power metal a lot, which I’m going to try to rectify in the coming months. I finally listened to the new Blind Guardian album (which wasn’t great, but not bad either), and I have some other power metal albums in my backlog to get to. So I saw this album as something I REALLY wanted to like. It had a high rating, and just few enough ratings that at the moment I could put it on my obscure albums list I’m working on. I actually managed to convince myself that the first track was good. And then when the second track was more of the same, I started noticing some not so great things about this album. The vocals were more alt metal like than anything else, which isn’t necessarily bad, I did like Periphery’s new album, but in this case it didn’t really feel right. So I got about 5 tracks into it. Then I finally had to admit what I didn’t want to admit: this is a bad album. A VERY bad album. Why? Because this is the worst kind of power metal. Power Metal that takes itself very seriously. Worse yet, it’s power metal that takes itself seriously, and then executes it EXTREMELY poorly. Every track is an attempt to be epic, but in the most shallow way possible.

“Hey guys, I want to make really deep and epic music, but I don’t actually know anything about music. What do I do?”

“Just add a symphony orchestra. Everyone knows that if you add an orchestra in a metal track, it’s ‘epic’ and ‘progressive’ and ‘deep’. ”

“Sounds good. Hey, how about I add a saxophone in this track, but it only plays like, a few notes in the entire song, and only at the very end?”

“Sounds ok, but why are you adding it?”

“Idunno, it sounds sophisticated, lol”

Unless you’re the kind of person who thinks the Lord of the Rings soundtrack is classical music, don’t bother with this album.


Blind Guardian – Beyond the Red Mirror ALBUM REVIEW

I’ve always personally thought Blind Guardian was an overrated band. Not a bad band, but they certainly did not live up to their extremely high ratings. Part of that is I feel like every album tries way too hard to be epic, like it’s some profound adventure or something. The problem is it really isn’t. Nothing about Blind Guardian is really epic in any way, except for maybe the fantasy movie tier string section. Epic is Seventh Son of a Seventh Son. That’s a power metal-esque album that has progression and great solos, like an actual adventures. Blind Guardian’s form of progression seems to be through songs that are different (but not that much so), but don’t really connect to each other, at least musically (I wasn’t really focusing on the lyrics, as power metal lyrics are not typically wondrous). This album specifically abuses the harmonic minor as if it’s a profound statement, but really it’s just one shoelace on a shoe, you can’t make an album with that. In short, there’s really nothing spectacular about this, it’s pretty good, nothing groundbreaking, but as always, Blind Guardian fans will come in droves and rant about how epic is it that a band is using an orchestra in the most superficial manner possible. Nothing has changed in the almost 30 years of this bands existence, and probably never will change.


Wilderun – Sleep at the Edge of the Earth ALBUM REVIEW

Typically when I give an album a really high score, it’s because it blew me away in some fashion, and it’s an album that immediately after I listen to it I think “wow that was incredible!”. This was definitely not that. You know how many drinks and foods aren’t really amazing initially, but the aftertaste really gets to you? This is an album with an aftertaste. My first impression was somewhere along the lines of a high 7 or low 8, very solid, but not amazing. It wasn’t until I actually started thinking about how to review this that I realized how amazing it is.

This work is very much separated into 3 sections; well, more like an intro and 2 sections if you will. The intro section is the first track which starts off with the sounds of a river running and bird calls, with accompaniment by acoustic guitar, mandolin and what sounds like a clarinet however I’m not entirely sure exactly what instrument it is. You can really think of this track as the calm before the storm, leading into the next section, which is essentially the tale of a hero’s journey, told in the next 4 tracks with a combination of acoustic instrumentals, boisterous symphonic outputs, and straight up folk/death metal, alternating between harsh and soft vocals along the way. What I really love about this section is that even though there are minisections within this one part of the album that are focused mostly on these individual parts, the influences of these independent parts can be heard in all the others. There will be times where you will even hear a mandolin in the melo death sections, or have loud symphonic instruments with the clean vocals. It’s so rare to find a band that doesn’t just take from a lot of influences, but actively fuses them together in their music, even though they may be contrasting ideas. That being said, this is probably the weakest part of the album, if solely for the fact that it’s the least interesting or progressive. While it is nice to hear an overdone concept done well, it doesn’t make for something I would considering one of my top albums of the year.

What DOES make that though is the second part of this album, which is a section of 3 tracks ranging from 8-11 minutes, and a stunningly beautiful outro. Unlike the first section of this album, which was essentially one song, these tracks are separate from each other, though they do flow into one another. What makes this section so head and shoulders above the rest of the album, and what puts it as one of the top albums of the year, is the non-obvious, and very unusual harmonies. While all 3 of these tracks use this, I want to focus actually on the shortest of the three, “Linger”, which I think is the best track on the LP. The song is in G minor, however two of the main chords used in the piece are Dmaj10 and Abmaj. For people who don’t know much about music, D major has almost no relation key wise to G minor, other than being the major version of the V chord in G minor (that being D minor), and Ab major has absolutely no relation to G minor harmonically speaking (well, not none, but they certainly aren’t related closely). The D major 10 (basically a D major chord with an extra F# on top) acts as a chord used right before a resolution, but in itself kind of sounding like a resolution, keeping you guessing and unfulfilled, waiting for that final resolution that never seems to come. The Ab is just chromatic harmony, which is almost never used in metal that is supposed to be completely tonal and “pretty”. This is just one example of the many different kinds of ways this album uses unusual chords to keep things interesting. It reminds be a lot of what Beethoven did in his later work, often switching to keys completely unrelated to the tonic (home key) in the middle of the piece, which was completely revolutionary back then.

This album isn’t quite what I would call revolutionary, as it’s ideas have been done before, but it’s certainly not usual or standard in the slightest. Folk metal is something that is really easy to be done wrong, as any time someone that’s not from a culture tries to incorporate that cultures sound, it’s not hard to make it sound awkward and cheesy, as they typically rely on the stereotypes of that sound rather than it’s genuine voice. Sleep at the Edge of the Earth avoids that by incorporating folk instruments into all aspects of their music and combines that with unusual, but not unpleasing, harmonies that make this an extremely unique album that ranks among the top this year.