Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Hump Day Hot Ticket: Iliad “He Knows You Know”

Band logo

In my search for music, I write about bands of varying age and popularity. Usually a quick Google search provides the most basic information about any band from any area. However, this might be a first for me: a band so new that even Google can't find them!

I wish I had more to write about this band, Iliad—I think they might be from the UK—but all I have is this video, which is how I found this band in the first place. The song is a cover, originally done by Marillion, one of my favorite prog-rock bands (at this point, prog purists will jump in and insist that Marillion is “neo-prog”—whatever that's supposed to mean—have fun with your labels!). The song was shared on the official Facebook page of Marillion's original singer, Fish, which is how I heard this cover.

“He Knows You Know” is a dark song with even darker lyrical content; it's sinister tone always so perfect for metal. Iliad takes the song's underlying frantic anxiety, and pushes it to the forefront, giving this song about drug addiction that extra degree of delirious obsession.

The lyric video provides perfect visuals: a sketch of clawing fingernails during the line “crawling up your bathroom wall”; a shot of a toilet at the lyric “singing psychedelic phrases to the depths of the china bowl”, and the image of a pale, strung-out junkie staring into a mirror, dark circles under his emotionless eyes. The most jarring visual comes when an image is displayed of a faceless addict sorting out lines of cocaine, as the lyric “he's got experience...he knows you know” scrolls across the screen.

For more information on Iliad, visit their official Facebook page.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Femme-Metal Friday: Ann my Guard “Obsidian Tears”

Band photo

Since yesterday was Thanksgiving in the U.S., that means the holiday season has officially started. While everyone else is pushing and shoving at the mall for the best Black Friday sales, I am going to take advantage of the long weekend and spend some time catching up on the music that has flown by my radar, but up to now has not been given rightful attention. So yes, the video is several months old, but good music doesn't have a time limit, and neither should discussion of that music.

Several months back, the Hungarian band Ann my Guard was one of these bands. They define themselves as “doll metal, space witch metal, whatever”, which may not be the most detailed description, but it is certainly an interesting one! What exactly does “doll metal” or “space witch metal” sound like, anyway?

Whatever the categorization, the music is good: a little bit of hard rock, some goth, some all fits together nicely. The band's vocalist, Anna (clearly where the group gets its namesake) sounds as though she could have fit right into one of those female-fronted alternative bands from the early ’90s.

The music video itself is filmed in black-and-white, and starts with Anna in the middle of a field, dressed in black. Then a quick shot Anna again, this time dressed in white, clutching a bouquet of wilted flowers, laying perfectly still and unblinking, as if dead. Snakes writhe around her bed, and the band is shown playing in a shed or barn of some kind. A new shot of Anna, looking very bad-ass with a pair of scimitars, of which she wears one on each arm, looking like she's about to do serious business with those snakes!

The video sets a frenzied pace throughout, blurred or frantic glimpses of the band, Anna in white, Anna in black, and the snakes symbolically coiling around an apple. There is a rain (or blood?)-streaked mirror that separates Anna in white from Anna in black. It also sounds like she is singing in Hungarian toward the end of the song. I always like when bands from non English-speaking countries sing in their own native language, so that was a bonus I was not expecting!

For more information on Ann my Guard, visit their official Tumblr page.

Special thanks to Costa Miccas of The Metal Syndicate.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Hump Day Hot Ticket: My Indigo “My Indigo”

My Indigo: Solo project of Within Temptation vocalist Sharon den Adel

There used to be a time when the words “going solo” was the equivalent of a death sentence for a band; a poison that led to an imminent breakup or major bandmember change that would forever fracture the “classic” lineup. Whenever a singer or key bandmember announced their desire to work on a solo project, fans took it as the beginning of the end, and that their favorite band would soon be no more.

Thankfully, things are no longer this way (why they ever had to be in the first place, I'll never know). While for some bands, a solo project may still hearken these things, these days it seems to be rarer of a case than it was in the ’70s or ’80s. Nowadays, a band can break apart, pursue solo interests or form entirely new bands altogether, then come back together; sometimes even with a renewed sense of purpose, because they were able to do something creatively that could not be fulfilled within a band. Even fan reaction to these side projects are different: many fans now embrace the idea of hearing their favorite musicians in new settings, and the possibilities it opens up for the band once they reconvene to make a new album.

Personally, I like when a favorite artist goes solo, or embarks on a project different than their primary band. It gives me a chance to hear the other sides of their musicianship; to hear what they might have sounded like if they had chosen another musical path. Even if the final result is not something I end up liking, I still appreciate the artistry of it, and respect their need as an artist to create.

That being said, when Within Temptation frontwoman Sharon den Adel announced about 2 weeks ago that she had been working on a solo album, I was very excited. Sharon has one of the most beautiful voices, not just in metal, but overall (this is only my opinion, of course). She has a voice that pierces my heart whenever I hear it—she could sing the phone book, and I would be in tears by the time she got to Mr. Abraham! As Within Temptation has grown as a band, they have incorporated more experimental sounds into their music, therefore it was not surprising that Sharon had a need to express herself musically in ways outside of WT. She has lent her voice to various projects from prog rock to dance music, so I had no doubts that whatever style her solo album was, it would sound great. (This is also why I chose this as Wednesday's feature, and not Friday, because while it does have female vocals, this is not considered metal.)

The project, titled My Indigo (which seems to be the name of the band as well as the album), which is described as “alternative pop”. The first single is also called “My Indigo”, and the video is a conceptual piece—my favorite kind.

The video's concept is quite dark for a song that sounds so upbeat and cheery. It begins with a crime scene, and the separation of a mother and child. Desperately trying to run to her one last time, the young boy manages to grab the bracelet off his mother's wrist before he is taken away, and she is hauled off to jail. As they are each taken to their own separate prisons and begin the painful reality of life without each other, the boy finds comfort in music: an old-school walkman with a mixtape labeled “My Indigo”.

The boy is taken to foster care while his mother is placed behind bars. He finds a friendly hand reach out to him in this strange place, as his mother's bracelet falls out of his bag and is returned to him by a girl bunking next to him. We see shots of the mother and son, each one alone at night, thinking of the other. Restless, the boy wanders into the library, where he finds drawings of some kind of flying machine, his face registering some sort of interest or idea. As he sneaks off to a nearby shed in the middle of the night, he does not see his bunkmate watching him through the window.

As the days go on (seen by the marks on the mother's prison wall), the boy is secretly working in the shed to recreate the flying machine in the pictures. His new friend joins in to help him along. Soon, it becomes a group project, as all the children in the home take part in putting this machine together, everyone sneaking objects out of the house and the school to complete the machine.

Then the boy is caught, and makes a mad dash on his bicycle to reach his machine, which he rides off a cliff. It flies into the air, as he pedals faster away. His mother's bracelet, serving as a charm, suddenly falls off in mid-flight. As he tries to grab it, he loses control and begins to plummet. At the same time, his mother is freed from jail; as she walks out to freedom, she sees a strange flying object falling from the sky. Her mother's instinct somehow tells her that it is her son, and she runs frantically into the woods nearby. As the boy looks around the wreckage, disoriented, he sees a familiar sight, and everything is right again...or is it? You don't expect me to give away the little twist at the end, do you?

For more information on My Indigo, visit the official website.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Femme-Metal Friday: The Dark Element “The Ghost and the Reaper”

Band photo

Surprise, surprise—I'm writing another video review of The Dark Element! Can I help it that I like their music? Come to think of it, why do I need to explain what I review on my own blog?

If you have read all my previous reviews about this band, then no introduction or backstory is needed. If you haven't, then feel free to read one, so that those who have read them can get to the video review without reading too much rehashed information.

The band's second performance video, their third altogether, The Dark Element continues on with their pop-laced, hard-rockin', electronic-infused, AOR sound with “The Ghost and the Reaper”, one of the heaviest—yet also one of the catchiest—tunes on the album.

In contrast to their first video—“My Sweet Mystery”, which was filmed in a brightly-lit open space—“The Ghost and the Reaper” has a darker aesthetic; the band is shown in a closer space, and there is little light. Anette is wearing a black hooded jumpsuit, the hood partially covering her face. The rest of the band's faces are obscured here and there as well, either by the lighting or by the hair in their faces. Whether this intentional or not, it works. (Can I just mention that I really like the design on the drum kit?) I think it's also cool the way Jani gets into the song and is seen mouthing the lyrics along with Anette. Of course, no metal is complete without synchronized headbanging, and even the short-haired bass player manages to whip his hair around, which not many short-haired folks can pull off very convincingly when they are headbanging. Everyone looks like they are having fun, even when they're trying to maintain that tough “metal” vibe.

For more information on The Dark Element, visit their official Facebook page.

Thanks to Jon Freeman at Frontiers.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Hump Day Hot Ticket: Niviane “The Druid King”

Band photo

I always like writing about talent from my home state, and when it comes to metal, Northern California has never lacked when it comes to producing quality music. Whether it was the thrash movement of the ’80s, or the variety of bands from the hair metal of Tesla to the nu-metal of the Deftones, the Bay Area and its surrounding vicinity has always been amply represented. Whatever metal subgenre you are into, chances are that there's a metal band somewhere in Northern California that is filling that musical need.

Case in point: Niviane, from Sacramento, who describe their music as “the new breed of American power metal”. Influenced more by the melodic aggression of bands like Iced Earth and less by the soaring theatrics of old-school power metal such as Blind Guardian, Niviane does not compromise either musicality nor heaviness. Fronted by the voice of Norman Skinner (aka “The Metal Chameleon”, due to his ability to seamlessly switch from brutal growls to harmonious clean vocals), Niviane is taking the best of new and old power metal sounds, and putting their own spin on it.

In the lyric video for “The Druid King”, Niviane plays into the dark, foreboding imagery that is familiar within power metal, such as a tree in a misty forest, guarded by a hooded figure which is undoubtedly the song title's namesake. Little flames flicker, and then the words scroll across the screen on a dark gray backdrop, giving descriptive verse to the visuals we see.

For more information on Niviane, visit their official website.

Thanks to Benjamin at Lords of PR.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Album review: Amberian Dawn—Darkness of Eternity (2017)

*Originally posted at the Female-Fronted Power Facebook page.

Album: Darkness of Eternity
Artist: Amberian Dawn
Genre: Symphonic/melodic power metal
Label: Napalm Records
Tracks: 10
Total time: 43:06

I admit, before writing this review, Amberian Dawn was one of the many bands out there on the symphonic metal scene that I had heard of in passing, but had not actually listened to. That might come as a surprise to many who know me, considering my penchant for Finnish metal bands. But as many bands as Finland produces, I suppose one could not blame me for not knowing about them all, or maybe I can be excused for not knowing about every band in Finland because I am not exactly Finnish! So many bands, so little time, right? That’s my story and I’m sticking to it! Onward.

Since I didn’t know anything about this band when I was approached to review their latest album, I did a little reading up about them, and learned a fun fact: they are huge stars among the Rock Band game community, having contributed more songs to the games than any other band. As both a metalhead and a video game enthusiast, I think that is pretty cool info, but it still told me little about the band’s music itself. Because I was new to the band’s music, I figured it was probably best to start with the most recent material, so my judgment was not clouded by anything in the band’s past catalog.

I find Amberian Dawn’s sound to be quite enjoyable; they have a great symphonic metal sensibility while also infusing elements of pop, hard rock, and melodic metal. The band’s vocalist, Capri, has a gritty roughness to her voice that reminds me of ’80s vocalists like Bonnie Tyler or Alannah Myles, but she can also belt out the gorgeous high notes whenever she has a mind to. However, I rather like that she doesn’t fall back on the sweet, angelic vocal styling that is so common among bands in the genre these days. There is churning metal aggression, layered with atmospheric harmonies, bouncy hooks, soaring riffs, and majestic elegance.

Whether it’s more straight-up rock songs like “I’m the One”, poppy melodies like “Sky is Falling” or “Ghostwoman”, power metal theatrics like “Abyss” or “Luna my Darling”, haunting gothic ballads like “Breathe Again” or the album’s closer (subtitled “Darkness of Eternity”), Amberian Dawn runs the gamut of different sounds while still maintaining a solid, identifiable sound. While there are elements of their music that clearly place them in a power/symphonic metal genre, I am hard-pressed to say they sound like any particular band or sound out there. They have a knack for playing to their genre just enough to be categorized, but are doing enough differently that no one could mistake them as a copycat of another band. It’s nice to discover a new band (or new to me, anyway) and hear something that is not instantly reminiscent of someone else (that I know of).

I look forward to going more into Amberian Dawn’s back catalog and hearing how the rest of it holds up to Darkness of Eternity. As for the rest of you, enjoy the new album!

Photo credit: Toni Härkönen

Thanks to Henk van Nieuwenhoven at Female-Fronted Power.

Special thanks to Claudia Steinlechner at Napalm Records.

Saturday, November 11, 2017

Album review: The Dark Element (2017)

Album cover

*Originally posted at the Female-Fronted Power Facebook page.

Album: The Dark Element
Artist: The Dark Element
Genre: Symphonic/power metal
Label: Frontiers Records
Tracks: 11

Ever since her controversial split with Nightwish over 5 years ago, Anette Olzon has been somewhat of a ‘dark horse’ on the music scene: no one really knew what to expect from her after departing from the band that made her famous, and the loyal fans she had amassed during her brief 5-year stint in the band did not allow her to stay silent, even when it seemed she wanted to do just that during those first few months after the breakup. Musically, Anette has not done much outside of her solo album in 2014, which was a pop/adult contemporary-based project that she had been working on as far back as 2009, and was as far removed from the sound of Nightwish as anyone could expect. It was no secret that Anette stumbled into the metal world upon joining the band, and that she came from more of a pop/AOR background. However, it was through a metal band that most of her fans found her, and many of them still wanted to hear what she would do in a heavier vein.

Enter Jani Liimatainen, former guitarist of Sonata Arctica, and current guitarist of Cain’s Offering, a band featuring another vocalist from a prominent Finnish band (Timo Kotipelto of Stratovarius). If you know your Nightwish history, you know that Nightwish and Sonata Arctica have had close ties to one another over the years, so perhaps it was not too much of a stretch of the imagination to guess that former bandmembers of these two bands would find each other and collaborate together. Maybe they wanted to stick it to their old bands? Who knows? After all, success is the best form of revenge!

Yet, if getting even with their old bandmates was not their initial purpose for joining together musically, the project that became The Dark Element quickly became the most anticipated new album among fans in both camps, and among the symphonic and power metal scene. This was the heavy style of music Anette’s fans wanted to hear more of from her, and people were curious to hear how her voice would work with Jani’s signature guitar work.

From the opening title track, The Dark Element starts off running, with catchy, poppy melodies woven into dark gothic and electronic sounds. There is no denying that on songs like the title track, “Dead to Me”, “My Sweet Mystery” and “Last Good Day”, that you can hear the Nightwish influence in the music. But there is just as much there that is instantly reminiscent of Sonata Arctica or Cain’s Offering—in fact, much of the album sounds like an experiment in what Cain’s Offering might sound like with a female singer; some good examples are “The Ghost and the Reaper”, “Halo” and “I Cannot Raise the Dead” (hmm, seems to be a pattern among those titles there!). That being said, Anette’s stamp is on this album too—the album closer “Only One Who Knows Me” easily sounds like something from her Alyson Avenue days, “Here’s to You” is rooted in AOR influences and the songs “Someone You Used to Know” and “Heaven of Your Heart” are gentle ballads that would have fit perfectly on her solo album.

The Dark Element is a solid album, from start to finish. Even if you are not familiar with the music from either Anette Olzon or Jani Liimatainen, if you are a fan of power metal, female vocals or hooky pop or electronic elements within metal music, you might want to give it a listen. Fans of Nightwish, Sonata Arctica, Stratovarius and Cain’s Offering are sure to enjoy this already. This is the type of album that Anette’s fans have been waiting for since she left Nightwish, so they will not be disappointed! There may be some aspects to it that are lacking in regards to their former bands, but if you don’t go into it expecting an exact sound-alike of those bands, you will be pleasantly surprised. The influences are there, but clearly The Dark Element is trying to carve out its own identity, which they have done brilliantly. Whether this is just a one-off project or if this is going to evolve into a full-time band with future albums to come, this merger between two components of Finnish metal’s biggest titans is a surefire winner and a worthy addition to your music collection.

Thanks to Henk van Nieuwenhoven at Female-Fronted Power.

Special thanks to Dustin Hardman and Jon Freeman at Frontiers Records.

Extra-special thanks to Oceansouls of America.