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.

Friday, November 10, 2017

Femme-Metal Friday: A Sound of Thunder “Lifebringer”

Band photo

I know it hasn't been very long since I last wrote about A Sound of Thunder, but if you ask me, I don't write about them nearly enough! In the few short weeks since my last review, the band has been busy: in-between launching a Kickstarter, recording a new album, and preparing for their first European tour, they managed to find time to free an entire country! In case you have been living under a rock over the past month, Catalonia has seceded from Spain, and A Sound of Thunder's “Els Segadors” was heard blasting through the streets as people celebrated in victory. Now, maybe the band is too humble to say that they were responsible for this, but...didn't I predict in my last entry that their music would heal the world? One country at a time, folks. One country at a time.

Yet with all of that going on, they still had enough spare time to make another music video! Meanwhile, I think during that time, I binge-watched old reruns of Matlock and spent an afternoon trying to figure out where I left my keys.

The video for the song “Lifebringer” gives fans a taste of what they can expect not only from the upcoming album It Was Metal, but also what they can expect from the accompanying comic book that goes with the album. The artwork is stunning, there are warriors, there are tyrants, and somewhere among all that, a theremin is involved. What more do you need? It sure as hell beats another marathon of Murder, She Wrote, and it's anyone's guess which region will be liberated by this song. Maybe Sicily. It is the birthplace of my favorite Golden Girl, after all.

For more information on A Sound of Thunder, or to contribute to their Kickstarter (only 3 days left!), visit their official website.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Hump Day Hot Ticket: Von Smith “Long Ago Maybe”

Von Smith

I know it seems like I tend to focus on only a handful of the same artists from week to week, and maybe that's true. However, in my own defense, can I help it if there are particular bands or artists that I find exceptionally talented, and want to write about whenever I can, so that many people can discover this music, too? Is that really such a bad thing?

Also, if there are bands you want to hear more about or music you think I should feature here, you are always welcome to recommend anything you like in the comments section! I certainly do not mind showcasing new music whenever I can.

Now that this disclaimer is out of the way, I can talk about the new video from Von Smith! For me, he is a singer that can do no wrong. I love everything he sings—whether it's with Postmodern Jukebox or on his own—Von has such a distinct, versatile voice that he can sing anything...which, in many respects, he does. More than this, he can sing anything and sound great doing it, which not many singers can do. This is not a knock on amyone; many vocalists out there are the gold standard in their particular genre, but would never sound exactly right singing another style. While Von particularly shines on more R&B or pop sounds, I have the feeling that if he ever wanted to make a rock album, or dabble in something more avant-garde,  he would be brilliant at that as well. He just has that type of voice, the kind that fits in anywhere, and is addictive to listen to—a combination that even some of the vocal greats do not possess.

If you watch the video for “Long Ago Maybe”, you might be able to understand what I mean. The song is stripped-down, not a lot of bells and whistles—just an acoustic guitar and Von's voice—but it's all you need. The power and emotion in his voice carries the song with the same weight as if he were being backed by a full orchestra. His vocals just pick you up and lift you away, until you are completely lost in the song. His higher notes are more subdued, instead of putting it up in the forefront, as is expected. Visually, the video is equally straightforward: Von sits on a stool and sings, while guitarist Matt Appleton sits beside him and plays his acoustic guitar. If this song of heartbreak doesn't put tears in your eyes, then you have either never really loved before, or you are the one doing the heart-breaking. I'll let you decide. I'm not here to judge!

For more information on Von Smith, visit his official website.

Friday, November 3, 2017

Album review: Beyond Forgiveness—The Great Wall (2017)

Album: The Great Wall
Artist: Beyond Forgiveness
Genre: Symphonic/gothic metal
Tracks: 10
Total time: 57:03

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

The symphonic metal scene in the United States has been rapidly growing over the last several years, and one of the bands at the forefront of this explosion is Colorado’s Beyond Forgiveness, who has shown with their perfect marriage of dark gothic melodies and grandiose symphonic arrangements, that they can hold their own with some of their more well-known European counterparts. Bringing back a sound reminiscent of the scene’s halcyon days, Beyond Forgiveness channels the best of early Tristania and classic Nightwish, giving us an interesting take on what either of these bands might have sounded like if they had not delved into other musical styles and kept strictly to the operatic vocals and classical-infused heaviness.

In 2016, Beyond Forgiveness made their first mark on the music world with their debut EP, The Ferryman’s Shore, which garnered rave reviews around the world and won the band respect outside of the United States. Now, nearly 2 years later, the band’s much-anticipated full-length follow-up is here, ready to fulfill the promise of its predecessor, as The Great Wall raises the bar for what is to come next.

From the moment the cadenced drumming taps in on the opening track “End of Time”, Beyond Forgiveness takes you on a musical journey; the songs averaging between 5-7 minutes. The two voices of Talia Hoit and Richard Marcus are the quintessential “beauty and the beast” dueling vocals that have become a hallmark of gothic-symphonic metal, and they do it so well. There is no overkill of the growly vocals; they know exactly when and how much to use them.

Talia’s voice is so powerful, especially on the title track, “The Great Wall”, where her vocals just soar into the stratosphere. “Sanctuary” starts off slow but comes in heavy, and Talia’s voice is so emotional on this track (one of the first songs from the new album that I heard, when I was given a special “sneak preview” of the album, still in the making at the time). “Imprisoned” is another beautifully dark, heavy tune where Richard’s guttural vocals provide just enough jarring contrast to give it that gothic edge. Guitarist Greg Witwer's guitar skills really shine on the instrumental “Interlude” midway through the album.

“Moment of Truth” is another track where the interplay between Talia’s clean vocals and Richard’s guttural voice are perfectly balanced, as well as the symphonic and gothic elements of the music, both are evenly matched here. So far this is my favorite track on the album. “Never Before” would be a perfect choice for a single or music video, it has that “crossover” potential with its sing-along chorus, and barely crosses the 5-minute threshold, making it accessible to a wider audience. If you ever wondered what Within Temptation and Nightwish would have sounded like if they wrote a song together in their early days, “Never Before” is probably as close as you could come to hearing it!

Beyond Forgiveness also has beautiful slow ballads too, as can be heard on the track “Dream Until I Sleep”. Talia’s vocals on this one will put tears in your eyes as she mournfully sings, “you’ve crossed over the edge, but you’ll always be mine…the silence is noise, I must remember your voice”. I’m putting this out there right now: I want the band to play this song at my funeral!

The band wastes no time returning to heavier songs right after that, “Fight ’Til the End” is Beyond Forgiveness at their gothic-symphonic best. It’s got the spooky, chilling gothic piano, the soaring, bombastic operatic vocals, and the imposing, brutal growling male voice. If you love Morten-era Tristania, then this is your kind of song. Beyond Forgiveness gives it their all on this one, making it all the more fitting of a song title and the perfect penultimate album track.

The final track, “Every Breath”, has a whimsical, folksy sound to it. In fact, it almost sounds like the music you would hear in The Lost Woods on a Legend of Zelda game! You almost feel like you are in a forest among the wood sprites, and Talia sings the voice of their people. It’s a perfect close to an album that takes the listener on such an adventure: this is a track that calms, winds down, and leaves you a little wistful that it has all come to an end.

The Great Wall has lived up to all the potential of the first EP, and then some! Beyond Forgiveness has grown a lot since The Ferryman’s Shore, and they were already off to an excellent start then. The band’s musical direction is clear, the songs are consistently good, and they can each stand alone; however, every song works together in a bigger picture to make a cohesive whole. If you are a fan of grand, sweeping, dramatic symphonic metal and also like a touch of sinister gothic gloom, then Beyond Forgiveness fills the void left behind by their earlier predecessors who have since gone on to other sounds and styles. If you are someone who thinks Nightwish hasn’t made a good album since Oceanborn, or that Tristania hasn’t been the same since Morten left, then Beyond Forgiveness is the perfect fit for you. Even if you are not one of those kinds of fans, if you like those albums or that era of music from those bands, then you will probably like Beyond Forgiveness just the same. At any rate, they are showing that the United States is no slouch in the symphonic metal department anymore, and we have some excellent music to offer that would make our European cohorts proud.

Thanks to Henk van Nieuwenhoven at Female-Fronted Power.

Femme-Metal Friday: Serenade “Hold me Back”

Band photo

Although I am writing about a new band here this week, it will probably come as no surprise to anyone that it's another band from Italy! However, I must plead my case and say that this week's entry started out as mistaken identity!

When you have a one-word band name like “Serenade”, not only are you tough to find in a Google search, but you also risk the chance that there are several other bands with the same name, as is the case with this week's entry.

I should probably back up a little: as I wrote last holiday season, I love Christmas music. A few years back, one of my favorite internet radio stations played a lovely German rendition of “Silent Night”. However, the band's name escaped me, and countless online searches yielded nothing, until the same radio station played a song by a band called Serenade. The name rang a bell, and sure enough, after a quick YouTube search, there was the Christmas song I had been seeking.

Now, I cannot be sure if that was the same Serenade that led me to the one I was looking for, but when I got an e-mail link to this video, I assumed I was reviewing a German symphonic metal band called Serenade that had a Christmas song that I liked. Imagine my surprise to learn that there was another female-fronted symphonic metal band from Italy, also called Serenade!

However, mistaken identity can be a good thing, and as I have found, Italy has no shortage of excellent music, so the Italian Serenade is another great band I can add to the list. How fun this has been, to discover new music while sharing new music with all of you!

The video for “Hold me Back” is pretty simple: the band performs in a dark room, with occasional close-up shots of each bandmember. Serenade's vocalist, Claudia, is shown in fog, or surrounded by candles. She is also rocking some cool purple lipstick, which matches bassist Dario's guitar strap. Even metal bands wearing all-black can be color-coordinated!

For more information on Serenade, visit their official website.

Thanks to Alex at Grand Sounds.