Saturday, September 28, 2013

Concert review: Kamelot/Delain/Eklipse @ City National Grove; Anaheim, CA; September 21st, 2013

Kamelot tour promo

NOTE: All live photos are mine and taken by me! If you want to share them, please give credit where credit is due. But just in case you forget, they are watermarked so that this blog is still credited. Thanks!

*WARNING* I write very long and detailed concert reviews; I always like to write from the perspective of making the reader feel as if they are right beside me throughout the event. I have divided this review into parts, so if you are not one who likes reading long reviews, you can just scroll to the sections of the review that particularly interest you. On with the review!

Part One: Getting Ready for the Show

So it's taken some time to rest and gather all my thoughts, but I think I am now ready to write a cohesive review of the Kamelot/Delain/Eklipse concert last weekend. I could probably use more time for better organization, but better to risk a bit of a mental drag than to let too much time go by and compromise a lot of the short-term memories!

That being said, I should probably do a sort of “prologue” to this review, and rewind back to October of last year, to when I saw Kamelot for the first time as an opening act for Nightwish. I attended two of those shows; one at this same venue (the Grove) in Anaheim, and the other at the House of Blues in San Diego. Much as I love Nightwish (I wouldn't have seen them live 7 times if I didn't!), I have to admit that I was overwhelmingly impressed with Kamelot as well. At that point in time, I knew a small portion of their discography (their last two albums at the time: Ghost Opera and Poetry for the Poisoned). They were one of those bands that were on my “I've been meaning to check them out” list that we all have. The fact that their former lead singer left the band after the latter album only pushed my interest farther to the backburner; and after being so impressed with Ghost Opera, I found Poetry to fall short of the mark in comparison (there are some good songs on it; but compared to Ghost Opera, which I fell in love with, I felt Poetry lacked that special something). So between these two things, Kamelot just became one of those bands that I liked well enough, but did not have a burning curiosity to learn more about; as other bands I deemed as my favorites took up more of my time and attention. (Sorry to all the other bands on earth, but when Rush releases an album, all other bands temporarily cease to exist for me!)

However, if you are one of those people like myself who have a list of bands you've been meaning to give a try, I would give one bit of advice that obviously leads me to this review: go to see one of those bands perform live, with people who are already hardcore fans of that band. It's not too dissimilar to visiting a city you have never been to before, and having a local guide you along. You could go to all the “tourist spots” and stick with what everyone already sees on the surface; but you'll never learn about all those hidden destinations off the beaten path, or the distinct qualities that gives that location their special charm which defines them and sets them apart from every other place: those things that only a resident would know. This is what happened for me when I went to the Nightwish/Kamelot shows last year with a family of Nightwish fans who were also die-hard Kamelot fans. They did in one weekend what the person who first introduced me to Kamelot couldn't do for over 5 years! (And this is no fault of his; if he had been the one to attend these concerts with me, I'm pretty sure I'd be saying the same thing!) The first thing I did when I got home from our weekend-long mini-tour, I made it my mission to track down as much of Kamelot's back catalog as I could find, as it was clear enough to me that my intent to better acquaint myself with their music had been long overdue.

Ah yes, and one other thing that I can safely say turned me around completely, and I think my friend said it best when she says that it happened to me via “seduction by vocals”...yes, I saw the Kamelot light, and it was the voice of an angel who showed me the way; a vocal savior who has been converting the masses with every note he sings. A man who has won the hearts of many women (and some men!) along the way; though for me personally, it's only about the voice and not about looks at all (come on now, I'm a “married old woman” and far past the age for such silly notions!). In case you haven't figured it out by now, that super-human being has a name, and it is Tommy Karevik, Kamelot's new singer (who is not so new anymore, really, as he's been with them for about a year and a half now!).

Not only has Tommy taken over the slot left vacant by the iconic Roy Khan, but he has made that place his own and has silenced the doubters and the haters wherever he goes. Seeing them at those two shows during the Nightwish tour, they did many songs from Ghost Opera, which was really the only album I was familiar with at that time (only having listened to Poetry maybe a handful of times); and listening to him sing those tunes, I did not feel like anything was lacking or that I was being cheated out of hearing the songs the way they ought to be (and I have to admit, hearing the Ghost Opera bonus track “Season's End” on my birthday was a very nice treat indeed!). At the time, their latest album Silverthorn had not yet been released, so they only performed one track from it at those shows. However, if that was the kind of music they were doing with him at the helm, then it only convinced me all the more that I needed to get familiar with Kamelot, and fast!

Finally, what sealed the deal for me was at the end of our journey in San Diego, and meeting up with three of the Kamelot bandmembers (Tommy, bassist Sean, and drummer Casey) after the show. Each one of them were kind enough to sign the only thing I had on hand: a birthday card given to me by my friends the night before, signed by all the members of Nightwish (as, obviously, my birthday was the night before during the show at the Grove!). I was impressed by how sweet Tommy was to all the fans, even someone like me who did not know a lot about him or his music, and therefore didn't have a whole lot to say to him. (And well, I realize that some of my readers are dear friends who have developed a crush on Tommy, so I felt inclined to include a story about him that would further endear him to them.) The other two guys were very nice as well; we even spoke to Sean for more than a few minutes, which I also thought was pretty cool.

I am one of those people who have a huge problem with supporting bands who adopt a “rock star” attitude or who treat their fans like shit (which is a big reason I'm not a Van Halen fan; it's a good thing bands are not paid by how respectful they are to their fans, otherwise the brothers would be dirt-poor!). Sure, it probably doesn't matter, but if I'm paying good money to support music, I like to know that somewhere along the line, it's being acknowledged by the recipient as to where it comes from! When I like a band's music, it's always nice to learn that they have down-to-earth personalities or do not feel inclined to act high and mighty. So to see that the guys from Kamelot were decent folks to their fans (and even people who weren't full-blown fans as of yet), that won some extra points with me!

You might be able to see Tommy's and Sean's signatures way at the top, in silver! But judging where Casey's signature ended up, is he trying to say he wants to be a guest member of Nightwish? ;)

Needless to say, when I heard Kamelot was returning for a headlining tour, I really wanted to see them again. When I learned that the opening act would be Delain—a band I have loved since their first album in 2006—I knew I had to figure out a way to get back to the Grove (which is over 3 hours away from where I live; this may not seem like much, but it's no easy feat for someone who cannot drive!). And who better to go to the show with than the very same people who were with me the last time? It took some time to work out whether or not we would go, but it did happen. The only “bummer" was that one of my friend's two sons wouldn't be able to come with us like he did before; he and his dad were attending a father-son competition that weekend and it was something they had committed to months before. She and her other son were reluctant to go without him, but he insisted (which shows what a thoughtful kid he is!); and well, a mother certainly can't deny the wishes of her son, can she? 

While my friend was working out things on her end, a wonderful thing happened for me: my friend John, a fellow writer from Sonic Cathedral, sent a message to ask if I had tickets yet to the show. I answered that I didn't because I was waiting for the funds to buy my ticket. He then asked me if I would like to have one of his, as the person he bought it for wasn't able to attend. Not only did I get a free ticket, but a free VIP ticket, which saved me a lot of money! Wow!!! I am eternally grateful. (And more money to spend at the merch table is never a bad thing!)

Part Two: Pre-show Meet-and-Greet

My friends and I hit the road to Southern California on a beautiful sunny Saturday; it was already hot, but that's nothing new for Central Cali (we're known for only two types of weather: freezing or burning!). We left my house a little after noon, and even though traffic was relentless the entire way, we made it to the Grove a little bit after 3 o'clock. At this point just a small group of people had formed a line outside, but that would change fast!

The first person we met was John, whom I was meeting in person for the first time. It's always so much fun to meet online friends, especially fellow metal fans, and especially fellow writers! Before long, we met up with several other people that we remembered from the shows last year, and just as it always is at every metal gig you will attend, it's like a big family reunion. Even when meeting new people, it still feels like a gathering of old friends whenever you are at a metal show. When we were all let inside to wait for the meet-and-greet, talking to other fans makes the time go by fast, and being packed together like sardines in the long line does not feel so uncomfortable! (Well, maybe still just a little bit, but at least you know you are in good company!) At this point John's brother Don had joined us in the line, as well as some other friends of his that remained in our group for most of the time throughout.

The way this meet-and-greet was set up was slightly different from others I have been to in the past; normally the band all sits at a long table, you get your stuff signed, and maybe if you're quick about it, you can snap a photo with them as well. You have just enough time to shake their hands and say hello before you are ushered off to let the next person take their turn. Some meet-and-greets are less formal or rushed, but this is the basic gist of how most of them go. However, this one was different in that the band sat at a long table, but you were only allowed to get one item signed besides the poster given to you at the table (which was just fine with me; I didn't bring anything to get signed, because I like to have a complete set and I knew I wouldn't get one when it was announced that their keyboardist wouldn't be joining them on this leg of the tour). You were not allowed to take pictures during the signing session; there would be a time for that after all the autographs were given out. Then, when the time came to get back in the line and take the pictures, you could not use your own camera, and the only way you could retrieve your photos was through the band's Facebook page, where they would be uploaded later. (If this had been just a little more than a year ago, this would have made me quite upset, as I was once very anti-Facebook and up until a year ago did not even have a Facebook account!) So while this seemed like a strange sort of set-up, I did like that there was ample time made for both getting your things signed and for taking photos; usually people have to choose between either of the two, and as much as these VIP packages cost, people should be able to get autographs and photos without any need to rush through the process.

This is probably where I should mention another personal angle to this story: since the shows last year, my friend and I have badly wanted to hear the band bring the Ghost Opera song “EdenEcho" back into the setlist. This is my favorite song from that album, and now that I know their entire discography much better (having listened to it many, many times over the last year!), I can also say it's my favorite Kamelot song of all. There are not many songs that draw me in so much that I put them constantly on repeat, but this is one of those songs for me. So between the both of us, we decided that since we knew we were meeting the band, we were going to take the opportunity to ask for this song. Our chances looked pretty good, considering they had added this song to the setlist at earlier shows; but they had taken it off again over the past few shows prior to ours, so the probability of not getting it seemed just as likely.

Myself, I had nothing more than plain, old-fashioned begging and pleading; but my friend had a clever plan that may have just helped even the odds a little bit. She knew what a fan Tommy was of the singer Jorn Lande, and brought his brand-new CD on the hopes that Tommy hadn't had the chance to get a copy for himself yet (after all, he's a touring musician; when does he have time to not only check out new music, but walk into a store to buy it?). So our plan of action was set into motion: my job would be to take my request to Thomas Youngblood (the band's guitarist and “leader"), and she would work her magic on Tommy. We'd have the two most important bases covered, and what happened from there was left purely to chance.

Since my friend was behind me in the line, I don't know how well she fared with Tommy until after we met back up in the second line. But I did ask Thomas and I thought I was nice about it! His answer was, “I'll take it up with the rest of the band and see what they say!” Well, that's better than an outward “no”, anyway!

The rest of the band was all very friendly and pleasant; they all took time signing a card I brought for my friend's son; I thought he might like to have something signed by the band since he couldn't be at the show. At this point was when I reached Tommy in the line; since I got the idea for this card from the one I received, I took the opportunity to thank him for signing my birthday card last year. “Your birthday was at the show here last year?” he asks me. “Yes, the show you did here was on the night of my birthday, but I met you the night after and you still signed the card!” I answer back. “So then that means you have another birthday coming soon!” he says to me. “Well, yes,” I say, “but not until 2 weeks from today.” “Then happy birthday to you again!” he replies. How nice! So he was the first person to wish me a happy birthday this year. Not a bad way to start off another year of life! I have to say that I was a little impressed that he would remember that far back; as many shows as they do, I imagine they all blur together and one becomes no different than the one before or after. So for him to remember when they last played a show at this same venue, and how close it was to a year's time since then, that really took me by surprise. Talk about having a good memory!

So after getting stuff signed and spending a few minutes at the merch table, we all got back in line for the second part of the VIP experience: getting your pictures taken with the band. A few of us got separated, but most of us managed to stay together, and it made for an awesome group photo when our turn came. However, I wish I could say it was a pleasant experience, but I think I embarrassed myself when one of the keychains from my bag hanging off the back of my wheelchair got stuck in the wheels and I couldn't move! So here I was, holding up the line and probably looking very foolish in front of everyone. But then again, being socially awkward has sort of been my calling card; I should probably accept it and try to find ways to use it to my advantage. At any rate, no one seemed to mind that I was holding things up a bit by trying to find my way into the little area where all the photos were being taken. The picture looks great, but once again, I feel like I ruined the photo; as everyone in our group is smiling and I am still feeling a little embarrassed by the incident so I tried to look all serious and “metal”. I hate sharing pictures of myself, as I am no beauty queen; but this encompasses the wonderful time I had with everyone during the night, that I will take one for the team and show it!

A fun time was had by all, and the show hasn't even started yet!
(Photo provided courtesy of the official Kamelot Facebook page.)

Now that our time at the meet-and-greet was over, all that there was left to do was wait for the show to begin!

Part Three: Eklipse

At 8 o'clock sharp, the first band of the night, Eklipse, hit the stage. This was an ensemble of little more than 4 ladies with violins and cellos, but they rocked just as hard as any metal band. To say I was impressed would be an understatement. Their take on classic '80s staples like “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” and “You Spin me Round (Like a Record)”, as well as modern hits like “Cry me a River”, were pleasing to the ear; and for a moment, made you forget that you were listening to pop songs! The four women all stood at the center of the stage; each one dressed in white, but all in different styles. Their energy and stage presence was every bit as intense as the metal bands. Sometimes being understated can pack the heaviest punch, and this is certainly the case with Eklipse. I think they were a perfect fit for the symphonic metal audience, many of us who appreciate and enjoy classical music.

The ladies of Eklipse

Part Four: Delain

Eklipse played a solid set for about half an hour, and then at a quarter to nine, the Dutch symphonic metal outfit Delain began their set. For me, I was just as excited to see Delain as I was to see Kamelot; maybe even more so because I had already seen Kamelot twice and have never seen Delain live at all (and I have been a fan of Delain for a long time). The opening notes of “Mother Machine” hit, and the crowd went nuts.

Delain's setlist; via

Delain was on fire! Their set was high-intensity from beginning to end. Charlotte Wessels, Delain's frontwoman, has a dramatic stage presence, and her vocals are just as spot-on as they are on the studio records; in some respects even more so. She does a lot of headbanging and jumping around onstage. In fact, the entire band does their share of headbanging and moving around a lot. Even the band's keyboardist, Martijn Westerholt, is back there behind his keys rocking out; moving his head up and down while his body sways in time to the heavy riffs.

Delain onstage

“Go Away”, a track off their second album April Rain, was a pleasure to hear live; and “Get the Devil Out of Me” showcases the best of Charlotte's vocal prowess. Her voice is so strong that it could probably be heard clear across the street! They all look like they are having a blast onstage, and it shows. The fans are just as into it too, especially when they start playing classic tunes like “Sleepwalkers Dream” and “The Gathering” from their debut album, Lucidity. Newer favorites such as “Electricity” (where Charlotte really gets things started with some hair-whipping headbanging) and “Not Enough” get just as much an enthusiastic feedback from the crowd.

Charlotte Wessels

The 10-song set closed with the title track from their most recent full-length album, We Are the Others; an anti-bullying anthem written for a teenage girl who tragically committed suicide after constant torment from her peers at school. I'm pretty sure most metalheads in the crowd can relate to the lyrics about being cast-outs and being shunned for their differences. After all, how many of us hear on a regular basis the stereotypes that people think defines those who listen to metal music? It's a perfect song to close the show, and both the crowd and band were jumping to the music; many of them singing along to the inspirational lyrics: “normal is not the norm; it's just a uniform”.

Delain onstage

After Delain's set, they thanked the fans for their support, hinting that they would be back soon. They took a bow, and were gone. The lights came back up and there was only one band left to wait for.

Part Five: Kamelot

At 10 o'clock sharp, the lights dimmed one last time and the intro music hit, as the members of Kamelot, one by one, each took their places on the stage. The opening notes to the Ghost Opera favorite “Rule the World” began to play, and Kamelot began their set with all guns blazing!

Kamelot's setlist, via

From there, the energy did not let up at all; Silverthorn's “Torn” keeps up the frenetic pace, while Tommy runs to and fro across the stage, bassist Sean Tibbetts animatedly jumps up and down, and Thomas Youngblood headbangs his heart out. Temporary female vocalist Alissa White-Gluz stands on an elevated portion of the stage, donning a black dress with a flowing cape as she moves along to the music, raising her arms for emphasis as the cape flies like a flag in the wind.

Alissa White-Gluz

Then as the band starts in on “The Great Pandemonium”, Thomas declares Orange County to be “Kamelot country”, and promises that they will indeed return to this very same venue (considering that the band is made up of people from various parts of the U.S. and Europe, I am willing to bet that a line similar to this is said at every show, as everywhere there is an audience could very well be “Kamelot country”, right?). He then introduces “the newest member” of the band (Tommy), and the band proceeds to rock out. As I mentioned earlier in this review, Poetry for the Poisoned is my least-favorite Kamelot album, but Tommy breathes some new life into this tune. During the middle of the song, he also does his share of thanking the fans and the audience for attending as well; jumping around enthusiastically all the way to the end.

Tommy Karevik

The bombastic Silverthorn track “Veritas” brings Alissa to center stage; her clean vocals as pure and clear as her guttural voice is wicked and intimidating. The blood-red lighting gives this powerful song an even more dramatic flair; she and Tommy standing beside each other towards the end of the song as strikingly stalwart figures bathing in the crimson glow, their linked hands raised upwards in victorious splendor.

 Kamelot onstage

The audience cheers and claps their hands as Tommy introduces the song “Center of the Universe” from their Epica album. This is one of the songs that most impressed me at the shows last year, so hearing it again was just as enjoyable the third time around. At the previous shows, Amaranthe frontwoman Elize Ryd provided the female vocals, which were a bit more operatic; but Alissa does a beautiful job here as well. Fill-in keyboardist Coen Janssen is moving his keyboard in different directions, headbanging wildly in the background while Tommy belts out some impressive high notes and Thomas shreds on the solo.

Thomas Youngblood & Tommy Karevik

Every band has a song with a social or political message, some more than others. For Kamelot, this is the Ghost Opera track “The Human Stain”; a track which Tommy introduces as being a song about how we don't treat the planet the way we ought to. Sean is headbanging, his long braided hair flying about haphazardly as the crowd pumps their fists and cheers along and Thomas provides yet another blistering solo. I've heard this song described by someone as “better than sex”; and while I probably would not go quite that far, there are worse ways to spend a Saturday night, and this is not one of them!

After a solid block of straight-up rockin' tunes, the mood quiets down as the gentle lilt of the Silverthorn ballad “Song for Jolee” begins. Tommy urges the crowd to wave their hands and get out their lighters and cell phones, as he stands alone in the middle of the stage to sing this gorgeous slow number. If this doesn't give you a tear in your eye or a lump in your throat, then you might want to get your vital signs checked!

“Song for Jolee”

As emotionally moving as “Song for Jolee” was, it was nothing compared to the sheer joy I felt when the opening notes of “EdenEcho” began, and my wish for the evening had come true. My friend and I probably squealed like little fangirls (which undoubtedly looked very funny to any onlooker, considering we are grown women who live responsible adult lives!), but we were so excited that we didn't care! I even retired my camera for the next few minutes so that I could bask in the perfection of this magnificent song. Alissa's stage outfit changed to white at this point; no doubt befitting to the lyrics “you were always there, dressed in summer white”. Tommy came over to our side of the stage at one point during the second verse, singing right to Laura, a friend of John's that I'd become acquainted with that evening. Then Tommy belts out an amazing high note during the bridge; making an already-awesome moment even better. Is there any way a fulfilled request could become more perfect? Come to find out from a friend who went to the show the following night in Tempe that this song was on the setlist there too; so while it's probably very likely that we had no influence at all whatsoever on the outcome of the inclusion of the song in the setlist, what harm does it do to think that we did?

“EdenEcho” (video provided courtesy of Andrea Granillo)

After what was definitely the highlight of the show for me, Tommy introduces Casey for the drum solo segment of the show. Now, as a lifelong Rush fan, I should probably say that I normally do not get excited when other bands introduce drum solos into their sets; because I have been spoiled rotten by Neil Peart and to my ears, all other drum solos sound like thinly-veiled attempts to copy him. There is always some angle to every other drummer's solo that is a take on what Neil has already done, so unless I am at a Rush concert and seeing the real thing, this is usually the part of the show where I just “grin and bear it” and imagine that I am hearing “O Baterista” in the meantime. The only non-Peart drum solo I have ever truly enjoyed that did not immediately sound like a tribute to Neil was Danny Carey of Tool's drum solo, but that's another story for another time!

That being said, I was very entertained by Casey. I don't suppose drummers can help it very much that no matter how hard they try, there is something to their method that echoes the drum god Neil Peart. Yet unlike most other drummers I have seen that consciously try to imitate this, I did not get the feeling that this was Casey's approach. He was doing his own thing, a sort of loose and free style (very much the opposite of the deadly precision of Peart); and it sounded great! For one, he does not have a behemoth of a drum kit the way Neil does, so already I appreciate that he's not trying to show off with all the bells and whistles that Peart can get away with. Casey just sticks with the fundamentals and relies on that to get his point across. Rather than trying to impress the fans with percussive magic tricks (like all other drummers do, therefore feeling to me like blatant rip-offs of Neil Peart), his skill is more in how loud he can get; his drums thumping so loud that you can feel it. There are flashing lights to accompany the various stages of the solo, and for as fast as he is going, there's a lot of drumstick-twirling going on at the same time! Pretty impressive, Casey! You've won over this die-hard Peart fan, and have joined Danny Carey among the ranks of drummers who can put on an awesome solo without making it sound like a cut-and-paste version of Neil's jam on Exit...Stage Left. Perhaps there are other Rush fans out there who can nit-pick things down to the last nanosecond, but I will leave that to them and say that I was quite entertained, and that's what matters!

After Casey's solo, Tommy returns to the stage and remarks about how dark it is getting, introducing a favorite from The Black Halo, “When the Lights Are Down”. This is one of my favorite tracks from that album, and I have never heard Tommy's take on this tune. It shouldn't have come as a surprise to me that he sounded awesome. But the highlight of the song was when temporary keyboardist Coen Janssen took to a portable keyboard that he could carry with him across the stage, shaped as an arc; and takes to center stage to provide the solo part. Who says keyboardists can't rock out?

Coen Janssen

Afterwards, Tommy wants to know how loud the crowd can get. Some festive music that he claims he has brought all the way from Sweden begins to play before the song officially starts; as he warns them that the music will control everyone before long. He then requests absolute quiet from the audience, which at this point a female in the audience takes advantage of to make a marriage proposal. At the count of three, the crowd thunders a deafening roar, and introduces the first single from Silverthorn, “Sacrimony (Angel of Afterlife)”. This song has lost no intensity or fervor over the past year of playing it hundreds of times. Alissa makes another appearance to center stage; alternating between the clean vocals once provided by Elize Ryd, and her own wickedly delightful guttural vocals; creating a bewitching ambiance when combined with the sanguine tint of the lights. While it was nice to hear the two singers contrast at the show last year, Alissa does quite well on her own too!

“Sacrimony (Angel of Afterlife)”

The stage is about to get a little crowded, as Tommy introduces the next song. He expresses how nice it is to hear that fans know and love the new songs as much as the old ones, and announces that they are going to play another new song. As the girls from Eklipse make their way to the stage, it becomes apparent that the song “My Confession” (which features Eklipse) is the next song on the line. Alissa dances on her raised platform while the girls from Eklipse rock out on hollowed-out violins and cellos lined with little lights. The population onstage has practically doubled, but everyone has room to move about freely and the addition of four more bodies along with their cumbersome instruments does not seem to hinder anyone in the least. The girls from Eklipse take their bow at the end of the song and promptly depart.

It is at this time that Tommy introduces Coen Janssen to the audience, and he proceeds to play a lovely piano solo. I wish there was more I could say about it, but it's less than two minutes long! Nonetheless, he packs a lot of beautiful harmonies in such a short time, in order to bring the show to its climax.

The opening guitar notes of the Karma classic “Forever” prompts Tommy to jump out in the audience, where a sing-along chant from the crowd begins. Sean is on our side of the stage, whipping his braids into a frenzy. Tommy messes up a lyric slightly in the second verse, but it doesn't appear that anyone notices (I probably shouldn't bring it up, but well, this is a review, and I think it's rather charming, so I'm not being critical here!). About halfway into it, he urges the crowd to mimic his vocalizations, which everyone does with emphatic gusto. There is some playful interaction between Tommy and Thomas, and then the crowd participation starts up again a couple more times, ending on a very high note from Tommy that the audience tries their best to imitate! Then more impressive note-holding from Tommy before the band takes it to its final notes.


The band departs from the stage, leaving an enthusiastic crowd begging for more. Sean rouses the crowd by running across the stage and lifting his arms in an enticement to cheer. At this point he jams on his bass for a few moments. One thing I do like about the solo segments at Kamelot concerts is that they are succinct and to-the-point! Not a lot of time showing off or noodling around unnecessarily. Not that I mind this, but it is a band, not a solo act, so I like that each person is given the opportunity to showcase their talent without being a ball hog towards anyone else (did I just make another dig at Van Halen?).

From there, the band starts in on the title track from Ghost Opera, and I don't need to tell you that any song from that album is a highlight for me! During the second verse, Tommy comes to our side of the stage again and sings directly to Laura. He must think she is cute! ;) (And Laura is a nice girl, so she deserves it!)

The show is reaching its end, and Tommy says as much as he says there are two songs left to play; introducing the title track from Karma; another favorite of mine. I got to hear this song live at their show in San Diego last year and enjoyed it very much. Knowing it much better now, I was excited to hear it again, and they did not fail to deliver. The band headbangs a lot on stage while Tommy does some lovely vocalizations before starting in on the verses. When he reaches the lyric “I know I've torn and taken life”, he reaches over for my friend Andrea's camera; she and my other friend Craig were sitting front-and-center while I was all the way on the end, so our small group had all the bases covered in the pit! So Tommy proceeds to take Andrea's camera, and let's see from the video what Tommy decides to film!

Video provided courtesy of Andrea Granillo

All good things must come to an end, and so this amazing ride reaches its final stop with the bombastic opening track from The Black Halo, and what has become Kamelot's closing song at all their live gigs: “March of Mephisto”. After “EdenEcho”, I would easily say that “March of Mephisto” is my second-favorite Kamelot song, and it seems most fans share the sentiment that it's a top favorite, considering how excited everyone got when Alissa growls out Mephisto's name, and two of the girls from Eklipse return to the stage to pound out the militant opening drumbeats of this hauntingly majestic track. Alissa makes one last return to center stage; this time shedding all the flowing capes and beautiful dresses and donning her “bad-ass gear” of leather and studs to take on her part as the malevolent voice of Mephisto. The byplay between Alissa and Tommy really got my attention at the shows last year, and they've got it down pat by now; acting out the lyrics with gestures as they headbang their way into one last sing-along from the crowd.

My last photo of the night of Tommy, according to my memory card!

The outro music plays; the final track from Silverthorn, “Continuum”. It is at this time when guitar picks and drumsticks are thrown out to the crowd, and Tommy jumps down into the audience to shake hands before taking their final bow. Yes, Tommy even shook my hand. How nice! Too bad all my friends who are in love with him do not live close to me; I could make some extra cash on the side charging for handshakes! Damn, I really could use that extra money. Oh well. One by one the band takes their leave and an incredible night has come to an end.

Or has it...?

Part 6: After the Show

You'd think that there would be nothing more to report after the gig is over, but you'd be wrong! As our group all says our goodbyes and start to head our separate ways, grapevine gossip travels fast and word is that the members of Delain are all hanging out in the lobby, signing autographs. Since my friend and I are due for a long drive back home as it is, we figure what's the harm in hanging out for a little while to see if we can get pictures with any of them?

As we head to the lobby, we notice Craig talking to someone from Eklipse, but the area is small and crowded, so we opt to keep going and see if we can find anyone from Delain. I use this opportunity to call home, as my better half has the uncanny knack of calling me whenever I am unable to answer right away! He is glad to hear that I had an excellent time at the show and wishes us luck in meeting up with Delain. A hilarious moment ensues when I end my call with “love you, talk to you later”, and a guy walking by thinks that I am talking to him! Well, much as I love my fellow metalheads, we've only just met! I'm not that kind of gal; married old woman I am, remember?

The first person from Delain that I notice is Martijn Westerholt, who is a very nice guy and pleasant to talk to. Since meeting Delain was not something we had planned, I only brought one thing along with me in the instance that it might happen, and it was only something Martijn could sign: the “Ice Queen” single from his former band, Within Temptation. Seeing it sparks memories for him and he says to me that the item I have in my possession is “very rare!”, and then he goes on to mention what a nice woman his sister-in-law Sharon is (which I already knew, seeing as how I met her back in 2007!). He and I take a picture, and the band's guitarist (unfortunately, I cannot remember his name!) jumps into the photo with us as well.

I have good fortune getting autographs with most of the bandmembers; I never did see the band's drummer anywhere, though. However, I was more concerned with getting autographs for the card I bought for my friend's son. I thought it would make his day to see not only a full set of Kamelot signatures, but nearly a full set of Delain as well. So I spent more time getting that signed than trying to get any pictures or anything for myself.

The last person we see, naturally, is Charlotte. As expected, she has a swarm of people around her and because it's an informal meeting, there is no set rule as to how people can approach her; so folks just sort of jump in when they find an opportunity. By this time, Laura and I had met up in the crowd again, and I ask her if she can take a picture on her camera with me and Charlotte, as my memory card was officially full and I did not want to waste anyone's time going through it to see which photo could afford to be deleted in its place. Laura agrees, and we go on to meet Charlotte. The only thing I have for her to sign is an old glossy photo that was given to me by a friend of mine who lives in Amsterdam; she got this at a festival Delain was playing at in the Netherlands back in their early days, and sent it to me because she knew I was a fan. Charlotte seems surprised to see this photo and asks me where I got it. She is the only member of the band besides Martijn who can sign it, as no one else in the photo is with the band any longer. However, I already got my single signed by Martijn as well as the card, so I did not want to ask for another, and settled for having Charlotte's signature on this photo alone. She was also approachable and kind to fans; when I asked her to sign the card for my friend's son, she was not only happy to do it, but she asked his name so that she could write him a message. It is at this time that my friend (his mom) arrives and sees what I am doing, so Charlotte writes him a personal message wishing him luck on the competition that he went to over the weekend. (I still don't know if he won or not!) What a sweetheart!

I suppose at this time I could share the pictures I took, but I still have not received my picture with Charlotte from Laura! :( But not only that, you all have heard enough from me and been good sports about it; I think showing you my homely mug would just be too much, don't you?

Eventually we make our way outside, where we say goodbye to all of our friends as we all head back to our everyday lives outside of metal concerts. But there is always the promise of another show, so we know that somewhere along the line, we will see each other again soon. As for me, it is time for our little group to get back on the long road home. I find myself back home at 4:30 in the morning; returning to my ordinary world where my man and my dog wait for me, and the magical wonder of Kamelot is a not-so-distant memory.


---Special thanks to my metal family from Oceansouls of America and Sonic Cathedral: Tisa Douglas, Adam Douglas (and Aaron Douglas, who had to miss the show!), John Thornburgh, Tim Borzi, Craig Frantz, Andrea Granillo, Laura Medina, Ashley Gabriele, Katerick Lash, Don Thornburgh; the “Tommy-girls”: Desiree Smith, Sara Letourneau, Allyson Kenning, and Robin Stryker; my fellow Kamelot travelers who hit other shows on the tour: Max Levites, Lindsay Schoolcraft, Zoë Federoff, David (DVDVampire); John Wolff, my loyal review readers, anyone I met at the Kamelot gig whose names I cannot remember, and whoever else I forgot to name! See you at the next metal family reunion...will it be ReVamp? Within Temptation? A Sound of Thunder? Metalachi? Who knows? But we'll all be together again before long! Until then...I fuckin' love you all!

Monday, September 9, 2013

Mini-review: Kari Rueslåtten featuring Tuomas Holopainen “Why so Lonely?” (single) (2013)

Album: “Why so Lonely?" (single)
Artist: Kari Rueslåtten (feat. Tuomas Holopainen)
Year: 2013
Language: English
Total time: 3:09
Rating: 9 of 10

OK, so the single just started streaming on the internet over the last couple of hours, but I just had to put my two cents in on the new Kari Rueslåtten single, featuring Nightwish mastermind Tuomas Holopainen.

Anyone who knows me knows what a huge Nightwish fan I am, so of course I am always curious to hear what any of the bandmembers do when they collaborate with other musicians. But this single in particular is special; for anyone who knows their Nightwish history, they will know that Kari Rueslåtten once sang for a band called The 3rd and the Mortal, and it was a voice similar to hers that Tuomas first envisioned when he began forming Nightwish. So in a sense, this is his coming full circle, so to speak. It goes without saying that I was very curious to hear these two get together.

To give a general description of the song by comparing it to, say, other Nightwish tunes: picture the lovely ballad “While Your Lips Are Still Red", but with a female voice. That doesn't come close to describing its simplistic yet dramatic loveliness; but when hard-pressed to think of a Nightwish song to give reference to, that is the first song that comes to mind. It has the same sort of gentle piano intro; that hauntingly beautiful way that Tuomas plays the simplest notes.

Then Kari's voice comes in, softly at first and building up, but never straying far from being that mix of fragile vulnerability and delicate strength. Again, I find it difficult to compare her voice to an artist that someone may know; and yet, as a review-writer, I feel I must describe it for someone who has never heard it, in terms they can understand. Imagine a Norwegian Kate Bush, perhaps? That probably doesn't come close to the mark, but certain aspects of Kari's voice brings Kate to mind. The high note she hits towards the end of the song especially reminds me of Kate Bush (in a good way!).

There is not much to this song but Tuomas' heartbreakingly lovely piano and keys, an acoustic guitar, just enough percussion to keep the beat, and Kari's voice. But it's the simple things that oftentimes speak closest to our hearts, right? It's clear that Kari's vocals and Tuomas' piano work are the centerpiece of this song, as it should be. Mind you, I have not heard the original version from The 3rd and the Mortal, so I cannot make comparisons to it as far as what each version has that the other does not, etc. I wanted to focus just on this version and how it stands alone. It's a gorgeous piece of work, and hopefully everyone will get the chance to listen to it soon. It's available for streaming on Spotify, and for purchase on iTunes, so I'm sure it will be all over YouTube by morning, if it isn't already!

Put it this way: I found the song on Spotify about an hour ago and have listened to it non-stop. I like it so much that I had to write a review about it right this very minute!

Score another for Tuomas never disappointing me musically, no matter whether it's with Nightwish or other artists!

Tuomas Holopainen & Kari Rueslåtten

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Album review: Queensrÿche (S/T) (2013)

Album: Queensrÿche
Artist: Queensrÿche
Year: 2013
Genre: Progressive metal
Total tracks: 11
Album length: 35:04
Label: Century Media
Rating: 10 of 10

If you are a longtime metal fan, or even relatively new to the genre, no doubt you have heard the name Queensrÿche in passing, if you are not already a fan. Everyone knows their accomplishments: creating one of the greatest concept records of all time (Operation: Mindcrime), their Pink Floyd-esque ballad Silent Lucidity" hitting the charts at a time when the changing of the guard between hair metal and grunge was inevitable, and anything resembling progressive rock or metal was the farthest thing from being considered cool". 

Suffice it to say, Queensrÿche has earned a great deal of respect over their 30 years of existence, and rightfully so. Taking to heart their moniker of thinking man's metal", the band was never afraid to take musical risks or to challenge themselves as artists. Each album was different from the one before; for better or for worse, you knew this was not a band who was just going to sit on their laurels and churn out the same tried-and-true formula with each new release. Whether it was always a sound you liked or not, one thing was certain: you never knew what to expect, and that was part of their appeal.

Yet as time went on and certain line-up changes started to happen, the band's musical direction started to take strange turns that even fans like myself—who always enjoyed their ventures into experimentation—found it harder and harder to justify. When the sonic dud that was known as Dedicated to Chaos was released in 2011, it was becoming clear that the legacy of the thinking man's metal" band had been reduced to a caricature of themselves. Instead of sweeping epic concept albums or elaborate thematic music videos; we now had lyrics that seemed more befitting a teenage boy just discovering his hormones, accompanied by cabaret shows with half-naked women and certain bandmembers baring more onstage than any of us wanted to see!

It appeared that all the things people once loved Queensrÿche for were no longer there, or had become buried beneath the gimmicks. Even when the band tried to resurrect those things that fans loved (such as making a sequel to the beloved Operation: Mindcrime, or trying to reunite with former bandmembers to recapture the former magic), it seemed that instead of resurrecting their glory days, fans were becoming more and more resigned to the sad fact that those days were long gone, and were never coming back. Even among the metal scene, Queensrÿche seemed to be a name that was forgotten or whose greatness was only referred to in the past tense. For each attempt to jump-start their image, it only appeared as another failed effort to convince an uninterested public that they were still relevant.

But then in the spring of 2012, the band was back in the public eye, and not necessarily for good reasons. I don't need to elaborate here about them; anyone who is a metal fan who has internet access already knows the major split between the band and their original lead vocalist, Geoff Tate. Everyone knows the sordid details behind the parting of ways, and I'm not here to further speculate on that or to further play into the ongoing debate between a fan community now split in two. If you are reading this article, you probably already know those things anyway. If you don't, feel free to use Google to find out. That's what it was made for. Don't worry, you can take your time and come back to this when you are ready. Or you can look at this video here and get a general idea of what has transpired.

So are you up to speed on all of this now? Good. On to the review!

You are likely aware that at the time of this writing, there are two versions of Queensrÿche: one featuring 3/5 of the original bandmembers, and the other version featuring former vocalist Geoff Tate and his band of hired musicians who have never been part of the original lineup in any way, shape, or form (with the exception of Kelly Gray, who played for Queensrÿche in the early '00s after replacing original guitarist Chris DeGarmo).

This review focuses solely on the version that some call the real Queensrÿche", Queensrÿche Official", or the Rising West version": featuring original bandmembers Michael Wilton, Eddie Jackson, and Scott Rockenfield; along with guitarist Parker Lundgren (who has been playing with the band for quite a few years now), and new vocalist Todd LaTorre, formerly of the band Crimson Glory. When this new lineup revealed themselves in June of 2012 at a show in their hometown of Seattle under the name of Rising West", fans stood up and took notice. For many longtime fans, it was the first time they started to feel a glimmer of hope that somehow, they were finding their way back to their progressive-metal roots. When Todd hit the stage and belted out the trademark high note from the band's classic fan favorite Queen of the Reich", there was no doubt left to any fan listening that happy days were here again!

It was clear that not only did the fans feel this way, but the band did too; one huge indicator of their desire to revive their classic sound was bringing back legendary producer Jimbo Barton into the fold, known for his work on albums such as Empire and Promised Land. While in the middle of a lawsuit that will ultimately decide which side will claim the Queensrÿche name once and for all (to be decided in early 2014, at the time of this writing), this shared sentiment among the band and fans was clear when they announced the title of their long-awaited upcoming new album in early 2013: it would simply be called Queensrÿche, a bold statement to anybody listening" that this was the real deal, and to accept no imitations.

Just for the record, until the issue is settled as to who rightfully owns the band's name...from this point out, whenever you hear me refer to Queensrÿche" in the present tense, it is this version I mean and no other. You will not see a review for the "other" album on this blog, so don't bother looking. Again, you can use Google to read the many reviews out there for that. Or you can have fun with this video here if you are so inclined.

Now that I've gotten all the disclaimers out of the way...there's not much left but to turn on the music!

The first track, X2", is little more than an intro; very reminiscent of a movie score soundtrack, which is not surprising, considering Scott Rockenfield's professed love for and ventures into film music. It's an eerie, ominous intro that hearkens to the dark vibe of Promised Land; very similar in feel to that album's intro, 9:28 a.m.". The song is just a little over the minute mark before promptly seguing into the next track.

Although Where Dreams go to Die" is the second track, it's an appropriate kick-off to the album. Here we find the pounding drums, heavy riffs, and melodic sensibility that encompasses classic Queensrÿche. When Todd's vocals come in, he delivers all the goods that Geoff Tate once did; the high notes, the emotional delivery. And Todd really needs to bring it on this track, because lyrically, this is definitely the ultimate middle-finger" song; lyrics written by Parker Lundgren. I would not want to make him mad at me! Forget all those pop princesses out there who supposedly write a good revenge song; they've got nothing on Parker when he has a bone to pick with you! It's really become no secret that this song is a thinly-veiled reference to Tate and the incidents that led to the split; with lyrics referencing past Queensrÿche songs (spreading like a new disease...a revolution call..."). This track is a brilliant example of how Queensrÿche has returned to their roots both musically and lyrically; giving you something to bang your head to, while painting a picture through their words for fans to watch unfold as the song progresses.

Spore" is a heavy tune that wastes no time in getting to the point. Need I mention that Todd's vocals shine on this track too? I may as well stop using that reference now, because every song is a stellar vocal performance from Todd. Another track that has lyrics that seem to have a deeper meaning; the chorus asking the listener to help their fellow man. The instrumental break is melodic and heavy; just the thing fans like to hear from Queensrÿche.

Track four, In This Light", is the first of the ballad"-type songs, although this is hardly a sloucher! Even Queensrÿche's ballads" have a heavy feel to them, which is indicative with the opening riff. Todd's vocals are emotional as he sings about searching for something he hasn't found yet. One of the things many fans love about the band is their ability to merge harmony with heaviness, and this is a song that hearkens to earlier classics that did this so well; such as Anybody Listening?", for example.

The fifth track, Redemption", is the first track that the band released officially, introducing the world to Todd LaTorre, and it was a fitting introduction! If you want an example of how Todd sounds like a young Geoff Tate, look no further than this track. Yet at the same time he brings something new to the table and gives us a certain power to his voice that we haven't heard from Tate in years, and in some respects maybe never had! I read a review comparing the two voices, and it said that it felt to them like Geoff was always holding something back, and I can agree with this assessment. Todd does not sound like he's holding back at all!

Vindication" is one of the heaviest songs on the record, which is saying a lot considering this album has not skimped on the heaviness at all so far! But the band really rocks it out here; everyone sounds like they are letting loose, yet with the same deadly-accurate precision that they have become known for. Another set of lyrics that suggest a reference to the split", as the band proclaims their rise to the top once again". A song like this is a perfect example of why Queensrÿche is one of my favorite bands and why I love music that manages to merge musical virtuosity with emotional delivery. So many people believe that you cannot be musically proficient and be emotional; or that all "emotional" music must sound like a jumble of dissonant sounds. Songs like this, to me, are the proof that this just isn't true.

The seventh track, A Midnight Lullaby", is another intro-type piece; once again reminiscent of film music, we enter the eerie world of a crying baby and the winding of a music box, playing a haunting melody until it seamlessly brings us to...

A World Without"...I cannot say enough about this song! It is musical perfection. Up until this point we have heard Todd's impressive high notes, but here he switches it up and shows off his lower range; proving that he sounds just as stunning when he's singing deep and sultry, as when he's belting out notes that could break glass. To me, this song is a perfect fusion of my two favorite Queensrÿche albums: Rage for Order and Promised Land. It has all the gothic darkness of Rage, coupled with the symphonic drama of PL. It's like those two albums made sweet love by the fire and produced a love child of epic proportions! Or, it's like the band could hear my innermost wishes for what elements constitute the perfect Queensrÿche song, and gave me this precious gift. For me, this song is just as important in heralding the return of classic Queensrÿche as any of the heavier tunes. Maybe even more so. One distinct factor that is a nod to their earlier works: they have enlisted the services of Suite Sister Mary" herself, Pamela Moore, to provide backing vocals on this track. I can't find any flaws or fault with this song, other than that it ends! But that's what the repeat" option is for, right?

Song nine, Don't Look Back", kicks back into the fast-paced goodness that has dominated throughout the album. Todd's assertive vocals match the band's aggressive playing, executing a rapid-fire sonic assault on the senses. Lyrically, this once again seems to touch upon the classic Queensrÿche" themes of social or political awareness, which is another thing I love about them. This track is another song that I could see making the crowds react at live shows.

Fallout", the band's current single, starts out with some nice thumping bass, which stands to reason, as this song was written by bassist Eddie Jackson. When I first heard this song, I thought that maybe it would be my least-favorite song on the album. It's not bad, but it just wasn't resonating with me at first. In fact, for the first few listens, I would forget the song no sooner than I was done listening to it (chalk it up to old age, perhaps?)! However, I find songs like that a challenge, because they often have a way of getting under your skin and into your heart. Sure enough, after several listens, the light turned on and I could hear what the other fans were raving about in regards to this jam that clocks in at less than 3 minutes, yet does not leave you feeling unfulfilled. It's got a chorus you can pump your fists to and sing along with, which is always good for live shows. You can see this for yourself by checking out the official video below.

The final track, Open Road", is a devastatingly gorgeous ballad that is definitely quintessential Queensrÿche": the beautiful acoustic guitars, the breathtaking harmonies, and vocals fraught with emotion. Throughout the album, we heard lyrics that hinted at the rough times that the band has experienced over this last year. This song is the silver lining; a clear message to the fans that they have closed the chapter on what has happened before, and are moving on to brighter horizons. A blessing in disguise, right before your eyes", says the final lyric; as if to tell the fans that dawn has broken from their darkest hour. A perfect closer to a perfect album.

Overall opinion: Count me among the many fans who have proclaimed that Queensrÿche is back, and I couldn't be happier about it! It seems as though for the last 15 years, my love for this band had waned to nothing more than a memory. I still loved the older stuff, but as far as anything new, I wasn't impressed. I was one of those fans who drew a clear line at where I felt the real" Queensrÿche ended (with the departure of Chris DeGarmo), and resigned myself to looking at those older albums as all there was that remained. It was easier to act as though Queensrÿche morphed into something else or did not exist anymore, so as to not tarnish what the older albums meant to me.

So when I saw those first live videos of the Rising West shows, my hopes were lifted. It was the first time in a very long time that I heard the band that I loved. But I was still somewhat skeptical, because after all, they were only doing songs that they had performed live for years and had down pat; the only difference was a new vocalist, and he was a longtime fan who studied the band's music and knew how to sing those songs front to back. I wanted to reserve my enthusiasm for when there was new music, because that was the true test of whether Queensrÿche had really returned, or if the fans were just prematurely setting themselves up for another disappointment.

From the opening riffs of Redemption", and each song that the band released online up until the album came out, that skepticism dwindled away to nothingness; every song was better than the one before. My reservations were fading away and were being replaced by enthusiasm over having my" Queensrÿche back.

Further proof of this was not just in the music, but in the lyrics too. The lyrics were back; Queensrÿche was making words matter again! To me, one of the main reasons—if not the main reason—that Queensrÿche is among my top 3 favorite bands, is because they are one of the few artists out there where the lyrics are just as important as the music; perhaps even more so in some instances. I don't think albums like Operation: Mindcrime and Empire would have experienced such success if they didn't have the intelligent lyrical themes to accompany the complex music. Over the years, as I have immersed myself more in music from overseas, I have learned to overlook certain things when it comes to song lyrics (especially listening to bands whose primary language is not English); but for me, Queensrÿche was always something special. With them, I could never accept anything less than verses that made you think by taking you to places and situations that were sometimes challenging, but always interesting. I would say that a big part of my disinterest in their music over the last 15 years came from uninspired lyrics and clichéd themes. That was not the Queensrÿche I loved.

For me, the lyrics are a huge factor in what makes their music great; so to have that back again is just as great a pleasure as the music coming full circle. To hear words again—words that evoke imagery, scenery, and powerful emotion—as a writer, of course I am influenced by the written word, but music lyrics are a huge influence for me as a writer. A good lyric within a song has the ability to transport you to another place in the same way that a good book can do; yet only a handful of artists have this rare talent, especially in music today. What I always loved about Queensrÿche was their ability to take you on a journey through not only their music, but through the story they wove through the words they composed. 

So to see lyrics like, Adapting model state, symmetry property possessed in varying degrees"; Arrogate through media, instigate acedia"; Mass regimentation, a phenomenon of industrialization...Reaction against control, striving to attain a common goal"; Magnetize what you conceptualize because your thoughts become things" (and these are just to name a few!) just excites me to see the imaginative lyrics have made a comeback, as well as the heavy yet complex music that fans have missed. But there are so many reviews out there already praising the return of the trademark Queensrÿche sound. Far too few of them are celebrating another hallmark of their iconic legacy: the social/economic/political commentary in their songs; words that delve deep beneath the surface and give greater power to their musical strength. In other words, their ability to walk the walk and talk the talk!

But I should probably not end this review without mentioning the music, because that is what it all comes down to! The band promised that they were making a return to the sound that encompassed their first 5-6 albums, which many fans agreed were among their finest pieces of work and what constituted the Queensrÿche sound". While they delivered on their promise by bringing back the heavy riffs, the twin-guitar attack, the beautiful harmonies and the powerful vocals; this is not to say that the new album is a copycat of any previous album. So if you are expecting a Warning 2 or a Return to Mindcrime, you should probably throw that notion out the window right now. The fundamentals of the old sound have returned, but it has been given a much-needed update and is exactly what it promises: it's a modern version of the Queensrÿche we all know and love. It's just what we would expect as a natural progression from albums like Empire or Promised Land. It's an evolution from the classic sound, not a repeat or rehash of those sounds.

However, if you wanted to compare this to their older works, this almost could have been the album either released between Operation: Mindcrime and Empire, or the one released after Promised Land. While it sounds very much like old-school Queensrÿche, they have also brought in a very current sound that keeps things fresh and exciting. Nothing here sounds dated, yet at the same time, it feels as if though it belongs right there among those classics. It's as if with one fell swoop, this album completely wiped out the last 15 years of the band's back catalog. It's like Q2K and Dedicated to Chaos never happened and were just a horrible nightmare!

It goes without saying that Todd has been a great addition to the band, but I feel inclined to give props to Parker as well! Although he is technically not a "new" member, he is not an original bandmember either. However, he infuses young blood" into the dynamic; he is only in his late '20s, but it's clear he's done his homework and knows what the fans want, considering his contribution to the songwriting with Where Dreams go to Die". Much as I would love to see Chris DeGarmo make a guest appearance or some sort of return to the band and will never stop hoping for it, I also would not like to see Parker go anywhere either, and certainly would not mind if someday Queensrÿche emulated Iron Maiden in that they find a way to incorporate 3 guitarists into the fold!

With an album that has so many positive attributes, aren't there any downsides to it at all? Well, if we want to nit-pick, perhaps this is a good time to point out that this album is only 35 minutes long, and two of those songs are just within the 1-minute mark. You could call those intro songs throwaways" or filler" tracks, and the album could stand alone without them. But they provide an ambiance that readies the listener for the musical trip they are about to go on, so one could say they are just as important as any other song. And to be quite honest, if the worst we can say about this album is that it's only 35 minutes, that should tell you how good it is! Too many bands nowadays feel the need to fill the CD to the last nanosecond, and as a result, we oftentimes get an hour's worth of filler and about 15 minutes of good music. It's also easy to forget that many legendary albums barely surpassed the half-hour mark! I would rather have a solid 35 minutes of killer songs than to have an hour and a half of ho-hum material any day! The good news is that as of this writing, the band has announced that they are already working hard on new material for their next album, and definitely plan to have some longer songs in the mix!

So I think we've covered all the bases here; this is a comeback story so epic that it's worthy of a Queensrÿche album! All that's left to say is: welcome back, Queensrÿche! We've missed you!