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.

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.

Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Hump Day Hot Ticket: Luna “Friends”

Photo credit: Luz Gallardo

Yes, I am writing again about another band I have recently reviewed! Considering that I am beginning to think no one really reads this blog anyway, does it really matter? And if someone is reading, you are probably wondering: why even write if I don't think anyone is reading it anyway? Well, because I like to write, and even if no one is reading this, I will keep on writing, so I may as well write about whatever I want!

Now that I've gotten that out of the way, I can talk about the new video from Luna. The second video from their covers album A Sentimental Education, Luna pays tribute to The Velvet Underground, and the timeless theme of unrequited love.

Where the previous video was filmed in black-and-white, this one is done in vibrant color. A conceptual video set in a high school, we follow a young boy as he attempts to win the heart of the girl he loves. We see that his crush is a couple of years older than he is, so clearly the girl sees him only as a friend, as she goes off with other boys closer to her own age. In the hallways, a band plays: they all look like younger versions of Luna! It is cute to see how they must have looked in high school.

As the video progresses, we watch the boy's various tactics to get the girl to notice him. He has a knack for making cute flip books, starring a dog character, whom we see in stuffed animal form. These little books entertain her, but clearly the cute older boy has her full interest. At first, it appears that the two boys do not like each other (or that the elder is wary of the younger), but the girl comes along, encouraging them to join her as they go out to the school football field, where the band is playing and everyone is having a good time. The stuffed animal makes an appearance too, but I can't spoil the ending, can I?

For more information on Luna, visit their official website.

Friday, October 27, 2017

DVD review: Delain—A Decade of Delain (Live at Paradiso)

Album cover

Album: A Decade of Delain (Live at Paradiso)
Artist: Delain
Genre: Symphonic metal
Label: Napalm Records
Tracks: 23

(Originally posted at the Female-Fronted Power Facebook page.)

Sometimes it’s easy to forget that Delain has already been around for 10 years! It seems like only yesterday that their album Lucidity hit the scene. In fact, considering their wild success since then, it is even easier to forget that Delain originally started out as just a project featuring guest musicians (ala Ayreon) with no real intention of being an actual live touring band. But so many people loved the album that Delain were prompted to play a few shows, which turned into a small tour, which turned into more live shows and more touring…before long, Delain started playing new songs at their shows, which indicated that they were here to stay, and this was no longer a one-off project. Soon, they were in the same esteemed circles as their sister band, Within Temptation, and other prominent acts in the genre. Inside a few short years, Delain’s popularity exploded, far surpassing the “musical project” they had originally envisioned for themselves.

As Delain approached a decade of music, it seemed like a no-brainer that the band would want to commemorate such a milestone. Starting a PledgeMusic crowdfunding campaign, the band announced they would be performing a special 10th anniversary show, to be filmed for DVD in their home country of The Netherlands. Fans from around the world jumped at the opportunity to be a part of this special show, featuring guest musicians and a setlist with songs that hadn’t been played in a long time.

Now, the DVD is here for everyone to see, and it was worth the wait! The show starts off firing on all cylinders, and Delain wastes no time introducing their guests as Alissa White-Gluz arrives for the show opener “Hands of Gold”. Her roaring vocals shake the Paradiso, and before anyone can recover, Delain continues to launch into their high-energy repertoire with favorites like “Suckerpunch”, “The Glory and the Scum” and “Get the Devil Out of Me”. An array of confetti fittingly covers the Paradiso for the track “The Hurricane” (my favorite from Moonbathers, the latest Delain studio album), followed promptly by the classic Delain favorite “April Rain”.

The second of the evening’s guest vocalists take the stage when Fear Factory frontman Burton C. Bell arrives for “Where is the Blood?” I am not a huge fan of the “metalcore”-type vocals, but he does a good job and complements Charlotte’s voice well. After that, Delain taps into their more aggressive side with “Here Come the Vultures”, keeps it heavy with the Moonbathers fan-favorite “Fire With Fire”, where the fans go absolutely crazy with the headbanging (at this point in the video I see my friend Bill Seaberry in the audience!). I also love the way Charlotte articulates the lyrics with hand gestures, like when she mimics slamming a door when she sings the line “open doors, then shut them hard”. Can I just say that I have always thought that the Paradiso looks like a cool venue for a concert, and I envy you Dutch people who get to see shows there all the time?

Alissa White-Gluz makes a return for “The Tragedy of the Commons”, and if I thought she sounded brutal before, she unleashes her beastly vocals to maximum capacity here! Delain keeps the crowd going with “Danse Macabre”, where the fans clap along with Charlotte. After that, Delain digs deep into the vault and brings back former bandmembers Rob van der Loo, Guus Eikens, and Sander Zoer for the Lucidity classic “Sleepwalkers Dream”.

From there, Charlotte announces that they have a “virtual guest”, and Nightwish bassist/vocalist Marco Hietala appears on-screen for the song “Your Body is a Battleground”. Delain returns to old-school favorites with “Stay Forever”, and then is joined onstage by Liv Kristine for “See me in Shadow” (where things seem to calm down for the first time during this energetic show). The trip down memory lane continues with the song Charlotte deems as the “party favorite” among Delain fans: “The Gathering” (which feels a little flat without Marco, but makes up for it with fan enthusiasm, where everyone jumps up and down and cuts loose). The nod to Delain’s debut continues with “Pristine”, where the searing vocals of George Oosthoek provide some guttural ferocity and the entire band headbangs in sync (along with some fans in the balcony as well!). Delain, along with George, lead the audience into clapping along with them (where I catch another glimpse of my friend Bill!), culminating into synchronized fist-pumping throughout the Paradiso.

The show reaches its home stretch as Delain makes its way back towards more current material (i.e., the latter half of their 10-year career) with “Mother Machine”, a song that is normally a fantastic show opener, but fits well here as a way to mark the last part of the concert. Another video appearance from Marco Hietala comes afterwards on the track “Sing To Me” and when Delain reaches the song “Don’t Let Go” (my favorite Delain song to hear live!), it becomes clear that we are reaching the end of the journey, since this song is usually one of the last at a Delain show. But the crowd stays with it and remains as animated as if it were the beginning of the concert, as they chant and clap along.

As soon as the familiar opening notes of “We Are The Others” begins, there is no mistake that we have reached the end of the concert, because this song usually closes out the band’s shows and it has become their most recognizable anthem. But it is a fantastic close to a lively performance, and a perfect cap on a tribute to 10 years’ worth of music. The song has become the theme song for all Delain fans and it is only proper that the show would end with something that the audience most identifies with, since it was the enthusiasm of the Delain fans from the beginning that brought this “musical project” to life and turned them into the actively touring and recording superstars that they are now, a decade later. Delain knows that too, and thanks their fans with the hopes that there will be another 10 years to celebrate. The entire evening’s cast ensemble joins them onstage for the final bow, as the cameras capture the passionate Delain fans that made this moment possible.

Thanks to Henk van Nieuwenhoven at Female-Fronted Power.
Extra thanks to Mona Miluski at Napalm Records.
Special thanks to Ben, Chip and Scott at Delain American Street Team.
Extra-special thanks to John Thornburgh at Sonic Cathedral.

Femme-Metal Friday: Exit Eden “A Question of Time”

Band photo

It has been a while since the last time I wrote about the femme-metal vocal supergroup Exit Eden, but they have been doing a lot since then! They have released a bunch of videos for their album Rhapsodies in Black; so much that I have not been able to keep up with them until now. If I was going to review any video for any song off the album, this was the one I most hoped would have a video release, and the one I most wanted to review. Good things come to those who wait!

If you read my review of the Rhapsodies in Black album, then you know that my favorite songs on this album of covers were the ’80s tunes: the soundtrack of childhood with a fresh, new sound. Of all the ’80s covers, however, my favorite was the album's opening track, Exit Eden's take on the Depeche Mode classic “A Question of Time”. So naturally, when the band started releasing several videos for the album, I hoped that eventually, this song would get a video treatment as well.

Thematically, the Exit Eden videos appear to share a similar thread, which leads one to wonder if the videos are connected, or if the order of their release somehow paints a larger picture (somewhat like the Guns ’n Roses “video trilogy” of the early ’90s, where three seemingly random songs from the album tied together to tell a bigger story on-screen). The videos all show the same imagery: alternating between the group performing in a room with some sunlight coming through the windows of an old house, and the women individually either walking through the house or shown in rooms lit with candles. The women are seen walking through the halls, each one carrying a different item: Marina LaTorraca has a rose, Anna Brunner holds a pendant of some kind, Clémentine Delauney holds a small golden box, and Amanda Somerville holds and onyx ring. As the video ends, we see quick shots of the band performing onstage, alternating between shots of what rests in the women's hands: the rose, the box, the pendant, and the ring.

For more information on Exit Eden, visit their official website.

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Hump Day Hot Ticket: Serenity “United”

Photo credit: Manuel Janus Mair

Admittedly, there has been a bit of a pattern here lately, and hopefully this is a precursor of better things to come at this blog; meaning that it will become more commonplace to begin spotlighting more international acts for this feature. (Hey, as much as I love to showcase the independent bands, I also want to draw more traffic here so that many people can learn about those lesser-known artists in the first place!)

As I did last Friday with my review of The Dark Element, I am once again reviewing a new video from another band that I have written about within the last month. Releasing their second single in time for their album release on Friday, Serenity has another new video, this time for the song “United”.

Truth be told, I look forward to any opportunity to write about Serenity, because I absolutely love their music. I regret that the start of this feature last year happened only after the last video for their previous album was released, because I would have gladly reviewed all of them. Over the last 2 years, Serenity has quickly earned a spot among my most favorite bands, which says a lot in regards to how much I love their music. Quite frankly, I think they are one of the best symphonic metal bands out there, and don't feel they get nearly as much attention or recognition as I believe they deserve. Then again, this is why I write music reviews, so that maybe (in some small way) I can help bring attention to all of this great music!

That being said, on to the video! Aesthetically, “United” has the same look and feel as the “Lionheart” video, which suggests that perhaps Lionheart is a sort of concept album, or that there are some connecting threads throughout the songs. The “United” video picks up right where the “Lionheart” video left off, even though on the album, the song order is reversed. 

When the video begins, we see the soldiers in full armor, brandishing sword and shield, prepared to follow King Richard Lionheart to war. The darkened cave also makes a return, only this time it is more of a performance video, and what a show they put on for this rallying war cry of an anthem! The royal standard is proudly unfurled behind them, as great bursts of flame blast in front of them in a remarkable pyrotechnic display. What a great way to give the viewer a feel of what it must be like at a Serenity concert, right? All of this is going on, and we are not but a little more than 30 seconds into the video...then, to make things more interesting, there's a guy swallowing fire and spitting out flame! Come to think of it, there is a lot of fire in this video, but it fits perfectly with the frenetic pace of the song. It is a fiery, passionate song, with a guitar solo that is positively smoking! Needless to say, an abundant display of pyro is an appropriate visual for such a fierce track.

For more information on Serenity, visit their official website.

Thanks to Claudia Steinlechner at Napalm Records.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Femme-Metal Friday: The Dark Element “Dead to Me”

Band photo

Normally when working on these twice-a-week features, I try not to showcase the same bands or artists within too close a time frame, but as the saying goes, “strike the iron while it's hot”. Right now, The Dark Element is a pretty hot topic, and they've already got another video to review, so why not jump at the opportunity? Besides, this is my blog, which means I can make the rules, or break them if I see fit. If I want to write about the new lyric video from The Dark Element, then I see no reason why I should wait for a “substantial” amount of time to pass!

If you read my feature last month on The Dark Element, then no introduction is needed. For those who did not read my previous review, then please refer to said review for further information. To give a very brief rundown, The Dark Element is a project featuring ex-Sonata Arctica guitarist Jani Liimatainen, and former Nightwish vocalist Anette Olzon. Now that you're all caught up, let's move on to the review!

A lyric video for a song called “Dead to Me”, it is too easy to quickly spot similarities between both Olzon and Liimatainen's previous bands. As I am a Nightwish fan, I instantly hear remnants of songs like “Dark Chest of Wonders” and “Shudder Before the Beautiful”, to name some examples. But, as I am also a fan of Liimatainen's other band, Cain's Offering, I hear many comparisons to that band as well. It stands to reason that both artists are so identifiable by their old bands, that the sound of those bands is bound to come out through the music they make together. In a way, it's an interesting insight on what Cain's Offering might sound like with a female vocalist, or how Nightwish might sound if they joined forces with Sonata Arctica.

As for the video itself, it has a gray backdrop, with pictures of the band, along with shots of Anette in black-and-white, singing as the lyrics flash on the screen. I like how she still does her little head-bobbing thing when she sings, the way she did in her Nightwish days.

I am glad this is a lyric video, because when Anette reaches the line “you ate my bread and drank from my well”, it sounds like she is singing “you ate my brain”! I am pretty sure this is not a song about zombies, so good thing I was able to get that misheard lyric corrected right away! Then again, the song is called “Dead to Me”, so you never know...I guess that will have to be one of those questions that will remain unanswered!

For all its upbeat tempo and fast heaviness, this is one hell of a breakup song! I tell you, these “revenge anthems” from today's pop princesses are child's play compared to heartbroken metalheads! With verses like “I wish I could say I wish you the best, it isn't true”, “I won't write you an ode nor confession, not a song but a war declaration”, “you were the harlot of my heart, like a fool I played my part”, and “you're no one, mean nothing, you're worthless, dead to me”, it's obvious that The Dark Element has far more creative ways to tell an ex, “we're never getting back together”!

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

Thanks to Dustin Hardman at Frontiers.

Special thanks to Oceansouls of America.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Hump Day Hot Ticket: The McGrath Project “Your Secret is Out”

Band photo

This week, I'm going to travel off the beaten path and turn my attention to something not as rooted in metal or even hard rock. I wrote before about musician Gary McGrath here on this blog, so this week I am going to give a nod to one of his many musical endeavors, The McGrath Project.

Whatever name the musical project is called, when Gary is involved, there is a distinct style and sound that is unmistakable. Gary's music is fun, upbeat, reminiscent of the days when good pop music was made with real sugar! It doesn't sound like all the other cookie-cutter pop music out there; the formulaic auto-tuned songs about booty that are a dime a dozen. The McGrath Project is refreshingly vibrant, something new and interesting amid all that boring stuff, yet maintaining an air reminiscent of yesteryear: that sweet bubblegum pop that ruled the 1960s, and could still be heard well into the ’80s; the days when “pop music” was not a derogatory term.

Keeping to the playfulness and fun in their sound, The McGrath Project's video for “Your Secret is Out” is a quirky little number with a sense of humor. That is clear enough from the start, when the video begins with a producer at the console, asking the band in the sound booth to “try a little better at not sucking, thanks!” Meanwhile, the band looks like they are having a blast as they play a song about betrayal, with big smiles on their faces.

For more information on The McGrath Project, visit their official website.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Femme-Metal Friday: Secret Rule “Imaginary World”

Band photo

Last weekend I reviewed the new album from Secret Rule, one of several bands from Italy that I have written about here before. Originally, this review was going to be written last week for another video entirely, but ultimately things work out as they are meant to, because now I get to review a brand-new video hot off the presses, on release day. Appropriately for Friday the 13th, the new Secret Rule video is for the very gothic track “Imaginary World”, featuring ex-Sirenia vocalist Ailyn Gímenez.

The video just screams pure goth: from the dark backgrounds, subdued lighting, freaky dim lights, and bewildered face of a child, all within the first few seconds. Ailyn and Secret Rule vocalist Angela di Vincenzo are standing perfectly still as the music builds up, and then everyone is in motion.

The object of the boy's fascination soon becomes clear as we see circus performers walking on their hands, juggling, and balancing on stilts. The band themselves appear as though they are performing within a circus tent, as scary clowns lurk in the shadows. In keeping to the song's title, we see that the little boy is viewing this all through a Viewmaster-looking contraption (or a virtual reality headset, for you younger folks?); everything we see are just the images created by the viewfinder. When he takes the headgear off, there is no one there but someone sweeping the floor. He is a mime or a clown, leaving us to wonder if this circus was part of the boy's “imaginary world” after all.

For more information on Secret Rule, visit their official Bandsintown page.

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Hump Day Hot Ticket: Dream Spectrum “Lost and Found”

Band photo

I admit that in these (now) twice-a-week video reviews, there have been a handful of bands whose music I keep returning to time and time again. Those of you who visit here often probably know already who those bands are, but for those of you who are new here, there are a few bands that have been featured here more than once.

This week, I review once again a video from Buffalo-based progressive instrumental quartet Dream Spectrum, who are making their third appearance here in 8 months. What can I say? The music is good, and their videos are fun to watch, if only to witness the skill and musicianship that they possess. And while I do love progressive rock and metal music, Dream Spectrum is a bit outside of the typical fare that I review here regularly, yet not so far out of left field for it to be a surprise that I would listen to their music.

Up to this point, the Dream Spectrum videos I have reviewed have been of the “performance” type: a standard music video where the band plays in a concert setting or shown rocking out on their instruments. While performance videos are fun to watch, they don't leave much in the way of reviewing. After all, how many times can you describe a band jamming away on their guitars and drums, before it all sounds the same? In that respect, performance videos tend to offer a bit more of a challenge for me to review, because they are basic and straightforward, not leaving much to interpretation.

It is for this reason that I prefer to review “conceptual” videos: music videos that tell a tale, that are more like mini-movies and less like concert footage. I am also partial to conceptual videos for other reasons stated here before, but one of the main reasons I started this feature was to have fun using my imagination trying to interpret the story within, or to find hidden symbolism that would shed light on the subject and offer greater meaning to the overall plot. Or sometimes, it was just fun to compare the band's images of their own work to my personal visions when I listened to the music.

So even though I had reviewed Dream Spectrum twice already since February, when I saw their latest video was conceptual, I just had to review it. There is something about their music that is quirky and lively, bubbling just beneath the musical virtuosity; so I wondered if some of that would transition to their music videos.

The subject matter for the “Lost and Found” video is pretty self-explanatory: the story begins with a girl sitting at a table and looking at her phone. The camera focuses on a beaded bracelet that she wears, which soon becomes the centerpiece of the plot.  She makes brief eye contact with a gentleman sitting across the way from her, then gets up to leave. At that point, the man notices that the bracelet has been left behind. As we never see her take it off or come loose from her wrist, it is not exactly clear whether she carelessly forgot the bracelet, or purposely left it there for the man to find; this omitted detail is obviously a mystery, as soon we follow the man as he takes the bracelet and attempts to track down the girl, in a series of paths almost crossing but not meeting, as he attempts to find this woman and return the lost bracelet to its owner. Either he is a very good Samaritan, or he really likes this lady—another detail that is left open to the viewer's interpretation. For a moment, we watch the band break into a Satriani-flavored jam, and we are left to wonder at this couple's fate. We feel the man's frustration as he rounds street corners just seconds after she has gone, and feel sorry for him as he sits on some steps, looking heartbroken. Will he find the woman? Will he think of another way to seek out the bracelet's owner? I can't give away too many spoilers, right...?

For more information on Dream Spectrum, visit their official website.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Album review: Secret Rule—The Key to the World (2017)

Album cover

Album: The Key to the World
Artist: Secret Rule
Genre: Melodic/gothic metal
Label: Pride & Joy Records
Tracks: 13

*Review originally posted at the Female-Fronted Power Facebook page*

Over the last few years, Italy's Secret Rule has been anything but a secret: drawing attention to themselves by recruiting talent from some of the biggest bands on the scene, Secret Rule's 2015 album Machination got a lot of notice from fans of the genre, stoking curiosity as to what their next project had to offer. Led by the strong, harmonious voice of Angela Di Vincenzo and guided by the musical hand of Sonata Arctica keyboardist Henrik Klingenberg, Secret Rule was striking a path away from the prestigious guest stars, and was unveiling their new band lineup on their third album, The Key to the World.

However, it would not be completely bereft of guest appearances: ex-Sirenia vocalist Ailyn Gimenez would lend her voice alongside Angela's for a rousing merger of strong and sweet on the dark, gothic track “Imaginary World”. Another duet is heard on the song “Twin Flames”, this time with Henning Basse (of MaYan and Firewind fame), sounding very much like the yin and yang complementary twin souls as their voices blend together like fitting puzzle pieces.

After the short instrumental title track starts things off, the album is driving, melodic, hard-hitting, and bombastic, with Angela's voice leading the charge. The single “Song of the Universe” reminds me a lot of fellow Italian band Macbeth, and perhaps those who are fans of bands like Delain or Triosphere could find a lot to enjoy about Secret Rule as well. “Empty World” sounds like a cross between Delain and Lacuna Coil. Songs like “A Reverie”, “Are You Gone?” (my personal favorite), and “I’m You” (undoubtedly the most experimental track on the album) introduce some elements of electronica while still being positively brutal. “The Lost Child” is a straightforward rockin’ tune that is sure to get a crowd going, while “No More” is a sad, tender ballad that will prompt the lighters to come out at a live show. There are more gothic/symphonic-sounding tracks, such as “Trip Of Destiny” and the final track “100 Poets (Calliope)”, which sounds like a nightmare inside a music box!

For those who enjoyed the last Secret Rule album, they continue to build on that momentum, and there will surely be a lot here to please fans. If you are new to the band, this is as good as any a place to get started. With outstanding work like this, it won't be long before Secret Rule is no secret any longer!

Special thanks to Henk van Nieuwenhoven at Female-Fronted Power.