Tuesday, October 04, 2016

REVIEWS: W.A.S.P. - Golgotha

After their longest ever gap in between albums, shock rock icons W.A.S.P. have released their 15th studio album, Golgotha. This long awaited follow-up to 2009's Babylon is named for what is commonly referred to as Calvary or "The Place of the Skull" - the area outside of Jerusalem where Jesus Christ was crucified according to the Gospels. W.A.S.P.'s notorious leader, Blackie Lawless, has been pretty forthright about embracing religion on the past few albums, and this one is no different. He produced this album, as he has most of the band's albums.

Golgotha is the band's first for Napalm Records, and W.A.S.P.'s line-up has stayed constant since their 2007 Dominator record. However, drummer Mike Dupke left the band upon the release of Golgotha.

"Scream" opens Golgotha, and this hard rocker with a classic metal sound is perfect for this purpose. It's a surprisingly fun song for an album with otherwise heavy subject matter, and the chorus of "Come make it scream if you love me / And make it bleed if you want me," is catchy. The rest of the song is filled with religious imagery, such as mentions of graven idols, prayer, and gods. "Scream" is a great choice for an album opener, and it would made a killer opener for a concert as well.

Other rockers such as "Last Runaway" and "Shotgun" follow. "Last Runaway" features strong bass playing from Mike Duda and lyrics about embarking upon the rock 'n' roll glory days and then coming home to rest. It also alludes to an autobiographical tale of redemption in which Blackie Lawless lives a rough rock star life and later turns to God. "Shotgun" is highly rhythmic and has a big, bright '80s sound to it. The subject matter is more socio-political than religious. The line, "Grab a torch, a pitchfork, and get your guns," tells of a political uprising. In the chorus, the cheesiness of the line "Tonight, got a rock 'n' roll shotgun," makes me take it a little less seriously though. There are several negative mentions of a king in the lyrics, and I'm thinking it may be a jab at U.S. President Obama.

"Miss You" is the heart wrenching ballad that follows several heavy and energetic rock tracks. It is highly emotional, and Blackie's vocals are top notch, and Doug Blair's guitar solo is fantastic. However, it clocks in at 7:42, which is about three and a half minutes too long. By the end of "Miss You," I groaned to myself, "I get it. He misses somebody".

"Fallen Under" starts off slowly, and you think it's going to be another ballad that hopefully doesn't drag on like "Miss You." It ends up being more of a mid-tempo song and one of the best on Golgotha. The line just before the chorus, "Save me from crawling in darkness / Save me so blind," is memorable and something you'll be waiting for each time you listen to the album. "Fallen Under" is heavily based on religion, as Blackie is begging for Christ's salvation as he sings. It also contains lyrical themes of slavery and chains that carry over into the next track, "Slaves of the New World Order." It opens with ominous "oohs" that show a nice side of Blackie's vocal range, and the guitar riffs are quite reminiscent of Iron Maiden. I even initially heard the opening line as, "Show me the Brave New World," and thought "Woah, that really is like Maiden!" After further research, it appears the line is "Grave New World." "Slaves of the New World Order" is one of the longer songs on Golgotha, just a couple of seconds longer than "Miss You." It's almost a multi-movement kind of thing with a lot of variation, so it does not get boring.

The album ends with its title track "Golgotha." "Golgotha" begins slowly with subtle synth sounds, but it builds into a heavy rocker. It is very openly religious, possibly even more so than previous tracks, "Eyes of My Maker" and "Hero of the World." The chorus of "Jesus I need you now / Free me I'm lost somehow," is a sincere plea for salvation. Because of the song's title and the line, "Are you who they say you are?" this song would be fascinating for someone who is spiritual, or at least intrigued by the Crucifixion, to further reflect on during Holy Week before Easter.

Golgotha is a great modern album from a classic metal band. It should not be dismissed as a lame "Blackie cleaned up and found Jesus" sort of thing. Golgotha is certainly heavy and dark, and the blood, guts, skulls, and other more violent aspects of the Bible have proven to be be very "metal." The Christian imagery that is presented by W.A.S.P. on Golgotha is very well done and fits well with the band's hard rock style.

Napalm Records/Rocket Distribution
Official WASP Website


REVIEWS: Pop Evil - Up

On the heels of 2013's Onyx, which spawned the three #1 U.S. Mainstream Rock singles, "Trenches", "Deal With the Devil", and "Torn to Pieces" and then "Beautiful" which was still charting earlier this year, Pop Evil is on top again with their latest release, Up.

The lead single and track that opens Up is "Footsteps". The song takes some time to build, with its 40-second intro made up of some distorted echoes and electronic effects that are somewhat difficult to describe. Leigh Kakaty's vocals kick in, then so do the drums, and shortly thereafter, the bass--courtesy of Chachi Riot and Matt DiRito, respectively. The guitar-driven hard rock element does not become prevalent until the first chorus, which has a highly memorable "woooooo" to it. "Footsteps" has a catchy pop sensibility to it, and it boasts lyrics about knowing you are destined for something greater.

"Core" follows, and with its heavy bass and big riffs, it is much more of the hard rock you would expect from Pop Evil. The lyrics "You can't hold me down / You don't own me / You're done to me," perfectly sum up the song's attitude. "Core" also has a great guitar solo with some thick bass layered on top. In a similar vein, "Take It All" has classic hard rock-inspired riffs in the intro. The repetitive "I'm comin' gonna take it all / I'm comin' gonna take it all" in the chorus leaves a lasting impression. Kakaty's vocals are aggressive, and there is also good use of backing vocals from the other band members.

Although it's not the heaviest song on the album, and it's definitely not a ballad either, "Ghost of Muskegon"--which is named after a city in the band's home state of Michigan--is absolutely my favourite track from Up. It's one of those songs that immediately draws you in, and I could see this one as a potential single. The beginning is rhythmic, with some slight electronic elements to the beat. The vocals are fantastic as Leigh Kakaty sings the chorus of "I'm just a ghost / It's starting to show / I've been on the wrong side searching for love," in such a hard-hitting and profound way.

As Up rolls along, "Lux" is the heaviest song as of yet, especially with its thick bass intro. It has a sexiness to it, as the lyrics tell the story of a likely enticing woman, "She got me walkin' on a thin line / She said 'Come come over to the dark side'." "Vendetta" shows even more of Pop Evil's metal side with its thrash-inspired opening riffs. Its verses are quite rhythmic and forceful, but "Vendetta's" melodic, powerful chorus is primed for rock radio.

"Dead in the Water" is another favourite, as it begins with bright NWOBHM-style intro riffs, followed by more bombastic modern metal riffs. Much like "Vendetta" the verses are aggressive, but the chorus is catchy and lyric-driven. The muffled vocals on the bridge are so fitting, as it cleverly simulates drowning. "Dead in the Water" is an eclectic song with many elements that mesh together perfectly. As it slowly and quietly ends, it fades into the ballads that create finishing touches for Up.

Up ends with two ballads, but they are at opposite ends of the spectrum. The first is "Seattle Rain," which is an acoustic country-flavoured track with hints of mandolin. It is unlike anything else Pop Evil has ever done, but it is beautiful and sincere. Then, with "Til Kingdom Come," the album is done. It is heavy on the bass, and the chorus is filled with the remarkable guitar work of Nick Fuelling and Dave Grahs. Although it is slower, it is still pretty heavy, and it ends at a climax of squealing guitar riffs. When Pop Evil is ready to unleash a ballad from Up as a single, I'd bet money this will be the one.

Pop Evil's Up is a diverse record with no shortage of hard and heavy rock moments--but also balanced with ballads and a touch of pop nuance. Each track is catchy and memorable, and most--if not all--are worthy of being future singles, particularly rockers "Ghost of Muskegon" and "Vendetta" and ballad "Til Kingdom Come". Since they all can't be on the radio--even though they probably should--rock fans should do themselves a huge favour and get Up.

eOne Music
Official Pop Evil Website


REVIEWS: Kadavar - Berlin

Germany's three-piece retro rock outfit Kadavar continues to dig down to the earliest roots of hard rock and heavy metal with their latest release, Berlin. Named for where the band was formed and found a great deal of influence, Berlin is Kadavar's third studio album and the follow-up to 2013's Abra Kadavar and 2014's Live in Antwerp. It is the first full album of new material with bassist Simon "Dragon" Bouteloup, who played on part of the previous one after original member Philip "Mammoth" Lippitz left.

Berlin, which was in fact recorded there, begins with the energetic track "Lord of the Sky". The guitar riffs instantly hearken back to the '70s and are reminiscent of the earliest KISS records. It's just a little less dimensional since there is only one guitarist in this case. The vocals are okay, and they definitely aren't my favourite aspect of the song. Christoph "Lupus" Lindemann is not a vocal powerhouse like the legends from the era Kadavar is trying to recreate. He's also the band's guitarist, so those skills do make up for that.

"Last Living Dinosaur" is one of the album's singles for which band has made a video. It starts slowly and steadily but gains a heavier energy just before the vocals kick in. It's not as upbeat as "Lord of the Sky," and it has a thick Black Sabbath feel to it, with a hint of Blue Öyster Cult. Lindemann's singing improves a bit for "Last Living Dinousaur," as his style and cadence becomes imitative of a young Ozzy Osbourne.

While still very much retro rock, "Pale Blue Eyes" and "See the World with Your Own Eyes" go in a different direction, taking on a slightly earlier era. "Pale Blue Eyes" boasts electrifying intro riffs and has a fuzzy Hendrix vibe. It is rhythmic and catchy, and the chorus of, "Mysterious lady in you purple dress you look so fine / I want to have you by my side / Mysterious lady whatcha doing with your pale blue eyes? / I can't get you out of my mind," is memorable. The guitar solo in "Pale Blue Eyes" is fantastic, and it seems to be one of the most authentic moments on the album. Similarly, "See the World with Your Own Eyes" is super '60s. Right from the start you can hear the Rolling Stones influence, and it is also evocative of the Eric Burdon & War song "Spill the Wine."

"The Old Man," another single with a (fittingly pre-MTV looking) music video, is a wonderful re-creation of early metal. The repetitive guitar riff has the familiarity of Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden. I would consider it the darkest song on Berlin, and while the song is near perfect I have mixed feelings about Christoph Lindemann's often muffled voice meshing with the song. I would love to hear it be sung by someone a little more sinister. An Alice Cooper or Ozzy type would fit well with the darkness of "The Old Man". Lindemann might want to revisit his vocal performance on "Last Living Dinosaur".

Finishing out Berlin is the rapid rocker "Into the Night". With its heavy drumming from Christoph "Tiger" Bartelt, this track pays tribute to the pre-thrash proto-punk of Iggy & The Stooges and The MC5. "Into the Night" slows down toward the end, making what was once a brash garage rock song much more melodic. This serves as a good transition to the bonus track, "Reich der Träume."

Originally by Velvet Underground/Andy Warhol collaborator and heroin chic fashion model Nico, "Reich der Träume" is the only song on Berlin that is in German, despite the fact that the band is German. It is ethereal and contains space age electronic sound effects. Although the rest of Berlin is so guitar heavy, a fuzzy hard rock guitar only makes a brief appearance in the middle of "Reich der Träume". However, the bass is so deep in parts you can practically feel it rattle your chest.

Berlin seems to be less blues-based than Kadavar's previous offering Abra Kadavar, and the band is bent more toward a fuzzy, weighty, garage rock sound. The vocals were better on the last record, as they were stronger and more soulful, and the lyrics could be heard a little more clearly. The abundance of solid, prime hard rock riffs make that easy to overlook. I personally like when Kadavar leans toward the Sabbath end of the spectrum, but I can appreciate that they do not necessarily stick to one facet of the '60s and '70s period of heavy rock 'n' roll.

Nuclear Blast Records/Universal Music Australia
Kadavar on Facebook


REVIEWS: Luca Turilli's Rhapsody - Prometheus, Symphonia Ignis Divinus

In 2011, Italian symphonic power metal band Rhapsody of Fire moved in two separate directions. Guitarist/co-founder Luca Turilli, bassist Patrice Guers, and long-time session guitarist Dominique Leurquin amicably split from Alex Staropoli and the original Rhapsody of Fire to create what is now known as Luca Turilli's Rhapsody. Turilli considers the new Rhapsody to be a continuation of Rhapsody of Fire. Drummer Alex Holzwarth initially played for both Rhapsody iterations and recorded on Luca Turilli's Rhapsody's 2012 debut album, Ascending into Infinity.

The Luca Turilli's Rhapsody lineage carries on with their latest release, 2015's Prometheus, Symphonia Ignis Divinus. Prometheus features Alex Landenburg on drums, as Alex Holzwarth was unable to fulfill commitments with both bands. Also, Prometheus, Symphonia Ignis Divinus marks the return of guitarist Dominique Leurqin, who was unable to tour supporting Ascending into Infinity after severely injuring his hand with a saw and spending months recovering.

Prometheus, Symphonia Ignis Divinus opens with "Nova Genesis (Ad Splendorem Angeli Triumphantis)". Along with the symphonic and metal elements one would expect from a Rhapsody album, there is also heavy use of feedback and an electronic beat. Male and female operatic vocals join the mix, and more string-based instrumentation builds. A deep voice, much like the one from movie trailers, narrates into the next track. Luca Turilli's music is often described as "cinematic metal" so this booming voice is fitting to introduce Prometheus, Symphonia Ignis Divinus.

"Nova Genesis (Ad Splendorem Angeli Triumphantis)" serves mainly as an introduction, so "Il Cigno Nero" is the first full-bodied song from Prometheus, Symphonia Ignis Divinus. It begins with piano. Guitars, drums, and a crystal clear glass-like synthesizer are slowly added. "Il Cigno Nero" starts with both male and female operatic vocals, but the man soon overtakes the woman. The lyrics are in Latin and Italian, and the guitar solo is blazing fast and pure metal.

Prometheus, Symphonia Ignis Divinus' lead single is "Rosenkreuz (The Rose and the Cross)". It is also the first track on the album to contain chiefly English lyrics, but some are in Latin as well. The intro reminds me of that popular '90s album with the chanting Benedictine monks. (It went platinum. Twice.) After the Gregorian introduction, "Rosenkreuz (The Rose and the Cross)" becomes fast paced with soaring operatic vocals from Alessandro Conti. The ballad-like lyrics tell the story of Christian Rosenkreuz, the founder of a secret medieval philosophical society.

While Prometheus is never dull, some of its most interesting moments come with "Anahata" and "One Ring to Rule them All." The intro to "Anahata" is reminiscent of the theme from Star Trek crossed with something straight out of Zelda. The lyrics are mostly in English, and the vocals are soaring. The string arrangement has a darker side, and the vocals get darker in spots as well. "Anahata" gets faster and brighter, then it goes back to the darkness. It even has a bit of a Middle Eastern vibe toward the middle. It is a fantastic song, but there is definitely a lot going on--making it difficult to process the first few times you hear it.

"One Ring to Rule them All" is Luca Turilli's ode to Lord of the Rings. Its lyrics are also English, aside from the lines that are in Black Speech, taken from the Elvish inscription inside the eponymous One Ring. Filled with literary references and adventure, this track also has the most overall power metal feel to it--particularly in Alessandro Conti's vocals. It is not short on symphonic grandeur either. Adding to the band's penchant for cinematic flair, a sinister voice calling out, "My precious!" will sound familiar to anyone who has seen the Lord of the Rings films.

Completely switching up the pace is "Notturno". With solely Latin and Italian lyrics, this song feels the most like like opera instead of hard rock or heavy metal "with operatic extras." Conti is joined by a female singer, and their voices blend perfectly. "Notturno" builds into something quite heavy that isn't metal--but is certainly majestic.

In contrast, "King Solomon and the 72 Names of God" is very much metal, or Luca Turilli's version of metal, that is. This track is raw and tribal, and it boasts a great deal of Middle Eastern influence. It has huge metal riffs on top of the existing symphonic bombast. "King Solomon and the 72 Names of God" is a bit of a spiritual journey, with references to the Kabbalah branch of Judaism. There are lyrics in Latin and English, but the substantial use of Hebrew is the most fascinating.

As if Prometheus, Symphonia Ignis Divinus weren't colossal enough, it finishes off with the 18-minute multi-movement piece "Of Michael the Archangel and Lucifer's Fall Part II: Codex Nemesis." It is the sequel to "Of Michael the Archangel and Lucifer's Fall" from Ascending into Infinity. Like the opener "Nova Genesis (Ad Splendorem Angeli Triumphantis)" this track features some electronic elements and the narration from the big movie voice. Each movement is quite different. Some have Latin lyrics, some have Italian, and some are English. One named "The Astral Convergence" has no lyrics at all. The portion IV called "The Divine Fire of the Archangel" contains some of my favourite vocals from Prometheus. They seem to be the most theatrical, and Alessandro Conti sings with such an attitude that summons the spirit of the great Freddie Mercury. The final part, "Of Psyche and Archetypes (System Overloaded)" includes some blistering guitar riffs that fill this unconventional symphonic number with metal distinction. The simplest way to describe it all would be "Queen on steroids and in Italian".

With a second album in tow, Luca Turilli is continuing his interpretation of the Rhapsody band and his unique brand of cinematic metal. Prometheus, Symphonia Ignis Divinus is a magnificent collection of symphonic and operatic music, combined with hard rock and metal--all centred around diverse, intelligent, and captivating subject matter performed in seductive language.

Nuclear Blast Records/Universal Music Australia
Official Luca Turilli's Rhapsody Website


REVIEWS: Armored Saint - Win Hands Down

Despite being together since 1982, Armored Saint does not have the most expansive discography in metal. With members' equally notable projects, such as John Bush's tenure with Anthrax and Joey Vera having been in Fates Warning since 2000, when do they find the time to make it happen?  It's been five whole years since Armored Saint released La Raza, but the wait for more has been worth it. Win Hands Down, the band's seventh studio album, is an onslaught of classic metal sound mixed with some less-than-conventional aspects and emotional revelation.

Win Hands Down begins with the lead single and titular track, "Win Hands Down". It has a strong bass line from Joey Vera, particularly in the intro. The bridge sees some ethereal prog rock influence, but the song goes back to pure metal by the end. With its hard and heavy riffs and John Bush singing a catchy and inspirational chorus of ‘Just maintain / then drop the reins / and place my crown / win hands down,’ this song is everything you could want from an album opener.

"Mess" follows and is another hard rocker, but it is a bit more experimental. It has a mostly thrash feel, especially when ‘annihilate!’ is chanted. Then, out of nowhere, it goes into a Middle Eastern style, then transitions back into full on metal after the first chorus.

Also in unadulterated metal fashion is "That Was Then, Way Back When". It features a classic Iron Maiden style galloping bass riff throughout. The guitars rage heavily, and there is a fun groove in the middle followed by a blistering guitar solo. The lyrics are quite novel for a metal song, as they are about reliving the glory days of youth through social media.

Win Hands Down has its share of slower, more thought-provoking tracks as well. "Muscle Memory", at 7:14, is one of the album's longer songs and has lyrics about keeping on for your family's sake and leaving a legacy. It is far from fast, but it still has a certain heaviness to it. The bass is prominent, and Gonzo Sandoval's drumming is the song's steady backbone. "Muscle Memory" is an emotional vocal masterpiece from John Bush, and the considerable use of backing vocals complements this well. The guitar solo is good, and it adds the perfect amount of hard rock flavour to an otherwise serious song. "Muscle Memory" stands out among the other tracks from Win Hands Down, and it is definitely one of the best.

"In an Instant" also slows things down. Inspired by the tragic Boston Marathon Bombing, this song has an acoustic intro and verses--but turns to a fast paced electric rocker for the choruses. The lyric ‘The fragility of life / it can change within the blink of an eye’ sums up the theme. It features another great groove before an absolutely fantastic guitar solo. Just when you think "In an Instant" is going to end, it builds back up for another three minutes and contains another guitar solo that has a classic rock feel to it. Overall, this track probably has the album's best guitar work from Phil Sandoval and Jeff Duncan.

Win Hands Down ends similarly to how it began. The finale, "Up Yours", boasts John Bush's grittiest vocals so far over subtle guitar strumming. It quickly becomes raucous metal as a driving rhythm and heavier riffs are added in. The memorable ‘no more what ifs... no more what ifs...’ and kids shouting ‘up yours!’ make this song playful and nicely tongue-in-cheek after a few serious ones. The opener was so catchy, so it's only fitting that the closer is too.

With Win Hands Down, Armored Saint does not necessarily stick to any formula. On some tracks, the whole verse/chorus/verse deal goes out the window to make room for extra guitar solos and bridges. This album obviously has that Armored Saint sound that no other band has, but you can certainly tell the band is doing exactly what suits them. They do not worry about trends or critics, and Win Hands Down is a big "up yours" to those outside forces. Armored Saint knows how to stay true to themselves and can still deliver a product that fans will appreciate.

Metal Blade Records/Rocket Distribution
Official Armored Saint Website


Monday, February 15, 2016

Milestones abound for German power metal pioneers

Helloween is gearing up to release their 15th studio album, My God-Given Right, but that is not the only thing the band is celebrating. This year will also be the 30th anniversary of Helloween’s 1985 debut album, Walls of Jericho. My God-Given Right also marks the first time the band has released five consecutive albums with the same line-up; one that includes co-founders and remaining original members Michael Weikath (guitar) and Markus Grosskopf (bass).

My God-Given Right is Helloween’s seventh studio album produced by noted power metal producer Charlie Bauerfiend. It also denotes the band’s return to Nuclear Blast Records after their departure in 2003 after the release of Rabbit Don’t Come Easy.

“Heroes” is My God Given-Right’s energetic opener. It instantly boasts powerful, modern guitar riffs from Michael Weikath and Sascha Gerstner. The positive lyrics, “Everyone can be a hero / We are, we are / Sometimes up and down to zero / We are, we are heroes,” are about everyday people fighting their way through life. At first I thought the rhyming of “zero” with “hero” was a little predictable and cheesy, but the song is so good, I didn’t care.

Following “Heroes” is the album’s lead single, “Battle’s Won”. There is a soaring metal scream from singer Andi Deris in the intro. “Battle’s Won” features accelerated guitar riffs, as it is quite a bit faster than the previous track. The chorus beginning with, “Stand tall, your battle’s won”, is bright and uplifting. It has a regal air about it, and the subtle hints of trumpet or synthesizer make it sound even more so.

"Lost in America" is the second single from My God-Given Right. Andi Deris’ vocals in the intro are full of attitude, and I love it. "Lost in America" has some great guitar riffs, and the song contains a nice mix of modern and classic metal sounds. It has a big, theatrical chorus, and it takes more of a classic power metal turn during the guitar solo. The song’s title and lyrics were inspired by an event that happened to the band. Years ago on a flight, there was an issue with the plane, and the pilot had to return to the airport. The guys in the band were just stuck on the plane, left to drink and wonder where the hell they were. They were “Lost in America” and afraid they wouldn’t make it to their next show on schedule. It’s pretty cool that Helloween had a bit of a Spinal Tap moment through no fault of their own, and they were able to make a great song out of it.

Title track "My God-Given Right" is highly rhythmic and has a bit of a speed metal edge to it. The drumming on this one from Daniel Löble is excellent, and it really stands out. The lyrics are about it being a "God-given right" to stand up and fight for what you want and what you believe in. You don’t have to just sit back and be passive in life. While it is brief, there is also a prominent bass solo from Markus Grosskopf after the guitar solo.

“The Swing of a Fallen World” is a darker, slower track that doesn’t fit the mould of most of the album. It’s not a typical power metal song, except for the guitar solo portion. Andi Deris’ vocals are not as clean and polished here either. While it isn’t the usual Helloween fare, “The Swing of a Fallen World” is one of my favourite songs from My God-Given Right, and the memorable rhythm really hooks you in.

“You, Still of War” is the album’s grand finale and longest track. It is slow in the intro, and as the guitars are added, it is still somewhat slow. But as it builds up, the riffs become much heavier and more bombastic. The drumming becomes a rapid blast beat like a machine gun, and the song reaches full speed at the chorus. “You, Still of War” features the only real overt use of synthesizer on the album. The guitar solo sticks very much to the classic power metal side of things, but the rest of the song is more diverse in style and speed.

Helloween’s My God-Given Right is a marvellous collection of songs. No song on this album is worth skipping, and tracks such as "Russian Roulé", "Claws", and "Living on the Edge" should not go unmentioned. Helloween are without a doubt metal legends, and My God-Given Right is proof they are as relevant as ever, even after 30 years, a couple of less than stellar records in the ‘90s, and major line-up changes.

7.5 out of 10 stars

Nuclear Blast Records/Universal Music Australia
Official Helloween Website


Finnish band speaks in the universal language of metal

Noita is the ninth studio album from Korpiklaani, a folk metal band from Lahti, Finland. It is the follow-up to 2012's Manala. While Manala was a much darker and heavier period for the band, Korpiklaani, which means "Forest Clan", still creates a unique style that is as very much metal as it is folk with Noita.

Noita is the Finnish word for "witch", but it also translates to "shaman" or "medicine man". This makes more sense, because Korpiklaani went by the name Shaman until 2003. Finnish and English versions of Manala were released, but Noita is all Finnish as of right now.

Noita starts off with "Viinamäen Mies" ("The Vineyard Man"). It is heavy on the accordion, but the underlying hard rock guitar riffs are still prominent. The bulk of the lyrics are in Finnish, but there is this noticeable and memorable chant of "hey hey hey!" that hooks you in. Jonne Järvelä's vocals lean more to a metal style than a folk style on this song. He has just the right amount of growl in his voice. The general mood of this song makes me want to drink beer and break things and be a Viking. "Viinamäen Mies" wins as an album opener.

"Lempo" is a spirited track about the god of love from Finnish mythology. The beginning sounds like something out of a Manowar song, except with a violin and an accordion. There is a fascinating tribal feel to Matti Johansson's drumming, especially in the first part. The metal elements on this one are heavier than on the first track, and Tuomas Rounakari's violin work is astounding. "Lempo" is catchy as hell, even though I have no clue what Jonne Järvelä is singing.

"Sahti", a song that seems to be about beer, and "Luontoni" ("My Nature") combine thrash metal-inspired riffs and speed with the accordion and violin to create extremely lively and rousing pieces. These contrast with "Minä Näin Vedessa Neidon" ("I Saw a Mermaid in the Water"), a much slower and darker song with a lengthy and involved violin solo.

One really unexpected moment from Noita was "Jouni Jouni." I listened to the album two or three times without fully realizing what it was. I kept thinking, "This sounds familiar. I know it does." Then, when I was translating the song titles to get a feel for what the songs were about, this title didn't translate because it happened to be a name. Upon further research, I learned that it was a cover of the Tommy James & The Shondells classic "Mony Mony"--only fully translated into Finnish and with the name changed to something a little more culturally relevant to a Finnish band. The choruses of the two versions sound pretty different, but the verses seem to match up pretty well once it all clicks. I really like this one, and it's much heavier and more creative than the Billy Idol cover we all grew up with.

"Ämmänhauta" is my favourite track from Noita along with "Lempo." It features a great balance of heavy metal guitar riffs mixed with the violin. Jonne Järvelä's vocals on this one are a little closer to the traditional "yoik" style of folk singing, but they're still a lot grittier. The lyrics have a certain cadence to them, and combined with the overall big sound, this makes "Ämmänhauta" so captivating.

Noita ends with "Sen Verran Minäkin Noita" ("It's a Shaman Too"). You can really hear a lot of classic/NWOBHM influence on this one. The galloping Iron Maiden-esque riffs in the intro caught me off guard, and they do carry over into other parts of the song. Jonne Järvelä sings the song's title in his lower register during the chorus, and it is rather dark and creepy. Finishing out the song in a unique fashion, violin and accordion solos from Tuomas Rounakari and Sami Perttula, respectively, fill what is normally the role of a guitar solo in a metal song.

Korpiklaani's Noita is filled with more than its fair share of memorable tracks. The band's style of mixing fast, heavy, and thrashing metal with traditional European folk music styles is intriguing, and Korpiklaani does it perfectly. Despite the fact that the lyrics are in Finnish, I am still able to connect with each of these songs on a certain level because of the band's intensity and great ability to convey their live energy onto a record. Noita is a remarkable album, and it certainly speaks volumes for the power of art and music to transcend language barriers while proving that metal may be a universal language.

8 out of 10 stars

Nuclear Blast Records/Universal Music Australia
Official Korpiklaani Website


Rock singer, cellist come together for new EP

Ex-Swans vocalist and keyboardist Jarboe has joined forces with experimental cellist Helen Money to create a self-titled EP, Jarboe & Helen Money. Money (also known as Alison Chesley) is not your typical rocker, but her style of playing is often referred to as "doom" since it has a dark, doom metal flavour to it. She has also contributed to albums by metal artists, including Megadeth and Disturbed.

Jarboe and Helen Money begin their EP with "For My Father". A slow song, it starts with a dark, looming cello. The vocals from Jarboe are distorted, and she is difficult to understand in parts. The lyrics contain themes of justice and inequality. There is heavy use of an echoing effect on the vocals, and the song's final words "embrace amnesty" echo and bleed into the next track.

"My Enemy My Friend" is an instrumental in which Helen Money embraces the plucking of the cello, which is prominent in the beginning. A piano and the use of the bow--layered with the plucking--join later. There is also a lot of use of electronic distortion. This unorthodox style also comes up in the pieces "Wired" and "Truth". The former is fuzzy and distorted with piano and a dissonant cello. It is mostly an instrumental with only some sung "oohs" and "ahhs." "Truth" begins with breathy "ahhs" and piano, and the strumming of the cello is prevalent. This one has words--repeated lyrics about "the moon and the sun and the truth."

"Hello Mr. Blue" is the pinnacle of Jarboe & Helen Money. The intro features heavy bass-like plucking of the cello, and a low "woah" begins that permeates the song for the duration. A bowed cello kicks in with Jarboe's singing of the lyrics. The vocals are clear, and the lyrics are the most memorable from the EP. Distortion of the music, along with sheer heaviness in the cello, gives "Hello Mr. Blue" a fuzzy, grungy rock sound. The song is interesting in a good way, but the grunts at the very end are a little off-putting.

The final track from Jarboe & Helen Money is "Every Confidence" which relies heavily on the electronic distortion. It contains a lot of what might be considered "noise," but with some traditional bow played cello notes mixed in.

Jarboe and Helen Money's collaborative debut is not metal, nor does it pretend to be. Singer Jarboe's roots are in rock music, and Helen Money's cello playing definitely has a doom metal intensity to it. The song "Hello Mr. Blue" is certainly worth checking out, and I would absolutely love to hear it in a horror movie or something similar. The union of Jarboe and Helen Money is an unconventional one, but those who are looking for something highly experimental and strangely dark may very well appreciate it.

6 out of 10 stars

Aurora Borealis
Jarboe & Helen Money on Bandcamp


Nightwish continues to evolve with new singer, new album

Finnish symphonic metal band Nightwish has put forth their eighth studio album, Endless Forms Most Beautiful, which is the follow-up to 2011's Imaginaerum. It is the first to feature new singer Floor Jansen, who replaced Anette Olzon, the vocalist who left the band during the Imaginaerum World Tour in 2012. It is also the first to not feature Nightwish's original drummer, Jukka Nevalainen, who is taking a temporary break.

Endless Forms Most Beautiful is a loose concept album, largely inspired by naturalist Charles Darwin and his 1859 book On the Origin of Species. This album contrasts with Nightwish's previous work, Imaginaerum, as its lyrical themes are based on science and reason, versus fantasy and imagination.

The album's opening track is "Shudder Before the Beautiful". It begins with narration by famed evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins. As he finishes talking, shrieking orchestral strings hit and go straight into hard and heavy symphonic metal. Choral chants of "aaahhh" fill the first part of the song. The vocals from newcomer Floor Jansen are quite theatrical, especially during the chorus. The keyboards from bandleader Tuomas Holopainen complement the ultra metal guitar solo from Emppu Vuorinen very well.

"Weak Fantasy" has a big sound in the same vein as the opener, with even more use of the choral chanting. It starts out heavy, softens for the first verse, and gets heavier for the chorus. The lyrics of "Behold the crown of a heavenly spy / Forged in blood of those who defy / Kiss the ring, praise and sing / He loves you dwelling in fear and sin," are critical of religion and superstition. I love the edgy attitude in Floor's vocals on this song, which gives it a more raw, emotional appeal. Bassist Marco Hietala contributes vocals in last half of song, creating an interesting contrast to the feminine soprano vocals of Floor.

The lead single from Endless Forms Most Beautiful is "Élan". Its intro is heavy on the tin whistle and uilleann pipes, giving it a distinctly Irish sound and making it really stand out. Floor's vocals are delicate and crisp in the verses, but fuller and more dramatic for the chorus. "Élan" is not the heaviest track on the album, but it does get more of a rock edge in the chorus and the bridge. Its lyrics are about living life to the fullest and not being afraid to have a bit of adventure.

Titular "Endless Forms Most Beautiful", which is buried in the middle of the album, boasts some great metal guitar riffs right before the first verse. It is one of the heaviest and hardest rocking songs on Endless Forms Most Beautiful. The lyrics contain nature imagery and themes, and the backing vocals accompanied by a choir give the chorus a full and overflowing sound.

The album's grand finale is aptly titled "The Greatest Show on Earth", and shares its name with a Richard Dawkins book. It is made up of five distinct movements of sorts, and at about 25 minutes, it takes up the last third of the album. The part named "Four Point Six" opens with a piano and string arrangement. Two minutes into the piece, there is the sound of a thunderstorm along with some symphonic moments. Floor sings very briefly, and her vocals are in an operatic range on this one. It ends with a reading from Dawkins about understanding the universe.

Part II, called "Life," is hard and heavy metal with the Irish flavor of uilleann pipes. Floor sings in her lower register for the verses, playing a darker, scarier role. The chorus has the more common theatrical sound. "Life" has the standard verse-chorus-verse format, and at 5:05, it could be a standalone track. The next part, "The Toolmaker," is the longest movement and could also be a standalone song as well. It begins with monkey and jungle type sounds, along with some percussion. It features vocals from Hietala again, and this time is style is uniquely abrasive--kind of like a Billy Corgan-meets-Peter Garrett of Midnight Oil sort of thing. The vocals are odd at first, but they sound pretty good when Floor joins him. "The Toolmaker" has some fantastic guitar riffs and all the symphonic bombast you would expect from Nightwish.

"The Understanding" is slow and predominately features tin whistle and piano. There is no singing, only Richard Dawkins discussing, "We privileged few, who won the lottery of birth against all odds"--how the unborn had potential, but we living ones are the ones who made it. The final part of "The Greatest Show on Earth" is "Sea-Worm Driftwood". It consists of the sounds of ocean waves and Dawkins quoting Charles Darwin and speaking of the beauty in evolution--"There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one. And that whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved."

I believe Dawkins has used Darwin's words to perfectly describe this latest album from an evolving band with a beautiful sound.

7.5 out of 10 stars

Nuclear Blast Records/Universal Music Australia
Official Nightwish Website


Thin Lizzy members are full-time Black Star Riders with latest release

Ricky Warwick, Scott Gorham, and Damon Johnson are members of the recently resurrected legendary rock band Thin Lizzy. While they play shows featuring the classic Irish rockers' hits under the Thin Lizzy banner, they have also formed a band called Black Star Riders, under which the all band's newly written material is released. Robby Crane, who replaced Thin Lizzy's Marco Mendoza, joins them on bass, and Jimmy DeGrasso of Megadeth and Alice Cooper fame is on drums.

Black Star Riders' sophomore album, The Killer Instinct, was recorded in my home state of Tennessee and produced by Nick Raskulinecz. It was initially intended to be produced by Joe Elliott of Def Leppard--who helped launch lead vocalist Ricky Warwick's career--but he had to drop out due to his demanding Def Leppard schedule. The Killer Instinct is the follow-up to Black Star Riders' 2013 debut, All Hell Breaks Loose, which featured the successful single "Bound for Glory."

The Killer Instinct - which boasts a good mix of classic and more contemporary rock - kicks off with the title track, and it instantly has the twin guitar sound that made Thin Lizzy famous. It sounds a little bigger and slightly more modern, but it is still straight up classic hard rock. The chorus of "You gotta live with a killer instinct / You gotta die a little to survive / You gotta love with a killer instinct / You gotta hurt a little to get by" is catchy, and I like how they are a clever paradox that seems to make sense.

"Soldierstown", which is my favourite from the album, is also very much influenced by Thin Lizzy, and it has a lot of Irish musical influence as well. Ricky Warwick's vocals are muffled in the beginning, creating an interesting effect. "Soldierstown" has some fantastic NWOBHM guitar riffs and some rowdy backing vocals where band members chant "Tar a thighearna tar a thi". This is Gaelic for "come on thou Lord, come on thou being," and it fits well with the song's lyrics about mothers sending their sons off to war.

"Turn in Your Arms" is another track from The Killer Instinct that has the classic Thin Lizzy feel. However, it's got a very percussive Native American Indian sound in the intro, versus having the Irish element you might expect. The riffs get a little more contemporary as the song progresses, and it features one of the best guitar solos on the album. It is started by co-lead guitarist and Thin Lizzy stalwart Scott Gorham, then his counterpart Damon Johnson takes over. "Turn in Your Arms" lyrics contain themes of history, war, and the American Frontier, which really complement the music.

One of the more modern hard rock songs on the album is "Bullet Blues". It's one of the album's more memorable tracks, and I would love to hear it as the next single. The chorus, "Oh Lord help me and my bullet blues," is sure to get stuck in your head and make you want to hear more. "Bullet Blues" features great guitar solos from both Johnson and Gorham.

"Through the Motions" also takes the band in more of a modern direction. I absolutely love the main riff. It is highly memorable, and so is the chorus--"Do you / Do you ever get the notion? / Cuz you're / Cuz you're just going through the motions." It's gritty and aggressive, and it has a blistering guitar solo from Scott Gorham. Another gritty track in the same vein is the hard and heavy "Sex, Guns & Gasoline". The raw lyrics tell the stories of people with tragic lives and in bad situations.

The Killer Instinct is a solid album, and Black Star Riders are a really establishing themselves as a perennial rock band. The Killer Instinct boasts a delicate balance of the classic Thin Lizzy-inspired sound that these guys bring to the table mixed in with the more contemporary rock component. I have been following and enjoying vocalist Ricky Warwick's career ever since he opening for Def Leppard as a solo artist. He has breathed new life into the Thin Lizzy legacy and taken them into a new direction with Black Star Riders that is brand new while still respecting that legacy.

7.5 out of 10 stars

Nuclear Blast Records/Universal Music Australia
Official Black Star Riders Website