Helloween – My God Given Right

With thirty years of career and fifteen studio albums, Helloween doesn’t need any formal introduction. The latest release “My God Given Right” certainly doesn’t bring anything innovative to the renowned poppy power metal recipe fully embraced by the band, but if they don’t feel awkward about it why should we?
The title track surely sounds as catchy as you would expect with all the traditional power metal riffs but at the same time the overall structure and style feels weakened and monochromatic. Also, the pop style breakdown doesn’t bring a necessary dose of joyful excitement.
“Stay Crazy” might have a promising soothing arpeggio but the rest of the song relies too much on an average array of guitar riffs that create a standard frame for a very poppy chorus. The guitar solo features some lovely shreds but not enough to save the day.
“Russian Roulè” is a mid paced ensemble of power metal crunchy riffs and a much needed heavier attitude featuring less simplistic musical variations. This is probably the only compelling song you will find here and even the catchy chorus, as well as the energetic guitar solo, has a more serious straight forward attitude.
The attractive element on “The Swing Of The Fallen World” is undoubtedly the somber atmosphere which feels like a breath of fresh air erasing the overwhelming happiness that lingers throughout the album. Also, the harsh vocal delivery and the textured guitar solo seem to blend well with the main musical theme.
“Like Everybody Else” features a ballad style melancholy that creates an introspective mood. There is nothing extravagant or extremely creative here, but there are plenty of enjoyable peaceful harmonies.
“Claws” feeds off blasting rock energy with very dominant guitar and faster rhythm. The overall songwriting and style focuses on a heavier high impact metal approach while the vocals still lean toward a happier mood.
“You, Still Of War” starts with a dramatic atmosphere that gradually flows into heavier guitar riffs. The chorus fits the classic power metal structure while the melodic core relies on layers of epic keyboards and polished prog influenced guitar work.
Once again, it’s really hard to take Helloween’s music seriously but we can’t forget that this cheesy/kitsch style is what really symbolizes the band’s successful career. Therefore, “My God Given Right” is a safe collection of songs truly dedicated to Helloween’s fans who will probably find something to love and hold dear in every song.

Sigh – Graveward

With the brand new full length “Graveward”, a humble homage to Italian zombie flick classics, Japanese extreme metal act Sigh continues to embrace a controversial, or just bizarre, musical experimentation that seems to defeat any boundary.
The title track channels some ominous elements of black metal and an old school muddy production. Every instrument gets entangled in a chaotic wave of sound where epic arrangements and a melodic guitar solo manage to stand out.
On “The Tombfiller” there seem to be a clearer music vision when symphonic atmospheric keyboards naturally meet theatrical choirs stolen from classical operetta. Somewhere in the middle of all this, you can still find odd and confusing tempo/style changes.
“The Forlorn” appears to possess a range of melodies and rhythm easier to follow. The overall mood recalls the old school horror music scores with haunting keyboards effects and sinister, somewhat black metal, growls.
“The Molesters Of My Soul” sounds like the creepy decrepit carillon that might evoke unnerving paranormal presences, just like in horror movies. Again, the rhythm follows an odd cacophonic scheme but there is a hidden melody that sheds some light.
“The Casketburner” will grab your attention for the strong jazz incursion that truly brings a delightful dose of necessary melodic catchiness. The rest is all dark and brutal but it gets contaminated by clean guitar solos and the occasional trumpets.
“A Messenger From Tomorrow” showcases the decadently gothic aspect of Sigh’s strange musical pathway. The overall atmosphere is tinged of poetic melancholy that delivers a softer array of classical melodies with vintage keyboards, clean guitar solos and symphonic orchestrations.
Experimentation in all arts is always important but Sigh seems to exasperate and exaggerate this thirst for innovation that often results in a predictable form of chaos. For those who are familiar with Sigh’s work of music, “Graveward” might be another sweet treat but the average listener might not be ready to fully understand, and appreciate, this album.

Sirenia – The Seventh Life Path

We are all aware of Morten Veland’s many talents, especially as a composer. With the latest Sirenia’s creation, “The Seventh Life Path”, he tries once again to deliver a perfect album. The expectations are high and so much is at stake because it would be hard to say that Sirenia’s recent albums resemble some sort of masterpiece. But I still believe in Morten’s skills and in his undisputable hard work.
“Once My Light”, being selected as the first single, should be an unforgettable piece of art. But in reality is your standard mid paced gothic/symphonic tune that doesn’t bring any novelty to an over abused music recipe. So you get what the genre fanbase always expects: fragile female vocals, easy to follow tempo changes, loads of keyboards and some catchy guitar riffs.
“Elixir” offers a scheme variation since the atmosphere is more somber and male clean & growl vocals are the main focus. Even if the melodic core fits the symphonic style, the guitar riffs and the rhythm section definitely reminisce of old school gothic metal.
“Sons Of The North” begins with an icy cold metallic atmosphere well supported by Morten’s acidic growls and ominous choirs. This song is heavier and more intriguing that expected if you don’t consider the melodic simplistic chorus with female vocals that really doesn’t seem to fit such delightful darker vibe.
“Earendel” is another song that relies on a heavier Nordic approach but, once again, the chorus seems too predictably melodic while the folk breakdown and smooth guitar solo are definitely noteworthy.
On “The Silver Eye” Morten’s growls are full blown black metal as the feverish rhythm acquires speed and strength. The guitars tone has a vintage grim naturally embraced by gothic orchestrations but Ailyn’s vocals hold a sort of happy poppy feeling that has nothing to do with the surrounding gloominess.
“Tragedienne” is your must have ballad to mend broken hearts on a rainy day with all the proper mixture of strings, delicate piano melodies and tragically emotional vocals.
In the end, Sirenia releases another album consistent with the usual musical pathway, but the lack of enthusiasm and passion is getting more palpable and, considering Morten Veland’s musicianship and past glory, “The Seventh Life Path” doesn’t match his creative force.

Krisiun – Forged In Fury

I entered the KRISIUN musical camp far too late for my own good, though not through any lack of interest on my end. As a result, I didn’t partake in their rise to Brazilian death metal prominence back at the dawn of the millennium and found myself getting a first-hand account of their approach with the previous outing, “The Great Execution”, and if that was any indication then I’m only missing so much. I did enjoy what the album had to offer, and as far as palette-cleansing metal goes I’ve definitely heard worse, but it still felt a bit flat and only as interesting as their craft could possibly be. That’s more on me than on the band, of course. Still, it had enough going on for me to see where they would continue to tread from there…

From where it stands, “Forged in Fury” reins in a good portion of the group’s original flare and frenzy in favor of a slower and more drawn own method of musical torment. From my own limited engagement with the material it feels like the Kolesne/Camargo clan are still opting for a more simpler take on their particular metal blend, which in itself is fine as this, in turn, leads to a few things to consider; for one, the more mid-paced and chunky “stop-start” segments allow the tracks to breathe better and the collective efforts of the band to be heard versus a blinding windstorm of fire and noise. Even the production isn’t half bad; despite having resident musical trash compactor Erik Rutan again at the helm and dials, everything is clear and able to be heard, if a bit thick with the guitar tone. As a result it’s not an unpleasant album to sit through by any means, though there are only so many moments where it demands your full focus and attention (the fervent immediacy off tracks like ? and “Burning of the Heretic” , for example, offer plenty of flames-clad fun). I mean, you can only run through low B minor scales for so long until it starts to fade into mere background white noise, even if you can’t help it.

But as I’ve said many times before, I’ve heard worse extreme metal out there, so if the worst you can do is be an effective yet inoffensive work of nastiness, then who am I to complain? And truly, I’ve not heard anything off “Forged…” that I would consider terrible by any stretch; at best, it’s quite good where it counts, and at worst it’s somewhat bland. But that said, the flatness and accessibility of the material is both a good and a bad thing, as while it prevents further listens from being such a blur that would leave you exhausted, it also starts to feel increasingly dull the more the album wears on. It’s not so much an overt lack of ideas as it is said provided ideas only fleshed out so much and so far; for my money, a bit more exploration of the material, a more deeper unearthing of it all at hand, would make for a more enveloping listen, and as it stands it only offers so much in that regard before dimming. You KNOW these guys can do better (I mean, look at everything up to “Ageless Venomous”, or even “Bloodshed”), and more often than not you’ll feel that twinge of expectation as this continues plodding on track-by-track and only slightly getting there. But hey, as I said, better to be vanilla than shit.

In the end, I wasn’t all that impressed with “Forged in Fury” but I didn’t dislike it either. I wouldn’t say this is meant to continue the grand tradition of KRISIUN’s obvious supremacy in their given style, but merely just a simple musical treading of the waters. Here’s hoping the next one down the line will do them/us the same amount of justice many have come to expect.

Blind Guardian – Beyond The Red Mirror

Blind Guardian’s new album “Beyond The Red Mirror” is indisputably one of the most awaited release of the year. When it comes to such an influential band composed of highly experienced musicians, music classifications become quite useless as Blind Guardian has truly mastered a personal style. But on “Beyond The Red Mirror” you will certainly find all those beloved symphonic arrangements and the original backbone of power metal.
“The Ninth Wave” features a climactic epic beginning with triumphant, yet tinged of a mysterious darkness, classical operatic choirs and multi-faceted symphonic layers. The song concocts a truly majestic musical landscape that follows faithfully Blind Guardian’s successful sonic alchemy where strong power metal influenced guitar riffs embrace a variegated dramatic orchestration. Also, this is a lengthy track featuring a wide array of tempo changes and prog-oriented guitar solos.
“Twilight Of The Gods” is rather guitar driven with tighter and more aggressive rhythm section followed by a chorus super catchy and easy to remember. This track is quite rich in details but at the same time all the riffs work to create a smooth tune capable of producing a strong impact at the first listening.
“At The Edge Of Time” relies on an elegant and rather complex orchestration that renders everything stunningly majestic in operetta style. Flutes and trumpets in particular add a fairytale/mythological atmosphere that anybody would be attracted to.
On “Ashes Of Eternity” guitars become once again the dominant element. There is still a fantasy like atmosphere, especially when the rhythm slows down, but the borderline virtuoso guitar solos are the true key elements.
“Miracle Machine” is a passionate and sentimental collection of delightful piano melodies, almost a power metal ballad, featuring the heartfelt type of choir that we all learned to love in the iconic “The Bard’s Song”.
“Grand Parade” is another impressively solemn opus built on intricate orchestrations of high artistic value. In the midst of an awe-inspiring and noble atmosphere that instantaneously makes you feel good, there is still space for groovy rhythms and grandiose guitar work even if the true star remains the sumptuous theatrical structure.
Overall, “Beyond The Red Mirror” feels like a seductive rock opera or a hymn to talent and the infinite power of imagination. For many listeners, this new release might incarnate the mesmerizing masterpiece that we wanted to hear from Blind Guardian and it is definitely a consistently monumental and stunningly executed album that cannot be ignored.

Melechesh – Enki

With the sixth full length release entitled “Enki”, Melechesh doesn’t seem to step out of the comfortable musical niche that often relies on certain primordial elements of extreme metal. This makes “Enki” a savage album directly dedicated to a particular devoted audience rather than an attempt to attract a diverse range of listeners and expand its musical horizon. Nevertheless, the omnipresent Mesopotamian/Assyrian black metal vibe is what really makes Melechesh’s music more fascinating.
“Tempest Temper Enlil Enraged” features some slower and melodic guitar work but the main focus is the delivery of a high impact array of fast guitar riffing and blasting drumming showing the heaviest side of Melechesh.
Because of the vocal duet with the legendary Max Cavalera from Soulfly, I expected to find some enthralling primitive tribal vibe on “Lost Tribes”. In reality, the song is quite straight forward featuring a fast and furious riffing enraging through a breathless escalating rhythm with some minimal variations.
“Multiple Truths” brings a lighter atmosphere following a slightly more melodic core, embodied by glossy lead guitars, and assembles elements of thrash metal to create a sense of triumphant energy.
Because of its multidimensional nature, “Enki – Divine Nature Awoken” truly stands out and gains an extraordinary momentum when the odd Mesopotamian/Assyrian alchemy full of esoteric undertones takes over. There is a linear melodic harmony here that doesn’t clash at all with the primitive aggression displayed by the confident growls, featuring Sakis Tolis of Rotting Christ, and the intense guitar riffing. Also, the softer and slower aspect of this song, furthermore enriched by ominous chanting, successfully evoke a sense of mysterious catharsis that goes beyond the traditional black or thrash metal realm.
“The Palm The Eye And Lapis Lazuli” features on lead guitar renowned Rob Caggiano who undeniably brings an additional dimension and the shredding style that everybody loves. This song delivers a good balance between a bold aggressive rhythm and an ethereal mystical/spiritual mood.
“Enki” definitely delivers some brilliant moments but, at times, the creative force seems to be weakened by a lack of genuine ambition and desire to cross pre-established boundaries, as Melechesh chooses not to take arduous risks and focuses on the creation of a furious guitar centered album.

To/Die/For – Cult

The release of “Cult” by Finnish act To/Die/For brings a mix of delight and nostalgia. It is absolutely a pleasure to see Jape & co. back in the music scene with a clear enthusiasm (there is no need to talk about lineup changes and other drama) but at the same time you realize to what extent such a lovely hardworking band has been always underestimated. The new album “Cult” truly feels like a necessary rebirth and incarnates the melancholic gothic rock that has always been the band’s signature style.
“In Black” runs on groovy guitar riffs that build the proper musical layers for Jape’s tormented vocals. This track features the notorious Scandinavian melancholy omnipresent in every To/Die/For album so it feels like the right way to introduce the album’s mood.
“Screaming Birds” faithfully portrays the band’s somber melodic nature. There are loads of catchy riffs with a wild groovy rhythm and a delightfully smooth guitar solo, while the breakdown brings a romantic sorrowful mood.
“Mere Dream” is all about a highly dramatic atmosphere successfully rendered by simple, yet seductively effective, piano melodies. Jape intensifies this everlasting sadness with passionate vocals and lower tuning.
On “You” Jape channels a classic Billy Idol interpretation but certainly adds a generous dose of haunting misery in goth fashion. In general, the tight rhythm and the melodic lead guitars lean toward a dirty rock style that enhances the song’s catchy core.
“Let It Bleed” is another anthem of To/Die/For sentimental decadence driven by super catchy dynamic guitar riffs and raspy rocking vocals that add a bittersweet momentum to the main melodic harmonies.
Overall, “Cult” will be an enjoyable listening for anybody and a long awaited sweet surprise for all To/Die/For devoted fans.

Shining – IX – Everyone, Everything, Everywhere, Ends

Putting aside all the suicidal/depressing imagery that seems to symbolize and stigmatize the work of Swedish act Shining, the new album “IX – Everyone, Everything, Everywhere, Ends” is an emotional ensemble of music that flirts with a poetic catharsis. Considering that many people easily get offended or heavily criticize the negative messages promoted by Shining, this album might not receive the best promotion or massive attention. Nevertheless, Niklas Kvarforth doesn’t keep his personal struggles secret and his multitalented musical genius must not be ignored.
“Den Påtvingade Tvåsamheten” is pervaded by a whimsical obscurity but at the same time emanates a palpable inner strength. This is an instrumental track definitely bearing the gothic sense of suffering and impending doom but also the elegant poetry of classical melodies.
“Vilja & Dröm” has a true old school black metal vibe empowered by a perennial sense of asphyxiation. Among the expected bone-chilling aggressive drumming & riffing recipe and the ghoulish desperate growls, darkly melancholic melodies find a way to bring a sort of enlightened luminescence.
“Framtidsutsikter” could be labeled as an unorthodox ballad but the point is that the apparent melodic serenity holds a wide range of chaotic emotions. The semi acoustic melodies and the intensely evocative guitar solo are easy to love at the very first listening.
“Människotankens Vägglösa Rum” highlights the band’s black metal roots with traditional blasting drums and hopelessly haunted rhythm. While Niklas’s vocals portray a harmonious mix of agony and passion, groovy guitar riffs gain the center stage and the full blown guitar shredding solo adds a progressive dimension.
Never mind the impossibility to read and pronounce all these Swedish titles and rest assured that each song on “IX – Everyone, Everything, Everywhere, Ends” possesses something magically out of the ordinary that makes it exquisitely unforgettable

Xandria – Sacrificium

With the latest full length “Sacrificium” Xandria proudly introduces the new vocalist Dianne van Giersbergen and, since we keep on noticing frequent line up changes in so many female fronted bands, hopefully this time things will work out better. Despite line-up instability and lack of commitment issues, Xandria steadily proceeds along their majestic symphonic pathway. In fact, “Sacrificium” simply adds additional stylistic details and improved musicianship to the renowned musical recipe that brought a huge success to bands like Nightwish and Epica.
The title track is intensely grandiose and gives you immediately an idea of what to expect from Xanndria’s work on this album. It is noticeable that the band is trying to recreate a quite successful trend empowering the guitars riffs with a generous dosage of triumphant keyboards orchestration and strong operatic vocals & choirs that suit the symphonic theme.
“Nightfall” follows exactly the same music layout with dominant and flawless soprano vocals gracefully supported by meticulous orchestrations and catchy guitar riffs.
“Dreamkeeper” begins more quietly with soft piano melodies permeated by a fairytale like atmosphere. This track is particularly catchy with simple melodies and a chorus very easy to remember.
“Stardust” is another song that could easily attract the devoted symphonic metal fanbase. With an absolutely precise array of vocal skills Dianne van Giersbergen channels the golden era of Nightwish with Tarja while Marco Heubaum diligently provides the right musical tapestry to support and enhance her powerful vocals.
“Betrayer” sounds quite intriguing with a more gothic tinged atmosphere and a faster rhythm that gives the guitars a chance to shine with loads of tighter riffing and shredding before passing the scepter again to Dianne van Giersbergen.
“Our Neverworld” is a delicate operatic semi ballad focusing almost completely on Dianne van Giersbergen’ s flawless performance further enhanced by an ethereal dreamlike orchestration.
All the gentle and softhearted listeners will also be delighted by “Sweet Atonement” where melancholic harmonious melodies performed with piano and violins create the ideal musical frame for Dianne van Giersbergen’s highly emotional delivery.
Overall, with every key element fitting perfectly in the right place, “Sacrificium” sets another important step that would help Xandria gain more popularity in the symphonic metal scene. While “Sacrificium” might not shine for an extraordinary uniqueness, it will be an absolutely pleasurable listening for all symphonic metal lovers.

Within Temptation – Let Us Burn – Elements & Hydra Live in Concert

Within Temptation’s career sure feels like an ethereal rollercoaster that began quietly with the understated gothic tinged album “Enter”. Now, we can safely say that the hard working Dutch band fronted by hyper talented vocalist Sharon den Adel has become one of the most important presences in the symphonic metal scene. Therefore, a majestic live album is more than appropriate to celebrate such outstanding well deserved success. Much has changed in terms of music style as Within Temptation evolved through the years, but the massive DVD/Blu-ray/2CD “Let Us Burn – Elements & Hydra Live in Concert” contains a highly satisfying collection of oldies and newer material that will appeal to all the fans. The “Elements” show recorded at Sportpaleis in Antwerp is a very significant one because it celebrated the 15th anniversary of the band. On this concert you will find mesmerizing classics such as “The Dance”, the iconic anthems “Mother Earth” and “Ice Queen” and the super energetic “Faster”.
The “Hydra” concert was recorded at Amsterdam’s Heineken Music Hall and features a lovely acoustic version of “Sinéad”, the powerful hit “And We Run” famous for the guest rap vocals by American hip-hop legend Xzibit, the famous “What Have You Done” featuring the memorable duet with Keith Caputo and the beloved “Paradise (What About Us?)” featuring the most elegant duet with symphonic metal siren Tarja Turunen.
With over 170 minutes of live music excellently performed, “Let Us Burn” is a must have for Within Temptation’s faithful and ever-growing fanbase.