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.

MaYan – Antagonise

With MaYan’s latest release “Antagonise” Mark Jansen makes a quite serious declaration of intent about what seemed to be “just” another side project. Having by his side a wonderful diverse ensemble of singers and musicians, Jansen is set to create a superband that can play and perform any music genre. Hence, the ravenous listeners will soon find that “Antagonise” is a compelling treasure chest of multiple music styles that wouldn’t necessarily fit on one album.
“Burn Your Witches” is easy to love as it presents a persuasive and consistent musical structure. There is a lot going on, maybe even too much, but it seems that Henning Basse’s vocals are strong enough to support the whole show. The guitar shredding, the catchy delivery and the friendly symphonic layout will easily please the listeners.
“Lone Wolf” seems to embrace more smoothly the death/symphonic mixture that incarnate the musical core of this album. Many will appreciate Mark Jansen’s brutal growls, but Henning Basse is again the center of attention in terms of interpretation skills and obviously his vocal style better suits the dominant melodic nature of this track.
“Devil In Disguise” features a majestic theatrical interpretation by Henning Basse that brings to mind the notorious recipe behind Trans Siberian Orchestra’s performances. In fact, besides the prog oriented guitar work, the whole grandiose orchestration is a focal asset on this song.
“Insano” is the emotionally charged classical operetta that might not exactly fit the whole music pathway showcased on the rest of the album and might feel like just an interlude. Nevertheless, Laura Macrì’s impeccable performance is definitely worth the listeners’ undisputed attention.
“Human Sacrifice” (definitely a title that evokes a more raw inspiration) might as well feel a bit out of place as an old school death metal spirit seems to posses Jansen’s performance and songwriting. There are still some majestic keyboards arrangements in a typical symphonic fashion, the beloved operatic female vocals and even clean male vocals. But when all these delightful changes take over the scene the transition is not as smooth as it should/could be.
A very similar situation appears on “Faceless Spies” which revolves around bursts of angry paranoid death metal vocals and rhythm and the, sort of interesting yet awkward, classical keyboards. Amidst this styles confusion, a highly fascinating and absolutely flawless violin solo successfully brings a luminous harmony.
In the end, the whole concept of smoothly intertwining the primitive energy of extreme metal and elegant magic of symphonic/operatic music feels like an overwhelming task to achieve at once. The result is that “Antagonise” might stand out for its fearless exploration of the unlimited potential of music but it doesn’t keep all those shiny promises of songwriting innovations.

L’Ame Immortelle – Drahtseilakt

In a music scene influenced by ambiguous seasonal trends, it’s simply amazing to see how a groundbreaking band such as L’Ame Immortelle keeps on creating innovative music. After decades, Thomas Rainer and Sonja Kraushofer are still a superb powerful duo that reconfirms a dominant artistic role with the latest release entitled “Drahtseilakt”.
“Sag Mir Wann” definitely focuses on a traditional electro goth music theme but there is also a dreamy rock rhythm that adds a vibrant dose of energy. As always, Sonja’s eclectic interpretation spices up the song’s structure.
“Eye Of The Storm” features a sorrowful piano melody that gives way to a lively electronic music core that makes you want to dance immediately wherever you are. The Nachtmahr remix of this song features a more energetic rhythm that leans towards industrial style but still preserves the emotional value of the original version.
On “My Memory” the highly atmospheric musical layers are further enhanced by theatrically dramatic vocals. This is a slower song with passionately melancholic melodies that will certainly stand out at the very first listening.
“Sehnsucht” is probably one of the darkest songs on “Drahtseilakt”. Since the very beginning you will feel hopelessly entangled in the romantic gloomy musical tapestry marvelously enriched by Sonja’s poignant interpretation which focuses on inner glowing emotions rather than delivering just a display of vocal techniques.
“Drown Them” is a perfect song with an addictive rhythm that will make you fall desperately in love right away. Sonja’s vocals here fully showcase her technical skills as well as a flawlessly intricate interpretation that reminds me of her vocal style in Persephone.
“Einsamkeit” is another delicate soft tune but it certainly doesn’t have the sugary feel of the usual ballad. The harmonious orchestration and the piano arrangement successfully craft a magnetic ensemble of desolate melodies, yet later on Sonja’s determined vocals portray a feeling of courageous renaissance.
As much as I enjoy the electro aspect that made L’Ame Immortelle a true icon in the darkwave/gothic niche, on this particular album I find myself deeply drawn to the slower melancholic songs. Overall, “Drahtseilakt” is a mature work of music wisely crafted by truly experienced musicians that delightfully incorporate multiple influences and offer a high degree of variety that could appeal to any audience.

Liv Kristine – Vervain

It’s always a pleasure to listen to the solo work of a talented artist and with the fifth solo album entitled “Vervain” Liv Kristine reconfirms her absolute supremacy as one of the most creative singers in the metal scene. As expected all the songs on “Vervain” are composed to make Liv’s vocals the main focus, therefore in terms of songwriting there’s nothing groundbreaking or particularly original. Yet, it comes easy and quite spontaneous to fully appreciate the delicate gothic oriented musicality of this album which might remind of her past vocal performances inTheatre Of Tragedy.
“Love Decay” is particularly intriguing because of the charming duet with Michelle Darkness from End Of Green. This is probably the most gothic track on the album with slow decadent guitars appropriately tuned on the somber side. The unusual contrast between Michelle’s baritone interpretation and Liv’s delicate vocals create a mysteriously dark atmosphere that would certainly please a more metal oriented audience.
On the title track it’s inevitable to notice how Liv makes all those technical operatic vocal phrases sound so effortless and almost easy, yet we all know that few singers can nail that kind of stuff. The musical theme is once again quite simple and straightforward with a strong focus on the melancholic, yet rather catchy and dynamic, chorus.
“Stronghold Of Angels” will easily become a hit. Seriously, who wouldn’t fall in love with a duet featuring the iconic Doro Pesch? I’m not even a bit surprised to see how Liv and Doro successfully deliver a bright passionate performance that fluently provides a glowing harmony and a delightful strength to the hyper melodic guitar core.
“Hunters” is almost certainly the catchiest song on “Vervain”. There’s a Nordic feeling throughout the song which well supports the whole array of popular dark rock elements further enriched by marvelous operatic backing vocals.
The omnipresent romantically heartbreaking ballad entitled “Lotus” despite the usual, maybe abused, recipe of slow motion piano and guitars is still a greatly enjoyable moment. This is mainly due to Liv’s majestic performance that bears a sensitive burden of human emotions that will touch any listener.
If you’re in the mood for some gloomy darker tunes make sure to check out “Oblivious” which revolves around gothic/doom fusion riffs diffusing through a highly atmospheric music theme enriched by Liv’s elegant vocals.
With “Vervain” Liv Kristine goes back to explore the darker roots of her musical career and it’s just lovely how the lack of unnecessary complications allows the listeners to focus on the encouraging artistic energy that surrounds the whole album.

Insomnium – Shadows Of The Dying Sun

It feels good to see that Finnish act Insomnium is back with a powerful new album entitled “Shadows Of The Dying Sun”. Some of you might have noticed that the band has been working hard for many years and this time with a passionately crafted collection of songs, Insomnium might get a real chance to step up in the scene. As they say, if you follow your true vocation you will certainly succeed.
With its melancholic wintry riffs, “The Primeval Dark” is a poignant introduction to the melodic musicality that embodies the artistic pathway on this album.
When “While We Sleep” kicks in with a super flamboyant melody in a poetic crescendo followed by romantic clean vocals, it’s clear that Insomnium has concocted a fascinating musical recipe that could easily conquer the lost souls of a wide audience. The genuine passionate delivery and the lack of superfluous soulless technicality make this song easy to love at the very first listening.
“Revelation” proudly follows the intense melancholia that constantly pervades through the whole album. As in other tracks, there is still a more brutal facet with thundering drums and strong growls to satisfy even the stone-hearted crowd.
If you crave more death metal style action, you’ll certainly enjoy the savage attitude on “Black Heart Rebellion”. As in a constant spiritual dwelling, a woeful emotional suffering is well displayed in the pressing guitar driven rhythm, while the idealistic longing for the heartbreaking melodic guitars cannot be denied easily.
“The River” is full of poetic darkness and there’s nothing wrong with the desire for mellow gloomy melodies as long as it is pure. Somehow guitars and drums manage to conjure a taste of vintage black metal that never clashes with the romantically charged acoustic moment.
The title track is a hymn to the poetic nature of Insomnium’s songwriting. Rather than being an attempt to create a catchy tune, this track carries a considerable emotional burden that required the most melodic side of the band’s artistic pathway. You simply cannot pour your heart out pounding on the snare as fast as possible, so the feverish need for a more delicate guitar riff and soft whispers is unambiguously comprehensible.
In the end, “Shadows Of The Dying Sun” is a charming piece of art that has the power to bring some luck and well deserved recognition as Insomnium continues to grow stronger and brighter.