by Ron Higgins
- Columnist –
After working for two years in the legendary Abbey Road Studio with bassist and producer Chris Von Rohr, Swiss rockers Krokus are back! Their last release, the excellent 2010 Hoodoo, went platinum in their home country and this album is just as impressive. It’s a no-nonsense, straight-ahead rocker featuring 12 explosive tracks, all clocking in at a succinct three to four minutes in length. The band also welcomes back guitarist Mandy Meyer to the fold after a mere 30 year absence! Dirty Dynamite is the band’s 17th studio album, and after nearly four decades of rocking, they show no signs of slowing down now.
As anyone who has followed this band throughout their lengthy career knows, they have always been inspired by AC/DC. So it should be no surprise that many of the songs on their latest release have the down-and-dirty rhythm and blues vibe of the Aussie rockers. As lead singer Marc Storace has done before on songs like “Long Stick Goes Boom”, he channels his inner Bon Scott. But this time, he does more than sound like AC/DC’s former front-man, he becomes Ronald Belford Scott. The only thing missing is a kilt and some bagpipes. Songs like “Go Baby Go” and “Better Than Sex” are rhythmically and vocally so similar to vintage Bon-era AC/DC, bands like Airborne and Rhino Bucket sound like Air Supply in comparison. It’s downright eerie, in an awesome “Bad Boy Boogie” sorta way.
The album kicks off with the appropriately titled “Halleluja Rock n Roll.” It’s an up-tempo, bluesy rocker that sets the tone for the rest of the album, right from the first sounds of a growling dog whose picture graces the album’s cover. He’s a tough, dirty bulldog, complete with cigarette and obligatory tattoo. He’s a perfect metaphor for this enjoyable tough-as-nails release.
The second track is the aforementioned “Go Baby Go”, which is part “Dirty Deeds” and part Little Richard’s “Ready Teddy”. This is followed by another nice rocker, “Rattlesnake Rumble” where the boys find their inner ZZ Top.
Next up is the title track, “Dirty Dynamite”. Interestingly, this is a somewhat slower track with a groovier, bluesy vibe. It’s a simple 12-bar blues tune that even features a nice piano accompaniment in the background. Compared to the other songs on offer, it’s a bit of a surprise that they chose this one as the title track, lead single and video. It’s not bad, just not representative of the rest of the album and not the strongest song on offer.
“Let The Good Times Roll” returns to the hard rockin’ swagger of the earlier tracks. It begins with someone muttering either, “cut the track” or “cut the crap”. Either way, it works, while paying homage to AC/DC’s “cut this” prefix to “Problem Child”. And yes, it’s “cut this” not the four-letter favorite most people like to sing.
Next up is one of the most interesting tracks on offer. As they are known to do, they have included a classic cover tune. Remember when they did their take of The Guess Who’s “American Woman”? This time around they go for a true classic, “Help” by the Beatles. What makes it so interesting is that, aside from the lyrics, you can barely tell it’s the same song. They truly put their own spin on it and it comes out great. Vocally, it’s more Rod Steward than Bon Scott so it’s a little atypical but it becomes more enjoyable with each subsequent listen. It also has a bit of a Pink Floyd tinge to it. They prove quite convincingly that they are certainly no one-trick pony.
Returning to their hard rocking ways, “Better Than Sex” is another raucous rocker with a flirty “Don’t Put Another Dime in the Jukebox” riff and a “Sin City” breakdown midway through. This is followed by another highlight, the interestingly titled “Dög Song”, with a catchy “All Night Long” chorus. “Yellow Mary” sees another return to Rod Stewart-land and “Bailout Blues” features some blistering guitar work. The album wraps up with the excellent, high-energy “Live Ma Life” and “Hardrocking Man,” which, ironically, is more poppy and less rocking.
It’s not a perfect release but it’s immensely enjoyable and seems to get better with each listen, slowly percolating into your musical consciousness like a well brewed cup of coffee. A cup of coffee with a shot of whiskey perhaps, but coffee nonetheless. If you like hard rock, you’ll like this album. If you like Krokus, you’ll like this album. Basically, if you like good old-fashioned, dirty, bluesy rock and roll, you’ll like this album. And if you long for the days when the Young brothers were knocking out classics with their previous singer, then you owe it to yourself to get this release. It’s essentially the album everyone wishes AC/DC would make.
Genre: Heavy Metal, Hard Rock
Marc Storace – Lead Vocals
Chris Von Rohr – Bass, Vocals + Producer
Fernando Von Arb – Guitar + Vocals
Mark Kohler – Guitar
Mandy Meyer – Guitar
Kosta Zafiriou – Drums
Mark Fox + Tommy Heart – Vocals
1. Halleluja Rock n Roll
2. Go Baby Go
3. Rattlesnake Rumble
4. Dirty Dynamite
5. Let the Good Times Roll
7. Better Than Sex
8. Dög Song
9. Yellow Mary
10. Bailout Blues
11. Live Ma Life
12. Hardrocking Man
Label: The End Records
Hardrock Haven Rating: 8.7/10
by Marc C.
- Columnist –
With 29 years, 14 studio and three live albums, three EPs, 26 singles and 12 members past and present, Helloween once again have proven if you count them out they’ll come roaring back stronger than ever! Formed in 1984, Hamburg, Germany’s greatest musical export has released their strongest offering since the widely regarded 1987 classic album Keeper of the Seven Keys, Part 1.
Following the release of Pink Bubbles Go Ape in 1991, Helloween began a tailspin that included massive amounts of drama and culminated with replacing multiple members (sadly, original drummer Ingo Schwichtenberg died in 1995 following his firing in 1993) and releasing sub-par albums until 2005 with the release of Keeper of the Seven Keys: The Legacy.
Straight Out of Hell roars out of the gate with the opening track “Nabataea” so hold onto your hat for the ride! The second track “World Of War” leaves no doubt that Helloween has returned as they simply rip it up throughout. Track three “Live Now!” contains a more commercial vibe than the previous tracks yet still contains that typical Helloween melodic tone heard in almost every track on this album. Track four, “Far From The Stars” easily would have fit onto any of the Keeper albums; however, it still fits the mold for inclusion on this one. Track five “Burning Sun” is perhaps one of the weaker songs yet once the chorus kicks in it is unmistakable Helloween. Track six “Waiting For The Thunder” is by far one of the better songs on this album and without question the most commercial track. The piano melody carries the song throughout the chorus and should have been used more effectively through the rest of the song.
Track seven “Hold Me In Your Arms” is rather disappointing considering how powerful in melody the chorus is. The verses seem to meander until the arrival of the chorus which basically saves the song itself.
Track eight “Wanna Be God” contains every element of a live sing-a-long, however, it is only a paltry two minutes in length. Track nine, “Straight Out Of Hell”, would have been better served as filler rather than a title track. While a strong song in its own right, as a title track it seems slightly lacking. Track 10 “Asshole” (Yes, you read it right!) has its moments yet still reeks of filler. Tracks 11 through 14 “ Years”, “Make Fire Catch The Fly”, Church Breaks Down” and “Another Shot Of Life” respectively are more of the same filler. While solid songs the album as whole should ended at nine songs and bowed out gracefully.
Make no mistake, Helloween is back and Straight Out Of Hell, save for the final four tracks, is their best album since KOTSK, PT1 by far! Melodic, fast and precise and for the most part all Helloween!
With the release of Straight Out Of Hell already #4 in Germany it is Helloween’s highest charting release ever!
Gentlemen, welcome back!
Genre: Power Metal
Andi Deris – Vocals (Pink Cream 69)
Michael Weikath – Guitars
Sascha Gerstner – Guitars & Keyboards
Markus Grosskopf – Bass
Dani Löble – Drums
2. World Of War
3. Live Now!
4. Far From The Stars
5. – Burning Sun
6. Waiting For The Thunder
7. Hold Me In Your Arms
8. Wanna Be God
9. Straight Out Of Hell
12. Make Fire Catch The Fly
13. Church Breaks Down
14. Another Shot Of Life
Label: The End Records
Hardrock Haven Rating 9.5/10
Helloween To Release New Album ‘Straight Out Of Hell,’ Out January 22nd On The End Records, Announce New Video For First Single “Nabataea”
Perfect timing: At dusk of the year’s most scary night, the “inventors of German melodic speed metal” have finished the video production of the first single from the upcoming album Straight Out Of Hell. Read more
by Joe Mis
What Lies Beneath is the third solo album from well-known Finnish singer-songwriter Tarja Turunen. Perhaps best known outside of Finland as the operatic front person of symphonic metal masters Nightwish from 1996 to 2005, Tarja continues to rightfully gain following as a solo artist.
The classically trained singer and pianist joined forces with a few friends in 1996 and formed the powerhouse metal band Nightwish after realizing that her voice was too powerful for most other soft rock styles. During her tenure with Nightwish, she also continued to perform in many operatic and classical music festivals, earning the respect of many outside of the rock/metal world. After parting ways with Nightwish, Tarja continued to work independently both as a rock and classical vocalist. She released a Christmas album in her native Finland, and then in 2007 put out the successful rock CD My Winter Storm. After much acclaim and numerous awards Tarja is back with What Lies Beneath, this time helped by a broad range of musicians ranging from Joe Satriani to The Slovakian Orchestra and Choir.
Tarja’s unique vocal stylings are undoubtedly powerful and sweeping, and she carries a great deal of feeling in every line. Despite the unusual power of her voice, Tarja’s operatic style seems to be perfectly suited to the songs she writes. She has also served as a major inspiration to a number of other powerful female singers and influenced a great many power/orchestral/symphonic metal bands. She is a true groundbreaker.
The campy and somewhat Queen-style vocally over-the-top “Anteroom of Death” opens the CD with numerous hackneyed orchestra tune-up sounds and ultra classical instrumentations that suddenly switch to a pounding chorus. This song could have quite easily dropped, and one may wonder why this track is even on the album since it is so radically different from the rest and frankly seems out of place. “Until My Last Breath” is much more representative of the rest of What Lies Beneath. It is filled with strong power-metal guitars, keyboards and sweeping rhythms, and features a nice mix of Tarja’s vocal skills from full on operatic to soft and clear. “Dark Star” is probably the best track on the album – fabulous lyrics, great performances across the board with some excellent growls and duet vocals with Phil Labonte (All That Remains, Shadows Fall, Perpetual Doom). “Underneath” changes up the tone with some simple and melodic piano lines, and allows Tarja’s pure and powerful voice to take canter stage. This track also features some of the finest guitar soloing on the CD.
The moody and crunchy “Little Lies” pumps up the electronics and energy with an almost thrash metal grinding guitar opening that fades into a bouncing bass driven groove before blossoming into a mutli-layer choral vocal feast. Full on orchestration and classical overtones fill the soft and smooth but bitter ‘Rivers Of Lust” while more power rolls into the heavy and sweeping “In For A Kill.” Tarja next switches to Spanish to perform the haunting piano-driven “Montañas De Silencio,” exclusive to the North American release. “Falling Awake” is a blistering full-on symphonic rocker with some awesome guitar work provided by Joe Satriani. Contrasting nicely is the sweetly performed “The Archive Of Lost Dreams,” and the powerful “Crimson Deep”, where Tarja is joined by noted jazz and funk rock drummer Will Calhoun (Living Colour).
On the whole, What Lies Beneath is an interesting album, encompassing a number of styles and genres. Tarja’s voice is the driving force, but the musicians around her perform like the proverbial well-oiled machine. The music is nicely balanced and engineered, and all the performers get their moment in the spotlight.
Any fan of Tarja, Nightwish or the myriad of female-fronted metal acts will find something enjoyable here. The mix of styles may be disorienting to some, but check it out if you want to spend some time with one of the most influential and unique talents in the business.
Genre: Operatic Metal
Tarja Turunen (vocals, piano)
Alex Scholpp (guitar)
Marzi Nyman (guitar)
Doug Wimbish (bass)
Christian Kretschmar (keyboards)
Mike Terrana (drums)
Will Calhoun (drums)
Max Lilja (cello)
Jyrki Lasonpalo, Pauline Fleming and Rémi Moingeon of the Lahti Symphony Orchestra (violin)
The Slovakian Orchestra and Choir
Guests: Toni Turunen, Timo Turunen, Phil Labonte, van Canto, Julian Barrett, Joe Satriani, Maria Ilmoniemi, Markus Hohti
1. Anteroom of Death
2. Until My Last Breath
3. Dark Star (feat. Phil Labonte)
5. Little Lies
6. Rivers Of Lust
7. In For A Kill
8. Montañas De Silencio
9. Falling Awake (Feat. Joe Satriani)
10. The Archive Of Lost Dreams
11. Crimson Deep (feat. Will Calhoun)
Label: Universal Music/The End Records
Hardrock Haven rating: 8/10
by Trevor Portz
Though they have yet to fully conquer the states, Lordi have certainly had a fair bit of success overseas, most memorably after winning Eurovision in 2006. Of course, winning a TV music contest isn’t necessarily the key to pop longevity. Then again, neither is dressing up in crazy costumes and writing silly, tongue-in-cheek lyrics. Sure, it worked for Gwar, and to a lesser extent Green Jello, but others didn’t fair so well (Mushroomhead or The Upper Crust anybody?) What may have saved (and will continue to save) Lordi, though, is the fact that they make great music. More precisely, they make rock and roll (or metal, depending on who you ask) the way it was made when it ruled the airwaves—catchy songs, silly lyrics, sing-a-long choruses, and lots of cheesy synths. Okay, so maybe the last part wasn’t a necessary ingredient, but it does bring you back to the big-haired, hedonistic ’80s, reminding you why glam metal ruled the world, even if only briefly. With their newest release, Babez for Breakfast, is another platter of smile-inducing costumed party rock that will only serve to further cement Lordi as a band in for the long haul.
After the very bizarre birthing heard on “SC65- It’s a Boy,” things get going with the Priest-sounding “Babez for Breakfast.” While the alternation in the chorus between “babes for breakfast…” and “babies for breakfast…” may seem to show a band unsure who first to consume, the follow up of “…bitches for lunch” leaves a chorus equal parts offensive (to some) and memorable.
“This Is Heavy Metal” brings in sounds reminiscent of Fu Manchu and Danzig, though with a humorous twist long abandoned by the latter. “Rock Police” is a blend of synth-heavy Van Halen and slower Stratovarius with a key solo straight from 1985. Corny? Yes. Cool? Of course.
“Call Off The Wedding” is an interesting power ballad featuring Bruce Kulick on a very nice double lead solo (assuming he played this bit, that is). The music borders on being too dated for its own good, but the fun lyrics keep the song interesting.
“I Am Bigger Than You” takes things in an entirely different direction, feeling more like Rammstein or Rob Zombie (another successful costumed headbanger). The dancey chorus and overall beat would do well in most any open-minded club, even more so if delivered as a full-on dance remix.
Other standout tracks include “Give Your Life for Rock and Roll” with its unique harpsichord solo, the overt Bon Jovi-ness of “Loud and Loaded,” and the hilariously named “Granny’s Gone Crazy,” featuring an Alice Cooper-like spoken-word bit by the underrated Mark Slaughter (who, on a side note, should really be making albums again).
While it’s questionable as to whether Babez for Breakfast will finally break Lordi in the states, there’s no debating that the quality loving Euro music fans will eat it up the way the bands eats little ones. If anything, it’s good to see that Lordi have far more to offer than costumes and contest winnings. Watch out, children of the world.
Genre: Costumed Rock
Mr. Lordi (v)
1. SCG5: It’s a Boy!
2. Babez for Breakfast
3. This Is Heavy Metal
4. Rock Police
6. Call Off the Wedding
7. I Am Bigger Than You
9. Midnite Lover
10. Give Your Life for Rock and Roll
11. Nonstop Nite
12. Amen’s Lament to Ra
13. Loud and Loaded
14. Granny’s Gone Crazy
15. Devil’s Lullaby
Label: The End Records
Hardrock Haven rating: 8.8/10
by Derric Miller
So it’s been six years since Glenn Danzig’s most mainstream band, Danzig, has released their last studio album. Like Rob Zombie, Glenn Danzig is a dark Renaissance Man who dabbles in arts outside of the musical realm, and like Rob Zombie, when he brings his focus back to the music … it’s well worth the wait. The new studio effort, Deth Red Sabaoth, was produced by Glenn himself with a rawer, organic, less mechanized sound, endowing the black hymns with a morose honesty you rarely hear in music today.
The first song, “Hammer of the Gods,” is a heavy Doom track, and it is obvious when Danzig’s voice slides into its bluesy, melodic ferocity that the man still owns one of the most unique voices in all of Metal. The chorus is sort of chaotic, with Misfits-like, messy backing vocals accompanying Danzig’s forceful singing. About two minutes in, you will think it is Candlemass and not Danzig, as the Doom drips from every note. This is what you’d expect from Danzig, yet “Hammer of the Gods” exceeds expectations anyway.
The next couple songs, surprisingly, are about as akin to filler you will ever find on a Danzig album, but that all fades to black when you wrap your ears around “Black Candy.” The sexual groove, the pumping rhythms and of course Danzig’s lustful bellows mark this as one of the best songs Danzig has recorded in years. While a musical expert, Danzig knows you can simplify the composition and still make it remarkable, and “Black Candy” is both. With the rampaging drums from Johnny Kelly (Type O Negative, Seventh Void), the sheer Bacchanalian undertones of “Black Candy” are unmistakeable.
And somehow … it gets better, as you roll onto “On A Wicked Night.” This track begins as a slow acoustic mid-tempo composition, and Danzig takes the throatiness out of his voice, softens the blow, oozing just blues and melody. Neither Elvis nor Morrison, he’s still in the same vocal playground as those two gents on this track. Albeit a tad repetitive, it’s still one of the best songs on Deth Red Sabaoth.
The song that is perchance the most “fun” is “Ju Ju Bone.” Noisy, thumping, and one of grooviest songs on the album, it should be a hit for the band, considering songs like “Mother” and “Twist of Cain.” Yes, it is comparable to the classic Danzig hits. Guitarist Tommy Victor’s solo is one of the strongest on the release as he rails on a massive, heated solo. As the song blisters to the close, Victor flaunting his skills with impressive leads and Danzig unleashing his full-throated madness, you’ll come back to this one again and again.
“Pyre of Souls: Incanticle” is going to end up in some horror movie. It’s made for the abyss, a hymnal to the bottomless pit, yet still melodic as Danzig vocalizes passages that are not words, but just notes. His high end is much richer and broader than you may expect — just try to hum along.
The final dirge here is “Left Hand Rise Above,” a churning, mid-tempo composition that will bottom out your subs. Both soothing and brutal, flowing from poetic verses to manic choruses, “Left Hand Rise Above” encapsulates everything unparalleled about the Danzig sound. Of course, you don’t need to reach to find the Biblical imagery here, should you choose to see, feel and embrace it.
Deth Red Sabaoth is the rarity that grows colder, stronger, harsher and more enthralling with each listen. On the surface, it’s a damn good album. Once you peel back the veneer and dig deeper, stare harder, and invite it in … Deth Red Sabaoth may be the best Danzig release written in a decade or two.
Label: Evilive/The End Records
Glenn Danzig (bass, drums, guitar, keyboards, vocals)
Johnny Kelly (drums)
Tommy Victor (bass, guitar)
Steve Zing (bass)
01. Hammer Of The Gods
02. The Revengeful
03. Rebel Spirits
04. Black Candy
05. On A Wicked Night
06. Deth Red Moon
07. Ju Ju Bone
08. Night Star Hel
09. Pyre Of Souls: Incanticle
10. Pyre Of Souls: Seasons Of Pain
11. Left Hand Rise Above
Hardrock Haven rating: 8.4/10
by Trevor Portz
Devoted HIM fans are surely familiar with guitarist Linde’s side project, Daniel Lioneye. They most certainly know “The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll” from not only the album of the same name, but also from its choice as noted HIM fanatic Bam Margera’s Viva La Bam show. What followers may not yet understand, however, is how completely different this Daniel Lioneye disc is from its predecessor. Gone are the psychedelic meanderings and stoner riffage, replaced here with over-the-top, shred-heavy black metal. Such a drastic change creates one big question: does it work? Hell yes, it does.
While the songs on Vol. II are certainly black metal, there is a lot more going on than a typical album of the genre may dabble in. Sure, there are high, screechy vocals (Dani Filth or Nagash-high to be more clear), a handful of blast beats, and plenty of trem-picked melodic riffs; these things tend to define the style afterall. But Linde has also brought in many other extreme elements, from the Devin Townsend-worthy clean-mixed-with-scream choruses on “Euroshaman” and “Flatlined, to the well-placed sitar on “Neolithic Way,” or the absolute wall-of-sound chaotic chorus of “Who Turned the Lights Out.” All of these variations give the album more depth than many of its contemporaries.
Not that he is a slouch in his main role as HIM guitarist, but Linde really gets to shine and showoff here, and does not waste the opportunity. The guitar parts are fast and furious, yet melody is never sacrificed in the name of speed. Bits of “I Saw Myself” wouldn’t be out of place on Dreamspace-era Stratovarius, and the rapid-fire riff changes of “The Mentat” are in-line with many of the most elite of extreme bands. While we’re on the topic of “The Mentat,” it should also be noted that the doubling of the snare with gun shots is one of the most effective and coolest tricks to be burned to plastic in some time.
Only two tracks stand out as, erm, different. Not bad, different. “Saturnalia” is a quiet, spacey interlude that sort of stalls things in its third-song position. Perhaps it would have been better placed later in the record. “I Have Never Wanted to Be Number One” is the other odd-man out, with its more laid-back, rock sound. Apparently written as an acoustic ballad, it’s hard to picture it as such. The distorted vocals utilized here bring the song down ever so slightly, as the distortion almost feels like a cover-up for less-than-stellar vocals rather than an enhancement. That said, the song is still excellent, and is by far the most accessible track for Linde fans not used to the black metal sound.
While it may not be the most black metal sounding band name, Daniel Lioneye has certainly produced a killer black metal record. Whether or not to recommend it death-obsessed HIM fans is hard to say, but extreme fans should not pass up Vol. II.
Label: The End Records
Linde (guitar, bass, vox)
5.I Saw Myself
7.I Have Never Wanted To Be Number One
8.Who Turned The Lights Out
9.Kiss of the Cannibal
Hardrock Haven rating: 8.9/10
by Joe Mis
Truth Or Dare is a “Best of…” collection from the German rock trio OOMPH! Selected from their 20 year, 12-album career, OOMPH! has recorded some of these tracks with English lyrics for the first time, making Truth Or Dare their first full English album release. Having influenced a number of bands, including the world-famous Rammstein, OOMPH! is now seeking to extend their fan base worldwide.
The veteran trio of Dero Goi (vocals & drums), Andreas Crap (guitars & keyboards) and Robert Flux (guitars, sampling) was one of the first bands to combine heavy rock guitar riffs with more esoteric electronics, and became popular with both the rock and underground dance fans. Blending numerous genres into a groundbreaking sound, OOMPH! chose elements from metal, rock, alternative, grunge, electronica, gothic and industrial and somehow managed to make it all work.
Dero has a good voice for this style of music. He can sing, he can rasp, he can growl and scream. His drum lines are intense, and drive most of the songs forward. The drums coordinate nicely with the keyboards and synthesizer programming, making the drums and keys the primary musical force. The guitars are there, but do not take center stage. There are some fine heavily distorted rhythm lines, but few solos stand out – again, typical of the genre.
Sometimes the constant electronica and industrial influences make the rhythm lines of many track seem the same – or at least difficult to distinguish until the vocals start. However there are a few tracks that do stand out for various reasons. “Burning Desire” is a softer, almost progressive rock piece with great duet vocals and smooth keyboards. “Labyrinth”, a high-energy pop rocker, has some great lyrics and a very catchy rhythm line and chorus.
“Sandman” is a moody and creepy heavy rocker with a very air-drum- inducing groove. “God Is A Popstar” is a very biting commentary on organized religion and has a very NIN feel, while “Wake Up” has an incredible driving guitar line. “True Beauty Is So Painful” is an interesting and weird look at modern social society and vanity – just fun to listen to. “Dream Here” is a good mid-tempo rocker with some obvious alternative/industrial elements, and nice vocals all around, and “On Course” is simply a solid rock ballad.
Undoubtedly the finest song on the disc, “Land Ahead” features some amazing lyrics and a fabulous duet with Sharon den Adel of the Dutch symphonic metal band Within Temptation.
The production and engineering are perfect for the musical styles of OOMPH! The guitars are heavily distorted and crunchy, the vocals clearly audible, the keyboards crisp and the drums intensely driving. The songwriting is equally intense, and the social commentary/criticism is typical of the genre. The intense, almost techno, drum lines wear thin after a while, but there are enough “different” songs mixed in that they do not become oppressive.
All things considered Truth Of Dare is an interesting album, but it is not for everyone. If you are a pure metalhead or deep into blues-rock, then skip it as there is little of it here. However, if you have even a passing interest in industrial, gothic or underground electronic rock, or just looking to broaden your musical horizons you might very well enjoy this best of compilation by one of the pioneering groups of the genre.
Label: The End Records
01. Ready Or Not (I’m Coming)
02. Burning Desire
03. Song Of Death
06. The Final Match
07. God Is A Popstar
08. Wake Up
09. Land Ahead (feat. Sharon den Adel)
10. Sex Is Not Enough
12. The Power Of Love
13. True Beauty Is So Painful
14. The First Time Always Hurts
15. Dream Here (With Me)
16. On Course
HRH Rating: 7.5/10
by Trevor Portz
It’s always a bit scary (for those of us over 30) when bands we follow start celebrating major milestone birthdays. More so when the band—Helloween in this case—is theoretically a second-wave band in their respective genre. You expect Judas Priest and Iron Maiden to be lighting 25+ candles, but Helloween? Next thing you know, Stratovarius will be turning 20. Oh crap, that already happened, too. But age-induced digression aside, it is great to see so many great bands of the ’80s and ’90s not only still kicking, but kicking ass. Though Unarmed, Helloween’s 25th anniversary reimagining of past hits, may not be as ass kicking as their more recent output, it acts as a fun gift to fans, assuming those fans understand what to (and not to) expect.
Opening single “Dr. Stein” wastes no time illustrating how very different Unarmed’s arrangements are from the songs’ original incarnations. Gone is the chugging metal riffing, replaced here with horns-a-plenty, leaving the song sounding strongly reminiscent of the Almighty’s ’90s hit “All Sussed Out.” Though the intro and arrangement can be a bit off-putting to long-time fans at first, it quickly becomes apparent as to why this was chosen as the opening single, as the catchy melodies that made “Dr. Stein” a classic in the first place shine through and create an excellent, radio-friendly rock hit.
Following up with arguably their best-known song, the band present “Future World” in a mostly acoustic, rockabilly/shuffle format. With its beat that mimics the chug-a-chug of a train rolling down the tracks, this take would seem a fitting song to crank up during a cross-country Amtrak trip. Interestingly, this version would actually sit well alongside former vocalist Michael Kiske’s acoustic reworkings of his Helloween tracks from 2008′s Past In Different Ways. Maybe there is hope for a reunion, even if not in a metal setting…
Fan-favorite “Eagle Fly Free” dons a folky, ren-faire twist courtesy of guest musicians from Hellsongs, and the harmony vocals by Harriet Ohlsson almost reveal what a possible collaboration between Andi Deris and Michael Kiske might sound like.
Newer tracks “If I Could Fly” and “Fallen to Pieces” are given almost R&B makeovers, both calling to mind the work of Sade and the like. These classy performances boast strong crossover appeal and could easily fit into most adult contemporary play lists.
Certainly the most monumental track on this collection, “The Keeper’s Trilogy” blends three of the band’s Keeper epics (Halloween, Keeper of the Seven Keys, and The King for A 1000 Years) into an explosive, symphonic, cinematic masterpiece. Backed by the Prague Symphony Orchestra, the songs are made even larger and powerful than their original incarnations. Of course, they lack some of the bombast and heaviness, but that only reinforces how important the original songs are.
Following a similar path, though to a lesser degree, “A Tale That Wasn’t Right” plays with a cinematic approach, though Andi Deris’ vocals sound uninspired and bring the song down, which is odd considering his generally amazing performances not only on Unarmed, but across the board.
“Forever And One (Neverland)” from The Time of the Oath is stripped down to little more than piano and voice, leaving it with a very similar feel to “Light in the Sky” and “Time Goes By,” both similarly sparse b-sides from the original “Forever and One” single. It makes one wonder if these three songs were in fact written as a trilogy, and it would be interesting to see them performed together as such.
The only two let-down songs from this collection appear in the forms of the almost unrecognizable acoustic monotony of “Where the Rain Grows,” and the country-tinged “Perfect Gentleman.” Though both are strong tracks in their Master of the Rings versions, they didn’t respond well to the stylistic revamp and only work to bring about a longing for the original.
Luckily, remaining tracks “I Want Out,” and a rare US-only bonus track, “Why,” are top-notch alternate-reality performances. The former utilizes children’s choir vocals to recreate its classic opening melody and boasts a new, Ace Frehley-esque solo; the latter dabbles in Motown, and features a bizarre, yet somehow cool, circus-like mid section. Both are also shining examples of the fun the band surely had during these sessions.
It would seem many-a-fan may be slightly put off by these new arrangements. Perhaps some will have flashbacks to Chameleon, and will fear that Helloween will have again ditched the metal for more pop-friendly waters. It seems pretty safe to say that this is not the case, and that the next Helloween album-proper will be another sing-along, double-bass-fueled headbanger. If anything, it was probably nice for the band to revisit and rethink songs that they’ve been playing on autopilot for 20+ years and remember why they liked them enough to record in the first place. Think of it as someone having their spouse dress up in the Princess Leia golden bikini just for fun. It keeps things interesting, and it’s a damn fine 25th anniversary gift.
Label: The End Records
Andi Deris (vocals)
Michael Weikath (guitar)
Sascha Gerstner (guitar)
Markus Grosskopf (bass)
Dani Löble (drums)
+an assortment of guest musicians
1. Dr. Stein
2. Future World
3. If I Could Fly
4. Where the Rain Grows
5. The Keeper’s Trilogy
6. Eagle Fly Free
7. Perfect Gentleman
8. Forever and One (Neverland)
9. I Want Out
10. Fallen To Pieces
11. A Tale That Wasn’t Right
Hardrock Haven rating: 7.9/10
by Trevor Portz
With the multitude of generic, cookie-cutter bands proliferating the market these days, it’s rare to pop something into the CD player (which, for the younger crowd, is like a primitive i-Pod), and instantly think, “Holy shit! This is amazing!” It’s even rarer for a band to live up to the hype they give themselves (in this case, describing their new album as “genre defining”). But every once in a while the planets align and amazing things happen. Such is the case with Blackjazz, the fourth album by Norwegian genre-benders Shining, a complex, noisy, brilliant masterpiece that defies stereotypes and expectations and gives hope to future generations of extreme music fans.
Defining what exactly Shining play is as complicated as the music itself. So many styles are represented here—jazz, black metal, techno, rock, noise, classical—the list is seemingly endless. Blending them as they do, Shining really had no choice but to create a new name for their brand of insanity, and “blackjazz,” though exclusionary of many things they dabble in, will certainly suffice. Besides, “blackjazzdancepunktechnorocknoise” sounds a bit like an outtake from Mary Poppins. It’s definitely quite a divergence from the initial acoustic jazz records released by the band, which, though surely good, doubtfully packed the punch of their current incarnation.
Breaking down the tracks individually seems both futile and unnecessary, as there is little to compare the songs to that would be meaningful, and because each song features so many changes/movements/chapters that a true write-up would be infinitely too long. In many ways, the songs themselves act as pieces of a larger movement, acting much like scenes from a dark, post-apocalyptic cinematic masterpiece. The songs do have unique identities—from the Brutal Truth-like intro and Primus-inspired mid section of “Exit Sun,” to the prog-dance-jazz of “Fisheye,” to the power-electronic noisiness of “Omen”—and the wide variety of styles utilized help create small masterpieces within the larger work. Also standing out is the closing cover of King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man,” featuring guest vocals from Grutle Kjellson, vocalist/bassist of similarly amazing Norwegian band Enslaved. The song was practically written to be covered by Shining, and they do a superb job interpreting this prog classic.
From a technical standpoint, the musicians that make up Shining are among the most elite of extreme virtuosity. Incorporating modal jazz, a slew of odd time signatures (move over Dillinger Escape Plan), and ridiculously complex arrangements, one is left not only supremely impressed, but also with the lingering question of “how do they remember this?” Ignoring this quandary, one is left to sit back and revel in the technicality of the whole thing, and ponder the influences, which appear to range from the Great Kat to Union of Knives (for those unfamiliar with these artists, do yourself a favor and check them out as well).
Above all else, what Shining do best is control the insanity. Don’t get the wrong idea, the music of Blackjazz is far from straightforward and is often rather unsettling, but somehow the album never loses itself among the chaos. It’s almost as if a nuclear blast has gone off, yet has somehow been contained within a crystal sphere. Everything remains unharmed, but it sure looks cool.
Whether the music of Shining will be universally accepted by the general population seems unlikely for the same reason “Arrested Development” was such a short-lived show—most people just don’t get it. But for those that do, count yourselves among those lucky enough to be given the gift of Blackjazz.
Jørgen Munkeby (vocals, guitar, sax)
Torstein Lofthus (drums)
Tor Egil Kreken (bass)
Bernt Moen (synths and keyboards)
Even Helte Hermansen (guitar)
Grutle Kjellson (guest vocals on “Omen” “21st Century Schizoid Man”)
1. The Madness and the Damage Done
3. Exit Sun
4. Exit Sun
5. HEALTER SKELTER
6. The Madness and the Damage Done
7. Blackjazz Deathtrance
9. 21st Century Schizoid Man
Hardrock Haven rating 9.8/10
by Trevor Portz
Borknagar are a unique extreme metal beast. They present a paradox applicable to only a few groups in this great metal world. Unlike so many bands of their ilk, with each release, fans go in knowing what to expect, yet also without any idea of what’s coming. Ludicrous as that sounds, it’s the absolute truth. You see, every Borknagar album (with the possible exception of Origin) comes with a set of given values, but how the band will take these and construct, arrange, deconstruct, and rearrange them remains a constant variable. Borknagar fans expect complex melodies, multilayered instrumentation, regularly shifting dynamics, and of course a perfect balance between the band’s black metal and progressive sides, but still want it presented in a way they haven’t heard before. Taking heed, as they have with their previous releases, Borknagar have yet again delivered an album of beautiful contradictions with 2010′s Universal.
The eight tracks that make up Universal flow so well that they appear more as movements in a larger epic rather than isolated events. This is not to say that the songs don’t have their own identities, but they all serve to illustrate how befitting the album title actually is. With each track, another piece of the overall Universal picture is revealed.
Opening track “Havoc” eases listeners in with a slow, quiet intro, gradually building tension before exploding just past the minute mark. From here, we are enveloped in pure, multilayered black metal brilliance. Replete with cinematic flourishes (such as the doubling of guitars with voices, whether real or synthesized), harsh metal screams (including vocalist Vintersorg’s new foray into a more guttural, death metal growl), and melodic choruses that have become one of Borknagar’s trademarks, the song acts almost as an overture to both Universal and Borknagar’s music in general.
Following in an equally spectacular fashion, “Reason” flaunts keyboardist Lars A. Nedland’s skill for countermelody (with occasional Jethro Tull-type flairs), and also showcases new drummer David Kinkade. Kinkade’s style is reminiscent of predecessor Asgeir Michelson, but he also brings his own style to the mix, ensuring that he will be noticed.
“The Stir of Seasons” throws traditional metal song structure away with its lengthy instrumental passages and sporadic clean vocal breaks. Oddly enough, this is followed immediately by “For a Thousand Years,” which features some of the most traditional metal riffing on any Borknagar release. Of course, with its incorporation of clean-vocaled verses and harsh choruses, and inclusion of an extended instrumental section—complete with bass solo—traditional seems a bit of a misnomer. Though all tracks do a fair job, these two in particular show just how much band founder and leader Øystein Brun allows his bandmates to shine equally, a quality not common in most band with an obvious “leader.”
“Abrasion Tide” and “Worldwide” are both solid compositions, if not standout tracks. They surround, however, what could be one of Borknagar’s strongest songs yet, “Fleshflower.” With detuned guitars and what could almost be described as ’80s new wave-esque vocals, the song is highlighted by its rapid changes. Whereas Borknagar tend to let things progress slowly over extended song lengths, “Fleshflower” sees the band take an almost Queen-like approach of firing rapidly between sections over just three short minutes. If Origin was borne of the band’s wish to focus on their melodic, mellow side, perhaps now there’s a chance for an album of short, complex prog metal bursts.
Closing out the record is “My Domain,” which features the return of vocalist I.C.S. Vortex after a near 10-year absence. Though arguably not as technically perfect at Vintersorg, I.C.S.’s vocals helped define the Borknagar sound and slide seamlessly back into the mix. With the complex arrangements going on in all of their music, it would be interesting to see both vocalists on stage together, though it’s hard to say how well their respective egos would tolerate this. Nevertheless, it’s great to mix things up and bring back a slice of Borknagar’s past.
While Universal may be yet another masterpiece in a long line of stellar releases by Borknagar, it’s also hard to say whether it is their magnum opus. It seems more likely that the band will somehow manage to outdo themselves yet again on their next release, whenever that may come. But for now, take solace in the fact that Universal lives up to its bold title, and that Borknagar’s “Genuine Pulse” is pounding stronger than ever.
Label: The End Records
Vintersorg (vocals and choirs)
Øystein G. Brun (electric, acoustic and high string guitars)
Lars A. Nedland (synthesizers, Hammond organ, grand piano, backing vocals)
David Kinkade (drums)
Jan Erik Tiwaz (bass)
Jens Ryland (guitar)
ICS Vortex (guest vocals on “My Domain”)
3. The Stir of Seasons
4. For A Thousand Years To Come
5. Abrasion Tide
8. My Domain
Hardrock Haven rating 9.4/10
by Trevor Portz
For those uninitiated, the Sigh story goes all the way back to early ‘90s Tokyo, where band leader Mirai Kawashima put together the initial lineup of what would become one of black metal’s most unique and long-lasting acts. An early milestone came in 1993 in the form of their first full-length being released on the infamous Deathlike Silence label, founded by none other than slain Norwegian anti-hero Euronymous. Traditionally reserved almost exclusively for his Norse kinsmen, this was a breakthrough not only for the genre, but also for the Japanese black metal scene. Through the years, Sigh have undergone a number of changes, both in terms of personnel and music, dabbling in everything from straight-ahead black metal, to jazz, to avant garde experimentation. With 2010′s Scenes From Hell, we see the band taking all of the elements they’ve touched on in the past and blending them into a very unique extreme metal miasma.
The eight tracks that make up Scenes From Hell present an interesting emotional convergence. On one side is the standard black metal fare — high-pitched screaming vocals (delivered spectacularly by female vocalist Dr. Mikannibal), trem-picked grim guitars, and lyrical content dealing with Hell, death and war. The other side, though, is embodied by Sigh’s unique use of horns, woodwinds, keys and strings. Instead of following a similarly disharmonic, discordant, and generally dark musical course, the passages utilizing this diverse (by metal standards) instrumentation tend to be almost enlightening and positive, creating a very unique musical paradox.
Though most songs feature this strange clash of styles, a few stand out as particularly obvious illustrations. Opening track “Prelude to the Oracle” kicks things off with a bang, but boasts an oddly Mariachi-inspired horn passage. “L’art de Mourir” follows immediately after, though this time, the horns take on more of a carnival-esque feel. For a song that translates to “The Art of Dying,” it seems a very unlikely juxtaposition. Closing title track “Scenes From Hell” echoes this by coming off as a very musically upbeat song with very dark (obviously) lyrics.
While the above represent examples of rather bizarre stylistic pairings, there are many places in which the genre-bending mix works exceptionally. Of particular note, the spoken word over piano intro to “The Red Funeral” is incredibly haunting, and the use of violins later in the track create a Halloween-like atmosphere.
Unfortunately, while Sigh may be unique in the ever-growing black metal kingdom, in and of themselves, they tend to become a bit repetitive. After a few songs, the underlying guitar and drums riffs become almost indistinguishably similar and feature very few memorable melodies/patterns. Weirdly, even the avant-garde diversions seem to suffer the same fate, as the songs tend to feature the same mix of horns and strings over generic black metal riffing.
The other biggest drawback to Scenes From Hell comes from the lackluster production. The drums are flat, the instruments muffled and over-compressed, and even with all of its ebbs, flows, and varied instrumentation, there still seems to be a lack of dynamic range that would have added to the cinematic quality that the band seems to strive for. But perhaps the less-than-stellar recording values were done to add to the overall grim vibe of the album, following the footsteps of early Darkthrone, among others. But if history has taught us anything, everything can be improved upon. And though purists will disagree, later Darkthrone albums, along with works by similar acts such as Khold, have retained their innate grimness in spite of slick production. It would be nice for Sigh to give it a chance next time around.
Criticism aside, however, Sigh are a recognized name in extreme metal for good reason. They follow no one, instead blazing their own path of blackened fusion. And the hordes that have worshiped them from the beginning will no doubt proclaim this yet another piece of fine, black metal art.
Label: The End Records
Mirai Kawasima (vocals, orchestrations, piano)
Dr. Mikannibal (vocals, saxophone)
Satoshi Fujinami (bass)
Shinichi Ishikawa (guitar)
Junichi Harashima (drums)
1. Prelude to the Oracle
2. L’art de Mourir
3. The Soul Grave
4. The Red Funeral
5. The Summer Funeral
6. Musica in Tempora Belli
8. Scenes from Hell
Hardrock Haven rating: 6.4/10