davidn: (savior)
I'm well aware that these album write-up posts don't tend to get a whole lot of attention, because not everybody can stomach power metal. It's an intense and attention-demanding genre at the best of times, and you either "get" it or you don't. The inherent silliness and fun of it is something that many bands like Limozeen and Edguy buy wholeheartedly into themselves, and when it does attempt to take itself seriously, it's difficult to do the same when you believe the stereotype of the genre being made up of astonishingly pretentious and mockable science fiction concept albums by people with silly names like the Guardians of Time.

It surely has to be the genre with the best artwork, though
Machines of Mental Design, a science fiction concept album by the Guardians of Time, then, isn't going to do a lot to change that. This was one of the rarer albums that I got in the giant pile last Christmas (and have still only listened to just over half of, help) as it's from a band from manic Norway that disappeared shortly after making it, their first storyline-based effort and second album overall. Actually it's the conceptiest concept album that I've yet seen - Iron Savior used to provide a storyline at the start of each album and then explain how each song fit into it, but in this, the lyrics in the booklet are presented not as lyrics but as large paragraphs of prose interspersed with extra storyline text that isn't part of the song (though the submitter to Darklyrics has split them up more than they are as printed, making them remotely followable).

One of the first things that you hear on the album is a scream that's held for about eight seconds, introducing Bernt Fjellstad as not only the only member with no non-English characters in his name, but also an impressive vocalist in the same vein as Daniel Heiman. That said, he's not as amazingly over-the-top - most of the time he's only as high in pitch as you would reasonably expect and just allows himself the occasional shrieking flourish singing about the "family of LIIIEEEIIIGHT" without getting too ludicrously stratospheric. Death vocals also make an appearance in the middle of the album, which I'm honestly getting more used to now as long as they're used for effect and they're not expecting me to cope with someone vomiting into my ears for an entire song.

The general subgenre of the music jumps about a bit, but is generally on the fast progressive side, relying not so much on catchiness and traditional song structure as just moving through different sounds and sections. I'm trying to find someone to compare them to, and I suppose it's a bit like early Heavenly with a strong flavour of Dream Theater, but a bit better than you'd imagine the result of that to be (and as you can tell, making these kinds of comparisons is often futile anyway). Quite remarkably, I don't hear any keyboards on the album at all, and they rely entirely on the more traditional metal lineup - something that's not very common at all now.

I listened to it for a while just to check that all potential grower tracks had grown, because I've never said this about an album before because whenever anyone else did I always disagreed with them, but there's an identifiable point where it drops off in quality - and that's track 9, just over halfway through (though I admit I revised this up after deciding that I quite liked War Within after all). At this point, after a strong first half, you get the feeling that they were beginning to run out of ideas - there are a couple of memorable and distinct parts to them, but they seem to recycle melodies remarkably quickly and you can honestly sing some of the earlier tracks' verses along to those of the later ones. Perhaps the strict reliance on guitars only helps it begin to sound all the same. After some forgettableness, the album closes by fading out one minute before the last track's stated running time and concluding with a terrifying mashup of Doctor Who noises and snatches of violin, like Braid gone insane.

For an example song... I'll go with one right in the middle of the "good" section, and the one that I think is generally the best on the album as well as showcasing their unusual lyrical style, here basically singing a subway advert. And it's got a nice guitar melody.

In the end it seems to be a decent early album by a band that was just finding its feet and could have gone on to be really good - it's a shame that they disbanded. To bring back the comparison I made at the start - with Lost Horizon having gone the same way after an equal number of releases (though they were substantially more unintentionally hilarious), the lesson here seems to be that if you start off with a really impressive singer you're doomed. However, if you hire someone to record as you poke them in the ribs with a pencil for two albums and then crawl towards recovery, well, that's the route to recognition at the top of the genre.
davidn: (savior)
Now that I think about it, he looks a bit like Danny Devito
The 2D vs 3D war, so prevalent amongst the more poserish of games players today, extends even into the field of metal album covers - in a genre where the artwork is as recognizable as the music itself, there seems to have been a recent trend to abandon the older painted style that Iron Maiden popularized in the 1980s and going for crisper-looking computer-rendered 3D compositions. And I have to side with the paintings here - there's no hard and fast rule saying that 3D artwork is bad (look at Derek Riggs' cover for Stratovarius - Infinite, for example, if that site hasn't gone by the time this post goes up), but it seems to be far more common to have things like the odd hybrid on the left, along with far greater travesties like Iron Maiden's "Dance of Death" (which I will always know as an episode of Reboot gone badly wrong) and The Worst Cover in the World (also known as "The Secrets of an Island" by Six Magics). Notice in particular the way that the artist seems to have made a mistake on the Helloween cover in that one of the lines of the projected star doesn't connect up to a point. When compared to any of Derek Riggs' earlier work, or recent more traditional covers... there's no competition, is there?

But apart from that, I've got to say I've been surprised by how much I like Gambling with the Devil. It's unusual for me to outright say whether I like an album or not in these things, mostly because my opinion of them usually changes dramatically right after I've done any write-ups, but I really can't find much to complain about here. There's the odd moment of silliness and you have to forgive the odd dodgy lyric, but you're listening to a band called Helloween - what do you expect? The band are now using a lot more orchestrations and keyboard samples in their music on top of the guitars, putting them in some ways closer to the much younger power metal bands that have sprung up around them.

Admittedly it starts off a little underwhelmingly - it took me a while to understand what they were doing with Kill It, as its chorus is massively aggressive for a genre that I like because of its melody. After that, The Saints is one of my favourites, but I think I would be able to enjoy it a whole lot more if I could understand what the words meant. Look at them - they're almost the equal of anything Ben Sotto has ever come up with (although he can never be beaten because more than half of the words in this song are pronounced correctly). I particularly love the lines "I skin and strip you bold(ly)" (the "-ly" is nowhere to be heard and seems to have just been tacked on in the booklet to try to make more grammatical sense) and "As your dire end will come/dawn on you", as if even the band themselves couldn't decide which word went into that space and just went for something in between the two.

"The Bells of the Seven Hells" is an evil song, surprisingly well-suited to a band with a name like this, but it isn't long before it launches into powerful chorus vocals and harmonies again (though there is a nu-metal section in the middle). After that, things slow down a little with a Deris-ballad - a genre of music seemingly only writable by Andi, which has the mood and characteristics of a ballad without actually slowing down much at all. I.M.E. is the token odd song with an odder title, but even that and the bonus tracks at the end are all memorable in their own way.

What I'm getting at here is that for me, Helloween has always been a band for which I could just pick out a couple of songs per album that I liked, the others usually being either too weird or experimental or just lacking a really good tune to me. Their previous album, the slightly enormously-titled Keeper of the Seven Keys Part 3: The Legacy, started off wonderfully but then descended into random madness very early on. But on this one, I'm honestly struggling to think of any songs that I actively don't like (for me they always ultimately fall into two extremes of skippable and unmissable). By that metric, I'd have to conclude, above the classics that they released with Michael Kiske at the very beginning and the various flavours they've gone through in 25 years of existence... that this is actually my favourite Helloween album. Goodness gracious me.

Unexpectedly, the song I feel compelled to highlight is the patently ludicrous Can Do It, which caused me to laugh out loud the first time I heard its chorus through my headphones in a supermarket car park and made everyone in the vicinity think I was mental. Being as it is the most embarrassingly happy song since Crush 40 veered off the power metal route that they had been travelling along on one wheel and crashed almightily by writing the similarly-titled "We Can", this is provoking enormous Internet outrage* among people who dislike the silliness that Helloween have got into since Andi Deris joined, despite their always being like that anyway. But surprisingly, Andi had nothing to do with this (indeed, turn the volume up just as it finishes for a possible expression of his own disgust at it!) and it was written instead by grumpy old Michael Weikath - if I felt like speculating, I would be tempted to say that he wrote it precisely to wind up everyone who doesn't like that quality of the band. Unusually, I can't really say it better than one of the comments on that Youtube video - "Helloween is so weird sometimes you just can't help but smile".

* I don't know this. But you have to admit it's a reasonable guess.
davidn: (skull)
Kamelot is easily the most evolved band that I pay attention to. They started off in the interesting experimental genre of abominable in the middle of the 90s, after which the departure of drummer Richard Warner and (I have to use this word in its loosest possible terms) singer Mark Vanderbilt let them slowly evolve into a mature power metal sound. They were never one of the more exuberant bands, preferring the unusual approach of staying very straight-faced and poetic, and this quality made them change further into something that I'd call progressive, experimenting with a wide variety of unusual instruments, time signatures and general sounds - so much so here that I'm really not sure what to call them any more. Because of all this, they're also the band with the worst name, because it brings up images of Rhapsody-style high fantasy dorkery that couldn't be further removed from what they actually sound like.

One thing leapt out at me immediately about their latest album, which I've taken a couple of years to get around to - I've already decided that "Ghost Opera" is far and away the most downbeat, depressing album I own (beating the first two, because I only paid $5 for each of those). You can read some detailed background information at http://www.rockunited.com/kamelot2008.htm , near the bottom of the page, for precise explanations of all the tragic storylines behind each song on it, but really all you need to do is look at the title list on the back - which includes "Silence of the Darkness" (which the notes misguidedly describe as "quite a fun track"), "Up through the Ashes" and "Mourning Star" - to get the general mood that's evoked by it. At the bottom of the notes section on that page I was surprised to read that the bonus track, which I don't have, might have been happier, but the description leads to a Pendulous Fall of its own... "Probably the most commercial song on the whole album. It's very catchy. We just had to pick one song and for some reason this made it to the bonus. It's for sure the best bonus track we've ever had. It's about a girl thinking about committing suicide." Ace.

So it's a bit difficult to really express whether I think it's any good or not, as much as I ever do when I make these posts. I don't think that I could listen to it all the way through in one go, certainly, without turning it off and listening to something happier instead. There are a couple of standouts, though - I think that The Human Stain is the best song on the album even though it might as well be called Everyone Is Going To Die, an example of their constant musical experimentation really coming together with the haunting piano and muted, mechanical opening that sounds a bit like the soundtrack to early Command and Conquer (along with Khan doing his obligatory wavey-hands actions in the video). "Anthem" is wonderful in an entirely separate and very non-metal way.

But on the whole, the new sound that they're evolving into is one of those things that I honestly feel guilty about not liking as much as I think that... people may think I "should" - it's similar to the feeling that you get when you think back to how dull you found the alleged literary classics that you did in secondary school, or being unsure that you should be one of the people to stand up and say that Finnegan's Wake is actually codswallop. Not that this album is bad by any means - there's a lot of amazingly constructed and often quite beautiful music here. Instead, it seems honestly rather a bad thing on me to admit, in so many words, that in evolving like this they've gone beyond the intelligence level that I actually want from my music.

Cheer up, Khan - I'm going to talk about Helloween next.
davidn: (savior)
Who wants a hug?
Perhaps the strangest thing in the back of my mind as the election results were announced was what Gamma Ray were going to sing about now that one of the main subjects of their songs about oppression has been removed. However, even though it was released a year before that happened, this seems to be a much happier album than their last one overall. Releasing a direct sequel to an album from more than a decade ago is an unusual idea (and so is releasing a direct sequel to an album at all, in all honesty) but even if I'm not sure that they've actually gone back to their earlier sound, the theme has come back from Land of the Free, and if it was an attempt at revitalizing the band's sound after a short slide, then fortunately it seems to have worked perfectly.

For the cover artwork they've stuck with Herve Monjeaud (who does artwork for a considerable number of bands, unsurprisingly including Iron Maiden), and it's probably one of the most intense scenes ever short of Lost Horizon, but is somehow a perfect visual representation of the contents. Shouldn't music be representable by a winged skeletal figure in chains, on fire, with lasers blasting out of its eye sockets? I think so. Anyway, the artist has included some sketches of it and other album covers on his site, showing ideas being built up, added and discarded as the process continued.

The theme of the album is as you'd expect, with "Produced by the Spirit of Freedom" being included as a credit in the booklet, along with Kai's inexplicable and unfortunate way of writing like a 12-year-old girl. After the usual credits for "musix" and "lyrix" are thankfully absent, we're instead treated to a final thought that reads "Megathanx to all fans for the great support, CHEEEERZZZ! to you all!!!", three exclamation marks. I was half-expecting a <3 at the end.

Part of the appeal of Gamma Ray, though, is that you don't really need to even look at the booklet to see who wrote which parts of an album - all four of them have very distinct styles and usually write about a quarter of the album each. Dirk Schlachter tends to write slower, majestic-sounding songs, Henjo Richter uses very distinctive arpeggios (although his sound seems to have become harder and almost more like the Doom soundtrack this time), Dan Zimmerman unsurprisingly features the drums more and Kai Hansen fills up the rest (usually with other people's songs). Oddly, even though Henjo's songs are usually my favourites, I would almost say that his are the weakest on the album this time - but being the weakest on an album that's as much of a comeback as this isn't saying much.

It's recognizable after only listening to a few songs from anywhere that as talented and well-respected as Kai is as a guitarist and songwriter, he does have rather a bad habit of stealing bits from other people's songs. Indeed, this album's been accused of virtually being an Iron Maiden tribute album, and it's quite enjoyable to listen through it just to see how many familiar melodies you can recognize as being slightly adapted throughout. However, the most blatant borrowing this time round is actually done by Dirk Schlachter, who takes Maiden's introduction to The Clairvoyant note for note for the middle of Opportunity (3:30).

The surprising highlight of the album, though, is an anthemic piece called Real World. Structurally it's quite similar to I Want Out (and sounds like it was written at about the same point in the 80s). I say "surprising" because after the often very religious themes of their music throughout their entire career so far, this one involves them belting out, in what is far and away their most happy, enthusiastic chorus ever:

God is an illusion and there ain't no paradise
And there is no underworld below
Out there is no heaven and there ain't no Antichrist
Welcome to the real world and the show!

Thanks a lot, Kai Hansen. That's a bit of a turnaround from what you've been telling everyone for the last twenty years.
davidn: (savior)
For the first time, the Iron Savior insignia is nowhere in sight
One of the potential problems with listening to bands that have been around for around twenty years now in one form or another (that form being Helloween, mostly, in this case) is that sometimes you feel that they're never going to top their classics and that each album will represent, to some extent, a further slide into mediocrity. Which sounds like a bit of a depressing way to start a summary of an album, but once a band's reached its peak or seems to be on the way there, you tend to desperately hope that they won't do anything disastrous.

I used to think of Iron Savior and Gamma Ray as basically the same band under two different names (mostly because one started off as a side project of the other and 75% of Gamma Ray's current membership were in it), but listening to the two albums I got last month side by side has made me realize that they've really evolved to be very different. Gamma Ray fit the extremely happy, helium-fuelled image of power metal and have not yet been informed that it isn't the 80s, whereas Iron Savior escape the stereotype despite being more old-fashioned in different ways, relying on a more aggressive Judas Priest-like sound complete with the man with one of the lowest voices in the genre (normal human range).

In fact, this is something that's noticeably different about Megatropolis (which, yes, I did say sounded a bit like Dr Robotnik's secret lair when the title was announced) - usually it's a scientifically inexplicable fact that large amounts of cigarettes and alcohol cause people in Britain to die off very quickly, and yet people in mainland Europe can smoke like the Industrial Revolution and have a bottle of wine a day and still live to be about a hundred and fifty. But despite keeping in a David Hayter-like balance for nearly ten years, one or both seem to have taken their toll on Piet now, as you can really hear a difference in his voice here, as if he's straining more to hit and keep notes. The Iron Savior sound is still there, mostly in the sci-fi twinge that they have on their guitars, but for some reason the previously amazing chorus sections are all but absent.

That's not to say it's a disaster, though. A week ago I would have had clear songs I liked and disliked, but a lot of them have grown on me recently. Running Riot starts things off in a fairly mediocre way (and, though I'm usually against reworking things because of unfortunate coincidental current events, it would probably have been on my list of songs not to release the month after the Virginia shootings...) After that, things get rather better.

Two highlights, in different ways, are the songs in the middle of the album - Cyber Hero seems to be a tribute in equal parts to Doom and World of Warcraft, with lyrics that make Rhapsody look positively Shakespearian, and Cybernetic Queen, despite suffering much the same problem, sounds so amazingly like something out of the 80s despite the band's usual escape from that trap that it's become one of my all-time favourites from them. I would have linked to it because Youtube has all the music in the world, but the only trace of it there is it being performed fairly badly by a South American band. The other of my inexplicable favouries is A Tale from Down Below - it's one of those songs that seems to work largely because of its unusual title, and I don't think I would have been anywhere near as fascinated by it if it had the obvious name of "Heal Me" or anything else.

I was slightly disappointed that their previous album Battering Ram cut back the idea of continually expanding concept albums, with just a couple of songs giving a vague notion of a storyline. This album goes back to being a concept album again, but about a city - possibly a view of the earth well into the future - and the only song directly about the Iron Savior itself is the ominously-titled Farewell and Goodbye. As well as providing the token word on an Iron Savior album born from lyric writing with the aid of a thesaurus ("deracinated" is this year's choice, and immediately after it he uses "diluted" when he means "deluded"), it sounds like it's definitely the end of its storyline. And that's disappointing for a plot that's been expanded for eleven years - when it has Doctor Who-style lines like "And how I wish to be what I can never be", if you don't feel a bit of empathy, you're not human, are you? Even if saying something from a metal sci-fi epic is emotional is like saying you were deeply scarred by an episode of Look and Read.

Unless it was any of the ones with Charn. He was just a walking nightmare.
davidn: (Jam)
I get the feeling I should apologize. It was very surprising to find it - I had just gone into the tiny little music shop down the road from work for the first time to see if they had the soundtrack 'Cats' for Whitney, and got distracted looking at their metal section (which was one short column of shelving in the whole place). But among those forty or so CD cases, they had one album by Iron Savior, one of Yngwie Malmsteen's, and this - which was priced at $5.99 and I had the feeling that it had been sitting there since the album's release in 2002. But I couldn't leave it there when it was such a rare find (particularly in America where the genre is even more unheard of) and going for about a fifth of what an album usually costs in Britain. So trying to act as if I wasn't buying something showing the cast of a rejected live-action remake of Masters of the Universe, I brought it up to the counter and emerged with an unexpected purchase.

And there's no way to emphasize this enough - this album is hysterical. It's proof (as if further proof were needed) that the genre needs no parody, both in the actual musical content and the way that it's presented. The case contains the first warning signs as you open it up - the motto "No fate, only the power of will" is written down the spine inlay, and the back of the booklet introduces them as the "bringer of metal salvation". On the dedication pages inside said booklet, each band member (once again done up and posed in their own slightly different "leftover from a Gladiators audition" way) is given a daft cosmic fantasy name like Preternatural Transmogrifyer or Equilibrian Epicurius, and their real names are only listed under "Earthshape" as an afterthought on the tiny credits page at the back. Instruments are given similar treatment, with translations like "Drums" and "Keyboards" for us lesser mortals (this is not a turn of phrase of my own - it literally says "Translation for mortals:") given second place to "Keeping of the Universe's Pulse and Tamer of Chaos" and "Soulhealing Euphoria Generators", and other terms that suggest their music is for bringing cosmic harmony and aligning the planets and all the other things that heavy metal does if you're in Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure.

A healthy dose of irony is also delivered among the credits, as one line attempts to acknowledge that the typesetting was done by Martin Furängen (also the bassist... I mean "Orchestrator of Thunder and Seismic Harmonizing"). Except that said typesetting wasn't really up to much and none of the "ä" characters on the page appear at all, meaning that even the typesetter's name (or Earthshape) is spelled wrongly with a mysterious space and an impossible combination of consonants. Clearly their seismic harmony doesn't extend quite as far as they thought.

Musically, the first thing that stands out is the screaming. The Dark Helmet-looking one third from the right, who is Daniel Heiman - sorry, Ethereal Magnanimus! - could scream for his country, and most of the songs on the album are punctuated with perfectly tuned shouts far beyond what the human voice box was ever meant to cope with. The opening song has the most of them, with Magnus sounding like he's suddenly shoved pokers up both nostrils in the middle of most lines, but sections with multi-layered superhuman shrieks appear at least once on every track. One of the songs in the middle contains a calm bit at the start with the other common staple of power metal hilarity - spoken narration about earth, wind, water and fire - before his voice launches into the stratosphere once again.

With a vocalist as incredible as that taking the lead you hardly notice the rest of the music, but what I remember of it was decent - they are reasonably like Heavenly in song structure style (i.e. none) but I'm yet to really place where they are in the genre. Perhaps somewhere near Hammerfall. I did like "Think Not Forever" quite a lot, but it's the only song that I can really comment on after the first listen because it took me until the second-last of them to stop laughing.

The final song (not including the additional instrumental) is a 12-minuter called "Highlander (The One)" and is a real treat. The booklet says it's about "the beauty of the Highlands, the movie Highlander and symbolically as a tribute to our former, virgin shape - Highlander" (as they were called when Joachim Cans of Hammerfall was still with them). Additionally, it mentions "something ultimately Metal to be acknowledged: Highlander (The One) was mixed, as the last one, during the thunderstorm of the decade on August 1st, 2002 - directly above the studio - which really isn't surprising at all regarding the pertinent magical content of the song. Baptised in the storm truly it is!" The reasons for Joachim Cans' exit are now apparent - he must have realized their lunacy shortly after they started and run away very fast indeed.

The unrivalled highlight of the entire album comes at just over halfway through this sample MP3 of the "Highlander" song. It's as if they couldn't think of any more lyrics and resorted to a set of "Na-na-na-na-naaa", but decided that to make up for that, it had to be the most epic, powerful and over-the-top set of "Na-na-na-na-naaa" in the history of mankind.

It's an unusually short album by number of songs - there are nine tracks, but three of those are couple-of-minute instrumentals, making only six full tracks. However, in this case that can be forgiven, partly because of the tiny price I got it for and partly because it may actually make people die of split sides if it was much longer. Part of the beauty of power metal, of course, is that it doesn't often take itself seriously. Guardians of Time and Iron Savior are two science fiction metal bands that achieve a balance that works very well (Guardians of Time being rather higher on the lunacy level). But looking at the enthusiasm of this music and the worryingly cultish way that the accompanying booklet is written, you get the nagging feeling that these people genuinely believe all this nonsense.
davidn: (savior)
Doesn't this look rather like the cover for The Fourth Legacy?
It's been absolutely ages since I actually listened to any new music. Recently I've been more involved in activities that don't lend themselves to a musical backdrop - namely transferring my songs to GP5s and failing to play along with them on the guitar. Combined with that, my music-buying tactic used to consist of wandering into music stores as I passed them and picking up anything I didn't have that I was interested in - but that's not really an option here because my entire existence is in the flat, in the office and on an underground line in between (not even mentioning the fact that European metal is even more difficult to find in America than it is in Britain). But I think it was [livejournal.com profile] quadralien that put an end to that by giving me Silent Force's Walk the Earth for Christmas.

When I've talked about albums recently I've gone through them track-by-track, but I know that this is a rather long-winded way to do it, and this type of review was discouraged by Metal Archives (or Encyclopaedia Metallum if you want to be quite agonizingly pompous), deeming them 'unprofessional'. An album is definitely a complete experience in itself - just working out the arrangement of songs is a difficult process, involving decisions like which moods, themes and speeds of songs go together or should be separated, and even length comes into the equation as well when you decide where to put your ten-minuters (the fourth and last tracks being my personal choice most of the time) - but in the end you're going to enjoy or dislike each individual song on its own merit. However, I've realized that at least one good reason for not going down to such an involved level is that invariably, as soon as you submit a review saying which songs you like and dislike, your opinion of all of them will completely change.

But I don't really have any standout songs at the moment, because in general, I have to admit that Silent Force's latest effort seems a little... flat, so far. There are a couple of different points that I find myself wanting to hear again, but I haven't yet identified anything truly amazing. In comparison, their last album Worlds Apart had some blindingly great songs and some absolute duffers - Ride the Storm was epic, Hold On plodded, No One Lives Forever was all right with a disappointing chorus, Heroes had so much power and energy behind it that it made you want to go and bomb the pants off Afghanistan even if you were normally relatively sane, and so on.

American power metal vocalists tend to be 'smoother' in sound than the Europeans, who have a harder, scratchier edge to their singing styles. DC Cooper, who has not yet emerged from the 80s, has as good a voice as ever and has even learned how to pronounce more than just the vowels. However, I'm honestly not sure if this is a good thing. I don't know if it's just being able to hear the lyrics better and therefore being unable to ignore them, but I think they've taken a definite downward turn in quality from the previous album - Worlds Apart had lyrics that made no sense, but Walk the Earth has lyrics that make no sense but are still recognizable as not very good.

If I was going to pick out standout moments, I'd say that Man and Machine has a good pre-chorus before duffing up the real one, DC's voice (does this man have a real name or just two initials?) on Walk the Earth itself is amazing, The King of Fools and Running Through the Fire are fast-paced and very enjoyable, but that's about it. In From the Dark is also good until the seemingly random chord changes near the end. However, according to the rules I laid out above, it's bound to become one of my favourite albums ever as soon as I hit this Submit button.
davidn: (savior)
And the day will come here below
When the light will cross my destiny
Domination to succeed the crown
Just remember the man you used to be
Cause when the virus comes, it's time for victory!

What? But this kind of thing is what passes for normal lyrics from Heavenly. After not buying any new music for about a year myself, I was given their new album "Virus" by two separate people this Christmas - one Japanese version (because strangely that's the import that America gets) and one extended European one. Their previous album, "Dust to Dust", has to be one of the best in my collection, and it's taken them three years to produce a follow-up due to an almost complete change of line-up - now only two of the original members remain, but the sound has stayed consistent. The album is apparently called "Virus" because it "contains highly infectious music" - honest, that's what it says in the booklet. As silly as it sounds, it does have some truth to it.

There are some changes to the general sound - the most significant is the new keyboardist, who introduces an almost Amstrad-like high chord/string instrument into the background of many songs. Like every band that produces this sort of music these days, they've also tried to include some more classical elements, but it's only obvious in a couple of tracks - they haven't become Dream Theater (which would have been pretentious) or Stratovarius (which would have been disastrous). If anything, it seems that they're now closer to what Sonata Arctica originally sounded like in their music, particularly the over-the-top immensely powerful choruses. Really, Ben Sotto is now almost equal to Piet Sielck in this department.

Interestingly, a couple of themes from the previous album are reused here, both in lines from the lyrics and the actual music. The musical ones are fine as they're always in a different key or rhythm from before even when they're obvious, but the lyrical repetition does stop seeming clever about the third time it happens.

Ben Sotto's English has also improved - even though the lyrics make little sense most of the time, a few lines are actually understandable now. The pronounciation is a little shaky, but nowhere near as bad as on Dust to Dust. The only really notable bit is the triumphant shout of "GLAH-REE-ICE!" during the chorus of "Bravery in the Field". And he can now sing "Happiness" without it sounding remotely like "A penis", which is most welcome. Nevertheless, the booklet with the lyrics proves invaluable - there are also further song comments, but unfortunately they're all in Japanese and I can't read them.

Interestingly, it also contains a Jermaine Jackson cover, "When the Rain Begins to Fall", and they've made it sound somehow like The Final Countdown. In fact, as I was writing all this, I realized that the whole album really does represent everything that people hate about power metal. And as far as I'm concerned, that makes it absolutely phenomenal.

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