Elsewhere in the world of the brothers Danielsen.
The times have been very good for Marius Danielsen’s career, as his now flagship metal opera project Legend Of Valley Doom has been a hot item in symphonic power metal circles. What is perhaps less obvious is that his younger brother and fellow-traveler Peter Danielsen has been at work making his own way, now establishing himself as the second half of what can be dubbed The Brothers Danielsen. The author of this review must offer up a mea culpa given that upon discovering the 2013 demo of what he believed to be a mere predecessor version of Marius’ aforementioned project was actually its own full fledged entity that happened to exist in the same fictional universe. Eunomia, the name given to the principle ally nation of Valley Doom, has a very similar stylistic vibe to its more established counterpart, but it is not a full on carbon copy of the other and features its own unique ensemble cast of voices and a more concise, anthem-based demeanor rather than an all out book-on-tape extravaganza with all the massive, Wagnerian bells and whistles going on in the symphonic department.
Though maybe a slightly humbler effort in some respects and definitely a less dark effort compared to the recent second installment of Valley Doom that flirts with Freedom Call territory at times, The Chronicles Of Eunomia, Pt. 1 definitely stands as a formidable effort that comes with the usual array of symphonic splendor and technical prowess that comes with a Rhapsody Of Fire emulation. To any rare individuals who may have heard the Crystal Sword demo, the highly repetitious and vocally limited parameters that made it a decent yet less than spectacular first attempt have been redressed at every possible turn. The inclusion of such vocal heavy hitters as former Metalium and current Firewind front man Henning Basse, Alessandro Conti fresh off his brief stint with Luca Turilli’s version of Rhapsody, and the new arrival and versatile powerhouse front man of Wind Rose and Fairyland Francesco Cavalieri gives this safely structured collection of songs the needed level of ornamentation and grandeur to morph it into a veritable celebration of sound, while the lead guitar contributions of such six-string wizards as Victor Smolski and Jimmy Hedlund don’t hurt either.
In total scope, this album is a bit more immediately accessible as the second Valley Doom offering, yet not really all that much shorter in overall content or intrigue. It has a bit more of an old school, early 2000s power metal album structure where there is a greater collection of shorter banger anthems in the mold of “Freedom Call”, “March For Freedom” and “Eternity, the former two being holdovers from the preceding 2013 demo that have been necessarily spiced up with a greater array of performance talent, but that ultimately listen about as close to something heard off an early Freedom Call album as it would some of the shorter numbers off Symphony Of Enchanted Lands. Other boisterous anthems that drag things out a bit more such as “Crystal Sword” (also a holdover from the demo), “Stand Up And Fight” and “Dark Horizon” come with a few more technical treats in the riff department, but follow a generally similar structure. Even the massive double feature of 16 minutes length that culminates in this album’s climax point in “Last Stand” and “Dangerous Times Ahead” where this musical side-quest comes to a conclusion maintains a fairly firm rooting in traditional heavy and power metal techniques, featuring maybe a bit more balladry and slower moments (like that Sabbath’s “Heaven And Hell” sounding march on the latter), but nothing wildly off-kilter.
Though ultimately a bit less of a grower and more of a straight up, traditional mode of symphonic power metal storytelling, this album pulls no punches in the power department. It also provides some much needed plot points to fill in a number of gaps presents in the dark, dramatic, yet seemingly incomplete lyrical account of the second part of the Valley Doom series, namely the forces of Eunomia’s quest to retrieve the first of seven talismans (namely the crystal sword) as others were off seeking refuge from and later allies to fight against the dark hordes of the story’s principle antagonist. Chalk it up to the peculiar obsessions that a fan boy of such works as Dragonlance, The Shannara Series and The Dragonriders Of Pern tends to develop when being presented with a new high fantasy story, but when all things are considered, that is most of the target audience of this metal sub-genre anyway. There have been many exciting new additions to come out of the woodwork in 2018, but the one-two punch that The Brothers Danielsen managed to offer up will probably be the most remembered, this one being the series of quick jabs that paved the way for the proverbial hay-maker that Marius unleashed a bit later.
Rotting Christ are one of the few bands that can legitimately claim to have carved their very own niche within the wide metal universe. Starting out as a pure black metal band they underwent different evolutions, going through a gothic metal phase (see A Dying Poem) until they let some folk influences creep in, so fans of the Greek are used to an album not sounding like the previous one. However even the constantly high level of quality of their twelve albums before, nothing would really prepare for The Heretics.
Now there are different elements within the Rotting Christ sound that make them, well, Rotting Christ, be it Sakis Tolis’ very characteristic gruff voice, the guitar work, the pacing, but while they had used choirs before, The Heretics is probably the culmination of the use of them so far. Now old fans should not fret, the band has not gone all out symphonic, but The Heretics is the probably most atmospheric and compact effort to date. More often than not when bands discover a new element to include in their songs, they tend to overuse it or try to showcase it in the foreground, in the case of Rotting Christ’s latest, though, everything is marvelously cohesive and fluid.
Setting out with “In the Name of God”, the dark opening with choir, spoken word and some atmospheric keyboards lull the listener into a false sense of security, being pummelled over the head with the blastbeat attack kicking the song itself off, but they cleverly alternate blastbeats and slow double-bass, creating these great dynamics that together with the rough vocals and choir invoke this big and incredible atmosphere, aptly setting the pace for the album. The choirs are one of the most important and strongest elements on The Heretics, adding this almost sacral atmosphere to many of the songs, but instead of being put front and centre, they are very well integrated into the overall sound and also create a great contrast to the harshness of Sakis’ voice.
“Vetry Zlye” operates mostly in slower tempos, despite some very well timed faster outbursts, but instead of a choir Grai’s Irina Zybina lends her great voice to complement Sakis in another very atmospherically dense song. What sets The Heretics apart from not only other bands, but even their own back catalogue, is that it flows from beginning to end and the 43 minutes pass by in a rush with the only realization at the end of it being to hit “play” again right again. Vocally the Greek also are among the most varied they’ve had so far, with Sakis’ gruffness offset not only by female vocals, but also spoken word and the choirs, adding even more variety.
With the strong use of choirs and whispered vocals, “Hallowed By Thy Name” (no, not related to Iron Maiden) almost feels like a ritual, a feeling that also threads through “The New Messiah”, where they repeat these three words throughout the whole song, but with its intensity and slow speed it never feels annoying, but just works. “I Believe” adds yet another dimension to the album, complementing blastbeats with great atmospheric keyboards and spoken Greek, showing how versatile Rotting Christ have become, while maintaining a remarkable level of cohesion. The album comes to a close with the band’s interpretation of Edgar Allen Poe’s famous poem “The Raven”, alternating the pounding verse with the slow chorus, which features some beautiful and passionate narration, but it is the really nice elegiac lead guitar that is the true star of the song.
As mentioned above, the whole album is over in a flash and while one is left wanting more, it is possible to just restart from the beginning and immerse oneself in the deep atmosphere again. Every song has its place and the flow of the whole album is magnificent from beginning to end, with the tempo changes in between and within songs aiding this greatly! The Heretics is maybe Rotting Christ’s most atmospheric and compact album ever and one of their, if not THE best of their career and for a band that has albums such as Triarchy of the Lost Lovers, A Dead Poem, Khronos, Sanctus Diavolos, Theogonia, Aealo etc. under their belt, that means a lot. Whichever way one might be looking at this, The Heretics is an absolutely astounding album that will rank high in many year-end lists and wholly justifiedly!
The Mighty Spawn Of Sin Returns!
Sinbreed remains one of the most unique adherents of the German speed/power metal scene to come raging out of the millennial revival, though in the beginning they went by the name Neoshine. They’ve maintained a sound over the years that conforms all but equally to the melodic splendor of Helloween and also the more thrashing bite and bluster of Blind Guardian and their Swedish doppelgangers Persuader, all the while maintaining a wholly Christian-oriented lyrical content that dovetailed with the involvement of vocalist Herbie Langhans, arguably one of the most important figures of said side of the power metal scene and one who’s original flagship project Seventh Avenue predated Narnia and the resulting Swedish school headed by Christian Rivel. Suffice it to say, when news hit earlier this year that Langhans had left Sinbreed, the author of this review joined many in morphing from true believer to hardened skeptic insofar as this band’s future, even as it was revealed that a rising star in the European power metal world in Nick Holleman was stepping up to fill the void on the plainly titled album IV after a brief stint with Vicious Rumors.
Surprisingly enough, despite having a radically different vocal approach, Holleman manages to settle into the driving, speed-infused splendor of this outfit all but seamlessly, finding himself the impresario of a revitalized band bent on reliving the glory of their crowning achievement in 2014’s Shadows. His voice is far smoother, airier and higher-pitched than his gravely predecessor, having far more in common with a past, 20 something incarnation of either Andre Matos (during his tenure in the 80s with Viper) or perhaps Lance King when at his most intense. The resulting catharsis of this smooth, late-80s Helloween vocal approach with the jagged edges of a riff happy speed metal backdrop intense enough to rival Stormwarrior or even Grave Digger is nothing short of brilliant, creating all but a perfect bridge between the two divergent German schools of power metal into a finely tuned speed machine. Truth be told, from a purely musical standpoint, this is about the most consistently fast and furious offering to come out of the scene and bears a greater resemblance to the most recent outings of Judicator and Ancestral, all the while keeping that bare essentials guitar, bass and drums arrangement front and center.
Barring a rather brief yet unforgettable acoustic prelude that kicks off the album and some rock organ noodling that ornaments the closing speeder “Through The Fire”, there isn’t really much to find on here in way of gimmicks. A rather cliche merger of sea shanty tunes translated into a dueling harmony guitar arrangement and a more swinging mid-paced romp in “Final Call” presents the only real outright interruption in the full on speed assault, yet even here the overall impression is an aggressive one isn’t too much of a far cry from Blind Guardian. Generally the point of differentiation beyond this is just how utterly infectious the melodic content of each riff-happy cruiser on here is from one to the next, with the opening “First Under The Sun” and correspondingly speedy and catchy offerings of “Pale-Hearted” and “Pride Strikes”. Special mention should likewise be made of the longer and somewhat more measured galloping epic “At Least I Am”, which mixes things up a bit more thematically, includes some occasional harsher vocal moments and a brilliant set of noodling dueling lead guitar passages, not to mention a wild guitar solo that would make Roland Grapow proud.
The sizable and intensely loyal fan base that this band has likely accrued over the past several years due to their closer association with Blind Guardian and their very qualitatively consistent output may need some time to adjust to Holleman’s lighter vocal style, but this will do more than allay their fears of this band coming to an untimely demise, at least for now. The foundation is set here for what could well be an equally if not more powerful incarnation of this band to continue for the years to come, hopefully seeing several successors to this fine piece of studio work will be on the near horizon. This may even well expand Sinbreed’s base as the vocal work further reveals the underlying melodic quality of this band’s overall sound, likely roping in fans of the lighter sound inherent to acts like Freedom Call, Angra and even the sizable Christian power metal scene that has remained throughout the past two decades in Sweden and seen expansion into parts of Eastern Europe. There is no telling what the enigmatic druid/Nazgul mascot of this band will be up to next time around, but everyone with even an iota of allegiance to the German power metal scene ought to be anxious to find out.
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As opposed to the last two years, the race was a two-horse race for the longest time, but in the end we had the clearest winner in recent years. So without any further ado, here is the best 2018 had to offer!
The world of metal would not be complete without cover versions, right? And the world of metal would most definitely not be the same (or complete) without Iron Maiden. So today we are taking a look at 10 very different cover versions of the same track, in this case classical Iron Maiden with “The Trooper”!
Welcome to Secret Steel, the fifth chapter, “Black Metal 1: An Unholy Union”
Larry breaks down each album by the German industrial goliaths to decide which one sits on top.
Interview with Mikko Aspa of Clandestine Blaze
Conducted by Colonel Para Bellum of Blackdeath.
Larry rounds up all the decent (and some not-so-decent) thrash releases for the headbang-happy year of 2017.
This was a banner year for death metal by any measure.
Here are some of our favorite death metal releases from 2017.