Thursday, April 27, 2006

The Third Age Of The Sun ... not so gloomy ... (sigh)

The one thing I noticed on Battlelore's 3rd album "Third Age Of The Sun" is the more raw edge of the guitars and more melody. There appears to be more female vocals as well. This albums sound is more like their first album and does what the 2nd album didn't. It's catchy and the songs are better written and more memorable. The album blasts into the listener after a short narrative with "Storm Of The Blades". It's got great riffing and hooks you in right off the start. "Trollshaw" continues that trend, just plain heavy. "Gwaith-i-Mirdain" and "Valier-Queens of The Valar" have a nice female vocal folky mix with the dark edge of death metal growls. "Elves of Luva" is the slow folky song along the same vein as "The green maid" off their first album.

What I noticed with this album (and if I remember correctly the 2nd as well) is the lack of clean male vocals. Perhaps that's what bothered me most on "Sword's Song". The doomy goth feel is all but gone and that's one of the best parts of their debut album. Ahhh ... C'est la vei (I think that's french for - There is always "Journey to Undying Lands...").
But I think "Third Age ..." finds Battlelore accepting this change and working with it better. The album has a more brutal sound than the first, and has touches of doom on songs like "Pallano-Forgotten Wizards Pt.1". The keyboards make for nice ambience.

I should make note of the bonus track "Dwimmerlaik". This song has a rather techno feel. It's a good song, but where "Shadowgate" of the first album bridged the industrial style, this song is definitely techno influenced (probably why it's a bonus track). Lastly I wanted to mention the song "Gollum's Cry". A nice effort musically, vocally it is weak and let's face it ... cheesy. I was rather disappointed here, cause I was looking forward to this song since I found out the album was coming.

So after my mild disappointed with "Sword's Song", "Third Age Of The Sun" picks up again and says "...uhhh sorry about that, this is what we meant". So that is all for my Lord Of The Rings theme ... seriously this time. Later there will be more Summoning (Oath Bound is now available!) and Rivendell (If I can get my hands on Falagar's 3rd release!). Coming up next is a journey through the Mythical history of Atlantis as vocally brutalized by Alex Krull and the bone crushing symphony that is Atrocity.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

With Elvish Tears Of Joy

Unlike Narqath of Valar, Falagar has been making an impressive mark with his solo project Rivendell. His sophomore effort "Elven Tears" shows growth while keeping with his style. Falagar has added a Middle Eastern element to Middle Earth, but did not get stuck in the middle .... (cough,cough) ... That was stupid ... Sorry. Rivendell's staple sound is present and faithful on "The Song Of Eldamar" and "The Fall Of Finrod" both are majestic songs that are dark, doomy and stylistically black metal. The middle eastern influence is especially prominent on "Vale Of Illusion" the opener and "Mithrandir". The epic "Misty Mountains"clocking in at just under 12 minutes is a mid-paced doomy number mixing in a bit of the folk influence as well. What I've felt made this album a step up was the thicker sound, the variety of instruments, and more melody ... Stronger song writing. "Dragon Lair" has a wickedly dark riff and "The King's Triumph" has a catchy epic feel as well as being doomy and gothic (Falagar incorporates lots of bells and a gong!). Falagar's vocals have more range and style too.

There is not much else to add. I feel this is a superior album to "The Ancient Glory" and that's what I like. When an artist can improve on their style without compromising their sound. Now I said I would be moving on to other non-LOTR's music, but I lied. Sorry, but I started with Battlelore and I'm gonna end with Battlelore's 3rd and most recent release "The Third Age Of The Sun". This album is what "Swords Song" should have been. It shows real growth, without compromise.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Summoning, The Loud Music of the Sky!

Like the creation of Middle Earth, Summoning's album "Stronghold" is a symphony of creation and perfect mix of atmospheric black metal and the medieval feel that is Middle Earth. This, I feel, is Summoning's best work. This is what I think that Protector (Richard Lederer)and Silenius (Michael Gregor have to this point been working towards musically. Even still, their follow up to "Stronghold" ("let mortal hereos sing their fame", previously reviewed) just didn't quite match.) "Like Some Snow White Marble Eyes" is a perfect example of guitars and keyboards used together to create a very majestic sound. This a powerful song. "A Distant Flame Before The Sun" is another majestic tune and as the final song incorporates more dialogue sampling with 1000's cheering as warriors would for their King. Very fitting to end with. And who doesn't want to sing a long to "The Rotting On The Deadly Ground" it has a very catchy chorus. But if ever there was a *fun* black metal song, it's "The Glory Disappears". This has ,again, a dark edge to it but a very chaotic melodic chorus.... fantastic and clearly the stand out track.

This is a fantastic album for Summoning and shows real growth. Just like Rivendell's sophmore effort "Elven Tears", coming up next to finish my Lord of the Rings Theme Posts.

With Valar ! ... valour ....valor ...?

With Magic and Wyrmfire, Narqath (Dragongod)brings forth his own Tolkien based one man black metal project. This is the only album under the Valar banner (though there were a number of Demos) but Narqath (or Tomi Kalliola or Nikolai Stalhammar or whatever name he may use)is busy with a number of other black metal projects (not Tolkien based). I don't think he'll be pursuing more along this line, cause I think this album got rather panned by metal critics and possibly fans of his more evil stuff (This is the only music I've heard by him, and probably will be the only music I'll hear by him).

Magic and Wyrmfire is an interesting black/ambient metal album. "Crown of Dirmanesti" is an all ambient instrumental piece, though not horrible, but at 6:25 it is a little boring. The songs have a goth feel to them that I attribute to the keyboards and most songs stick to a gothy/black metal style. "Storm Over Kyrnn" stands out with a bit of a folky polka feel to it. "Rivendell 2001" is an industrial style song (I use "industrial" loosely, but I can't bring myself to call it techno.) This song feels like it could heard at any number of rave-like dance clubs.... ah well ...the album does end with a nice piano heavy instrumental called "At The Silent Shores Towards The Great Unknown". This not a bad album, and the keyboards mixed with some bells gives the music a uniquely steel drum sound that I have not heard in any other black metal albums. This is mostly heard on and is the best track on the album "Wanderlust (The Road Goes Ever On)". I love this song! I think it's the bells (I love the deep bell tolls). This is catchy and has a great sing along chorus (imagine a sing along chorus in black metal?!?)and the keys and guitars along with the bells really come together on this song and Narqath's vocals shine with a passion that's not there in any of the other songs. This is truly a stand out track in every sense of the word on an otherwise mediocre album.

I have 2 more Tolkien based albums I'll be reviewing and will then move on to a variety of other bands and styles and albums. I think I'll just start posting albums as I feel inspired to every couple of days. I'll probably do some other theme posts, but who knows. I didn't realized I owned so many LOTR's based albums. Hmmm.... so if you can summon up the strength to read through a couple more Tolkien inspired works? ....cause up next is another Summoning album "Stronghold".

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

The Only Black Metal Act to Come out of Rivendell ....

Who would have thought, a LOTR's named band that sings about LOTR's?!? Not like Gandalf or Minas Morgul I'm not gonna fall for that again. Rivendell is a one man project by Falagar who performs all instruments and vocals. "The Ancient Glory" is a good debut and majestic in it's simplicity. Rivendell's style is in the same vein as Summoning and Falkenbach (which is a one man project who also runs the label Rivendell is signed to). The music is a mix of folky doom/black metal that's slow to mid paced in tempo. Most songs intro with an acoustic guitar before kicking in with a killer doom riff Falagar uses a variety of instruments such as keyboards, acoustic and electric guitars, flutes and what not to bring a folk like feel to the music and roots it into the medieval feel of Middle-Earth. The drums here are more blasting and black metal like than Summoning. The guitars are familiar in their black metal melody riffing and the doom like power chording is simplistic but powerful. "The Ancient Glory" can feel a bit drone-like a times in that each song has a similar sound. The song "The King Beneath The Mountains" has the most black metal sound, but "Theoden" and "Durin's Halls" don't do to bad themselves. "Malbeth The Seer's Words" to me seems to be the most doomy. The best mix of Doom/black metal has to be on the two parter epic "The Song Of Nimrodel" especially part II which is quite dark with its underwater like keys and bell tolling (I love those deep bell tones!). My favourite track would have to be "Aragorn Son of Arathorn". This 7 and a half minute epic is the most majestic of the songs on this album. It has a great guitar melody and Falagars. clean vocals just soar a long with the guitars, but there is also a dark edge to the track which helps with the epic feel to the tune.

All in all, this is a valiant effort and a good debut for Rivendell. And Falagar only gets better as heard on his follow-up album, the songs become more complex. But before we get to that, I want to explore Valar, another one man project based around Tolkien and feature's a little Caribbean flavour ..... you'll see what I mean.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Summoning the Blogrog

Summoning is cool. They are an Atmospheric Black Metal outfit from Austria whose career has been based around Tolkiens works (except for their debut demo and possibly Lugburz, though it feature's Tolkien based songs). Coming up on their 8th album ("Oath Bound" out April 25th ish in the US and hopefully Canada!) they've forged quite a career out of Middle-Earth.

The album I'll be reviewing today is "Let Mortal Heroes Sing Your Fame". This is the most recent album (not including 2003's 2 song EP "Lost Tales") and continues with the atmospheric black metal elements and orchestral feel of the keyboards and drums (programmed) that were brilliantly mixed on 1998's "Stronghold" (reviewed later). This is the first album I bought of their's and is one of 2 that I own. The other albums are hard to find and the "Lost Tales" ep is too damned expensive for 2 songs.

This is a great album front to end. The 2 guys behind Summoning (Silenius and Protector)
have created an epic musical styling worthy of Tolkien's universe for which it is based after. They continue to use the raspy growl vocals common to black metal, but that seems about all that still remains of their black metal roots. The percussion (note I did not use drums) is more classical based than the blastbeats of metal. This slow and gothic/doom that sounds both dark and melodic. It took a few listens to truly appreciate the blend of music that is at times triumphant or dark or melodic or all in a cacophony of noise. This is a musical experience, a journey that is not radio friendly and I love it.

The song that draws me to pull out the album and give it a spin is "In Hollows Beneath The Fells". This is not the best track, but the repetition of the song is addictive with the slow drum beat and soaring keyboards the songs samples a line from the book (possibly a sound bite from an older movie or audio/video recording of sorts, I don't know.) "In the darkness (pause) Bind them". This line usually leads into a maelstrom of melody before coming down and waits. There is also a sample of what sounds to me like a Nazgul dry heaving that keeps pace in this industrial style rhythm. Other songs that feature inspiring chaotic melodies with dark undertones are "The Mountain King's Return" and my personal favourite "Our Foes Shall Fall" which also features a killer guitar riff that challenges you to not be moved. Lastly I'd like to mention the last track (yes I did this on purpose) appropriately named "Farewell". This songs really encompasses what Summoning are about and includes all the elements that make them unique and gives "...Mortal Heroes..." the majestic ending you'd expect from any of Tolkiens works. A truly Epic album that one might find in the CD collection of Elrond of Rivendell.

... Speaking of Rivendell .... Up next .... Rivendell .... clever huh?!?

Battlelore's second album "Sword's Song", though much in the same style as the first, lacks .... something. I don't know what really, but I think it is because no one song is very memorable. The first album had me hooked right from the first track and I would listen to it damn near daily. This one took a little while to grow on me, but it's not one that I urge to listen to. The album art on "Sword's Song" is good, with a wider range of costumes and characters like Gollum and an Ent. Though the first with the character bios is priceless.

The songs are good and remain true to their folky/death metal feel though not as doomy as the first. The album comes across as too polished and not as passionate as "Shadows..." was. Stand out tracks for me are "The War of Wrath", "Dragonslayer" and "Forked Heights" (which has single written all over it, but a catchy tune none the less) and the title track has a great thrashy death metally riff/vocals towards the end of the tune which I love. "Attack of the Orcs" which is not a bad tune and pretty brutal has sci-fi-ish sound effects that kinda don't really fit, which is a shame cause the tune could have shined.

Overall this not a bad album, but a little disappointing. They couldn't even summon the efforts to make a music video for any of the songs for this album. Speaking of Summoning, my next post will feature the band Summoning whose atmospheric black metal shines out about the darker sides of Middle-Earth, in my continuing LOTR's theme.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

The Silmarillion reads far better as a Metal Album..... Seriously.

I discovered this gem of an album whilst browsing the vast Metal section of HMV's downtown Toronto Superstore (333 Yonge street if you're curious) a number of years ago. I've spent a lot of time browsing the metal section of HMV's Superstore and that is essentially how I began branching out into new forms of metal. This album showed me that metal didn't have to be all evil and angry. It could express a wide range of emotions and themes and concepts (Savatage is great for concept albums, more on that later). This album "Nightfall in Middle-Earth" is Blind guardians first American release and my first Lord Of The Rings based metal album. The band does not limit themselves strickly to Tolkien, but he is a major influence. This is the bands only Tolkien based album. Other albums feature songs and such, but "Nightfall..." is based on Tolkiens "The Silmarillion" book, which is a predecessor to the LOTR trilogy and the history of Middle-Earth. The book reads like a history textbook with biblical influences "ie Aragorn, Son of Arathorn, who is also called Stryder... yada,yada,yada"
And yes I just yada'd JRR Tolkien. The book is boring. I tried reading it once, after 10 pages I put it down. 10 odd years later, I reluctantly pick it up again, I mean I bought the damn thing years ago, I'm gonna read it. And I did, barely, but I got through it. I'm glad I had this album to encourage me to get through it and as my first real exposure. Mind you when I finished the book, it was cool to go back through the lyrics and have it finally make real sense. This album also notes a change in musical styling. The band took on a more folk feel and more melody. The Anthemic and sing along chorus are still there as well as the blazing solo's, but there is such a great balance of metal and folk here, especially on songs "Nightfall", "Blood Tears" and "Thorn". Despite the folk influences this album never forgets to be metal.
With songs like "Mirror,Mirror" (the single),"When Sorrow Sang" and the album opener "Into the Storm" are fine examples of their German Speed metal roots. I think the main elements that give this album the folk feel are the solo guitar work throughout most of the songs with it's synth/flutish sound (always present but never overbearing) and Hansi Kursch distinct vocals. He has a powerful metal voice that's both sweet and melodic, and wailing scream. Just check out songs like "Nightfall" and "Blood Tears", though on "The Eldar" you can really feel the passion with its bare bones composition of Hansi and a piano. His voice has a folk feel to it in both the metal wail and melodic singing (It's kind of hard to explain). My favourite track is "Noldor (Dead Winter Reigns)" This is one heavy tune with a little doomish touch, and one freakily intense ending.

The only downside is the narration tracks, which kinda get in the way when you just wanna listen to the songs. The good thing is they are separate tracks and can be skipped easily. The whole album is a story and the narration is essential to the epic feel of it, and rarely do I skip through. I had the pleasure of seeing Blind Guardian on their first Canadian tour and what a show. They played most of this album and not much of their new album which they were touring for. I didn't care, cause this is their best album.

Next I'll be featuring Part II of the Battlelore trilogy of albums and continuing with my LOTR's metal bands Theme.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

The Fellowship of the Band

Just recently, I was interviewed on CBC Newsworld's "Weekend Edition". I was asked to critique the new Lord Of The Rings - The Musical production. As a fan of LOTR's in general, I thought I could give an accurate perception. I was pretty harsh. Probably more so than necessary. "Like a high school production with a really big budget" to quote myself. I'm glad I saw the play, if only for the neat special effects (The Balrog was fantastic!) even story wise and musically, I did not mind. It was the actors. I felt they did not embrace the roles as they were written and meant to be. Not all the actors were bad. Stand outs were Gollum and Sauramon (who I did not acknowledge in my interview and felt I should have).

The reason I mention this is because, hey ... I was on National Television cutting up the World premiere of the most expensive stage production and I want to tell everybody. And because it gave me an appreciation for the metal acts who've taken the works of Tolkien and given them a fresh perspective while staying true to the spirit of the source material. The first in this series of reviews is the band Battlelore, album "...Where the Shadows Lie".
This band are hardcore LOTR fans, to the point that they've created characters for themselves and Dress up as everything from Orcs to Elves to Ents and Gollum.
Most of these photos are for the CD jackets, but they have 2 videos and a DVD (which I don't own, but would love to have) which feature epic like stories very much in the vein of LOTR. I believe they use the more basic costumes for their live shows, though they have not toured Canada, so I haven't seen them.
"Shadows" is their first album (of 3 so far) and I think their best. I checked this album out cause of the fantasy style cover and recognized some LOTR references in the song titles. So I gave it a spin at the listening station at HMV and was blown away by the originality of the songs and lack of total cheesiness in the lyrics. Upon viewing the album's jacket I was prepared for a cookie cutter European power metal act (which I'm a sucker for and will be reviewing a slew of bands later) but what I heard was a Heavy, Gothic Death metal sound with some folk influences. They incorporate 3 styles of vocals, female, clean male, and Death Growl. The clean male vocals along with the keyboards give the music the gothic doom feel, especially an songs "The Grey Wizard", "Khazad-Dum (pt.1 Ages of Mithril)" and "Journey into Undying Lands". The female vocals with acoustic interludes bring the folk feel featured prominently on "The Green Maid" and "Feast For The Wanderer (Bonus Track)". Now my favourite tracks are "Shadowgate" and "Raging Goblin". "Shadowgate" is quite different than the other songs in that it has an industrial feel. It's a dark rhythmic tune and a nice mix of the bands elements. My favourite song would be "Raging Goblins". This song could easily appear on any number of Death metal albums in that it is the heaviest and downright sludgy. It sounds like a mob of goblins attacking a group of Hobbits, an elf, a dwarf, wizard ... humans .... you get the picture. It drives into you, then melts into slow doomy death metal, then rips into a head pounding thrash riff to end. One fantastic song!

I'll be reviewing the other 2 albums in the next few days to keep with my first series of theme reviews. This album's cover art is of Morgoth and The High King of Noldor. I'm mention this only because my next review is of Blind Guardian's "Nightfall In Middle Earth" which is based on Tolkien's The Silmarillion. Which is about the origin of the rings and the battle between Morgoth and the High King of Noldor.... Sorry ... I just geeked out a bit ....

Monday, April 03, 2006

A Dark Age for World Music

Dead Can Dance (DCD) is not a metal band. Nor are they a rock outfit, punk, pop or Dance group. However, they introduced a style of music that's very unique, and inadvertently broaden my Metal music experience. But first let me try a paint a DCD picture for you. I tried doing a review for Dead Can Dance for a highschool paper and failed at conveying their uniqueness. Something was printed for the issue, but I was not satisfied. Now, over 10 years later I'll try again. Dead Can Dance are in the World Music category with a Gothic edge. There it is. That's the most basic description I can think of. Consisting of 2 people, Brendan Perry and Lisa Gerrard and a bunch of ancient, ethnic instruments, they have created a catalogue of music that's diverse yet uniquely DCD. The albums I've chosen to review are "A Passage In Time" and "Dead Can Dance".

I've decided to do 2 today, because these albums were the first of their's I owned and mellowed me out for years. "A Passage In Time" is a collection of works from previously released albums and unreleased tracks (though it features no songs from there first album). I had a taped copy of a friends CD for this album and only just purchased the CD recently. This is a great introduction into the DCD catalogue, because it features a number of their early albums. It has a very gothic sound with a bit of a tribal beat especially with songs like "Saltarello", "Cantara". They have a very ethnic/worldly feel. Lisa's vocals are haunting and piercing. On songs "The Host Of Seraphim" and "Song of Sophia" they are bone chilling and certainly the reason why they are popular amongst Goths (You can also get a sampling of her vocals on the Gladiator soundtrack). She just tears into your soul. Brendan Perry also takes a stab at Chant-like vocals on "Ulyses". Though his standard baritone vocals are fantastic and really shine on "In The Kingdom of the Blind, The One-eyed are Kings" whew, now that's a song title.

This is DCD's first album, and though you can see the stylistic Dead Can Dance sound it lacks in it's simplicity and rockier sounds, Like with tracks "The Trial" and "In Power We Entrust The Love advocated". It is still a good album, but I think Lisa and Brendan were not completely happy with the final sound. It is very different from the other albums. Lisa's signature vocals are present on "Frontier" and "Musica Eterna". "Frontier" is probably the closest to DCD's future sound as well as "Flowers of the Sea".

Dead Can Dance's World Music/Gothic/folk sound really stuck with me and that's why I really enjoy Folk Metal such as Finntroll, Elvenking, and Suidakra. And the ancient feel of the songs moved me to explore my own heritage with Viking Metal such as Einherjer, Thyrfing, and Moonsorrow. However, before I get into those, I thought with the recent opening of the Lord Of The Rings the Musical I will feature a number of LOTR's based heavy metal albums. First up? Battlelore. The most hardcore LOTR's bands I know.... You'll see what I mean....