Thursday, June 01, 2006

OSI: Free

Free Artist: OSI Year: 2006 The year 2003 saw the release of what has become one of InsideOut Music's top selling albums. What was it that made Office of Strategic Influence such a success? Of course, it is impossible to tell, but it is likely a multi-factorial effect. Dream Theater fans, who are often rabid and follow the members from side project to side project, picked it up to hear Mike Portnoy smack the skins. They also likely picked it up to hear more from ex-DT keyboardist Kevin Moore. And Fates Warning fans snagged it to get a fill of more of Jim Matheos' vicious chops. Add in bassist Sean Malone, and you have the formula for a veritable prog super group. So just what happens when you combine the rocking song writing of Jim Matheos with the ambient, spacey writing that Kevin Moore has been writing with Chroma Key for a few years now? You get a thing of beauty. You get OSI. And their most recent release, Free, is no different. Noticeable immediately from the start is that Free is a more relaxed and laid back record than its predecessor. Also apparent is the fact that only one song even cracks the 6 minute mark (as compared to the 10+ minute masterpiece "shutDOWN" from the first album, and 17+ minute "The Thing That Never Was", if you got the bonus disc). But don't let that fool you. This is very much a progressive record. Free focuses a lot on the keyboards and programming of Kevin Moore, but Jim Matheos is ever present. His heavy guitar riffs, while not as frequent on this disc, have an even harder edge. They have an energy, and urgency, and serious metal crunch to them that will make any rocker sit up and pay attention. Likewise, Matheos does his fair share of programming. As evidenced on Fates Warning's most recent release FWX, Jim Matheos has learned much from his collaborations with Kevin Moore. That history of collaborating also helps to make Free such a strong record. It is a magnificent symbiosis of metal and experimental electronica. Very few of the songs can be taken at face value, and multiple listens are required to really get a hold of each song. Even after so many listens, songs still pack surprise punches. The performances from each band member are fantastic. As mentioned, Matheos' guitar work is always excellent. Kevin Moore is ever present, and his vocal work, an almost painfully restrained monotone, is often in such stark contrast to the music that it serves to heighten the tension of the songs. Mike Portnoy continues to amaze with his adaptability, playing perfectly with just about whatever style of music. Finally, Joey Vera's presence on the heavier tunes adds extra strength and depth to the rhythm section. Tracks to catch: "Sure You Will" is a high octane electro-metal rocker that will get you our of your seat every time. "Free" is one of the few obvious heavy tunes on the album, but the multi-layered instrumentation sets this track apart. "Home Was Good" is a haunting, minimalistic tune. "Kicking" has a great groove. "Our Town" strips back all the electronics and leaves the listener with Moore's minimalistic vocals and Matheos' acoustic guitar. It is a beautiful way to end the album. Rating: 4/5 Free is a deceptive album. On the surface, it appears to be a rather accessible bit of music. However, it is just the opposite. A dense, meaty album with tons of substance, there is something to keep the listener coming back for more, time and again. Free is a masterful evolution of the sound of two fabulous musicians. It isn't an album for everyone, but those who delve its progressive depths are sure to find it a rewarding experience.

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Evergrey: Monday Morning Apocalypse

Monday Morning Apocalypse Artist: Evergrey Year: 2006 Sweden's Evergrey has carved out quite a niche for themselves. I can think of no other band that really comes close to their brand of somewhat progressive, dark, and melancholic power metal. And with their previous five albums, they have built quite an expectation for their fans. Dark and brooding lyrics, excellent musicianship, powerful guitars, and distinctive, gravelly vocals have helped to make each album worth checking out. With a number of well-thought out and orchestrated concept albums now under their belts, what does the band have in store on their latest offering Monday Morning Apocalypse? Both less and more. Monday Morning Apocalypse sees Evergrey honing their trademark sound to a fine edge. Always impeccable musicians, their latest release focuses on a more intense, focused approach to the music. Some have already decried Monday Morning Apocalypse as a sell-out album, Evergrey's attempt to break into the mainstream. But rather than sell-out, this sort of talk sells the album short. Stripped from much of the pretension that is present on previous albums, this is a more open, more accessible, and more sincere Evergrey. But don't let that fool you. The thunderous guitars that make Evergrey so fun to listen to are all over the album. Pummeling riffs on such tracks as "The Curtain Fall" and "At Loss for Words" are carefully balanced with the balladry of tracks like "I Should" and "In Rememberance." Gone is the pomp of the concept album trying to tell a large, overarching story. Rather, we get an album of more self-contained songs. The lyrical work is undeniably dark and brooding, but that is what Evergrey does best. Likewise, lead singer Tom S. Englund's vocals continue to impress through understatement. He isn't going to hit any amazing, clarion clear high notes like John Arch, blow you away with his demonic growls like Mikael Akerfeldt, or wrap you in the warmth of his voice like Eric Clayton, but his gravelly baritone fits the mood of the music perfectly. In fact, that is what makes Monday Morning Apocalypse such a strong album: everything just fits together. The lyrics, the instrument work, the writing, all come together to create Evergrey's most focused effort to date. Tracks to Catch: "The Curtain Fall" has a some really killer, fast-paced guitar work. "At Loss for Words" balances the band's frantic aggression with its slower-paced style. "Monday Morning Apocalypse" is a powerful, in-your-face rocker that kicks the album off in a great way. "Till Dagmar" is a beautiful piano interlude. "Closure" is simply Tom Englund and a piano - an amazingly moving, open and vulnerable way to end the album. Rating: 4/5 Monday Morning Apocalypse is more than the sum of its parts. Less progressive than past releases in terms of concept and orchestration, yet more progressive if we really think about what that word means. This is Evergrey taking their sound and nudging it in a different direction. This is an album made by a band that is confident of its identity and is comfortable trying something that breaks its own mold, if even just a bit. Monday Morning Apocalypse gives us a peek at Evergrey at their most sincere, their most earnest, and their most focused.

Astral Doors: Astralism

Astralism Artist: Astral Doors Year: 2006 Although they have only been around since 2002, Astral Doors has a sound that belies their recent creation and hearkens back to the real roots of metal. Members of various bands at various times, a passion for solid, unpretentious heavy metal brought the band together and 2006 sees them releasing their third album: Astralism. From the very first bombastic chords, it is evident that Astralism is ready to rock. Driving, distorted guitars, pummeling drums, a Hammond organ, and a vocalist who sounds so similar to Dio (especially from his Sabbath and Rainbow days) it is almost eerie at times, all kick the album into high gear. And from there it doesn't look back. Astralism is an album for heavy metal purists. Dark, brooding lyrics dealing with the physical as well as the metaphysical fill the album. But rather than just revel in the darkness, the songs do have a lighter side, a sense of striving for a better world buried in the lyrics. This is very refreshing to hear, as it serves as an excellent balance. Every song is a balls-to-the-wall metal tune. There may be an occasional acoustic guitar here and there, but 99% is just begging for some head-banging. The music is hard and heavy, but with an emphasis on melody. The presence of the Hammond is especially effective in uniting the melodic elements throughout each song. Likewise, vocalist Patrick Johansson walks the fine line between wailing and singing, his gravelly voice giving a sense of urgency to the music. Tracks to catch: "Apocalypse Revealed" is the closest the album gets to a real epic track, and this one is a winner. Clocking in at near 8 minutes, it is an excellent closer to the album. "Israel" effectively adds a multitude of voices, adding an emotional quality to the slower, dirge-like track. "Tears From a Titan" slowly warms you up with a Hammond intro before the songs really kicks in. "EVP" is a fast paced, driving track that starts the whole show off nicely. Rating: 3/5 Astralism is a very strong release, and will surely appeal greatly to those who are fans of solid, powerful, classic heavy metal. The music is uncompromising, but nicely balances grit with melody. The Hammond is very prominent in most of the tracks, perhaps too prominent at times. Scaling the organ back and bringing the bass into the mix more would give the music just that much more power. Fans of heavy metal owe it to themselves to check out Astral Doors and their brand of classic/modern metal.

Grave Digger: 25 to Live

25 to Live Artist: Grave Digger Year: 2006 Heavy metal is not pretty. Anyone who tries to tell you otherwise is trying to sell you something - but it sure does rock. After 25 years of rocking, Grave Digger has finally released a live compilation worth celebrating, and they are dishing it up both on CD and DVD for us to enjoy. Formed in 1980, Grave Digger has been one of Germany's brightest stars in the metal arena for years now. Over the past few years, their releases have consistently garnered high praise, and 25 to Live is no different. Recorded in 2005 in Sao Paulo, Brazil, 25 to Live offers an excellent chronicle of the band's career, spanning their numerous albums. The show was a relatively simple one, allowing the audience to really focus on what they came for: kick-ass heavy metal, with no pretension. There are no elaborate light shows (though of course some changing colors and flashing now and then), no elaborate stage set-up: just five guys giving it their all to rock the crowd. And the crowd responded appreciatively. There is a reason that so many rock bands record live albums in Brazil: on every live release I have ever heard recorded in Brazil, the crowd is simply insane. The crowd coming to see Grave Digger that night was no different. They sang along to every word, and often even to the music when there were no words! They consistently chanted between just about every song. They went nuts every time lead singer Chris Boltendahl screamed "Obrigado!" The energy infused in the show is infectious, and I found myself pumping my fist in the air right along with them. The band is great as well. Monster guitar riffs, machine-gun staccato, lightning fast solos, thundering bass, and pummeling drum work prove that after 25 years, Grave Digger has plenty of life in them. They really seem to be enjoying themselves, evident in the interaction with each other and the crowd. The music is very tight, the playing excellent, and the energy from the band is absolutely great. The DVD manages to capture the band from many angles, with some shots right up on stage and others from farther away. There are a few cheesy "special effects" here and there, some added light halos and some slow motion, but they hardly distract from the music, and actually fit right in with the necessary willingness to suspend reality to enjoy this type of music. The extras are sparse, chronicling the band's journey and preparation from the concert. But, with such a fantastic, 27-song show, the concert is the real centerpiece of the package. Rating: 4/5 25 to Live is an excellent example of a great heavy metal release. The music is energetic, the crowds enthusiasm infectious, and the song selection is a very nice sample of the band's long career. 25 to Live is sure to please long time Grave Digger fans, and will also certainly earn the band some new fans who decide to check it out. This is true heavy metal, killer riffs and wailing vocals at their very best. It ain't pretty, but it sure does rock.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Deadsoul Tribe: The Dead Word

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The Dead Word
By: Deadsoul Tribe
Year: 2005

The Deadsoul Tribe is another band that I would know nothing about if not for the impeccable album “The Human Equation” my Ayreon. Devon Graves (or Buddy Lackey, if you prefer) sang the part of Agony, his soothing voice belying the power therein.
But upon hearing his work with his current band, I was blown away by the (in many cases) simplicity of his music, but the raw power it held. These are albums full of crunchy guitar riffs, soothingly sung yet biting lyrics, effective use of soaring, gorgeous flute (in progressive metal, even!) and the omnipresent bass lines that would make my car shake.
Make no mistake about it: this is some powerful stuff. Graves is extremely talented, doing absolutely everything (including all guitar parts, keyboards, singing, bass, and yes, that flute) except for the drums, which are handily presented by Adel Mustafa. The whole album has an amazing sense of loss and retribution, with powerful ballads and roaring solos all over the top of Graves' soothing, ethereal, creepy voice. This is good stuff – I think “The Dead Word” is Deadsoul Tribe's best album, blending all the wonderful elements of their music into one great album.
Tracks to catch: A Flight On an Angel's Wing: The first song on the album (following the atmospheric prelude), we finally see Graves' angry chops – he sings hard and rough near the end of this track, putting aside his usually calm voice in lieu of something with a bit more force. Don't You Ever Hurt: Great solo at the beginning, starting off a rocking tune in a seven-beat meter – and that's not kid's stuff. Waiting In Line: This track is a powerhouse, one of my favorites, blending flute with scratchy guitars in a great duet. A Fistful of Bended Nails: Thumpy bass abounds in this piece, shaking my little Accent as I cruise down the road, and I do so love that feeling.
Final verdict: Adore it
This album is extremely well-made. As I stated earlier, I think it's Deadsoul Tribe's best work. Were we to reformulate the top ten of 2005, this would have been in the list. Production is great, the balance is perfect, and the tribal edge to the drums really add to the effectiveness of the album as a whole. This is quality metal. Nothing too new here, but plenty to give a Deadsoul fan a smile.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Lacuna Coil - Karmacode

Image Hosted by Karmacode Artist: Lacuna Coil Year: 2006 Click here for the artist's site Before Evanescence made it cool to be a rock band with a female lead singer, Lacuna Coil had already polished the sound with five solid releases. Too few people knew of the band, but that would soon change. With intelligent and aggressive touring, a strong work ethic, and stellar musicianship and song-writing, 2004 saw them joining the big leagues of metal. The band was invited to join Ozzfest, and won over the concert goers with their own brand of haunting, ethereal music. Karmacode is the band's latest offering, and what an offering it is. From the very beginning, the album catches the listener. Thunderous bass, middle eastern melodies on the guitars and Cristina Scabbia's supernal voice set the stage for the experience. Certainly not a reinvention, Karmacode serves as a subtle evolution of the sound the band has been perfecting over the course of their career. The trademark dual voice work of Scabbia and Andrea Ferro really shines on the album. With interesting harmonies, multi-layered vocals, and well-done duet passages, there is an increased use of the vocals as additional instruments, and to great effect. The vocal lines are infectious and memorable, but also have significant depth to them, allowing the listener to easily hum along while still appreciating the subtle nuances found if you make the effort to listen. Instrumentally, the album rocks. Period. The bass is very prominent (perhaps a tad too prominent), and will shake your windows if you give the album the chance. The guitars are both fierce and tranquil, at all the right moments. The music is often brooding, fitting with the "gothic" label given the band. However, a closer listen reveals hidden moments of hope and levity that keep the album from ever feeling ponderous. And it is the subtle stylistic approach that keeps the album from ever feeling old. The band doesn't tread too much ground in terms of musical style, but what they do, they do very well. The more ballad-esque songs don't work quite as well as the rockers, as they feel a bit too restrained, but they are in the minority. Tracks to catch: "Fragile" is a monster of an opener, and kicks the record off right. This is one of my favorite tracks. "Our Truth", the first single, is also an imminently listenable tune that is sure to be a hit. "Without Fear" serves as an excellent, cathartic closer to the album (as it is the last song written by the band on the disc). Finally, "Enjoy the Silence" is a cover of a Depeche Mode song that sounds great with Cristina's vocals and the punch that Lacuna Coil brings to the track. Rating: 3/5 Karmacode doesn't break new ground, but it does take a few steps down the logical path the band has been blazing for years now. Lacuna Coil is a band that deserves more attention, and I am pleased to see them getting it (touring again with Ozzfest this year). Karmacode is a solid release, with fine musicianship, great song-writing, and subtle nuances that keep the album interesting from start to finish. If you are looking for a challenging listening experience, this isn't the album for you. However, if you want great, listenable and brooding metal, you can't go wrong with this latest offering from Lacuna Coil.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Queensryche: Operation: Mindcrime II

Image Hosted by Operation: Mindcrime II By: Queenryche Year: 2006 Click here for the artist's site I have to be honest right from the beginning here. Operation: Mindcrime is one of the best concept albums written. Ever. Period. The music is powerful, the lyrics both interesting and politically poignant (both 18 years ago as well as today), the story well told. But for me, the clincher that lifts Mindcrime from the level of good to astoundingly great is just how strong the songs are. One of the largest perils of creating a concept album is loss of any single great song. For example, Fates Warning's absolutely brilliant A Pleasant Shade of Gray really needs to be listened to in its entirety to be appreciated. Dream Theater's Scenes From a Memory is the same. Both are amazing albums, but lack really great singles that can stand on their own. Not so with the original Mindcrime. Songs such as "Speak", "Eyes of a Stranger", "I Don't Believe in Love", and "Breaking the Silence" are just great songs that you can listen to any time. No need to go from start to finish. That ability to tell a coherent, cohesive story while still having a whole collection of amazing singles is very uncommon. Add to that the fact that Mindcrime still sounds fresh, energetic and important, and you have one fantastic album. So it shouldn't come as a surprise that when Mindcrime II was announced I was skeptical. With recent Queensrÿche records being disappointing, I didn't have very high hopes when I gave Mindcrime II its first listen. And after the first listen, to be honest, I didn't quite know what to think. Let's get the easy parts of this review out of the way first. Yes, this is the heaviest Queensrÿche has sounded in well over a decade. It is also the most energetic their music has sounded since the original Mindcrime. However, this reviewer truly thinks that calling Queensrÿche a "Metal" band is a mistake. They are still a respectable progressive rock band, but they haven't really sounded "metal" to me in many years. Okay, those points out of the way, just how does Operation: Mindcrime II stand up to the original? Well, it isn't as good, no doubt about it. But that doesn't make it a bad album. It really did take me numerous listens to really get a feel for Mindcrime II. This is one of the aspects in which it is inferior to the original. With the possible exception of one or two tracks, there just aren't really great singles on this album. And there certainly is nothing that comes close to the powerful "Eyes of a Stranger". However, I do believe that Mindcrime II is Queensrÿche's most progressive record to date, even surpassing (and there are likely many who will disagree with this next comment) their progressive masterpiece Promised Land. There is plenty of orchestration on this album, choral arrangements, rapid and often even jarring stylistic changes, and some really interesting musical passages. The prog geek in me really appreciates those aspects of the record, while I recognize that they will likely make it difficult for some people to like the album. Lyrically, I have always thought Queensrÿche was ahead of the game. They have successfully penned lyrics that challenge political and social ideologies, and have often done it without coming off too preachy. Mindcrime II again has strong lyrics (though certainly not perfect) that deal with the political and social climate of the times, while still working to tell the story. And what of the story? It takes place 18 years after the original, with the anti-hero Nikki being released from prison, attempting to put back together the pieces of his broken life. The story doesn't flow as well as the original, but it is still interesting. Musically the album is much better than other recent efforts from the band. The dual guitars are used much more effectively, with solos from both guitarists in many of the songs. Likewise the guitars are more prominent and powerful in the mix. On a few of the tracks the guitar sound doesn't quite work for me, but on others is really great. That inconsistency definitely takes some getting used to. The rhythm section is excellent on this album, with a full, rich bass sound and thick, heavy drums. And while time has taken its toll on Geoff Tate's inimitable voice, with a noticeably decreased range, it is very distinctive, powerful and evocative. He has long been one of my favorite vocalists, and he continues to be. The guest appearances on the record are also worth mention. Pamela Moore returns to fill her part as Mary, the whore-turned-nun that Nikki has loved for all these years. She makes numerous appearances (though deceased), most likely in Nikki's mind's eye. She is the voice of Mary, and it would sound so wrong with someone else. She does a fine job. Also, filling the role of the evil Dr. X is metal legend Ronnie James Dio. "Chase", on which both Geoff Tate and Dio sing is a lot of fun, with two of rock/metal's most recognizable voices giving and taking. However, their vocal styles are not sufficiently dissimilar, and it can be a bit difficult recognizing who is whom when they sing at the same time. Tracks to catch: "Freiheit Ouverture" is an interesting, atmospheric intro that works well to start off the album. "I'm American" does a great job of capturing the current American culture of individualistic consumerism. "Signs Say Go" is probably the albums best, bona-fide rocker. "Murderer" is the most interesting and eclectic track on the album, and really appeals to my progressive tastes. "Circles" hearkens back to "Electric Requiem" from the first album. "Intentional Confrontation" is another track that almost seems confused about what it wants to sound like, but pulls the apparently disparate styles together well. Rating: 3/5 Honestly this is a difficult album for me to rate. It is not a repeat, amazing album like the first. But it is a solid, well written and composed progressive rock album that demonstrates that Queensrÿche still has energy and some interesting ideas in them. Uneven at times, I likely forgive this due to my penchant for the original. Mindcrime II is a strong album, a vast improvement over anything from the band in a decade, and just a darn good rock album. While I might wish for more metal to be found, this is a most encouraging sing of life from a band I had almost buried, and certainly worth checking out. It won't appeal to everyone, and I am sure there will be fans of the first who hate it, but warts and all, Operation: Mindcrime II is both a return to form of sorts as well as a welcome evolution of one of my long-time favorite bands.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Redemption: The Fullness of Time

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The Fullness of Time
By: Redemption
Year: 2005

Every once in a while, and album just comes out of nowhere and blows the listener away. The unexpected nature of these musical surprises makes them that much more exciting. Redemption wasn't completely unknown to me. I recognized the name, and knew that the inimitable Ray Alder was the new voice of the band. But I wasn't familiar with the music and didn't have any elevated expectations going into the first listen of the band's 2005 release, The Fullness of Time. Sure, I expected good vocal melodies, but that was about it. Little did I know just how much I was missing.

Redemption is the result of one man's drive and brilliance: Nick van Dyk. I know, you probably haven't heard of him either. Well, let me say it now. Remember that name. It will continue to gain prominence with each new Redemption release. The Fullness of Time is the second Redemption release, following the eponymous 2002 release. There have been some lineup changes, particularly in the rhythm section. But the most prominent, and important, change was the inclusion of Ray Alder (of Fates Warning fame) as the permanent vocalist. It is hard to overstate just how much this adds to the band's sophomore release. Ray is, in this writer's opinion, one of metal's brightest and most versatile vocalists. His ability to be soothing, menacing, growling, and soaring all in the same song is impressive.

The Fullness of Time is the progressive metal album I was hungering for all last year. This is metal, no mistake. The songs are full of gritty, powerful guitars, pummeling double bass drums and driving, rich, dynamic bass work. But it is also progressive. Layered, elegant keyboards accompany the more gentle, calm passages. Songs change character multiple times throughout, never boring the listener. Lyrically, the album is thought provoking and insightful. Dealing with such themes as current politics, the pain of crumbling relationships, and the capacity of the human soul to be its own worst enemy. The final four tracks comprise the work titled "The Fullness of Time", chronicling the travels of one man through pain, loss, rage and finally coming to grips with his own demons. It is a progressive masterpiece.

Tracks to catch: This is one album where I can recommend every single track without hesitation. "Threads" kicks the album off, dropping the listener immediately into fifth gear. "Parker's Eyes" is a mournful work, father to newborn son, discussing innocence and the future loss thereof. "Scarred" grabs you by the throat and never lets go, throttling you for nearly 8 minutes. I have already mentioned "The Fullness of Time", but of particular note is the first part, "The Fullness of Time: I. Rage". If the beginning of this song doesn't give you chills and have you looking over your shoulder, well, you probably belong in prison. Most of all, though, I have to mention "Sapphire", the album's 15+ minute prog epic. Most bands would forsake their own mothers to write a song half as great as "Sapphire". It is one of the greatest prog epics I have ever heard. Moving, driving, powerful and hauntingly beautiful, it embodies all that is great about progressive metal. I get chills when it starts.

Objective Rating: 10 out of 10
There is no question in my mind, this is the top album of 2005. If someone asked me what it is about progressive metal that makes me such a huge fan I would simply hand them a copy of The Fullness of Time and tell them to listen to that and then we can talk. The songwriting is brilliant, the musicianship tight, technical, but never overshadows the heart and soul of the songs, and the production is clear, crisp and rich.

Biased Rating: 10 out of 10
Ray Alder. Already I am biased. The man rules. But I didn't need to be biased. With an album this stellar, well, you just sit back, listen and let the beauty wash over you.

Monday, March 13, 2006

The Devin Townsend Band: Synchestra

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By: The Devin Townsend Band
Year: 2006

I am very, very cautious with my use of the word "genius" to describe musicians. I think it is overused almost to the point of rendering it a cliché. As such, if I call someone a musical genius, I really mean it. In that case, let me say up front that Devin Townsend is a musical genius. He is almost overflowing with musical ideas, and has the multiple different outlets for that musical energy. He first became known to me as the vocalist on Steve Vai's album "Sex and Religion". And while I do believe he is one of the most versatile vocalists out there, I think we should all be grateful he didn't get pigeonholed into that gig. His solo work covers the spectrum of progressive music from the atmospheric grooves of "Ocean Machine", to the speed-metal pop of "Physicist", and the earthy, emotional "Terria". If that wasn't enough, through in his other band Strapping Young Lad and their extremely aggressive brand of metal (too aggressive for this listener even!). Finally, recently we have had The Devin Townsend Band, a more balanced approach that provides an outlet for Devin when he needs a break from the pummeling, punishing power of SYL. And "Synchestra" is the most recent release from this band.

"Synchestra" really runs the gamut of styles. From the opening, acoustic, folksy song "Let It Roll" to the almost 80's-ish pop-metal of "Sunshine and Happiness", the album challenges the listener. Never content to just write a catchy riff and play it over and over again, most of the songs on the album are free to explore their own musical ideas, roaming from one passage to the next. If you are looking for an accessible album, Devin never was writing for you. Certainly not as aggressive as his SYL work, nevertheless, there is no shortage of electric guitar and metal riffs on the disc. In contrast with the previous Devin Townsend Band release, "Accelerated Evolution", "Synchestra" seems to capture more of the earthy, organic feeling that predominated on previous masterpieces such as "Terria". In fact, I feel that this album captures the best of those two albums and manages to use those parts to create something fabulous. Imminently more listenable than "Terria", however it also has much more depth than "Accelerated Evolution".

What else is there to say about "Synchestra"? If you aren't familiar with Devin Townsend, well, this is as good of an album as any to get familiar. Just be prepared to explore music that has sprung from the mind of one of the most energetic, brilliant, bizarre and crazy artists out there. Don't try to make the music "make sense", just let the massive wall of sound pour over you, batter you a bit, then gently recede and see where it has taken you. You just might be pleasantly surprised with what you discover.

Tracks to catch:"Let It Roll" is a wonderful tune that both reveals and deceives the listener. You'll just have to hear it to know what I mean. "Hypergeek" is astounding in its sudden transition from calm, quiet acoustic song to a stunning, brutal attack of speed metal. This song is the reason sub-woofers exist. "Vampolka" and "Vampira" are pure music magic. The first, a polka with accordion, tuba and the whole works, the second a powerful metal romp. "Pixellate", "Judgment", and "A Simple Lullaby" are a terrific prog-metal trifecta. You just have to hear them. In fact, there isn't a single song on the disc that isn't worthy of some sort of effusive praise.

Rating: 4/5
If this album is not high in my list of 2006 great albums, well, it will only mean 2006 was one of the greatest years in prog music ever. Period. "Synchestra" rocks, it rolls, it moves the listener, it challenges you to expand your horizon and expect the unexpected. The sound is pure Devin, a crystal clear wall of sound that is so full of ideas and themes that you just won't get it all in the first, fifth or even tenth listen. No one even comes close to sounding like Devin, and with "Synchestra", The Devin Townsend Band have released the first truly great album of 2006.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Top 10 albums of 2005

Well, the year 2005 is over. Yeah, yeah, it has been a couple of months now, but better late than never! San Chonino and I have been fighting disparate schedules, sketchy internet access, and busy lives to hammer out what we agree is our top ten albums of 2005. So, sit back, grab a cup of your favorite reading beverage, and check out the music that got our motors running this last year.

Top 10 albums of 2005

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us10. Demons and Wizards: Touched by the Crimson King

BlueDev: This first spot was a tough one. There were three candidates vying for the position, and I narrowly picked Demons and Wizards over Meshuggah's "Catch 33" and Nevermore's "This Godless Endeavor". This is straight forward metal, with lighting fast riffs, over the top lyrics inspired by Stephen King's work, and wailing vocals from Hansi Kursch. However, it also has a nice blend of very fast and slow, expressive ballads, allowing both Jon Schaffer and Hansi to flesh the album out a bit. It has a lot going for it and is a great album.

San Chonino: This is really metallic (is that how I would say it? Maybe . . .) but really good stuff. Once again, I'm not a huge fan of songs that tell silly stories, but the lyrics of this album interested me, being a huge Stephen King fan (and currently wrapping up book six of the Dark Tower series . . . curse that stupid Crimson King!!!). This is good metal, for those intimidated by great prog metal. A nice way to start off the top ten.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us9. Ayreon: Actual Fantasy Revisited

BlueDev: This one may seem a bit odd, as it was actually released in 1996. However, the Revisited version surely deserves some recognition, as the drums, bass and guitars were all re-recorded for this release. I love just about everything Arjen Lucassen touches, and this is no exception. While likely my least favorite Ayreon disc, it is still just so powerful and so much better than most of the music out there. And listen to the first chord Arjen hits in "The Abbey of Synn". Priceless.

San Chonino: Also my least favorite Ayreon disc, but the re-release is so superior to the sound of the original in every way. This is great tunes. "Abbey of Synn"? 'Nuff said.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us8. dredg: Catch Without Arms

San Chonino: Dredg's latest disc is less progressive in many ways than their first two efforts, but that makes the album all the more accessible. Songs like "Ode to the Sun" and "Planting Seeds" make this disc unreal, and I love to introduce people to the world of Dredg with this album. A strong effort from a great newer band. I have high hopes for whatever it is they do next.

BlueDev: San Chonino introduced me to these guys and I have been enjoying them ever since. I agree that "Catch Without Arms" is their least progressive disc, but it is still fantastic. Even songs that I didn't think I would like at first I love to listen to. This is really a brilliantly crafted disc.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us7. Dream Theater: Octavarium

San Chonino: I grew up listening to Dream Theater, thanks to BlueDev. I've always liked their earlier albums, most especially "Awake", but I felt as though "Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence" and "Train of Thought" were lacking in comparison – they didn't feel as full, as rewarding. But that's all behind me now, thanks to "Octavarium". I think this is DT's best disc to date – fully functional as a progressive metal album, but not overly metal, losing the style and musical sense that had defined this band for me growing up. A great effort from a great band.

BlueDev: I have been a Dream Theater fan since the release of their stellar sophomore effort "Images and Words". I followed them through the years and have watched them progress from album to album. While I agree that "SDoIT" and "ToT" are not their strongest albums, I still really love them. But "Octavarium" is a true return to form for the band. I scratch my head in wonder at those who say DT sound like they are running out of ideas. This is the freshest, best sounding album they have released since "Awake", and that is really saying something.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us6. Fiona Apple: Extraordinary Machine

San Chonino: As many of you know, I'm a Fiona fan. Love her music like nobody's business. And this, I believe is her strongest disc yet. The happy balance between morose lyrics and peppy music is enough to get my toes tapping and my mouth singing along. Simply put, I identify with Fiona's music – and a top-ten list of this year's best albums would be incomplete without a spot for Alternative music's leading lady.

BlueDev: Sadly, I cannot opine here, as I have not yet heard this album. I am simply going to have to defer to my brother's opinion and his musical acumen (which far exceeds my own). If he says it should be #6 on the list, I will trust him.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us5. Stream of Passion: Embrace the Storm

San Chonino: This album shows why it's okay to have female vocalists in metal. Too often it comes off feeling campy and clichéd, another Evanescence rip-off. But Evanescence couldn't touch Stream of Passion with a forty-foot pole if they wanted – this is what "chick metal" was meant to be. And the musical skills of Arjen Lucassen are, as always, amazing. More than just another gothic-chick-metal disc, this album fills the ears with musicality, emotion, and grace.

BlueDev: It sends me through the roof when people talk like Evanescence really started the whole female fronted "goth rock" trend. They were derivative followers. Nothing more. And so, any comparisons between Stream of Passion and Evanescence deserve, at best, complete and utter ignoring, and at worst a boot to the head. This album is amazing, with stellar vocals, stunning musicianship, and very tight, focused writing. It will leave you wanting more.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us4. Kamelot: The Black Halo

BlueDev: Discovering good, new music is always exciting. I had heard the name of the band mentioned, but until I heard "The Black Halo", Kamelot was nothing more than a name. It didn't take long for that to change. This album is a superb example of just how good power metal can be when it wants to. Progressive thoughts and patterns flow throughout, elevating what could have simply been a melodramatic rock album to the level of rock opera epic. It is hard to find fault with this album, and it easily sits high in the countdown.

San Chonino: One word: wow. I'm not a huge fan of albums with storylines (I will forever maintain that Rush and Ayreon are the only bands that can really tell a cohesive story in song) but this one got me anyway. Its lyrics tell a tale without getting silly, but it's in the music that Kamelot shines. This is great metal – and it's taken me a long time to find great metal bands like this.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us3. Porcupine Tree: Deadwing

San Chonino: As I have mentioned on this site before, I am a huge Steven Wilson fan, most especially his work with Porcupine Tree. While Redemption and Opeth claim the top spots this year, I still maintain that "Deadwing" is the most important progressive rock album to be released in 2005. Who else but Steve Wilson can effectively pull off writing in the time signature of seventeen-eight not once but twice on an album and still make it sound decent (and not like over-the-top annoying prog)? This is an amazing album by an amazing band.

BlueDev: This album ties my all up in knots. Porcupine Tree's previous album "In Absentia", is one of my favorite albums. Ever. Period. I couldn't help but feel let down at "Deadwing", but the oddest thing is I couldn't really tell you why! It is just more of my general gestalt. Nevertheless, I recognize what a powerful album it really is, and it has some superb songs. So, I can 100% agree with it being high on the list, but just don't find myself listening to it nearly as much as some of the others found here.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us2. Opeth: Ghost Reveries

BlueDev: I couldn't have an annual countdown without Opeth being on it, granted they released an album that year. Heck, there have been some years when Opeth would still have been on my countdown, they are so amazing. "Ghost Reveries" could have claimed the top spot this year, but it had some tough competition. That should tell you just how good the album above it is. "Ghost Reveries" is a great next step on the evolutionary path of Opeth. Some complain they are loosing their death metal edge, others think they are stagnating. I simply feel they are expanding and exploring their own style. "Ghost Reveries" has it all, from disturbingly beautiful acoustic moments, to bone crushing metal riffs. I love this disc.

San Chonino: I have vacillated about where to put this disc ever since BlueDev recommended it for this list. I had tried Opeth before, with the disc "Deliverance" (a bad place to start, it was too metal for me) and I was hesitant to try again. But this album exceeded my expectations in ways I can't describe. If you are in the mood for teeth-rattling metal, Opeth can capture that sense, but many songs are so morose and melancholy that I can't help but love them – especially the tune "Isolation Years". A rock-solid lovely effort.

Image Hosted by ImageShack.us1. Redemption: The Fullness of Time

BlueDev: This is the progressive metal album I was hungering for all year. Some of the other albums on the list teased me with their potential, but nothing really captured everything I wanted in a progressive metal album. Until Redemption came along and released their second disc. First, it has Ray Alder. I don't think there is any doubt in my mind that he is my favorite vocalist. He is just so versatile and powerful. Second, the music is fabulous. Heavy, melodic, moving, all at the right time. And, well, it has the song Sapphire. This is one of those rare prog epics that gets everything right. It never feels too long, but keeps you interested throughout, while still feeling cohesive, like a single song. Just about everything with this album is perfect, and I have no problem making this my top album of the year.

San Chonino: This album is simply put: amazing. Everything about it is wonderful – it easily earns the top spot. If it were only for the song Sapphire as BlueDev mentioned, it would be more than enough, but the other tunes on the album are stunning as well. This is a well-crafted effort by an amazing group of musicians.

Well, there you have it, our top ten albums from last year. A decent mix of pop, rock and metal. It was tough getting the list finalized, but we both feel this represents our favorites of the year. Check them out!

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Album Review: Blackfield - S/T

By: Blackfield
Year: 2004

As anyone who frequents this site (or, in all honesty, converses with me about music for any period of time) will know, I am a huge Steven Wilson fan. I have loved his work with Porcupine Tree, and was curious to see what else this amazing musician had done. In the reissues of all the old Porcupine Tree discs there was a little flyer for a project Wilson had done with Aviv Geffen, a popular Israeli musician.
Finally, after much searching, I was able to find this disc at Media Play (right before it went out of business, no less . . .) and was thoroughly surprised yet delighted with this album. I wondered if it would have the same drive as a PT disc, seeing as how Wilson would be sharing the pen with someone else whose music I had never heard, but I was pleased with this album.
Keep in mind – this record has nowhere near the immersive quality of any PT disc, but for what it lacks in ambience it makes up for in sincerity. All of the songs on this album are short – the thirteen track CD is less than forty five minutes, after all – but are catchy, pop-ish, slightly progressive tunes. I still enjoy this album as a gateway for normal music listeners into the wonderful world of progressive rock.
Tracks to catch: Open Mind: the opening track, it starts so subtlety but builds with exceeding force to an impressive climax – a great tune. Glow: a creepy, atmospheric tune that also builds to a splendid explosion of sound. Lullaby: a song that sounds like it should be a sappy love song, but with biting, seething lyrics and creepy melodies. Where is My Love?: a bonus track only available on the special edition of the disc, but very rewarding and melancholy song.
Final verdict: Explore it
This album is a great effort from a band – most groups would love to put out an album this focused, this unique, and this driven, but because of my familiarity with the other works of Steven Wilson, there are far better places to begin.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Skid Row: Subhuman Race

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Subhuman Race
By: Skid Row
Year: 1995

The late 80's saw a flourishing of glam and hair metal. For better or worse, a number of sissy acts who pretended to use electric guitars came into prominence and forever dirtied the world of metal. Acts like Poison, Motley Crue, and Slaughter capitalized on songs of hedonism and lasciviousness. And they did it all with pretty boy hair, and sometimes even pretty girl makeup. But while glam or hair metal was certainly very popular in its time (before grunge really took over), too often bands were mistakenly dumped in the glam metal category. Skid Row was one such band.

Sure, their first release had some sappy metal ballads, and the lead singer had a flowing blonde locks and almost feminine good looks. But looking past the surface, one can see that Skid Row was much more metal and very little glam. Their final release with Sebastian Bach as front man, "Subhuman Race" epitomizes this. A gritty, gutsy album from the very beginning, this is metal. No glam allowed.

This is the kind of album that we needed in the mid 90's. Sadly, too many overlooked it, still thinking of them as a hair band. Thick, heavy guitars fill the album. Even the ballads are dark and brooding. Borrowing the best aspects of grunge, and melding them with great guitar solos, some thrash aspects, and good, old fashioned American metal, Skid Row created one of the best heavy metal albums of the past decade. No pretenses, no posturing. Sebastian has never sounded better. Growling when he needs to, wailing at the right times, and holding notes like few other metal vocalists ever could, he just does a great job on this album. The rest of the band pulls through as well. The rhythm section backs up the meaty guitars, providing a thick, chugging backdrop to the songs.

Tracks to catch:"Eileen" is a great ballad that ends with a nut-busting twist. Not your mom's ballad. "Beat Yourself Blind" is full of guttural growls and a grooving guitar line. "Bonehead" and "Subhuman Race" both crank things up a notch, borrowing from the speed and aggression of good old thrash metal. "Iron Will" wraps the album up kicking and screaming, not content to end quietly. But the truth is, there isn't a single bad track on this sucker.

Objective Rating: 9 out of 10
Honestly, I have never really been a Skid Row fan. I didn't care for their first album. "Slave to the Grind" had a song or two I remember from it. But this album just blew me away. It is fantastic. Lyrically, the songs are actually pretty great, much better than your standard metal fare. And the music is superb. Heavy, brooding, and full of piss and vinegar. This is great metal.

Biased Rating: 10 out of 10
Even though I wasn't a Skid Row fan, I always like Sebastian Bach's voice, and this album reminded me just what a great vocalist he is. While I agree that grunge had its highlights, there was a lot of it that was crap. Sadly, that crap buried some excellent heavy metal in its deluge of D tuned power chords. "Subhuman Race" stands tall as a true metal album that refused to give in to grunge. I have tried to think of other ways to put this, but I can't: "Subhuman Race" kicks ass. Period.

Fiona Apple: Extraordinary Machine

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Extraordinary Machine
By: Fiona Apple
Year: 2005

I’ve been an avid Fiona Apple fan since the early days, when Tidal first came out, and I heard the song “Shadowboxer” for the first time. I’ve just always been moved by her sultry, deep alto voice, creepy piano melodies, and disjointed but catchy lyrics. But I was even more a fan of her second album, When the Pawn . . . which showed so much growth as an artist and composer.

But I waited and waited for a third album. And then I waited some more. Finally, four-plus years since the release of her second album, Fiona finally blessed us with an album, and a great one it is. I think it’s probably her best; I’m absolutely enamored with it.

This album is everything that I’ve come to expect from a Fiona album. Its lyrics are disjointed, but eerily coherent. Her piano is more enjoyable than before, and the production is top-rate. In some songs, she uses an entire orchestra to get the effect she’s looking for. While this album has shown up on lots of critic’s lists of “Best Albums of 2005,” it’s the only one that I heartily agree with. This really is a wonderful album.

Tracks to catch: “Extraordinary Machine”: A solid opener, with great orchestration and weird rhyming schemes. “Get Him Back”: possibly my favorite some on the album, it bursts with energy and heart. “Tymps (the Sick in the Head Song)”: My other favorite, featuring another weird rhyme and a rhythm that gets trapped in the head.

Objective Rating: 9 out of 10
As mentioned above, the production quality is high. The band she plays with has some great synergy, and her vocals are as dark, sultry, and sensual as ever. A great album that deals with the topics of loss and retribution.

Biased Rating: 10 out of 10
There’s no need to lie. I’m a Fiona fan. I think she’s one of the most talented female artists out there right now. While she certainly doesn’t reflect the usual types of music we review on this site, her tunes are anything but plain, and really deserve a listening-to by all real music aficionados. I can’t stop listening to this disc. It’s infectious.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Fates Warning: Night on Brocken

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Night on Brocken
By: Fates Warning
Year: 1984

Sometimes a band releases a debut album that simply blows you away. Other times a debut is more of a hint of what is to come. In the case of Fates Warning's first record "Night on Brocken", the case is certainly the latter. A respectable record in its own right, "Night on Brocken" gives us a glimpse of what was to come, without giving away the end of the story.

At first glance, there is little to distinguish Fates Warning from other metal bands of the time. High pitched, wailing vocals? Check. Mystical, semi-occult lyrics? Check. Dual guitars? Check. There just isn't much that instantly sets these guys apart. But a closer inspection of this album starts to tear down these assumptions. Of course, knowing what Fates will become helps as well, but I will endeavor to set that bias aside for the majority of this article.

"Night on Brocken" is a true metal album, with very little of the progressive elements that would go on to characterize so much of the band's later work. The songs are straightforward, shorter and relatively direct. Distorted guitars abound, often trading solos mid-song. The dueling guitars also seamlessly compete for the melody, creating great guitar harmonies. Perhaps most distinctive are the vocals. While not the best showcase, I cannot say enough about John Arch's vocals. Wailing and high pitched, but possessed of an unmistakable quality, he is one of my all-time favorite vocalists. And his vocal melodies are some of the most unique in the world of metal. Rarely heading the direction you expect, the melodies on "Night on Brocken" continue to leave the listener guessing.

Note: The remastered version contains some demos and earlier versions of some songs found on the final album. The sound quality isn't great, but it is fun to hear the evolution of some of the songs.

Tracks to catch:"S.E.K" is a great acoustic piece. "Misfit" does an excellent job of highlighting the distinct vocal melodies. "Damnation" hints at some of the band's more progressive songs to come. "Shadowfax" is a fun instrumental that conjures up images of Gandalf racing across the plains of Gondor.

Rating: 2/5
"Night on Brocken" is a solid debut album. It manages to stay interesting even though it has little new to offer. Even on the remastered version the songs do feel thin and not as clear as I would have liked. Not the best album to introduce new listeners to the band, I would still say this is a must have for fans of Fates Warning.

Friday, January 27, 2006

The frenetic life

Well loyal reader(s) (assuming we have even 1!), I want to apologize for the lack of updates lately. Life has consumed me, with worries and plans for the future conquering all else. But the time to kick it into gear here is upon us. Expect a slew of reviews in the next few days, as well as a special article or two (including a collaborative work). Stay tuned, Progged isn't dead, she just had to take a nap for a time.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Spiral Architect: A Sceptic's Universe

A Sceptic's Universe
By: Spiral Architect
Year: 2000

One of the aspects of prog that attracts me is the technicality of the music. While that certainly isn't everything I like, it is a huge contributing factor. Listening to much of the music reviewed here, one will find precision playing, unusual time signatures with rapid shifts from one to the next, and multilayered writing that really gives each instrument something interesting to contribute. But today's album takes that technicality to an entirely new level. This is no longer prog metal, this can be called nothing less than technical metal.

Spiral Architect is something of a dream group, though few will recognize any of the members. An effort to combine the considerable talents of many players, the band was brewing for a number of years before the actual release of their debut (and so far only) album "A Sceptic's Universe". For those who prefer their music to be something that rests in the background, this album is not for you. Just skip it and move on to something more mundane. For those who want an intense listening experience that demands repeated, concerted listens to even begin to fully appreciate all that is going on, this is the album for you.

The musicianship is stunning. Incredibly complex playing from each member fills the album from start to finish. Truly, in attempting to describe the music, words fail me. The bass is all over the place, doing things that most bass players would find obscene. Polyrhythms abound, leaving the careless listener lost in the wake. The lyrics, while certainly playing second fiddle to the amazing music, are surprisingly introspective and intelligent. Guitars and keyboards often merge to create excellent harmonies. Vocals are also great, sounding amazingly similar to Buddy Lackey (aka Devon Graves) of Psychotic Waltz fame.

Tracks to catch:"Insect" has one of the most jaw-dropping bass lines I have ever heard. "Cloud Constructor" is a whirling, mind spinning trip. "Conjuring Collapse" has moments of surprising accessibility. Finally, if you are lucky enough to find the Japanese version you get an amazing version of the stellar Fates Warning song "Prelude to Ruin".

Objective Rating: 8 out of 10
Stunning musicianship and out of this world writing combine to make this an excellent technical metal album. The production is great, and each song is mind bending in its own right. One of the weaknesses of the album is part and parcel of its strengths: the amazing technicality. It can make the album difficult to really get into, and most of the songs have a very cold, calculated quality.

Biased Rating: 6 out of 10
I truly appreciate the technicality of the album. But it really seems to lack soul. There is nothing that connects this disc to me. Because of this, I end up not liking the album as much as I might. I definitely need to be in the proper frame of mind to really enjoy it, and honestly don't usually make it through the disc from start to finish.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Stream of Passion: Embrace the Storm

Embrace the Storm
By: Stream of Passion
Year: 2005

If there is one incontrovertible thing you can say about Arjen Lucassen's Ayreon project, it is this: he does not hold back. He gives every Ayreon album everything he has, and often seems to have to take a break and indulge his musical mastermind in other ways to help clear it out a bit. After the 2004 masterpiece "The Human Equation", Arjen decided to take that Ayreon break in yet another musical direction. This time he would form his first band in 10 years, centered on the vocal talents of Marcela Bovio (who sang the part of 'Wife' on "The Human Equation"). The result is "Embrace the Storm", the first CD from yet another female fronted rock/metal band. With the current glut of such female fronted metal bands (eg. Nightwish, After Forever, Tristania, Lacuna Coil, Flowing Tears), how does this newest project from Arjen stand up?

In one word: brilliantly. But a one word review would be boring, so I will go on. Stream of Passion is a band that took full advantage of the internet. Buzz and advertising was created quite simply by internet word of mouth. Many of the members submitted their work via the internet, and electronic communication led to the discovery of many of the members of the band. Yet, while technology played such a large part in the creation of the record, and even the band, the music is surprisingly down to earth. No sci-fi stories, other than guitars, no electronic instrumentation (in fact the book states there are no synthesizers whatsoever on the album). The writing is very evenly split, demonstrating the balance of the members. Arjen wrote the bulk of the music, Marcela the lyrics and vocal melodies. Yet each player also contributed their part, Lori writing her lead guitar lines, Johan contributing to the bass work, Davy with the drums and Alejandro with the piano. This balance of the writing helps to lend the music a distinctively fresh sound, and sets it apart from Ayreon.

All the members work wonderfully together. Marcela's voice is one of the best in pop, rock or metal. Period. Clear, with just a hint of her accent leaking through, soaring and haunting all in turns. The rhythm section is solid, with a rich, full base sound and great, driving, crisp drums. Alejandro's piano blends in perfectly, bold when it should be, subtle at the right times. Lori's lead guitar work is fantastic. She was quite the find. While she can certainly 'shred' with the best of them, what really sets her apart is the crystal clear, soaring and almost vocal quality to many of her solos. Finally, Arjen Lucassen has, in this writer's opinion, the single best electric guitar sound in rock or metal. It is powerful, full, thunderous. His chords simply rock.

Note: The special edition comes with a region free DVD that has a 30 minute 'making of', the video for "Passion", a trailer for the album, as well as the rough, acoustic demo tracks for each song. Also included is a video of the one take in with drummer Davy Mickers recorded the final track "Calliopeia". It is fun to watch him record the entire song in one take. The DVD is certainly worth looking for, and I highly recommend it to anyone with more than just a casual interest in the band.

Tracks to catch:The opener "Spellbound" begins with distorted, muffled tribal drumming. Piano and strings enter, followed by Marcela's amazing vocals. But the real kicker is the explosion of guitars about 1:30 into the song. Wow. I was speechless, and this was the first track. "Passion" is the most powerful, focused rocker on the album, with carefully balanced moments of calm. "Haunted" is a chilling track, living up to its title. "Embrace the Storm" encapsulates so well all that the band is about. And the final track "Calliopeia" is yet another example of musical brilliance. Honestly though, there is not a single bad track on the album.

Objective Rating: 9 out of 10
Overall, this is an unquestionably excellent album. The songs are catchy, yet still complex enough to keep the listener interested. The playing is impeccable, the writing equally excellent. The balance of Arjen's prog influence, along withe Marcela's prog/jazz/pop sensibilities really set this apart from the many other 'Gothic' metal bands with female vocalists. This really is one of the best albums of 2005.

Biased Rating: 10 out of 10
I admit fully to being an Arjen junkie. In my opinion, he has done no wrong ever since the very first Ayreon disc. Obviously that bias leads me to love just about everything he has a hand in. Nevertheless, it doesn't take much for me to love this album. I have been listening to regularly since I picked it up, and it doesn't show any signs of leaving my player soon.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Linkin Park: Hybrid Theora

Hybrid Theory/Meteora (Hybird Theora)
By: Linkin Park
Year: 2000/2003

Author's note:One of the biggest perils of reviewing albums that you own is that you likely aren't buying it in the first place if you don't like it. This has lead to a lot of highly rated reviews here. In an effort to demonstrate that we can, in fact, give low reviews I am taking this opportunity to review an album I purchased in a moment of weakness.

Linkin Park hit and hit big. "Hybird Theory" was the top selling album of the year when it was released, and you couldn't turn on popular radio stations without hearing a song from them come on the radio. But there was a problem. Were we ever hearing more than one song? I mean, really, almost every song sounded the same.

Capitalizing on the rap/rock fad, Linkin Park combined traditional nu-metal vox from Chester, with rapping from Mike and a DJ to boot. Short, catchy songs, with easily remembered melodies and choruses coupled with lyrics full of teen angst and despair that so seems to fascinate teens. Wrap it in an industrial looking case, and you had a winner.

But the music simply cannot stand up to anything more than a cursory, half-eared listen. Listening to "Hybrid Theory" all they way through and you get some 30 minutes and change of a pretty continuous drone. Throw in "Meteora", the follow-up, and you have two discs full of one single, repetitive track, beat into your head time after time after time. It is not even worth considering them as two separate albums. It takes but a moment to be grateful that the songs are so short, just so you finish sooner.

Tracks to catch: How can you recommend the same song more than once? Sorry, nothing to add here. Once you have heard a track, there just aren't any surprises left.

Rating: 1/5
The production is slick. The guitars do have a nice, crunchy sound. Too bad they are playing repetitive, mindless crap. This scrapes the bottom of the barrel, simply for playing the same thing, over and over again, and passing it off as something new and exciting.