Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Enceladus – Time In A Dream

It’s rare to find good power metal in North America, but Enceladus is a band that is more than impressive with their debut EP “Time In A Dream”. This release features three tracks of absolutely molten metal. Not for the faint of heart, this album truly puts the power in power metal. The primary influence here is Lost Horizon, which is pretty much the greatest power metal band to ever walk the earth. As a result, Enceladus has high expectations to live up to. While not truly reaching the heights of Lost Horizon, Enceladus does provide an impressive offering on this EP.

Ethereality” is the opening track and it comes out blazing at full speed. Complete with plenty of shredding and flashy guitar work, this song impresses. Despite only having one guitar player, Enceladus uses harmonized guitar leads. Additionally, guitarist Geo Roessler plays many impressive solos throughout the release. Again, this is an area where the Lost Horizon influence is undeniable, as his style really matches Wojtek Lisicki’s. The other two tracks are pretty similar in their guitar-centric tendencies. In fact, “Time In A Dream” even opens with a nice guitar lick. Though it is a bit slower than the rest of the guitar work on the record, it isn’t long before the song gets up to speed. The guitars are absolutely the highlight of this release.

Soikkam, the singer for Enceladus is a talented vocalist with a relatively wide range. He’s no Daniel Heiman, but he does occasionally show Heiman’s ability to bring in strong emotion amidst technical flare. This is most noticeable on the breakdown section during the verse of “Time In A Dream” (it’s not a breakdown in the metalcore sense, but rather a section where the instruments drop out a bit). His vocal lines are memorable, and he sings them convincingly. Having a talented singer is essential for power metal, and Soikkam does a magnificent job fitting the bill, especially when he pulls out those brilliant screams, such as on the ending for “Time In A Dream”.

The remaining song on this release, “Ancestral Venture”, is another burning track. Like the other two songs, it features speedy yet precise rhythm work, a spectacular vocal performance, and dazzling guitar work. Though not as memorable as the first two songs, it still rounds out the EP nicely. This track is a bit harder to follow in terms of song structure, but it satisfies just as well because it pummels you with great riffs (such as the one before the solo about 3 minutes in). 

Time In A Dream” was a hugely positive surprise. It is uncommon for even the best power metal bands to have this much energy. Those of you who avoid power metal because it isn’t aggressive enough will definitely reconsider that notion after hearing Enceladus. This band has the potential to compete with the giants of the power metal world, and if their next release is anything like this one, they may overtake some of those bands immediately!

Be sure to check out and like Enceladus on Facebook!

"Time In A Dream

Final Rating
4.5/5 or 90%. 

Written by Scott

Monday, July 28, 2014

Swashbuckle – We Hate The Sea

It’s been a few years since Swashbuckle’s last release, and my familiarity with the band stems only from their 2009 release “Back To The Noose”. The band always straddled the line between thrash and death metal pretty well, but with a slight leaning towards thrash. It appears in the last few years, however, that they’ve taken a more death metal direction with their new EP “We Hate The Sea”. Admiral Nobeard’s vocals are as harsh and brutal as ever, blast beats are aplenty, and overall, this is one noisy release.

There are only 4 tracks on this release that barely spans 7 minutes, and each one is slightly worse than the one preceding it. “Beer Goggles” and “I Hate The Sea (And Everything In It)” are the two tracks with the most memorability and interesting moments, but nearly every song is so brief that the whole release feels like it’s over before it really gets going. There are a lot of good riffs on this EP, particularly on “Beer Goggles”, but they tend to get buried beneath blast beats, double bass, and Nobeard’s twisted screams. On poor sound systems, “We Hate The Sea” sounds awful, but with better speakers, it definitely is a decently produced record. The main issue is that the guitars are not mixed as high as they should be, and so it takes a fuller more bass-heavy sound system to bring out the riffs. This is especially true when the band reaches the insane tempos that are present on “Slaughter Upon International Waters”. 

Sometimes it doesn’t quite feel like Swashbuckle is a serious enough band. Between the fact that half of their “Back To The Noose” album is interludes and narration, and that this EP is only 7 minutes long with a pretty muddled sound, it’s a bit disappointing to be a fan. What the band does provide is more than adequate from a songwriting perspective, but there really isn’t all that much here.

Be sure to check out and like Swashbuckle on Facebook!

"Beer Goggles"
"I Hate The Sea (And Everything In It)"

Final Rating
3.5/5 or 70%. 

Written by Scott

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Disforia – The Age of Ether

Disforia is a modern progressive power metal band that comes from the US, and despite this origin, their primary influence is straight from Germany. “The Age of Ether”, their debut full-length, is an ode to later Blind Guardian (post-Imaginations), and even features an appearance from Hansi on one of the later tracks. Despite this nod to one of Germany’s best, Disforia can show their own sound at times as well. The main factor that draws the comparison to Blind Guardian is vocalist John Yelland. While not a dead ringer for Hansi, he has a similar sound to Hansi’s less nasally moments. In addition, the use of vocal layering (and really the layers of instruments as a whole) brings in that epic choir-like feel.

The band is at their best on the shorter tracks. These songs are more straightforward and a lot catchier. This preference likely comes from my dislike of progressiveness, but sometimes things are just hard to follow when you have an hour of material and relatively loose song structures. A track like “Dream Eater” is a great example of how progressive influences can creep into a song without overwhelming it. In fact, despite being a bit too dominated by keyboards, “Dream Eater” is by far the best song on the album. The song has a brief appearance of harsh vocals (that are also present in other tracks on the album), but what really drives the track is the brilliant lead guitar work underneath the chorus. It has a very rocking feel to it, and is something you don’t hear too often in metal, particularly in power and progressive metal, which are a bit more calculated and precise than this.

Unfortunately after this track, the album takes a bit of a turn for the worse. There is an onslaught of tracks that exceed 8 minutes, and while there are a lot of interesting ideas present in these songs, they ultimately lack focus. This disregard to standard song structures is of course a major part of the appeal to progressive music, but the band showed so much promise on earlier tracks like “Chaos” and “Dream Eater” that it is a bit frustrating to see them take this direction. Regardless of my dislike of this style, there are still a lot of great elements to Disforia. No matter what else is happening in a song, Yelland’s vocals are always enjoyable. His voice is almost preferable to Hansi’s simply because it is cleaner. Another great element of this music is that there is almost always a cool riff going on. While progressive tendencies sometimes lead to riffless bands, Disforia has plenty of riffs to offer, and they use them often enough that the music doesn’t get stale. Hansi’s appearance on “The Dying Firmanent” is interesting because if you are listening to the album as background noise, you won’t even notice it. Yelland sounds similar enough that you could definitely mistake him for Hansi. Nevertheless, these singers sound great together. 

On the whole, “The Age of Ether” is a perfectly enjoyable record. The only reason for my negativity in this review is because of my extremely strong preference of power metal over progressive metal. Disforia does both sounds incredibly well. There are some interludes, but they are never intrusive to the point of ruining a song, nor do they lead to a situation where there is 4 or 5 minutes without music. They blend into the atmosphere created by “The Age of Ether” perfectly. If you’re looking for later-era Blind Guardian with even more prog influence, Disforia will definitely appeal to you.

Be sure to check out and like Disforia on Facebook!

"Dream Eater"
"The Dying Firmament"

Final Rating
3.75/5 or 75%. 

Written by Scott

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Unisonic – Light of Dawn

Unisonic is the super group featuring ex-Helloween members Michael Kiske and Kai Hansen, alongside a group of equally seasoned and experienced musicians. Apart from Kiske’s involvement with Avantasia and other guest appearances, this project appears to be as close to a return to metal as he is willing to get. The first album was a mixed bag, largely due to a distinctive split between metal and non-metal songs. On their new album, Unisonic again gave us a taste with an EP, and it was an unexpected surprise. The title track of that EP, “For The Kingdom”, which also appears on this album, is essentially “Eagle Fly Free Pt. 2”. It is a fast, upbeat track that is completely reminiscent of Helloween. For that reason, Unisonic’s second album looked quite promising. Unfortunately, that track was a bit deceiving of the sound of the album.

Light of Dawn” once again features a very obvious mix of heavier metal songs and more ballad/hard rock-oriented material. Each sound comprises about half of the album, and as was the case last time, the metal songs are far superior to the non-metal tracks. Even the metal songs, however, tend to be relatively standard and unexciting. “Find Shelter” for example, can be pretty speedy in the chorus, with the use of double bass drumming and Kiske’s melodic vocals, but its chorus isn’t anything special. The rest of the song is likewise not too interesting, and it sort of leaves you scratching your head, wondering how two of the greatest musicians ever could create something so uninspired. These metal tracks take a turn for the better once “Exceptional” comes in. This song is almost like a modern Edguy track. It is built around its predictably catchy chorus, showing off the incredible vocal talents of Michael Kiske. Even though the song begins in a similar manner to the tracks before it, it is immediately clear how superior this song will be due to Kiske's vocal melodies. 

As mentioned before, the highlight of the album is "For The Kingdom", but there is also another old-school power metal track: "Your Time Has Come". Both songs are built around fast-paced riffs, melodic guitar work, soaring vocals, and catchy choruses. Much like what happened on "Exceptional", the second that both of these tracks begin, you immediately know your in for something better than the rest of the experience has been. "For The Kingdom" gets a bit tamer in the verses, but it is another opportunity for Kiske to show off his still perfect singing abilities. "Your Time Has Come" is even faster and features better guitar work than "For The Kingdom". This song shows the band at their absolute best, and reveals just how much potential they still have.

Many of the other tracks are just disappointing. “You And I” is a ballad (only two tracks into the album!) that is par for the course for power metal. Unfortunately it lacks the emotional touch of a classic like “A Tale That Wasn’t Right”. Even a track like “When The Deed Is Done”, which has some cool harmonized guitars, is ultimately quite plodding by the end of the song. The solo in the song features some flashy guitar work, but it is ultimately forgotten as it is surrounded by sub-standard songwriting. When “Not Gonna Take Anymore” comes in, the act is starting to get a bit tired. Michael Kiske will make absolutely anything sound good because of how strong his voice still is, but at a certain point, the novelty of his voice begins to wear off, simply because the songwriting continues to bore. Even when they give you an enjoyable track like "Exceptional", the band immediately returns to a ballad on the very next track! Some of the later tracks on the album are more reminiscent of the semi-enjoyable hard rock that was present on the debut, but it's just frustrating to see a band that still has the ability to make brilliant music water down their sound. 

Perhaps it is unfair to compare this band to Helloween, or to say that only the metal songs here are good. After all, these guys are over 20 years removed from Helloween, and people are obviously free to enjoy music beyond metal. The sad reality, however, is that these musicians are both famous for their work in power metal, and while they’re free to create any music they’d like together, the main reason why so many people listen to Unisonic is to try to recapture the glory that the two Keepers records delivered. I said in my review of the first Unisonic album that you can’t expect them to put out a Helloween album, but “Light of Dawn” is a complete step backwards from the debut record, and it is even further from the sound we know and love, despite having a couple of tracks that bring back that sound. There are a few great songs here, and it is worth seeking out the release for those songs alone, but it is hard to recommend sitting through the entire album.

Be sure to check out and like Unisonic on Facebook!

"For The Kingdom"
"Your Time Has Come"

Final Rating
3.25/5 or 65%. 

Written by Scott