Thursday, August 30, 2012

Firewind – Few Against Many review

I was pretty surprised to read some very average reviews for Few Against Many, Firewind’s seventh full-length record. Greece’s most famous Heavy Metal band has always been extremely popular and respected by both fans and press.
But things have changed since last record (Days Of Defiance, 2010) as mastermind Gus G. is now Ossy Osbourne’s guitarist, and Firewind will inevitably be much more exposed. You’ve probably guessed as well the main critic I read about this new record: “the songs were composed and recorded quickly, as if Gus G. wanted to profit from his joining of Ozzy as fast as possible”. Well that’s a typical Metal-fan argument, the same old “selling out” theory; but in the same time, it could be true, because we can imagine that playing with Ozzy and doing 95% of the job in Firewind (Guitarist Gus G. handles a lot of things in Firewind: composing all the music, and producing it) is a lot of work.

As a fan, I decided to get that album and listen to it so that I can make up my own opinion. And after many listens, here’s my verdict: I have no idea if I like this record or not!
Gus G. has been saying in interviews that he wanted to modify the band’s sound a little bit, by focusing on composing good songs, and not just rely on the heavy riffs.
Few Against Many sounds indeed like a transition record, as the band seems to have intended to create something different, but without going completely through the process. The result is a patchwork of mostly melodic songs, with highs and lows.
Among the good songs, I want to mention the opener, “Wall Of Sound”. That one has a great rock’n’roll vibe, a nice and heavy riff and a cool hard-rock feeling. Irresistible!
I also love the second song, “Losing My Mind”, that sounds like a homage to Alice In Chains, and that clearly demonstrates Firewind’s desire to test new things. Singer Apollo does a fantastic job on that one. “Another Dimension” and “Glorious” are more typical Firewind songs, with some very fast and heavy parts and a cool melodic chorus. “Edge Of A Dream”, the ballad featuring Apocalyptica, is another cool moment, with again, a great performance from Apollo.
“Long Gone Tomorrow” is different; vey heavy and sounds like an attempt to write something more modern, with a big chunky guitar riff.
And as I was saying, there are some very ordinary songs here; that you pretty much forget instantly after each listen, not to mention some of them are just too cheesy like “Destiny”.

All in all, I must admit that Few Against Many sounds like “just another new Firewind record”, although it seems to be a transition album, as Gus G. has really tried many different things and vibes, which is a positive thing. All he needs to do right now is to decide in what direction he wants to lead the band to and to accomplish it fully. He clearly doesn’t want to go towards progressive metal, maybe Firewind will become more melodic, more modern or even more heavy? Or just get back to the good old Heavy Metal they completely mastered and that satisfied their fans? I guess we’ll have to wait and buy the next record to figure that out. And to make up our mind concerning Few Againt Many…


Tuesday, August 7, 2012


If you’ve read some of my blogs before you know that already: I firmly believe that “small” and specialized labels are the most interesting source of Metal records. 
Don’t get me wrong; I’ve got nothing against important labels such as Roadrunner, Century Media, Metal Blade or Nuclear Blast… I actually buy some of their chunky “limited edition” CDs every single month (you know, the ones that come in big shiny digipacks with useless “making of” bonus DVDs).

The thing is, these important companies do not (and probably CANNOT) have a specific and clear artistic orientation, as they must enlarge their audience as much as possible. Specialized labels however select their artists according to one very simple thing: their boss's taste! That’s why it’s most of the time a completely passion-driven and authentic decision. In fact, after following some labels for a while, I feel that I know their bosses almost personally, because I understand completely their musical tastes, just by listening to their releases. Awesome right? And so old-school: you don't need to listen to a CD before buying it, with these labels, you know just exactly what to expect!

And yes: as you might have guessed already, Shadow Kingdom Records if one of those passion-driven labels. Their specialty is Heavy Metal, with a particular attraction for obscure and doomy stuff. This Pittsburgh-USA based label have made me discover some amazing new bands, like Argus, Sinister Realm, or Crowned In Earth, it has brought back from the dead the mighty Iron Man and it has reissued some hidden gems from the past like Deep Switch, Wolfbane, Revelation and so many more!

This summer, there are 3 Shadow Kingdom Released you need to check out if you’re into Heavy Metal or Heavy/Doom stuff. And the first one I want to tell you about is also the strangest one. Coven have reformed under the name Coven 13 recently. Probably because of the other 256 bands called Coven around the globe.
This US Heavy Metal band has existed quite briefly in the late 80’s, with only one official release, an LP called “Worship New Gods”. Back in the day, the band self-released it on vinyl only and split-up shortly after. And guess what, it’s now re-released on CD by Shadow Kingdom in a remastered version with a booklet including a bunch of old photos! Seriously, where the hell does Shadow Kingdom Records find these bands??!! Release after release, SKR's  boss shows to be one of the finest Heavy Metal connoisseurs in the world.

Coven sounds pretty much like a typical US-Heavy Metal band, with the sharp riffs and the taste for doomy atmospheres. Some might even classify it as “Heavy/Doom” which pretty much illustrates the global feeling of this record. I also must insist on the old-school taste of this one, just look at the artwork, the band photos and some details. The first song starts with a clear statement as singer David Landrum says “The Gods Made Men, Men Made Steel!”. Now that is HEAVY! I also love the old-fashionned effects in the beginning of “The Wicked Day” and “Loki”. 
This release may seem a little strange at first, as it took me some time to get into it, maybe because of the high-pitched vocals that sometimes get out of control. But when it did click, I really started to enjoy it, especially some songs like the aforementioned “The Wicked Day”, “Ruler” or even “Burial Ground” and “Jailhouse”. Another thing I like about this record is that I never really heard anything like it before... Some songs have a strange and very marked Gothic vibe like “Kiss Me With Blood” or “Threshold Of The New” (this one is like The Cure meet Heavy Metal!!). Last track “Loki” is also very original with a very unusual -not to say weird- structure and chorus.
Trust me, this release is not just a rarity destined to a few Metal archeologists, as it sounds like nothing you’ve heard before, although a bit “dated” maybe, but hey, that’s totally part of it’s charm!

Second summer release on Shadow Kingdom is another rarity reedition, only this time around it’s by a much more famous band: Pagan Altar. "The Time Lord" had only been released on vinyl a few years ago and Shadow Kingdom brings it to you for the first time on CD. These tracks are the very first recordings by the band, done in 1978 and 1979, so yes; this is another historical release.
I personally love this kind of very early Heavy Metal, still filled with hard-rock vibes and tons of BLUES. The feeling these guys have is just amazing, and it’s unbelievable that this band has been ignored for so long (although formed in the late 70s, their first official recording was released in 1998!). There are 5 songs on that release for a total running time of 32 minutes. The songs tend to be a little long, with multiple developments, essentially led by Alan Jones (accompanied by Les Moody on the songs “The Time Lord” and “Highway Cavalier”) who does a fantastic job on the guitars (both acoustic and electric). 

The song “The Time Lord” is truly one of my favorites on this EP, with it’s 8 minutes of pure transcendental pleasure. “Judgment Of The Dead” is heavier, and really sounds like many of the “doom” bands you might know from our actual era (Glen Robinson’s bass also gives me the chills on that one). “The Black Mass” has a darker feeling, still filled with blues and some HEAVY riffing! Really impressive stuff for a song composed in the late 70s. And that's when I realized that Pagan Altar could have been a real alternative for Black Sabbath, who are considered like the Godfathers of Heavy Music in general. History is sometimes so cruel… Last track “Reincarnation” is also a tremendous one, with a beautiful acoustic beginning that develops into one heavy and epic song. Terry Jone’s vocals are nothing short of impressive: full of blues and emotion. This EP is clearly an instant classic. What more can I say? As usual with SKR, the CD comes with a new and fantastic artwork.

The last SKR release on the menu today isn’t another hidden treasure. Grand Gesture Of Defiance is Altar Of Oblivion’s second LP. And as the bio on the SKR website says, this is probably the best Heavy Metal band to come out from Denmark since Mercyful Fate. Altar Of Oblivion are however quite different from their famous predecessors, as their sound is much heavier and “doomier”. The guitar-sound is very thick and the guys have got a Scandinavian approach to their Heavy/Doom (this label perfectly fits the band): everything is so bombastic and operatic here. Just look at the artwork, the song titles and even the style of the booklet. Of course, the very demonstrative vocals also totally reflect that. It’s even clearly specified on the last page of the booklet (awesome artwork by the way); Mik Mentor doesn’t just handle vocals, he’s in charge of the “Stentorian Narration & Ars Melancholia”. There you go!

Music-wise, this is some pretty classic stuff, extremely well performed and composed, with crazy riffing all over it, some killer melodies, and a few Mellotron parts here and there. The production is just perfect; very heavy yet organic and all the instruments sound natural. The Danish usually master the art of Metal production, so this is no surprise at all. The first track “Where Darkness Is Light” is really a strong opener, that will dive you into the record and that displays the band’s talent instantly. However, I absolutely love the second track, “the Graveyard Of Broken Dreams” because of its fantastic chorus and the melodic break in the middle of it. The other highlight of the record is the very heavy “Sentenced In Absentia”, preceded by the acoustic “The Smoke-Filled Room”. Again, nothing fundamentally new here, but these guys sure know what Heavy & Doom means…
All in all I really enjoyed listening to this record, because albeit being pretty classical in its approach, the band manages to show a unique personality, with a specific concept, a deep melancholia and an operatic attitude that does make a difference.

These 3 releases are equally awesome, each one of them being different and special in it’s own way. If you’re into the SKR stuff, then just do what you usually do, trust the label and get these releases. If you are a metal archeologist interested by bizarre and original stuff check out Coven, if you like your Heavy filled with blues then you must get that Pagan Altar EP. Finally, if you're into Heavy/Doom Metal, then Altar Of Oblivion is a band you absolutely have to check out!

As for me, I just can’t pick-up a favorite; I’ve been playing these records one after the other for the past few days…


Friday, August 3, 2012

Vesperian Sorrow – Stormwinds Of Ages

When listening to the new Vesperian Sorrow record, I get this very conflicting feeling: everything tells you there’s nothing special about that one, that you've heard a lot of such records, that you’ll never remember it in a few months. However, playing it loud is such a freakin' pleasure!

The thing is, Vesperian Sorrow is not just another symphonic black metal band. The guys have been around for 15 years now, with an amazing consistency in terms of quality. These veterans from Texas-USA sure know what kind of music they want to play, and they do it perfectly well; even if it means they have to do almost everything on their own (the record is however released by The Path Less Travelled Records).
This by the way, is another manifest aberration of the music industry, but what the hell, no-one seems to remember what Sympho-Black Metal means nowadays… Dimmu Borgir and Cradle Of Filth have moved on and so have the “fans”…

But Vesperian Sorrow have not given up; and they keep on producing that awesome Sympho-Black Metal they love, with a quality close to perfection. As I was just saying, there is nothing really special on this one, although there are some cool and original elements here and there, like that acoustic moment on “Crown Of Glass” and the nice clean vocals on "Eye Of The Clocktower”. I also enjoy very much the global “gothic feeling” on the record, nothing too cheesy, just a permanent dark and gloomy atmosphere. The job on the guitars is tremendous, with a bunch of killer riffs, fast, melodic and slow, and also many solos. The balance between the orchestrations and guitars -which is usually the key on such records- is totally mastered on Stormwinds Of Ages.
Did I mention that the band has a nice guest-list featured on those new songs? Among them Jason McMaster (former Watchtower), Carl August Tidemann (Winds, Arcturus) and Erica Tandy (Autumn Tears). Another proof that this band like to do it perfectly right!

This a new very fine piece of Sympho-Black Metal, perfectly produced and composed, with dynamic, symphonic and catchy songs. There is absolutely nothing wrong on this record, only around 60 minutes of big, fat, heavy music that will fill you with pleasure if you enjoy this specific genre.

Sometimes it’s just nice to quit listening to all the new & hype stuff and get back to basics. Vesperian Sorrow is a very serious band, extremely committed to the art they enjoy and I must say they did another great piece of work with this new record. Fans of Sympho-Black Metal absolutely need to check this one out, and fans of black metal in general should give it a try!