Monday, November 25, 2013

Mad Hatter's Den – Welcome To The Den

Roughly a year has passed since we reviewed their first release, the Dark Wheel EP, and today Mad Hatter's Den are back with a brand new full album Welcome To The Den. The line up has stayed intact since Dark Wheel, but the vocalist Taage Laiho's presence in the band has solidified further and he now has lyrics writing credits for all new tracks for example. Hopefully this is an indication of stronger commitment to the band; that Taage is here to stay.

Welcome To The End comprises 9 tracks excluding the intro, out of which 3 have been previously released: Shadow Lord and The Dark Wheel from the Dark Wheel EP, and Stone Cold Flame as a single. That leaves us with 6 new tracks or 32 minutes of previously unheard heavy metal from the Pirkanmaa metallers.

Musically Welcome To The Den is a pure sequel to The Dark Wheel release as the sound is still the easily recognizable 70-80s heavy metal sound. There's perhaps slightly less of galloping guitars, but in contrast keyboards play a bigger role now, and not completely in the Hammond-esque way either; in fact, there are some very beautiful, not-so-Hammond-style melodies scattered throughout the album.

Welcome To The Den and Blind Leading The Blind are your generic -for the lack of better word- trustworthy heavy metal songs: they don't particularly stand out, but that doesn't mean they're bad. Easy on ears and a good introduction to the album as whole. Shadow Lord follows fourth and still sounds just as good as always -- no news here.

The fifth and the next new track, Sinister Monologue, begins with strange progressive guitar riffs which reminds me instantly of Powerwolf's The Evil Made Me Do It. The familiarity is shrugged off pretty quickly, only to drift into another type of familiarity: Iron Maiden -- reminiscent of something like Where The Wild Wind Blows. I cannot exactly say why, but we all have our odd associations. There's a particular atmosphere on this track and it's owed in great lengths to Taage's vocal performance which is nothing short of outstanding. Definitely one of Taage's high points on the album, if not across his whole career. Sinister Monologue quickly rises to the top position of the album so far.

Journey, which follows next, is a slow and mellow ballad, something that isn't that much to my liking in all honesty. And unfortunately Journey will likely remain the track where I just press skip. Fortunately, on the other hand, Journey is the only song on the album to do that.

If you're at all into power metal you've definitely heard Legacy Of The Kings by Hammerfall. This time Mad Hatter's Den aren't here to cover anyone and their rendition of Legacy Of The Kings is an instrumental, keyboard-driven show-off from the keyboardist Petja Puumalainen, who also has composing credits for the song. I'll be straight: I like Legacy Of The Kings, and I like it because it feels very 80s and classical. It feels like a tribute to 80s games and their soundtracks. And it also sounds like Castlevania! Anytime a song manages to do all that, I'm instantly sold. I would gladly listen to more of instrumental wonders like this one.

The last new song on the album is a cunningly named track Sharks Of Power which was released as a trailer for the album a few weeks before the actual album release, so I'd heard it before. And it kicks ass, serious ass, Duke Nukem biting sharks kind of serious ass. No time for chewing bubble gum during this one. The main guitar riff etches into your brain like a music-thirsty parasite. Alongside Sinister Monologue Sharks Of Power is the best new material this album has to offer.

The Dark Wheel and Stone Cold Flame conclude the 50 minutes of heavy metal and I'm left, again, with a very positive vibe -- even more so than with the Dark Wheel EP. Mad Hatter's Den continue extremely strong on their path doing what they do best: damn good melodic heavy metal. If you're looking to buy one heavy metal album this year, make it be Welcome To The Den. I don't think you'll be disappointed. One of the best releases this year, and considering the number of high quality releases from many notable bands this year, that's a lot to say.

You can listen to some of the tracks and buy the album here.

Sharks of Power on Youtube


Saturday, May 4, 2013

Vomitron - No NES for the Wicked

No NES for the Wicked is a tribute to the 8-bit music of NES by the American Peter "Vomitron" Rutcho (e.g. Armory, Graveheart), and its style is in vein of symphonic power metal, a bit like his other band Armory's. Video game tribute bands seem to be a relatively common occurrence across the big pond, and other popular North American acts such as Armcannon, Minibosses, Powerglove and Stage 3-1 also represent the genre (albeit not strictly limited to any particular console).

The album was released already in 2011, so a lot of water has flown under the bridge since then giving me ample time to get to know this record well. And the more I listen to it the more I am convinced that No NES for the Wicked is the best console video game tribute in whole, surpassing even such releases as Legvacuum and Metal Kombat for the Mortal Man by Armcannon and Powerglove respectively, which I'd considered top releases of the genre for long.

The tracks on the album are more or less based on classic NES games, but curiously enough, such popular titles as Mega Man and Super Mario have been completely excluded. Perhaps this is suitable to its purpose since both themes have been remixed and covered to no end by both well and lesser known artists. Instead of that, Vomitron focuses on Ninja Gaiden (European title Shadow Warrior) for two tracks worth spanning all six acts, and doing it with quite a masterly touch, totally toppling Minibosses' Ninja Gaiden song which I previously regarded as The Ninja Gaiden remix. That isn't to undermine the Minibosses' version but to further highlight the skillful touch and genius of Vomitron.

Other high points of the album are Blaster Master – a title somewhat unfamiliar to me –  and of course everyone's favorite pieces, both Zeldas. Especially the relative nutcase of the game series, Zelda II, gets such a treatment in Vomitron's hands that it reaches the top of the album along with Ninja Gaiden.

Three pieces of Tetris have also been included as certain types of intermezzos, but unfortunately they never quite manage to hold my attention, and frankly I'd rather have seen them dropped altogether. Not a big hit or miss in any event due to their short lengths and spacing around the album.

When the legendary Castlevania themes are finally finished, Vomitron's style hasn't trembled at all. No NES for the Wicked is premium quality and deserves a permanent place on my cell phone's playlist. One must hope that Mr. Rutcho will invest in the game music genre in the future as well, maybe in the form of No SNES for the Wicked? I dare to think that the mister's treatments to certain Final Fantasy songs would bring tears to one's eyes and make shivers run down the spine. And in case the Final Fantasy series feels too worn-out already, there are lots of other potential SNES titles for such material. Failing that, there are a bunch of NES tunes still to plow through, or what say thee Shadowgate, or a little less known masterpiece called Tecmo Cup Soccer (JP: Captain Tsubasa). Here's hoping!


You can buy the album (along with a nice t-shirt and a poster you wouldn't want to miss for life) on the Vomitron website.

No NES for the Wicked is also on Spotify along with some of Vomitron's earlier works.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Dreamtale – World Changed Forever

On Friday the 26th of April 2013, Dreamtale released their sixth album World Changed Forever under their own label Secret Door, preceded by two single releases as well.

Unlike most of Dreamtale's earlier albums, WCF is a concept album, and should also be regarded as such since this concept gives the record a whole new dimension. The album begins with a peaceful melody of the first track The Shore, which sounds almost like a lullaby. It's not an explosive way to start a power metal album, but certainly an apt "once upon a time in 2040" piece. That's right – the story of the album takes place in the future. Although the tracks tell the story from the beginning to the end, the CD booklet adds a lot of information to the mere lyrics – in fact even such essential details that without them the whole concept will not open up.

The second track, Island Of My Heart, leads the listener to genuine power metal and deeper understanding of the story. The song begins with an exciting intro and is topped off with a catchy chorus – a feature very peculiar to Dreamtale. It is followed by Tides Of War, the first single release and a song with an equally fine chorus and melodies which get stuck in your head. Both tracks are good examples of why the founder and main composer Rami Keränen should receive a lot of appreciation for his skills and creativity.

The story goes on with We Have No God, the song with ominous verses uttered in a lower tone, and The Signs Were True, which resembles a proclamation in its humble pomposity. The Heart After Dark was a bit tougher track to get a good hold of, but it turned out to be versatile, conveying a variety of emotions, as well as the lack thereof in an excellent way. Join The Rain is yet another great track which thrives from the very beginning to its strong chorus – however, such lines as "join the rain, my blackened angel" may sound slightly lame with a term that bears resemblance to a pre-teen goth's online nickname, and in this case only the additional text in the booklet justifies the use of such words.

Personally, I think ballads are a difficult form of art and too many such songs turn out unsuccessful, but Dreamtale has succeeded in that as well. The title track World Changed Forever is a very beautiful piece which also honours Erkki Seppänen's emotional vocals – moreover, it is also the only exception composed by him instead of Keränen. Dreamtime is not a ballad but a song swinging from one mood to another, growing from peacefulness to real power metal. Destiny's Chance, the last track, is a fine way to bring the story to its end, which is not exactly "and they lived happily ever after", yet its chorus has a glimmer of hope with the lead and backing vocals chanting "sing now my friends although this is the end".

As a whole, the album is again another strong proof of Dreamtale's talent and urge to create awesome power metal, such masterpieces as the aforementioned tracks as well as My Next Move, which contains an interlude slightly similar to that of Lady of A Thousand Lake's and is also a great track despite its slightly awkward ending. The tracks also contain some character dialogue of the story, performed not only by Seppänen and a guest star Heikki A. Kovalainen but also the band's keyboard genius Akseli Kaasalainen. And if one doesn't pay attention to the concept and the story, that dialogue may seem unnecessary and disconnected, yet those lines also have a lot to tell. The story is like a modern, alternative and particularly unscrupulous version of Pocahontas, even starring a cold-blooded self-seeker called John.

Not everything on the album opened up when listening to it for the first time through, but it is a solid, great Dreamtale release – lived up to the expectations one can set for the band and compared with their previous album, it is of the same high standard. Since Rami Keränen hasn't obviously run out of successful ideas for melodies yet, we can probably start looking forward to equally excellent future releases. But until that happens, World Changed Forever will certainly stand up to heavy listening.


Thursday, April 25, 2013

LIVE: Stratovarius, support: Dreamtale, April 20th

On April 20th Stratovarius returned to Tampere to celebrate and promote their newest album Nemesis, which was released two months earlier. Pakkahuone was not full, which was probably unfortunate for the artists yet certainly comfortable for the audience.

Tampere's own power metal act, Dreamtale, was also there to warm up the audience for Stratovarius. They are also just about to release their sixth album World Changed Forever on April 26th, and nearly half of the songs performed on Saturday were off that new album.

Dreamtale's gig started out with Powerplay, which is one of their best tracks – and a magnificent live track, and something I had never heard at the very beginning of their show before, but it was a nice surprise. It was followed by Firestorm, a powerful track they have often played at the beginning, but it also tends to be a successful way to turn the audience on. Soon we got to hear something they haven't been playing much lately – Wings Of Icaros off the album Difference – yet they had apparently played it before when warming up for Stratovarius.

The new songs sound great and set high expectations for the upcoming album. Even yours truly, who usually prefers to hear only familiar songs live, can truly enjoy those tracks, even hearing more than one or two new ones. Tides of War, The Signs Were True, Island of My Heart and Join The Rain are all warmly welcome to Dreamtale's future live sets!

While Where Eternal Jesters Reign is a good track and a nice enough live track, I would rather leave it out and include Angel of Light or Lady of a Thousand Lakes in an ideal Dreamtale setlist, but all in all, the show which was finished with Take What The Heavens Create was particularly enjoyable and fierce. And, unfortunately for Stratovarius, Dreamtale rocked the night.

Stratovarius started out with the first track of their new album, Abandon, which isn't a bad song, but not the best or the most stunning way to open up a live show. However, the second track, Speed of Light, made up a bit for what Abandon couldn't do. The third one, Halcyon Days off the new album, was a good choice too, being one of the nicest new songs.

Then the band returned to the 90's to please those who are not too fond of the newer material with Eternity, yet it was followed by a new track again – Dragons. However, it also belongs to the strongest new tracks and was an agreeable live piece. The set comprised the majority of the songs included in the newest album, and didn't offer much to those who prefer their older material. Destiny was heard, as well as Against the Wind – and naturally, Eagleheart, Black Diamond and Hunting High and Low.

One moment between songs was filled with a drum solo, showing off how a guy from Tampere, Rolf Pilve, can handle his drumsticks in front of the audience from his hometown. While the act was skillful, it was unnecessary and relatively boring, obviously making many people in the audience yawn and eagerly waiting for the next actual song. Later Lauri Porra's bass solo turned out to be somewhat more interesting and enjoyable, but still not a particularly good way to spend time during a live show. And since the show didn't feel particularly versatile to begin with, the solo parts did not really claim their place.

For those who both attended the concert where Under Flaming Winter Skies – Live in Tampere live album and DVD were recorded and have also been listening to those, some moments during the gig were sort of small déjà vus. Timo Kotipelto says such things between the songs which are touching at best but cliché at worst, and some phrases and sentences were exactly the same or very similar to those uttered in 2011. Sure it is a difficult task for the vocalist to come up with something smart to say between the songs, a gig after gig and a tour after tour, but Kotipelto's attempts to flatter his audience are not particularly convincing. Making the audience repeat "hunting high and low" again and again is not also the most interesting way to get them engaged and excited (at the very end of the gig).

All in all, Stratovarius's show was a disappointment, boring as a whole despite the occasional very enjoyable tracks. As stated earlier, the support act was the winner of the night. Both bands suffered from slightly bad sounds though, leaving especially vocals occasionally quite muffled, which was unfortunate, yet not the reason why Stratovarius didn't manage to blow my mind.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Gloryhammer – Angus McFife

Christopher Bowes, the frontman of the pirate metal band Alestorm, is making new music with his side project Gloryhammer. The band plays very honest and epic power metal, and Bowes himself can be found behind the keyboards this time.

Their first album, Tales from the Kingdom of Fife, is to be released on March 29th. It is a concept album with a story set in medieval Scotland with fantasy elements – well, yes, such classic power metal themes as dragons, battles, wizards and magic. Since such stories need an epic hero, Angus McFife is wielding his weapons in the name of glory.

And the first video, Angus McFife, is quite promising. In spite of being a fan of Alestorm, I hadn't really been looking forward to Gloryhammer's releases – mostly because I had forgotten to pay enough attention. Well, Gloryhammer is an entirely different project anyway, but it seems that Chris Bowes has a lot more to give to the metal scene than just piratey folk and power metal. Gloryhammer is symphonic and impressive – and certainly gave a good first impression! Thomas Winkler is also singing like a siren and contributing quite a lot of power to metal in this act, being a very fine choice for a vocalist.

While some can probably find the lyrical themes quite cheesy and comical, the song is still particularly catchy! And the video – it's not too comical or ridiculous, it's actually warm (and I am not only referring to the color scheme with a yellowish sky) and cosy – something you should see for yourself.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

LIVE: Amorphis, December 29th, 2012

After the world again ended but before the year 2012 came to its timely end Amorphis toured the Finnish venues in December again -- a seemingly semi-customary tradition by now. We stopped by to check out the Pakkahuone gig in Tampere once again after some consideration. To warm up for them two bands had been announced: Blackstar Halo and Brigadnij Podrjad. We were sure to be on time for Blackstar Halo who would kick the evening off at around 20:00 local time.

Upon our arrival it was noticeable how few people there were. We got in close to the stage where only a handful others were by that time. And the majority of those who were already present were just securing their front row spots for Amorphis from the looks of things.

Blackstar Halo started pretty much right on time with one of my favorite tracks Alice in Wonderland. The singer Ville Hovi looked to be in a happy mood and was constantly reminding the audience to smile a little. After Alice, the band played two or three completely new songs from their upcoming album which should be coming out in 2013. The third track I'm not sure of as it was just described as "Rammstein" but there was a certain familiarity to it so I'll have to wonder if it was something from the existing releases. Be what it may, the new songs sounded good, especially a track titled Wolf the Mender. To complete the unfortunately short set of only 6 songs, In Flames and Illuminated were then played. I had hoped for Dark Parade and End of the Story but perhaps another time then!

The sounds were (surprisingly) crisp and clear throughout the entire show and the rest of the band seemed to have a good time too, not just the singer. Alongside him, the guitarist Timo Eskelinen had a happy grin on his face for most of the show. Blackstar Halo left the few of us in the audience largely happy I would wager and looking forward to the next performer, Brigadnij Podrjad.

At 20:45 it was time for the mysterious, unknown to most people I imagine, Brigadnij Podrjad. My eyes first caught the British flag painted guitar on the guitarist (on left in the picture below) and then the bassist (on the right) who was dressed in a very hipster kind of way. After the music began, Anarchy in the UK vibes coursed through my veins: this is as punk as things can get! The show consisted of a lot of short tracks, as is customary for punk I believe, with some speaks between the songs that mainly prepared the audience for the chorus that was coming up in the next song so we could sing along. And it worked, at least for me.

This punk band from St. Petersburg apparently (and already active in the 80's!) did an extremely entertaining show for most parts, but it was perhaps a bit too long as some repetition reared its ugly head towards the end. Sounds were again very good but there were very audible backing tracks on some guitar parts at least. Nevertheless, when the quintet left the stage I was smiling; they came to do what a warm-up band should do.

By this time more crowd had gathered up but the murky Pakkahuone was still far from being crowded. Even the beer queues were short, which is always a good thing though! Around 21:50 the lights went out and it was time for Amorphis. I've seen Amorphis so many times that I knew they would do a solid show like always, especially since Tomi Joutsen's entry to the band. The full set list of the show is readable on and I won't repeat it here. Suffice it to say there were no big surprises but it's always nice when they shuffle things a bit and include lesser-played songs like Better Unborn or Sign From the North Side. The new track Mehtä sounded very heavy (think Majestic Beast) but melodic, something you would expect from Amorphis in all honesty.

Before the encore, a record label representative came out to announce Amorphis had scored gold on their latest album The Beginning of Times and was met with applauds and cheers. Personally the album is a hit and miss for me, but that's for another discussion or review. Still, it's not easy for a metal band to get recognized like that and Amorphis with their 20-year-long+ career surely deserves it.

Unlike in case of warm up bands, the Amorphis sounds were a bit dusty and "packed up", and just not as clear as with prior performers. When the gig ended to Black Winter Day it was time to roll out to a black winter night mostly pleased with the evening. Blackstar Halo were definitely good as were Brigadnij PodrjadAmorphis tours so much in Finland it's easy to get an overdose on them, and this perhaps felt a bit like that.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Civil War - Civil War EP

After the Swedish warmetallers Sabaton split up in two oddly-sized halves in the early 2012, Daniel MullbackOskar MonteliusDaniel Mÿhr and Rikard Sundén suddenly found themselves without a band. However, that period was short-lived and the phoenix arose in form of Civil War, who are here today to continue the warmetal path for which Sabaton paved the way. To fill the singer and drummer boots, Nils Patrik Johansson of Wuthering Heights / Astral Doors / Lion's Share fame and Stefan Eriksson (Volturyon) were recruited. Civil War's first release is their eponymous Civil War EP, released via a small label named Despotz Records.

The EP contains five tracks, one of which is a fairly curious cover of a Nelly Furtado song called Say It Right. The other four represent the style of metal Civil War are about, and if one were to describe it using traditional genres, heavy metal springs to mind first and foremost. I don't have a lot to say, negative or positive, about the cover track, so I'll focus on the actual Civil War music in this review.

The EP starts off with a track called Rome Is Falling, and I dare say right off the bat it's one of the catchiest heavy metal songs I've heard. The chorus especially is exceptionally captivating, and the incredibly talented Nils Patrik Johansson's voice has never sounded better. Considering the EP originally came out in 2012, I can't nominate Rome Is Falling as the track of 2013 even though I'd like to! Pretending I have a time machine at hand, I'll go back to late 2012 and declare Rome Is Falling as the best track in 2012.

Forevermore is a ballad-esque song where the voice of NPJ gets all the space it deserves making chills run down one's spines. However, ballads are something I don't particularly find very interesting and Forevermore isn't really an exception. Don't misinterpret me; Forevermore is not a bad track, but there are times when you'd rather listen to the roaring thunders of a civil war more than to a soft ballad! The track is saved by the magnificent rendition of vocals by NPJ once again which makes the song have such a good feeling to it despite its style.

The title track Civil War represents quite the traditional heavy metal and there are no big surprises contained within this track. A good track, but nothing spectacular. I do like the compact sounds but apart from that there are no really eyebrow-raising moments here. Just good, solid heavy metal for the fans of it.

To close down this chapter of an EP, the last track, Custer's Last Stand, tells the tale of the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876 where the joint forces of the Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapaho tribes under the lead and visions of Sitting Bull rose against the US armies who'd invaded and taken over their sacred lands. Lt. Colonel George Custer, a popular Civil War hero then, and his troop of 210 men were overwhelmed and massacred by the Indians resulting in nationwide demand for retribution, which ultimately culminated in the destruction of the Sioux tribe about a year later.

So much for the history lesson! The song starts with war-like drumming and gloomy guitars as if opening up for the thunderous events of battle to come. Yet again I must praise the vocals as it's really difficult to imagine anyone else laying the same feeling to this song than NPJ. The whole composition of the song works out great and there are no dull moments in this track. Custer's Last Stand is a fitting ending track for Civil War EP as it leaves one wanting to hear more, and more, and more. And more.

Civil War is not just another Sabaton by any means even though there are Sabaton-like moments here and there, particularly the sound environment is reminiscent of that of Sabaton's. The EP doesn't leave anyone with liking for the genre in cold; in fact, even as an avid Sabaton fan, I'm now far more interested in hearing the next Civil War album than the next Sabaton album. I for one welcome the different aspects into depths of history as provided by Civil War, not just the modern warfare era. I was skeptical what would happen after the split in Sabaton, but now I'm more than happy that it happened. Let's hope this won't be Civil War's last stand, and indeed the guys are, according to their Facebook updates, in process of producing new songs for the upcoming full album. Nine cheers for Civil War!

You can listen to Rome Is Falling on Youtube. Civil War EP is also on Spotify.
Buy the album directly at Despotz Records.