John Jackson

Dark Sarah – “Grim”

 Posted by on February 27, 2021 at 14:25  No Responses »
Feb 272021

Dark Sarah returns with another symphonic/cinematic metal horror fantasy concept album filled with lush orchestral arrangements supported by a metal backing that highlight the beauty of Heidi Parviainen’s vocals.

As is quickly obvious, even to those unfamiliar with Amberian Dawn, Heidi is a classically trained singer with a phenomenal voice and the genre cinematic metal is one that could almost have been created for her. After parting with Amberian Dawn in 2012, Heidi started her solo career and Dark Sarah became the name of the project. In the first of the concept albums, Dark Sarah describes the journey of a young woman left at the altar who goes the edge of a breakdown only to have something inside her wake up and she changes into a darker reflection of herself, Dark Sarah. The album Behind the Black Veil takes you inside the mind of Sarah as she struggles with her two personalities. The album itself was crowdfunded in three parts, and several videos have been produced and released. Following the release of that album, Dark Sarah went on to release The Puzzle in 2016, which continued the story of Dark Sarah from Behind the Black Veil and then in 2018 The Golden Moth, the third part of the Dark Sarah saga was released. In Grim, Dark Sarah as band begins a new story with new characters again in a concept albums setting. This time we hear the story of Luna, who has to journey through a mythical world facing dangers along the way.

Fittingly, the album starts with “My Name is Luna” which introduces us to the hero character in the story. The song starts out with some atmospheric keyboards and sound effects of wolves howling before Heidi’s vocals come in smooth and quietly building in a style not unlike 80s pop songs and that continues into “The Chosen One” until the metal riffs start. Instantly the drums and guitars make their presence felt and while the verses are somewhat quiet and restrained, Thomas Tunkkari’s drums punctuate the silence and carry the song until the guitars come in for the chorus sections where Heidi’s vocals switch to operatic showcasing her vocal range and ability to shift styles completely. Production quality and mixing is understandably great once again, highlighting Heidi’s vocals while not losing the power metal feel in the songs when present. Obviously keyboards do play a large role in the overall sound, but the strength of the drums keeps the metal firmly in the mix until the guitars can come in to emphasize that.

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Motivik – “Death of the Gunman”

 Posted by on February 19, 2021 at 17:17  No Responses »
Feb 192021

Motivik take the listener on a musical journey of sorts in their self-described melodic thrash debut Death of the Gunman.

Death of the Gunman certainly takes you on a musical journey. “Inception” starts off the album and brings mostly old-school thrash like you’d hear from bands like Tourniquet or Vengeance Rising, at least for the first three minutes of the song when it inexplicably turns into a melodic instrumental only the abruptly shift back into a thrash-heavy guitar solo sounding like something off Metallica’s Kill Em All. Throw in some vocals that sound like melodic ones from bands like Volbeat and I’m very confused after just one track.

“Away” starts out thrashy enough but vocals completely change everything and I presume this is Courtney Simmons taking over only to have the smoother vocals come in for the chorus section. This works very well as odd as it sounds when you read the description. There are definitely some interesting choices going on with the mix as well as the bass comes through prominently in some parts offsetting the guitar solo. Then things shift again with the string section opening “Lament” and the background sounds giving the feel of this song being something from an American Western. Really not sure how that fits musically but it does with the album cover and title….

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Feb 172021

Marco Grou, keyboardist for Derdian sees his power metal vision come to life in his project Magic Opera, releasing their first album The Golden Pentacle, a symphonic power metal concept work filled with strong performances and the epic overall feel one looks for in the genre.

For those not up on Italian power metal, Marco Grau and several members of Magic Opera hail from the Milan band Derdian, who have been around for at least 15 years from what I can tell. Others have said that Magic Opera sounds a bit like older Derdian, which is not surprising given the members involved, and if that is the case, I have yet another band I need to go and check out. The Golden Pentacle was mixed and mastered by Danilo Di Lorenzo at Moonhouse Recording Studio in Milan and while the overall mix is a bit too keyboard heavy for me, overall it is fitting for the genre, very clean with every instrument and layer of music easily heard and there is a lot musically to take in. Interestingly, the melodies take center stage in the mix with the keyboards and then the lead guitars and strings, and a bit in the background are the drums, rhythm guitar and bass which is a bit disappointing to me given the overall high quality musicianship, but this is more of a stylistic choice than anything.

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Evergrey – “Escape of the Phoenix”

 Posted by on February 10, 2021 at 21:21  No Responses »
Feb 102021

Evergrey take advantage of the time available with tours being canceled to focus on the recording of their 12th album, Escape of the Phoenix, which adds to their already impressive collection of progressive metal.

Since the release of The Dark Discovery in 1998, the Swedish band Evergrey has been putting their mark on progressive metal. Being a productive band, now in their 26th year, the band has released 12 albums including a live double cd with the Gothenburg Symphonic Orchestra, all the while enduring lineup changes and touring the globe, and dealing with recording during a global pandemic. With the release of The Glorius Collision in 2011 guitarist Marcus Jidell and drummer Hannes van Dahl departed the band and were replaced by Henrik Danhage (guitar) and Jonas Ekdahl (drums). This lineup has remained constant and produced Hymns for the Broken (2014) and The Storm Within (2016). Early 2019 saw the release of The Atlantic, which was one of my top albums in 2019 and thought by many to be the third album in a trilogy from this lineup. Enter Covid-19 and 2020 and the band’s tours canceled, giving them the opportunity to record Escape of the Phoenix with Grammy-nominated producer Jacob Hansen (Volbeat, Amaranthe) and without the usual distractions.

After the epic nature of The Atlantic, which made so many Top 10 album lists, my hopes were impossibly high for I. Following a quick, short drum burst, the lead track “Forever Outsider” basically picks up where The Atlantic ended. Interesting drum work, heavy main riff, great guitar solo, and Tom Englund’s heavy, dark, and smooth vocal delivery matched with a strong sense of melody make the opening track a great listen and raise the expectations for the rest of the album.

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Doulos – “The Middleman” ep

 Posted by on February 9, 2021 at 17:01  No Responses »
Feb 092021

Duolos join the Thumper Punk roster and bring a catchy blend of thrashy old-school metallic hardocore on their debut ep.

Over the years, I’ve reviewed a lot of bands from Thumper Punk Records and have really been looking for them to get a band like Duolos. This music on this ep ticks off so many boxes for me in what I like in hardcore punk. Fast, thrashy, metallic guitars – check, raw production with a live feel to it – check, thumping low end – check, strong, intelligible shouted vocals with emotion reminiscent of NYHC – check, driving rhythms with pounding drums and some interesting patterns/fills–check, gang vocals – check. Ok, so it’s basically all here… biggest gripe is that it’s only an ep.

Ok, so how do I describe the Riverside, CA band for those who haven’t gone to the bandcamp site yet… I detect some old Suicidal, some SoCal hardcore like Terror, some Leeway.

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