Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Album Review; Arch Enemy - War Eternal

Track Listing:

1. Tempore Nihil Sanat (Prelude In F minor)
2. Never Forgive, Never Forget
3. War Eternal
4. As The Pages Burn
5. No More Regrets
6. You Will Know My Name
7. Graveyard Of Dreams
8. Stolen Life
9. Time Is Black
10. On And On
11. Avalanche
12. Down To Nothing
13. Not Long For This World

This album will no doubt be subject to very close scrutinizing; it's been three years and a lot of inactivity since the last Arch Enemy album 'Khaos Legions'. Whilst that album did have its moments, it was largely a disappointment, and certainly no match for albums such as 'Rise Of The Tyrant' and 'Doomsday Machine'. In the time since then, Michael Amott has fully left the band Carcass in order to focus fully on Arch Enemy. Then, only last year, Carcass released the monstrous album 'Surgical Steel' to universal acclaim. I'll stress that I'll be making no direct comparisons to that album within this review, but it's safe to say that the pressure was on.

Things get more delicate yet; a few months ago, the band's iconic frontwoman Angela Gossow announced her exit from the band. This was seen as a blow to the band that left many fans shocked, wondering what the future would hold for Arch Enemy. At the same time, a replacement was announced; Alissa White-Gluz, who previously headed up the Canadian Metalcore/Melodic Death Metal band The Agonist. Doubtlessly, it entered the mind of many that Arch Enemy couldn't possibly be the same band without the irreplaceable presence of Angela Gossow's voice.

However, when the first single and title-track from 'War Eternal' was released the song was given praise. This praise also stretched to the talents of the new frontwoman.

Maybe the band weren't as doomed as the naysayers would have you believe...time to find out.

After the ominous, strings-led intro track, Arch Enemy kick the album into high gear with the single fastest song they've put to record. 'Never Forgive, Never Forget' contains the kinds of blast beats that you wouldn't expect of Arch Enemy, but it fits them like a glove. Melodic guitar flourishes separate the blasts of all-out speed. The vocal performance by newcomer Alissa is venomous and manages to bring a brilliant new feel to the band that does not cast off the bands history. Throw in some brilliant shredding from Michael Amott and Nick Cordle and you have one beast of an album opener!

This leads to the first single 'War Eternal', a fast paced, melodic affair that is more reminiscent of classic Arch Enemy. The lead guitar lines are sublime and will get stuck in your head for days on end. The star of the show here though is Alissa, who really shows off what she can do with her voice with vehement conviction. Nick Cordle also shows a manic soloing style that contrasts Amott's precise, Mustaine-inspired style wonderfully, bringing another dynamic to the band. This song will likely join the list of Arch Enemy's anthemic hits.

'As The Pages Burn' was the second song released from 'War Eternal'. Here, we see the song structure go from fast to slower with great effect. Lyrically it's a beast, with all the rebellious fire that one would want from Arch Enemy. We also see the new vocalist perform lower growls in the bridge section before the chorus as well as somewhat more a melodic vocal production during the chaos. It's another great song, which is especially great for everyone when I consider that this far into 'Khaos Legions' I was already bored!

So, with the guitar solos, vocal style, riffs, and song writing standards, we've seen that this new line-up of Arch Enemy are capable of playing songs cut from the same cloth as the albums 'Rise Of The Tyrant' and 'Doomsday Machine'. We'd hope for nothing less from such a well established band, but listeners are in for a few surprises after the absolute guitar shredding, larynx tearing, head banging tour-de-force that is 'No More Regrets'.

'You Will Know My Name' opens with an atmospheric percussion-and-strings arrangement before the traditional Arch Enemy fare comes back into play. The song itself is slower than most of the band's past work as far as overall pace goes. The added strings again rear their heads during the second verse and it's an extra ingredient that adds a brilliant new flavour and texture to Arch Enemy's repertoire. I'll admit that when I'd heard Michael Amott mention that the band were working with a string section on this album, I was apprehensive, but it could not have worked better! With this new addition to the sound of Arch Enemy, the material here gains a whole new dimension that Arch Enemy have sorely needed for some time.

'Graveyard Of Dreams' acts as a short, emotive intermission in the album before 'Stolen Life' comes in with a solid riff and a thick, familiar sound that's trademark Arch Enemy. Venomous lyrical content comes back again, urging you to scream along in fury. 'Time Is Black' has an off-kilter intro passage before delivering a very thick riff, one of the catchiest that Arch Enemy have put out in quite some time. There's more strings to be heard during the chorus, and yet again it works wonders. Definitely a stand out song on the record, especially when the guitar solos come out swinging.

'On And On' features another few great riffs, and Alissa's vocals continue to command one hell of a charge. There's a speedy groove on this song that's rather infectious. More great leads are punctuated by great drum beats that show diversity between the conventional metal beats and the more subtly executed use of the cymbals. Vocally, the chorus shows the frontwoman's somewhat more melodic side, which is used well on the album.

'Avalanche' starts off with a bit of an eyebrow-raising electronic sound, but it's only for a second, so it's not worth losing sleep over. Orchestration takes more of a front seat on this song, which may throw as many listeners as it endears. There's still a good guitar solo to wrap your ears around, though. This song displays again how the writing of  'War Eternal' has taken musical dynamics to the next level for the band. There are more layers, musically to this album than would have been heard previously on an Arch Enemy record.

'Down To Nothing' sees Alissa embracing full-on, deep, guttural vocals as well as utilizing that scream. It's another faster song for all the Thrashers and headbangers out there. The guitar solos are maybe a little too drawn out for some people, but shred-heads will love it. Leaving the last lyric on the album as "I will return" makes for a cool exit from the new frontwoman.

The album closes with a slow, steady, but ultimately rather satisfied sounding 'Not Long For This World', an instrumental that brings out Michael Amott's more anthemic edge, as the track closes there's almost a feeling of foreboding which rather matches the mood of the moment in regard to this band, as one cannot help but wonder; what is next for Arch Enemy? Where does it go from here?

The answer to those questions will come to us in the not-too distant future. For now, we've got 'War Eternal' to enjoy. It's great to see one of the genre's greats get a new lease of life and put out a fresh sounding body of work that shows the potential we all know this band is in possession of. Sure, some will find this transitional period jarring, and we will all miss Angela Gossow's presence; what she brought to Arch Enemy, to their fans and to the Metal World can never be denied nor forgotten, but the world must go on, and I for one am very happy with the trajectory that Arch Enemy have set themselves upon.

Rating: 9/10

E.P. Review; Metaprism - Metaprism EP

Metaprism EP cover art

Track Listing:

1. Even The Lights
2. Lost In The Dark
3. Against All

Hailing from Bournemouth, UK, Metaprism have already covered impressive ground considering how difficult it is for bands to get onto the Metal scene in todays world. They've played alongside prolific bands such as I Am I, Sacred Mother Tongue and Evil Scarecrow, and have plans to record and a full length album in the next year. Until then, we have their live shows and this three track E.P. to go by.

As Even The Lights opens, guitar proficiency is clear, and the band's progressive leanings make themselves clear. The sound of the music is decidedly modern, and the production job matches this well. Vocally, there's a beauty and the beast style present; Jut Tabor's impressive harsh vocals contrasting to Theresa Smith's clean singing, as well as another male voice singing in harmony, brilliantly. Using this vocal contrast without the overused Gothic/Symphonic aesthetic is a welcome change that will no doubt help Metaprism stand out from the crowd.

There's a good penchant for riffs on show, and the percussion is as precise as would be desired. The chugging, rhythmic riffing style may be rather in style at the moment, but there is a great melodic sensibility on show in certain guitar lines and the eye-popping solo on 'Lost In The Dark' that helps bring this collage of musical elements together seamlessly.

As opposed to a lot of Progressive Metal band's material, none of the three songs here overstay their welcome. These songs have been well crafted; riffs are placed well, the songs flow very well and nothing has a chance to get stale. This is a concise, sharp and impressive showcase of Metaprism's style. I await a full-length with great anticipation, and so should everybody else.

Rating: 8.5/10

Album Review; Impaled Nazarene - Vigorous And Liberating Death

Track Listing:

1. King Reborn
2. Flaming Sword Of Satan
3. Pathological Hunger For Violence
4. Vestal Virgins
5. Martial Law
6. Riskiarvio
7. Apocalypse Principle
8. Kuoleman Varjot
9. Vigorous And Liberating Death
10. Drink Consultation
11. Dystopia A.S
12. Sananvapaus
13. Hostis Humani Generis

Impaled Nazarene's latest album, the follow up to 2010's solid 'Road To The Octagon' is one that catches my interest because, while the band's sound is very much established, I'm curious to see just how good this album is. For me, it's really a case of "I wonder..." with this album. Always an exciting feeling! My hopes are high after hearing the previous album from this Finnish four-piece, especially when I know that a good Black Metal album goes a long way. With that said, let's dive straight in past that sweet album cover.

The album begins with 'King Reborn'. It's mere moments before all the Black Metal hallmarks are present, with Impaled Nazarene's Punk and Grindcore influences clear to hear. It's a very quick blast of just two and a half minutes. Reima Kellokoski's drumming offers a bit more dynamic rather than just blast beats, and Mika Luttinen's vocals steer clear of the overly typical Black Metal shriek with an old school pre-Death Metal tone to them which helps the clarity of the lyrics. 'Flaming Sword Of Satan' takes things into a much groovier area, with a catchy riff and a headbanger's standard-issue, thrashing pace.

Things get faster with 'Pathological Hunger For Violence', which reminds me somehow of the band Goatwhore. Besides the change in pace, there's not a whole lot going on to capture the imagination. Production wise, the album is low-fi but avoids being overly muddy. There's a certain aesthetic being hunted with the production and mix on this record, which will surely satisfy Black Metal die-hards, but the album isn't overly accessible to the more casual listener. 'Vestal Virgins' carries on the very Punk laden approach; these songs are not arranged to be complex or technically-minded, instead opting for simplicity through an attack that is intended to induce whiplash.

There are some moments where the music shines through, though; the ridiculous pace on 'Martial Law' and the guitar solos that Tomi Ullgren pulls out being what leaps to mind. Tonally, the instrumentation is very old-school and very slick. The bass guitar sounds great, and the electric guitar tone sounds a lot more organic than most that you hear these days. In this, Impaled Nazarene capture the oft-forgotten spirit and fire of Extreme Metal. 'Riskiarvio' is sung in Finnish, but I don't care a jot for the fact I cant understand the lyrical content; the music involved is badass enough to make up for it!

Things get faster yet in the form of another flurry of noise that is 'Apocalypse Principle'. On songs like this, Impaled Nazarene really capture the essence of Extreme Metal's past. This song in particular makes me think of early Venom, Possessed and (ever so slightly) Slayer. 'Kuoleman Varjot' roars out of the speakers with the primitive bite of real old school Black Metal. Unlike a lot of bands, Impaled Nazarene avoid the pitfall of sounding like they're trying to hard to be 'kvlt' or retro, and I can only put it down to the attitude on show. It's not something that can be faked, really. There's a grit and grime to this album that is simply cool to listen to.

The title track is a stand out, for no other reason than that there are some really cool riffs within yet another break-neck assault of unpretentious Extreme Metal. The guitar work throughout is really fun and satisfying to listen to. The barked vocals are the icing on this particularly tasty cake.

Of course, Impaled Nazarene's discontent with the way their home country is run is no secret. Their thoughts on the state of Europe, the attempted censorships of free speech, and other social and political issues are blatantly and boldly on show here. Regardless of whether you agree with, disagree with, or are completely indifferent about their views, you can still hear just how pissed off this band is. Most great Metal is pissed off music, and that's a beautiful thing.

Perhaps the one hang-up on this album that will likely alienate it's share of listeners is that the material on 'Vigorous And Liberating Death' is all rather samey. There's no variety going on here, no twists and turns. There's no Progressive instrumentation to be heard within a five mile radius of this album. However, for those who just want primal, raw, pissed off aggression, you could do a lot worse than Impaled Nazarene's efforts shown here. In short; this album is nothing new, but it's got a whole lot of balls, it sounds great loud, and the songs would be great fun live. There's nothing wrong with that at all!

Rating: 6.5/10

Album Review; Sonata Arctica - Pariah's Child

Track Listing:

1. The Wolves Die Young
2. Running Lights
3. Take One Breath
4. Cloud Factory
5. Blood
6. What Did You Do In The War, Dad?
7. Half A Marathon Man
8. X Marks The Spot
9. Love
10. Larger Than Life

Since the release of their first studio album in 1999, Sonata Arctica have taken their Power Metal sound and have tried to refine it and reshape it in different ways. Whether that's adding Symphonic elements to it, making it more melodic, vamping up or toning down the presence of guitars and keyboards from album to album. Recent albums had seen their long-time fans disappointed, but prior to 'Pariah's Child' the band stated they would be going from the recent Hard Rock style back to their original Power Metal sound, bringing attention back to the band.

At the opening moments of 'The Wolves Die Young' the sweeping, epic feel makes its presence felt well, but it's unfortunately soon that the song turns into a strange collision of Rock and lullaby. The verses are odd, a bit too peppy and sees the epic feel vanish. The chorus, on the other hand, is catchy as anything you'll hear these days, and does see the scope return. Tony Kakko's voice is obviously of an impressive range, but the melodies heard in the verses are rather too wish-wash. 'Running Lights' doesn't help much; it's very twee, like something from a poor musical. Lyrically it's cringe-worthy, and the chorus section sounds like it belongs to a different song, as if the verses and chorus were written totally separately. Very odd.

'Take One Breath' starts with another twinkly keyboard section, a muted riff resting beneath it. It's only very occasionally that the guitars take the forefront, much less any riff-oriented playing. It's more guitar leads that imitate the vocal melody. A lack of flow is a problem yet again. Three songs in, and it's very difficult to get into this album properly. 'Cloud Factory' is the closest to Metal that this album has sounded so far. primarily because the guitars are more audible, though cascading keyboard flourishes take over at a few points, and also because the song structure is much leaner due to less faffing about! There's a catching guitar solo, and then a very strange attack of eccentricity on behalf of the aforementioned vocalist.

'Blood' begins by giving off a dark vibe (dark for Sonata Arctica!) with piano and synthesizers. The vocal lines here are catchier in the verses, though there's a strange spoken word sample that comes ridiculously close to killing it. The vocal melodies are also too familiar, too the point that you might even think you've heard it on the album already. Even with that placed to one side, the song just washes over this listener with little to no effect.

'What Did You Do In The War, Dad?' starts really well, when you consider the album so far. A keyboard and guitar-led intro gives way to a verse that does come dangerously close to making you cringe, but the lyrical narrative strikes enough of a chord to save it. I still would not go as far as calling it a great song, but it's certainly a stand-out track on this album.

The most frustrating thing about 'Pariah's Child' so far is the sheer lack of memorable riffs or any kind of edge. The album comes across very pedestrian, middle-of-the-road. I can't help but wonder who this music is for. 'Half A Marathon Man' is a bit more of a Hard Rock stomper than we've heard on this album so far, but it's rather too little too late, and I've heard far better songs in this style. Not to mention the simple fact that it defies the more Power Metal leanings that the record has shown so far. So the album that struggled to flow so far veers off into a weird Glam Metal territory. There's also no need to say "It's a beautiful day" that many times in one song!

'X Marks The Spot' carries on in the same vein; cheesy weirdness all wrapped up in a song that is just poor. Next thing you know, 'Love' comes along and makes you feel anything but. It's the kind of ballad that makes you want to recoil horribly. Put it this way; if a man were to try and sing this song to a woman she would either laugh boisterously, run to the hills or perform a murder-suicide.

'Larger Than Life' is ten minutes long. If, like me, your patience has been stretched to it's limits by the rest of the album, this is a daunting thought. However, it's not as bad as I had thought it would be, considering how the rest of the album has been. There's a few moments of melodrama from the vocalist that give the impression he would rather have been on stage for an Andrew Lloyd-Webber musical than in a Metal band, but there are also some parts of this song that do feel epic, there is a good flow to the song with some good dynamics. Once again though, it's just too little too late.

The lyrics in that final song urge the listener not to take life so seriously, and that's a decent message by anybody's reckoning. However; plenty of Metal fans, including Power Metal fans take the music they listen to seriously. As such, 'Pariah's Child' is an album that almost comes across as tailor-made to be forgotten. For all the praise I've heard for this album, I was curiously hoping for another great album for 2014, but the reality of it is that this album could not have been over quick enough. I'm left with a feeling of indifference by Sonata Arctica's latest offering. It is a shame that there's no love found here, but there wasn't really any lost, either.

Rating: 3/10

Sunday, 18 May 2014

Album Review; Sabaton - Heroes

Track Listing:

1. Night Witches
2. No Bullets Fly
3. Smoking Snakes
4. Inmate 4859
5. To Hell And Back
6. The Ballad Of Bull
7. Resist And Bite
8. Soldier Of 3 Armies
9. Far From The Fame
10. Hearts Of Iron

Sabaton's brand of Power Metal stands very high in todays Metal scene. This Swedish band has built a massive following since their formation in 1999; their music has connected with many people in many countries, a fact that is aided by the use of war history as a subject matter for the vast majority of their songs, mainly drawing from World War I and II. This, combined with their energetic and fun live shows and dedication to their ever-growing fan base is elevating them through the upper echelon's of Heavy Metal. This year sees the release of 'Heroes', their seventh full-length studio album. There have been a lot of line-up changes since 2012's stunning 'Carolus Rex' album, so some people may be apprehensive before going into this album. They needn't fear at all.

Album opener 'Night Witches' combines the tale of the Soviet 588th Night Bomber Regiment with dynamic, bombastic Power Metal to astonishing effect reminiscent of the band's classic song 'Ghost Division'. It's a A-grade Sabaton song, an S-grade album opener with a chorus that goes beyond such bizarre rating systems. It's very easy to imagine this song standing strong in their live set, which is always important for this band's material. Great guitar leads and strong riffs weave together Joakim Broden's inimitable vocal style with punctuating and powerful percussion from new drummer Hannes Van Dahl.

'No Bullets Fly' proves equally as sing-along, as energetic as one would expect from this band, another guitar solo acts as a stand-out point in this song. It's worth noting at this point that the over-the-top orchestral sound of 'Carolus Rex' is not present; there is still orchestration, just not as much. This is not particularly a low point, but it is a difference between the two albums that is worth noting. So, those looking for something in the same vein as 'Carolus Rex' will not find it here.

'Smoking Snakes' packs plenty more vocal hooks and is a great display of the epic edge that Sabaton pull off so well, with a chorus backing up the frontman's formidable singing to great effect. So far, it's largely Sabaton as we've known and loved them, but a curveball comes in the melancholy and heavy song 'Inmate 4859', a song about Witold Pilecki; the Polish soldier who deliberately became a prisoner in Auschwitz-Birkenau Camp during World War II, who then went on to lead the resistance against the Third Reich from within Auschwitz and wrote the first reports about the terrible atrocities happening there. The song is a stirring piece; epic in feel with a certain sadness within the composition that captures the tragedy of the events that the song recounts. It's a bit different from songs that Sabaton have written before and at the same time, still showcases everything we love about the band.

Following that is the pumped and powerful first single from the album; 'To Hell And Back' which tells of Audie Leon Murphy, one of the most decorated American combat soldiers of WWII. It's a triumphant and upbeat salute to a one man's deeds. A dead-cert for Sabaton's live shows from here on out. The catchy headbanger is followed by another curveball in the form of 'The Ballad Of Bull'. It's a piano led power ballad that sees most of the Metal elements of Sabaton giving way to poignant strings and a backing choir, with very little guitar being heard at all. The song works a lot better than you'd think, and it shows off Joakim Broden's great singing voice and his ability to deliver lyrics with great emotion. A stunning stand-out track on the album.

The second single from 'Heroes' is 'Resist And Bite'. The guitar lick that plays through the verses may seem somewhat influenced by AC/DC's 'Thunderstrike' but it's a catchy-as-hell song that is somewhat minimalistic until the choruses come in, which will no doubt make many people want to jump in time with the beat as they sing along. In spite of the line-up changes, Sabaton have not changed musically and the quality of the material they release stays high. Fans will be more than pleased with songs like this. 'Soldier Of 3 Armies' continues in this fashion. If it ain't broke, don't fix it, after all!

'Far From The Fame' is one of my favourite songs on this record, and even one of my favourites that Sabaton have yet recorded. It might be the melody, the pace, the riffs, or even the drumming. More likely though is the fact that it's Sabaton at their very best! Oh, that chorus! I challenge anyone not to be at least humming it for days! A homage to Czechoslovakian hero Karel Janousek, a remarkable soldier and war pilot who proves that some of the most admirable men in war times are not the politicians and generals that the history books speak of every day. A great song with a memorable subject; just what makes Sabaton so special.

'Hearts Of Iron' is an epic closer, about the end of World War II, from the point of view of the German 9th and 12th armies who chose surrender to the West rather than certain death at the hands of Soviet forces on the Eastern Front. They helped fleeing soldiers and refugees escape with them over the river Elbe. It's fitting that this song, which also emanates a slight feeling of the kind of relief that one would feel at the end of a conflict like WWII was. So there is a feeling of sadness and futility coupled with triumph and celebration. Such feelings make for a suitable album closer. This stands as my favourite song on 'Heroes', and one which I would love to hear live!

Any reservations held by those who were worried that Sabaton would be a pale shadow of the band we know in the wake of all the line-up changes will be blown apart by this album, which is nothing less than bloody brilliant. Power Metal again gives 2014 a brilliant album, this time from Sweden's most promising band. Sabaton have already achieved big things that many other bands could only dream of, but if they keep making albums as sharp, enjoyable and memorable as this one, then they're trajectory will remain ever upwards. A stalwart effort from a deservedly celebrated and cherished band.

Rating: 10/10

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

Album Review; Gamma Ray - Empire Of The Undead

Track Listing:

1. Avalon
2. Hellblazer
3. Pale Rider
4. Born To Fly
5. Master Of Confusion
6. Empire Of The Undead
7. Time For Deliverance
8. Demonseed
9. Seven
10. I Will Return

Gamma Ray have long sat high as one of the more revered of the European Power Metal bands. To my mind, this is probably a combination of the musical nature of the band, which is trademark Power Metal, with no real surprises and a lot of memorable songs, and the fact that the band's frontman and one of two guitarists is former Helloween singer Kai Hansen. Whatever the big reason is, this is their eleventh album, which follows four years after 'To The Metal!'. It's been a long enough wait, but the rewards for our patience are apparent rather quickly.

There have been many albums over recent years that have had some eight to twelve minute song at the end, designed to be an epic, that have been little more than drawn-out bores that are never over quickly enough. Well, Gamma Ray have switched that trend around - the album's opener 'Avalon' is a nine minute monster, and is truly epic! Kai Hansen's vocals cut through music that moves between subtlety, bombast, heaviness, speed and choral majesty. With a narrative that turns the Arthurian legend of Avalon and the Holy Grail from a tale of hope and righteous triumph into one of uncertainty and foolishness found in blind faith. It's one of the finest songs that has all the dynamics of a whole album, and sets the bar high for the rest of the album. The band play tight and with memorable execution, especially in the chorus riff and the guitar solos. There's a Thrash feel to be found in the faster sections around the six minute mark of this song that make for a happy headbanger.

After the knockout punch that the opening track delivers, 'Hellbent' feels rather odd. On the one hand it's a decent Judas Priest honouring sing-along song with some good riffs, but on the other hand, the chorus reminds you a little too much of 'Hellbent For Leather' by the aforementioned band. This doesn't change the fact that we will all likely sing along with it at any Gamma Ray gig we go to.

By the time 'Pale Rider' comes on, any epic feel that 'Avalon' brought with it is well and truly gone. What we get here is rather old school Heavy Metal, as opposed to the kind of grandeur we'd want from such a big name in the Power Metal ranks. Good guitar solos aside, this continues to feel overly like Judas Priest worship. A questionable, and arguably flat melody at the chorus makes this listener cringe.

The Priest problem continues into 'Born To Fly'. By this point, it's quite grating. The cheesy lyrical content here doesn't help either. The opening riff sounds just a bit too similar to Motley Crue's 'Dr. Feelgood', of all things. 'Master Of Confusion' sounds like the album is getting back on track, there's a bigger sound to it, although the start of each verse sees the guitars fall out of the song while Kai Hansen sing alone, with some very questionable lyrics, yet again.

The title track comes in with a Thrash Metal riff and drum beat, so the excitement steps back up in that respect. However good the track is as a stand-alone song, it's very out of place on the album. The simplicity of it reminds me slightly of Venom, not necessarily in a bad way, but ultimately Thrash Metal is done far better by actual Thrash bands. Nice try though!

'Time Of Deliverance' - The mandatory Power Metal ballad. The cheese on show is unbelievable, and personally I can't decide if I find Kai Hansen's heartfelt delivery admirable or ridiculous. It swithers back and forth between the two. Irritatingly, just when you feel the song is about to get more majestic with some sort of soaring guitar solo, the music falls away in an instant, leaving a rather minimalist guitar solo to play. Certainly has me scratching my head.

'Demonseed' opens with a horror film sample before striking with a big stomping riff that Rob Zombie would be proud of. It's not long before the Power Metal comes back though, the shifting dynamic between the faster and slower riff helps the song stand as one of the catchier songs on the album so far. It's also not as boring as many of the songs prior to it have been. 'Seven' sees the Power Metal come back pure and strong, and there's no Judas Priest whiff to it. It does sound rather like an Iron Maiden song that never was, though. Everything from the song structure to the vocal melody and accentuations of certain notes used, especially in the chorus, are so reminiscent you could be forgiven for thinking that Bruce Dickinson was Kai Hansen's vocal coach for the song. Not a bad song, but possibly good for all the wrong reasons.

'I Will Return' (opens with a sample of Schwarzenegger saying "I'll Be Back!) brings back a sense of identity that was lost somewhere in the album's second song. This has been the biggest problem I've had with this album; with the exception of that first song, it's felt like Gamma Ray have tried to do everything on this album; as if they can't decide if they want to do Power Metal, Symphonic Metal, Trad Metal or Hard Rock. It's made for an album that flows very clumsily, if at all. I had a lot higher expectations about this album when I got it, and there was a quality promised both by the band's reputation and by the track 'Avalon' (which will be one of the best songs of the year!) but it is a promise that is just not upheld. I cannot imagine I'll have this album playing too much at all, and it'll likely be all but forgotten before too long.

Rating: 4/10