UNREQVITED “Empathica”

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“Blackgaze” is a term that immediately disgusts and turns off purists of straight forward, Satan-worshipping, formulaic black metal. The image of modern hipsters wearing skinny jeans while writing black metal in basements is stomach-churning to some who would rather imagine 90’s hipsters wearing skinny jeans while writing black metal in basements. “Blackgaze” is a term openly embraced by Canada’s Unreqvited. Tagged on the project’s new album, Empathica, is the controversial term itself. Additionally, the album is self-described to contain “shimmering blackgaze melodies and grandiose orchestral segments.”

The second part of this description, though, is where the innovation lies. We’ve all heard an album make use of beautiful guitar melodies paired with tremolo picking and relentless drumming, but Unreqvited’s ability to roll symphonic and orchestral elements into the music is quite groundbreaking when experienced on this new LP. ​

The self-described “orchestral segments” don’t even begin to cover these elements. Sure, the opening track is a stand-alone orchestral piece that raises the record to glistening mountain peaks, but these moments don’t stand alone. About 3 minutes into the second track, “Empathica II: Everwinter” we get glossy piano accompanying plucky guitars before a brief pause that dives back into the epic black metal moments. The vocals on this track see little variation, with repeated howls being distant in the mix, lending the song a truly epic and stately presence.

I’m incredibly happy to share that I don’t think this record excels in just one area; with some of Unreqvited’s previous releases, I felt the quieter moments far surpassed the louder. Here, they’re melded together so beautifully that they achieve a harmony and a dissonance. For instance, on “Empathica III: Innocence,” I was on the edge of my seat in the middle of the track. Where I figured the drums would offer a snare fill or tight groove, a looser, Tom-filled moment would occur, and I was very engaged, wondering how and when the crescendo would occur. (I won’t spoil the moment for you).

The rest of the album has the same strengths as these songs, though softer moments are given more space to offer solace. Some particularly fantastic moments that stick out to me are the outro on “Crystal Cascade,” the entirety of “The Permafrost,” and the plucky melody of the final cut, “Dreamer’s Hideaway.”

For all this, along with the fantastically hazy and flexible production, Empathica is a record worthy of its lofty descriptions; it is emotive, free-flowing, and succinct. It doesn’t just balance all its elements— it melts them together into an ethereal journey that it’s album cover accurately reflects with its high peaks and vibrant colors. It’s not your local elitist’s black metal, and it doesn’t want to be.

Unreqvited – Empathica (Northern Silence Production)

8/10

MY DYING BRIDE “The Ghost Of Orion” (2020)

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Gothic doom metal pioneers My Dying Bride return for their fourteenth installment of slow-moving melancholy. Changing moods and styles all while keeping the feeling sad and/or destructive is a masterful constant throughout their existence and The Ghost of Orion is no exception.

Fans of My Dying Bride’s style of dejected doom with a flair for interweaving somber strings within their pessimistic plod will be more than happy with this result. Their excellent songwriting skills and ability to operate as a well-oiled machine is certainly one thing that is very much in their favor.Entering their fourth decade of existence has not made this British body sound any different than in the past. We welcome them in for another stay, hopefully with the warm embrace that this cheerless collective is clearly in need of.

09/10

My Dying Beride – The Ghost Of Orion (Nuclear Blast)

ACHIM SCHREINER “Ruins Of Life” (2020)

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It is almost impossible to catch up with the enormous output of ACHIM SCHREINER in recent years. Last year he released several albums with prog metal band WOODLARK, a new album with symphonic metal act BLOOD RED SOUL, another new one with funeral metal project CRAVE FOR DAWNING and three new albums of his own little side project called TIMESHOCK. Additionally a solo album and now one more. How is this even possible?
If you think with the massive amount of output the quality would suffer you are wrong. Actually the quality seems to continously improve on all these records and he wisely manages to emphasize on different aspects in each of these bands and projects.

“Ruins Of Life” is an album that is a wonderful mix of epic intrumental rock/metal music and often massively branches out into ambient territory. If you are into bands like TOSKA and RABEA MASSAAD in a mix with elements of some ANDY TIMMONS music, you will be spot on here!

The album features 20 songs and each of them is different and not only in its own style and way. But also in sound and playing. You can tell this is a musician who’s at home in various styles and who can melt them together to a cracking and exciting fusion.

My favorite songs are “Ruins Of Life”, “Same Time” and “Too Late”.

Achim plays all guitars, bass and keyboards and occasionally even provides some vocal work. Drums by Lee Steinmetz who seems to be the ideal addition for this.

The albums by Schreiner are real sleepers and hidden gems. If he’d have a broader audience I am sure he would be a lot more popular already.
Who knows maybe this album can help changing that.

9/10

Achim Schreiner – Ruins Of Life (SchreinerMusic Records)

LORDI “Killection” (2020)

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LORDI release their new album ‘Killection’ on 31st January 2020, on AFM Records.

Nobody knows exactly how old the Finish monsters really are or how long they’ve been striking terror into people’s hearts. Officially the Rock/Heavy Metal monsters LORDI were founded in 1992 by lead singer, songwriter, visual art designer and costume designer Mr. Lordi. The band has deep Finnish roots, originating from the city of Rovaniemi, in Lapland. In 2006 they celebrated their international breakthrough by winning the Eurovision Song Contest (“Hard Rock Hallelujah”) They are Finland’s only winners to date and they earned more points than any other artists in the history of the Eurovision Song Contest up to that time.

But is it possible that this is only a pale misperception of our poor, small, pathetic reality? Is there, however unlikely it may seem, another truer reality? What if LORDI would have already been making music since the early 70’s? And what if they have been releasing one hit single after the other since those times and now, almost 50 years later, are looking back on a full
collection of songs that have been successful ever since?

This is exactly the idea that LORDI are celebrating, or maybe a more appropriate word is executing, with their newest studio album “Killection.”. Once more Mr Lordi, the master of the masquerade, presents us with one of his ideas, absurd and genius at the same time, and comes up with a concept that has never been done before in the music industry: “Killection” is a compilation album that simply says “what if” LORDI had been in existence since the early 70’s. It contains all their imaginary hit singles from different periods done with painstaking attention to detail using authentic studios and vintage technology. This is how they would have sounded if LORDI would have made music back then and therefore would have had the hit material to release this compilation now.
This is how Mr. Lordi himself sums it up:
“Killection” is a fictional compilation album. It contains songs that LORDI would have written between the early 70’s through the mid-90’s. The compilation contains one “brand new” song from 2019 as well, cause that’s somehow always typical for compilations.”

Everything unclear now? Excellent!, ’cause LORDI are taking this very, very seriously. To make this fictional compilation as authentic as possible, the band has mentally travelled back through the different decades to get every track sounding as authentic for the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s as possible.
Mr. Lordi: “The songs from the 70’s are not in any way modern Metal songs – they sound dirtier, less polished and more rock and roll…well, like they should.”
To recreate the sound as closely as possible, LORDI have recorded the songs from different eras in different studios, with a variety of instruments and using different recording processes as if they were actually making a record back in the day. Seven different studios throughout Finland were utilized.

We rented original instruments and amps from those times to make sure we could really record everything as authentically as possible,” Mr. Lordi says. “The songs from the 70’s were recorded analogue on 24 track tape. And we used real Hammond organs to create the keyboard sounds to fit the era. It was great fun to do all that and also to gather up together in a studio at the same time to do the analogue recordings. It was challenging and rewarding at the same time. If you make a mistake, you will hear it on the album, as simple as it is.”

It was only for the mastering process that the monsters entered the modern era by using the same studio to master all songs – as a real compilation would be, of course. Once again the mastering was done by Mika Jussila at Finnvox Studios Helsinki.

No doubt, “Killection” the tenth album in the band’s history, has turned out to be the most extraordinary and most varied album so far. Next to Rock songs from the early 70’s (“Blow My Fuse”) the record contains a disco song from 1979 (“Zombimbo”) as well as some typically 80’s party Rock hymns (“Up To No Good”, “Cutterfly”). “In the 80’s, lyrically everything had to do with rebellion and standing up against authorities,” Mr. Lordi explains about his journey through the music decades.
“All the bands and artists proclaimed they were loud and rebellious in their songs. Of
course we’ve used this message in our songs from that era as well
.”

In this musical journey, “Killection” delivers LORDI-typical monster horror lyrics. The lyrical content has never changed over the years. LORDI’s line up in contrast to that did: “Killection” is the premiere for Hiisi, the new monster behind the bass who is replacing Ox. Ox left the band at the beginning of the year. Hiisi comes from Finish folklore, and he looks like a creepy lizard. “In Finish mythology Hiisi is a bad demon living in waters and forests.”

8/10

LORDI – Killection (AFM Records)

TEMPERANCE “Viridian” (2020)

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Firmly entrenched in the melodic modern metal scene, Temperance made a bold impression expanding as a vocal triad for their fourth studio album Of Jupiter and Moons. Now having the time to assimilate their talents on the road a bit more, the follow-up Viridian showcases a quintet that confidently wants to go in varied angles with the songwriting and performances, while keeping things on an organic level so as to keep the material as authentic as possible.

Right away the pulsating dance-like groove and futuristic lyrical content for “Mission Impossible” certainly gives off an Amaranthe-ish atmosphere, the guitars and drums slamming in unison with a staccato-like charm. The follow-up “I Am the Fire” maintains a bit of a brighter, melodic power stance – the tradeoffs vocally between Michele Guaitoli, Alessia Scolletti and guitarist Marco Pastorino heightening the main hooks, and when they choose to harmonize for the chorus it’s intense and infectious. Music-wise Temperance choose to be more adventurous in terms of versatility – they add everything from natural organ strains on “Start Another Round” which harkens 70’s Deep Purple/Uriah Heep influences, while “Nanook” has those Middle Ages/folk-ish nuances for an epic, the acoustic to electric spirit adventurous against the woodwind/violin strains. At times the band also venture into heavier terrain – the title track and “The Cult of Mystery” developing crunchy and lower-tuned riffs that allow the vocalists to float in and out at their widest ranges and fill the aural landscape with cascading shapes and colors to fit the atmosphere and attitude the songs portray. Closing the record on a church-like hymn for “Catch the Dream” where handclaps and children choirs command your attention, it’s evident that Temperance leave nothing to chance in their willingness to go where their creative muse takes them – focused on massive melodies and hooks song to song.

When other bands may zag into watered-down commercial pastures, Temperance with Viridian serve up a record that emphasizes the great vocal and musical talent this quintet possesses. Proof that you can be dynamic, heavy, modern, and catchy all in a cohesive package – and should make the band move up the ranks a bit more as a result.
8/10

Temperance – Viridian (Napalm Records)

NIGHTWISH “Human.:II: Nature.” (2020)

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The new NIGHTWISH album has been long awaited by the fans. Since “Endless Forms Most Beautiful” has had such an overwhelmingly positive reception, also because of Floor’s vocal abilities, a lot of people were looking forward to a follow-up. It took quite a couple of years but finally here it is.
Entitled “Human.:II: Nature.”, one thinks why not adding a few more dots to make it look even more sophisticated or smart? But let’s forget about this for now as the irony in this may probably not be so easily visible to some.
The album is what we normally call a double album with the first disc providing the sort of songs we would naturally expect from Nightwish while the second disc surprises us with a string of no less impressive music that could easily be taken as a movie score and who knows, maybe this is where Holopainen’s future may lie after Nightwish would come to an end one day.
The songs on Disc One certainly have been cooked with the same incredients as previous albums and still they cannot create the same magic in the listener. At least in this particular one here. Some bands tend to overdo things at times and often these are band who would normally not have anything left to prove. Still at times they seem to be unable to resist this temptation. We have seen this with Epica and other bands already too. Songs are too much contrived, trying to make them even more “interesting” or sound “smart” or “intellectual” in order to connotate the same adjectives with the musicians. As a good friend of me recently said “less is more” and it is quite obvious that there is no finnish translation for that.
There are some songs that I quite enjoyed listening to as the quality of these is quite high and they have some good melodies too. But others are just too much. Too much in a lot of ways. The technical side is excellent though, no doubt about that. Perfectly played, brilliantly produced and mixed. This does not come unexpected nonetheless it is a pleasure for the ears.
In the end it is certainly not a bad album and for a lot of fans it will precisely fulfill their demands and their wet dreams alike. But I am sure it will not do for each and every fan of theirs and I am sure these voices will become louder over time.
Certainly not a “bad album” but it could have been so much better with all the potential at hand.
I am quite aware not everyone will like this review but I’m afraid I can’t do much to ease their pain.

5/10

Nightwish “Human.:II: Nature.” – Nuclear Blast 2020

TIMESHOCK “Transfixed” (2020)

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Nobody really knows how Achim Schreiner from Germany manages it to maintain such a relatively low profile while at the same time putting out such a massive load of excellent work. Already the third album in less than 3 months (!) of his latest project TIMESHOCK really makes me wonder.
With creative juices seemingly running endless we have another bunch of songs on this album called “Transfixed”.
It features 11 new songs that show great consistency in both, quality and production. To exactly pinpoint the style of them is actually not an easy task. Though it could be described as a fusion of power metal spiced up with some progressive metal elements. This alone would never do justice to the music we find on this album though.
It also becomes obvious that Schreiner is not a shredder for shredding’s sake. If a song not necessarily requires an elaborate solo than there is none. As simple as that.
However, he is a true master of his instrument which becomes obvious in the massively diverse title track “Transfixed” which works with many different strokes and colors, musically spoken. It also stands out as my fave track.
Which still doesn’t answer my question from the beginning. Why is that guy so criminally underrated?

9/10

Timeshock – Transfixed (Schreiner Music Records)

AMBERIAN DAWN “Looking For You” (2020)

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Starting out in 2008 as a neoclassical power metal act, Finnish band Amberian Dawn have continued to evolve and refine their sound over the years. Now, with their ninth full-length release, Looking For You (Napalm Records), the band have decided to fully embrace their already less than hidden inner Abba, even recording in Benny Andersson’s own studio and using some of the legendary Swedish pop band’s original equipment.

Right from the opening bars of ‘United’, the Abba influence is in your face and rarely eases up. Fans of the band’s older material are likely to be split as there is little here to compare to those early years, but those who have listened to their last couple records shouldn’t be surprised in the least. Tracks such as ‘Ladyhawk’ and ‘Sky is Falling’ from the last couple of records alone have shown this move has been coming for some time.

Songs like ‘Eternal Fire Burning’, ‘Go For a Ride’ and ‘Butterfly’ are lightweight and frothy little head-nodders, and even those with a slightly more sombre edge like ‘Two Blades’ and the balladic ‘Universe’ never really venture too far into dark places. The band does return to their earlier neoclassical and symphonic styles with the fantastic ‘Symphony No.1 Part 3 – Awakening’ which features former Rhapsody of Fire vocalist Fabio Lione duetting with hugely talented Capri Virkunnen.

Coming as a surprise to nobody, a cover of Abba’s ‘Lay All Your Love on Me’ is included. An excellent choice as it meshes perfectly with the album’s overall sound. A slightly reworked and remastered version of ‘Cherish My Memory’ follows the instrumental closer ‘Au Revoir’ and arguably sounds better than it did on 2014’s Magic Forest (Napalm).

An expertly produced ’80s influenced pop-metal album where the vocals, keyboards, and drums take the front seat, Looking For You certainly isn’t the heaviest thing you’ll hear all year (or probably even all day), but it’s a perfectly enjoyable record, bouncy, happy and full of positivity. And Abba.

7 / 10

Amberian Dawn – Looking For You (Napalm Records)

MARKO HIETALA “Pyre Of The Black Heart” (2020)

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Finnish singer/bassist Marko Hietala announces his signing with Nuclear Blast for the English version of his solo album “Pyre Of The Black Heart”. Hietala himself describes the style of the upcoming release as ‘hard prog’. About the goal behing his solo album, Marko Hietala comments: “Well, let’s put it this way: Nightwish is without any doubt my main band and thanks to income from that direction, I don’t have to be that commercially aware …

What I mean, is that when I was coming up with the musical thoughts for this solo record, I was able to do simply anything without limits. So if I had a goal, it was to not have any kind of limits, but to prepare an unpredictable, spontaneous, adventurous, ferocious and intimate solo record.

And now when I am listening to the final album by myself, I can say with my hand on my heart that I – or rather us – pulled it off … The record is a really diverse musical rollercoaster ride that takes eager listeners into a world of strong emotions and deep feelings!”

That pretty much sums it up.

9/10

Marko Hietala – Pyre Of The Black Heart (Nuclear Blast)

ANVIL “Legal At Last” (2020)

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Lady Fortune hasn’t smiled a lot upon Canadians Anvil. For the 40 years of activity, 17 albums and countless shows they couldn’t reach the status that some bands who call Anvil “teachers” and “mentors” did. Nevertheless, heroic grandfathers of Speed Metal don’t give up and until now they still write music, record the albums and make great shows. And here we got their next, 18-th album Legal At Last.

Angel that smokes an anvil bong on the album’s artwork, the album’s name and the first sounds of title track “Legal At Last”, some kind of glowing hymn, all of this speak for itself: marijuana legalization law in Canada, ain’t that a good topic for an album? This topic also present in the first single from the album, “Nabbed In Nebraska”, where the band tell about the police incident in Nebraska because of smoking weed.
Furthermore, there are a couple of songs dedicated to undoubtedly important topic of environmental pollution (which is too hyped nowadays): “Chemtrails”, “Gasoline” and “Plastic In Paradise”. But when this comes from the band, famous with its pungent, sarcastic and simply gloating lyrics, you can’t take it seriously for 100%. As they say, “Greta, we did everything we can!”

Ok, figured out with the lyrics but what about music? Well, Anvil is very consistent band and therefore it’s predictable, like AC/DC, Motörhead (Anvil‘s touring partners back in far 1983) or let’s say Sabaton, if we take more up-to-date bands. Long story short, if you liked Anvil‘s previous album Pounding The Pavement, you’ll like Legal At Last too. If you don’t, there will be no miracle.

The album is mostly about Heavy and Speed Metal with good riffs, smooth verses a-la Motörhead (another resemblance with this band, by the way is Steve ‘Lips’ Kudlow’s vocals) and melodic choruses that is so good for chanting. “Glass House”, “Bottom Line” and “I’m Alive” are the great songs, quite heavy and very groovy. “Food For Vulture” and “Talking To The Wall” are more Heavy Metal, which reminds Diamond Head and Judas Priest in the same time: it’s fast and rigid with great, although a bit muffled drums.

“Gasoline” and “Plastic In Paradise” reduce a tempo sharply and the music goes Black Sabbath: it’s slow, heavy and quite sinister, I need to say. These tracks are changing the album’s mood, making it less monotonous.

Well, musicians themselves talk about Legal At Last as “another Anvil‘s album”. It is commendable modesty and I must admit that’s true. Maybe it’s not the best album from this band but for sure not the worse one. Let’s say it’s somewhere in the middle, strongly. And that’s a good example for an old ox that makes a straight furrow.

7/10

Anvil – Legal At Last (AFM)