BLOOD RED SOUL announces new singer

German/UK-based symphonic/gothic metal band BLOOD RED SOUL have announced their new main lead singer to be FIONA CREABY from APPARITION and FALLEN ARISE.
CREABY had already been guesting on the band’s debut record in 2017. Their first album included quite a number of guests among who were notable names like said FIONA CREABY, MICKI RICHTER (Leaves Eyes, Liv Kristine, Krayenzeit) and others. It was ELLIE KAMPHUIS who took the main vocal chores back then. KAMPHUIS is now pursuing other musical projects. In early 2018 FIONA CREABY brought out the album “The Awakening” with british veteran rockers APPARITION which we reviewed at the time.

The upcoming BLOOD RED SOUL album is said to be entitled “River Of Melancholia” and will be out approx. mid-2019. Definitely something we can look forward to.

SG (2019)

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WINDHAND “Eternal Return” (2018)

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There’s a difference between releasing music as a band and perfecting a sonic signature to a point where a band’s name means something. Over the course of the past three albums, Windhand swirled about in its haze to reveal various facets of their capabilities. They never quite managed to unveil their true range though. Now after three years between full-lengths, Windhand returns (eternally) to lift the fog, clear the mist, and define their own obscurities through a fantastic album that properly carves out their identity.

Eternal Return nails what’s been missing in Windhand‘s sound for the previous three albums: a solid flow that keeps the music interesting. Just look at what the first half has to offer and how it offers it. The record kicks off with “Halcyon” and “Grey Garden,” both of which adhere to the band’s usual fuzz-heavy cloudiness with the added bonus of the former bringing forth a stoner breakdown riff that Elon Musk would approve of right at the end. There’s the clean-toned ballad “Pilgrim’s Rest” and the suffocating smoke of “First To Die,” which quietly passes away into the noisy interlude “Light Into Dark,” and into the deafening darkness of the second half.

In the past, Windhand launched the world’s slowest assault without any real reprieve or change of pace. It always felt like a detriment to their work. The songs were good, but when the tempo hardly shifts and there’s no discernible variation, the listening experience turns into something akin to highway hypnosis. Especially at the end of both Soma and Grief’s Infernal Flower. The former ends on two tracks that combined were 43 minutes long. The latter meanwhile pairs two 14 minute stoner epics back-to-back before the closer. In contrast, Eternal Return‘s final four tracks pack songs clocking in at 11 minutes and 13 minutes. They are also broken up by shorter ones that purposefully stray in mood from their lengthy counterparts.

The songs on Eternal Return brandish a very strong sense of identity to go along with the album’s intelligent layout. It is easy to hum the riffs after a few listens and to anticipate the choruses Dorthia Cottrell chose perfectly memorable words for. In addition, Windhand also carefully considers song tempos and how to best serve the riffs.

“Eyeshine” needs to be as slow as it is to properly allow the notes birth certain feelings of menace. On the other hand, “Red Cloud” and “Grey Garden” benefit from their head-nodding mid-tempo stomp. Occasionally, Windhand experiments a little with tempo change within a track, like in the monolithic ending to the closer “Feather.” There’s no other way to describe the closing five minutes of that track as anything other than a fifty-foot tall steamroller driving through wet tar toward a very trapped you, on a planet where gravity is increased by two-hundred percent.

Eternal Return‘s ultimate success lies in the fact that one instantly knows it’s a Windhand record. There are no massive, head-scratching departures in sound that’ll make you look up who quit the band or who produced it. Instead, Eternal Return takes their murky, swampy brand of doom and throws a little color and detail at it. The haunting vocal harmonies on “Red Cloud” are prominent. Garrett Morris’ spacey guitar effects and distant feedback on “Grey Gardens” transport you to another dimension.

The odd, almost muted lead guitar work on “Feathers” is reassuring with just a fleeting smirk of hinted danger. All of “Light Into Dark” comes and goes as if it isn’t a beautifully rambling freakout of an interlude. Though as always, bassist Parker Chandler and drummer Ryan Wolfe ground Windhand to allow notable experimentation. I’d argue they’re one of the most interesting, solid, and criminally underrated rhythm sections in the genre.

Four records and 10 years into their career, Windhand could not be anymore themselves than they are on Eternal Return. It’s an album that you can listen to straight through, get to the fade out at the end, and loop right back into the beginning without wondering what else you should be listening to today. Simply put, Eternal Return is the record by which all future Windhand albums will be judged.

8/10

Windhand – Eternal Return (2018)
Relapse Records

 

METAL CHURCH “Damned If You Do” (2018)

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Any new Metal Church is guaranteed to pique interest amongst the old farts around Last Rites HQ, but this particular new Metal Church has been something of a point of polite contention around the break-room water cooler.

On the one side, you’ve got those among us who contend that, while it isn’t as great as Blessing In Disguise, or the self-titled, David Wayne-fronted debut, or even as good as Mike Howe’s return for 2016’s XI, Damned If You Do is nevertheless a fine example of why Metal Church still has the spark, and that’s because they’re still fun, all these years later. These people are correct.

And on the other side, there are those among us who think that Damned is a collection of warmed-over songs, with a few rising above the others, but mostly it’s just a weaker offering from a band that has done much better many times before. These people are incorrect, but only barely.

Mostly, Damned If You Do is XI again, but not quite as strong, so there is something of that feeling of leftover ideas. Maybe it’s just that the newness of Mike Howe’s return has worn off, or maybe it’s that the material isn’t quite as good — something of a second sophomore slump — or maybe it’s both. But I can’t stop myself from thinking of Damned as XI-point-1: It’s virtually identical in sound, and of course, it’s the same style. Metal Church isn’t going to change now — you get what you get; no surprises. Here as on that previous effort, Damned proves that Howe still sounds great, and he and Kurdt Vanderhoof can still write a damned good metal tune, somewhere at the intersection of trad and thrash. Vanderhoof’s production is modern without being too polished. The performances are those of a veteran band, tight and capable, and one that mostly knows enough to play to its strengths — start riff, build tension, hit with a big chorus, release, repeat.

Metal Church has always had a knack for great album openers — “Beyond The Black,” “Fake Healer,” “Reset” — and the title track to Damned If You Do furthers that trend, all hard-driving kick-driven pulse and instant-hook chorus, with a killer breakdown to pilfer some of the relentless stomp of “Fake Healer.” The moody “The Black Things” follows, and the straight-ahead ripper of “By The Numbers,” with some chunky riffing and another big chorus built for sing-shout-snarling along in the front row.

And all is well through those first three, ‘til the midtempo melodic mediocrity of “Revolution Underway.” Though they’ve always had melody to spare, Metal Church is at their best when tempering that melody against muscular trad metal riffing, and backing that metal down a notch into more hard rock territory effectively neuters their formula. (See also: “The Powers That Be” which at least had the sense to be the last track on the otherwise impeccable Blessing In Disguise.) Riff-wise, “Revolution” relies too heavily on a melodic guitar and vocal interplay better suited for the likes of Dokken or some other bigger haired outfit from the same golden age (and I mean no disrespect to Dokken — it’s just a different type of band). It’s a shame that “Revolution” gets underway so early, since it’s the first of the twin stumbles that knock Damned If You Do down a notch, from the Very Good to the Good.

Three respectable-but-not-phenomenal rockers separate “Revolution” from the album’s most unseemly hurdle, the lame swagger of “Monkey Finger,” another foray into hard rock that is handily Damned’s low point, by a pretty wide margin. Mostly riffless, hamstrung with a ridiculous lyric and a clunky melody, and even sporting a dreadfully boring guitar solo, “Monkey Finger” is a forgettable attempt at a midtempo rocker, and one that’s best left forgotten. Follow-up “Out Of Balance” rights the ship, for the most part — it’s not the finest song on hand, though it manages to better balance the melodic and the metallic. “Balance” would’ve hung in among the least interesting on Church’s best records, but here, it’s at least a welcome return to something more fiery after the lunky lumber of “Monkey Finger.” “The War Electric” closes on a chunkier, thrashier note, not a standout but far from an embarrassment.

So the total, of course, for those keeping score is three stellar tracks, five solid ones, and two absolute clunkers amidst an album of ten songs, and numerically, that’s a pretty good margin of success. As much as I clearly enjoy Damned If You Do, I have to admit that, of course, it isn’t as strong as Blessing In Disguise, or as The Human Factor. All the Mike Howe Metal Church records have ranged from Stellar to Pretty Damned Good, and Damned If You Do doesn’t break the trend, though it’s closer to the latter than to the former. Make of that what you will — if you like Metal Church, and if you liked XI, then there’s plenty here to like. And if you don’t, and you didn’t, then we can discuss all of that over by the water cooler at break time.

Metal Church “Damned If You Do” (2018) – Rat Pak Label

 

SIRENIA “Arcane Astral Aeons” (2018)

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It’s been nearly a decade since music mastermind Morten Eland formed Norwegian symphonic/goth metal outfit SIRENIA. After years of line-up changes, SIRENIA appear to have their most solid line up to date. Their latest release, Arcane Astral Aeons, showcases the talent of this concrete ensemble and a strong portfolio of divine melodies.

With an opening track like In Styx Embrace, it would be impossible not to be enticed. This majestic opening track provides two powerful tools that capture the ears and heart instantly. Those elements are the stately orchestral arrangements and Emmanuelle Zoldan’s impeccable vocal work. The opening song sends chills and shivers all through the body. Like the rest of the album tracks, it’s not even afraid to display some black metal elements. This provides the perfect build up for Into The Night. It provides us with the beautifully melodic Into The Night, this also shows us another aspect of Zoldan‘s versatile vocal ability.

As mentioned before, the album displays a strong collection of stunning melodies. This eclectic selection includes the likes of bombastic Queen Of Lies, the catchy single Love Like Cyanide and the beautiful French melody Nos Heures Sombres. The opening of Desire is fantastic, the melodies on the synthesisers are memorable and invite you in. Well the track is called Desire after all so they achieved that effect perfectly. Throughout the song there is a sci-fi feel from the synthesiser melody and this is a brilliantly memorable song. Be prepared to have the melody in your head for days. The indents of the French language in a few lines band together well with the retro sounding music arrangements in order to provide that unexpected twist.

The first thing to grab your attention in the track The Voyage is the marching beat and gallant guitar work. These are two key aspects that will make any listener feel like they are heading off on an adventure. There is a sense of excitement about this track about heading into the unknown and to a path of endless possibilities. Meanwhile there is a sense of danger within the track as there is uncertainty on what obstacles may disrupt your journey. The sweeping, marching rhythm with the musical arrangements and brilliant vocals help capture the concept of an adventurous journey. Particularly during the bridge of the song with the calm before the storm type vibe; the soft melody from the violins and the siren-esque vocals from the choirs capture this essence perfectly.

If you were to look up the term symphonic metal in the dictionary then the song The Twilight Hour would appear on the page. It’s a regal melody consisting of dramatic orchestral arrangements and operatic vocals. Alongside the guitars, drums and keyboards; they team together to create this monster track. This is one of the best symphonic metal songs that has been produced. It ends on a warming glow in the form of the track Glowing Embers, it provides one more blast of this stunning metal before it comes to an end. It does still leave you wanting more.

To sum up this remarkable tale, Arcane Astral Aeons is an album worth buying. For fans SIRENIA, this is worth the two year wait. For fans of symphonic metal looking for something different then they needn’t look no further.

Rating: 9/10

Sirenia – Arcane Astral Aeons (Napalm Records)

DISTURBED “Evolution” (2018)

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Cashing in on the radical commercial success of their 2015 Simon and Garfunkel cover ‘The Sound of Silence’, Disturbed have decided that an over-saturation of sappy ballads is the next step in their so-called Evolution. Genetically engineered for mass-appeal, soccer mums everywhere will rejoice as they jam the latest Disturbed tracks alongside their angsty teenage kids. Without exaggeration, this latest release consists mostly(!) of forlorn acoustic dirges, stripped back to showcase David Draiman’s clean singing and newly naked chin. I’ll be the first to admit the frontman has vocal chops – he sounds good – but this softening move comes at the expense of everything that makes Disturbed, well, Disturbed. Generally speaking, Evolution consists of two halves alternating in a trouble-helix, each of which can be addressed collectively since every ballad is pretty much the same ballad, and every non-ballad is pretty much the same non-ballad. Albeit, there are superficial differences here and there, but for the most part these tracks stick to predictable structures and similarly bland tones. How fun.

Let’s begin, as the album does, by analysing lead single ‘Are You Ready’. I was ready. This opener is possibly the most clichéd collection of Disturbed tropes put to tape. If a Disturbed cover band went rogue and started mashing up their rehearsal material for the purpose of churning out on-the-spot “originals”, this is what I imagine the result would sound like. It almost comes across as a parody. The first ballad, ‘A Reason to Fight’, doesn’t fare much better either. It’s pleasant enough, but it’s also completely forgettable, boring, safe, and just disappointing in general. This unfortunate pair of songs can be taken as a microcosm of the full collection; this is about the extent of what is on offer. The frustrating desire for something daring or interesting is never satiated. To be blunt, Evolution is essentially a blander version of Immortalized, which was the flavourless porridge version of Asylum, which was the graham cracker version of Indestructible. Even the song titles are uninspired. ‘Hold On To Memories’ is an ironic reminder that you’re unlikely to recollect a solitary riff or lick from this utterly unmemorable album, while musically it adds one more to the pile of disposable ballads.

Surprisingly, there are some decent moments here and there. ‘The Best Ones Lie’ features some of the vitality that made Disturbed appealing in the first place. It doesn’t stand out much from the general catalogue, but it’s a gem by comparison to everything else featured. Hell, there’s even a tasty solo halfway through. Similarly, ‘Already Gone’ is superior to every other ballad here, with some intriguing compositions, glassy guitar lines, and a soulful performance by Draiman. Unfortunately, both of these songs are buried at the back of the album, emerging far too late to save the experience and standing severely outnumbered compared to the remaining dredge. With the triumphant position of the weakest songs, it’s a little too easy to call it “survival of the shittest” in honour of the nonsensical album title, and while I usually dislike being crass and transparently facetious in reviews, this performance hardly merits a formal critique. Better to keep myself amused in the face of this disappointing regression into banality than to dwell on it, seeing as how it has continued since Disturbed’s return, and arguably began a little earlier than that.

Disturbed “Evolution” (2018)
3/10

EVANESCENCE – Synthesis (Live)

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Recorded late last Autumn during the band’s critically-acclaimed ‘Synthesis’ tour, the concert was captured in state-of-the-art 4K by director PR Brown and produced by Craig Ziogas/CTGS Productions.

The songs span Evanescence’s 20-year history to date, reinvented with a full orchestra over a deep electronic landscape. Synthesis is a soulful and sweepingly grandiose event to witness live.

Seated at the piano, Amy Lee opens the set with a single note that builds into the instrumental Overture, seamlessly leading into the crushing wave that is ‘Never Go Back’.

‘Bring Me To Life’, the anthem that lead many people to discover Evanescence, reaches a new level of power and emotion with a pounding, electric heartbeat and soaring orchestral accompaniment, while songs like ‘My Immortal’, ‘Lithium’ and ‘Lost In Paradise’ evoke heartbreaking scenes from a beautiful, timeless film.

Amy Lee’s incredible vocal range and the group’s expressive, multi-layered music naturally lends itself to orchestral accompaniment, shining a light on the singular beauty of the arrangements by composer David Campbell and conductor Susie Seiter creating a truly dynamic, cinematic sound. Lee has called this “a passion project”, which undoubtedly shines through. The sense of occasion is not lost on the band or audience alike in this unique and highly emotive show.

Evanescence recently took their ‘Synthesis’ live tour around the world, delivering highly-acclaimed performances throughout Europe, North America and Australia. This summer, the band teamed with violinist Lindsey Stirling on a tour of North American amphitheatres – one of Live Nation’s top ten tours of the summer.

Tracklisting:

1.Overture
2. Never Go Back
3. Lacrymosa
4. End Of The Dream
5. My Heart Is Broken
6. Lithium
7. Bring Me To Life
8. Unravelling (Interlude)
9. Imaginary
10. Secret Door
11. Hi-Lo
12. Lost In Paradise
13. Your Star
14. My Immortal
15. The In-Between (Piano Solo)
16. Imperfection
17. Speak To Me
18. Good Enough
19. Swimming Home

Evanescence – Synthesis (Live DVD/Blue-Ray)
(Eagle Vision) 2018

GRAVE DIGGER “The Living Dead” (2018)

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There are few bands in the metal scene who have been active as long as Grave Digger. The German heavy metal icons, led by Chris Boltendahl, have been playing under various monikers for close to four decades, producing 19 albums. Far from ready to settle down for eternal rest, the band are following up last year’s Healed By Metal with The Living Dead.

Grave Digger by name, and I guess by nature as well, as the music is keeping in line with the sort of connotations the name brings up. The guitar tone is a little abrasive, dirtying up the riffs with the mud and grime of disturbed earth. The leads, which are quite pretty at times, are rough around the edges as well, so as not to be too at odds with the riffs. Although this audio abrasion is by design, it became a little tiring as the album wears on, as it is quite full on, even in the calmer moments. Boltendahl’s voice is rougher still, as if his vocal cords were composed of the gravel, powering through admirably with grit and passion close to 40 years later. His intensity has likely been weathered by age, but he’s still giving his all, and that conviction can make a world of difference when you’re not quite able to fire on all cylinders. The rhythm section hurtles along with a cool, reserved demeanour, offering a robust footing complemented by some nice little fills and patterns when the opportunity arises.

Grave Digger’s best days have long past, but their creative wheels are still moving well enough. A lot of effort and attention has been put into the song structures, how they’re organised and how they develop and progress. I may not agree with some of the creative choices made, but everything feels natural. A handful of songs (“When Death Passes By” and “What War Left Behind”) open at a blistering pace and you just will them to rip through its duration at this lightning speed, only to have the brakes put on far too soon. Both are fairly good songs, but you have to wonder how they might turned out if they’d have really gone for the throat, as they eventually backtrack into the sort of pace that many of the other songs on the album do. What I do take away from these two tracks though is how well implemented these tempo changes are, as whilst I would rather they maintained the high speed they start with, the drop in speed itself is never jarring and feels completely organic.

Furthermore, recognising the strengths of some of these songs in the face of obvious flaws does make me appreciate the album more. “Fear of the Living Dead” is quite middle of the road as far as openers go, particularly for a heavy metal album, as it really doesn’t grab you at all. Nevertheless, a few spins unearths a half catchy earworm that is structurally sound and has a good flow to it. The slightly generic riffs that carry “Hymn of the Damned”, “Insane Pain” and “The Power of Metal” aren’t bland enough to undermine the more inspired ideas they contain (cornball lyrics of the latter aside), with the scything riff and stuttering beat of the former a moment of true quality. The jovial, folky jive of “Zombie Dance” is totally at odds with the rest of the album, which, despite being difficult to take seriously, is enjoyable all the same.

Having been a touch negative thus far, I have reserved a paragraph to state that when The Living Dead is good, it is really good. “Blade of the Immortal” has a riff that is so ridiculously heavy and groovy, that even thinking about head banging to it will give you whiplash. That this riff is flawlessly melded to an upbeat, power metal style chorus makes it all the more potent. “Shadow of the Warrior” opens with a softly picked motif and layered vocals for a medieval feel, before leaping into a powerful central riff. The medieval aura is due to an undercurrent of keyboards that runs through much of the record and, despite never really breaking through the wall of guitars, they are still audible enough be atmospheric. Frustratingly, The Living Dead is also one of those albums that consigns one of its better songs to bonus track status. “Glory or Grave” is definitely more glory than grave, with simple riff patterns that are in constant motion and some deft dual guitar work. It’s a great song, performed with guts and gusto, and comfortably usurps many of the regular album tracks here.

The Living Dead falls in line with many of Grave Digger’s most recent albums. It’s a far cry from their glory years, but they’re still capable of putting out some good, if slightly uneven records. If you are looking to pick up this album, just make sure the bonus track is included, as otherwise the final stretch may be a slog.

7/10

GRAVE DIGGER “The Living Dead” (2018)
Napalm Records