Monday, 26 December 2011

Week 52 (FINAL): Ensiferum - The Longest Journey (Heathen Throne Part II)

Here we are, the very last post for Monday Metal Treasures. I've taken a lot of time to write up everything for all 52 weeks of the year. This may have not brought tons of traffic to me but I've sure as hell been happy with expressing my thoughts on the 52 different artists that were featured here. Most of them may have been key metal artists but I threw in some surprises and even if you've heard a lot from heavy metal, hopefully you found at least something here. Since Monday Metal Treasures wasn't a huge success and I found my newer gaming rants to be commented on more, I feel it's not really worth the effort to do a second round and be happy enough with what I've done throughout 2011. Expect more full-length reviews whether they be metal classics, new releases or finding something obscure and give that some light whether it be good or bad.

The artist: Finishing off the grand finale month as well as the whole of Monday Metal Treasures, we have the folk metal band Ensiferum from Finland. With a few albums alone, Ensiferum have put themselves at the top of the game for folk metal. Their style of music is typically mixed with melodic death metal and coming from someone who's not all that fussed about that particular subgenre, these guys (and girls) are a prime quality metal band. Whether they had the Wintersun mastermind Jari Mäenpää for the first two releases or ex-Norther guitarist/vocalist Petri Lindroos taking over Jari, Ensiferum's music has been nothing short of great. Once all the legendary metal acts from the 70s/80s have left us, this is one band that undoubtedly deserves to fill up those huge venues all around the world.

The album: From Afar is Ensiferum's most recent album that makes the ultimate step to put all doubts anyone had after Jari left at rest. While Victory Songs was another great album from Ensiferum, From Afar surpasses everything they did and even goes on par with Wintersun's debut album. Ensiferum take a further step by incorporating symphonic metal elements to their music and the orchestral characteristics justify the term epic for this record. Not only that, this band makes the most adventurous journey with two 10+ minute tracks both relating to each other. As a little bonus, Stone Cold Metal goes out of its way to take a Western route that manages to include a banjo solo. This is no joke, there is banjo in our heavy metal here. Still not convinced From Afar is one album to pick? Let's see if the featured song can convince you.

The song: The Longest Journey (Heathen Throne Part II) is the final track to end off From Afar. Ensiferum step up their game here with the slow-ish introduction which allows them to intensify the song halfway through to catch even more attention. Whilst building the way up there, the song takes an outstanding break with the marching drums and flutes/recorders. Turning back to the metal force, the clean vocals from Markus Toivonen and Sami Hinkka and with only one verse of that, the quest only becomes immense from the third verse and this is where the heroic feel comes in and appropriately so. This is the quest where only the strongest and bravest succeed and this song follows the true hero.

After the final verse of the song, the band relaxes and makes way for the orchestra/guitar co-operation for the 4 minute finale. While it could have been a minute shorter, it's hard to deny the great atmosphere this part provides. This feels like the hero's return to his homeland after his toughest quest yet and for these reasons, this is no doubt one of the greatest heavy metal songs that exceed 10 minutes joining the same leagues as Iron Maiden's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Helloween's Halloween and Keeper of the Seven Keys. This song must be considered a classic amongst many metal fans within ten years time.

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Week 51: Running Wild - Genesis (The Making and the Fall of Man)

The artist: Running Wild are a power/traditional metal band from Germany who had written many great albums. Although Rock 'n' Rolf, the main man of the band stuck to what he was familiar with, it's hard to not appreciate all the great songs he's written throughout the years. Even during the later days where the band was losing inspiration and hired a drummer under a pseudonym named Angelo Sasso, Rolf still managed to write some excellent songs. Siberian Winter and The Ghost from The Brotherhood and Return of the Dragon and Ballad of William Kidd from The Rivalry should ensure that. Rolf would declare retirement of the band in 2009 but has recently announced a return along with a new album coming out in April named Shadowmaker.

The album: Black Hand Inn is the 1994 album from Running Wild which follows the same similar style to Pile of Skulls. These releases were less raw than their predecessors and had a more polished feel to them. Not that it's a bad thing or anything since it breathed some fresh air in their music. Like Pile of Skulls, there were many fast songs found throughout the album. Black Hand Inn even kicks off the record in a similar way to Pile of Skulls where it build up with an intro track and them BAM, you're launched into a speed metal craze. With essentials like The Privateer and even some gems with Fight the Fire of Hate, The Phantom of Black Hand Hill and Powder & Iron, you can forget the babbling from Allmusic who actually gave this album 1.5 stars and acknowledge great effort from this release.

The song: Genesis (The Making and the Fall of Man) starts off with a spoken verse explaining the events of the 12th planet from over 400,000 years ago, based on Zecharia Sitchin's work on ancient astronauts. Zecharia Sitchin's efforts weren't looked upon well for mistranslations, flawed methodology and a few other things but Rock 'n' Rolf saw something from it and made a 15 minute song dedicating to Sitchin's series. Even if the lyrical theme will irk you, it's hard to deny the greatness of the band's talents. Rock 'n' Rolf assisted with Thilo Hermann on guitars make some really good performance. Rock 'n' Rolf does make a huge domination with the song (well, it is his band) with his vocals and telling the band which direction to take throughout. With the climatic changes around six minutes in and ten minutes in, you can see a lot was done for this song and damn, that very riff at 10:40 is one hell of a headbanger and a good use of the galloping. Several high and mighty solos are found throughout the song and even though the beginning verse adds a few minutes to the song before it even began, Genesis (The Making and the Fall of Man) is one song of great attention that will last through all 15 minutes of its duration.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Manilla Road to the World - Part 15: Grindhouse (Playground of the Damned)

This is where we reach the end for the Manilla Road spinoff for Monday Metal Treasures. Playground of the Damned is Manilla Road's most recent album that came out last Summer (July on vinyl, August for CD). For the latest Manilla Road release, Playground of the Damned feels more laid back after following a couple of concept albums from the band since the reunion. Although there is a lyrical theme throughout the record, this feels like it has more freedom than its predecessors. Fifteen albums on and the 'Road are still as great as ever. When you have some really dark tracks like Into the Maelström, Grindhouse and Abattoir de la Mort and the anthem of Brethren of the Hammer, you can tell the band is still in great shape after all these years.

Grindhouse starts off with some acoustic guitars which is rather ironic to have considering the lyrical theme of the song. The intro is rather lengthy when the light intro is turned heavier and then eventually into the darkness. Not only do the riffs have a whole new flavour of dark, there is a sense of familiarity from Gates of Fire (think The Fall of Illiam). Although the overall sound production from Manilla Road can turn listeners off (hopefully not whoever has followed this to the end), from someone who's adapted to the oddities, the drums do sound rather thin here which is a shame but it doesn't knock the awesomeness of the song. When you have a song with evil lines such as "Welcome to the mind of a madman / Welcome to the house of pain / Inside this nightmare of slaughter / The reaper always knows your name", it's easy to love the brutality of the Grindhouse. The song ends off with a lengthy solo that elaborates a lot and makes a great way to conclude this grim song. Overall, Grindhouse is downright dark but that's the overall atmosphere of Playground of the Damned and it fits perfectly. The inclusion of this secures a top 10 spot for this album for the best of heavy metal in 2011.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Week 50: Hammers of Misfortune - The Trial and the Grave

The artist: Hammers of Misfortune kick ass! Yes, that's how this post should start off considering the awesomeness of this band that sadly finds itself criminally overlooked. Founded by John Cobbett, former guitarist of Slough Feg and Ludicra, his band provides an excellent mixture of vocals from both genders. The band have also explored in several subgenres of metal. The main focuses have been traditional and progressive metal but there were strong black metal and folk music elements on the debut album named The Bastard. You wouldn't think the same band would also release an album with strong 70s prog rock elements but the signature characters of the band, particularly with the co-operation with male and female vocals (which may I add makes this band quite a gem), define this band in several styles. Out of all the bands featured on Monday Metal Treasures, this is one of the most highly recommended artists.

The album: The August Engine is Hammers of Misfortune's second album and moves away from the black metal elements that were present in The Bastard. This record has a stronger traditional metal feel but the album is still highly progressive and some tracks are even thrashy. The instrumental track The August Engine, Pt. 1 is technical ecstasy by quickly switching back and forth with acoustic guitars and the full driving force of the band and the song makes a sudden end for the following track Rainfall that manages to make an odd transition that actually works. More complex work is shown later on with The August Engine, Pt. 2 where the second half finds itself gradually moving to acoustic movements and back. And to think all of these tracks together make a concept album. I could go on all day about The August Engine but the point is, this album is damn good and should be some of the best 45 minutes you'll hear from heavy metal!

The song: The Trial and the Grave is the final song on The August Engine. Out of all the songs featured on Monday Metal Treasures, the lyrics for this song are quite possibly the ones that stand out the most. Yes, you could say the lyrics actually go above the music here but that's not to say the musicianship is short of excellence. You have some very doomy guitars from Mike Scalzi and John Cobbett who make the best impressions at the start and the finale section. The band tones down to make way for the strong vocals from Janis Tanaka (sorry, no Scalzi here).

The song goes through a long depressive route showing no happiness anywhere in sight. If anything, this shows the visions of a ghost seeing the sad ending of a woman who is sentenced for death and followed by the barristers cutting the body into pieces. It's a horrible thought and if it were sung by a death metal band, they'd take this as a joke and laugh at it but not Hammers of Misfortune who put real emotion to their music. The last verse just shows how sad the ex-life of someone was by explaining how no-one acknowledged the woman and that everyone completely forgot about her. The finale shows some slow movements from the guitarists and while this part may seem to drag, it has a purpose to take its time since if the lyrics were unsettling, why should the music make it easier for you?

Overall, The Trial and the Grave is a very depressive song. You'd have to come up with something a whole lot sadder (and not done in some emo bullshit way) to make this song look like Helloween in comparison. This song is by far one of the saddest songs metal has ever experienced and is a prime example of excellent female vocals in heavy metal and if there's one band that should make their way to the top over the next decade, it's this unique bunch.

Monday, 5 December 2011

Week 49: Sonata Arctica - The Power of One

The artist: For the last month of 2011, we'll be covering the grand finales of metal albums that exceed the 10 minute mark and there is no better way to conclude Monday Metal Treasures than to cover the magnificent album closers. Starting off, we have Sonata Arctica. These guys are one of the most notable power metal bands out there who started in 1996. They quickly rose into popularity amongst the power metal world and the lead singer Tony Kakko has found himself appearing in various other bands including Van Canto, Epica and even Stratovarius! Sonata Arctica have offered several great albums. Even the weakest efforts that are Unia and The Days of Grays still have their moments. However, if they want to climb up the ladder even further, they will need to offer something that's a huge step up from the said albums.

The album: Silence is Sonata Arctica's second album that offers many tracks. There's a total of 15 unique songs including the bonus track. Silence comes with many great songs from them such as Weballergy and The End of This Chapter. San Sebastian (Revisited) and Wolf & Raven are what should be considered essentials from them, despite them not even playing any songs from this album at the show in Manchester back in March. The record isn't perfect, though since there could have been a track or two cut off to give the album an even better flow. There is one too many ballads here but if you can get over that, you've got yourself a great power metal album.

The song: The Power of One starts off with sounds of rain and then the keyboards adding a little extra to the moody weather. Jani Liimatainen plays an acoustic guitar that stands out well but it's not long until the lyrics begin and Tony Kakko makes his introduction. The song goes through a few changes throughout the time. Also from Jani comes some impressive riffs and leads that are heard within only three minutes in. Halfway through is where the song settles down and shows some emotional voices from Tony with some unsettling keyboards. The band picks off again showing some keyboard solos and then even more powerful singing skills from Tony. If you have any doubts about this man, let them rest right here as he puts the verses up a few notches. Even the rest of the band have to keep up with him and they only rest once the song makes the grand finale.

Tony makes one more impressive show with his multilayer of vocals and show what he can do with his one voice. The song's lyrics are about Adam and Eve's songs Cain and Abel and while it's based on a religious story, what was taken from the bible can turn into a mighty story from a mere song. Overall, The Power of One stands as one of the finest Sonata Arctica songs ever made. With many changes throughout 10 minutes of this song and showing some great vocal capabilities of Tony Kakko, this song should be essential for their live shows.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Manilla Road to the World - Part 14: Chromaphobia (After Midnight Live)

For once, a live album is covered on the whole of Monday Metal Treasures with After Midnight Live. The reason this is being covered is because the whole album consists of never before heard on any of Manilla Road's albums. After Midnight Live is a live album recorded from KMUW radio back in 1979. The tapes that recorded the show from Rick Fisher, the drummer of the band at the time, were discovered a few years ago. The tapes were handed to Mark Shelton and he fixed the sound as much as he could to put out an adequate release for it. The sound production is still raw and loses its quality here and there but this is to be expected when taken from cassettes. However, for a 30 year old tape, the results turned out rather well.

Chromaphobia is the first track the band play on the show and is the strongest point of the album. This song contains the rocking feel from Mark of the Beast. The vibe comes from the riffs and Mark Shelton's vocals that make it sound a lost track from the said album... As if it wasn't lost enough already from being buried for 20 years. The song makes an elaborate intro that feels like it stands within Black Sabbath and Motörhead. The verses tone down the guitars and gives off the spacey feel which is what Invasion and Mark of the Beast would corporate after the initial recording. Mark Shelton states the song is about being a metalhead in the future and receiving the grief for being a dedicated metal fan, having long hair, etc. This isn't a favourite song of the Shark's but it's still a damn good way to kick off a live recording from the early days of the band.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Week 48: Solstice - Cromlech

The artist: Solstice from the UK are an epic doom metal band who despite only ever releasing two albums and an EP, have made a recent comeback. Not a whole lot happened with them in the 00s but with the recent tours and writing one new song for their live shows, you can tell they've returned to the metal realm and are ready to kick even more ass sometime in the near future. The third album named Englander is highly anticipated considering it's been 13 years since they released New Dark Age and they're well overdue.

The album: New Dark Age is the superior album out of the two Solstice albums. If you hear this record first, there isn't much to care about Lamentations. New Dark Age has some monstrous doom metal numbers including The Sleeping Tyrant (which had a low budget music video), Cimmerian Codex, Hammer of Damnation, Cromlech and New Dark Age, Pt. 2. These are the main five tracks of the album and could have just left it at that but Solstice added a whole new dimension by adding an individual section with an acoustic interlude, a very folky ballad and a spoken verse with sounds of wind blowing. Afterwards, the album immediately returns to its doom destruction. Another thing to note about New Dark Age is the unusual choice of words. When reading the lyrics, you'll come across many words that you may have not heard of all your life and extra credit should be handed out to them for acknowledging such words. Lastly, by getting the re-release of this album, you will be rewarded with an excellent cover of Iron Maiden's The Prophecy.

The song: Cromlech starts off rather moody with the bass and clean guitars. The bass is certainly one of the finest performances for it from Solstice and this intro is justified. The heavy guitars kick in after a minute but it's not long until the band pick up the pace. The rhythm may be fast for doom metal but the song endures itself long enough, especially when some lines are repeated several lines. This isn't bad, though since it's hard to get enough of "LEND ME YOUR STEEL!" Now that just screams heavy metal. Even if the song is faster than an average doom metal song, Richard M. Walker and Hamish Glencross do not halt with the crushing doom riffs. The song does slow down within 6 minutes and this is where we're given the beautiful solo by them. The main rhythm isn't done yet, though as it returns afterwards to finish off the full lyrics. Some parts may be repeated several times but it still offers a lot within 10 1/2 minutes. Overall, Cromlech just proves what this heavily overlooked band can do with their music and here's hoping Englander will take notes from songs like these.