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Thursday, 30 May 2013

Reviews: Timo Tolkki's Avalon, Blood Ceremony, Leprous

Timo Tolkki's Avalon: The Land Of New Hope (Frontiers)

The former Stratovarius guitarist hasn't had much luck on the solo front since leaving the band he formed his Revolution Renaissance project tanked after three albums as did Symfonia his band that eh formed with Andre Matos. This apparently was the album that 'saved' Tolkki he says himself that he "sort of rediscovered myself musically" on this album. So has he? Well yes this is the strongest album since the Symfonia project. Things start off with driving Avalanche Anthem which features the three main voices on the album who are Symphony X's Russell Allen, veteran screamer Rob Rock and Amaranthe's Elize Ryd. The album is a concept that will work retrospectively over (hopefully) three albums Ryd is the main character (appearing on 6 out of the 10 tracks) and her voice is a perfect fit having the power and melody to fully compliment her billing. As for Rock and Allen they are both two of the best in the business and contribute to their songs excellently, the Allen parts make it sound similar to some of Arjen Lucassen's works with Ayreon and Star One though. Tolkki still stands up as an excellent guitarist with some lightning fast fret runs and some soulful phrasing, his production is also crystal clear and he has managed to recruit a glut of great musicians with all strings handled by Tolkki, drums come from Rhapsody Of Fire's Alex Holzwarth but it's with the keyboard players that he's gone all out on, Mikko Harkin also from Symfonia contributing the lion's share but both former BCC and Dream Theater man Derek Sherinian and current Stratovarius ivory tinkler Jens Johansson both add their two cents and duel on To The Edge Of Time. Vocally as well there is an all start cast with the aforementioned three main characters Tolkki has also wrangled help from Tony Kakko, Michael Kiske (hard to think of a concept/project without him) and Sharon Den Adel to fully flesh out the voices. However despite this being Tolkki's rediscovery, this album is a bit samey, it is full of galloping power metal with some orchestral backing (see soaring ballad I'll Sing You Home) but there are many doing this as well if not better, with a certain German coming to mind, still a good first whack that should see this last more than one album. 7/10  

Blood Ceremony: The Eldritch Dark (Rise Above)

Blood Ceremony are psych/doom band from Canada and their third album is another slab of down-tuned, fuzzed up retro riffage that also has an incredibly folky sound that comes from front woman Alia O'Brien's liberal usage of flute. The band all cite Black Sabbath as an influence (what self-respecting doom band wouldn't) however they also are part Uriah Heep, part Fairport Convention and also have a lot of Jethro Tull hanging around too. The record kicks off with the open chord San Fran haziness of Witchwood which plunges into an organ fuelled creep that bursts into a heavy middle section that turns into a trippy progressive outro. With some heaving bass lines and good drumming from Lucas Gadke (who provides some vocals on the acoustic fire side incantation of Lord Summerisle) and Michael Gadke, the band tear through a set of excellent doomy tracks that are topped by some fuzzy riffage from guitarist Sean Kennedy, it's Alia O'Brien though that makes this album (and band) as her smoky vocals enchant and bewitch as she moves seamlessly from organ to that beguiling flute adding a unique stamp to every track. The tracks move from heavy weight doom, to floating folk in heart beat sometimes having both in one track, the fiddles of Ballad Of Weird Sister hark to Sandy Denny and company and the massive freak out of The Magician ends the album in suitably gothic style. This is another strong album from Blood Ceremony that shows that occult influenced rock is still an interesting and entertaining prospect. 8/10

Leprous: Coal (InsideOut)

Leprous have had something of a schizophrenic nature being both a fully formed band with their own identity and the backing for black metal legend Ihsahn, this style of extreme progressive metal is noticeable in Leprous music but they have a much more broad progressive scope encompassing rock, folk, jazz and metal and throwing it all into one album. This isn't a case of backing band going into the solo arena as Leprous have been releasing their own material under their own name since 2004 and this is their third full length album. The vocals and keys are handled by dreadlocked frontman Einar Solberg who has been Emperor's live key player since 2009 it is in Leprous however that we get to hear that as well as being a superb key player he is also has a very unique voice that is slightly operatic in the way Devin Townsend's is; drifting from high melodies see the church-like middle/final section of opening track Foe, through to the more scarred screams and croons of the darker more extreme tracks of like Chronic which features some superb blast beats and off kilter percussion from Tobias Ornes Andersen as well as some tight black metal riffs provided by Tor Oddmund Suhrke and Oystein Landsverk. One of the major factors of this record is that it is very progressive with every track differing in style so the middle of the album has a very melodic and euphoric ballad in the shape of the The Cloak which moves into the bass heavy breakdowns of The Valley which has a distinct electronic crackle behind it. With the extremely progressive nature of this record it brings to mind bands like Porcupine Tree, whereas the darker passages are Katatonia and obviously Emperor but there is also major influence of more mainstream prog bands like Muse in places, this is a very good album from an extremely talented band. 8/10 

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