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Tuesday, 27 May 2014

Reviews: Devin Townsend, Timo Tolkki's Avalon, Brother Firetribe

Devin Townsend: Casualties Of Cool (Self Released)

Is Devin Townsend the finest musician (metal or otherwise) of the 20th Century? Debatable but what is true is that he certainly is a musical chameleon with the ability to lend his talent to a variety of styles, see his contrasting careers in SYL and The Devin Townsend Band and his fully integrated psyche in the Devin Townsend Project which was rock, metal, acoustic, trance, electronica all rolled into one. Casualties Of Cool is another feather in his cap, as this is a concept album of bluesy, country and even ambient styled songs and they feature the vocal talents of relatively unknown Ché Aimee Dorval. The album is a essentially an expanded version of Townsend's Ghost II bonus disc with lots of the same themes running through the record. A crowd funded affair Casualties Of Cool is somewhat of a stop gap between Townsend's Epicloud and his next full project Z2 the follow up to his famous ode to coffee Ziltoid: The Omniscient and as such many were not expecting much, however as usual Devin has the Midas touch and Casualties Of Cool is yet another jewel in his expansive crown. Things kick off with Daddy which has a dreamy, ambient style to begin the album and its on this first song we hear Dorval's rootsy countrified voice. She has a strong vocal delivery with authentic soul in every lyric she utters, see Flight as an example. With tracks such as Mountaintop which has a propulsive but dark and brooding atmosphere and Devin's expansive vocal range this time opting for his half whispered delivery. The majority of the album features acoustics over electrics meaning that the album has a very analogue sound at its core but one that is brought into the present by the electronic treatment of the tracks. Yes this fan funded album has all the elements of Ghost and Ki and it is the complete opposite to Epicloud's euphoric, guitar driven rock style. This is more laid back, woozy, dreamy music to escape the modern age with, music to stir the soul and relax the mind. Mr Townsend you have done it once again!! 9/10

Timo Tolkki's Avalon: Angels Of The Apocalypse (Frontiers Records)

The former Stratovarius guitarist returns with the second part in his trio of concept albums. This time things get darker as the titular apocalypse descends on our story. This means that the main character of the last story Amaranthe's Elize Ryd is only on the final two tracks. This means that a new cast of singers have been brought in for this album the most notable of these being Floor Jansen (Nightwish/Revamp) and Fabio Lione (Rhapsody Of Fire), himself no stranger to a concept album. Lione and Jansen provide the vocals for majority of the songs but both David DeFeis of Virgin Steele on the heavyweight The Rise Of The Fourth Reich and Zach Stevens of Circle II Circle/Savatage who lends his pipes to the Maiden-like Neon Sirens. From the vocal only Song Of Eden which shows off Lione's vocals excellently and leads into the massively orchestral and heavy Jerusalem Is Falling which again shows the almost operatic nature of Lione's vocals and also shows how good Tolkki's guitar playing is with an absolutely killer, classically influenced solo to finish the song off. His assembled band is also amazing with two former members of Stratovarius taking up the drums and keys and Tolkki's handling everything else instrument wise. This album is far heavier than the previous effort with lots of searing riffs, fret melting solos and massive keys see Paradise Lost which has a pulsating electronic part to it. The vocalists hold their own with Floor Jansen taking the most of the kudos in the talent stakes especially on the spine tingling You'll Bleed Forever which also has a mountain top guitar solo that Slash would be proud of. The final two tracks are possibly the best with Simone Simons, Elize Ryd, Floor Jansen and Caterina Nix all showing off their pipes on High Above Me and the nine odd minute title track. This is a great album and Tolkki is finally showing why he was the main creative force behind Stratovarius for all those years, after a shaky start with the lacklustre Revolution Renaissance and the under rated and beleaguered Symfonia, it seems Tolkki has rediscovered his mojo with Avalon and on this album particularly it is prime Strato territory. 8/10    

Brother Firetribe: Diamond In The Firepit (Spinefarm)

Indulge me for a moment...Imagine if Journey gave up after the Next album, so no Steve Perry, no Evolution, no Escape, no Don't Stop Believing and more importantly no world domination as the worlds best AOR band. What if instead that this all happened in Finland? Well that band would be Brother Firetribe, three albums in and they have avoided the weird jazz-rock stage that Journey went through and came out swinging with some muscular AOR from their debut album, this theme continued through their sophomore effort and yet again Diamond In The Firepit is an album that harks back to those glory days of, big hair, big keyboards and big ballads. Brother Firetribe is the brainchild of Nightwish guitarist Emppu Vuorinen who swaps his symphonic metallic playing for clean guitar lines, melodic leads he is aided by the huge keys of Tomppa Nikulainen meaning that the band have that Schon/Cain feel throughout with the guitars and keys equally important to the bands sound see Far Away From Love which has both a guitar and a keyboard break. The drums and bass are also key to the sound but it's the vocals of Pekka Ansio Heino that also give the Journey references legs, he is pure Perry with a soulful croon and soaring highs. This album is pure cheese yes but it is played with pure heart and belief meaning that you can't help but be drawn in. The album has some speedy melodic rockers and obviously the obligatory busy which comes in the shape of Desperately (Faithfully?), they also have a cover in the shape of Winner Takes It All, which is not ABBA but a Sammy Hagar song from the Sly Stallone-does-arm wrestling movie Over The Top. The album like I said it is aimed at a niche audience but this is an album for fans of Foreigner, Reo Speedwagon and yes Journey. Brother Firetribe are band out of time but they play what they want any way they want it (I am sorry) 7/10    

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