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Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Reviews: Chaos Magic, Dendra, Mantra Vega

Chaos Magic: Chaos Magic (Frontiers)

Timo Tolkki is a name known to anyone who has been around the symphonic/power metal scene since it's inception, he is the founder member of Stratovarius and after leaving Stratovarius he has formed or been a part of many bands an projects including Allen - Lande, Ring Of Fire, Revolution Renaissance, Symfonia and most recently his ambitious concept opera Avalon. Like I said the guitarist, multi-instrumentalist/producer is a name most involved with the metal scene are sure to know, however Chilean vocalist Caterina Nix is probably less known having only one band behind her, she came to Tolkki's notice when she supplied vocals to the last two tracks on his last Avalon album Angels Of The Apocalypse. Now Avalon was a metal opera and as such used cinematic set pieces and multiple vocalists, Chaos Magic is different; this is pure symphonic metal in the vein of Nightwish or Within Temptation, in fact Nix vocals sound very similar to Sharon Den Adel, see Serpaphim where Chaos Magic is at it's most symphonic goth metal.  Tolkki handles all of the music providing the riffs and solos all, something he excels at moving between the heavier riffs of From the Stars to the lighter moments. He also takes care of the bass rumbles and keys having the synths on the bigger more orchestral moments and piano on the slower more emotive moments  such as Dead Memories, in fact the only instrument he doesn't play are drums, luckily Jami Huovinen is on hand to give the tubs a good thumping. This yet another great project from the master of prog/power metal, with the numerous failed or abandoned projects that Tolkki has been a part of, this could be one that goes the distance with as Nix's vocals are superb, the playing is top drawer as always and the production is and songwriting is slick and modern, with an air of familiarity yet not a whiff of pastiche. This album is a must for any fans of Within Temptation, Nightwish and even Amaranthe with it's mix of radio bothering hooks but with classically influenced metal stomp and as The Point Of No Return finishes the album in style you realise that the band's name is apt as from out of the chaos comes a lot of bright flashes of magic. 9/10 

Dendera: Pillars Of Creation (Metalbox Recordings)

Britain invented heavy metal... that ladies and gents is a fact with some of the biggest names in heavy metal coming from these hallowed shores. Now Dendera are the latest in a long line of British metal warriors to don their leathers, strap on a guitar and start to shred, from the ominous Sabbath-like opening of Claim Our Throne you can hear that yes the band do draw from the illustrious history of metal but much like Welsh metallers Triaxis they also add a modern touch on their songs that harks to post-millennial bands like Machine Head and Trivium as much they owe a debt to legends such as Iron Maiden. Claim Our Throne explodes into a high speed guitar workout for guitarists David Stanton and Stephen Main; with Stanton providing the same style of rumbling riffage that Maiden do so well on In High Tide while Main handles the powerful leads and sublime solos. The band mix old school metal while adding the thrash elements on The Daylight Ending which speeds along thanks to the bottom end of Bradley Edison and the superb drumming of Andy Finch which climaxes into a huge chorus. In fact this whole album has massive hooks throughout all of them delivered with passion by Ashley Edison who has a very unique voice that sits in a powerful mid and occasionally strays into the upper register where he is also very comfortable he has an element of the Ripper and Russell Allen about him but it is a unique delivery that snarls, croons and shrieks in all the right places. The songwriting is great with all the songs buzzing with modern metallic style with tracks like Bloodlust, the thunderous Disillusioned, the riff monster that is The Chosen One and the finale epic track Edge Of Tomorrow that ends the song in fantastic style. Dendera have released a strong sophomore album with mature songwriting and a whole heap of riffs that follow in a very long tradition of British heavy metal, I'm looking forward to seeing these guys open for Death Angel and Queensryche in Bristol. 8/10 

Mantra Vega: Island EP Sonic Reality Records/RecPlay

Now as many of you may know Mostly Autumn are up there in my top five bands of all time so any project that is linked with that band is of great interest to me, Mantra Vega are one such band and really they can be called a supergroup. The band is a veritable who's who of the British progressive rock scene, it was formed by Mostly Autumn co-founder Heather Findlay and Sound Of Contact Co-founder Dave Kerzner who provide vocals/guitar and vocals/keys respectively as well as taking the lion's share of the writing. They have recruited Halo Blind founder and ex Mostly Autumn man Chris Johnson on guitar and keys, We Could Be Astronauts and Sound Of Contact bassist Stu Fletcher with the band rounded out by the current Mostly Autumn drummer Alex Cromarty and guest guitars from former Roger Waters and current Steven Wilson guitarist Dave Kilminster. So with the best an brightest of the British prog scene Mantra Vega was always going to have some gravitas behind it and on this three track 'single' that is very evident from the first track the title track Island which has the hazy, acoustic, honeyed tones of Kate Bush while bringing in jazz elements all wrapped up in a percussive almost elemental sound that culminates in laid back solo. There are of course huge Mostly Autumn influences but also the musicians add their own stamp on the songs with Findlay providing her keening, folky, ethereal vocals with Kerzner giving a lower, gruffer vocal performance as a perfect counterpoint, his keys are understated too just providing the electronic synths and some organ on Mountain Spring so it doesn't intrude. Mountain Spring builds it's sound throughout but everything is based on the thumping acoustic guitars giving it the same kind of feel as bands like Portishead or even some of Steven Wilson's more ethereal work. The final track Every Corner is a spoken word piece that ends this three track single in an elegant and graceful way. This single is a nice snapshot of what Mantra Vega has to offer let's hope they can all organise their busy schedules and make a full album as that could be something special on the basis of this. 8/10  

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