Stratovarius: Eternal (earMusic)
Polaris, Elysium and Nemesis these have been the three albums Stratovarius have released since their founding guitarist Timo Tolkki left and they have been consistently brilliant, almost reinventing the bands symphonic power metal sound wholesale bringing it into the 21st Century with progressive flourishes and mature song writing. Eternal continues in this vein of the previous three releases by once again supplying the top level prog/power metal that a band of this calibre can do in their sleep, the triumphant My Eternal Dream starts things off on a high with the drumming relentless, bass galloping and the bands trademark guitar/keyboard riffs welcoming you into the world of Stratovarius, the keyboard runs of Jens Johansson are once again sublime conducting orchestral parps and sweeping synths on every track, soloing just as fluidly as Matias Kupiainen's guitars do, with the two duelling like two axe heroes. Kupiainen is the main writer on this record meaning that all of the songs are little more guitar-centric much like they were on Nemesis from the rocking rhythms that underpin the techno synths on Shine In The Dark.
Along with the dark tale of romance In My Line Of Work and the metallic Few Are Those, Shine In The Dark is co-written by frontman Timo Kotipelto and Cain's Offering/ex-Sonata Arctica guitarist Jani Liimatainen. We go through the fat riffs of Rise Above It's chorus. The band are still in a purple patch delivering some of the best songs of their career on their most recent albums, one of the best tracks on this album, Lost Without A Trace is written by Lauri Porra, it is an epic track with light and shade throughout having power and gravitas, which is not bad for a bassist. With the music suitably excellent as usual it's up to Kotipelto to once again lay claim to being power metal greatest vocalist by soaring above the riffs, keys and blast beats with the same power he has shown since day one, his vocals are remarkable suiting the electronic Man In The Mirror as much as they do the wistful ballad Fire In Your Eyes. Stratovarius are still delivering fantastic music for a band in their 31st year with the grandiose finale The Lost Saga ending the album in an 11 minute plus masterpiece, yet again these Finns have delivered quality, you need this album. 9/10
Gary Clarke Jr: The Story Of Sonny Boy Slim (Warner Bros)
Gary Clarke Jr has been hailed as the saviour of American blues, transcending the genre even as he reinvents it, seamlessly blending blues, rock with soul, folk and hip-hop, think screaming guitars, howling vocals and electronic beats permeating the analogue groove. His debut was nothing short of a masterpiece bringing together everything he had worked for since he was first starting out on his path to super stardom, since then he has gone stratospheric playing with numerous huge bands and giving guest spots a galore, along with these he has also released a double live album that distilled his live sound on to two discs which whet the whistle for this sophomore album. So what do you do when you've concurred the world and been called the modern day Hendrix, well you release and album that is more akin with The Purple One than Purple Haze, the R&B factor has been turned up to it's highest on this record, soul and funk is just as important as rock and blues with Clarke Jr harking back to his Austin influences. The Healing has the gospel garage of The Black Keys, with a smooth delivery and the hip-hop drum loops, before we get our first bit of guitar violence on Grinder which has a wah-wah driven soul number on which Clarke Jr lets his fingers do the talking.
With the rock factor toned down and even the experimental nature of the debut subdued, it does mean that this record is a bit straightforward in places, Star is a bit weak with it's simple funk guitar lines and lazy lyrics. However it is followed by the soulful romantic organ filled Our Love which could have been a Prince number one, as could the frisky, filthy Can't Sleep which is just prime Purple One, handclaps and all. The stripped back blues of Church which is a nod to Sunday service musically and Hold On is one of the best tracks on the album with it's semi-rapped verses, but there is just one to many tracks on this record where Gary Clarke Jr is in neutral not pushing himself as he did on his debut. All in all this is a good album, Clarke Jr and his band all high quality musicians but this album does have a bit of difficult second album feel to it. This is a release that has flashes of his previous brilliance but for the most part it is a crowd pleasing record that is aimed at gratifying those who have recently discovered him rather than progressing with his reinvention of the blues. 8/10
Metaprism: The Human Encryption (Self Released)
Bournemouth modern metal troop Metaprism have finally released their awaited debut, The Human Encryption is a tour-de-force in post-millennial metal, this is chunky riffs, technical lead playing, intense drumming, the odd piece of programming and dual singers giving harsh/clean vocals, however in change to the norm the band has male and female vocalist which means that the band have a unique sound. I listened to Metaprisim's EP when it was released and I was impressed by the bands songwriting chops then however everything seems a lot more refined on this debut. The riffs come thick and fast from the off as we get two guitarists with defined roles Callum Dowling's rhythm guitar merges with Mike West's bass to drive these songs along flawlessly providing the fattest thickest riffs this side of Lamb Of God add to this the relentless, unstoppable drumming of James Clarke and you get a bottom end that punches you in guts. Add to this the impeccable lead playing of founder Ollie Roberts an the bands musical backing is rock solid fusing intense power and fantastic melodies.
Roberts guitar playing is very good indeed, his fingers fly over the the fretboard adding lead breaks and solos galore to the songs, although he resists the need to show off his flash and flare allowing the solos to breathe long enough to make an impact but not overshadow anything relying more on his lead breaks over the concrete riffs to widen the scope of the songs. He does give up one of the solos to Bloodshot Dawn's Ben Ellis who shows his mettle on Only The Last. With the music taken care of its up to vocalists Jut Tabor and Theresa Smith to show off their chops and they do sublimely, Smith has the keening female vocals that are not operatic in a Epica sense but they are powerful and soar above the heaviness duelling and intertwining with Tabors guttural screams and roars in a similar style Elize Ryd of Amaranthe or Delain's Charlotte Wessels especially on the super ballad Here I Stand. Tabor himself parries the light with darkness on tracks like Nebula but he also has a crooning clean vocal on Reload and Needless Of Light And Shame which blends with Smith's to add more power to huge choruses. Metaprism encompass everything good about modern metal they play progressive, heavy yet intensely melodic hook filled music that is executed with sublime style. 9/10