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Friday, 27 November 2015

Reviews: Phantasma, Ambush, Aktaion

Phantasma: The Deviant Hearts (Napalm Records)

Many of you may be familiar with Georg Neuhauser as the vocalist of Progressive/Symphonic Power Metal kings Serenity, his voice is one of the bands calling card so away from the Serenity bubble he has teamed up with multi instrumentalist, producer/vocalist Oliver Philipps to create a story driven concept album with major symphonic rock leanings. Oliver has worked with numerous bands in the past meaning he has made many connections this has brought in the outside element in this equation, which is the fantastic voice of Delain's Charlotte Wessels who was asked to by Phillipps to contribute vocals to the album, she did more than that writing a novella, called The Deviant Hearts, that the band has used as the storyline to the album. So the album itself is excellent high quality operatic symphonic metal, that builds like a musical or an opera with both voices working in tandem to create magic, emotion and most of all draw you in to the story, both vocalists have an expressive range and suit each other perfectly Charlotte can be tender or dominant, Runaway Grey is the distillation of all of this starting out slow and measured before exploding into a euphoric final part that comes straight out of a Andrew Lloyd Webber musical. Georg on the other hand can soothe and croon passionately as well as rock out on stompers like Novaturient and Crimson Course.

They are aided in telling story by Phillipps' guitar, keys, vocals and production skill with Jason Gianni's expressive drumming, Randy George's intricate bass playing and Tom Buchberger's emotive guitar playing all playing their part with the orchestrations to give this album the bombast of a release by Queen or Meat Loaf the latter being especially noticeable. They also have some guest singers to flesh out the story and characters, Try features the heartbreaking vocals of Cloe Lowry who made her name doing this sort of thing in TSO (Trans Siberian Orchestra) as she duets with Van Canto's Dennis Schunke on the albums most operatic track. The impressive title track and the symphonic heaviness of Enter Dreamscape both feature the awesome pipes of Evergrey's Tom S. Englund. This album has some seriously music on it, Miserable Me has the Tim Burtonesque creepiness mixed with some Savatage, while The Lotus And The Willow is a great middle section to the album, while Carry Me Now is pure Meat Loaf arena rock and all the better for it, while Georg gets his Webber moment on The Sound Of Fear, before the album rocks up at the end with Novaturient and ends with the brilliantly overblown Let It Die which features the vocals of Georg, Charlotte and Oliver. This entire album is fantastic from start to finish it is a real journey through the story with the kitchen sink thrown at it musically the vocalists and musician's involved are all top class and really add their stamp to the album. If you love epic arrangements and grandiose songs then the The Deviant Hearts will shoot right to the top of your end of year list! 10/10   

Ambush: Desecrator (High Roller Records)

What do you get if you mix Manowar and Judas Priest and put them in post millennial Sweden? Well you get Ambush, they are unabashedly retro with enough modern touches to keep them relevant. They are the right kind of classic to be on High Roller's band list but like I said their feet are firmly planted in the modern era. Much of this comes from the production which is especially good letting the songs have a thick sound meaning that they blast out of the speakers from the outset of the Priest/Mercyful Fate-like Possessed By Evil, the album is very good, the guitars are chunky on the mid-paced rockers and rampaging on the thrashier songs such as the title track, Rose Of The Dawn which could have easily come off Sign Of The Hammer, while Faster is Freewheel Burning's . The rhythm section too is locked and loaded (sorry) to the rock steady beat of Priest's glory days, this is most evident on the gangland tale of Southstreet Brotherhood and the swaggering Master Of The Seas. The band are strong musically but it's the vocals that always make of break a band of this ilk luckily the pipes of Ambush's frontman are expertly suited to the band part Eric Adams, part Rob Halford with all the explosive power of both. This is yet another great album of retro tinged traditional metal from the boys at High Roller and indeed another top drawer band from Sweden. 8/10    

Aktaion: Throne (Self Released)

Aktaion hail from the metal heartland that is Sweden and they have been crafting this album since 2012 and now in 2015 they have released their debut but as Francis Larsson and Jonatan Ney start to riff like bastards you can see that everything is worth it, the opening track is pacey and changes speed throughout with Axel Croné bass led verse that has Jonas Snäckmark spitting rapid fire venom before it explodes into a euphoric chorus where the clean vocals come into full effect. This is groove based metal that batters you into submission with the intricate, technical guitar work and huge bass lines and thundering drums, they are a modern metal band in the truest sense, from the progressive riff of Prison Walls, through the LOG-like For All The Things We Are which has some atmospheric keys from Ney running through it. This band have lots of influences shining through Lamb Of God and Pantera are the most immediate but you also get the viciousness of Slipknot, the melodic ear of FFDP and the progressive touches of latter day Machine Head on the excellent The Cure and Thousands which breaks into a bass and piano led middle section, this is the most accessible song on the album having an almost folk metal sound with metal mixing with the keys perfectly as well as a squeeze box that permeates the final part. Aktaion have really gone to town on this album it's aggressive, powerful and musically dexterous, it was worth the wait indeed a great debut! 8/10        

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