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Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Reviews: Beyond The Black, Ethereal Riffian, Wisdom

Beyond The Black: Lost In Forever (Airforce 1 Records) [Review By Paul]

Symphonic power metal? Hmm, often bordering dangerously close to Eurovision and a genre which often either floats your boat or makes you feel a little queasy. There are some pretty sizeable outfits around these days, with the likes of Nightwish and Within Temptation capable of pulling sufficient punters to headline Wembley Arena (no mean feat), BOA and obtain special guest status at Download. So alongside the usual suspects, let me introduce you to Beyond The Black, symphonic metal from Mannheim, Germany. Lost In Forever is their second release, following 2013’s Songs Of Love And Death which substantially raised their profile in their home country and a few of the Nordic/Scandinavian neighbours as well.

Lost In Forever is a release that contains everything you would demand from a symphonic metal outfit; powerful hammering drums, vicious riffs and shredding guitar work, huge hooks and melodies, tsunami sized synths and of course a female vocalist with an absolutely stunning voice. Add in some perfectly decent tunes (which this release has in spades) and you’ve got the whole package. Jennifer Haben is the lead vocalist and she brings real quality to the table. She possesses a cracking range, able to hit the highest of notes and use both power and sensitivity. Check out the aggression in the title track, the calm and control in the ballad Against The World all the all-round performance in Beyond The Mirror. Haben is the obvious focal point of the outfit but is ably supported by a musically excellent band, with particular credit to the impressive guitar work of lead guitarist Nils Lesser. However, the sum of the parts is greater here with a rhythm section of guitarist Christopher Hummels, bassist Erwin Schmidt and drummer Tobias Derer providings a rock solid platform for Lesser and keyboard player Michael Hanser to let loose and compliment Haben.

Yes, the songs are occasionally bit formulaic and cheesy; Halo Of The Dark would rage through the Eurovision qualifiers with its European pomp. Dies Irae motors along with an operatic chorus which raises the blood. Beyond The Black can also rock out, but it’s the atmospheric pieces that really catch the attention; six minute Forget My Name smoulders before building dramatically with Hummels backing vocals adding the grittier edge. A brief piece of acoustic guitar fits well into the middle section.If there’s one complaint, it is probably that the release is just a little too long with 13 tracks and a minute under an hour, creating the risk of repetition and loss of interest. However, this is a release that doesn’t actually do that, with tracks like Burning In Flames and Nevermore holding attention with their sheer quality. What is impressive is the restraint on the often overused tactic of clean female vocals and almost death metal male vocals with it occurring on a mere two tracks, the title track and the majestic Shine And Shade. In a genre which is packed with variable quality, Lost In Forever is a really decent offering and one that deserves to get more attention than it is likely to receive. Highly recommended. 8/10

Ethereal Riffian: Youniversal Voice (Self Released) [Review By Paul]

I’m not sure I’ve got much of a feel for the metal scene in Kiev, Ukraine but you’ve got to suspect that life there is tougher than it is here so full marks for creativity. Ethereal Riffian formed in 2010 and according to their press release has two main objectives: to expand the frames of the listener’s musical perception to shed light on the existence of a subtler plane, whose laws if understood may help to perceive the reality on a deeper level. Okay, glad we cleared that up. So you’ll have guessed that Ethereal Riffian sits in the stoner camp but boy do they sit far away from the usual suspects. Youniversal Voice is a live release and contains tracks from their previous studio albums, Shaman’s Visions and 2014’s Aeonian. Most of the tracks are long with three at over 11 minutes in length; all contain huge slabs of crushing heaviness, abstract and monotone vocals, twin guitar work and shifting time signatures which allows the drumming to become almost free style.

An oscillating chilled out approach makes Youniversal Voice an atmospheric event allowing the listener to transcend into another dimension. With the vocals delivered in the style of a Tibetan monk, repetitive chord construction and a funereal pace at times, I’d expect the majority of the audience to be pretty stoned when listening to these. In fact, the audience response is generally so limited that I guess that’s the effect. Tracks such as Thugdam, Wakan Tanka, March Of Spiritu and Anatman with their changing and intricate sound effects, percussion and rolling guitars and changes in pace and mood, conjure up images of Hawkwind, Sleep and Ohm. The sprawling tracks meander and traverse, remaining incredibly heavy thanks in part to the duel guitars. Music to meditate by? I’m not sure about that but this is some really deep stuff which demands plenty of time and soft furnishings in order for full exploration. It probably isn’t my cup of tea (Chai obvs) but then again, it probably isn’t the choice of many. However, I’m strangely drawn to it, and will give it repeated listens to allow further penetration of the mind. Relax and enjoy. Now, where did I leave my bong? 7/10

Wisdom: Rise Of The Wise (NoiseArt) [Review By Matt]

Hungarian Power Metal anyone? Well why not try Wisdom who are essentially Hungary's answer to Hammerfall with just a bit of Blind Guardian creeping in on the folkier songs like Believe In Me. This five piece play fist in the air metal and on rampaging tracks like Hero and Believe In Me Wisdom are every inch cut from the same cloth as the Swedish masters of power metal, think huge riffs, speedy drums and gang vocals and you get the idea. Rise Of The Wise is the band's fourth full length following such previous releases as Judas and Marching For Liberty and though it doesn't break the mold it delivers good quality power metal the dual guitars, galloping rhythm section and strong vocals with European enunciation are all done well so there is very little to criticise on a performance point of view, the songwriting to while full of cliches about wizards, battles and fantasy, even dabbling with pirate metal on Nightmare Of The Seas, is enjoyable and will appeal to power metal junkies but in a swamped genre Wisdom may find it hard shine. Still this fourth album is a lot of fun and if power metal is your thing then you can do much worse than pick up a copy and fly away on a wave of manly power metal mayhem. 6/10

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