The Dark Element: S/T (Frontiers Records)
The Dark Element is a band formed by two former members of well known acts. I realise that this can be said for most of the Frontiers roster but The Dark Element is not a melodic rock or AOR album, it's a melodic metal album with pop edge. The two members in question are Jani Liimatainen former guitarist of Sonata Arctica and the leader of the romantic power metal act Cain's Offering and on the vocals Anette Olzon the much maligned former singer of Nightwish, in her first band project since leaving Nightwish.
Now I said much maligned as Anette really wasn't given fair treatment while at the helm in Nightwish, her vocals are very good they are just nearer the pop side than the classical influence that band has. Luckily Liimatainen understands this and has crafted The Dark Element album to suit her vocals, the record is full of bouncy but dark Euro-electro metal with Jani's guitars, keys and programming the main elements, it's a similar style to Amaranthe or current Battle Beast a genre that is rapidly becoming over saturated but with the draw of Olzon and Liimatainen The Dark Element is likely to stand out.
There isn't any of the light-speed pace of the early Sonata albums, this isn't a slow album by any means, with the exception of the epic Someone I Used To Know it speeds along at a fair pace in a symphonic metal style. It gets the head nodding and Jani's guitar playing is great as usual. Olzon has a good voice as I've said but she's let down by the mix of the album, there's not as much bombast as I'd like and it runs a little too long getting a bit flabby towards the end. Still it's pretty damn good and serves an ideal showcase for the two recognisable members of the band, maybe with a bit more experimentation next time, it could really stand above the others. 7/10
Almanac: Kingslayer (Nuclear Blast)
Ex-Rage guitarist Victor Smolski returns with the second act of his Almanac project, the first album Tsar back in 2016 was wild ride through Russian history built on the tough cinematic power metal Victor has always been associated with. The main draw of the band for me was that there are three singers, Brainstorm's Andy B Franck for grit, David Readman (every band ever) for soulful power and Jeannette Marchewka for a melodic female edge. Once again this sophomore album deals with historical themes but this time the concept surrounds regicide in all its forms. Funnily enough Regicide is the track that opens this record and it pretty much kicks things off as it means to go on, some great vocal interplay between the three singers, tough heavy riffs and a dramatic interplay. It’s an interesting way to start the record as I feel the more straightforward Children Of A Sacred Path would have been a better opener but that’s my personal opinion.
The record is full of symphonic styled power metal, but there is nothing lightweight, much like Victor’s previous band the riffs are heavy and come thick and fast throughout as the focus on this record seems to be on the Franck’s rougher edged vocal for the thrashier songs with Readman’s vocals used to great effect on the harder rock sound of Hail To The King. Both of them are aided by Jeanette’s beautiful pipes as she provides a richer texture to all of the songs meaning that nearly everything has at least two singers. Kingslayer retains everything that made the first album great and it will hopefully be the second chapter in a long story for Almanac. 8/10
Mount Holly: Stride By Stride (Razor & Tie)
Mount Holly was a band formed by former Silvertide guitarist Nick Perri (brother of pop star Christina), singer Jameson Burt, bassist Brian Weaver (formerly Deanna Passarella) and drummer John Bach. The eagle eyed amongst you will noticed I said was, well shortly after this record was released Jameson Burt said he was leaving the group and the remaining members decided not to continue the band. Stride By Stride then is both the debut and final record from Mount Holly, which makes reviewing it difficult as it's the only thing we have to get a feel for the group, this one record is not the best evidence to really hear what might have been. It's a bit like judging all of Ancient Rome on on Amphorae, still I put the needle to the groove (so to speak) and let Mount Holly's musical epitaph ring out through the 'Decks Of Doom'.
What played out was classy Southern Californian alternative rock, Perri's mastery of the hip shaking reverbed guitar riff gives the record a soulful feel complimented by the hollow sounding analogue production and excellent use of backing vocals, your feet are tapping from the opening salvo of Get Up, you can't help but get a groove on to the smoky vibe of Barefoot (nevermind that it half inches the riff from Zep's Heartbreaker), it's this classic blues vibe that resonates through the album, it's mixed with a psyche touch on the smoldering Playing Dead, Jamerson Burt's vocals are an ideal mix of modern alt rock and classic bluesman while the songs are all packed with some killer riffs, some stomp and clap work on Burning In Colour and the gospel infused title track. It's this myriad of styles that make Stride By Stride an excellent debut album that has bittersuite air to it, the strength and breadth album indicates that Mount Holly could have really gone anywhere on their now never to be released second album, it's a shame but Stride By Stride stands as a fitting epitaph for what could have been. 8/10
Secret Rule: The Key To The World (Pride & Joy Music)
I reviewed Secret Rule's previous album a while ago now and while I praised it, I noted that it still had some way to go. Yet again on their third album the band have stuck to their Within Temptation-like symphonic style with keys once again coming from guest Henrik Klingenberg (Sonata Arctica), other guest featured on this record are Henning Basse (Firewind and MaYan) and Ailyn Giménez (ex Sirenia). It's with the guests though that the flaw in this record reveals itself, the vocals are not particularly good, I'm not sure if it's the production or singer Angela but they seem very flat, meaning that when they are mixed with the uninspiring riffs The Key To The World just doesn't do much for me I'm afraid. 5/10