Currently made up of the current touring line-up band leader Roine Stolt, along with Jonas Reingold, Hasse Fröberg, Zach Kamins & Mirko DeMaio Waiting For Miracles is the 14th studio album from progressive rock titans The Flower Kings. As many of you who have read this blog, or indeed any music based media will probably know Stolt is a workaholic, with barely a year going by that he doesn't release a project, sometimes more than one a year. So where does Waiting For Miracles stand in this extensive back catalog? Well first it's a weighty record, spread across two discs and 15 songs this is prog at its most overblown, Stolt has said that on this album that "more is always more!" huge instrumental swathes are brought about by vintage keys/organs and stirring elongated guitar solos as the songs have mixes of pop, rock and symphonic as Ascending To The Stars shows with it's cinematic bravado showing through.
The album was recorded in the RMV studio in Stockholm, Sweden which is a vintage studio owned by ABBA's Benny Andersson, it means that this is distinctly old school sounding album that comes from The Flower Kings earlier years as Wicked Old Symphony brings some excellent keyboard work and a Beatles vibe, as the rock quota is upped by Miracles For America, The Bridge meanwhile the beautiful The Bridge is an emotional ballad. There's a whole host of sounds here and this is just the first disc, Waiting For Miracles deals with a lot of environmental and socio-political themes but wrapped up into a mainly upbeat prog box where there is a massive sound and colour palette. As the last album was essentially a Stolt solo record it's great to hear Hasse Fröberg and Jonas Reingold back providing vocals and the trademark thick basslines. The Flower Kings are essentially a group of hippies playing experimental music that brings to mind the archetypal acts like Yes, ELP or even Marillion. Symphonic, pop-minded and experimental Waiting For Miracles is another worthy addition to The Flower Kings discography. 8/10
Helloween: United Alive In Madrid (Nuclear Blast) [Paul Hutchings]
Two and a half hours of live power metal. Some people would class this as heaven; others as hell. Whatever your persuasion, this endurance event proves that Helloween, one of the most influential European metal bands of all time, can still cut it live. The furore over the Pumpkins United tour (e.g. continual demands for them to play Bloodstock for the past few years) saw the Germans play a meagre one date in the UK on their 69-date world tour. Captured in the 14,000 capacity Madrid Arena on 9th December 2017, United Alive In Madrid sees Michael Kiske and Kai Hansen join the current line-up of Helloween for a trip which mainly travels down memory lane. If you lived through the emergence of Helloween as a major force in the 1980s, then you’ll know that the seminal Keeper Of The Seven Keys Part I and Part II albums were essential listening.
The lyrics are ridiculous, the concepts inflated and overblown and yet Helloween remain the epitome of how power metal should be delivered. Duelling guitars, turned down melodies, insane speed and soaring vocals. The highlight of this searingly hot album for me isn’t the incredible 13-minute intro of Halloween, the 17-minute anthemic Keeper Of The Seven Keys or even the triumphant conclusion of I Want Out but the Kai Hansen melody about one third of the way through. Starlight, Ride The Sky, Judas and Heavy Metal Is The Law transport you back to 1984 and the pre-Kiske Helloween Walls Of Jericho album. This would have been worth the admission alone. Elsewhere, Kiske and Andi Deris trade vocals, Kiske’s higher pitch dealing with the earlier compositions more comfortably, although after all this time it’s astonishing that either can hit the heights they do. As live albums go, this is decent stuff, albeit no doubt edited heavily. If you’ve never listened to Helloween before, this is a fabulous introduction to a legendary band. 8/10
Hideous Divinity: Simulacrum (Century Media Records) [Rich Oliver]
Simulacrum is album number four from Italian death metallers Hideous Divinity. A band I have heard the name mentioned before but never previously checked out. Hideous Divinity play a style of death metal that straddles the line between technicality and all out brutality. The album rarely lets up from the moment you hit play and is a barrage of insane riffage, guttural vocals and bludgeoning rhythms. Unfortunately with everything at such extreme levels it is very easy to become desensitised to it all quite quickly and the album does all seem to blend into one brutal cacophony. There are odd moments of atmosphere and even little hints of melody at certain points but nothing is truly memorable. The musicianship is at ridiculously high levels that can’t be denied but there’s a distinct lack of memorable moments through Simulacrum. Those who love their death metal at ridiculously intense levels will probably lap this up but my tastes are far more old school and I prefer much more groove and filth in my death metal. Can’t fault the performances and the execution of the music but it’s just not really to my tastes. 6/10
Une Misère: Sermon (Nuclear Blast) [Alex Swift]
If the name didn’t convey the fury and darkness which Une Misère makes their master than the music definitely will. Their style of Hardcore comes straight from the school of Converge or Employed to Serve. Sin and Guilt throw down the curtain with trouncing beats, biting guitar passages which deal in ferocity and harsh, guttural, screams. Sermon introduces us to the more rhythmic side of the band, the fuzzy, trooping bass and guitars, and huge drums creating a sense of magnitude. With the emphasis on cohesion becoming increasingly apparent, Overlooked/Disregarded is given its sense of presence through the colossal melodies, emphasizing a flair for the dramatic. Next up, Suffering enchants with a riff which spirals its way across the fretboard with precision and skill – a shame, perhaps that this isn’t utilized to greater effect throughout the song, yet this proves an issue from start to finish.
While Une Misere has an acute understanding of songcrafting which allows them to bridge the divide between artfulness and aggression, their anthems often feel made up of disparate ideas that stumble their way into songs without any rhyme or reason. In some cases, this can make for an excellent experience – take Failures which excels through its unified yet erratic nature. However, look to pieces in the vein of Damages, and you begin to feel estranged by the lack of commitment to the genuinely great ideas hidden within them. Don’t get me wrong, chaos is a cornerstone of hardcore be that of the metal or punk variety, and when in the right hands can be transformed into a powerful musical tool. Listening to Sermon it's abundantly clear that these musicians are well on their way to becoming adept at that balance, and just need the ambition to stop their works descending into repetitive, mundane or predictable territory. 7/10