Blind Guardian: Beyond The Red Mirror (Nuclear Blast)
Five years since Blind Guardian's last opus At The Edge Of Time and once again the German masters of symphonic metal return with another album of cinematic, orchestral metal mixed with classic German speed metal. The album is a concept piece and direct sequel to my favourite album Imaginations From The Other Side, so as you can imagine (no pun intended) I was very exciteted to see how this concept was going to progress. Things have changed a lot since Imaginations... for both the band and the concept, the band have become much bigger sounding act tahn they were back then, bolstered by modern techniques to create more bombast than ever before, which suits this album down to the ground as the world the album concept is based in has become a much darker place as the brooding electronically tinged Sacred Mind shows this means that things are heavier and the use of electronics is present throughout. Much like on their previous album At the Edge Of Time the album again starts off with the longest and most epic song; this time its the sprawling The Ninth Wave that begins as a film score before its electronic middle section makes everything more evil sounding and allows André Olbrich to show his six string skills on the fantastic solos that don't outstay their welcome in their ferocity. So far so good then, with Blind Guardian coming out of the blocks with a song full of atmosphere and drama, the first track is in direct opposite to the rampaging Twilight Of The Gods which harks back to Blind Guardian's early years with Marcus Siepen's rhythm guitars driving the riffage along with Frederik Ehmke's blast beat drumming and Barend Courbois' guest bass all combing to bring the speed. At The Edge Of Time is a song possibly left off the last album that moves from a creeping beginning into a majestic middle section with the huge orchestras and choirs Blind Guardian have always been known for. Hansi Kürsch's voice is once again majestic, he truly is one of the best vocalists in the world not just in the metal genre but in music in general, he shines throughout this record hitting highs, mids and lows with perfection. In my last review I said that fellow Germans Orden Ogan had laid down the gauntlet for Blind Guardian in this early year power metal battle but I think Guardian may just pipped them despite entering the fight second, Guardian are just untouchable in terms of musical scope, easily moving from speed metal on Ashes Of Eternity and Holy Grail, through symphonic metal on The Throne, adding their trademark folk elements on Prophecies, the obligatory orchestral, piano ballad on Miracle Machine before once again another nine minute plus epic ends the album in true baroque style. Blind Guardian have yet again outdone themselves with another album of amazing music that only they seem to be able to produce!! 10/10
Arcane: Known/Learned (Self Released)
Arcane are an Aussie prog metal band and Known/Learned is their second album and it is ambitious in it's concept, this is a massive double album one half is the more metallic side and the other is the more natural acoustic side. The band are from the more modern, intense style of progressive music favoured by their countrymen Karnivool and also Americans Tool see the final part of Final Burden for evidence of Maynard and Co. The bands sound is characterised by the unrelenting repetitive riffage, euphoric choruses, atmospheric keys, mechanical percussion and complex song structures all of which are characteristics of modern progressive metal, luckily Arcane seem to do all of these things brilliantly. The band are all superb musicians with Matthew Martins pianos, keys etc providing the ethereal backdrop of melodies that work in tandem with the Michael Gagan's amazing and in places heavy as f**k lead guitar work, see Impatience & Slow Poison which builds from a piano led beginning before exploding into it's finale. The haunting Known is the shortest song acting as bridge between the epics that surround it but shows off Jim Grey's amazing and yet harrowing, emotive vocals, a theme that continues on Nightingale's Weave which is a starts slow before once again exploding and leading into the relaxed, atmospheric jazzy Eyes For Change, then Black Coulson shows off his percussive skills on the intro to Keeping Stone: Water Awake before it changes into it's cinematic last quarter. The first disc finishes with the 23 minute Promise (Part 1) which is the amalgamation of everything previously heard in one heroic song full of time changes ending the first disc with impressive scope.
By comparison to the first, the second disc is sonically quieter but no less powerful as the the other part, in fact it is more affecting than disc 1 as the band strip back their sound to show off how good they are in a natural non electric environment and also it lets their songwriting skills and especially Grey's lyrics sparkle. Promise (Part 2) is the perfect companion to it's bigger brother and once again it's Grey who shines with his acoustic guitar and amazing vocals being fleshed out with Gagen's mandolin and yet again more organs and keys from Martin. Coulson has a percussive shuffle on Unturning. As I've said this side of the record is much more ambient and emotive than it's predecessor but the two tie together to form a cohesive musical journey building you up with the rockier side before bringing you down with it's acoustic second side. This album can be seen as concept or a journey and the second disc completes the tale with the excellent Keeping Stone: Sound On Fire which follows on from Keeping Stone: Water Awake, then the almost choral Learned finishes the journey on a restrained plaintive. Opeth tried something similar to this with Damnation and Deliverance a few years ago, having a harder and a softer record, the idea worked but whereas they were two separate albums. Arcane's effort is a lot more coherent with both records being part of a whole overarching concept. The scope of this album is too big to take in in one sitting but after repeated it listens it reveals it's treasures, this is a stunning piece of work that at times is difficult but more than worth it if you give it the time it needs. 10/10
Kattah: Lapis Lazuli (Bakerteam Records)
Brazilian band Kattah have carved a bit of a niche for themselves as they play some classic sounding metal but based around Arabian themes (which seems odd for a South American band but still). As is the norm with most Brazilian trad metal bands the shadow of Maiden looms large, much of this is due to Roni Sauaf's Dickinson-like vocals; he is really the dead ringer for Bruce vocally and can match the man himself note for note from the air raid siren shrieks to the snarled mids, however there are also elements of Geoff Tate in the vocals too with the very high shrieks he can hit. However the metallic backing is a lot heavier than the normal Maiden fair with Behind The Clay especially sounding like Bruce's solo albums more than his day job. Much of this may be due to the influence of producer Roy Z who produced Dickinson's last three albums all of which were very heavier than Maiden but had the distinctive melody too. The guitars bring heavy riffs throughout and the band have distinctly progressive feel to their music with the Arabian elements at their best on Apocalypse, Rebirth Of The Pharaohs but for the most part the album is full of muscular progressive/power metal, with time changes galore, some bass galloping and a singer who apes one of the best singers in the game to a tee. Lapis Lazuli is a good sophomore album from these Brazilians who clearly wear their influences emblazoned for all to see, a lot of the time this would be a bad thing but Kattah play so well that you enjoy this album for what it is, imagine if Maiden just continued with the Egyptian theme of Powerslave for the rest of their career and you wouldn't be far off. This my friends is a good thing 8/10