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Tuesday 10 September 2019

Reviews: Sonata Arctica, Winter Storm, Kris Barras, Toxic Holocaust (Reviews By Paul H, Rich)

Sonata Arctica: Talviyö (Nuclear Blast) [Rich Oliver]

Having a huge appreciation of power metal Sonata Arctica are a band I used to enjoy massively but in recent years have fallen out of favour. The last few albums they have done have been completely underwhelming with the last album of theirs I remember enjoying being 2009’s The Days Of Grays. Unfortunately Talviyö which is the ninth album by the Finnish power metal titans continues in the same trend as their more recent releases and it is a bit of a slog of an album to get through. Sonata Arctica seem to be stuck in a bit of a rut soundwise. Their is a far bigger incorporation of other influences into their power metal sound with elements of progressive metal, AOR, pop and alternative rock found throughout but this eclectic feel doesn’t help the lacklustre feel of the songwriting itself. The melodies are very nice and the playing is very good but it is just so damn safe and forgettable with every song either mid paced or slow. Things get off to a promising start with Message From The Sun which has elements of the Sonata Arctica of old but then things start sinking with Whirlwind which although heavily leaning on the progressive side of things just never seems to get off the ground.

This lacklustre feel permeates the majority of the album and it sounds like the band isn’t even really trying. Gone is the passion and intensity of albums like Silence and Winterheart’s Guild and instead we have flat uninspiring songs such as Cold and The Garden. There are some good songs scattered here and there such as the more power metal leaning Demon’s Cage and the psychedelic and exotic sounds of instrumental Ismo’s Got Good Reactors. Talviyö is another in a string of disappointing releases from Sonata Arctica. It’s not a complete disaster of a release sounding pleasant enough and is perfectly listenable as background music but an old school fan like me can’t help but feel underwhelmed by what feels and sounds like a phoned in album. Come on Sonata Arctica we know you can do better. If you excuse me I’ll be listening to Ecliptica. 5/10

Winter Storm: Relapse Of Time (Self Released) [Paul Hutchings]

I remember being impressed by Winter Storm when I saw them at Hard Rock Metal in Birmingham a couple of years ago. Honest, powerful and compelling to watch. After a short break the band return with their third full length album, Relapse In Time, which follows on from the story that began with their second album Within The Frozen Design. Full of dramatic symphonic elements, sterling guitar work and the deep, soaring vocals of front woman Hannah Fieldhouse as well as the solid drumming of new man Nathan Hutchins. Whilst the album follows the concept, each track also stands on its own making this an enjoyable release to listen to.

The band have mixed their sound up somewhat since I last saw them, with choppy time changes and a more aggressive and dark approach providing separation from the mainstream bands. Defy Me and Astral World both have something a little bit extra, with a heady mix of melodic keyboards and almost thrash level seven string guitar duelling in layers of engagement. Winter Storm have produced 43 minutes of the epic style of heavy metal that we wanted. Epic and at times majestic, Relapse Of Time sits alongside Control The Storm’s Forevermore as one of the UK’s quality symphonic metal releases of 2019. 8/10

Kris Barras Band: Light It Up (Mascot Records) [Paul Hutchings]

Voted the best new band at the Planet Rock 2018 awards, it’s no coincidence that album number four from the former martial artist focuses on big singalong choruses, catchy hooks and pleasant inoffensive radio friendly songs. Nothing wrong with that of course. Barras’ star has been in the ascendency big time in recent months, with the man and his band moving from venues like Fuel to the Fleece in a matter of months; selling out 500 capacity venues is no mean feat and the UK blues singer/guitarist has worked incredibly hard. The man has gigged everywhere he can, festivals to support slots; all this as well as fronting up the Supersonic Blues Machine too. Guitar wise, the man can play, and he can also sing well.

Light It Up sticks to the formula which has worked so well, and his blend of rock, blues and country will appeal to a mass audience. I’m impressed with the thick luscious keys of Josiah J Manning throughout this album, alongside the solid rhythm section of Elliott Blacker on bass and Will Beavis on drums. There’s little to really stir the soul here though, with the classic rock blueprint slavishly followed to the letter. Barras will no doubt be a huge star soon. He’s found a market and is exploiting it to the full. Good for him. Slick, polished and perfectly enjoyable, Light It Up offers limited genuine excitement. 6/10

Toxic Holocaust: Primal Future (eOne) [Paul Hutchings]

The first album for six years from the Portland thrash outfit and they roar back with a feisty slab which showcases the talent of founder member Joel Grind alongside newly recruited drummer Tyler Beech and guitarist Eric Eisenhauer, though Grind plays everything on this album. The band are certainly making up for lost time with this album, cramming ten tasty slabs of thrashing goodness into 40 minutes. It may not be ground-breaking, but it does bode well for their forthcoming European tour with Municipal Waste. Black Out The Code will incite the pits across the UK, and the band is tight and ferocious throughout. Catch the chugging of New World Beyond, marvel at the speed on Time’s Edge and enjoy the thumping title track, all of which would sit comfortably on any decent thrash album. Stoically following their own path since 1999, Toxic Holocaust have delivered another solid release well worth listening to. 7/10

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