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Monday 18 November 2019

Reviews: The Dark Element, Human Fortress, Idlewar, Crisix (Matt & Paul H)

The Dark Element: Songs The Nights Sings (Frontiers Records) [Matt Bladen]

The collaborative project between ex-Nightwish vocalist Annette Olzon and Jani Liimatainen (ex Sonata Arctica/Cain's Offering) brings yet more symphonic metal following on from their 2017 debut album. It's poppy, dramatic and heavier than the previous album but this has come from both members of the band gelling more due to having already released an album, so the cohesion comes easy. Liimatainen is a particularly good writer, there is a reason that Sonata Arctica's output declined after he left as he manages to find the right balance between galloping power metal guitar playing, fuzzy synths and sweeping orchestrations.

It's the perfect setting for the musical theatre styled vocals of Olzon, she has such clarity to her voice that she carries emotion on numbers like Silence Between The Words, or the ballad To Whatever End and also brings drama to the anthemic title track, that has twitchy keys throughout it along with a neat little bass break from Jonas Kuhlberg. When It All Comes Down ramps up the histrionics again as the synths get heavier for Pills On My Pillow a song about mental health, it's I Have To Go that proves one of the most interesting songs on the record, with it's jazz stylings. Songs The Night Sings is an ideal follow up for this band, taking what they did well on the debut and refining it, as Rolf Pilve's drums anchor the driving, pop-tinged compositions of Liimatainen and Olzon's voice glides over the top. A more cohesive second album that shows where the band will be heading on further records. 7/10

Human Fortress: Reign Of Gold (AFM Records) [Matt Bladen]

Ah power metal! It's always a go to genre for me when I'm feeling shit, it was the first kind of metal I got into after my youthful obsession with Iron Maiden and Judas Priest (outside of the prog love). I've listened to literally 1,000's of power metal records and it's very rare that they are just meh, it's one of those genres where it can either be very good or complete crap. Reign Of Gold by Human Fortress falls into the middle category, their style of epic battle metal sound, features choirs, folk instruments and some fist raising metal anthems such as Lucifer's Waltz, where Gus Monsanto can show his gruff vocal style on this slower theatrical number, however the band really shine on the pacier offering such as Thunder where they can go into the realms of Hammerfall.

Now Human Fortress have had a bit of potted history with members but this is their third record for AFM record and the third to feature Monsanto with the only constant in these years being guitarist Torsten Wolf who duels with Volker Trost (the second founding member) throughout as Dirk Liehm provides the keys and orchestrations. There is something missing here though, it doesn't really have that epic sound of a band like say Orden Ogan (who's Seeb has worked with the band before), the production of Tommy Newton is a little thin meaning that for all the folk trappings of Bullet Of Betrayal, SurrenderMartial Valour and mega ballad Shining Light, the record sounds a little thin and never really immerses you. Still as a mid-level power metal record it's enough to get your head nodding but nothing that will last more than one listen. 6/10

Idlewar: Cede (Self Released) [Paul Hutchings]

The fourth album from Orange Country fuzzsters and their fourth in quick succession, a mere year after last year’s thumping Fractured. James Blake, Rick Graham and Pete Pagonis clearly never got off the horse as Cede continues where Fractured left off. After two fuzzed up riff heavy openers in Pound and Bullet, the blues soaked My Hesitation brings out everything that is so good about this band. Blake’s soulful vocals, the tight and deep rhythm section of Graham and Pagonis and the heavy duty riffing that Blake brings to the table. Although the band remain devout in their stoner style, the Alice In Chains feel on Hey Old Man varies the direction. Whilst most of Cede is face melting hard riffing, Scratch slows the pace, delicate, gentle passages fluctuate with crashing riffs that pound like waves on the beach. Idlewar are quickly developing a distinctive sound, the thick chunky riffs and Blake’s soaring vocals distinctive in a congested stoner world. Any band whose inlay card reads “Thank you for buying this CD. You are an awesome person for supporting music” scores highly with me. Idlewar are a band who never fail. 8/10

Crisix: Session #1: American Thrash (Listenable Records) [Paul Hutchings]

After 2018’s Against The Odds, the fourth album from the Spanish thrashers, the band have now released the first album in the ‘Crisix Sessions’. American Thrash pays homage to a few of the more influential songs that inspired the band in their early days. Interestingly they steer clear of the bigger guns in the main, kicking off with a rousing version of Vio-lence’s World In A World and finishing with a solid attempt at the underrated Demolition Hammer’s Infectious Hospital Waste, a straightforward thrash masterpiece. Whilst a few of the names on the album are less surprising it’s pleasing to hear the still massively relevant Critical Mass by Nuclear Assault included. There isn’t a bad cover on this release although Imitation Of Life from Anthrax’s 1987 album Among The Living is a tough one to capture. Juli Bazooka’s rasping vocals are pitched at the right level for most of the songs, whilst the riffage of B.B. Plaza and Albert Requena is relentless. With tracks from Forbidden, Testament, EvilDead and Exodus also given the once over, this album will prompt you to dig out the originals and relive some of thrash metal’s most important releases. 7/10

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