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Friday, 17 April 2020

Reviews: Symbolik, Hartmann, The Black Capes, Fallen Arise (Matt & Simon)

Symbolik: Emergence (The Artisan Era) [Matt Bladen]

One of the best comments I've seen on the internet comes on the Youtube video of Symbolik's song Corridors Of The Consumed, that comes off this new album. The comment simply says "There is a lot of squiggly wiggly guitar work going on" and that dear reader is probably the best way to describe Emergence the debut album from Technical Death Metal madmen Symbolik. Weaving a rich tapestry of symphonic swathes, death metal brutality, black metal speed and capping it all off with intensive, neo-classical guitar work outs, for guitar fans Emergence will take your breath away due to the almost inhuman guitar playing on display, it never relents, meaning that sometimes you are begging for a change of pace or for them to let a note ring out rather than just going back to peeling off flurries. 

I must admit Augury Of The Ancients does do this at one point but these moments are few and far between. Emergence has taken 8 years to fruition, with the tracks being layered with bass, drums, guitars (I'm then assuming more guitars, and yet more guitars) before we have the orchestrations and the dual screamed/growled vocals for the sci-fi storyline that accompanies this record. Symphonic Tech-Death bands are always a strange beast, much like the power metal circles they are usually favoured by those who play a lot of video games, read fantasy novels and have an affinity with Japanese Manga culture. It's space age music that is the sub-genre of a sub-genre though this fanbase may be narrow it is certainly voracious and I'm sure they will love the "Squiggly wiggly" guitar on Emergence. 7/10

Hartmann: 15 Pearls and Gems (Pride & Joy Music) [Simon Black]

Now I’m familiar with Oli Hartmann’s work on Avantasia, in which he is one of the core backbones of the touring ensemble Tobias Sammet pulls together increasingly frequently, but I had never really been exposed to the man’s main project Hartmann, which has been ticking along for the last 15 years. This release is an eclectic compilation showcasing some of the band’s work to date with a broad mixture of brand new material, five live tracks, five cover versions, plus the odd remix. It’s a good introduction to the band and is anything but a lazy compilation. Sammet and fellow Avantasia axeman Sascha Paeth also repay the compliment and put in a guest performance on the live version of Brothers, which to be fair is one of the highlights of the record.

The first thing that surprised me, was that although I was aware that he’s a phenomenal guitar player, I had no idea that he was such an accomplished singer too, with a bluesy rock’n’roll voice that can hit the rafters when it needs to. The production (also done by Paeth) is top notch. This is a man who really knows how to cut and mix a record, as his work elsewhere already indicates. Musically this is pure hard rock, rather than the Power Metal Avantasia fans might be expecting, but it’s got a well-rounded and well-written set of tunes, with live songs illustrate that this is a band that can cut their chops in the flesh as well. The new tracks are great – opener Can’t Stop This Train is pure rock’n’roll, and pulls you in to a record that passes in a flash, despite its not insubstantial run time. Of the covers, I particularly enjoyed the cover of Free’s Fire And Water – a track that has been covered so man time that it’s in danger of being a cliché, but is done so well here that it’s almost like hearing it for the first time.

What seems clear is that although Sammet’s Edguy may be a spent force and Avantasia is increasingly the main event, it’s nice that the family feel of the increasingly less than side act is allowing the other projects of its stalwarts to get a bit more focus. 7/10

The Black Capes: Lullabies For The Dead (DarkTunes Music Group) [Matt Bladen]

Produced by Peter Rutcho (Parkway Drive, Deez Nuts, Falling in Reverse etc) Lullabies For The Dead and clad in an album cover by  Angry Blue (Iggy Pop, Lil Wayne, Metallica, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden etc.)  is the second album from Athenian band The Black Capes and if you can't tell from the title of the album they are a Gothic rock band inspired by the likes of Type O Negative, Sentenced and Paradise Lost, things start off with throbbing rocker And I Wait which is all moody and downcast, though Sprinkle Your Sand Morpheus adds more atmosphere. The entire album reminds me a lot of Draconian Times due to the baritone, at times, raw vocals of Alexander S Wamp on top of the doomy backing of Dorian Gates (bass) and Christos Grekas (drums) on From Beyond The Grave but it's Thanos Jan's intricate, melodic guitar playing that adds to overall atmosphere of this record. Gothic rock 101 from these Athenians but good for getting the guyliner out. 6/10

Fallen Arise: Reborn (Rock Of Angels Records) [Simon Black]

Fallen Arise are a Symphonic Metal act hailing from Greece, and this is album number three. Now normally I am a bit of a sucker for Symphonic Metal, so I was quite looking forward to this and the hope of having a new act to get all geeky about, but ‘twas not to be. For me this is a genre that works best when it tries to push the boundaries of a whole bunch of categories that don’t normally compute in the minds of the listener in an oxymoronic way - you know like ‘military intelligence’ or ‘soft rock’. What makes it work is it takes the two distinctive characteristics of the extremes and meshes them together in a way that screams ‘How?’ - ticking both boxes and giving you something new and original in the process. So the bastard love child of classical musicianship and good ‘ole metal with a monumental slab of dramatic edge thrown in for good measure needs to have the bar set quite high when it comes to technical proficiency, and for me this album just does not cut it.

The songs are quite short and to the point for a Symphonic Metal album (which tells you something to start off with) and attempt to check off all the things you expect from the genre, but sadly fail to do it with any power or imagination. The musicians can all play, sure, but there’s none of that even restrained virtuosity that one would hope for. That “I could play like Yngwie Malmsteen, but I’m not going to show off” feeling you get where a lick or a fill really hints at the musical skill underneath, but is being held back so that the overall effect of the song can take precedence. Nada. Zip. Just a bunch of songs that have very little to differentiate them and leave the listener feeling disappointed.

What Fallen Arise have got right on this is some really tight production values, with absolute instrumental clarity and instrumental sound. Too often in this genre guitars step into the background or become swallowed up by the keyboards in an attempt to create an epic effect, but you really can hear them clearly here. Equally, the female vocals are capturing a lovely voice in a beautifully way, although in contrast the male voice ‘metal’ vocals really don’t work. That kind of vocal sound needs to be either much more dirty or laden with effects (especially in the symphonic world) and so it just sounds out of place here. Sadly the production is not enough to save the album from being well … not very remarkable, and the net effect is a poor man’s Within Temptation. So not so much ‘Reborn’ as ‘Dead On It’s Feet’. 3/10

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