Album Review – Waldgeflüster / Mondscheinsonaten (2019)

The perfect soundtrack for those crystalline winter, woodland walks, courtesy of a Bavarian heathen horde armed with their Folk-drenched Black Metal.

There’s nowhere like Germany in winter time. The forests, the castles, the markets and the “gluhwein” (a type of mulled wine from German-speaking countries made from red wine with cinnamon and other herbs and spices), all offer solace for the wandering winter soul, as well as the music as you’ll be able to enjoy in Mondscheinsonaten, the brand new opus by Munich, Bavaria-based Black/Folk Metal horde Waldgeflüster. Both the name of the band (German for “forest whisperings”) and the album name (which translates as “moonlight sonatas”) already give you a very good idea of how powerful their new Folk-drenched Black Metal eyries are, melting the coldest of hearts, but it’s after hitting playing and immersing yourself in their music that you’ll finally understand what Bavarian heathen music is all about.

Formed in 2005 as a one-man project by vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Winterherz (whose full name is Jan van Berlekom), Waldgeflüster evolved into a full-bodied band in 2014 when guitarists Dominik Frank and Markus Frey, bassist Arvagr and drummer Thomas Birkmaier joined Winterherz in his quest for metal music for good, after having played with him either as studio or live musicians in previous albums and concerts. Building strongly on the band’s heathen foundations, melding clean and harsh vocals seamlessly and integrating folk instrumentation sparsely enough to augment (but never over-embellish the exceptional blackened metal grounding), Mondscheinsonaten is perfectly pitched to fuel those crystalline winter, woodland walks with its immensely infectious melodies and haunting refrains, with the entire band sounding extremely crisp, mature and cohesive throughout the album’s over 60 minutes of stylish and enfolding music.

Embraced by the sound of the howling wind, the melancholic, acoustic Einleitung (“introduction”) warms up our hearts for the dense and thrilling Der Steppenwolf (“the steppenwolf”), with Winterherz growling deeply while Domink and Markus extract sheer darkness from their guitars. In other words, this is a journey through the realms of Atmospheric Black Metal and Blackened Folk Metal where the music keeps growing in intensity as time goes by, while Thomas, armed with his classic blast beats, makes sure not a single space is left empty. Then get ready for over twelve minutes of a flawless fusion of folk and extreme music entitled Gripfelstürme (“summit storm”), where the band’s guitar duo once again hypnotizes us with their scorching riffs and with Winterherz being on fire with both his demonic gnarls and his obscure clean vocals, also showcasing ethereal passages and backing vocals that add a touch of finesse to the overall result.  And Waldgeflüster continue to invade our minds and captivate our senses with the atmospheric Rotgoldene Novemberwälder (“red golden November forests”), uniting the most visceral elements from classic Black Metal with the melancholy of Atmospheric Black Metal, with strident guitar lines, intricate beats and pitch black darkness flowing nonstop from this bitterly cold aria.

In Und der Wind… (“and the wind…”), a serene intro explodes into sheer aggression and rage in the form of old school Black Metal with Thomas sounding bestial on drums while Arvagr delivers thunder through his bass lines. Moreover, your soul will certainly get lost throughout the song’s ten detailed and dense minutes; whereas in Von Winterwäldern und Mondscheinsonaten (“from winter forests and moonshine nights”) we’re treated to more flammable sounds flowing from all instruments, in special from Dominik’s and Markus’ guitars, with Winterherz roaring with all his strength while the music brings hints of Progressive Black Metal to make things even more entertaining. Then closing the regular version of the album we have the delicate Staub in der Lunge (“dust in the lungs”), beginning in the most serene way possible with its clean vocals and acoustic guitars dictating the rhythm before the entire band comes ripping one last time with their refined Black Metal sonority. In addition, Dominik and Markus once again steal the spotlight with their piercing guitar lines for our total delight. And if you acquire the black/grey double vinyl version of the album, you’ll also get the acoustic version for Der Steppenwolf as a bonus track, a beautiful and very delicate alternate rendering of one of the best songs of the album.

In case you’re already prepared to get lost in the heathen lands of Bavaria together with Waldgeflüster, you can enjoy Mondscheinsonaten in full  on YouTube and on Spotify, and purchase your copy of the album from the band’s own BandCamp page or from the Nordvis Produktion’s official webstore (as well as from several other locations by clicking HERE). In a nutshell, as aforementioned the “moonlight sonatas” by this talented horde of musicians hailing from the stunning Bavaria are the perfect soundtrack for a cold and pensive winter walk, proving once again Folkened Black Metal is more than just a subgenre of extreme music, but an intrinsic part of the lifestyle and culture of the coldest parts of earth.

Best moments of the album: Der Steppenwolf and Gripfelstürme.

Worst moments of the album: None.

Released in 2019 Nordvis Produktion

Track listing
1. Einleitung 3:08
2. Der Steppenwolf 7:51
3. Gripfelstürme 12:21
4. Rotgoldene Novemberwälder 6:28
5. Und der Wind… 10:52
6. Von Winterwäldern und Mondscheinsonaten 9:51
7. Staub in der Lunge 5:48

Black/Grey Double Vinyl bonus track
8. Der Steppenwolf (Acoustic version) 7:57

Band members
Winterherz – vocals, mandolin, keyboards
Dominik Frank – guitars, backing vocals
Markus Frey – guitars
Arvagr – bass, backing vocals
Thomas Birkmaier – drums

Guest musician
Johannes Schermaul – cello

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Album Review – Silent Stream Of Godless Elegy / Smutnice (2018)

Deeply inspired by the Slavic feelings of ancient longing and melancholy, this Czech Folk Metal orchestra will take you on a pleasant journey through their wild and serene homeland in their brand new opus.

One of the pioneers of Folk Metal, Ostrava, Czech Republic-based band Silent Stream Of Godless Elegy, returns in 2018 with another beautiful album blending the darkest and at the same time most enfolding elements from Doom and Folk Metal, the stunning Smutnice, the sixth full-length installment in their solid career. Since their inception in 1995 when they emerged from Moravia, deep within the Slavonic heartlands, Silent Stream Of Godless Elegy have been delivering a first-class fusion of metal music with traditional Moravian folk deeply inspired by the Slavic feelings of ancient longing and melancholy, and they offer all that in Smutnice, taking you on a pleasant journey through their wild and serene homeland. As for the title, it’s not a common word in Czech language. “Smutnice” is a noun coming from the adjective “smutný”, which means “sad” or “sorrowful”, so the meaning could be something like “a poem of sadness” or “someone who brings sadness”.

Furthermore, the Moravians entered the iconic Grapow Studios once again to record with Roland Grapow himself, also joining forces with Yossi Sassi (Yossi Sassi & The Oriental Rock Orchestra, Orphaned Land), the world famous Oriental rock pioneer, who took care of the production of the album, bringing to the listener a crisp and impactful musicality enhanced by the album’s crystal clear production. Not only that, keep in mind Silent Stream Of Godless Elegy are not your regular metal band, as apart from Hana Hajdová and Pavel Hrnčíř on vocals, Radek Hajda on the guitar, Stanislav Pavlík on bass and Michal Milták on drums, the band also features a dynamic and unique duo comprised of violinist Gabriela Povraznikova and violoncellist Michal Sýkora, not to mention all special guests such as the Folklore Ensemble Kriváň on choir, Yossi Sassi himself playing an array of instruments like the bouzoukitara and the shaker, Míša Lipárová playing the dulcimer, and Martin Šob also on vocals and choir. At least for me that feels more like a full metal orchestra than a simple band, right?

The opening track Ten, Který Ukoval Slunce (or “The One Who Forged The Sun”) is folksy, embracing and fun, with the duo Gabriela and Michal Sýkora with their respective instruments bringing a whimsical aura to the overall sound, while Hana hypnotizes us with her classy vocal lines, providing a gentle and impactful start to the album. Then we have Kdo Z Nás Je Víc (“Which Of Us Is More”), a lot crazier, faster and heavier, which means it exhales awesomeness, spearheaded by the crushing beats by Michal Milták. Moreover, this time Hana shares the vocal duties with Pavel and his enraged gnarls, which by the way sound amazing in his mother tongue. And get ready for another round of captivating, smooth sounds and tones in Synečku (“My Beloved”), where Gabriela and Michal Sýkora once again warm our hearts with their strings, while Stanislav generates a rumbling and dense background curtain with his bass; followed by Ptakoprav (“He Who Talks To Birds”), a lesson in Folk Metal infused with Doom Metal nuances with the piercing guitar lines by Radek being beautifully complemented by Gabriela’s violin in a gentle but neck-breaking rhythm where Hana sounds as passionate and tuneful as usual.

Then a Doom Metal intro evolves into what’s perhaps the rawest and most experimental of all songs, named Malověrná (“She Of Little Faith”), with Radek and his riffs being in total sync with Michal Milták’s beats, while Stanislav’s bass keeps rumbling in the background. It just lacks an extra pinch of electricity, but nothing to worry about; on the other hand, the amazing Za Nevěstou (“To The Bride”), featuring Folklore Ensemble Kriváň, Yossi Sassi, Míša Lipárová and Martin Šob, is a full-bodied feast of folk and doomed sounds where all instruments sound and feel extremely sharp and thunderous, showcasing a lot of dynamism between Hana and Pavel on vocals, all embraced by stunning choir passages. Acoustic guitars and a rumbling bass set the stage for Hana and her touching vocals in the second to last track in Smutnice, titled Tichý Zpěv (“Quiet Tune”), also presenting the usual Doom Metal-inspired drums by Michal Milták and a flammable guitar solo by Radek, and closing the album we have a somber and delicate tempest of Doom and Folk Metal entitled Bezbřeží (“Shoreless”), a powerful and dense ballad by this distinguished band where once again Gabriela and Michal Sýkora steal the spotlight with their whimsical waves, ending the album in the most serene way possible.

Smutnice, available for a detailed listen on Spotify and on sale from several locations such as the band’s own BandCamp page and webstore, iTunes, Amazon and Discogs, is the perfect example of why Silent Stream Of Godless Elegy are still relevant not only in Folk and Doom Metal, but in heavy music in general, providing the listener truly raw and classic compositions inspired by their homeland (and entirely sung in their mother tongue, as a matter of fact). If you consider yourself an admirer and connoisseur of the most organic form of Folk Metal available anywhere in the world, I’m pretty sure you already know the work by Silent Stream Of Godless Elegy and you already have Smutnice on your hands. However, if you’re new to their world, go check what they’re up to on Facebook and on YouTube, sharpen your senses for an overdose of Folk Metal made in the Czech Republic, and enhance your connection with your inner self and with all the nature that surrounds you.

Best moments of the album: Kdo Z Nás Je Víc, Ptakoprav and Za Nevěstou.

Worst moments of the album: Malověrná.

Released in 2018 Redblack Productions

Track listing  
1. Ten, Který Ukoval Slunce 5:24
2. Kdo Z Nás Je Víc 4:54
3. Synečku 4:56
4. Ptakoprav 7:15
5. Malověrná 5:51
6. Za Nevěstou 6:33
7. Tichý Zpěv 5:59
8. Bezbřeží 7:37

Band members
Hana Hajdová – vocals
Pavel Hrnčíř – vocals
Radek Hajda – guitar
Stanislav Pavlík – bass
Gabriela Povraznikova – violin
Michal Sýkora – violoncello
Michal Milták – drums

Guest musicians
Folklore Ensemble Kriváň – vocals (choirs) on “Za Nevěstou”
Yossi Sassi – bouzoukitara, guitar, bass, shaker, vocals (choirs) on “Za Nevěstou”
Míša Lipárová – dulcimer, vocals (choirs) on “Kdo Z Nás Je Víc”, “Malověrná” and “Za Nevěstou”
Martin Šob – vocals (choirs) on “Malověrná” and “Za Nevěstou”

Album Review – Once / After Earth (2018)

Inspired by neo-romantic soundtrack music, this talented German squad will take you to a world of fantasy, passion and mystery with their debut full-length album.

Heavily inspired by neo-romantic soundtrack music, and including typical elements of a classical Aristotelian drama combined with heavy guitars and drums in their music, German Symphonic Metal act Once has been embellishing the airwaves with their unique musicality since their inception in 2012 in North Rhine-Westphalia, culminating now in 2018 with the release of their debut full-length album, entitled After Earth. If you’re an admirer of the classy and enfolding Symphonic Metal crafted by iconic bands like Epica, Nightwish, Within Temptation and Beyond The Black, the creations by this German quartet comprised of Alina Lesnik on vocals, Marco Paulzen on the guitars, bass and harsh vocals, Frank Wypchol on keyboards, piano and orchestrations, and Alexander Hey on drums will certainly please your metallic soul.

Featuring a curious artwork by Tullius Heuer and orchestra and choir arrangements by Frank Wypchol, produced by Frank Wypchol and Marco Paulzen, recorded and engineered by Marco Paulzen in Münster, Germany, and having as a very special guest musician Shir-Ran Yinon (Krayenzeit, Haggard, Eluveitie and New Model Army) on violin, After Earth will take the listener to a world of fantasy, passion and mystery, which combined with the band’s imposing musicality and the album’s crisp and vibrant production will fully captivate your senses, making you eager for more of the music by this talented German squad. In other words, simply hit play, close your eyes, and let Once guide you through the exciting lands of After Earth.

Like the intro to an epic movie, Act 1 (Overture) invites us all to join Once in their musical journey starting with the imposing and symphonic Awake, a lesson in Symphonic Power Metal led by the classic keys and piano by Frank, with Alina living up to the legacy of stunning vocalists like Tarja Turunen and Floor Jansen. Then even more symphonic than its predecessor, My Masterpiece showcases another excellent performance by Frank with his keys while Marco brings passion to the music with his riffs and solos, as well as Alexander and his thunderous beats; followed by The Allure, presenting guest Shir-Ran Yinon and her whimsical violin in a beautiful feast of symphonic and melodic sounds and tones. Furthermore, Alina is magnificent on vocals, while Marco creates a very interesting paradox to the tenderness of the violin with his heavier-than-hell riffs.

Again featuring Shir-Ran Yinon, Distorted Smiles is a serene ballad where Alina smoothly declaims the song’s classy lyrics (“Winter’s fingers creeping chillingly / Across the rusty window bar / Through the stormy blizzard rings / A weary melody coming from afar”) before their crushing Symphonic Metal strikes again in The Hour of Eden’s Fall, presenting stylish words (“Images of a bursting sanity / Are turning into a lost reflection / Of the eternal bond of our affection / Painting the moment as a memory / Once my only world was your embrace / Now my heart is buried and erased”) and incendiary performances by Marco and Alexander, bringing rage and electricity to the music with their harsh growls, cutting riffs and nonstop beats. After such powerful display of symphonic music, a cinematic bridge titled Act II (Intermezzo) builds an imposing and adventurous atmosphere for the power ballad My Fairytale, with Alina stealing the spotlight with her fiery vocals while Frank and his keys and orchestrations add tons of electricity to the overall result, being perfect for fans of Epica and Nightwish.

Spiced up by a stunning work done on the piano by Frank we have Phenomena, a metallic symphony of sounds that feels like the soundtrack to a dangerous but thrilling adventure, with Marco carving the word “metal” onto the musicality with his Melodic Metal riffs and bass punches, connecting instantly with the Opera Metal-inspired tune The Sins of Saints, keeping the ambience vibrant and exciting with Frank and Marco being on absolute fire throughout the entire song, slashing our senses and dragging us to their fantastic world of heavy music. Then in Insane Schemes of Sanity an ethereal start morphs into a classy and gentle Symphonic Power Metal extravaganza, flirting with Folk Metal at times thanks to its pace and breaks, as well as Frank’s keys and Alina’s storytelling vocals, whereas in The Final Stage, where Shir-Ran Yinon embellishes the musicality once again with her magic violin, we’re treated to over 10 minutes of first-class Symphonic Metal led by Alina’s gorgeous vocal lines, all embraced by vibrant, stunning orchestrations and boosted by Marco’s deep roars, flowing flawlessly for our total delight until its grand finale, before Epilogue (A Memento of Our Hiraeth) concludes this album of symphony, melody and epicness in a beyond enfolding and theatrical way, mesmerizing our senses for over six minutes with its gentle piano notes and orchestral background elements.

It’s quite impossible to stand still or unemotional while listening to Once, especially if you’re a longtime fan of stylish, epic and heavy orchestral music, and in order to show your appreciation for such distinct band go check what they’re up to on Facebook, subscribe to their YouTube channel, and purchase your copy of After Earth, a gorgeous lecture in Symphonic Metal, from the Pride & Joy Music webstore, from MBM Music By Mail, from the NEH Records webstore, from iTunes, or from Amazon. Once will certainly take you on a fantastic musical journey with After Earth, showing you how relevant Symphonic Metal still is nowadays, and how inspiring it can be in your everyday life.

Best moments of the album: The Allure, The Hour of Eden’s Fall, Phenomena and The Final Stage.

Worst moments of the album: Insane Schemes of Sanity.

Released in 2018 Pride & Joy Music

Track listing
1. Act 1 (Overture) 2:04
2. Awake 4:19
3. My Masterpiece 3:40
4. The Allure (feat. Shir-Ran Yinon) 3:59
5. Distorted Smiles (feat. Shir-Ran Yinon) 3:52
6. The Hour of Eden’s Fall 4:45
7. Act II (Intermezzo) 2:12
8. My Fairytale 3:55
9. Phenomena 4:35
10. The Sins of Saints 3:57
11. Insane Schemes of Sanity 4:31
12. The Final Stage (feat. Shir-Ran Yinon) 10:18
13. Epilogue (A Memento of Our Hiraeth) 5:51

Band members
Alina Lesnik – vocals
Marco Paulzen – guitars, bass, harsh vocals
Frank Wypchol – keyboards, piano, orchestrations
Alexander Hey – drums

Guest musician
Shir-Ran Yinon – violin on “The Allure”, “Distorted Smiles” and “The Final Stage”

Album Review – Derdian / DNA (2018)

Get ready for over one hour of top-of-the-line Symphonic Power Metal, courtesy of one of the most prominent and skillful bands from the Italian scene.

Hailing from the always fun and vibrant Italian city of Milan, a global capital of fashion and design, here comes one of the most important and most consistent metal acts from the European scene, Symphonic Power Metal squad Derdian, back with another vibrant and well-balanced album titled DNA, the seventh full-length release in their beyond prolific and interesting career. In an era where most renowned bands tend to release only a handful of songs per album, Derdian go against the tide by offering fans of their fusion of symphonic elements and Heavy Metal nothing more, nothing less than over one hour of first-class music split into 13 original songs, proving once again how much they love what they do.

Comprised of Ivan Giannini on vocals, Enrico Pistolese and Dario Radaelli on the guitars, Marco Banfi on bass, Marco Garau on keyboards and Salvatore Giordano on drums, which is the same extremely talented and focused lineup from their previous releases such as their 2014 album Human Reset and their 2016 release Revolution Era, Derdian keep blasting their usual sonic extravaganza full of symphonic layers, epic passages and endless electricity in DNA, all embraced by a crystal clear overall production that enhances the impact of their music even more, turning the experience of listening to DNA a musical orgasm for admirers of the genre.

Abduction, a symphonic-cinematic intro that sounds and feels very serene, sets the stage for Derdian to kick some serious ass with the title-track DNA, a fast and very melodic Power Metal feast inspired by the golden days of Sonata Arctica and Stratovarius, with Ivan showcasing a superb performance on vocals while Marco Garau and Salvatore have a healthy “duel” of delicacy versus stamina with their instruments. After such powerful start the band offers a top-notch Melodic Metal tune for the masses titled False Flag Operation, with its conspiracy theories-inspired lyrics (“It flies along the blue skies / No one knows what’s gonna happen / New York city will have / The right punishment to be / A nest of worms without a faith / Greedy hawks vultures and jackals / Soon the west will got a / Nice surprise to share with me!”) and sheer epicness flowing from the guitars by Enrico and Dario, followed by Never Born, where a smooth start evolves to a feast of harmonious and delicate sounds, but still bringing the traditional electricity of Melodic Power Metal. In addition, this is a great song to sing along with Ivan and the guys, with Enrico, Dario and Marco Banfi giving a lesson in intricacy, melody and feeling with their stringed weapons.

The next track in DNA, called Hail to the Masters, presents a fun fusion of Symphonic Power Metal with Epic and Folk Metal, considerably different from their traditional sonority, with Ivan singing like a true minstrel and with Marco Garau dictating the rhythm with his whimsical keys; while in Red and White, a perfect example of what Melodic Metal is all about, the band gets back to their old school musicality, which means fast and melodic riffs, nonstop drums and another great vocal exhibit by Ivan, flowing smoothly form start to finish. Then we’re treated to a prancing mid-tempo composition entitled Elohim, led by the rhythmic beats by Salvatore and feeling almost a hundred percent Folk Metal at times, before morphing into a Jazz-infused feast of bass punches, keyboard solos and an upbeat vibe. It’s indeed a fantastic and unique side of Derdian, but if that is not entertaining enough for you, we have another powerful tune named Nothing Will Remain for your avid ears, blending elements from classic and symphonic music with modern Progressive Metal, with highlights to the spot-on guitar solos by both Enrico and Dario.

While Fire from the Dust brings what’s perhaps their most aggressive lyrics (“Like a snake crawls out from the rocks / We go out from …this fucking hole / Let the hate becomes a fire / Fire from the dust! / Take the weapons, annihilate them / They are not machines! / Like a snake crawls out from the rocks  / Fire from the dust!”), musically speaking it’s a Symphonic Metal extravaganza tailored for diehard fans of the genre, with the solos by the band’s guitar duo and especially by Marco Garau adding even more electricity to the overall result. Then in Destiny Never Awaits a gentle piano intro evolves into a decent power ballad by this Italian six-piece squad, presenting pleasant guitar lines and potent vocals, but unfortunately never reaching the same electrifying vibe of the rest of the album; whereas in Frame of the End the band delivers a heavier version of their Symphonic Power Metal (it can even be considered a more symphonic and metallic version of the music by Dream Theater in my opinion) spearheaded by Ivan and his passionate and flammable vocal lines, with Stefano also having a precise and groovy performance on drums, not to mention all of the song’s nice breaks and variations. Marco Garau once again kicks things off in a vibrant feast of Melodic Metal titled Part of This World, where not only Enrico and Dario are in total sync with their riffs, but you should also pay attention to how they meticulously add several elements from classical music to their Power Metal. And lastly, as a “bonus” the band offers us a Spanish version for “Nothing Will Remain”, translated to Ya Nada Cambiara, bringing an extra dosage of epicness and an fresh kick to their Symphonic Power Metal.

If you’re not familiar yet with the symphonic and electrifying world of Derdian, you can get more details about the band, their tour dates and their music on Facebook and on YouTube, and purchase a copy of DNA directly from their webstore, from iTunes or from Amazon. In a nutshell, DNA is more than just another ass-kicking, thrilling album by this Italian squad that lives and breathes Melodic and Symphonic Power Metal, but a beyond recommended option for anyone who admires some good old Heavy Metal with a precise amount of symphonic elements and an epic aura. Some bands are comprised of talented musicians while others work their asses off to provide good music to the listener, but in the case of Derdian we can say they combine the best of both worlds, with DNA being the perfect depiction of the beautiful thing that happens when you put undisputed talent together with endless amounts of hard work.

Best moments of the album: DNA, Never Born, Elohim and Frame of the End.

Worst moments of the album: Destiny Never Awaits.

Released in 2018 Independent

Track listing
1. Abduction 1:12
2. DNA 5:27
3. False Flag Operation 5:00
4. Never Born 5:43
5. Hail to the Masters 4:27
6. Red and White 5:04
7. Elohim 5:26
8. Nothing Will Remain 5:31
9. Fire from the Dust 6:21
10. Destiny Never Awaits 5:41
11. Frame of the End 5:00
12. Part of This World 6:05
13. Ya Nada Cambiara 5:31

King Records Edition bonus track
14. Never Born (Japanese version) 5:41

Band members
Ivan Giannini – vocals
Enrico Pistolese – guitars
Dario Radaelli – guitars
Marco Banfi – bass
Marco Garau – keyboards
Salvatore Giordano – drums

Album Review – Coldbound / The Gale (2018)

Living is an act of courage, and this Melodic Death Metal act from Sweden has the perfect soundtrack for that.

Founded by Greek multi-instrumentalist Pauli Souka in 2012 in Vantaa, a city in Finland that is part of the inner core of the Finnish Capital Region along with Helsinki, Espoo, and Kauniainen, but currently located in Hudiksvall, a Swedish city also known as Glada Hudik due to its hospitality and social life, the heavy-as-hell metal unity known as Coldbound returns with a brand new opus titled The Gale, their first Melodic Death Metal album to date. If you got used to the Black Metal-inspired approach of their previous releases such as their 2015 album Rites Under Moonlight, get ready to be stunned by the new Coldbound, sounding more polished, doomed, darker and, therefore, being highly recommended for fans of Insomnium, Draconian, Swallow The Sun and Wolfheart, among other excellent Scandinavian Melodic Death Metal acts.

Featuring the aforementioned Pauli Souka on vocals, guitars, bass, keyboards and programming, accompanied by Swedish artist Paulina Medepona (also known as Satana Lucia, and who was also responsible for the incredible and obscure album art) and Finnish keyboardist Andras Miklosvari, the concept behind The Gale focuses on memories of nostalgia and personal struggles, having the purpose of raising the awareness of those who suffer from depression, those who have suicidal thoughts or those who feel lonely. The motto of the album, repeated continuously on the song “Shades of Myself” and displayed on the digipak version of it, is “living is an act of courage”, with the album’s lyrics being mostly inspired by personal struggles and somehow promoting optimism through dark times. Such important message  only gets stronger and stronger as the music progresses, showcasing all the talent and hard work of Pauli and his crew and placing them as one of the most interesting names of the current underground scene.

In the intro 61° 43′ N 17° 07 E, which by the way are the coordinates for a point in Hudiksvall, the soothing sound of rain and an ethereal vibe suddenly explode into a feast of extreme music, setting the stage for The Invocation, highly inspired by the dark and pensive music by Insomnium and with Pauli firing his anguished growls while at the same time keeping the music mournful with his Doom Metal-like beats. Needless to say, the song’s lyrics exhale poetry (“Dark is the night, and the veils are drawn of shadows / Dark is the day, while the sun is no longer awake / The sun is calling for your dawn / These words colour countless shades I shall revoke beyond these shores / And drink your fading crimson tear”), and heaviness keeps pounding our heads in the also obscure but very melodic Endurance Through Infinity, where the guitar lines bring a touch of epicness from Folk and Viking Metal, with Pauli making sure we crack our necks in half headbanging to the song’s crushing rhythm.

Enhancing the impact and delicacy of their music thanks to the keyboards by Andras and the stunning vocals by Paulina, Coldbound deliver a touching creation titled The Eminent Light, where the melancholy flowing from the guitars create an interesting paradox with its doomed beats; followed by the title-track The Gale, which kicks off in full force with its Black Metal blast beats and an enfolding atmosphere. Furthermore, this is probably Pauli’s most demonic mode from the entire album, blasting infernal growls and scorching riffs during the whole song, as well as thunderous and dense bass lines. Then we have the fantastic My Solace, with its lyrics taken from the poem book of Kostas Karyotakis titled “Nostalgia” (“My solace will be seen – by scars upon my heart / My solace will be told – by letter of remorse / The bitter greet – a cold farewell / The olden sorrows – that ignite again”). Andras once again brings tons of flavor to the musicality with his keys, while Pauli gives a lesson in dark, melancholic and gripping Melodic Death Metal, flowing majestically until its astounding finale.

Winters Unfold is another neck-breaking creation by Coldbound, with its rhythm and vibe once again presenting hints of Folk Metal and with the strident guitars by Pauli going along flawlessly with his growls; whereas in Shades Of Myself a promising start solidifies into a classic Scandinavian Melodic Death Metal tune, as polished and vibrant as we can expect from a band like Coldbound, and once again with Pauli adding a good amount of intricacy to the overall sound through his beats. Lastly, how about an 11-minute aria of melodic and obscure extreme music entitled Towards The Weeping Skies to conclude the album? In this journey through the dark, the vocals by Pauli get to a point where they can be considered “anguished whispers”, not to mention the outstanding phantasmagorical keys in the background. Hence, you’ll be hypnotized by Pauli’s guitar lines before the music fades into a gentle and touching outro, accompanied by the sound of a heavy and gorgeous tempest.

The Gale is available for a full listen on YouTube and on Spotify, but if I were you I would definitely show my honest support to such distinct act by purchasing the album from their own BandCamp page or Big Cartel (in digipak format or as a digipak + shirt bundle), from iTunes, or from Amazon. Also, don’t forget to pay Coldbound a visit at their Facebook page and YouTube channel, and let their comforting darkness embrace you. If living is an act of courage as Coldbound say, then The Gale might be the perfect soundtrack for that tough but always rewarding adventure.

Best moments of the album: Endurance Through Infinity, The Gale and My Solace.

Worst moments of the album: None.

Released in 2018 Moonlight Productions

Track listing
1. 61° 43′ N 17° 07 E 2:40
2. The Invocation 5:22
3. Endurance Through Infinity 7:15
4. The Eminent Light 5:36
5. The Gale 7:35
6. My Solace 7:18
7. Winters Unfold 5:35
8. Shades Of Myself 5:36
9. Towards The Weeping Skies 10:58

iTunes/Amazon bonus track
10.The Eminent Light (Instrumental) 5:32

Band members
Pauli Souka – vocals, guitars, bass, keyboards, programming

Guest musicians
Paulina Medepona – vocals on “The Eminent Light”
Andras Miklosvari – keyboards on “The Eminent Light”, “The Gale”, “My Solace” and “Winters Unfold”, orchestrations

Album Review – Skogen / Skuggorna Kallar (2018)

Weaving a tapestry of triumph and tragedy, loss and remembrance, this Swedish quartet translates the beauty and melancholy of their homeland into first-class Blackened Folk Metal.

Born in 2009 under a frozen Swedish moon in the city of Växjö, Blackened Folk Metal horde Skogen has their sonic pentagram of albums in homage to the stark, nebular beauty of their motherland. Formed by vocalist and bassist Joakim Svensson and guitarist and vocalist Mathias Nilsson, who played together in other bands and shared the same musical vision, Skogen (which means “forest” in Swedish) released their debut album Vittra, in 2009, followed by Svitjod, in 2011, Eld, in 2012, I Döden, in 2014, and finally Skuggorna Kallar (or “the shadows call” from Swedish), now in 2018, all blending the robustness of Black Metal with the melancholy of folk music in a captivating manner, weaving a tapestry of triumph and tragedy, loss and remembrance.

Possessed by the mysteries of nature and dedicated to paying homage to its majesty, both in light and darkness, Skogen will offer your avid ears a polarity of sounds felt in their music as subtly beautiful melodies and clean vocals are woven into the more pervasive darker tones that saturate Skuggorna Kallar, like the blanket of night, heavy with dew. Joakim and Mathias, accompanied by Jonathan Jansson on the guitar and L. Larsson on drums, as well as an array of fantastic guest musicians, deliver their most complete and darkest work to date in their new album, a must-have for fans of the cold and austere sounds of the North.

The opening track of the album Det Nordiska Mörkret, is also one of their two with a Swedish name, meaning “the Nordic darkness”, beginning in full force and as heavy and somber as it can be, where the anguished clean vocals by Joakim bring a touch of melancholy to the music while the background elements such as the whimsical bowed lyre by guest Vittervärja also enhance the song’s taste and impact considerably. Faster and leaning towards classic Folk Metal, När Solen Bleknar Bort (“when the sun fades away” from Swedish) presents more aggressive and cavernous vocals, with the music flowing smoothly thanks to the amazing riffage by the band’s guitar duo, not to mention L. Larsson’s precise beats; and their darkened sounds keep haunting our souls in Nebula, a gripping fusion of Folk, Black and Doom Metal, with the guitar lines by both Mathias and Jonathan sounding truly captivating, resulting in an enfolding sonority that will please all fans of such distinct underground metal genre.

An ominous, almost tribal bridge titled Omen sets the tone for the bitterly cold and neck-breaking Frostland, where L. Larsson and his rhythmic beats dictate the song’s pace while the band’s stringed trio fires some lancinating and thunderous riffs and punches in a vibrant display of Blackened Folk Metal. Then a somber atmosphere embraces one of their darkest compositions, The Suns Blood, with Joakim growling like a demonic entity while L. Larsson and his Doom Metal beats keep the music lugubrious and vile, also presenting guitar riffs and solos that bring more electricity to the overall result (as well as its folk, acoustic moments), whereas a giant wave of Black and Folk Metal arises in one of their boldest creations, the amazing Beneath the Trees, with all band members sounding crisp and aggressive, generating an epic ambience perfect for Joakim and his anguished gnarls, also feeling like two or three songs in one. Lastly, the bad offers us The Funeral, another 8-minute Folk Metal aria starting in a smooth, almost acoustic manner before exploding into beautiful extreme music, fading into a melancholic piano piece courtesy of guest musician Dísa, and then again getting back to the band’s puissant sonority until the song’s soulful ending.

In case you want to show your appreciation for Skogen, you can pay them a visit at their Facebook page for news, tour dates and other nice-to-know information, and of course buy your copy of Skuggorna Kallar (available for a full listen on YouTube) from their own BandCamp page, from the special page dedicated to Skogen at the Nordvis Produktion website, or from several other retailers like iTunes and Amazon. In a nutshell, Skogen more than succeeded in translating the beauty and melancholy of their beloved Sweden into their multi-layered folk music, carving their name as one of the most interesting and exciting groups from the underground Swedish metal scene.

Best moments of the album: När Solen Bleknar Bort, Nebula and Beneath the Trees.

Worst moments of the album: Frostland.

Released in 2018 Nordvis Produktion

Track listing   
1. Det Nordiska Mörkret 4:46
2. När Solen Bleknar Bort 4:54
3. Nebula 3:43
4. Omen 1:44
5. Frostland 4:24
6. The Suns Blood 4:33
7. Beneath the Trees 8:46
8. The Funeral 8:29

Band members
Joakim Svensson – vocals, bass
Mathias Nilsson – guitars, vocals
Jonathan Jansson – guitars, vocals
L. Larsson – drums, vocals

Guest musicians
Dísa – piano
Elis Edin Markskog – vocals
Vittervärja – bowed lyre

Album Review – Isgalder / To The Hall Of The Stars EP (2018)

Enjoy the story about the journey of a man, wandering old forgotten paths in search of nature and solitude, told by a newcomer German Epic and Pagan Black Metal hailing from the Thuringian Forest.

Founded in 2017 by vocalist and guitarist Grimwald (Dauþuz, Wintarnaht) and drummer, bassist and keyboardist Moppel to hail earth and iron, German horde Isgalder has just emerged from the Thuringian Forest with a splendid piece of Epic and Pagan Black Metal influenced by early Falkenbach and Bathory, titled To The Hall Of The Stars, their debut EP that tells a little story about the journey of a man (the journey to the hall of the stars), wandering old forgotten paths in search of nature and solitude. Comprised of three original songs taken from the band’s forthcoming album and alternate versions of those same songs, the EP will provide you a very good taste of what Isgalder, which by the way is Old-High-German/Germanic and means “cold incantation” or “icy chant”, are capable of. Furthermore, although Grimwald and Moppel played all instruments and vocal parts in the EP, Isgalder are now comprised of the aforementioned dynamic duo plus VRCHTR on rhythm guitar and Aussen Geist on bass, meaning we can definitely (and hopefully) expect to witness the extreme music by Isgalder be materialized in the form of one or more live concerts in the near future.

The keys by Moppel kick off the epic and imposing tune The Ravendale, bringing an interesting “duel” of clean vocals and harsh gnarls, also presenting piercing guitar lines and lyrics that exhale Folk and Pagan Metal (“On farthest shores, there rest my fate / Far from mankind, the morbid, the pale / Native is that soil; silent and primordial / Astute raven summon me, to the hidden vail / The Ravendale / Forgotten and forsaken / The Ravedale / In solitude awaken”), all topped off by a climatic finale. Elder Wisdom, a very detailed and melodic creation by the duo, already starts in full force, bringing elements from Atmospheric Black Metal to their core Pagan and Black Metal, with Grimwald growling and gnarling nonstop while Moppel delivers brutality through his beats and some sort of “peace” through his keys, all at once; and as atmospheric and dense as both previous songs, Soaring Mountains showcases an old school Black Metal base solidified by  the band’s blast beats and scorching riffs, but with a strong Pagan Metal vein present in Grimwald’s growls and Moppel’s keys. Moreover, you’ll certainly feel compelled to sing its lyrics along with Isgalder (“Great soaring Mountains / Grey stone mystic monument / Arise against the sky / Wilderness defend”).

As already mentioned, side B of To The Hall Of The Stars contains an alternative version of the EP, without keyboards, varied vocals and a different mix. For instance, The Ravendale sounds rawer and more piercing, closer to traditional Black Metal, while Elder Wisdom is even more devastating and epic and Soaring Mountains goes straight-to-the-point as well, displaying an enhanced Black Metal vibe and feeling slightly less Pagan Metal. You can compare the regular and alternate versions of each song by listening to the full EP on YouTube, and don’t forget to follow Isgalder on Facebook and on YouTube. In a nutshell, To The Hall Of The Stars (on sale at the band’s own BandCamp, at the Hellthrasher Productions’ BandCamp, at the Naturmacht Productions’ BandCamp and at the Narbentage Produktionen’s BandCamp, as well as at Discogs in CD or cassette version) is a fantastic “appetizer” to what we can expect from Isgalder when they release their first full-length opus, and as soon as that happens we will be able to happily and willingly succumb to their cold incantations.

Best moments of the album: Elder Wisdom (both regular and alternate versions).

Worst moments of the album: None.

Released in 2018 Hellthrasher Productions

Track listing
1. The Ravendale 7:06
2. Elder Wisdom 7:54
3. Soaring Mountains 5:33
4. The Ravendale (alternate version) 6:51
5. Elder Wisdom (alternate version) 7:44
6. Soaring Mountains (alternate version) 5:27

Band members
Grimwald – vocals, guitars
Moppel – bass, keyboards, drums

Album Review – North Hammer / Stormcaller (2018)

Armed with his debut album and a strong passion for all things Viking and Folk Metal, here comes a dauntless one-warrior metal machine from the winterly lands of Canada.

“Thou camest near the next, O warrior Thor!
Shouldering thy hammer, in thy chariot drawn,
Swaying the long-hair’d goats with silver’d rein.” – from ‘Balder Dead’

Inspired by the Viking and folk music played by renowned acts such as Wintersun, Ensiferum, Amon Amarth and Blind Guardian, and in special by Swedish multi-instrumentalist Tomas Börje Forsberg, the iconic Quorthon (1966 – 2004) from Black Metal institution Bathory, who’s also credited with creating the Viking Metal style, here comes Folk/Viking Metal one-man army (or one-warrior metal machine, as he prefers) North Hammer armed with his debut full-length album, Stormcaller, a 21st century continuation of the work of Norse bards who inspired the ancient poem above.

Formed in 2017 in the northern lands of Edmonton, in the province of Alberta, Canada by multi-instrumentalist Andrew James (Eye of Horus, Shotgunner), North Hammer is the representation of the common theme winter that comes up in metal music and a reference to Canada (the “north”), and Andrew’s personal tribute to Mjolnir, or Thor’s Hammer. Andrew wrote and recorded the vocals, guitars, bass and orchestration in Stormcaller, along with drums done by Doug Helcaraxë Nunez and a classic artwork by Mark Erskine (Erskine Designs), and his goal with North Hammer and his new album is simple but powerful. “The experience I’m trying to give the listeners is that of a fellow fan. I want people to be euphoric for other bands that mean something to them like Ensiferum, Wintersun and Amon Amarth. To connect personally with my music and realize that I love and worship these bands.”

Epicness takes over the atmosphere in the opening track Avatar, filling every empty space before Andrew begins his growling attack, also bringing heavy and traditional riffs while Doug keeps the music at a vibrant pace. In other words, this is a beyond solid “welcome card” by North Hammer, setting the tone for Wanderer, and let me tell you it can’t get any more Folk Metal than this, as our minds and souls are treated to a strong and vibrant tune where Doug takes care of the song’s inspiring pace while Andrew continues to impress with all instruments and his harsh vocals. And presenting an introspective, catchy intro, Written in the Stars evolves into modern-day Folk Metal with Melodic Death Metal nuances, with Andrew’s vocals getting more intense and enraged, effectively accompanying the heaviness and melody of the guitars.

Magic Mead is one of those songs tailored for fans of the dancing heavy music by Ensiferum, showcasing more rhythmic, epic moments intertwined with sheer speed and progressiveness while its lyrics exhale Folk and Viking Metal (“Soilent earth sewn with blood / The enemy lays in the mud / A victory not to forget / And celebrate the worthy dead / In his eyes unrest subsides / For dreams of destiny he strides / Through the day and through the night / To behold this astral sight”); followed by an inspiring speech that ignites a feast of heavy and fast sounds titled Tip of the Spear, presenting the duo Andrew and Doug in perfect sync while they head together into the battlefield, with its classic guitar riffs and solos helping enhance its overall impact. Then it’s time to bang your head and raise your horns to all soldiers in the world to the flammable Folk Metal hymn A Soldier’s Song, led by the aggressive and potent growls by Andrew, keeping the album at a truly epic level.

Black Forest Rain is a serene, introspective instrumental bridge, with the sound of the acoustic guitars guiding us to the world of Spellbinder, where a soulful guitar solo by Andrew kicks things off before all hell breaks loose in another blast of classic Viking Metal perfect for singing along with Andrew and for slamming into the pit. Then we have the song that carries the name of the band, North Hammer, an Epic Metal extravaganza with all elements we love in the genre such as powerful vocal lines, gripping guitars, pounding drums and poetic lyrics (“Crack through the ice / Swim through the depths / Pulsing through your veins / Forget all the rest / High into the Skies / Relic of Old / North Hammer”), resulting into one of the best moments of the album without a shadow of a doubt; and North Hammer’s final breath of fire and thunder comes in the form of a song named Lion’s Winter, a demolishing Folk Metal chant where Doug is bestial on drums while Andrew takes his growling to a deeper and more violent level, flowing smoothly until its melodic finale.

One thing I’m only going to mention now about Stormcaller (which is available for a full listen HERE) is that this is a concept album describing the trials of a hero in a Nordic fantasy setting. The album has been rearranged in order to place appeal to the broader audience, but the actual progression of the story line is Written in the Stars, A Soldier’s Song, Magic Mead, Black Forest Rain, Wanderer, North Hammer, Tip of the Spear, Avatar, Spellbinder, and Lion’s Winter, which means if you buy the album from the band’s own BandCamp page, from Amazon or from CD Baby, you’ll be able to rearrange the tracks yourself and follow the story as it’s supposed to be. In addition, while North Hammer is a studio project at the moment, Andrew plans to put together a band of top-notch like-minded musicians in a not-so-distant future, and if you want to show your support for such brave metal warrior go check what he’s up to on Facebook, on SoundCloud and on ReverbNation. And of course, don’t forget to praise the Norse Gods whenever you’re about to enter the battlefield, inspired by the music by North Hammer and by all renowned Viking and folk bands Andrew loves so much.

Best moments of the album: Wanderer, Magic Mead and North Hammer.

Worst moments of the album: None.

Released in 2018 Independent

Track listing
1. Avatar 4:46
2. Wanderer 3:42
3. Written in the Stars 3:27
4. Magic Mead 4:11
5. Tip of the Spear 3:49
6. A Soldier’s Song 4:34
7. Black Forest Rain (Instrumental) 2:10
8. Spellbinder 3:36
9. North Hammer 3:26
10. Lion’s Winter 3:34

Band members
Andrew James – vocals, guitars, bass, orchestration

Guest musician
Doug Helcaraxë Nunez – drums

Album Review – Kantica / Reborn in Aesthetics (2018)

Binding Heavy and Power Metal sounds to the orchestral parts of classical music, here comes a promising Italian act with their very melodic and symphonic debut full-length album.

Raised from the ashes of a band named Keeper of Time (which by the way was originally called Guardian of Time when it was created back in 2012), Italian Symphonic Metal act Kantica was born around 2014 from the idea of guitarist Matteo “Vevo” Venzano, who searched for musicians to start a band where they could bind Heavy and Power Metal sounds to the orchestral parts of classical music.  After many lineup changes and a shift from male to female vocals, this Savona, Ligury-based band finally changed its name into Kantica in April 2016, reaching a stable lineup the following year and consequently getting into gear for the release of their debut album in 2018, titled Reborn in Aesthetics.

After the recording of the album, Kantica suffered another lineup change with drummer Daniele Barbarossa leaving the band, being immediately replaced by the young and talented Tiziana “Titti” Cotella. Titti now joins frontwoman Chiara Manese on vocals, Andy “K” Cappellari and Vevo on the guitars, Fulvio De Castelli on bass and Enrico Borro on keyboards, aiming at spreading their heavy and symphonic music born from the fusion of different styles, backgrounds and experiences from the band’s current and former members. In Reborn in Aesthetics (which by the way features an array of guest musicians such as Fabio Rinaudo on bagpipes and Stefano Pellegrino on cello), not only the band successfully achieves their main goal, but they also put the charming port city of Savona on the map of Melodic and Symphonic Metal.

The cinematic intro (Re)Born Unto Aestheticism transports us to the epic world ruled by Kantica, with Fascination of the Elements bringing a fast and furious start that quickly morphs into pure Symphonic Metal led by the beautiful voice by Chiara and the flammable guitars by Andy and Vevo. Then, getting to an even more symphonic sonority led by the band’s former drummer Daniele Barbarossa and his precise beats, the band enhances their epicness and electricity in And Then There Was Pain, with Chiara stealing the spotlight with her potent vocals. And presenting hints of Folk and Epic Metal (which boosts the flavor of the band’s classic Symphonic Metal) we have Hellborn Lust, showcasing a great job done by both Andy and Vevo on the guitars as well as Enrico with his whimsical keys.

Enrico continues to mesmerize us with his keys in another powerful tune by Kantica, titled Albatross, where Chiara’s voice sounds fantastic once again, not to mention Daniele and his kick-ass fast-paced drums. In order to makes things even more flavorful, the band offers us a gentle break before returning with their full-bodied sonority, with Andy and Enrico delivering excellent solos until the song’s finale. In R.E.M. State, operatic elements in the background make the music even more epic and impactful than usual, with Enrico, Andy and Vevo, together with Fulvio on bass, creating a wall of sounds with their strings; followed by From Decay to Ascension, another song with a Folk Metal vibe without losing the band’s core symphonic essence. Put differently, this is a movie score-inspired creation by Kantica where Chiara embellishes the ambience with her passionate vocal performance once again.

Illegitimate Son brings a Nightwish-like sonority, presenting all elements fans of the genre enjoy such as rhythmic drums, melodious riffs and strong female vocals, with adrenaline and passion flowing throughout the entire song which, in the end, makes it one of the top moments of the album without a shadow of a doubt. And speeding up their pace, Kantica awes us all with Psychological Vampire, a full-bodied shredding feast-like song with Andy and Vevo being absolutely on fire with their axes, also with Chiara increasing her vocal reach, culminating in a truly inspiring performance by our Italian diva. The second to last song in Reborn in Aesthetics, named Lovecide, is an interesting power ballad by Kantica, displaying pounding drums and a dark and ethereal atmosphere, with the music flowing smoothly from start to finish thanks to the excellent guitar lines by both Andy and Vevo. And closing the album there’s more first-class Melodic and Symphonic Metal for our avid ears in the form of a song titled Mescaline, with its solid and steady musicality being complemented by eerie sounds and elements in the background, captivating our attention while Enrico and Andy have a short and sweet solo duel.

You can take a full, detailed listen at Reborn in Aesthetics on Spotify, keep up-to-date with everything Kantica on their Facebook page, and grab your copy of such excellent display of symphonic and melodic music on the Revalve Records Big Cartel, as wel as on iTunes or on Amazon. After listening to Reborn in Aesthetics, it seems that after all lineup changes Kantica have finally reached their desired shape and form, providing fans of Symphonic Metal a well-balanced and fun alternative hailing from the Italian underground scene, and let’s hope the magic crafted by Kantica goes on for years to come with more top-tier releases like their debut installment.

Best moments of the album: Hellborn Lust, Albatross, Illegitimate Son and Psychological Vampire.

Worst moments of the album: None.

Released in 2018 Revalve Records

Track listing
1. (Re)Born Unto Aestheticism (Instrumental) 1:14
2. Fascination of the Elements 5:55
3. And Then There Was Pain 4:23
4. Hellborn Lust 4:23
5. Albatross 4:59
6. R.E.M. State 4:42
7. From Decay to Ascension 3:10
8. Illegitimate Son 5:10
9. Psychological Vampire 5:00
10. Lovecide 5:11
11. Mescaline 5:13

Band members
Chiara Manese – vocals
Andy “K” Cappellari – lead guitars
Matteo “Vevo” Venzano – rhytm guitar
Fulvio De Castelli – bass
Enrico Borro – keyboards
Tiziana “Titti” Cotella – drums*

Guest musicians
Fabio Rinaudo – bagpipes
Michel Balatti – tin whistle, flute
Stefano Pellegrino – cello
Mattia Fenoglio – percussion

* Drums recorded by Daniele Barbarossa