Album Review – Accept / The Rise of Chaos (2017)

Let total chaos and destruction rise to the sound of the brand new album by the unstoppable Teutonic masters of Heavy Metal.

I guess I might have already said that with different words in my review for the excellent Blind Rage, from 2014, but I can guarantee you that you can buy any album by German Heavy Metal institution Accept from the Mark Tornillo-era without even listening to a single second of it, and you won’t regret your decision at all. Quite the contrary, you’ll always be treated to the cream of Teutonic metal music, just like what happens with pretty much every new release by traditional German acts such as Rage, Grave Digger, Kreator, Primal Fear and Helloween, and that trend goes on in 2017 with another sensational release by Wolf Hoffmann, Mark Tornillo & Co., titled The Rise of Chaos, the fifteenth studio album in their unparalleled career.

The Rise of Chaos, which by the way was released just one day after their memorable performance at Wacken Open Air this year, is their first album with guitarist Uwe Lulis (Grave Digger, Giftdwarf) and drummer Christopher Williams (War Within, Blackfoot), replacing Herman Frank and Stefan Schwarzmann, respectively. The album is also the first of their career to feature the amazing art by Hungarian artist Gyula Havancsák, from Hjules Illustration and Design (who has already worked through the years with iconic bands like Grave Digger, Destruction and Annihilator), perfectly representing the chaotic and desperate situation our society has been through lately, as well as all the power and electricity flowing from the top-tier Heavy Metal played by Accept.

The initial guitars by the flammable duo Wolf and Uwe already send a clear message of the old school feast that’s about to start in Die by the Sword, showcasing classic kick-ass Accept with a modern twist to avoid sounding outdated. It’s simply impossible not to raise your fists and sing its blackened, catchy lyrics together with the band (“We’re sinking deeper in a world of darkness / It’s kill or be killed from the day we are born / We’re an evil seed from the soul of a serpent / An evil breed in a valley of thorns”), I should say. In Hole in the Head the whole band keeps blasting sheer awesomeness in the form of our good old Heavy Metal, with Christopher being precise and groovy on drums while Mark sounds, as usual, fantastic with his raspy, melodic vocals in this mid-tempo dark tune. And the title-track The Rise of Chaos, an apocalyptic hymn poised to become a classic, could be considered the epitome of the new Accept that was reborn with the superb Blood of the Nations, from 2010, bringing fast and thrilling riffs, spot-on bass and drums, and a classy performance by Mark on vocals.

Inspired by the November 1978 Jonestown deaths, in which over 900 members of the Peoples Temple, who were followers of Jim Jones, died, many of whom committed suicide by drinking a mixture of a powdered soft-drink flavoring agent laced with cyanide and prescription drugs Valium, Phenergan, and chloral hydrate, while the rest of the members, including 89 infants and elderly, were killed by forced ingestion of the poison, the rockin’ tune Koolaid is a beyond fun composition by Wolf and his crew, perfect for their live performances or to sing by yourself while driving on the highway (“Running through the jungle / Way back in ’78 / Here’s the story of the people’s temple / And my great escape / Communing with a madman / The promise of utopia / White nights, suicide drills / Shades of things to come”). Perhaps the most important message in the end should be: don’t drink the Koolaid, no matter what the preacher says! Anyway, back to the album we have No Regrets, one of the heaviest songs of all where Christopher speeds up the pace while bassist Peter Baltes keeps his bass rumbling in the background. This is traditional and straightforward German metal the way we like it, with highlights to the excellent guitar solo face-off between Wolf and Uwe; followed by Analog Man, a song that’s not only an ode to the 80’s, but it definitely feels it was actually written in the 80’s. What a fun metal hymn to sing along with those “old school sons of bitches trapped in this digital hell”, with Mark’s amazing vocals being effectively supported by the song’s traditional backing vocals. There’s no way not to get addicted to its cheesy lyrics (“I was born in a cave, when stereo was all the rage / Gatefold vinyl and eight tracks ruled the world / Now there’s flat screens in 3D / My cell phone’s smarter than me / I can’t keep up, my brains are beginning to burn”), and what to say about the dial-up internet sound at the end?

And Wolf, Mark and the rest of the guys are absolutely on fire, delivering another powerful tune full of electrified riffs, potent drums and a true headbanging rhythm, titled What’s Done Is Done, which can be described in short as four minutes of top-notch Accept for our avid ears, whereas the trademark guitar lines by Wolf ignite one more blast of awesome Heavy Metal named Worlds Colliding, with Mark putting his heart and soul into delivering the message from the song’s lyrics in the most beautiful way possible. Moreover, the guitar solos provided by Wolf and Uwe throughout the song are just superb, adding a lot of electricity to this already kick-ass composition. But if you’re a fan of their faster creations, then Carry the Weight is tailored for you, with Christopher keeping the energy level really high while Wolf and Uwe continue their slashing attack, resulting in a more-than-recommended alternative to cheer you up when facing tough times and situations (as Mark says during the song, don’t carry the weight of the world on your shoulders). And closing another flawless album by this iconic German institution we have more old school Heavy Metal in the form of the solid tune Race to Extinction, where an imposing intro turns into a dark and harmonious display of classic metal sounds led by Mark’s vigorous voice and the sharp riffs by Wolf and Uwe.

What else can be said about Accept and their unstoppable Heavy Metal killing machine that hasn’t been said yet? They have delivered to us, crazy metalheads, four first-class albums of old school metal music in a row since Mark joined the band back in 2009, and based on the amount of passion they put on creating each one of their electrifying songs it doesn’t seem that they’re planning to call it quits anytime soon. If you want to add The Rise of Chaos to your Accept collection (and you certainly should), there are several awesome options available at the Nuclear Blast webstore, all of them bringing to you the best soundtrack imaginable to watch all the chaos and destruction caused by mankind rise. And if the world as we know it is indeed coming to an end, can we ask it to “wait” until Accept release at least one more album of superior Heavy Metal like this one?

Best moments of the album: Die by the Sword, The Rise of Chaos, Koolaid, Analog Man and Worlds Colliding.

Worst moments of the album: None.

Released in 2017 Nuclear Blast

Track listing
1. Die by the Sword 5:00
2. Hole in the Head 4:01
3. The Rise of Chaos 5:16
4. Koolaid 4:58
5. No Regrets 4:20
6. Analog Man 4:10
7. What’s Done Is Done 4:08
8. Worlds Colliding 4:28
9. Carry the Weight 4:33
10. Race to Extinction 5:24

Band members
Mark Tornillo – lead vocals
Wolf Hoffmann – guitar
Uwe Lulis – guitar
Peter Baltes – bass guitar
Christopher Williams – drums

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Album Review – Grave Digger / Healed by Metal (2017)

The iconic Chris Boltendahl and his battalion of metal have the right cure to heal any type of apathy, fatigue or mental stress in our lives, and you know what that is.

Rating4

healed-by-metalIf you’re one of those people suffering from the horrible disease called “boredom”, which makes your life miserable even if there isn’t a good reason for that, it means your heart and soul are dangerously injured and need to be healed as soon as possible by something special, something that will inject a good amount of adrenaline into your body and make you feel electrified. In other words, you need to be Healed by Metal, which by the way is the name if the eighteenth studio album by German Power Metal warriors Grave Digger. It might not be a classic like Tunes of War or Heart of Darkness (as you might have noticed, I always mention these two albums in my reviews of the band), but it’s a very cohesive and fun album that once again proves Grave Digger are far from calling it a day.

With the cover art designed once again by Gyula Havancsák, from Hjules Illustration and Design, Healed by Metal is a feast of traditional Grave Digger, blending the sounding of their early days with more contemporary material and especially with their warlike mode, which is in my humble opinion where the band truly thrives. Also, despite being the first album to feature new keyboardist Marcus Kniep as The Reaper since H.P. Katzenburg’s departure in 2014 after the average Return of the Reaper, that doesn’t impact the music negatively as keyboards are not the main ingredient in Healed by Metal. Quite the contrary, they are actually not very audible throughout the whole album, leaving more space for the band’s piercing guitars and the unmatched growls by the iconic Chris Boltendahl to shine.

grave-digger-2017Grave Digger kick off the album with the old school title-track Healed by Metal, with its lyrics and chorus being as cheesy as they can be (“The blind will see / And the deaf will hear / The dumb will speak / And the lame will walk / We are the law / We are still mesmerized / Leave the fear behind / We save the human kind / We all break out in rage / We’re ready for the stage / We live like a rebel / We’re all sent by the devil / We are… / Healed by metal / We rock / Healed by metal”). While Chris fires his trademark gnarls, the rest of the band keeps the music potent and metallic, with highlights to the mighty bass guitar by Jens Becker. The next tune, When Night Falls, reminds me of the sonority from their classic albums Tunes of War and Excalibur (if you’re a fan of old school German Power Metal, you’ll have a blast listening to this chant), with drummer Stefan Arnold being as precise as usual; whereas Lawbreaker sounds like a tribute to Judas Priest and their all-time classic “Breaking the Law”, displaying even the sound of a roaring Harley-Davidson in the beginning. The keen riffs and solos by the high-skilled Axel Ritt and the song’s rebellious chorus make it a must-listen for fans of our good old Heavy Metal, not to mention its pure metallic lyrics (“Hundred pounds of metal / Steaming through the shattered night / Roaring wheels cry out for battle / Magic stars our guardian light”).

I might be going crazy, but the main riff in the amazing Free Forever sounds a lot like the one from “You’ve Got Another Thing Comin’”, also by Judas Priest. Needless to say, it’s the perfect soundtrack for hitting the road, with the crisp and heavy sounds of guitar and bass increasing the song’s impact even more. Call for War brings more classic Grave Digger to your ears, with Chris firing his always pleasant raspy vocals in this great fighting composition, in special due to its uproarious chorus. Put differently, it could have easily been part of one of their previous concept albums about historical battles. Then in Ten Commandments of Metal, a metal hymn reminding us to always stay true to heavy music, we’re treated to a catchy, cheesy and extremely fun chorus (“What do you think who we are / Disciples of satan or something bizarre / For what do you think we fight this battle / We follow the ten commandments of metal”), with the instrumental pieces being classic mid-tempo Power Metal showcasing cutting guitars and steady double bass.

healed-by-metal-canvas-edition

Healed by Metal Canvas Edition

In The Hangman’s Eye, we have more high-octane heavy music courtesy of Chris and his battalion of metal, exhibiting a solid instrumental with a powerful and traditional chorus. This is probably the moment when fans will forget it’s “just” Power Metal and will surely ignite a fun circle pit; while Kill Ritual, albeit not as thrilling as the rest of the album, is still a good composition with highlights to its fun lyrics the always sharp riffs by Axel. And Grave Digger fire another one of their classic songs about religion and holy wars, this time titled Hallelujah, where Axel and Jens aim at lacerating our souls with their strings. Not only this is a great mix of Heavy Metal and Hard Rock, but I bet you’ll be singing its chorus without even noticing (not to mention the awesome final solos by Axel). And lastly we have Laughing with the Dead, a creepy, slow-paced somber tune that ends up working well despite its weird chorus. It should be interesting to sing it together with the band during their live performances, in special if you’re drunk, don’t you agree?

In a nutshell, it doesn’t matter how sick you are of our society, you can always be healed by the power of our good old Heavy Metal, and Grave Digger definitely know how to turn the bitter taste of any medication into a high level of entertainment. And if you’re a diehard fan of the band and want to get an extra dosage of their distinct metal music, I suggest you go for the Healed by Metal Canvas Edition, where you’ll also be able to enjoy a couple of very decent bonus tracks, especially the rockin’ tune Bucket List. As aforementioned, Grave Digger are still many years away from coming to an end, always delivering high-end straightforward metal music that will cure any sign of apathy, fatigue or mental stress in our lives, and that’s what we can always expect from Chris and his henchmen.

Best moments of the album: Healed by Metal, Lawbreaker, Free Forever and Ten Commandments of Metal.

Worst moments of the album: Kill Ritual.

Released in 2017 Napalm Records

Track listing
1. Healed by Metal 3:45
2. When Night Falls 3:56
3. Lawbreaker 3:07
4. Free Forever 3:23
5. Call for War 3:21
6. Ten Commandments of Metal 3:27
7. The Hangman’s Eye 3:07
8. Kill Ritual 3:43
9. Hallelujah 3:30
10. Laughing with the Dead 5:17

Limited Edition bonus tracks
11. Kingdom of the Night 4:07
12. Bucket List 3:02

Japanese Edition bonus track
13. Brave, Young And Innocent 4:20

Band members
Chris Boltendahl – vocals
Axel Ritt – guitars
Jens Becker – bass
Stefan Arnold – drums
Marcus Kniep – keyboards

Guest musicians
Hacky Hackman, Frank Konrad & Andreas von Lipinski – backing vocals

Album Review – Stratovarius / Eternal (2015)

The Finnish masters of Power Metal are back with a beautiful album made to be eternal.

Rating1

Stratovarius_EternalIt is unfair to say that Stratovarius are back because, actually, they are that kind of band that don’t let their fans waiting for too long. But, yeah, on September 11, date which many bands picked to release new albums too, Eternal came to light and for the fans of Power Metal, Speed Metal, Symphonic Metal and Finnish bands, this is definitely one of the best releases of the year.

So, here are some interesting facts about Eternal: the whole process, from the writing to the release, took the band one year; the producer of the album was, once again, the guitarist Matias Kupiainen, who has been involved with the production process of Stratovarius’ releases since joining the band in 2008; all the lyrics were written by Timo Kotipelto and Jani Liimatainen (Cain’s Offering, ex-Sonata Arctica), except Man in the Mirror and Fire in your Eyes, written by keyboardist Jens Johansson; Liimatainen also co-composed along with Kotipelto three tracks for this album: Shine in the Dark, In My Line of Work and Few Are Those; the cover artwork, designed by the Hungarian artist Gyula Havancsák, who previously worked with the band in the albums Polaris (2009), Elysium (2011) and Nemesis (2013), was ready more than a year ago and brings together elements and references from the previous artworks; after several suggestions and ideas, the title of the album, Eternal, was chosen by the band in a Facebook chat session. You can check these and other cool facts and highlights of the band on this album on this short documentary from inside the studio, released by earMusic.

In my opinion and in the opinion of several reviews I’ve read recently, Stratovarius are sounding better than ever in Eternal, bringing again all that old school vibe of the Power/Speed Metal they helped to develop in the early 90’s. The best example of this is the first track, My Eternal Dream (check the beautiful official video clip below) that has a lot of energy thanks to the intense keyboards, the heavy guitars and fast drums and bass, not to mention Kotipelto is also singing beautifully. It also has an amazing guitar solo by Kupiainen like the old ones we used to hear on the early years of the band. Shine in the Dark is another great song, sounding slightly heavier, and it was the first presented to the fans with a lyric video and, believe me, the lyrics will stick to your mind for days (“I am what you made of me / Your blood is my blood / And your heart is my heart / We are what we leave behind / An eternal stream / You flow through me / I fear no more though you’re gone / I know we’ll meet again / I know you’re there still somewhere / You are waiting”). Rise Above It brings again the Speed Metal style and definitely sounds like something you have heard before, it is intense like “Forever Free”, and one could easily think it has been released on their 1997 album Visions.

The first tunes of Lost Without a Trace may trick you and make you think there is a ballad coming, but take another listen at it and you will find a more modern and progressive touch. Rolf Pilve’s performance on drums in this song is great, very paced. This is the second album recorded by Pilve on drums and it seems like he has been in the band forever. Feeding the Fire has a great start with keyboards, like many of Stratovarius’ classics, and its vibe grows stronger along the music. I imagine this song played live as one of the highest points of the concert – I hope they add it to their upcoming tour setlists. In My Line of Work is a great example on how the band is working great together; it brings the perfect balance of vocals and all the instruments and sounds more modern than the previous songs of the album, just like the following one, Man in the Mirror, showing that Power Metal can sound classic and yet bring new elements.

StratovariusFew Are Those has several levels of intensity: it starts with a nice keyboard intro, then gets rhythm with the addition of bass and drums and reaches its peak with powerful guitar riffs. Once again, Kotipelto’s performance is great and full of feeling. The ballad Fire in Your Eyes brings a moment of calm after so many stormy songs. It starts (and ends) in a beautiful way with Kotipelto’s voice and a piano, and gains force later with an outstanding work by Pilve and Kupiainen.

Eternal comes to its end with a nearly-12-minute epic song, The Lost Saga. This is, undoubtedly, the highlight of the album, sounding intense and progressive like many other of the band’s hits, like “Infinity”, for example. It has choirs, orchestrations, great extended solos, amazing beats, unexpected (and yet perfect) change of rhythms, in summary, a song that has everything to thrill even the most coldhearted fan.

In very few words, after 10 songs and 54 minutes Eternal makes you ask for more. Stratovarius definitely have a very consistent line-up, still developing great ideas and bringing to the 2000’s the same kind of songs that made them huge more than 20 years ago. Soon their world tour starts, so keep an eye on their Facebook page for more updates. May all Stratovarius’ songs be eternal!

Best moments of the album: ALL OF THEM!!!

Worst moments of the album: Duuuh! None, of course!

Released in 2015 earMusic

Track listing
1. My Eternal Dream 6:04
2. Shine in the Dark 5:05
3. Rise Above It 4:26
4. Lost Without a Trace 5:28
5. Feeding the Fire 4:12
6. In My Line of Work 4:18
7. Man in the Mirror 4:43
8. Few Are Those 4:11
9. Fire in Your Eyes 4:15
10. The Lost Saga 11:39

Band members
Timo Kotipelto – vocals
Matias Kupiainen – guitars
Lauri Porra – bass
Jens Johansson – keyboards
Rolf Pilve – drums

Album Review – Sirenia / The Seventh Life Path (2015)

If dark and symphonic music is what you want, Mr. Morten Veland and his crew are always there to help satisfy your craving.

Rating4

sirenia_the seventh life pathDeliberately entitled The Seventh Life Path, the seventh (got it?) full-length album by Norwegian Gothic/Symphonic Metal band Sirenia has everything it takes to please diehard fans of the band and newcomers to the world of symphonic music: melodic instrumentals, wicked synthesizers, a powerful choir, the charming female vocals by Spanish diva Ailyn Giménez and, of course, the iconic Morten Veland.

Perhaps one of the most interesting components in The Seventh Life Path is its artwork, designed by renowned artist Gyula Havancsák of Hjules Illustration and Design, whose latest works can be seen in the new albums by Ensiferum and Grave Digger, for example. It’s a very detailed illustration, where the artist and the band clearly wanted to augment the importance and meaning of the number seven to the album. “The 7 number appears as 7 ravens, 7 snakes, 7 roses on the dried out wreath…”, said Gyula about this peculiarity in an interview.

However, it’s not just the artwork that makes The Seventh Life Path a good album, but the music itself. As soon as the symphonic and imposing intro Seti begins, it already embraces the listener and sets the tone for the next track, the (at the same time) creepy and captivating Serpent.  Ailyn and Morten provide a beautiful balance of clean female vocals and harsh growls, and even with the presence of some Gothic passages the song ends up sounding truly metallic and symphonic. Once My Light is a lot more “commercial” due to the focus on the smooth vocal lines by Ailyn and the less imposing instrumental, also providing us all a lovely atmosphere and eerie passages with a Gothic touch that only Morten is capable of crafting.

In Elixir, featuring Joakim Næss on clean vocals (who by the way already worked with the band in Perils of the Deep Blue), modernity and tradition are put together, while just the intro in Sons Of The North already kicks ass by itself even before the main portion of the music takes shape. It’s a motherfuckin’ epic ode to Scandinavia, almost a Norse hymn, where the deep growls by Morten, all the orchestrations and especially the choir are flawless. Besides, the lyrics are far from being original (“Here the thunder and lightning / Are both enforced by the mighty Thor / We are the sons of legends / We are sons of myths and lore / Our legacy is forever / Behold its radiance forevermore”), but they didn’t really need to be to sound amazing. They kept it simple, and it worked pretty well. However, once again embraced by symphonic elements, Earendel (or Aurvandil) doesn’t live up to its predecessor, getting too generic after a while even with all the breaks and variations.

sireniaWith a denser sonority and a faster pace, where drummer Jonathan A. Perez showcases his more ferocious skills, Concealed Disdain has one significant issue in my opinion: I find Ailyn’s voice too low during the whole song, preventing it from being a lot more pleasant. On the other hand, sounding like old school Tristania enhanced by the more contemporary musicality by Sirenia, the excellent Insania shows beyond doubt that Morten is a terrific musician, with highlights to its synths and drums for adding so much power to the final result. I also love when Morten goes back in time and revives his darkest side in lyrics like the ones found in Contemptuous Quitus (“You’re the torn in my heart / You will tear me apart / You’re a plague and a curse / Contemptuous quietus”), and besides, I must say I was eager for some heavier riffs, which are finally delivered in this song.

The last two tracks of the regular version of The Seventh Life Path are also well-engendered and contribute to the overall quality of the album. Firstly, The Silver Eye, which could have been just a little shorter, sounds like Symphonic Black Metal in many of its moments, with Ailyn and Morten making a good vocal duo once again. And secondly, we have the Gothic ballad Tragedienne, with Ailyn’s voice and the piano notes being its centre pieces. Of course what I’m going to say is not a universal truth, but I believe fans of Tristania will enjoy it more than fans of Sirenia. In addition, there’s also a Spanish version for this song as a bonus track depending on the version of the album you acquire.

In short, if what Sirenia wanted to achieve with The Seventh Life Path was a well-balanced and energizing continuation to their entertaining career, keeping the names of Morten and Ailyn alive in the minds of Gothic and Symphonic Metal partisans, they more than succeeded in their quest. And if you are one of those dark music supporters, you should thank Morten and his crew for always bringing forth your favorite type of music, just like what is presented in The Seventh Life Path.

Best moments of the album: Serpent, Sons Of The North and Insania.

Worst moments of the album: Earendel and Concealed Disdain.

Released in 2015 Napalm Records

Track listing
1. Seti 2:05
2. Serpent 6:31
3. Once My Light 7:21
4. Elixir (featuring Joakim Næss) 5:45
5. Sons Of The North 8:16
6. Earendel 6:14
7. Concealed Disdain 6:11
8. Insania 6:39
9. Contemptuous Quitus 6:29
10. The Silver Eye 7:29
11. Tragedienne 4:54

Bonus track
12. Tragica (Spanish version of Tragedienne) 4:55

Band members
Morten Veland – guitars, vocals, bass, piano, synth, mandolin, programming
Ailyn – female vocals
Jan Erik Soltvedt – guitars
Jonathan A. Perez – drums

Guest musicians
Joakim Næss – clean male vocals on “Elixir”
Damien Surian – choir
Emilie Bernou – choir
Emmanuelle Zoldan – choir
Mathieu Landry – choir

Album Review – Ensiferum / One Man Army (2015)

Another good heavy music album by one of the most influential Folk Metal armies from Finland.

Rating5

ensiferum_one man armyWhen Folk Metal came into prominence in the early 2000’s, more specifically due to several promising bands from Finland such as Finntroll, Korpiklaani and Turisas, we all knew that was a subgenre of heavy music that was definitely here to stay. However, despite each band having their own characteristics, the nature and limitations of Folk Metal made it clear it was going to be really tough for all bands to reinvent themselves over the years and to avoid becoming stale or ostracized, a terrible curse upon any type of artist in the world. Even with this dark shadow over every band who decided to follow the path of folk and heavy music, Finnish Epic Folk Metal band Ensiferum have managed somehow to remain relevant and kept delivering decent albums like One Man Army, the sixth full-length album in their career.

Fans of the band will agree with me when I say that Ensiferum (the Latin word for “Sword Bearer” in case you don’t know it) have as their main attribute their ability to always craft melodic and epic songs, it doesn’t matter the album nor the speed or length of the song. One Man Army, featuring a great album art by renowned illustrator Gyula Havancsák, is no exception to that and will surely please most admirers of epic metal music. Far from being a masterpiece, perhaps the biggest problem with One Man Army is that some of its songs sound too repetitive and in some cases too epic (even knowing this feature is deeply rooted in their music), but that doesn’t mean you cannot grab you sword and shield or maybe enjoy a huge pint of barley wine while listening to it.

Although the intro March Of War sounds more like “Western Folk” than pure folk music, that doesn’t make it less fun nor harms the next track, the faster and more violent than usual Axe Of Judgment. Can it be called Blackened Epic Folk Metal? Anyway, the harsh screams by Petri Lindroos are quite effective, with the keyboards by Emmi Silvennoinen and its backing vocals adding more “epicness” to this battle tune. Then we have a truly awesome Epic Metal song entitled Heaten Horde, where the 100% Manowar chorus sung by Ensiferum’s “horde” is its highlight for sure and will thrill all fans during their live concerts (“All heathen hearts, / Answer the call, / God of thunder bless our swords, / Our heathen horde, / Will never fall, / We are hungry for blood, steel and war”), not to mention they even used an Old Norse poem in the lyrics as an amazing “bonus”.

One Man Army, the first single of the album, showcases riffs and double bass that couldn’t sound more Scandinavian metal, and again they abuse of the backing vocals in a good way. In addition, it’s kind of impressive how bands like Ensiferum can sing about battles and war in each and every song they record and still sound fresh in many cases. But getting back to the album, after the nice folk intro Burden Of The Fallen, perfect for enjoying around the fire pit while roasting a leg of goose and having a cold beer, Ensiferum offer us Warrior Without A War, which despite its epic start and all the band’s efforts to make it even more epic, especially the “Oh-oh-oh!” in the background, is just an average song with not much to offer to the listener.

ensiferumAnd the boring Cry For The Earth Bounds follows a similar formula: another epic battle intro done by some kind of choir, lyrics talking about war, keyboards giving it an extra touch of magic and so on, but nothing that makes the song outstanding. Quite the contrary, it gets really tiring and falls totally flat after a while. In the excellent Two Of Spades, they finally sing about something that’s not a medieval battle, but a more contemporary type of war: gambling! Its truly exciting riffs and vocals are good indicators they should invest more on this type of raw and direct metal, with its disco beats and Finnish lines being interesting elements added to the song.

The following two tracks, My Ancestor’s Blood and Descendants, Defiance, Domination , form one song name “Heathen Throne Part III”. The first song is pretty boring, with its riffs sounding too generic and its rhythm being as monotone as possible, while the second part is even worse: there was no doubt an 11-minute tune would sound epic, sorrowful and imposing, but the overall result is extremely disappointing due to the lack of energy and entrenchment. In other words, the song just goes on and on forever, with its instrumental parts being very basic, and you even forget to follow the storyline at a given point. Fortunately, Neito Pohjolan closes the regular version of the album beautifully with its awesome lyrics (“Eessä myrskytuulien / Eessä elon taistojen / Aina sydämessäin oon / Neito pohjolan”, or in English “In front of storm clouds / In front of battles of life / In my heart I’ll always be / Lady of the North”). It is as folk as it can be, with Emmi leading the singing and more important than that, in Finnish, making it a very enjoyable tune.

And if you’re in doubt about purchasing One Man Army or not, or which version of the album is the most suitable for your collection, I suggest you go for the limited edition with its four witty bonus tracks. I would say the best ones are the fun Rawhide and the violent Warmetal, which by the way are better than 90% of the songs from the regular version of the album. In summary, Ensiferum might not exactly be a “one man army” as the name of the album says nor the most creative band in the world, but they’re indeed a solid and interesting Folk Metal army that will keep you entertained and ready for battle with their epic and melodic heavy music.

Best moments of the album: Heaten Horde, One Man Army and Two Of Spades.

Worst moments of the album: Cry For The Earth Bounds, My Ancestor’s Blood and Descendants, Defiance, Domination.

Released in 2015 Metal Blade Records

Track listing
1. March Of War 1:32
2. Axe Of Judgment 4:33
3. Heathen Horde 4:12
4. One Man Army 4:25
5. Burden Of The Fallen 1:49
6. Warrior Without A War 5:24
7. Cry For The Earth Bounds 7:31
8. Two Of Spades 3:39
9. My Ancestors’ Blood (Heathen Throne Рart III) 4:30
10. Descendants, Defiance, Domination (Heathen Throne Рart III) 11:20
11. Neito Pohjolan 4:10

Limited Edition bonus tracks
12. Candour And Lies 4:11
13. Rawhide 2:35
14. Warmetal 2:54
15. Bonus Song 4:29

Band members
Petri Lindroos – harsh vocals, guitars
Markus Toivonen – guitars, backing vocals, clean vocals
Sami Hinkka – bass, clean vocals
Emmi Silvennoinen – keyboards, backing vocals
Janne Parviainen – drums

Album Review – Grave Digger / Return of the Reaper (2014)

One of the most traditional and respected Power Metal titans from Germany return with another good album, although not as memorable or inspired as it could have been.

Rating5

coverAs a tribute to the newly crowned World Cup champions Germany, who won the final match yesterday against Argentina, a team that truly put their hearts and souls into the match and deserve our most pure respect for almost beating an unbeatable machine such as the Teutonic squad, here’s the review for the new album by one of the most influential German bands of all time. I remember back in the 90’s when German Power Metal icons Grave Digger redefined their style to a more epic and powerful musicality, releasing some high-end classic albums such as Heart of Darkness (1995), Excalibur (1999), and especially the masterpiece Tunes of War (1996), increasing their legion of fans significantly, reaching a main-eventer status and headlining important tours and festivals worldwide. That was exactly when I became a huge fan of their unique Power Metal, and until today I feel really excited whenever Chris Boltendahl and his clan announce that a new Grave Digger album is about to rock the world.

Unfortunately, this time I’m a little sad to say that their new album, Return of the Reaper, is not as good as I was expecting. Despite having some very traditional and powerful moments with those characteristic elements we learned to love in the music by Grave Digger, most songs of the album sound way too generic and uninspired. They seem to be suffering from the same “sickness” as Arch Enemy with their latest release: the album is far from being a disaster, but we all know they’re capable of delivering something a lot more creative and thrilling than that. Where are those Heavy Metal anthems such as “The Grave Dancer”, “Rebellion (The Clans Are Marching)” or “Excalibur”?

However, there’s no need to panic: Return of the Reaper might not be a memorable album, but it is quite enjoyable and sufficient enough to keep Grave Digger relevant in the world of heavy music. The intro Return Of The Reaper, which is a heavy version of Frederic Chopin’s Funeral March enhanced by some desperate screams, followed by the most traditional Grave Digger musicality you can find in this album (and by far the best song of all), the violent Hell Funeral, are together an excellent way to kick things off with lots of  Power Metal riffs, a catchy chorus and Chris Boltendahl’s voice sounding as awesome as usual even after so many years on the road. War God is another fast tune most fans will enjoy, with Stefan Arnold always precise on drums, but the chorus could have been a little more powerful and less repetitive (which by the way is a constant during the rest of the album); while Tattooed Rider has a name that simply asked for a more Hard Rock sonority, and albeit being a good song it’s kind of generic, especially in regards to the lyrics.

Grave-DiggerThen we have two of the worst tracks of the album: Resurrection Day, despite some good riffs and drumming, has horrible lyrics that don’t mean anything and a really bad chorus; while Season Of The Witch sounds like a rip-off of “The Last Supper” (especially the riff), getting really tiring after a while. At least the following track, the boisterous Road Rage Killer, speed things up with its really awesome heavy riffs, sounding similar to some of their old classics and, consequently, becoming one of the top moments of the album.

The following tracks will probably create mixed feelings among all fans of the band, alternating really good moments with lots of cheesiness and lack of creativity. Although Grave Desecrator offers us a good mix of Hard Rock and Power Metal, its horrible lyrics hamper it from becoming an excellent song; on the other hand, Satan’s Host is another good song with a very traditional approach and direct lyrics, and I’m pretty sure it will be one of the chosen songs by the band to be played live due to its intensity. Dia De Los Muertos slows things down a little with its simple but effective 80’s Hard Rock, even with its “creative” Spanish name that doesn’t add anything to the song (“Day Of The Dead” would have been a much better choice); while Death Smiles At All Of Us has an interesting keyboard intro that turns into a nice Power Metal tune, complemented by the best guitar solo of the whole album. And finally, for a band with so many outstanding ballads such as “Dolphin’s Cry”, “The Ballad Of Mary (Queen Of Scots)” and “Emerald Eyes”, closing the album we have the boring Nothing To Believe, which sounds truly uninspired and too generic compared to what Grave Digger are capable of doing.

At least the album art, once again created by Gyula Havancsák of Hjules Illustration and Design, who has been responsible for all of the band’s artworks since The Last Supper (2005), lives up to Grave Digger’s name, even if it’s not as majestic as The Last Supper or Heart of Darkness. In conclusion, if you’re a long-time fan of Grave Digger you can go ahead and buy their new album, you’re probably going to enjoy it. But if you are not fond of their most recent releases, Return of the Reaper will just be another reason for you to keep complaining about what the band is currently doing and keep going back to their old classics for some truly inspired Power Metal music.

Best moments of the album: Hell Funeral, Road Rage Killer and Satan’s Host.

Worst moments of the album: Resurrection Day, Season Of The Witch and Nothing To Believe.

Released in 2014 Napalm Records

Track listing
1. Return Of The Reaper (Intro) 1:16
2. Hell Funeral 3:02
3. War God 3:47
4. Tattooed Rider 4:04
5. Resurrection Day 2:59
6. Season Of The Witch 5:05
7. Road Rage Killer 3:19
8. Grave Desecrator 4:23
9. Satan’s Host 2:56
10. Dia De Los Muertos 4:16
11. Death Smiles At All Of Us 3:52
12. Nothing To Believe 4:34

Band members
Chris Boltendahl – vocals
Axel Ritt – guitars
Jens Becker – bass
Stefan Arnold – drums
H.P. Katzenburg – keyboards