Album Review – Velaverante / My Dark Images EP (2015)

Try listening to the Symphonic Gothic Metal by this up-and-coming Russian band with your eyes blindfolded. You will love the experience.

Rating4

My_Dark_Images_coverIn case you don’t know (well, I’m pretty sure you don’t, and there’s nothing wrong with that), the Latin word “velaverunt” means “blindfolded”. For instance, you can find that word in the Bible, like in Lucas 22:64, “et velaverunt eum et percutiebant faciem eius et interrogabant eum dicentes prophetiza quis est qui te percussit?”, which in English means “and when they had blindfolded him, and smote him on the face, and asked him, saying: Prophesy, who is it that smote thee?” However, from now on Velaverante also means high-quality Symphonic Gothic Metal brought forth by this passionate band from the city of Kirov, Russia, located around 950km from the capital Moscow.

And when you listen to their debut EP, the excellent My Dark Images, you’ll perfectly understand why I’m saying that about Velaverante. For a top to bottom independent band, the attention they paid to all details, including the sound production and mixing, their outfits and the album art, is truly remarkable. Even minor details like the blindfolds that appear on the artwork of My Dark Images and on some of their promotional pictures prove how much they care about their creation, and of course, that’s beyond good for everyone who takes a listen at Velaverante.

velaveranteThat high level of professionalism is latent in the first track of the EP, Too Late, where the band offers the listener a very symphonic sounding similar to what Nightwish and Epica have mastered doing, but with the melancholic atmosphere found in Black and Doom Metal. The keyboards by Max Seleznyov and the robust operatic vocals by Anna Egorova keep the music ominous and dark, whilst drummer Irina Kropotova and guitarist Gleb Uraev seem more inspired by old school Gothic Metal the likes of Tristania. The second track, Insomnia, begins as obscure as the previous one, once again showcasing a superb performance by Anna on vocals, especially during the song’s captivating chorus. It’s unquestionably a beautiful Gothic Metal tune for fans of the dark side of music.

In my humble opinion, the best of the four tracks is Jailed, where a smooth piano intro is suddenly surrounded by the band’s strong and mournful notes, with highlights to all the emotion found on vocals (yet again with an awesome chorus). Not only that, its somber rhythm is as amazing as the biggest dark classics from Norwegian and British Gothic music, with Max boosting the band’s energy with his keyboard notes. And lastly, we have the most symphonic of all tracks, Chained No More, with deeper riffs and stronger beats, almost like a Metal Opera mainly due to the vocal performance by Anna blended with interesting medieval/epic notes.

Unfortunately, My Dark Images has only 15 minutes of music, making us eager for more of their music in the form of a possible full-length album in a not-so-distant future. In the meantime, let’s all go check their Facebook page, VK profile, YouTube channel (where you can find some excellent live videos by the band), and more important than all that, listen to their profound and skillfully engendered music on their official SoundCloud page. And if you have the guts to appreciate My Dark Images blindfolded, amplifying your sense of hearing to a whole new level, do not think twice and just go do it.

Best moments of the album: Jailed.

Worst moments of the album: None.

Released in 2015 Independent

Track listing
1. Too Late 4:20
2. Insomnia 3:10
3. Jailed 4:18
4. Chained No More 3:34

Band members
Anna Egorova – vocals
Gleb Uraev – guitar
Oleg Starikov – bass
Max Seleznyov – keyboards
Irina Kropotova – drums

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Album Review – Blind Guardian / Beyond The Red Mirror (2015)

Are you ready to explore what’s beyond “The Red Mirror” with one of the most influential Power Metal bands of all time?

Rating4

blind guardian_btrmBeyond The Red Mirror, the tenth studio album by German Power Metal pioneers Blind Guardian, their first since 2010’s At the Edge of Time (the longest gap between two studio albums in their career) and the first without bassist Oliver Holzwarth since their finest work to date, 1995’s Imaginations from the Other Side, might not be a true masterpiece, but it’s good enough to keep those Teutonic veterans going and also a perfect example of how to effectively combine metal music with a great concept, creating what some people like to call a “Metal Opera”.

Blind Guardian’s iconic lead singer Hansi Kürsch has already explained himself this album is a sequel to Imaginations from the Other Side: the two worlds have changed dramatically for the worse since then with only one gate left now between them, The Red Mirror, with the storyline revolving around the young protagonist we first met in the 1995’s classics “Bright Eyes” and “And the Story Ends”. Add to that the fact that three different classical choirs (from Czech Republic, Hungary and the United States) and two grand orchestras, each featuring 90 musicians, are part of the album, and you can imagine how grandiose the musicality contained in Beyond The Red Mirror is.

blind guardianThe almost 10-minute epic track The Ninth Wave, with its choir intro, kicks off the album proving once again Hansi’s voice is not only unique but also so powerful it’s impossible not to follow his vocal lines in their entirety. Although I loved its harmony and storyline, it lacks a little heaviness, making it more Metal Opera than Power Metal per se. Twilight Of The Gods sounds a lot more traditional than the opening track, especially its fast drums and guitar riffs and solos. Moreover, Hansi guides the rhythm here thanks in part to the song’s awesome straightforward lyrics (“Witness the twilight of the gods / Will they ever return / A storm will take us / And then wipe us out / There’s no retreat”).

The most interesting aspect in Prophecies, which despite not being outstanding at least maintains the album at a decent level, is how well we can understand each and every word Hansi pronounces, even when he does his stronger/harsher vocals; while At The Edge Of Time, with its eerie intro and a more melancholic atmosphere, doesn’t really decide if it’s a metallic or a symphonic song, hurting the final result. On the other hand, Ashes Of Eternity is the true Blind Guardian we all have learned to love, with its exciting vocal lines and beautiful guitar solos by André Olbrich making it one of the top moments of the album. Keeping up with this awesomeness we have The Holy Grail, the perfect soundtrack in the quest for the Holy Grail itself where not even a single second is boring or out of place. Moreover, the top-notch Power Metal drumming by Frederik Ehmke will definitely sound amazing live.

blind guardian_btrm deluxe

Beyond The Red Mirror Limited Edition Digipak/Earbook Deluxe

The Throne is another symphonic-centered tune with lots of elements from traditional Blind Guardian, with highlights to the great job done by André Olbrich with his inspired solos once again. The following track, the dark Sacred Mind, showcases solid instrumental lines despite not being very creative, albeit it gets a little tiring after a while; and the piano ballad Miracle Machine focuses on a superb vocal performance by Hansi. Closing the regular version of the album we have another imposing progressive 9-minute song, Grand Parade, which in my opinion gets too symphonic sometimes, even knowing it was meant to be this way. In other words, it’s not a bad song, but it won’t probably work really well live nor become a classic or anything like that. Furthermore, the special versions of Beyond The Red Mirror come with an amazing bonus track, Distant Memories, a melodic and symphonic old school semi-ballad curiously inserted in the middle of the album (as track number 6) instead of at the end; and if you purchase the earbook there’s another Power Metal bonus track for you entitled Doom.

In summary, although some moments in Beyond The Red Mirror lack more intensity and power, there are lots of excellent songs, with a couple of them deserving a 5 out of 5 so amazing they are, augmented by all the majestic orchestral passages perfectly inserted amidst the band’s unmatched Power Metal. Some fans will end up comparing it to Imaginations from the Other Side due to the existing connection between the two albums, but I prefer to keep them separate and enjoy their own elements and musicality one at a time. Although we all know there’s never going to be another Imaginations from the Other Side, we can rest assured Blind Guardian is still capable of delivering Power Metal at its finest like in Beyond The Red Mirror, and that’s the bottom line. With that said, are you ready to explore what’s beyond “The Red Mirror”?

Best moments of the album: Twilight Of The Gods, Ashes Of Eternity, The Holy Grail and the bonus track Distant Memories.

Worst moments of the album: At The Edge Of Time, Sacred Mind and Grand Parade.

Released in 2015 Nuclear Blast

Track listing
1. The Ninth Wave 9:27
2. Twilight of the Gods 4:49
3. Prophecies 5:24
4. At the Edge of Time 6:53
5. Ashes of Eternity 5:38
7. The Holy Grail 6:02
8. The Throne 7:53
9. Sacred Mind 6:21
10. Miracle Machine 3:02
11. Grand Parade 9:27

Limited Edition Digipak Bonus Track
6. Distant Memories 5:51

Earbook Bonus Track
12. Doom 5:51

Band members
Hansi Kürsch – lead and backing vocals
André Olbrich – lead, rhythm and acoustic guitars
Marcus Siepen – rhythm guitar
Frederik Ehmke – drums, percussion

Additional musician
Barend Courbois – bass guitar

Album Review – Tarja / Colours in the Dark (2013)

While Nightwish unfortunately perishes day after day without a decent singer, Tarja keeps providing us some excellent heavy music with her strong solo career.

Rating4

Tarja_Colours-In-The-Dark_StandardWhen Tarja Turunen (the prettiest female singer in the world!) left Nightwish a few years ago, everybody thought she was over in the world of heavy music (she even said so in some interviews). Tuomas Holopainen is a very talented and creative musician, and without him nobody knew how she would be able to survive. Well, today I guess it’s the exact opposite: Tarja has a very solid solo career, while Tuomas is completely lost with his band due to his gigantic ego. And now once again Tarja releases a very good album full of melody, consolidating her as one of the most important female voices in Heavy Metal of all time.

Victim of Ritual, the opening track, is a kind of “Metal Opera” that joins Tarja’s beautiful voice, a nice rhythm, and an interesting mix of different sounds. I love the chorus when she sings victim of rrrrrrrrrritual! Then comes 500 Letters, a regular song from Tarja with nothing new to show us. The next song, Lucid Dreamer, is a good example of what she can do with her voice, while in Never Enough she gives her special Nordic ingredient to it by starting with the words y, ka, ko, ne! This is our famous one, two, three, four, but in Finnish, and I must say a nice start to one of the best songs of the album, followed by a track called Mystique Voyage, a good ballad totally focused on her unique voice.

Tarja_Colours-In-The-DarkThe next track is a cover song: I listened to the original version from Peter Gabriel for the song Darkness, and I think Tarja’s version is very similar to it. It’s good, but not even close to the quality of her version for Alice Cooper’s Poison. Anyway, I would really enjoy seeing Peter and Tarja doing a duet for Darkness live someday! Deliverance is just another one of Tarja’s typical ballads, while Neverlight has that type of heavy riff I was expecting to find more in the rest of the songs. The album ends with another nice ballad, Until Silence, and the song Medusa, which in my opinion is the most beautiful song from Colours in the Dark.

Regarding the musicians, it’s always good to listen to Mike Terrana. He is amazing on drums even when he’s not playing at full speed. The other band members do a good job too: nothing extraordinary, though, but enough for what Tarja needs. The front cover is beautiful, of course, as it has Tarja on it! and not only that, it has a psychedelic touch that makes it very interesting for album art lovers.

To sum up, Colours in the Dark is not as original as My Winter Storm, which is my favorite Tarja album, but it’s a good work worth buying if you enjoy heavy music with a female voice, just not so heavy as Arch Enemy or The Agonist. And did anybody notice how Tarja is getting more and more beautiful year after year? I hope she comes to Canada for a full tour soon.

Best moments of the album: The songs Victim of Ritual, Never Enough, Neverlight and Medusa.

Worst moments of the album: The keyboards and piano seem to be more important than the guitar, which is not that bad, but I feel there’s a lack of good riffs and solos in the whole album that could have given more punch to it.

Released in 2013 earMUSIC

Track listing
1. Victim of Ritual 5:54
2. 500 Letters 4:22
3. Lucid Dreamer 7:28
4. Never Enough 5:20
5. Mystique Voyage 7:14
6. Darkness 5:38
7. Deliverance 7:27
8. Neverlight 4:33
9. Until Silence 5:03
10. Medusa (feat. Justin Furstenfeld) 8:12

iTunes edition bonus tracks
11. Neverlight (Full Orchestral Version)
12. Until Silence (Orchestral Version)

Band members
Tarja Turunen – Lead vocals and piano
Alex Scholpp, Julian Barrett – Guitar
Kevin Chown, Doug Wimbish – Bass guitar
Christian Kretschmar – Keyboards
Mike Terrana – Drums
Max Lilja – Cello