Album Review – Scorpions / Return to Forever (2015)

This rock may be rolling home after so many years of good service, but it still has A LOT to teach the world on how to make true Hard Rock.

Rating2

scorpions_return to forever50 years ago, in Germany, Rudolf Schenker, only 16 years old, decided to follow any school boy’s dream and formed a Rock N’ Roll band, the Scorpions. Schenker, alongside his band mates, put together awesome melodies and great lyrics, added a bunch of exciting backing vocals, touching powerful ballads, crazy guitar solos that made everyone want to be a rock star, and the formula for perfect Hard Rock was created. It turns out that half a century later, this magic formula still works and Scorpions are still one of the most important names of all times in Rock N’ Roll history.

Since Scorpions were formed, countless musicians have joined and left the band, but for the past 11 years the group has a strong line-up with Rudolf on lead guitar; Klaus Meine – who joined the band in 1969 and recorded every Scorpions’ album – on lead vocals; Matthias Jabs on rhythm guitar; James Kottak on drums; and Paweł Mąciwoda on bass guitar. In 2010, the band released Sting in the Tail, which was announced supposedly as the last album of their career. And we are glad they have changed their minds. In 2011 they were back to the studio to work on new material, and although 2014 was not an easy year for the band, with the arrest and period of rehab of Kottak, they rejoined forces to finish the album and the result is Return to Forever, a masterclass on how Hard Rock is supposed to be, released this year to mark the band’s 50th anniversary.

The album is available as a standard album, limited deluxe CD which contains four bonus songs, iTunes version with the same songs as the limited deluxe edition plus the song “Delirious”, double heavyweight vinyl and a limited edition collector’s box set. According to the band, the songs were written between the early 1980’s and 2014 and we can notice the changes and evolution of the musicality through the tracks. The album starts in a very thrilling way: the first song, Going On With A Bang, has a lot of influences of Blues but with a lot of Rock N’ Roll, and is one of the newest songs written for this album; then comes We Built This House, the first single for this album (check the video below). This song is very meaningful and tells the story of Scorpions, the ups and downs and everything they have learned along the way. This song is really touching and beautiful and has those classical backing vocals known on Scorpions work that make all of us, in the audience of their concerts, to sing it out loud together. Rock My Car is a very exciting song: written many years ago, it talks about driving fast on the famous German Autobahn highways. And this song carries all that high-speed feeling, with a breathtaking solo.

House Of Cards, the first ballad of the album, is very deep, exploring different levels of love, until it turns into hate and fades away. All For One is all about friendship and complicity the musicians find in each other to keep the band going on. The beginning of the next song, Rock ‘N’ Roll Band, sounds just like “I Can”, an old song by their German fellows of Helloween, but then the song gets its own shape and turns into a real Rock N’ Roll anthem. Klaus Meine wrote this song in the 1980’s and found the inspiration after visiting some clubs on Sunset Boulevard, in Los Angeles, so you can imagine the environment of sex, drugs and rock n’ roll he found back then.

Catch Your Luck And Play was originally written for the 1988 album Savage Amusement. Rudolf Schenker wrote a new chorus to this nice song, the kind all fans enjoy singing together with the band while clapping their hands tirelessly. Then we have Rollin’ Home, one of the best songs of the album, with great performances by all musicians – it is amazing to notice, for example, that after so many years Klaus’ voice has not changed a tone. But what is intriguing in this song is the message contained in it. It sounds like a good-bye, especially on the chorus (“Here we go! / This rock in rollin’ home”) that, again, has an amazing work on backing vocals. Hard Rockin’ The Place is another good example of Hard Rock, with an amazing riff.

scorpionsLight up your lighters, or your cell phones, because Eye Of The Storm is the perfect song for that and to calm down a little bit before more of their fast Rock N’ Roll. It was supposed to be released in Humanity: Hour I (2007), but did not fit to the album. It has a beautiful solo, maybe the strongest of this album. The Scracth sounds like those old Rock N’ Roll songs from the 1950’s – the highlights here are definitely the drums and the bass that bring a very unique groove to the song. Gypsy Life is a ballad like no other band can do, only Scorpions. It closes the standard version of the album in a very nice way and, again, reflects Scorpions’ life style, living year after year on the road.

For those who got the deluxe or iTunes versions, there are still some bonus tracks. The first is The World We Used To Know, which somehow does not fit well to the rest of the album, although it has good lyrics and backing vocals, but, not such a strong work on guitars. Dancing With The Moonlight, on the other hand, puts everybody to dance. When The Truth Is A Lie has great acoustic guitars alongside the electric guitars, and this combination gives a calm element but still keeps the song quite heavy. Who We Are basically puts together acoustic guitars, Klaus’ amazing voice and stunning backing vocals, and the result is another very deep ballad with the band’s trademark. Delirious closes the iTunes version in a great manner: another song wtih those riffs only a band like Scorpions can do.

It is quite easy to imagine most of those songs being played live and driving the crowd crazy. Is this the very last Scorpions album? We cannot tell. If so, we know we have in our hands a very intimate album, that take us closer to the lives of those iconic musicians. If not, and we hope it is not, we know we still have a lot to learn with those veterans of Rock N’ Roll. One thing we know for sure: they did their job very well throughout the years, leaving their names carved forever in the world of music.

Best moments of the album: Going Out With A Bang, We Built This House, Rock N’ Roll Band, Rollin’ Home and Gypsy Life.

Worst moments of the album: The World We Used to Know.

Released in 2015 Sony Music

Track listing
1. Going Out With A Bang 3:47
2. We Built This House 3:53
3. Rock My Car 3:20
4. House Of Cards 5:05
5. All For One 2:58
6. Rock ‘N’ Roll Band 3:54
7. Catch Your Luck And Play 3:33
8. Rollin’ Home 4:03
9. Hard Rockin’ The Place 4:06
10. Eye Of The Storm 4:27
11. The Scratch 3:41
12. Gypsy Life 4:51

Limited Edition/iTunes bonus tracks
13. The World We Used To Know 3:51
14. Dancing With The Moonlight 3:42
15. When The Truth Is A Lie 4:27
16. Who We Are 2:33

iTunes exclusive bonus track
17. Delirious 2:58

Band members
Klaus Meine – lead vocals
Matthias Jabs – lead guitars, rhythm guitars, acoustic guitars
Rudolf Schenker – rhythm guitars,lead guitars, backing vocals
Paweł Mąciwoda – bass guitar
James Kottak – drums, backing vocals

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Album Review – Chugger / Human Plague (2015)

A fearless band from Gothenburg bringing forth a technical and organic fusion of Melodic Death Metal and Southern Rock.

Rating4

CHUGGER - Human Plague cover artWhenever you think of the Gothenburg Sound (also known as Melodic Death Metal), forged in the 90’s amidst the harsh climate and technological progress in Sweden, names like At the Gates, Dark Tranquillity and In Flames will instantly come to your mind. Those bands were capable of creating something completely new in the world of heavy music, blending melody and violence in a unique way augmented by tons of catchy riffs and contemplative lyrics. Hailing from the same fruitful area comes the five-piece Groove Death Metal band Chugger, who after the 2013 EP entitled Scars are releasing now in 2015 their first full-length album, the heavy and modern Human Plague.

The initial idea behind the band came up in 2006 by guitarist Robert Bjärmyr, but it wasn’t until the end of 2012 that Chugger actually came to life with their progressive and aggressive musicality. Although they can be seen at first glance as just another Swedish Melodic Death Metal group, perhaps what differentiates them the most from all other Gothenburg bands is their ability to accurately add many interesting elements from American Southern Rock and Metal to their music, enhancing the level of belligerence found in every song in Human Plague. In addition, the album art designed by independent artist Sam Hayles at DOSEprod also effectively expresses the high-tech but organic fusion offered by Chugger in the album.

And all the modern music proposed by Chugger becomes clear as soon as The Grid starts, a song built of traditional Gothenburg sound pinched by Industrial Metal, Death Metal and even Metalcore, something In Flames have already done (but unfortunately got lost somewhere), as melodic as expected from a Swedish metal band and a great choice for jumping up and down with the band. The harsh growls by frontman David Dahl definitely help define the violence in their music, which is also the case in the first single of the album, Virus, where the band truly spreads their “virus” of metal. Furthermore, its short and effective apocalyptic chorus is more than perfect for screaming along with them (“One shot at glory / Ascending through the sky – Virus”).

CHUGGER band photo 2Rust is probably their most Americanized song, especially its heavy guitar riffs and vocals and its awesome headbanging rhythm (providing the listener once again another good opportunity to scream the lyrics with the band), while Never Alone showcases a melancholic slow intro followed by a dense atmosphere, an amazing “devilish” duet between David and Swedish singer Maria Strandén (ex- Therion), and inspiring lyrics about unity and never being alone in our society.

Feed The Fire follows similar lines as “Rust”: it’s another excellent raw and direct metal track with its main riff made for breaking your neck. Not only that, it’s important to say those guys know how to craft addictive choruses (“Burn! You feed the fire / Burn! With everything you do / Burn! You’re feeding the flames / Burn! Time to pay the price”). The following tune, Ignorance Divine, has a strong Gothenburg vibe with lots of rhythmic breaks, from a faster metallic sounding to Southern Metal/Rock riffs and Melodic Death Metal guitar solos, thanks to the great job done by guitarists Robert Bjärmyr and Fredrik Carlstedt; whereas Five Feet Down reminds me of some of the best songs by In Flames and Soilwork. The heaviness of the chorus is at the same level as the most violent Southern Metal, with kudos to drummer David Pergament for smashing his drums during the whole song.

CHUGGER - Spreading the Disease Tour FlyerIn Cut Out From Hell, which despite all its violence is a very harmonious 6-minute song, David offers some deeper guttural while the rest of the band keeps kicking ass at a high level, and after a short display of some nice riffs in The Pendulum Swing the band presents us Endgame, with its Arch Enemy-ish sonority and uprising vocals. Besides, maybe if this song was a little shorter it would have been a lot more effective. And finally closing the album with razin’ guitars and piercing vocal lines we have the title-track, Human Plague, a song that was born ready for Chugger’s live performances where the bass lines by Henrik Östlund are more solid and ferocious than ever.

There are many places on the web where you can find more information about Chugger and listen to their excellent music, such as their Facebook page, YouTube channel and ReverbNation, as well as enjoy an interesting reading about how Human Plague was brought forth with their online studio diary. And of course, don’t forget to purchase their music and witness their furious metal live, as their Spreading The Disease Tour 2015 is just about to take off with many dates around Europe. As the band states, “We are the voice of the voiceless. We do not fear what lies beneath. We are Chugger.”

Best moments of the album: Virus, Feed The Fire and Five Feet Down.

Worst moments of the album: Endgame.

Released in 2015 Rambo Music/Gain Music Entertainment/Sony Music

Track listing
1. The Grid 4:32
2. Virus 4:14
3. Rust 4:20
4. Never Alone 5:51
5. Feed The Fire 4:35
6. Ignorance Divine 5:21
7. Five Feet Down 3:37
8. Cut Out From Hell 5:56
9. The Pendulum Swing 1:24
10. Endgame 5:46
11. Human Plague 6:17

Band members
David Dahl – vocals
Robert Bjärmyr – guitar
Fredrik Carlstedt – guitar
Henrik Östlund -bass
David Pergament – drums

Guest musician
Maria Strandén – female vocals on “Never Alone”

Album Review – Kilmara / Love Songs and Other Nightmares (2014)

An exciting Power Metal “gemstone”, full of heavy riffs, melody and all other elements we love in this type of music, nicely carved by this very competent band from Barcelona.

Rating4

kilmara_coverFor most of us, the word “kilmara” might mean only a semi-precious green stone (also known as jade) used for jewelry, but it has also become a synonym of high-quality Heavy Metal, especially in the past decade. After over 10 years of existence, Melodic Power Metallers from Spain and Germany Kilmara are releasing their third full-length album, Love Songs and Other Nightmares, another “gemstone” carefully polished and ready to shine in their discography.

Let me start by saying that the new album by this Barcelona-based band was produced by none other than the exceptional Roland Grapow (Helloween, Masterplan) at Grapow Studios in Slovakia and published by Sony Music, and by that you can already have an idea of the professionalism you’ll find in each and every track from Love Songs and Other Nightmares. Only talent itself doesn’t bring any good results if not accompanied by a huge amount of dedication and hard work, and Kilmara are a great example of how putting those elements together translates into amusing and captivating music.

From the very first heavier-than-usual riffs of the opening track, Fantasy, Kilmara showcase a modern Power Metal, focusing on smoother and clearer vocal lines (very well done by singer Christian Wolfgang Kohl) instead of traditional high-pitched screams from other bands of the same genre. Not only this song has an awesome chorus, but the addition of some harsh vocals makes everything even more entertaining. Quick question: would Fantasy (or maybe Fantasy’s) be a gentlemen’s club in Spain or somewhere else? At least that’s what the lyrics seem to be talking about.

The galloping rhythm, conducted mainly by Javi Morillo’s excellent work on drums, and the soulful guitar solos keep the energy level up in The Devil’s Eye, followed by the soaring intro and thrilling riffs of The Break Up, another top moment of the album, with lyrics about ending a relationship. By the way, this song would be an awesome way to do so (or at least the break up would happen with an exciting soundtrack). Cold Rain sounds like a sequence to the previous track in terms of lyrics, with highlights to the way the band “prepares” the listener for the catchy chorus.

kilmaraThen Kilmara slow things down with Believe, a semi-ballad with nice instrumental, but not as exciting as the previous tracks, before accelerating everything again with Nothing to Me, a heavy tune with hints of Thrash Metal the likes of Anthrax, with its riffs and double bass dictating the rhythm plus some great lyrics to sing along (“There’s nothing you can say / There’s nothing you can do / There’s nothing that can take away / The damage that you do”). A more traditional Power Metal can be found in Usual Strangers, especially due to its good guitar duo and solos, while Alpha is more melodic, flirting with Symphonic Power Metal. And pay attention to its funny/sexist lyrics, you might see yourself in that situation one day (or maybe many times a week).

And at long last, Kilmara saved for the final part of Love Songs and Other Nightmares three completely different tracks for all types of fans: Insomnia is another good Power Metal track with some interesting lyrics; Play to Win focuses on a more Hard Rock sonority, with its excellent instrumental parts mixed with another good vocal performance by Christian; and finally we have the beautiful ballad Time Flies, with  its powerful chorus as the “main ingredient”. There’s also a German/Spanish version of this song as a bonus track that sounds even more emotive than the regular one, especially the awesome Spanish parts. I myself speak Spanish and, in my humble opinion, I would love to see more Spanish songs by Kilmara: they sound so amazingly powerful when singing in this language.

I guess I could not finish this review without mentioning how gorgeous the “cover girl”, created by Montreal’s own Jessica Allain, in Love Songs and Other Nightmares is. Is she even real? Anyway, this excellent Power Metal album is available at Amazon and iTunes, among other places online and at physical stores, so if you’re a true fan of Power Metal don’t waste your time and go grab this “gemstone” by Kilmara for your collection.

Best moments of the album: Fantasy, The Break Up and Nothing to Me.

Worst moments of the album: Believe and Alpha.

Released in 2014 Sony Music

Track listing
1. Fantasy 4:41
2. The Devil’s Eye 4:20
3. The Break Up 3:59
4. Cold Rain 6:01
5. Believe 4:31
6. Nothing to Me 4:01
7. Usual Strangers 4:51
8. Alpha 4:04
9. Insomnia 4:47
10. Play to Win 5:59
11. Time Flies 6:19

Bonus track
12. Time Flies (German/Spanish version) 6:19

Band members
Christian Wolfgang Kohl – vocals
Jonathan Portilo – guitar
Kike Torres – guitar
Raúl Ruiz – bass
Javi Morillo – drums

Album Review – In Flames / Siren Charms (2014)

A mediocre album by Swedish Melodic Death Metal giants, possibly the worst they will ever release in their career.

Rating8

in flames_siren charmsWhat’s happening with the most prominent Melodic Death Metal bands from Sweden in 2014? After the just average new album by Arch Enemy, it’s time for Swedish Melodic Death Metal icons In Flames to release what’s probably their weakest album of all time, the pedestrian Siren Charms, their eleventh studio album and also an unfortunate stain on their remarkable career.

Before fans come cursing me or anything like that, let me say I’m not asking for a new The Jester Race (1996) or Clayman (2000). Quite the contrary, I’m an advocate of bands that evolve during their careers, or even some that completely change their music style. I even like their previous album, the controversial Sounds of a Playground Fading (2011), and didn’t find any issues in the music by In Flames without founding guitarist Jesper Strömblad. However, in my opinion, there’s an invisible boundary for what a band can or cannot do with their music, and that’s something called INSPIRATION, which is pretty much inexistent in Siren Charms.

The opening track, In Plain View, can be considered a very good summary of the whole album: weird vocals by Anders Fridén, more noise than melody (or maybe just noise and no melody at all), and where are those good old characteristic riffs they became famous for? Although slightly heavier than the previous track and despite its interesting intro, Everything’s Gone becomes something so uninspired after a while and all instruments sound so sloppy together it’s really hard not to quickly skip to the next track; and if you do that, Paralyzed makes things even worse, with all its electronic elements being totally disposable. Once again, what happened to Anders’ voice?

Through Oblivion is another terrible song where you can barely listen to the guitars, sounding like some garbage not even Korn is capable of recording, while With Eyes Wide Open, despite being a lot more melodic, is not the musicality we were all expecting from this band. And don’t think the title-track will do any good for the album, as Siren Charms is another disappointment with nothing outstanding in it, especially its really weak vocal lines. Fortunately, When the World Explodes sounds like Anders finally woke up and decided to scream properly. It’s the closest we get to what In Flames do best (and the best song of the album by far), with highlights to its much better riffs and the awesome female vocals by Swedish soprano Emilia Feldt.

in flamesThe lead single chosen by the band, Rusted Nail, is just average (not to say it has lots of horrible moments), with its guitar lines saving it from being a total disaster, followed by the slow and tiring Dead Eyes and the slightly more exciting Monsters in the Ballroom, showcasing the best clean vocals of the entire album and an interesting guitar solo. And to end this disaster in a “St. Anger” style, we have more of the same tasteless musicality in Filtered Truth, which sounds like a demo version of something most bands would throw away without thinking twice. And I’m glad I just got the simplest version of the album with no bonus tracks, because it was an arduous job to listen to this album in its entirety (more than once, by the way).

In Flames will forever kick ass live, but I’m a little concerned about what their concerts will become in a near future. I mean, who will enjoy watching them playing most of the songs, if any, from Siren Charms, when they have so many amazing classics in their previous albums? Have they reached that unwanted stage of their career where they will just release new albums for money, no matter how bad they sound, as long as they keep headlining tours and festivals and fans keep paying to see them live anyway? I really hope not, so let’s just consider Siren Charms a lapse in their creative process, completely forget about it, and wait for their following releases.

Best moments of the album: When the World Explodes.

Worst moments of the album: Paralyzed, Through Oblivion, Siren Charms and Dead Eyes.

Released in 2014 Sony Music

Track listing
1. In Plain View 4:05
2. Everything’s Gone 3:24
3. Paralyzed 4:15
4. Through Oblivion 3:37
5. With Eyes Wide Open 3:58
6. Siren Charms 3:05
7. When the World Explodes 4:39
8. Rusted Nail 4:55
9. Dead Eyes 5:23
10. Monsters in the Ballroom 3:53
11. Filtered Truth 3:31

Band members
Anders Fridén – vocals
Björn Gelotte – guitar
Niclas Engelin – guitar
Peter Iwers – bass
Daniel Svensson – drums, percussion

Guest musicians
Emilia Feldt – guest vocals on “When the World Explodes”
German Jesterheads (In Flames fans) – guest vocals on “Rusted Nail”