Spheric Universe Experience—Anima (2007)

Spheric Universe Experience—Anima (2007)

Spheric Universe Experience—Anima (2007)

Details

Recorded and mixed by Charles Massabo. Mastered by Tommy Hansen at Jailhouse Studios, Denmark. Drums and bass recorded at Coxinhell Studio, St-Aygulf, France (June to July 2006). Guitars, keyboards and vocals recorded at Kallaghan Studio, Vence, France (July to August 2006). Produced by Spheric Universe Experience.

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Band

  • Franck Garcia—Vocals
  • Vince Benaim—Guitars
  • John Drai—Bass
  • Fred Colombo—Keyboards and English voice on “Being” (track 2) and “The inner quest” (track 3)
  • Ranko Muller—Drums

Additional musicians

  • Ludovic Phiriet-Arcaleni—Italian voice on “Neptune’s revenge” (track 4)
  • Carmen López—Spanish voice on “World of madness” (track 6)
  • Yo Ishikawa—Japanese male voice on “Heal my pain” (track 8)
  • Aurélia Borg—Japanese female voice on “Heal my pain” (track 8)

Tracks

  1. Sceptic
  2. Being
  3. The inner quest
  4. Neptune’s revenge
  5. Stormy dome (instrumental)
  6. World of madness
  7. End of trauma
  8. Heal my pain
  9. Questions
  10. The key
  11. Black materia

Review

Anima is the second (of currently four) full-length album from French prog metallers Spheric Universe Experience (SUE).

Theirs is a very Dream Theater-influenced flavour of progressive metal, complete with soaring vocals, complex time signatures, retro keyboard flourishes, and John Petrucci-style guitar chops. Other than Franck Garcia’s vocals which are quite noticably not those of James LaBrie, on first listen you could easily be mistaken that you are listening to DT.

Curiously, this is one of the few French bands that I’ve heard who sing in English rather than French.

I’ve listened to this album a number of times now and I can’t really fault it: the songwriting is great, the songs are complex and beautifully performed, the production if first class. But… it just sounds so derivative. To my ear, there is little that makes Spheric Universe Experience stand out as much more than French Dream Theater Experience.

Conclusion

If you are a Dream Theater fan then there is a very good chance you will enjoy this album. I can’t help think that this could be something more. But as it is, it is still something rather good.

Review score: 80%

Sonata Arctica—Silence (2001)

Sonata Arctica—Silence (2001)

Sonata Arctica—Silence (2001)

Details

Recorded at Tico Tico Studio during autumn 2000 and spring 2001. Mixed and mastered at Finnvox Studios in April 2001. I reviewed the 2008 remastered edition.

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Band

  • Tony Kakko—Vocals and keyboards (additional)
  • Jani Liimatainen—Guitars
  • Marko Paasikoski—Bass
  • Mikko Härkin—Keyboards
  • Tommy Portimo—Drums
  • Mikko Karmila—Grand piano on tracks 4 and 11
  • Mika Niilonen—Spoken parts.

Tracks

  1. …of silence
  2. Weballergy
  3. False news travel fast
  4. The end of this chapter
  5. Black sheep
  6. Land of the free
  7. Last drop falls
  8. San Sebastian (revisited)
  9. Sing in silence
  10. Revontulet (instrumental)
  11. Tallulah
  12. Wolf & raven
  13. The power of one

Review

More of the same from Finland’s power metal quartet (now a quintet on this album). Melodic, poppy AOR-style, Helloween-flavoured power metal with power ballads aplenty and souring, widdly guitar solos.

The album opens with “…of silence” (track 1): padding keyboards and a mildly cheesy spoken vocal. “… of Stonehenge”.

“Weballergy” (track 2) is the sequel to the opening track from their debut, “Blank file”, which continues the theme of web privacy.

There are some nice mid-paced songs such as “Sing in silence” (track 9) and “Tallulah” (track 11) which really help break up the album and introduce a new dimension and depth to Sonata Arctica’s sound.

“The power of one” (track 14)—which was originally the album’s closing track, and lasts 11′ 36″—it closes with white noise, then silence, and then a few seconds before the track ends, a deep voice speaks something like “I didn’t fucking touch the mic, hold on!”

 

Conclusion

For a tricky second album, Sonata Arctica seemed to have pulled this off pretty well. In many ways it’s a solid continuation of the good work put into their debut Ecliptica (1999).

I’d be interested to hear what they are doing now.

Review score: 85%

BONUS Ocean of Grief—Fortress of my Dark Self EP (2016)

Ocean of Grief—Fortress of my Dark Self (2016)

Ocean of Grief—Fortress of my Dark Self (2016)

Details

Release 12 February 2016 on GS Productions (Russian).

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Band

  • Charalabos Oikonomopoulos—Vocals
  • Filippos Koliopanos—Guitars
  • Dimitra Zarkadoula—Guitars
  • Giannis Koskinas—Bass
  • Aris Nikoleris—Keyboards
  • Thomas Motsios—Drums

 

Tracks

  1. Spiritual fortress
  2. House of misery
  3. Futile regrets
  4. Drowned in nostalgia
  5. The birth of chaos

Review

Back in May I received a kind email from Phil Koliopanos inviting me to review his band, Ocean of Grief’s new EP Fortress of my Dark Self. Here’s the review, a couple of months later. Sorry about that.

Melodic doom/death metal band Ocean of Grief were formed in Athens, Greece in late 2014 drawing inspiration mostly from Saturnus and Slumber. This is their first official release.

My immediate response after listening to the album on Soundcloud was to email their guitarist saying simply “Wow! This is great! Loving is so far.”

Overall the EP reminds me very much of early Gothic-era Paradise Lost. And that, for me, is a good thing. A very good thing.

The EP opens with “Spiritual fortress” (track 1).  A grand organ sound introduces the song, over which the guitars weave a lamentful melody. Gutteral, deep, growling vocals carve their way through the music. It is a doomy, gothic, lamentation.

“House of misery” (track 2) begins with a descending guitar arpeggio that builds to another beautiful and simple guitar melody. “Futile regrets” (track 3) is an up-beat and rocky number that employs another simple melodic guitar line that carries the song. About halfway through the band drops out for a guitar-only middle eight that introduces a new tick-tocking riff.

“Drowned in nostalgia” (track 4) opens slowly and gently. It’s the eeriest, most haunting track on the EP. Which is built on later as the vocals descend to a whisper.

The EP closes with “The birth of chaos” (track 5), another upbeat (for doom!) track

Conclusion

If I was looking for some criticism, I might say that there is not much variety in the EP. One song almost blends into the next. But on a release of this quality I can’t fault it on that. The songs are solid, tight and hold enough interest and individual character that it simply reminds the listener that these songs are part of a coherent collection by the same band—part of the family. Albeit a dark and lamentful family that sings tales of death and doom.

All in all, a brilliant first release that took me back to everything that I loved about Gothic (Paradise Lost) but to which Ocean of Grief added their own character and other influences.

More like this please.

Review score: 95%

Sonata Arctica—Ecliptica (1999)

Sonata Arctica—Ecliptica (2008)

Sonata Arctica—Ecliptica (2008)

Details

Recorded at Tico Tico Studio, by Ahti Kortelainen. Mixed by Mikko Karmila at Finnvox Studios and mastered by Mika Jussila at Finnvox Studios. This is the 2008 remastered edition.

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Band

  • Tony Kakko—Vocals and keyboards
  • Jani Liimatainen—Guitars
  • Janne Kivilahti—Bass
  • Tommy Portimo—Drums
  • Raisa Aine—Flute on “Letter to Dana”

Tracks

  1. Blank file
  2. My land
  3. 8th commandment
  4. Replica
  5. Kingdom for a heart
  6. Fullmoon
  7. Letter to Dana
  8. Unopened
  9. Picturing the past
  10. Destruction preventer
  11. Mary-Lou
  12. Letter to Dana (returned to sender)

Review

Sonata Arctica are a Finnish power metal band, from Kemi near the southern border with Sweden. This was their debut album; they have since released a further eight full-length albums including the 15th anniversary edition of Ecliptica in 2014.

This is very much a power metal album in the family of Helloween. It is boppy, it is poppy, it’s melodic with shredding guitar solos, and plentiful and fast chord changes, and soaring, high tenor vocals.

There is a youthful innocence and excitement about this album which gives it a certain charm.

For some reason the song “Letter to Dana” (which was apparently named after the X-Files character Dana Scully) feels like the centre-piece of the album, not least because the final track has a reworked version of the song which curiously omits the first two verses. “Dana, my darling, I’m writing to you / Cause your father passed away, it was a beautiful day / And I don’t want to bother You anymore / I used to hope you’d come back / But not anymore Dana.” It is a bittersweet tale of a lost love.

The album closes with “Mary-Lou” a strong rocker of a song, and the “returned to sender” version of “Letter to Dana”.

Conclusion

Did I mention that it reminds me of Helloween? It does. A lot. But without the silliness.

It will be interesting to see if I choose to listen to this album again. I rather like it but I don’t really listen to much Helloween these days, wheeling it out every now and then to relive wasted days in the prefect’s common room at high school!

Review score: 85%

Somnus—Through Creation’s End (2001)

Somnus—Through Creation's End (2001)

Somnus—Through Creation’s End (2001)

Details

Recorded in late 2001 at Magnetic North Studios in Cleveland, OH; except “Unfulfilled prophecy” (track 8) recorded live on 16 November 2000 on WRUW 91.1 GM (with bassists Lou Spencer). Engineered and mastered by Christopher S Keffer. Produced and mixed by Christopher S Keffer and Somnus.

Band

  • Scott Hilberg—Vocals, guitar
  • Dennis M Downey, Jr—lead guitar
  • Steve Rolf—Bass
  • Rhiannon—Keyboards and vocals
  • Chris Stolle—Percussion

Tracks

  1. The gate of wolves
  2. Warlock’s feast
  3. Dawn of spirits
  4. Tribunal of woe
  5. The deceiver
  6. Lament for winter’s passing
  7. Creation’s end
  8. Unfulfilled prophecy (live)

Review

Somnus were a gothic black metal band from Cleveland, Ohio, USA, formed in 1996 they played their last show in 2003, two years after the release of this their second album.

In true gothic metal style Somnus’s sound on this album is a blend of heavy guitars, over a pad of orchestral- or organ-sounding keyboards, melodic leads, and a fusion of growling male vocals with floating and fragile female vocals. Think: Cradle of Filth and you’re about 90% of the way there.

The album opens with “The gate of wolves” (track 1), a song that begins with a deep, growl that is joined by drums and guitars and a moment later keyboards. Every time I hear it I imagine the keyboards running up behind, a little late, “Wait for me! Wait for me!”

As the album progresses, I think it gets better. It gets a little more dramatic, a little more progressive, it pulls in elements of folk and pagan metal. But it’s by no means perfect.

“Tribunal of woe” (track 4) is, I think, one of the weakest tracks on the album: the keyboard voice sounds cheap, the drums are a bit of a mess. A couple of tracks on, though, “Lament for winter’s passing” (track 6) has a nice acoustic intro, and while the spoken vocal does sound a little cheesy, it’s quite a listenable, sorrowful song.

The closing, title track has a slow keyboard intro. Growling, spoken vocals begin the narration of the end of creation, “As I walk the path through eternity / Where the stars no longer reign / Fire glows on the horizon / With a trio of moons overhead”. For all its drama, and atmosphere I can’t help but think that this is Somnus’s “Stonehenge” (Spin̈al Tap). I still quite enjoyed it though.

Conclusion

Overall, not a bad album. One reviewer gave it 87% over on Encyclopedia Metallum. I can’t be that generous. Gothic black metal isn’t really my scene, although I do have a fond spot for early Paradise Lost.

 

Review score: 55%

Solgrav vs F—Kaksî Perkelettä (2006)

Solgrav / F—Kaksî Perkelettä (2006)

Solgrav / F—Kaksî Perkelettä (2006)

Details

Solgrav: All the music written by Solgrav. Material was recorded at Varjot Audio Studios from July to September 2005, except for vocals recorded in February 2006. “Kristallitaivas” was originally released in Solgrav’s first demo, Pohjoisen hämärän sarastus in 2002, and has now been re-arranged for this recording.

F: All music and lyrics written by Ilpo Heikkinen. Arrangements by Ilpo Heikkinen and Jonas Lindberg. Recorded and mixed during December 2005 by Ilpo Heikkinen.

Bands

Solgrav

  • Halla—Vocals
  • Suopeikko—Guitars, bass, Jew’s harp
  • Noitavasara—Drums, piano, accordion, additional vocals

F

  • Ilpo Heikkinen—Vocals, guitars, bass
  • Jonas Lindberg—Drums

Tracks

  1. Solgrav—Vuoksi
  2. Solgrav—Kaksi sutta
  3. Solgrav—Kristallitaivas
  4. F—Perkele
  5. F—Sokea
  6. F—Irti
  7. F—Kauhusta hautaansa kaivaa

Review

A split EP from two vastly different Finnish metal acts. Solgrav are a blackened folk / pagan metal band from Imatra; F are a brutal death metal band from Kempele.

I rather like F’s logo, although in true black metal style you can’t really read it. It’s simply a deer’s horn that looks like an inverted F. Okay, you can read it but only if you’re looking at it upside down.

Solgrav is Swedish for “sun grave”. The name seemingly comes from an old Finnish myth about a place called Auringon Hauta where the sun falls asleep. There is actually a place in Estonia called Auringon Hauta, which is a small lake that was formed by a meteor strike. And it appears that Solgrav have changed their name from Sol grave (meaning ‘sun grave’) to Auringon Hauta (meaning ‘sun grave’).

Solgrav serve up three tracks on this EP, nearly 20 minutes of music. Theirs is a fairly stereotypical Scandinavian black metal fare with a pagan lyrical twist. There is none of the traditional folk metal, Skyclad-style folk elements of fiddles and hurdy-gurdies, flutes or bagpipes in the mix; it’s straight-up black metal: a wall of distorted guitars that plods along, overlaid with growling, barking vocals.

F on the other hand is a darker and more sinister beast. “Pekele” begins with something that sounds like it is being forged in the depths. But about 90 seconds in it unleashes a relentless barage of snare before settling down to a grinding, snarling, gargling pot of boiling metal.

Theirs is a brutal form of death metal. It takes me back to some of the stuff that I listened to in the early 90s. It is relentless and industrial and primitive and downright brutal. It’s like something from a audio horror film—not a genre that I particularly enjoy, but this is rather good.

Conclusion

I discovered that this was not an EP that I could listen to quickly. I tried to race through this one in order to catch up with my review schedule but I couldn’t just listen to this as background music.

This EP demanded my attention and to be present while listening to it. I’m glad I listened to that, because my first couple of semi-absent listenings left me with the impression that this wasn’t a particularly good disc. I was wrong.

While it is not exactly groundbreaking, it is very listenable and rather enjoyable.

Review score: 75%

Soldiers—End of Days (2007)

Soldiers—End of Days (2007)

Soldiers—End of Days (2007)

Details

Recorded, mixed and mastered by Joe Cincotta and Dan Kennyat Full Force Studio. Produced by Joe Cincotta, Danny Kenny and T$S.

Band

  • Rick Limenez—Vocals
  • Brian AudleyGuitar
  • Chris Mazella—Guitar
  • Andrew Jones—Bass
  • Dan Bourke—Drums
  • John Moore—Guest vocals on “Even worse”.
  • Jeff Tiu—Guest vocals on “Damage is done”
  • Brendan Garrone—Guest vocals on “Since day one”

Tracks

  1. Even worse
  2. Sever ties
  3. The reclamation
  4. Decide and conquer
  5. Choosing revenge
  6. Relentless
  7. Bound by defiance (T$S)
  8. Damage is done
  9. Nothing more, nothing less
  10. Own up!
  11. Since day one
  12. Smoke and mirrors
  13. Living hell (bonus track)

Review

Every time I come across a hardcore album I’m always surprised at how much I like it. My average score for hardcore albums on this project is 73%. I perhaps should just accept that I’m a bit of an unconscious hardcore punk fan.

I like hardcore punk.
I like hardcore punk.
I like hardcore punk.
I like hardcore punk.

That should help. Until I listen to the next hardcore album, of course. I should turn this into a film: 50 First Hardcore Punk Albums starring Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore.

Anyway, with that little bit of amnesia over, the album.

Soldiers are a hardcore band from Long Island in New York, formed in 2006 from the ashes of This Is Hell, Subterfuge, Last Conviction, and The Backup Plan. Following a debut EP in May 2006, this follow-up from December 2007 remains their only full-length album.

And do you know what? It’s good. If anything, it is let down a little by the mix. It often feels like it was recorded with the microphones in the wrong room or facing the wrong way, and the lead vocals are a little hidden in the mix. But otherwise the album is full of energy and contains all the key constituent parts required for a solid hardcore album: punchy bass sound, thrashy guitars with a good mid-range sound, shouty vocals with enthusiastic crowd-fueled choruses.

The songs are also typically and appreciatively short. “Nothing more, nothing less” (track 9) is only 53 seconds long and definitely proves the less is more rule. None of 13 tracks outstay their welcome. They come in, do their job, and they are done!

The only anomaly is the final track, “Living hell” (track 13) which is a rap track. Like, straight-out rap. Not crossover. Rap. I’ll just leave that there. Rap.

Conclusion

Unsurprisingly, given my newly acquired awareness of my love of hardcore punk. I liked this album. With a clearer and more balanced mix it might be better, but as it is, it rocks!

Review score: 90%