Here's my old review from the Metal Academy podcast several years ago:
"Night On Bröcken" is a record that’s more significant from a timeline point of view than from an artistic one as it represents the more humble beginnings of one of the more iconic US metal bands of the 80’s. Connecticut five-piece Fates Warning would go on to become one of the most important bands in the development of the progressive metal subgenre & they remain a metal powerhouse still to this day but their debut full-length represents their more humble of beginnings with the Metal Blade Records backed release sporting a sound that showed very little in the way of invention or artistic license.
The crude cover art gives you a strong indication that the album might not be as polished as the rest of the band’s star studded back catalogue & that definitely proves to be the case with Fates Warning simply testing the waters by emulating their NWOBHM heroes. It’s interesting that the album title is referring to a German mountain that’s famous for its association with witches as referenced in Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s tragic play “Faust”. The title of Stormwitch’s debut album “Walpurgis Night” from around the same time is actually referring to the night that the witches traditionally met at the top of Bröcken so it seems to have been a popular topic for metal bands of the time.
The production job on “Night On Brocken” isn’t horrible but it is a little inconsistent with some songs sounding a little flatter than others. You can clearly hear all of the instruments but the overall sound comes across as pretty dry which is more in line with what you’d expect from a well put together demo tape. Interestingly, Metal Blade house producer Bill Metoyer was behind the mixing desk along with label head Brian Slagel & it’s pretty clear that they were still finding their way as far as how to package a professional sounding metal release goes but this is not a disaster by any means.
The thing that most makes “Night On Brocken” stand out from the rest of the Fates Warning back catalogue though is the style of music it presents with very little in the way of genuinely progressive material on display here. Instead we get a straight down the line NWOBHM direction with Iron Maiden being the primary influence. So much in fact, that I regard a lot of this album as pure plagiarism. The galloping riffs & harmonized guitar lines all sound oh so familiar & you can often pick the exact songs they’ve been crafted around. The album does have a somewhat more US feel to it though which is probably as much to do with the production as anything else, particularly the guitar sound.
But it’s iconic front man John Arch who is the most noticeably trying to clone the mighty Irons & while there are certainly moments when you struggle to tell that this isn’t Bruce Dickinson himself there are more where he just sounds like an average imitation. There are times when Queensryche’s Geoff Tate springs to mind too actually but even though he’s the clear focal point of the band, it’s an inconsistent performance from Arch here as some of the songs see him sounding quite pitchy or straining to reach the more mid-range notes in his repertoire. He seems much more capable with the higher pitched screams but for all his failings he IS the most memorable feature of Fates Warning’s sound at this early stage. When he gets it right we see Fates Warning’s best moments & I have to say that I find them difficult not to enjoy.
The musicianship on display isn’t of the same sort of standard as that we would hear on Fates Warning’s progressive metal counterparts Queensryche’s debut E.P. a year prior but they’d show a lot of development in that area over the next year or so. The sort of technical wizardry we’ve become used to hearing from the prog metal elite was beyond them at this point but they were certainly a more than serviceable heavy metal band. And for that reason I struggle with the common consensus that “Night On Bröcken” was a failed venture. Yes, it clearly showcases a young band that was still very much finding their sound & was more comfortable to simply test the waters with a safe & generic brand of song-writing but it’s pretty well put together nonetheless & I find myself enjoying around two thirds of the material here. The weaker songs aren’t horrible. They’re just a bit flat sounding with their more generic & basic riffs providing little to get enthusiastic about. The stronger material on the other hand offers enough in the way of soaring vocal lines, chuggy metal riffage & general enthusiasm to keep this old metalhead reasonably engaged even if the album lacks those couple of genuine highlight tracks to make it truly memorable. I’d recommend that fans of Iron Maiden, Judas Priest & Queensryche give the album a chance but it’s doubtful that you’ll find anything too life-changing.
4/5. Dead Winter Dead is a recent favorite classic heavy metal album of mine and I love it all, along with their surrounding 90s albums. However, an intro is not usually the best of the album, still this one is very good. I submitted this one as a sneak peek for a special submission I plan for the December playlist. You can guess what it is...
Queensryche – “Walk In The Shadows” (from “Rage For order”, 1986)
4.5/5. This classic heavy metal track stays purely metal while beginning the band's more artistic direction. What makes this song a highlight is Geoff Tate's vocals of stylistic howling. The main riff and chorus melody are infectious enough to stay in your brain like a hotel visit.
Russell Allen & Jorn Lande – “Hymn For The Fallen” (from “The Great Divide”, 2014)
5/5. Here's my chance to experience more of two power metal vocalists to enjoy, and it has paid off! I love both of those guys' voices, especially Jorn who really makes this song a hymn. Guitarist/bassist Timo Tolkki (also known for his work in Stratovarius and Avalon) has some well-performed powerful style going on to fit with these two guys' vocal talents. Amazing song! Thanks for submitting this, Xephyr! This metal sound is a throwback to how real metal sounded in the 80s. A killer riff plays in the chorus. This almost seems like a tribute to the fallen Dio, and they both have done well channeling that passed hero's spirit. Absolutely bad-a**!
The Lord Weird Slough Feg – “Asteroid Belts” (from “Traveller”, 2003)
4.5/5. This song continues those strong solos and riffs, along with a fantastic intro. Short comment for a short song!
Dark Moor – “Halloween” (from “The Fall Of Melnibone” E.P., 2001)
5/5. Pretty clever, right? Submitting this "Halloween" song for the month of Halloween... This has been an amazing epic from my earlier days of when my power metal taste was more emphasized. And yeah I enjoy this Dark Moor cover more. Sorry, Helloween.
Grand Magus – “Holmgång” (from “Triumph & Power”, 2014)
4/5. A short but enjoyable song. Enough said!
HammerFall – “Any Means Necessary” (from “No Sacrifice, No Victory”, 2009)
4.5/5. This track is from an album that's in the middle between the band's old and new eras. That song has a pattern of a driving verse, pounding bridge, and hymn-like chorus to prepare you for battle.
An essential metal ballad mandatory for all metalheads...NOT!!! This one is highly overrated! I don't care if it's the only Queensryche song they play on radio, if this is the only Queensryche song or metal song you enjoy, then you're not a fan of the band or the genre:
I'm not sure why I thought I needed to check out this underground classic of an E.P. from Japanese visual kei godfathers X Japan after not finding any enjoyment whatsoever in 1998's "Art Of Life Live" E.P. but I definitely got what I deserved here. "Art of Life" comprises of a single 29 minute epic that takes the listener on a melodic journey through various different movements & phases. It's certainly quite an ambitious & progressive undertaking from a conceptual view point however the base of the work sits within the symphonic power metal spectrum. There's no doubt that "Art of Life" is a beautifully composed & executed piece of art however it's also cheesy as all fuck which isn't terribly surprising for a Japanese power metal release. I particularly struggle with the symphonic component which culminates in a lengthy section where the piano becomes the main focal point. "Art of Life" is far from awful but I think it's fair to say that I had no business venturing anywhere near it. *quickly retreats into his 80's thrash comfort zone*
For fans of Galneryus, Versailles & Light Bringer.
Ok, so it's taken me a full four months to get around to checking out the other full-length album from Swedish power metallers Lost Horizon after I enjoyed their 2003 sophomore record "A Flame To The ground Beneath" so much back in May. I'm glad I've finally gotten there though because Lost Horizon's debut is every bit as solid as its younger sibling. In fact, if pushed I'd go so far as to say that I slightly prefer this one as its tracklisting is a touch more consistent to that of its more highly regarded follow-up which included a couple of flat numbers. This is a very similar package though to be fair with the inclusion of cheesy cover artwork, a similar musical direction, a glistening super-precise production, stunning musicianship & a tracklisting that's bookended by high quality ambient pieces. The vocal performance of Daniel Heiman is once again a highlight as his tone is incredibly pure & he seems to hit those high notes & harmonies far more effortlessly than most of his peers. The guitar solos are also fantastic & often take the song-writing to another level. I do have to stubbornly admit that I enjoy the less popular & slower tracks that seem to be inspired by classic heavy metal a little more than the faster speed metal driven stuff though but that seems to be par for the course with my power metal experiences overall.
This more melodic & symphonic brand of power metal isn't generally my bag but I simply can't go past these guys as they seem to absolutely nail everything they attempt & rarely cross over the dreaded cheese line, even if they do skate along it quite often. I know it's a big call but "Awakening The World" sits amongst the top four or five power metal records I've heard.
For fans of Nocturnal Rites, Hibria & Sonata Arctica.
Been thinking about this one a lot this week so I ended up writing a pretty interesting review on the strange journey I had with this album. I think it reaches an agreeable middle ground that I didn't really have when I put this one up as the feature. I try to choose "interesting" albums rather than obvious classics, but I think this one was a pretty big miss nonetheless.
4/5. Interesting start to this playlist. Venom Inc., the new direct spin-off to the band that directly introduced Satanism to heavy metal and inspired the creation of black metal. Look, I'm still not into the antichristian lyrical theme, so this band isn't for me or anyone in the outside world worth sharing to. Still a killer song though!
Stratovarius – “Speed Of Light” (from “Episode”, 1996)
5/5. This is better and more acceptable for me! The neo-classical power metal sound I used to really enjoy can definitely fit well as a theme for shows like Power Rangers and ONE PUUUNCH MAN, and be a good song to play in Clone/Guitar Hero. Stratovarius are heroes of this style!
Wintersun – “Time” (from “Time I”, 2012)
5.5/5 (not exaggerating). One of the best songs from my earlier epic metal taste! Back then, I was still into power metal and the melodic progressive metal of Dream Theater, but Wintersun would be the entryway to the melodic death metal that I would abandon recently. No, scratch that, this is epic operatic melodeath! No wonder this band alone would start my journey into melodeath. This should've been the soundtrack to the last 12 minutes of Avengers Infinity War before the credits; the war and the destructive aftermath. Of course, Wintersun would have to create a more epic equivalent to the climax of Endgame if that's the case when making Time II. There's a f***ing beautiful solo alongside the pure perfection of everything else. Time is still waiting for Time II that should follow up the epicness of the first Time album. Then after this epic climatic ride is a Chinese-sounding atmospheric outro, as if to say "To be continued..."
After Forever – “Ephemeral” (from “Prison Of Desire”, 2000)
4.5/5. Check it out, we're still following the soft 10th track of an album being the 4th track of the playlist, as seen in the Fallen and Gateway playlists for this month. I love this beautiful song. And I know, it's more of an ambient gothic metal lament of grief, but it focuses on Hans Zimmer-like symphonics (and right in his classic period in the turn of the millennium), unlike when the album goes darker and heavier as gothic metal should be. And I wanna take a glimpse of gothic metal without directing the submission to The Fallen (remember my self-promise to stop my Fallen playlist requests), so there...
The Lord Weird Slough Feg – “Sky Chariots” (from “Down Among The Deadmen”, 2000)
5/5. I'm glad to finally get interested in this band named after that Slaine character. This US power metal band really needs more exposure to the world, especially with their mix of influences from the early 80s eras of Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden, probably also early Sanctuary. This album is indeed underrated along with the other albums released under the original name with the "Lord Weird" prefix. This is worth singing/screaming along to on your car radio. Ride your chariot!
Grand Magus – “Varangian” (from “Sword Songs”, 2016)
4.5/5. This one continues the new experiments Grand Magus has in their recent era with a waltzing riff similar to folk metal but without folk, rushing through the energy of the chorus with easy momentum.
Elvenking – “Reader Of The Runes – Book I” (from “Reader Of The Runes – Divination”, 2019)
5/5. Wait a sec... This was already in last December's playlist! Xephyr, you must've not seen this one in the "Past The Guardians playlist tracklistings" thread. That's OK, because you can't let an epic song like this down. I shall say my opinion again about their most ambitious song since the ending of the Wyrd album. This is a fantastic great monolithic end to the band's folk-power metal return album trilogy started in Pagan Manifesto, but it might hint at a different saga beginning with a possible "Reader of the Runes - Book II". This is a grand flashback to my earlier folk/power metal taste, along with new elements suited for my current heavier era including a killer black-ish soloing section in the middle. I'm grateful for this powerful masterpiece of f***ing impressive epic metal sorcery, greater than the epics made by Helloween. Love it!
Dragonland – “Storming Across Heaven” (from “The Battle of the Ivory Plains: The Dragonland Chronicles Part I”, 2001)
5.5/5 (not exaggerating). "Look at the sky as the dragon flies by, storming across heaven like fire pierce through ice..." That lyric is forever engraved in my mind in one of the absolute best songs in my earlier power metal taste. There were many classic songs from Dragonland that I loved 8 years ago including "Majesty of the Mithril Mountains", "The Battle of the Ivory Plains", "Holy War", etc. And just like Helloween, this band made two albums that following a story, then a third one years later. So d*mn excellent!
Epica – “Victims Of Contingency” (from “The Quantum Enigma”, 2014)
5/5. I've also enjoyed Epica at the time of this album's release, another early epic metal favorite of mine! I think of this song as Call of Duty's "115" with Gods of War-like lyrics and atmosphere, especially in the death growl verses. This and that Dragonland submission make the perfect ending for this playlist. Thanks for accepting them, Daniel!
Glad you enjoy that Kamelot album, Daniel! Now it's time to get to the more underrated and slightly more epic album Epica, an album that could use slightly more attention. This one tells the first part of Goethe's Faust that continues in the next one, and its album title inspired the name of Dutch symphonic metallers Epica whom their lead singer Simone Simons would appear in a song from said next album. Kamelot's Epica was one of my favorite albums back in the power metal day, and maybe someday I can write a full review. This would surely delight you with more of Kamelot's prog-ish power metal. Vinny and Saxy, I highly recommend Kamelot's Epica to you two as well. Xephyr, please share with us your opinion on this album, whether in a thread or a review.
The main things about this album are the consistency of the energy levels and quality of the tracks on offer. Riffs race across the record as the rhythm section maintains a pace of bash and rumble that allows for a bit of flair from the strings; the lead work being of particular note here. Quinn and Scarratt are on fire here and Glockler sounds equally imperious on the drum kit. Biff's trademark nasal vocals are distinct and almost haughty on the symphonic majesty of Nosferatu (my album highlight) and yet still have that down-to-earth twang and inflection to certain words that sound like a northerner trying to sound more eloquent than their accent permits.
I will not pretend to love all of the album, They Played Rock And Roll does not work for me as a tribute. Not that I expect lyrical genius in all honesty but the lyrics here sound naive and clumsy with the Lemmy excerpt not really ringing as authentic and nostalgic as perhaps intended. But you cannot deny the rampant battering of Predator even though the vocal effects get a little OTT for my liking, but where the majority of the quibbles arise on this record there usually is something of a much better quality not too far away.
Actually Andi, I've just listened to the Dark Version & have quickly reverted to the original. It's pretty obvious that neither belong on a The Guardians playlist though.
It's true that a song from a death metal band like Septicflesh wouldn't fit in a Guardians playlist, but with that song's more Therion-like symphonic metal sound than death metal, I thought it was a good one to submit.
I'll attempt it, even though I have to agree that it seems weird that most of Running Wild's discography rivals that of much more established Heavy/proto-Power Metal bands in terms of scoring.
I think it has to do with the fact that Running Wild are very much the middle of the road in terms of bridging the gap between classic, traditional Priest era Heavy Metal and a proto-Power Metal sound. So middle of the road, in fact, that they fall into the inoffensive category that allows them to, apparently, appeal to a hardcore but wide range of Power/Heavy Metal listeners. I can agree that Death or Glory and Black Hand Inn are great albums, but the fact that Under Jolly Roger, Port Royal, and to a lesser extent Pile of Skulls are almost just as celebrated is kind of a joke.
As someone who likes a lot of Power Metal, especially European Power Metal, Running Wild give traditional Heavy Metal that little kick of energy that it needs for me to really enjoy it. I have nothing distinctly bad to say about what they do, even though after revisiting Death or Glory compared to Black Hand Inn I decided to bump down my score to a 4 rather than a 4.5 because I can a agree that a bit more than half the album is just slightly catchy, mid-tempo Heavy Metal songs that don't necessarily push the envelope but are still great songs nonetheless. I think that Black Hand Inn has a better album flow, more memorable riffs and sections with tracks like "Mr. Deadhead", "The Privateer", and "Freewind Rider" to name a few. Plus you get the 15 minute closer that lets Running Wild stretch their songwriting abilities a bit more.
I think to answer about what you're missing, and I know you won't like this so much Daniel, but for me, Running Wild are the epitome of a solid, no bells and whistles Heavy Metal band that manages to be incredibly consistent enough to be "just good enough" to a lot of folks. The vocals aren't the greatest in Heavy Metal, but they're far from unserviceable. The songwriting may not be as good as peak Iron Maiden, but I still really enjoy the riffs and very slight Speed Metal influence on some songs. Plus the band as a whole just sounds bigger, grander, and a bit more epic in style compared to your other classic Heavy Metal bands, giving them their own niche. Plus, I listen to a lot of bad, bland Power Metal. I know what it's like to be utterly bored out of my mind when listening to a Power Metal album, and I never got that from any Running Wild album save for Under Jolly Roger. It might just be a perspective thing at the end of the day.
OK so it's taken me some time to get around to it but I've finally given "Black Hand Inn" a few spins to see how it differs from Running Wild's 80's material which left me feeling so underwhelmed. The first thing I'll say is that I find "Black Hand Inn" to be the strongest Running Wild release I've heard to date. The vocals are more professionally executed, the production is cleaner & more vibrant & there's a strong Maiden/Priest/WASP influence that I really enjoy. Unfortunately though, a good half of the album is made up of that cheesy Helloween/Gamma Ray style German power metal sound that I struggle with so much. I find the guitar harmonies in particular to be a real turn-off at times actually & this undoes a lot of the good work that's been done in catchy heavy metal numbers like "Fight The Fire Of Hate" & "Freewind Rider" which I find genuine enjoyment in. When I look at the tracklisting holistically I just find it to be a real mixed bag of wins & losses with the power metal component only successfully winning me over on the epic "Genesis (The Making & Fall Of Man)". The kick drum sound also annoys me a bit but it's nothing major. I guess Running Wild simply isn't for me.