The first time I heard of Blind Guardian was in 2002, when I'd bought Iced Earth's 'Dark Genesis' collection and they were mentioned a number of times in the biography section. It wasn't too long after that I was in a music shop, coincidently in the bands home country of Germany, where I saw a double pack of 'Battalions of Fear' and it's follow-up album 'Follow the Blind' pretty cheap. Didn't even have to think about what to do.
By this point, I was no longer the young, metal whippersnapper that I was when I'd first heard of Blind Guardian. I had a good sense of what I was into, and, to be blunt, I found this album to be pretty boring and dull.
Fast-forward a couple more years, and MySpace is suddenly booming and it's easier than ever to discover bands. THAT'S when I really got into Blind Guardian! I can't remember which song I heard, but it was big! It was epic! It was bombastic! It was full of metal riffs and glorious orchestrations... it was incredible! How did I not get into this band the first time around?!
I swiftly snapped up most of the groups back-catalogue, then set to work familiarizing myself with their discography...
And that leads me right back to square one; this album is still pretty bland.
There's just nothing really exciting going on here... y'know what I mean? 'Majesty' is an okay song, but most of the tracks are pretty basic power/speed metal. The production leaves the music feeling empty of life, and a lot of the melodies, both musical and lyrical, are just boring and uninteresting.
It's not a terrible album, but if you're looking for some generic and bland 80's power metal, there's much better stuff out there.
Genres: Power Metal Speed Metal
Considered by fans to be one of Dream Theater's best songs, 'A Change of Seasons' is the bands first venture into an old prog standard; the 20-minute epic! Clocking in at 23 minutes long, the title track of this release was originally intended for the 'Images and Words' album, but left off due to time restrictions.
No problem! Chuck a few live covers in there, and here we have arguably one of the greatest EP's of all time.
With such a lengthy track, you know that each musician will get the chance to show off their skills, and indeed they do! All five members (including newcomer Derek Sherinian on the keyboards), flawlessly show their mastery of their respective departments, with the song twisting and turning through all kinds of time signatures and dynamic changes, crafting a wonderful tale that takes us on a journey through life and reminds us of how quickly it passes by.
As for the other "half" of this EP, there are four live covers that I don't mind, but are kind of hit-or-miss for me. Covering Elton John, Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin and a medley consisting of Kansas, Queen, Journey and Genesis, none of them are terrible, but in fairness none of them are overly memorable either. Blatant filler.
As a whole, it's a great record, and an absolute must-have for fans of Dream Theater, and whilst the title track itself is entirely worth hearing, it's the covers that prevent this from getting a five-star rating. Still, it's as essential to your collection as any of the bands studio albums.
Genres: Progressive Metal
The departure of Keyboardist Kevin Moore shortly after the release of this album brought an end to what many Dream Theater fans consider to be their greatest era. Though maybe not as technically sound as Jordan Rudess, or as flamboyant as Derek Sherinian, Moore's contributions had a great sense of ambience, majesty, and creativity, all of which lent its part to Dream Theater's sound very well in their early days.
After their highly successful 'Images & Words' album, there was no question that Dream Theater were in charge when it came to the obscure, underground music genre known as progressive metal, that was slowly exerting its presence over the metal world. With a growing fanbase and record label pressure to produce another hit album, the band rallied together and rose to the occasion, perhaps, not to the standards and hopes of the label, but certainly to that of the fans.
Musically similar to its predecessor, 'Awake' more-or-less replicates 'Images & Words', except with a few subtle differences. The 7-string guitar used by John Petrucci, and Kevin Moore's emphasis on mood and atmosphere on the keyboard, certainly makes this album feel slightly darker and moodier, if not in lyrics and themes, then definitely in tone.
As you would expect, the musicianship is absolutely top-notch, and especially at the time when this album came out, there were very few bands that could match Dream Theater's incredible prowess on their instruments. With more groove-based riffs and detuned guitars becoming the norm, courtesy of bands like Pantera and Korn, the band effortlessly demonstrates their ability to adapt to where the metal genre was headed, whilst still maintaining their own signature style. And James LaBrie's vocals are at their finest, though sadly whilst touring for this album, he would go on to rupture his vocal chords. His voice would never quite be the same.
Songs like '6:00', 'Caught in a Web', 'The Mirror' and the haunting 'Space-Dye Vest', all make this album a requirement in the collection of any prog metal fan.
Genres: Progressive Metal
It's 2001 and I'm 14 years-old, new to the world of metal, and a huge Megadeth fan (or so I thought...). They'd just released their album 'The World Needs a Hero', in which they went "back to their metal roots" (every band goes through this phase). Tuning into Kerrang TV, they were midway through a video that, for whatever reason, I suspected it may have been Megadeth's video for 'Moto Psycho'. It was heavy, it was aggressive, and I was headbanging to it with my measly one inch of hair which I couldn't wait to grow longer. I also couldn't wait to get the new Megadeth album because this song kicked ass!
Except, it was Metallica's 'One'.
2001 was an exciting year for a 14 year-old metal fan living in the UK. With the nu metal scene having completely taken over the world, no doubt with huge thanks to the few channels that had popped up on TV dedicated to rock music, the genre was rife with bands such as Linkin Park, Korn, Slipknot and Limp Bizkit. However, despite all the bands that were tearing up the charts, it was Metallica's '...And Justice For All' that I was seriously digging. I loved the ten-minute songs with two-minute intros. I loved the complex arrangements with constant shifts in dynamics. I loved the guitar harmonies. I loved it all!
There's no denying the influence this had on me around that period of my life. Eventually leading me to progressive metal, a genre this album arguably had a huge hand in influencing in its infancy, bands like Dream Theater and Symphony X just seemed like the next logical step from here. Intricately crafted guitar riffs, harmonies and solos, with some of Lars Ulrich's most challenging drumming (which, fair play to the guy, he may have a rather limited skill set, but he sure busts his chops on this one), make this Metallica's most ambitious album, with the band themselves often citing how this was the most complex stuff they'd done.
The production is often criticized, but I was too young to care about such trivial things when I first got this record, so I find myself unfazed by it now. In fact, I find the sound, which comes across as very dry and gritty, sets the mood perfectly for this incredibly dark and bleak album. And with songs like 'One', 'Blackened', 'Harvester of Sorrow', 'Dyers Eve' and 'The Frayed Ends of Sanity', this is an absolute classic that belongs in the collection of any metal fan.
Genres: Thrash Metal
Hey kids! Remember Kevin Moore?! The guy played on Dream Theater's first three studio albums, buggered off, and has since more-or-less completely cut off all ties to the Dream Theater name, wanting nothing to do with the band. So if you wanted to hear what the progressive metal legends sounded like in their early days, playing live with a certain Mr. Moore, then this is likely to be the only chance you'll ever get.
Released shortly after the bands second album, 'Images and Words', 'Live at the Marquee' is a six-track EP which doesn't really do the group or their previous releases justice. It's a nice addition to the collection of any Dream Theater fan, but since most of their live records would go on to become three-disc sets, this one has become pretty obsolete and unnecessary.
With Dream Theater classics such as 'Metropolis', 'A Fortune in Lies' and 'Pull Me Under', there's no denying the tracks are stellar, and considering vocalist James LaBrie would go on to suffer from ruptured vocal chords which would affect his live performances for years to come, it's nice to hear these songs with the youthful energy that the band had at the time.
Overall this isn't a terrible release, but if you're after a true Dream Theater live experience then you're better off looking for 2004's 'Live at Budokan', 2005's 'Score' or 2000's 'Live Scenes from New York'. It's a nice little EP if you come across it, but not really worth the effort unless you must own everything.
Genres: Progressive Metal
Symphony X are back with their second album and a sound that will quickly distinguish them as one of the top prog metal bands in the world.
The differences between this and their self-titled debut are noticeable immediately. Besides the addition of powerhouse vocalist Russell Allen, who's incredible voice can easily switch between both melodic and aggressive styles, the production has been vastly improved and the songwriting is a lot more confident and refined.
The songs on 'The Damnation Game' flow so much fluidly than before. Michael Romeo's intense riffs and exotic solos are much more tasteful, and Michael Pinella's keyboards never sounded this beautiful on 'Symphony X'. While this is far from the bands most ambitious work, it's still a solid blueprint which the New Jersey quintet would build upon with future releases.
Featuring highlights such as 'The Edge of Forever', 'A Winter's Dream', 'The Haunting' and the title track, the reason this only gets a three-star rating is because, despite being a really good record, honestly, it just pales in comparison to what's to come. Such is the strength of the bands later output that I find myself very rarely listening to this one. Still, if you're a fan of Symphony X, then this is definitely an album worth owning!
Genres: Neoclassical Metal Progressive Metal
This is a fairly decent debut album by Kamelot, who at the time were nothing more than a generic power metal band. Progressive elements seen in later albums are rare and discreet, and the band are yet to develop a lot of the more exotic flavours heard in their later songs. But overall, there are still some great compositions on this record.
There are very few keyboard parts and the musicianship is nowhere near that of most prog/power metal bands, but that doesn't prevent a few memorable riffs popping up, such as 'Eternity' and 'The Gleeman', and 'Etude Jongleur is a nice, though short, melodic passage.
There isn't really much else to say about this album to be honest. If you're a fan of Kamelot then it's worth getting, and I think it's generally worth picking up for anyone if you can find it cheap somewhere. Kamelot didn't really hit their stride until keyboards became a more primary instrument and with the addition of vocalist of Roy Khan (who, if you're already a Kamelot fan prior to buying this album, you'll definitely notice his absence), but this still holds up well as a look at a young band who will definitely go on to better things.
Genres: Power Metal Progressive Metal
Power metal has always been the ginger-haired stepchild of heavy metal. It's cheesy. It's repetitive. And sometimes it's Sonata Arctica, in which case, it kicks ass!
Sonata Arctica's debut album burst onto the scene with such gusto and youthful enthusiasm, it's hard not to like it. There's fast-paced neoclassical speed metal guitar shredding, and lots of cheesy 90's keyboard harpsichord sounds. The lyrics focus on the usual themes of fantasy, love, kingdoms and over nonsensical topics we're not really bothered about, because it comes with the territory, and above all else though, it really is 100% cheese, and that's what we love about the genre!
I first came across this band when I heard 'Replica' on a compilation CD. I loved it! I was completely blown away by how awesome this band sounded and to this day, that is still one of my favourite songs (and I still have no idea what it's about, either). I rushed out to get 'Ecliptica' and was not disappointed. 'Kingdom for a Heart', 'Full Moon', 'Letter to Dana', 'Mary Lou' and 'Picturing the Past' are all fine examples of why power metal should never be so easily dismissed. Oh, and 'Replica' too!!!. This album is worth it for that song alone.
I've been stuck for ages writing this review, struggling to think of anything clever or witty to say. The truth is, this is a typical power metal album, and if you're not a fan of the genre, you won't notice any difference here between Sonata Arctica and any other band. But there's just some sort of charm about this record that makes it fresh and exciting, and definitely worth trying out.
Genres: Power Metal
After his 1994 solo release, guitarist Michael Romeo was met with a proposal from a record label to form a band and record an album in the similar vein to his solo material. "Sure, why not?"... and thus was born one of progressive metals most popular and influential bands.
Borrowing heavily upon the neoclassical style of shred made famous by Yngwie Malmsteen, Symphony X's self-titled debut release is a humble album that shows a band with the potential for big things, with the only major setback being the rather subpar production. While it's certainly not terrible, it just lacks that little bit of punch that the music really needs. It's a punch that would be added to future releases, and the difference is immediately noticeable.
As for the music itself, it's nowhere near as ambitious as the bands later releases, which would go on to utilize massive orchestrations, but it's still pretty good, and lays down a solid foundation upon which the band would establish their defining sound. As expected, Michael Romeo's guitar playing is the star of the show here, with his neoclassical virtuosity matched perfectly by keyboardist Michael Pinella, both displaying enough talents to secure their careers in a post-grunge metal scene. Vocalist Rod Tyler does a good job, and is vastly underrated for his work on this album, but it's his only appearance with the group and he will soon be overshadowed by his replacement, powerhouse singer Russell Allen.
'Symphony X' overall is a good debut, with early signs of greatness evident. 'Masquerade', 'The Raging Seasons', 'Premonition', 'Thorns of Sorrow' and the ballad 'Shades of Grey' are all notable reasons why this should be in your collection, and if you're a collector like me, it's certainly not one you'll regret having to own.
Genres: Neoclassical Metal Progressive Metal
‘Master of Puppets’ is without a doubt one of the greatest heavy metal albums of all time. Taking what they started on ‘Ride the Lightning’ and pumping it full of steroids, this takes all the best elements of Metallica's previous album and magnifies it a thousand times over, firmly placing Metallica amongst metal's royalty.
A nice combination of heavy and melodic, ‘Master of Puppets’ mirrors its predecessor very closely, but at the same time it manages to maintain its own identity. Opening track ‘Battery’ is very similar to ‘Fight Fire with Fire’, starting with a nice clean guitar harmony, followed by riffs of complete chaos that'll destroy all your senses. ‘Welcome Home (Sanitarium)’ takes the ballad concept started on ‘Fade to Black’ and pushes it further than anyone thought possible, and ‘Orion’ is a nice eight minute instrumental that can go toe to toe against ‘The Call of Ktulu’ any day.
Despite the similarities, ‘Master of Puppets’ shows a band becoming more mature with each release. The lyrics are even more grim and darker than before, and the song-writing, especially on tracks like ‘Master of Puppets’ and ‘Welcome Home’, shows a band that has developed closer over the years to become as tight as they can be, with Hetfield and Hammett's guitars working in perfect harmony with Burton's bass-lines and Ulrich's (somewhat limited) drum skills.
Often cited as the single greatest metal album in history, it’d be hard to disagree.
Genres: Thrash Metal
It was back in 2003 that I was looking in a Virgin Megastore (remember those?) with the noble intention of investing my money in a band I'd never heard before. These were before the days when YouTube and streaming were so easily accessible. When we had to take risks with our money to try out new artists. I had stumbled across an album by a band I'd only heard of in name, but that risk was about to pay off; Dream Theater.
Being a 16-year-old heavy metal fan at the time, raised on a healthy diet of groups such as Megadeth, Metallica, Kiss and Rammstein, my initial thoughts were, quite simply; “this album sucks”. However, one thing piqued my interest, and it should come as no surprise that it was the amazingly heavy intro to the opening track, ‘Pull Me Under’.
As I heard more and more, the album grew on me. All these random traits of progressive music were becoming clearer. Odd time signatures, long, complex arrangements, the eclectic mixture of styles, keyboards (a heavy metal no-no), the creative lyrics and massive instrumental sections... It all started to make sense. To this day, 'Images and Words' not only introduced me to a new style of music, but a whole new way of looking at music.
So what makes it so great?
'Images and Words' is an album that defined a genre. Without Dream Theater, progressive metal might never have become what it did. Coming at a time when the genre was in its infancy, Dream Theater had that intangible X-factor that bands like Fates Warning, Queensryche, and even a group like Rush, were all missing at that point.
There's a perfect combination of everything on this album. There's metal songs, there's ballads, there's funky songs and there's jazzy songs too. The musicianship came at a time when there weren't many bands displaying such incredible technical prowess, at least in the mainstream anyway. Every song is perfectly crafted, with interesting musical passages and mind-boggling lyrics. 'Pull Me Under', 'Take the Time', 'Learning to Live' and the monstrous epic 'Metropolis Pt. 1; The Miracle and the Sleeper' are all staples in prog metal history.
This is the record that put Dream Theater on the map, and defined all progressive metal bands/albums for years to come. Every fan of the genre needs this in their collection, immediately. And I'm sure most old-school progressive rock fans will at least appreciate the importance this album had on prog music as a whole. Undeniably my favourite album of all time, 'Images and Words' is better than perfect.
Genres: Progressive Metal
Quietly unleashed upon the world in 1989 to approximately no fanfare, radio airplay or any kind of recognition, 'When Dream and Day Unite', the debut album of progressive metal band Dream Theater, was the birth of a legend that approximately nobody saw coming.
It's a debut that has garnered mixed reactions since its release, despite the bands later successes. Personally, I think this is an incredible effort with some fantastic compositions, especially for such a young band. The band clearly know who their influences are, and hold no gripes against showing it, as there are definitely similarities here to bands such as Iron Maiden, Queensryche and most notably, Rush.
Vocalist Charlie Dominici, making his only appearance on a studio album, has always been a common complaint of fans. His pop-inspired singing grating to some, I think his voice has a very majestic tone to it that perfectly fits the raw sound of this album, especially when accompanied by Kevin Moore's 80's sounding keyboards. As for the others, guitarist John Petrucci, drummer Mike Portnoy and John Myung are all serious musicians (having met at the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston), who are only just starting their incredible journeys to becoming some of the most revered and respected musicians in the world.
Another strong point of this album of "young" musicians is the lyrics, which contain some of the most random and yet, well thought-out passages I've ever heard. Especially on the track 'Only a Matter of Time'. Other gems worth checking out are 'A Fortune in Lies', 'The Killing Hand' and 'Light Fuse and Get Away'.
An incredible debut. Not as polished as ‘Images and Words’ and lacking the production values of ‘Scenes from a Memory’, but strip away any faults and there are some truly great songs here.
Genres: Progressive Metal
'Days of Purgatory' is a two-disc compilation of Iced Earth songs remixed and rerecorded with then current vocalist Matt Barlow. At the time, it was intended as somewhat of a greatest hits album, with the goal being to give new fans a taste of the bands older material, while giving older fans "improved" versions of classic songs.
As a whole however, I find this album pretty pointless, and continues a downhill trend the band had been on over the last couple of years. While their first two albums, 'Iced Earth' and 'Night of the Stormrider' are absolute classics of the power metal genre, I find the two albums prior to this compilation, 'Burnt Offerings' and 'The Dark Saga' to be hugely disappointing.
The honest truth is that I just prefer the original recordings. Gene Adam and John Greely's voices suited their material better, especially with the overall sound and production of their respective albums. I find all the new arrangements uninspiring, and more often than not, where Matt Barlow has recorded new vocal lines, I find his ones don't really suit the music as well as his predecessors.
It's not all bad though, I mean, Iced Earth still release some outstanding music, and even though they're not as good as the originals, the songs here are still decent efforts. 'Iced Earth', 'When the Night Falls', 'Angels Holocaust', 'Burnt Offerings' and 'Colors' are among some of the bands best works, as well as a reworked version of 'Written on the Walls' titled 'Cast in Stone' (though I'd stick to the original, myself).
Ultimately, 'Days of Purgatory' is a mostly irrelevant release. Personally I'd recommend the original versions of all these songs. And thankfully, judging by later compilations, these recordings are somewhat "non-canon", so they've not really replaced the originals, but merely become novelty re-recordings for fans and collectors.
Genres: Heavy Metal Power Metal Thrash Metal
1991's 'Parallels', which was my introduction to Fates Warning, is a continuation of where the band had been going with previous album 'Perfect Symmetry'. The power metal influences of their early days were long gone, replaced by a more technical and methodical approach, and with more emphasis on melody than speed.
I was fairly new to progressive metal when I came across Fates Warning, a band who were influential in the genres early days. Being a fan of bands like Dream Theater and Symphony X, I assumed the key element was technical virtuosity (and a keyboard player!). So it was a change of pace when I first stumbled across this album.
While the musical acrobatics won't impress as much as the aforementioned groups, it's the bands commitment to strong songwriting that carries them. In particular, Jim Matheos and Frank Aresti's guitar playing is impressive, especially when using distorted and clean sounds simultaneously. 'Eye to Eye'. 'Point of View', 'Life in Still Water' and 'The Eleventh Hour' are all examples of this bands solid chemistry, with plenty of tasty guitar riffs, interesting harmonies and powerful vocals all on display.
'Parallels' is a great album, and a good starting point for newcomers to the band. Heavy enough to appeal to metal fans, melodic enough to appeal to rock fans, and ambitious enough to interest prog fans, it's an easily accessible album that can be enjoyed by everyone.
Genres: Progressive Metal
When discussing the making of this album, the members of Dream Theater have said that their goal, inspired by all the "classic" metal albums by bands such as Metallica and Iron Maiden, was to make a record full of "live songs" that will work well in a concert setting. An album full of metal classics, that'll get energy flowing, fists pumping and heads banging.
As is always the case when bands stray away from their original sound, there are some who dislike this record for being more centered on metal, as opposed to the progressive elements that Dream Theater made famous in the early 90's. Being a metal fan as much as a prog fan, I love this record, and whilst anyone can see that they stepped away from a lot of their progressive roots on this one, the band more than compensate for it with these pumping metal anthems.
Of course, at the time this album came out (November 2003) I was still fairly new to Dream Theater, and definitely more of a metalhead than anything else. So why wouldn't I love tracks like 'As I Am' (that riff...), 'This Dying Soul', 'Honor Thy Father' or 'In the Name of God'? Each track perfectly demonstrates why Dream Theater can stand toe-to-toe with any of metal's elite.
As you would expect from this band, the musicianship is phenomenal. Most of the songs are definitely guitar-centered, with keyboardist Jordan Rudess taking more of a backseat in most songs. But he's there none-the-less, and when he's trading solos with guitarist John Petrucci, especially on tracks like 'Stream of Consciousness', you know that there's no one that can match these guys.
'Train of Thought' certainly has its prog moments, but ultimately, this is an all-out, straight-up, ballsy metal album. And it's a damn good one, at that!
Genres: Progressive Metal
After performing live with Dream Theater in 2004 on the 15th anniversary of ‘When Dream and Day Unite’ (the album in which he provided vocals), Charlie Dominici, the bands original vocalist, felt inspired enough to make a return to music. Sadly for fans, his initial rebirth didn't have anything to do with the genre which he helped pioneer in the late 80's, with 'O3: A Trilogy Part 1' favoring the acoustic guitar-laden singer-songwriter style over progressive metal.
Barely anyone paid any attention to it. But that's okay, because the second part of the trilogy is here to rectify that.
'O3: A Trilogy Part 2' is all-out balls-to-the-wall progressive metal, and takes the singer right back to the genre with which he is most well known. Full of some absolutely bone-crushing riffs, intricate song structures and the over-the-top musical passages associated with this style of music, Dominici's return/debut (as in, the man himself and the band respectively), successfully manages to make up for the shaky start this trilogy got off on.
With songs like 'Greed, the Evil Seed', 'Nowhere to Hide', 'The Calling' and 'The Cop', Dominici is a band who sound like, and will appeal to fans of... you guessed it... Dream Theater! Amazing vocals and top musicianship make this an album every progressive metal fan should look out for.
Genres: Progressive Metal
'Follow the Blind', the follow-up to 1988's debut 'Battalions of Fear', more-or-less follows in the footprints left by its predecessor in being nothing more than a generic, run-of-the-mill late 80's power/speed metal album.
While there are some very subtle orchestral elements dotted around here and there, a sign of where Blind Guardian would go with future releases, it's still a long way off from what would go on to become the bands defining sound. The songwriting never strays far from the speed metal clichés, and Hansi Kursch's vocals, normally a pleasure to listen to, have yet to reach their full maturity here.
The true gem of this record is no doubt 'Banished from Sanctuary', a song which remains a staple of any live set to this day. Otherwise, most of the songs sound pretty similar and it's hard to really pick out any specific highlights. The production sounds exactly how you would expect it to, giving the music a raw, harshness that it needs, and a guest appearance from Kai Hansen (of Helloween/Gamma Ray fame), is a welcome addition, though only further distinguishes this album as nothing more than a standard power metal affair.
Overall, it's not a terrible record, and I love Blind Guardian, it's just that this is a band still trying to find themselves. They'd certainly develop a sound to call their own over the next few albums, but otherwise, 'Follow the Blind' is one I'd recommend solely to the collectors.
Genres: Power Metal Speed Metal
Dio, Scorpions, Iron Maiden, Twisted Sister. All these bands have one thing in common: They’re thieves!
After twenty years stranded in Japan, the true pioneers of heavy metal have returned, Fozzy!
It was a careless contract-signing that left Moongoose McQueen and the rest of Fozzy stuck in Japan, and with demo tapes finding their way all over the world, bands like Iron Maiden and Motley Crue were more than happy to steal Fozzy’s songs and claim them as their own, thus, stealing the very genre Fozzy created from under their noses.
Okay, comedy aside, Fozzy is a fantastic band, and for those who aren’t familiar with the group, they are really a metal band formed by wrestling superstar Chris Jericho and Stuck Mojo mastermind Rich Ward, mostly playing covers but using their humorous back story as a way of separating themselves from other cover bands.
As a huge fan of both Chris Jericho and heavy metal, it was only natural that when this album was released I had to snap it up, and what an impressive debut album. Jericho has a great voice, though at times it does feel a bit weak, but he definitely shows a lot of confidence on the two Fozzy originals, where he obviously gets to sing his own style with a voice he is comfortable with.
Unfortunately, I personally find the choice of cover songs a bit hit-or-miss. Songs like ‘Blackout’, ‘The Prisoner’ and ‘Riding on the Wind’ are all great songs that in my opinion far surpass the originals, and whilst all the other covers completely dominate the originals material, the choices are quite lackluster. I have to be honest, but songs like ‘Stay Hungry’, ‘Eat the Rich’ and ‘Live Wire’ are not the first songs I’d choose to cover.
The two Fozzy originals are great as well. ‘End of Days’ and ‘Feel the Burn’ are amazing samples of what this band are capable of, and a sure sign of the greatness to come.
Genres: Heavy Metal
And so after the success of Dream Theater's magnum opus concept album 'Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory' comes the dreaded follow-up album, in which endless possibilities usually lead to outcomes that divide fans. In this case, whilst the band had always tread a thin line that equally balanced both the metal and the progressive elements of their music, from this album onwards they would begin to shift more towards the heavier side of things, with harsher vocals and heavier guitar riffs.
Consisting of just six songs which are spread out over two discs (the title track taking up the entire second disc, at 42 minutes), 'Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence' sees the band tackling some serious issues, ranging from alcoholism and addiction, religion, scientific advances, moral dilemmas and mental illness. Every song full of incredible musicianship and intricate structures that flow smoothly without compromising quality.
The title track, a 42-minute piece split up into eight individual tracks, is the true centerpiece of the album. With a vast range of heavy and soft parts, huge orchestral arrangements and virtuoso musicianship, this is a true gem in the Dream Theater discography. And as evidenced in tracks like 'The Glass Prison' (one of my all-time favourites!) and 'The Great Debate', the interplay between all the members, in particular guitarist John Petrucci and keyboardist Jordan Rudess, is unmatched by any other band.
A truly polarizing album in the groups back-catalog, how much you like the metal aspects of Dream Theater's music will determine if you'll like the direction the band are going in from here, and while 'Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence' may not be as highly regarded as 'Images and Words' or 'Scenes from a Memory', it is still an essential addition to any music collection.
Genres: Progressive Metal
'Music Man' is the second EP released to promote Chris Caffery's 2004 debut solo album, 'Faces', and contains an eclectic choice of songs.
First there's the title track itself, 'Music Man'. A soft song with plenty of cool melodies and some really nice singing by Caffery. Not sure why this track was chosen as a single however. It's a good track, but not the best choice to reflect the album it appears on. Unlike...
... Straight up, two of the best songs from the 'Faces' album, 'Pisses Me Off' and an extended version of 'Abandoned'. Brutally heavy, with some thunderous riffs and insane vocals, these two songs alone make this EP worthwhile. There's also a censored version of 'Pisses...' which is slightly humorous to begin with, but quickly wears thin and becomes pointless.
There's also three non-album tracks. None of which are all that interesting though. Two of them are Christmas-themed, with a strong Trans-Siberian Orchestra (of whom Caffery plays for) vibe going on, but they're pretty dull songs. And there's 'Forever We'll Be', which also appeared on previous EP 'The Mold'. I wasn't too keen on that song then, and I'm not keen on it now.
Overall though, this is a decent EP. Chris Caffery is an incredibly underrated guitarist and songwriter and I can't recommend his solo material enough. And while this EP is mainly for collectors (I'd definitely suggest checking out his 'Faces' album if you love your music heavy), there's a few songs here that hold up as some of Caffery's finest.
Genres: Heavy Metal Progressive Metal
Throughout their careers, most bands go through a stage where they alter their sound. Sometimes it's something drastically huge, and sometimes it's just subtle little changes. It could be a huge improvement or a complete disaster, and it could last for only one album, maybe a couple of years, or possibly even a permanent decision in which there is no turning back.
Which brings us to 'The Immunity Zone', the fourth album by Swedish prog metal group Andromeda. The songs are a lot more stripped down than previous efforts, and there seems to be an overall darker mood throughout. So what's the deal? Are they trying to reach out to a broader audience? Are they experimenting with different ideas? Has guitarist Johan Reinholdz just decided he can't be bothered with endless noodling?
Nobody knows the answer to these questions but the band members themselves, but despite the change in direction, this is still one kickass release. It's probably their weakest effort to date, but it has some truly remarkable songs on it regardless.
‘Slaves of the Plethora Season’, possibly Andromeda's least ambitious song, is a good representation of the change in sound. It has no solos, no ridiculous time signatures, and terribly cringe-worthy lyrics (“who can get an erection?”), but none-the-less it has some very catchy, heavy riffs, that put most modern metal bands to shame. And that is one thing this album is overflowing with; riffs!!!
As expected with this band, all performances are of the highest standard, so even with the more relaxed playing and stripped down arrangements, these guys still play their hearts out, sounding tighter than ever, and Reinholdz cooling down on the guitar has really helped all the other members shine, in particular, drummer Thomas Lejon, who's an absolute beast behind his kit, truly dominates on this album.
Of course the true centerpiece, and most probably one of Andromeda's greatest compositions, is the 19-minute ‘Veil of Illumination’. There are no words that can do justice to describe how insane this song is. Featuring absolutely breath-taking playing, well thought-out lyrics and arguably the craziest instrumental passages ever recorded (check out the middle section of this song right now), this is one of the most insane pieces of music you'll ever hear.
And that's not an exaggeration.
In summary, 'The Immunity Zone' is probably Andromeda's weakest release, yet features some of their strongest songs. It's a bit of a mixed bag when compared to their previous releases, but this by no means make it a bad album. Probably worth the money just for that 19-minute epic, to be fair.
Genres: Progressive Metal
After a fairly messy and raw debut, Dreams of Sanity are back with 'Masquerade', an album where the band really refined their sound, and while the songwriting would still be lacking in places, it certainly laid the blueprint for their next album, which would go on to be their best (and sadly, final) release.
Most noticeable with this album is the much-improved production, with a crisp and clear sound that really emphasizes every instrument. The musicianship is fantastic between the band members, with heavy and interesting guitar riffs that are perfectly complimented with some intricate keyboard melodies. The interplay between everyone involved is great, while never being overbearing or detracting from the flow of the music itself.
There are a few moments where things tend to lull, but for the most part, this is a solid effort. The songs fit together well, with lots of energetic performances that makes for a good listen. Some of the highlights involve parts one and two of the five-track piece 'Masquerade', 'Within (The Dragon)' and 'Lost Paradise '99'. Of particular note is 'Masquerade Act 2', which ends with a fantastic crescendo that builds up with more and more tension over a minute and a half, but never dips in momentum.
Overall, this is a good album by Dreams of Sanity. It's far from perfect, but it's a huge improvement upon their debut, and a precursor to what will become their finest work, with their next album.
Genres: Gothic Metal Symphonic Metal
There was 'Load' and 'Reload' that massively divided fans, there was a covers album, and a live album that featured an orchestra. Their bassist left, and their supposed big "comeback album" ending up being a critical flop. To make matters worse, they released a DVD which did nothing but portray the world's biggest rock stars as petulant children. It'd certainly been a tough decade Metallica.
But all of that was about to change.
Deciding to finally go "back to their roots", Metallica released 'Death Magnetic' in 2008, which sees the band bringing back their thrash-inspired sound not heard in 20 years. And it kicks all the critics square in the face, firmly establishing that despite their age and everything they'd done over the last decade, Metallica were still the kings of metal (Sorry, Manowar).
While 2003's 'St. Anger' had its faults (I don't mind that album, for the record), it was definitely a step in the right direction in terms of Metallica returning to the metal sound that made them famous in the first place. But every cringe-inducing problem that record may have had has been rectified ten times over with this release. The riffs are heavier and more complex than before. The guitar solos are back. The lyrics are more inspiring, and James Hetfield's voice sounds much, much better than it has done in a long time. Even Lars Ulrich's fairly simplistic drumming is more intense than anything he'd done on the previous album.
Metallica are back, baby!
The production on this record is far from perfect, but it's certainly beefier than it was on 'St. Anger', and despite the mix levels being a bit off, at least the drums sound like drums again!
The songwriting harkens back to the days of 1988's '...And Justice For All', with a return to intricately structured ten-minute songs. And although a lot of them are full of energy and complex musicianship, this is mostly the only major detriment to this release, because towards the end the album really does feel like it's dragging a bit. As awesome as the songs are (and indeed, they are!), each one of them could have benefitted by a minute or two being cropped off. Aw well...
'That Was Just Your Life', 'Broken, Beat & Scarred', 'The Day That Never Comes', 'All Nightmare Long' and 'The Judas Kiss' all demonstrate that despite all the years and everything this band have been through, there is still plenty of gas left in the tank.
Genres: Thrash Metal
Iron Savior are a power metal "supergroup" that consists of Gamma Ray's Kai Hansen, Blind Guardian's Thomas Stauch, and record producer Piet Sielck (who?). To sum this up in one sentence, this, their self-titled debut, is a concept album focusing on a self-aware space ship...
Okay, you're still reading. It'll take more than self-aware space ships to detract you. Good job. So let's keep straight faces and focus on what matters most... the music.
Taking what sounds like a terrible idea for a rock opera and turning it into a half-decent metal record is not an achievement to be scoffed at, and what this band may lack in finesse and quality, they certainly make up for in energy and enthusiasm. If you can look past the endless Judas Priest comparisons and the stench of rotten cheese, some of the tracks on 'Iron Savior' are pretty good, of course, some of them are also pretty terrible.
'Iron Savior', 'Assailant', 'Protect the Law' and 'For the World' are all power metal classics (a paradox?), whereas some of the songs, such as 'Riding on Fire', 'Children of the Wasteland' and 'Break It Up' are absolute stinkers. And Sielck's vocals don't help much. Sometimes they fit the music perfectly, sometimes they sound a bit over-the-top and ridiculous. It's hard to decide if I like them or not.
There's some fine riffing going on, as would be expected by power metal godfather Kai Hansen, and the cohesiveness between himself and Sielck is akin to that of similar bands in the genre, such as Gamma Ray (coincidence?), Helloween or Judas Priest. It's just a shame that memorable riffs aren't too common, but hey, the good ones are fantastic, so I'll give 'em that.
With any doubts in mind, you just have to remind yourself that it's a power metal album about a self-aware space ship. A bloody self-aware space ship!!! The cheesy lyrics and repetitive guitar riffs suddenly don't seem that bad now, do they?
Genres: Power Metal
Fates Warning are one of my all-time favourite bands, so it should come as no surprise that when their original vocalist, John Arch, returned to the music scene after a 16-year absence and released 'A Twist of Fate', that it was an EP I had to have!
I'm not going to deny, prior to hearing this disc I wasn't the biggest Arch fan. Whilst I enjoyed his early contributions to Fates Warning, I've always preferred Ray Alder's vocals. In fact, although Arch was good, there were times when I found his high-pitched vocals quite grating. However, 'Twist...' has changed that. Because the years have been kind to his voice, or perhaps modern production has been, but either way, this EP is something very special!
Despite featuring only two tracks, 'A Twist of Fate' is an absolute delight to listen to. Both songs, 'Relentless' and 'Cheyenne' are overflowing with emotional vocals and tasty guitar riffs, and are almost unique in their own special ways. Clocking in at about half an hour, this EP features some of the most beautiful musical passages I've ever heard, particularly in 'Cheyenne', which is probably one of the best progressive metal songs that you've never heard of.
Featuring a "who's who" of musicians, Arch has recruited some of the finest players in the genre. These include his former Fates Warning brethren Jim Matheos on guitar, drummer Mike Portnoy, best known for his work with Dream Theater and Transatlantic, and bassist Joey Vera of Armoured Saint and Fates Warning fame. Impressive, right?
Fantastic music, intelligent lyrics, told through one unmatched and totally unique voice. It doesn't matter if you don't like Fates Warning. It doesn't even matter if you don't like progressive metal, because this simple EP is so much more than that! Let's hope Mr. Arch plans on sticking around this time!
Genres: Progressive Metal
I like 'St. Anger'.
There, I said it.
Metal fans the world over will probably know all about 'St. Anger' and what contributed to its critical panning. The atrocious production, the awful drums (that don't even sound like drums), the cringe-worthy lyrics, the lack of guitar solos, the strained singing... the list goes on and on. But for all its faults and wrongdoings, the music itself on this album is still fairly decent.
I was sixteen when this album was released and was, at the time, a Metallica fanatic. Trivial things such as production was the last thing on my mind when this came out. I was just happy that my favourite band had released a new record and it rocked. Of course, as I grew older I learned to appreciate music production more, but that doesn't take away from the fact that the joy I gain from the compositions themselves still remain.
Whilst we're all familiar with (and most probably dislike) 'Frantic', 'Some Kind of Monster' and 'The Unnamed Feeling', this record has some forgotten gems such as 'Sweet Amber', 'All Within My Hands' and 'Shoot Me Again', which are all pretty underappreciated.
In truth, I'd be wasting my time if I tried to sell anyone on this album, as by now I figure everyone has made up their mind about it. But I'm happy with it. Sure, it has its problems, but it's different and unique and I enjoy it all the same. And the extra DVD of the band playing the album in the studio make this a nice little package.
Genres: Alternative Metal
With the success of 'Metropolis Part 2: Scenes from a Memory' under their belts, Dream Theater were sitting firmly on the throne of the prog world, and so what's the next step? To take the entire concept album on tour, of course!
An absolute sonic tour-de-force of Dream Theater music, the band are relentless as they bombard a New York audience with over three hours of excellence. Besides playing 'Scenes from a Memory' in its entirety, with a few added bonuses thrown in, the band play various hits from their past records, including all three parts of the 'A Mind Beside Itself' trilogy from the 'Awake' album, 'Metropolis Pt. 1' and 'Learning to Live', both clocking in at ten and twelve minutes respectively, and if that wasn't enough, they then close with the 23-minute epic, 'A Change of Seasons'.
This is not for the faint-hearted.
As you'd expect from Dream Theater, the musicianship and chemistry is unparalleled by any other band. Each instrumentalist here has truly mastered their craft, with the only real weakness coming from vocalist James LaBrie. He tries his best, bless him, but having gone through some well-documented problems at the time (food poisoning led to him rupturing his vocal chords a few years prior), his voice can be pretty grating to listen to at times. However, he does redeem himself at the end when he jokingly says "sorry about the short set". Good job, sir!
All praises aside, I'm not the biggest lover of live albums, as I usually prefer the punch and clarity of a studio recording, and at times I feel the sound isn't as perfect as it could be, at least, not when compared to the 'Scenes from a Memory' record. But that just comes down to personal preference.
With that said, 'Live Scenes from New York' is a beast of a live album. A three-disc set that perfectly sums up Dream Theater's career to that point, and an all-out assault of progressive proportions. This is an essential addition to every fans collection.
Genres: Progressive Metal
It's 1999 and James LaBrie has released his first "solo album", a term used lightly as this is still a group collaboration, despite being mostly considered a James LaBrie "project". It sounds similar to Dream Theater (no way?!?!), but that's not a criticism. In fact, something interesting to note about this album is that it was supposedly written and recorded by all the musicians separately, exchanging ideas through post and emails. That's a common thing these days, but back in 1999 it was still quite an ambitious undertaking.
Still, I'm not going to use that as an excuse for the relatively average quality of the songs. They're not terrible, but they all sound pretty disjointed, lacking the soul of a song that was created through spontaneous jam sessions of people sat in the same room together.
Besides LaBrie on vocals, you have some heavy hitters like Mike Mangini on drums, Matt Guillory on keyboards and Mike Keneally on guitars. It's a shame there just doesn't seem to be any chemistry going on between them all. But hey, criticisms aside, some of the songs are pretty good. 'His Voice', 'Guardian Angel' and 'Shores of Avalon' are all redeeming qualities of 'Keep It To Yourself'. Sadly, then there's also songs like 'Beelzebubba'. It has an almost Faith No More vibe to it. It sounds experimental and I appreciate what the group were attempting here. But come on... there's only so many times I can tolerate hearing James LaBrie singing "Slick Willy"...
It's certainly not going to be on anyone's "best albums of 1999" list, but it's not a bad addition to the collection if you stumble across it cheap. Ultimately, it's Jame LaBrie, so there's bound to be plenty of Dream Theater fanatics out there (like me) who need to own everything the band and its members put out, anyway.
Genres: Progressive Metal
There's always going to be an issue for compilations that they quickly become outdated and nothing more than fodder to be snapped up by elitist fans that need to own everything (do these people still exist?). As far as such releases go, 2000's 'Capital Punishment', which was also the first "greatest hits" album Megadeth released, is a bit of a mess.
I mean, the bulk of the music is fine, and covers most of the bands major early hits, but at the time of its release, with 15 years and nine albums worth of material to choose from, it's certainly an underwhelming collection. Made even more bizarre by the backwards order of its track list. You know something's not right when you're listening to 'Use the Man' four songs into the bloody thing!
Regardless, it's probably dirt cheap these days, so could be an easy starting place for newcomers. It's got the bulk of the important songs, including 'Holy Wars... The Punishment Due', 'Hanger 18', 'A Tour Le Monde', 'Peace Sells', 'Trust' and 'Crush 'Em', but overall, it's just an outdated release that is mostly irrelevant today, except for a weird montage hidden at the end of album in which a load of tracks are all mashed together to form a brief retrospective of the bands career. It's interesting, but nothing overly memorable, or listenable.
The album is also notable for two new songs, 'Kill the King' and 'Dread and the Fugitive Mind'. The former would appear on later compilations, while the latter would appear on the bands next studio album. Again, rendering this release obsolete.
'Capital Punishment' is an album I'll probably never listen to again, and the CD will spend the rest of its days collecting dust on the shelf (I'm one of those collectors, damn it), but still, back in the year 2000, at 13 years of age, this was my third Megadeth purchase, and the fact I'm still here today shows that the album did its job well.
Genres: Heavy Metal Thrash Metal
Four albums into their career, and it took a band falling apart internally to put together what I consider their best work. 'Declaration of a Headhunter' was strung together by guitarist Rich Ward and co. while the band struggled through drug problems, burnout, general bickering, and the added kick to the head that nu metal was becoming a worldwide phenomenon while Stuck Mojo (who were nu metal way before the term was even coined) were being left behind.
"Rap metal" has always been a dirty word to metal fans, and the aforementioned nu metal scene of the early 2000's (which relied heavily on rapping vocals) certainly didn't help to endear the style to more people. As it is, while this is some of Stuck Mojo's best work, it mostly always ends up being overlooked and passed off as nothing more than cheesy and tacky.
Now, I respect everyone's right to an opinion, but in this case, you're all wrong.
'Declaration...' is a fantastic release by one of the pioneers of rap metal. With some of their tightest and most polished songwriting, Rich Ward's signature guitar riffs being some of the best he's ever written, and a coherent use of rapping, singing and growling, this album has it all! There's an abundance of backing vocals and guest appearances, helping compensate for the lack of Bonz during the making of this album, but it works amazingly and fits the music.
Featuring some of their most politically-charged lyrics, their heaviest songs, and interesting spoken intervals that touch upon some thought-provoking subjects (which still hold up all these years later), this should have been the album to put Stuck Mojo in the big leagues where they belong. Tracks like 'Raise the Deadman', 'Drawing Blood', 'Give War a Chance', 'Evilution', 'Hatebreed'... the whole damn lot of 'em... are all examples of why rap metal should never be so casually disregarded.
'Declaration of a Headhunter' is without a doubt one of the most underrated albums, by one of the most underrated bands, of all time. A true masterpiece of heavy metal and hip hop.
Genres: Alternative Metal
'The Number of the Beast' is the album that gave birth to the Iron Maiden we all know and love today. Besides a number of memorable hits that have remained a staple in live sets, it's most notable for featuring the debut of Bruce Dickinson, a man who would go on to become one of the most beloved and recognizable singers in metal.
Musically and sonically, this isn't much different than Iron Maiden's previous two albums. Rough and gritty 80's new wave of British heavy metal, the only remarkable differences, besides the addition of a superior vocalist, is the slightly stronger compositions. Most notable being two of their biggest hits (which still hold that title today), 'The Number of the Beast' and 'Run to the Hills'.
Of course, there's also other Maiden classics such as 'Hallowed Be Thy Name', 'The Prisoner' and 'Children of the Damned', which have all stood the test of time and are still as refreshing today as they were in 1982.
The playing is good for its time. Steve Harris is an absolute beast on the bass. Dave Murray and Adrian Smith are both competent guitarists, who've yet to utilize their full potential, especially when it comes to the duel harmonies they'd use on future releases, but they play more than enough to give all the songs the small embellishments required.
'The Number of the Beast' kicked off a long run of releases that would usher in the bands "golden era", and while it has its significance in Iron Maiden's history, I don't really consider it anything more than a decent album. It's good, but the best is most definitely yet to come.
Genres: Heavy Metal
Symphony X are one of my all-time favourite bands, without a doubt. BUT... (you knew this was coming), 'Live on the Edge of Forever', their 2001 live album, doesn't really do their music justice.
Now hold your tongue before you condemn me for this blasphemy and take heed! Firstly, I'm not really big on live albums. I do like them, and if I'm a fan of a band I'll endeavour to own everything they release, but ultimately I like the slick, crisp sound of a studio recording. Everything is perfectly balanced (mostly), the sound is punchier, and it just feels more 'definitive'. Live albums can be good for jams and random nuggets of joy where the band can be entertaining through banter or crowd interaction. But otherwise... give me a studio album.
Secondly, to be brutally honest, Symphony X's music doesn't convey the same type of energy that goes down well on a live setting. Don't get me wrong, I love Symphony X, and the song choices here are fantastic! But I love live albums where there's a palpable energy flowing! Where you can really feel electricity in the air. All I imagine here is a bunch of people standing around watching a band play, and then clapping at the end.
Again though, Symphony X are one of my favourite bands, and the set list and the playing is incredible! In fact, some of the songs are played even faster than their studio counterparts, which is insane! The band are truly all masters of their craft. And with classics such as 'Smoke and Mirrors', 'Through the Looking Glass', 'Church of the Machine', 'The Eyes of Medusa' and most of the 'V: The New Mythology Suite' record being played, there's certainly no shortage of bangers.
However, there aren't really many noteworthy additions to the songs and there's no entertaining shenanigans or banter. Just track after track with crowds cheering in between. I love Symphony X, but in the end... I just prefer the studio albums.
Genres: Neoclassical Metal Progressive Metal
Disturbed’s third studio album, 2005’s ‘Ten Thousand Fists’, sees the band finally hit their stride, adapting a more contemporary sound while somewhat maintaining their groove-based nu metal style. With that particular subgenre of music being dead and buried, this was a pivotal album for the band to show that they could hold their own outside of that scene, with an album that would appeal to fans of metal old and new alike.
Having focused on the highlights of their previous releases, catchy choruses in particular, ‘Ten Thousand Fists’ has an abundance of hooks that makes every track memorable, and with its monstrous production and simple song structures, Disturbed’s music sounds a lot more accessible and mainstream.
Guitarist Dan Donegan’s guitar playing is brilliant here. With skull-crushing precision, his riffs are heavy, yet groovy, and fit perfectly with David Draiman’s melodic vocals. In fact, Donegan lets rip in a couple of tracks with some very slick guitar solos, showing that he had the chops all along, but either left them out to further conform to nu metal trends, or simply that there was no need for them. Either way, he’s finally cutting loose, and it sounds great!
Highlights include the thunderous hit single ‘Stricken’, the huge and epic-sounding ‘Overburdened, and a cracking cover of the Genesis classic, ‘Land of Confusion’, as well as ‘Just Stop’, ‘Guarded’, ‘Sacred Lie’, and ‘Pain Redefined’. And then of course, the title track itself, which is an absolute anthem that will literally produce a sea of raised fists for a metal call-to-arms. The musicianship on these tracks is fantastic, with exceptional performances from everyone involved.
Overall, while ‘Ten Thousand Fists’ isn’t quite a masterpiece, it’s a solid album that definitely helped Disturbed shake off any nu metal remnants, and established them as a legit heavy metal act. It holds up well today, and marks the band as one of the more important acts to burst onto the scene at the turn of the century.
Genres: Alternative Metal
Adema's 2001 self-titled debut was a good album. Nothing amazingly special, but enough to warrant their small fan base during the heyday of nu metal. While they never achieved the mainstream heights of contemporaries such as Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park, they were somewhat under the spotlight due to vocalist Mark Chavez being the half-brother of Korn frontman Jonathan Davis. But that was pretty much their biggest claim to fame.
While 'Adema' did have a couple of decent songs on it, and in fact, 'Freaking Out' is bloody brilliant, they followed it up a year later with 'Insomniac's Dream', a seven-track EP which heralded one single, and that was pretty much it.
The single in question, 'Immortal', is the only memorable track of the EP. Admittedly it's not bad, it's got some tasty riffs and Mark Chavez's vocals are certainly improving, but with that said, there's countless other things I'd rather listen to instead.
Then there's an Alice in Chains cover which is listenable but forgettable, a few remixes which do nothing for me (a remix of the aforementioned 'Freaking Out' is a huge letdown), a live song, and a radio edit of 'Giving In', probably the bands biggest hit. It's a good song... but do we really care about hearing a radio edit? No. We don't.
Overall, 'Insomniac's Dream' is an irrelevant EP. It's only strong point is 'Immortal', and even then, it's not really worth getting just for that. I would say it's only for the die-hard Adema fans, but I'm not entirely sure if any exist.
Genres: Alternative Metal
I have to say, I've always felt sorry for Tim Owens. The poor lad just can't escape the stigma of being a Rob Halford copycat. Both his stints in Judas Priest and Iced Earth (which I really enjoyed) put him in an unfavourable position where he was replacing someone much beloved by the fans (Halford and Matthew Barlow respectively), and as a result he's always remained nothing more than a bit player. His name can add credibility to a project, but only just enough that you'll probably find yourself the only one who cares.
Well, no longer looking to be a hired hand in a group where he has no control, Owens struck out on his own with Beyond Fear, a band which would offer him the chance to get more involved with songwriting and the creative side of things.
Funnily enough, however, while 'Beyond Fear' is a pretty decent effort, it's almost laughable how instantly recognizable the Judas Priest influence is. Owens no doubt wears his influences on his sleeve, and in fairness, there's nothing wrong with that if the music is good. And yes, it's good.
More in the vein of traditional heavy metal, with power and sometimes thrash metal trimmings, 'Beyond Fear' is a balls-to-the-wall metal affair with plenty of high-pitched wailing courtesy of Owens, who, despite sounding identical to Rob Halford, "comes into his own" and sounds a lot more confident when singing over his own material.
Backed by some tight musicianship and a nice beefy sound, 'Beyond Fear' will probably never be anyone's favourite album, but there's definitely something of merit here. 'Scream Machine', 'And... You Will Die', 'Save Me', 'I Don't Need This' and 'Coming At You' are all riffs-galore that deserve a listen, and show that even if Tim Owens is a Halford clone, then he's certainly one of the better ones.
Genres: Heavy Metal
When it was first revealed that Metallica's next endeavor would involve playing with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, I can only imagine the disgust and doubt that crept into the minds of fans. After the divisive 'Load' and 'Reload' albums, and the covers album 'Garage Inc.' (none of which were likely to convert anyone), most people must have thought Metallica had lost their minds to consider playing with an orchestral ensemble.
Thankfully, Metallica proved them all wrong.
This album is great! Not only does it highlight the progressive elements in Metallica's music, but also how adaptable it can be to other genres. It's really hard to visualize what Metallica's music would sound like with a symphony backing it, but the orchestra, conducted by world-renowned Michael Kamen, take the band's songs and make their own arrangements and compositions from them, blending the two with ease to create an all-out attack on the senses.
Featuring pretty much all of their big hits, the band come across as stronger than ever. The musicianship is of a high standard, and some would argue that James Hetfield's vocals are at their absolute peak. And two new songs, '-Human' and 'No Leaf Clover', show that, at a time when the band leaned more towards hard rock than metal, they could still go toe-to-toe with some of the heaviest bands the genre has to offer.
I don't really have any major complaints with 'S&M', although, if I can indulge in a bit of nitpicking (everyone's a critic at heart), there are one or two songs I'd have maybe left out in place of an alternative. For example, 'The Thing That Should Not Be' does nothing for me, and where the hell is 'Welcome Home (Sanitarium)'?! Still, all the classics are here, with songs like 'Master of Puppets', 'Battery', 'One' and 'Bleeding Me' never sounding heavier.
In all honestly however, I've never really been too big on live albums, preferring the crisp and polished production of a studio recording, so this being a studio album would have been a huge plus for me. But still, it's fantastic none-the-less, and definitely as essential to any music collection as the bands earlier output.
Genres: Heavy Metal Symphonic Metal
Iced Earth's fourth release, 'The Dark Saga', is a concept album based upon the story of comic book character Spawn. It's a bit of an odd release in the bands discography, as they stripped down their sound quite a bit, and as a whole nothing here reaches the intensity, aggression or complexity of anything we'd heard before.
I'm probably one of the very few who didn't like previous release 'Burnt Offerings', which is held in high regard by fans, and while 'Dark Saga' is somewhat a step back in the right direction, it still fails to truly connect with me. I feel like the Spawn storyline is also a detriment to the music. As a huge fan of the character, it seems like halfway through the album the lyrics and music don't seem to relate to the source material anymore. Or perhaps I'm just struggling to pay attention.
Musically, it's standard power metal, but the band have slowed down a lot, with only a couple of songs reaching the same speed as past compositions, but there's still that unmistakeable Iced Earth sound to it. Mostly in part thanks to vocalist Matt Barlow, who, with this release, is the first singer to make it to their second album with the band. With that said, his vocals are fairly disappointing here. I'm not sure if it's the hackneyed songwriting or the uninspiring lyrics, but his delivery just doesn't seem to work.
Even the guitar solos on this album are unremarkable. Most of them just being slow, melodic lead breaks with the occasional harmony. I'm all for solos suiting the songs and not playing speed for speed's sake, but there's just nothing truly memorable happening here.
Complaints aside, there are a handful of moments that save this release from being a complete abomination. The title track, as well as 'I Died For You', 'The Hunter' and 'The Last Laugh' are all decent tracks. But none of them hold up well compared to Iced Earth's other (burnt) offerings, and while it's certainly not the worst album I own, it's probably not one I intend to go back to very often. If ever.
Genres: Heavy Metal Power Metal
'Transcendence' is the album that many Crimson Glory fans (do these still exist???) consider their finest work. And it'd be hard to disagree. Good, quality metal riffing with some nice melodies and interesting twin-guitar harmonies is something I feel that modern metal seems to be lacking, but this album has in abundance, showing you how to get the most out of two guitars.
Everything about this album is a huge improvement upon the groups self-titled debut (which is an album I struggled to enjoy, for no reason in particular). The songwriting is a lot more mature and the guitar harmonies are more consistently interesting than before. Midnight's ungodly vocal range truly shines here with a much more precise production that perfectly suits the music and the era in which it was released.
Guitarists Ben Jackson and Jon Drenning really are two sides of the same coin, with their twin-guitar assault being highly reminiscent of metal greats such as James Hetfield and Kirk Hammett, Adrian Smith and Dave Murray, or Dave Mustaine and Marty Friedman... or pretty much any other guitarist who's been in Megadeth... the chemistry between the two really is that good, and it's a travesty that they would have such a limited output over the years.
Almost every track offered here is a hit, with only a couple towards the end feeling like they were chucked in to extend the duration of the album. 'Lady of Winter', 'Red Sharks', 'Masque of the Red Death' and 'Where Dragons Rule' are some of the finest, most energetic and enthusiastic power metal songs you can find, and of course, there's also the hit single 'Lonely', which is the song that originally led me to purchasing this record in the first place!
It's a shame that a band such as Crimson Glory never truly lived up to the potential that they had in their prime, but if 'Transcendence' is forever to be considered their finest work, then that's a pretty damn good achievement.
Genres: Heavy Metal
Static-X's debut album came at a time when the nu metal subgenre was helping heavy metal get its foothold back in the mainstream, and whilst commonly labelled as industrial metal, Wayne Static and his lads were able to easily slip in with the rest of the "nu" crowd and stand out as one of the heavier acts the scene had to offer.
Sadly, that alone won't make them much good.
For all the hype and nostalgia around this release, it isn't really all that impressive, and certainly hasn't aged too well. It's very repetitive, and not very exciting. Almost every guitar riff sounds the same, and whilst there are some fat grooves dotted around, as a whole, it just seems like one of those albums you claim to like, but you're not really sure why.
Wayne Static's mostly incomprehensible vocals and guttural noises wear thin pretty quickly, and there's quite a few "slow" moments on the album that probably detract, more than add, to the dynamics. There are a couple of passable tracks, for example, 'Love Dump' (which to me, was the heaviest song ever when I first heard it way back in the day), 'Bled for Days' and 'Push It' aren't bad... but none of them are really all that memorable, either. Then there's complete tosh like 'December'. Who thought that "song" was a good idea?
'Wisconsin Death Trip' might be worth picking up for the sake of nostalgia, but you'll quickly remember why you forgot about it in the first place.
Genres: Alternative Metal Industrial Metal
I bought this CD in a shop in Germany for 50 cents or something equally daft. I’d never heard of Age of Silence (and apparently, neither had anyone else, since they were in the literal bargain bin), but it was a metal CD, so why not?
Labelled as avant-garde metal... whatever the hell that means... this sounds a lot like something Devin Townsend would do, complete with obscure, gloomy cover art and unusual song titles. Age of Silence have a big sound, with multiple-layered guitars overproduced to give each of the three tracks a huge feeling about them. But otherwise, these songs are fairly dull. The overbearing “big” guitar chords are heard through each track, leaving me feel like there’s been an ongoing chord played throughout the entire EP.
But it doesn’t stop there. It starts to overshadow the vocals, any lead parts, the drums... the whole lot. I don’t “get” this kind of music. I understand it’s based more on ambience and what-have-you, but for the most part this is just pretty boring and repetitive. There’s one or two moments where something might sound catchy or interesting, but as a whole, considering this is only a three-song EP, it’s not really anything I’d come back to.
The shop I’d bought it from was probably relieved to be rid of it.
Genres: Avant-Garde Metal Progressive Metal