Astral Doors-"Evil Is Forever"-2005

As most regular visitors to my site probably know, I`m a HUGE fan of the Tony Martin-era Black Sabbath. In my not-so-humble opinion, this roughly 10 year period was Sabbath`s most fertile since the early daze of Ozzy Hasbeen`s tenure with the band. Mr. Martin`s voice walked the line between the polished smoothness of Dio and the gritty "Master Of Reality"-era Ozzy. But now with Sabbath firmy under the iron thumb of Sharon Osbourne, the chances of Martin reuniting with his old Sab-mates is about as likely as an intelligent thought passing through George W. Bush`s head! But there IS a "next-best-thing" out there, and it`s name is Astral Doors! This Swedish 6-piece released their debut "Of The Son And The Father" in 2003 to wide acclaim; the band [Nils Patrik Johansson on vocals, Joachim Nordlund and Martin Haglund on guitars, Mika Itäranta on bass, Jocke Roberg on keyboards and Johan Lindstedt on drums] won many a fan with their Dio/Martin-derived blend of classy Metal mayhem. Their latest, "Evil Is Forever", finds the Tony Martin influence even MORE pronounced; you could almost convice me the 11 tunes here were from the "Headless Cross" or "Eternal Idol" sessions. Throw in a bit of the "Long Live Rock & Roll" album, as well as "Holy Diver", mix in a little Euro Power Metal and you have have one LETHAL concoction! Of course, none of this matters if you don`t have good songs, and Astral Doors have song-writing talent to BURN. Sure, nothing original here, but give me great songs and performances over Nu Metal faux-angst and Pop Punk posing ANY time! Johansson`s vocal delivery here will make fans of "Tyr" and "Cross Purposes" smile whilst they bang their heads. The Nordland/Haglund guitar tag team`s stock-in-trade is crunching riffs and death defying solos, which they pile on like there`s no tomorrow. The Itäranta and Lindstedt rhythm section performs like a well-oiled machine, allowing Roberg`s keyboards [gotta LOVE that Hammond organ sound!] to soar above it all. My favorite cut? All 11 of `em! But hey, don`t take my word for it; check it out for yourself. The BEST Metal album of `05, so far. Highest possible recommendation!!

Astral Doors
"Evil Is Forever" available at NEH Records

Haunted By Angels-"Season Of Death"-2004

Elmira, NY-based Haunted By Angels part of what appears to be a positive trend; quality Hard Rock/Metal band here in Upstate New York! Along with other notables such as Caroline Blue, Titanium Black and Dogs On Mars, Haunted By Angels seem determined to send the lame-brained hordes of talent-free Geek-Rockers back to the dorms and frat houses where they belong! "Season Of Death" is the band`s self-released debut, and an impressive one it is! Fronted by vocalist Jane Evil [and Evil never looked sooooo good!;)], HBA also features Art McDermott and Andy Wheeler on guitars, DJ Breyerton on bass and Dave Derrig on drums. Stylistically, it`s kinda hard to pin the band down, but a Gothic-tinged Euro Metal [hey, I think I just invented a new term!] feel is definitely present. And while Jane is no Tarja Turunen [but then, who IS?], her husky, sensual vocal delivery fits the music to a "T". This ain`t no whiney Goth Gurl! The 10 tracks here vary in both length and tempo, and the well thought out arrangements display an above average song-writing ability rare in many DIY debuts. Probably the highlight on the album is "Season of Death", a three-part, 19 minute epic that weaves it`s way through out the various time changes. Not a complex piece, but it never lets up and never fails to hold your attention. This is the kind of thing Rush USED to be good at! Finishing off the album is a surprise cover of "Dust In The Wind"; yes, the Kansas song! As this is one of my favorite songs of all time [along with MANY others], I was concerned it was gonna be a hatchet job of MEGA proporions. Thankfully, I was wrong! This version starts out like the original, but after that the band kick it up a notch by giving it the Haunted By Angels treatment, at the same time showing their obvious reverance for the song. Jane does a good job here, but let`s face it; Steve Walsh is the ONLY one who can sing this the way it was meant to be sung. But hearing this version put a smile on my face, so they get top marks for it! All i all, a fine first outing from a band that`s got a LOT to offer. Now let`s get this band a label, shall we? Go to their website and buy this baby! \m/ Horns up!!!! \m/

Haunted By Angels

Dol Ammad-"Star Tales"-2004

Electronica-Art-Metal? I`m not into labels too much, but that might ALMOST describe this Greek band! Fronted by keysman Thanasis Lightbridge, Dol Ammad`s debut full-length, "Star Tales", is a feast for the ears and senses. Certainly it is one of the most ambitious Metal albums ever attempted! In addition to guitarist Jimmy Wicked, bassist Nick Terry and drummer Alex Holzwarth, "Star Tales" features a 12 part classical choir [6 men, 6 women]. The music here consists of 12 tracks of "operatic progressive fantasy Metal", to quote the band`s bio. Yep, that pretty much sums it up right there! Hints of Rhapsody and Nightwish crop up here and there, but more often it is the New Age alien art of Vangelis, Kitaro and perhaps a bit of Tangerine Dream that makes it`s presence felt most. The tunes here feel less like individual cuts and more like one continuous piece that ebbs and flows through out the 62 minute duration. But each track stands on it`s own, never boring the listener for a second. Hell, it would even make a great movie soundtrack! And the production is simply amazing; "Star Tales" just may have raised the bar for other Prog Metal acts, possibly becoming the standard by which all others in the genre are judged! Without a doubt one of the most original bands to come out in many a moon. Highly Recommended! [Many,many thanks to Dol Ammad for the promo copy of this release!]

Dol Ammad

Scattered Ink-"Save Naive"-2005

"Save Naive" is the much-anticipated release from Rochester, NY`s very own Scattered Ink, and, after having whet the public`s appetite with 2004`s 3-track limited edition EP [all of which appear on this album, as well], hopes were high for the full-length. Thankfully, the 11 song disc meets ALL expectations! The winning combination of Richard Fink IV [vocals], Johnny Cummins [piano, strings, vocals] and Matt Quistorf [guitars, bass, vocals] has yielded a Modern Rock masterpiece that should win the hearts and minds of both casual listeners AND musicians. [Pete Wrue supplied drums for the album] Unlike most of the overproduced, underperformed slop that gluts the airwaves, these guys are fine musicians and song-writers, a fact that allows them sets them apart from "the rest". As I said, 3 cuts are from the EP; "The Other Half", the breathtaking "Merlot" [featuring impressive guest vocals by Kierra Kwan] and "Corners Of The Room". [You can read my review of the EP elsewhere in the Reviews section]. "Fragments" starts off the show with beautiful layered synths and then blows out yer speakers with gut-pounding guitars and drums; wouldn`t have it any other way! From there, it`s a rollercoaster of concise tempo changes and well thought out arrangements that are never cluttered or over-long. Each member gets equal opportunity to shine; Cummings is basically a one-man orchestra and an indespensible component of the Scattered Ink sound, while Quistorf makes a huge impression with thick-as-a-brick guitar riffs and memorable high tech solos. [a Modern Rock guitarist who can actually PLAY!?] Richard is surely one of the best, and most versatile, singers in the business, and his lyrics deserve equal mention; very straight forward and heartfelt. [none of that "I hate my Dad and I`m ready to explode" spoken HERE!]. All of the above makes for a highly enjoyable CD that holds your attenion from start to finish. No filler, just 11 finely crafted Rock that gets better with each listen. And it was recorded, mixed and mastered at Richard IV Studios in Bergen, NY in true DIY fashion! So forget that Empty-Vee sponsored corporate crap fouling up the airwaves; check out some REAL music performed by REAL musicians. Highest recommendation possible!

Scattered Ink

Forgotten Tales-"All The Sinners"-2005

Based in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada, Forgotten Tales [Frédérick Desroches, keyboards, Cédric Prévost, drums, Sonia Pineault, vocals, Patrick Vir, bass and Martin Desharnais, guitar] has just released their second album, "All The Sinners", a highly polished slab of epic Metal if ever I heard one! Canada is not generally know as a Power Metal hotbed, but one listen to this album should change that! Obvious Euro Metal stylings abound through out; fans of Rhapsody, Stratovarius, Angra and Edinbridge will find MUCH to like about this band. Lyrically, the band delve into fantasy realms [ala Blind Guardian], as evinced on the 6 part epic entitled "The Pagan Chronicles", which kicks off the album. The intro gives way to "The Lady Of The Forest". One of the highlights here is the vocals of Sonia Pineault. One might expect Female-fronted Metal of this sort to be operatic, but Sonia has a more grittier mid-range vocal style that is refreshing and definitely stands out. The rest of the album doesn`t stray from the "The Pagan Chronicles" in sound and feel, which is fine by me! The arrangements are clearly focused and well thought out. What`s more, they`re never boring, a major sticking point for many bands working the same territory. The musicians here are all HIGHLY skilled, but they are obviously more interested in the song than just showing off how many scales they know and how fast they can play `em. Sometimes it`s what you DON`T play that matters, and Forgotten Tales is WELL aware of this. My favorite cut is definitely "My Soul" a slower semi-power ballad where Sonia positively SHINES, as does the rest of the band. Granted, there`s not too much in the way of innovation here, but I don`t think the band intended to re-invent the wheel. Forgotten Tales has given us fine album of Power Metal magic in the best Euro tradition, filled with soaring melodies and and crunching, high velocity riffs you can actually remember. What more can you want? Well, a THIRD album from this band would be nice, and if everyone reading this would go and BUY "All The Sinners", we can help to ensure that happens! Highly recommended!!

Forgotten Tales
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