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Grave Digger-"Liberty Or Death"-2007

After nearly 27 years, the Germanic Metal juggernaut that is Grave Digger keeps on rolling, for the most part churning out albums and not straying too far from their original vision. The bands` ouput over the last few years in particular has yielded some of their best work, notably 2001s` "The Grave Digger" and 2003's "Rheingold". The 2005 release "The Last Supper" fell somewhat short of fans expectations, though it was still a solid effort. But with their latest CD "Liberty or Death", Grave Digger have shown that they can still deliver the goods! All the essential elements of the Grave Digger sound are present here in all their glory, among them the crunchy, high-powered riffs courtesy of Manni Schmidt and the instantly recognizable vocals of founder Chris Boltendahl. Production-wise, "Liberty or Death" is a more stripped down affair, which is certainly a plus for this style of Metal; the guitars are right up front and in your face. Another worthy mention is the drum sound here, which sound very natural and relatively uneffected [drum-triggers, etc] and accentuates the heaviness all the more. The overall theme on the album seems to be war, always a good topic of choice for Metal! Tracks like "Ocean Of Blood", "Highland Tears", "The Terrible One" [dealing with Ivan The Terrible] are rife with powerful imagery of various wars throughout human history. The music drives this point brutally home, and compliment the lyrical themes perfectly. I honestly can`t think of a weak track on this album; these guys have been at it a long time, so they know what they want and how to get it. With this album, Grave Digger have regained their musical footing, and released one of the best albums of their stellar career. So definitely give me "Liberty Or Death"!!!!

Grave Digger

Blind Guardian-"A Twist In The Myth"-2006

It could be argued that Blind Guardian [along with Helloween] are largely responsible for much of the Euro Power Metal; the band that launched a thousand imitators. Yet while the hordes of BG clones endlessly recycle ideas from the bands` back catalog, Blind Guardian themselves have tried to stay ahead of the pack by following their individual muse, which has served them well. With the release of "A Night At The Opera", some of the faithful wondered if that album was too much of a departure for the band, particulary those fans who are still pining for them to put out another "Nightfall in Middle Earth". Yet Blind Guardian have stuck to their guns and soldiered on. Which brings us to the latest offering, "A Twist in the Myth"; less grandoise but no less ambitious than "....Opera", the new CD has more of a "earthy" [for lack of a better term] feel to it. Always among the best songwriters in the Power Metal genre, BG have opted for more sparsity in the arrangements this time, which greatly enhances the songs. Though there doesn`t appear to be a common theme here, there`s definitely more cohesiveness this time; this has allowed the guys to stretch out a bit and take a few creative risks, rather than plunder their early discs for leftover riffs. The recent single, "Fly" and "This Will Never End" are but 2 examples of the bands` willingness to experiment while working within their established framework. The standard Blind Guardian trademarks of Hansi Kursh`s unique vocals and the flashy guitar work of Andre Olbrich and Marcus Ehmke are among the qualities that allow this band to stand out on their end of the Power Metal pool, and will doubtless continue to do so for some time. Though released in late `06, "A Twist in the Myth" gets MY vote for one of the ten best Metal albums of the year; how about YOU? Highest recommendations!

Blind Guardian

Fairyland-"The Fall Of An Empire"-2007

"The Fall Of An Empire" is the second release from French Symphonic/Power Metalists Fairyland. Fantasy is the name of the game here, and the band have woven an epic saga of ancient lands and great struggles between good and evil; certainly nothing you haven`t heard before. However, Fairyland have crafted this ambitious storyline so well that you can forgive a little lack of originality. The imaginative lyrics are complimented by well thought out arrangements and clever instrumental work which helps bring the story vividly to life. And while meant to be taken as a whole, each track can be enjoyed on it`s own. Another plus is that, like most bands of this style, Fairyland are highly accomplished musicicians, and have obviously taken the best examples from bands like Kamelot, Rhapsody, Thy Majestie, etc. One could say that the songs are a bit overly dramatic at times, but then again how else could you tell a story of such epic proportions? "The Fall Of An Empire" should put Fairyland into the upper strata of Symphonic Metal, and is a most worthy addition to your collection, no matter WHAT type of metal you prefer!


Visions Of Atlantis-"Trinity"-2007

With "Trinity", Austrian Power Metal band Visions Of Atlantis have entered a new chapter in their six year existence. The albums features the debut of three new members, most notably American vocalist Melissa Ferlaak. Now considering the type of music they play, adding an operatic female vocalist to the mix is bound to draw the inevitable Nightwish comparisons. Certainly those elements can be found here at times, though with not quite as much fire and intensity as Nightwish [at their best] displayed. Yet Visions of Atlantis have enough of their own personality and character to overcome any such copycat accusations. Another positive aspect of this band is the have a more straight forward approach to the songs, and concentrate less on theatrics and more on getting their musical point acrosss. Wheras other bands mining the same territory tend to lose the plot amidst overblown dramatics. VOA seems to have avoided this pitfall, for the most part. Naturally, the musicianship is of the highest calibre, and the songs are memorable and at times catchy; the band is less interested in showing the listener how brilliant they are than crafting a good song, a rarity for this brand of Metal! Choice cuts include "The Poem", "Passing Dead End" and "Through My Eyes". And while the production is nearly flawless, the vocals and keys tend to dominate, while the guitars and drums seem to take a backseat. Perhaps if the band were to strike a better balance between the instruments, giving the music a bit more power and depth. Minor matters, really; "Trinity" is a fine slab of Symphonic Power Metal, one that finds Visions Of Atlantis their own identity and sense of self. And with a high-profile US tour [with Epica] in late `07 on offer, it appears that the third time is indeed the charm!

Visions Of Atlantis

Manowar-"Gods Of War"-2007

Manowar is band that is either loved or hated; there IS no middle ground, and the band would have it no other way. And with the release of "Gods Of War", the flames of debate have turned into a raging inferno! This album is a concept album, dealing with Norse mythology, particulary Odin. Though there are traditional Metal songs here, there are also many preludes, overtures, spoken word intros that help link the songs into a cohesive whole. It is this aspect that is raising complaints from those who CLAIM to be die-hard Manowar fans; the very same type who would probably bitch if the guys released a more "traditional" Manowar album [but aren`t they ALL traditional Manowar albums?], complaining that the band were repeating themselves. You can`t win with those people, and Manowar isn`t even going to try; in point of fact, they don`t CARE! Never did, never will. They`ve made a career of doing EXACTLY what they want, making EXACTLY the kind of music they want, no matter WHAT anyone thought. The TRUE Manowar fan knows that the band will NEVER let them down. So as far as "Gods Of War" is concerned, you`ll either get it or you won`t. The album itself is a sonic state-of-the-art miracle, loud, clean and flawless. [In addition to regular Compact Disc, it is also available on Super Audio CD; Odin only KNOWS how great THAT sounds!] The entire thing was written and produced by Joe DeMaio [except for two songs with Karl Logan], and considering what a massive undertaking this must have been, I cannot concieve of how he did it! The ambition and scope of this is staggering, and have never been successfully attempted in Metal before. [and don`t even THINK of mentioning "Operation: Midncrime"!] The story is told with such passion and conviction, you have to wonder if Mr. DeMaio isn`t of Aasgardian decent! I won`t go on any further; you`ll just have to pick up the album for yourself. The LTD Edition comes in metal box [of course] and features a bonus DVD, a hardcover booklet, and a more standard Manowar tune, "Die For Metal". Without a doubt one of the best Metal albums of the year, and certainly the most ambitious. HAIL!!!!

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