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Nightwish-"Dark Passion Play"-2007

"Dark Passion Play" was an album dogged by a whole lot of pre-release controversy, mainly due to the sacking of vocalist Tarja Turunen. Rumours of rampant ego clashes, Tara suffering from a reverse "Yoko Ono" syndrome, all of which had "the faithful" screaming the End Of The World, no one could replace Tara, Tara WAS Nightwish, ad nauseum, ad infinitum. But it was NOT the End Of The World, they DID replace Tara, and Tara was definitely NOT Nightwish, that honor belongs to keyboardist/tunesmith Tuomas Holopainen. Besides, those so-called faithful followers have been complaining about the band since "Oceanborn"! Anyway, it`s a new year, a new album and a new singer for Nightwish. Annette Olzon steps to the mike on what is problem the bands` most important release to date; important in that they`ve reached a major crossroads in their career, and it was basically do or die. Happily,they chose the former option and as of this writing "Dark Passion Play" looks to be the most successful Nightwish release yet! The overall sound here is not much different from "Once" or "Century Child", with the exception of the vocals. Annette Olzon had quite a legacy to face up to; Tarja Turunen`s vocals are certainly amazing, much more than any Earth-born creature has a right to. BUT, there`s an old saying, "too much of a good thing", and her operatic stylings DID get old after a while. Olzon is more of a powerhouse vocalist, though she does indulge in Tara-like vocal delivery at times. Annette also has a smoother, more direct tone that is somewhat more agreeable to the ears. The band definitely hit the bullseye by choosing her! [And I`m madly in love with her, besides!:)] The songs themselves are up to Holopainen`s usual standards; over the top, massively orchestrated and dramatic. Leading off is the near 14-minute epic "The Poet And The Pendulum", which seems to encapsulate the bands` best traits, past and present. Up next is one of THE winning tracks here, "Bye Bye Beautiful", which appears to be a shot-off-the-bow at their previous singer. Vocal duties are split between Anette and bassist Marco Heitala on this song, and both are VERY effective in giving the song its` power. Next is the hugely successful single "Amaranth", which really gives Annette a showcase for her talents. The same can be said for the brilliant "Sahara" as well as "For The Heart I Once Had". One of the finest cuts on the CD is "The Islander", a near Folk-like tune with Celtic elements and a fine perfomance by Heitala, who handles the majority of vocals on the track [though I would have liked to hear more of Anette`s voice than just the last couple of verses]. Despite my earlier misgivings about him, Heitala has certainly shown himself to be an intergal part of the Nightwish sound. Guitarist Emppu Vuorinen also merits special attention here, as he contributes some fine solos through out. The monumental "7 Days To The Wolves" has to be one of the best songs the band has come up with yet, while the majestic closing track, "Meadows Of Heaven", has some Loreenna McKennitt elements at times. It should be mentioned here that there``s a special edition of the CD [which I own], featuring the demo version of "Amaranth" [originally titled "Reach"] as well as a bonus disc with the instrumental [sans vocals] versions of the songs. All told, "Dark Passion Play" is both a personal AND professional triumph for the band, and a reassurance for their TRUE fans. With so many "Wishmaster"-era clones trailing in their wake, it`s great to see Nighwish is able to challenge themselves while at the same time being able to build on and refine what they`ve already done, and do so successfully; not many artists can say that. One of THE best albums of 2007!!!!!!!!!!!


Astral Doors-"New Revelation"-2007

Album Number Four in the Astral Doors catalog is titled "New Revelation", though this is something of a misnomer. While the bands` music may indeed be a new revelation for those encountering the band for the first, longtime fans will find familiar territory. Not that this is a bad thing, by any means! Sporting a rougher, less polished production than on their previous release "Astralism", the new album sees the band solidifying their place at the forefront of Traditional/Classic European Metal. All the elements that have made their other discs such a treat are present here; nothing radically different here, just variations on a theme. Astral Doors fans know what they want, expect it and the band delivers, end of story! The trademark Dio/Martin Sabbath stylings coupled at times with Euro Power Metal riffing have always set these guys above the more nostalgia-crazed acts infesting the scene. Clever hooks and the always-engaging vocals of Patrik Johansson help make "New Revelation" another stellar chapter in their career. If you twist my arm, I could point out some of the standout cuts like "Freedom War", the amazing ballad "Bastard Son", "Planet Earth", "Quisling", "Cold War Survivor", "The Gates Of Light", among others. Hell, I just listed over HALF the songs on the disc, so it`s safe to say that this is a solid album from start to finish. Whlie it can be said that no new ground is broken here, that`s hardly the point. Astral Doors is building upon ground broken by others, and listening to "New Revelations" it`s obvious that they`ve built some firm foundations of their own!

Astral Doors

Manowar-"Gods Of War-Live"-2007

Manowar`s third live album in 10 years [not including the plethora of live DVDs`] showcases The World`s Loudest Band in their true element, on stage before throngs of Metalheads and doing what they do best. Here we have a cross section of Manowar classics, including some which haven`t been heard live for a while, all delivered at jet engine sound levels! Recorded on their most recent tour in their strongest fanbase, which is Germany, and there really shouldn`t be too much to explain here; if you`re a Maowar fan, you KNOW what you`re gonna get, and the Kings Of Metal deliver the goods once again. The first CD is an overview of the bands best-of-the-best. Some of the more choice cuts here are "Gloves Of Metal" [hell, yeah!!] the absolutely awesome "Each Dawn I Die", "Mountains" [my favorite Manowar song, this sounds every bit as majestic as when I saw them play it live in December `87!], "Holy War", their more recent classic "Die For Metal", among other greats. Disc 2 is a portion of their recent studio album, the brilliant "Gods Of War", and these tracks come across even better live. There`s also an enhanced live video of "Gods Of War" included. A required purchase for the Manowar, the TRUE Metal fan, as well as the poor, deluded saps who still think Slipknot is a Metal band! HAIL AND KILL!!!!


Metakix-"Connect & Inspire"-2006

Heavy Metal bombast from Bombay! Metal is truly a universal language, as one listen to this 4-piece from India makes clear. LOUD and clear, that is! With the release of "Connect & Inspire", Metakix have concocted a sound that is a tasteful blend of practically every Metal genre you could imagine, filtered through their own unique culture. This gives the band a slight edge, although it wouldn`t mean much without the talent and skill to back it all up; don`t worry, these guys have got those traits in abundance! The band is Zomb [guitar/lead vocals], Viresh [guitar/vocals], Nicky [bass/vocals] and Sheldy [drums/vocals], top-class musicians all the way. But they`re clever songwriters, and it`s the arrangements that lift them above the competition, as well as their knack for catchy hooks and melodies. Check out the opening cut, the soaring "Back In The Zone", which lyrically seems to carry a spiritual message, something that can be see in most of the tracks here. In fact, at times they sound similar to early King`s X. Other picks include the enchanting "Lonestar" and the crushing "Only The Good Die Young", the groove and crunch of "True Alter", the powerful ballad "Forever" and the heavy Blues Rocker "Payday Blues". Metakix are one of the more original acts to come about in recent times, and certainly live up to the albums` title; they do indeed connect and inspire! May it be so with you, as well. Go to the bands` website and for more information. [Cheers and thanks to Metakix for the review copy!!!]


Iron Fire-"Blade Of Triumph"-2007

After the somewhat angry [but otherwise good] "Revenge", Iron Fire return to their more upbeat, sword & sorcery sound for what is surely their best release yet. "Blade Of Triumph" marks a welcome return to form, as the band adopts a back to roots approach, bringing in elements that made their debut album, "Thunderstorm", so enjoyable. "Blades..." shows a more mature approach to the songwriting, allowing the band to leave the "Hammerfall Junior" tag. Things kick off with "Dragonheart", and with a title like that, you know what to expect; melodic Power Metal, pure and simple. Iron Fire excells at this, and has an obviously affection for the genre. Other notable tracks worth mentioning include "Bloodbath Of Knights", "Lord Of The Labyrinth", the ballad "Legend Of The Magic Sword", the pounding anthem "Bridges Will Burn", "Steel Invaders" [featuring a great chorus], and the killer "Gladiator's Path". No sir, Iron Fire make NO apologies for who they are or what they do; the play METAL and are damn proud of it! And as they are still a very young band, we are DEFINITELY going to hear more great things from these guys in the future. For now, purchase the new CD, crank it up and piss off your Emo-loving neighbors! Raise the Metal fist in the air!!!!

Iron Fire
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