Archive | April, 2014

Album Review: Delain – The Human Contradiction (2014)

24 Apr

Delain_HC_Cover_

9/10

Delain’s debut album “Lucidity”, released in 2006 was, in some ways, a perfect Gothic Metal album filled with atmosphere, fantastic song-writing, and excellent vocals from lead singer Charlotte Wessels and the various guest vocalists scattered throughout. They followed this up with “April Rain” (2009), an absolutely stunning album, catchy and poppy while remaining heavy. 2012′s “We Are The Others” was another good album, but offered more filler than previous efforts. Now comes their latest release “The Human Contradiction”, and it’s easy to wonder whether they would continue to deteriorate or return to the lofty standards they had previously set. Thankfully it’s the latter, as the album is absolutely fantastic.

The albums opener “Here Comes The Vultures” is an absorbing cut, with an ingenious melody, heavy guitar riffs, and a sort of horror movie-esque atmosphere courtesy of creepy keyboard melodies; making for a shivering combination. I’ve heard the lyrics are based off Charlotte’s nightmares and the song does indeed conjure up nightmarish imagery. It’s very cinematic with sweeping orchestrals and a fantastic guitar solo. An absolute true Symphonic Metal epic.

The second song “Your Body Is A Battlefield” is very aggressive and when I heard it I thought to myself “This guy sounds like the dude from Nightwish”  and as it turns out the song does indeed feature an appearance by Marco Hietala (Nightwish, Tarot). No stranger to working with Delain, Hietala has also appeared on their previous albums. This track is another epic, with both singers at their best, giving really powerful performances. It’s an incredibly catchy song, with brilliant vocal lines, excellent heavy riffs, while again the sweeping keyboard melodies just give the song a much more grandiose air than found on previous albums.

“Stardust” and “My Masquerade” are both extremely catchy and anthemic with pounding drums and guitars, creating songs that should go down well in their excellent live shows.  “Tell Me, Mechanist” contrasts lush sounding keyboards and Charlotte’s beautiful vocals with more heavy guitar riffs and the excellent growls of guest vocalist George Oosthoek (Orphanage, Celestial Season). The song represents the heavier side of “The Human Contradiction” but is still tender, and that is what makes it one of the best songs of the album.

 On “Sing To Me” we get another vocal from Marco where he and Charlotte take turns singing the chorus which adds to the epic vibe of the track. The duet is truly excellent and I think they have a real chemistry together. Adding to this is perhaps the best symphonic sections ever featured on a Delain song. Certainly one to send shivers down the spine. “Army Of Dolls” starts off as another typical catchy Delain track before it breaks down into a slower section in the middle, featuring electronic drumbeats, creepy keyboards and a groovy bassline, which creates an unsettling atmosphere, before the song breaks out into an awesome guitar solo. The album closes with “The Tragedy Of The Commons” featuring guest vocals from Alissa White-Gluz, the new vocalist of Arch Enemy, contributing demonic screams to a track laced with expressive, melodic lead guitar and beautiful choirs. It’s interesting to listen to Alissa’s deep growls married up against the bright, beautiful vocals of Charlotte. This hybrid provides a nice contrast and a great way to conclude the album.

 “The Human Contradiction” is an absolutely incredible effort. Delain have taken the elements that made them good and improved on every aspect of their sound to produce an album which, from start to finish, sounds complete. For me, there is no filler with every song standing out on its own. As I said earlier, there was a worry that they would continue where “We Are The Others” left off and strip down their sound and concentrate on pop anthems with that metal edge but, band leader, Martijn Westerholt has stepped up his game and offered a more symphonically driven sound than ever before. The band sound inspired and thus have released their heaviest and, in my opinion, their best album to date.

With “The Human Contradiction” Delain should be able to satisfy old fans whilst picking up some new ones along the way and stand out in a genre that already has a lot of female fronted bands. If you like heavy music, symphonic music and have an ear for melody, then you will find something on this record to enjoy. If you’re a fan of Nightwish, Within Temptation, Epica and Lacuna Coil then you will definitely enjoy “The Human Contradiction”

David

Album Review: Gamma Ray – Empire Of The Undead (2014)

21 Apr

7/10

Guitarist Kai Hansen first emerged onto the heavy metal music scene in 1984 as one of the founding members of Helloween. During his tenure with the band, he made an appearance as both lead guitarist and lead vocalist on the band’s debut EP and studio album, before ultimately stepping away from the mic in ’87 to allow Michael Kiske to take over vocal duties and provide Halloween their first taste of International stardom. Soon after departing in 1989 he formed the highly influential German Power Metal band, Gamma Ray.

It’s been almost twenty years since Gamma Ray released two of the genre’s defining albums in “Land Of The Free” and “Somewhere Out In Space,” but the quartet is still alive and well into its fourth decade. Lately, however, Hansen seems content to rest on his laurels, as the band’s last two albums have played things about as safely as possible. It’s been a full four years since “To the Metal!” raised concerns over whether Gamma Ray had anything left in the tank, between the album’s inconsistency and borderline plagiarism, so “Empire Of The Undead” has some questions to answer.

The album begins promisingly enough with “Avalon”, a song that harkens back to the glory days, winding through nine minutes of shimmering guitar verses, melodic grooves and a nice solo. New drummer Michael Ehré certainly proves his mettle, if somewhat more conservatively than the departed Dan Zimmerman, as he effortlessly throws in back-beat fills and changes styles on a dime throughout the song. This song showcases Hansen’s striking vocal abilities, engaging guitar work and a handful of energetic tempo changes that strap the listener down for a chaotic ride. Seven minutes into this nine minute long anthem, you begin to believe the song has reached it’s triumphant end, only to be launched off once again into another melody driven chorus.

Throughout “Empire Of The Undead’s” recording and mixing, Hansen stated that the album would have a more “thrashy” sound, and there are a number of songs that live up to that promise. “Hellbent,” “Empire Of The Undead”, and “Seven” are the more speedy sides of this album, all of which are incredibly fun and catchy whilst ballad “Time For Deliverance” provides a Queen/Freddie Mercury inspired moment. Listen to the chorus and try your best not to sing “Weeeeee are the chaaaaampions”

“Master Of Confusion” references the bands troubles with actually making the album, as drummer Dan Zimmerman unexpectedly retired and the band’s studio burned to the ground during the mixing stage. This track is a clear stand-out and has the feel of a classic Gamma Ray song, probably because it’s almost literally a composite of previous Hansen-penned singles.
The main riff, verse, and solo are ripped straight from Helloween’s “I Want Out,” while both the chords and lyrics of the pre-chorus (“and now I’m riding on the wind, but I won’t have much time”) echo “No World Order!’s” “Heaven and Hell” (“riding on the wind, there’s only one place left to go”).
During the song’s post-solo build, Dirk Schlächter lays down some walking bass as Hansen changes the lyrics up a bit, giving the final chorus a feeling of satisfying resolution.

“Born To Fly” may not be a bad song in its own right, perhaps the lowest point of the album maybe, but guess what? It’s another anthem about flying high like an eagle in the sky! Though I’m not going to bash the lyrics because it’s Power Metal and all Power Metal lyrics are cheesy, you do have to ask the question,’how many more songs can be written about soaring like an eagle?’

Further solidifying the album’s centre is the title track “Empire Of The Undead,” a thrash/speed number built on unrelenting drumming and shredded guitar leads. Kai’s screech fits much better here than say, on “Pale Rider,” with his signature dramatic screams ushering in both the bridge and solo section. With “Pale Rider” he just has a tendency to oversing every line and it gets very old, very fast.

“I Will Return” starts off with a sample from Terminator with Arnie saying the classic line “I’ll Be Back”. With strong leads and catchy verses and choruses, this seven-minute shot of energy is a Gamma Ray classic right from the start.
Placing the album’s two best songs as the opener and closer really increases “Empire Of The Undead’s” replay value, and in the end, weaker cuts like “Demonseed” prove relatively easy to gloss over.

So my final thoughts? Well, whilst “Empire Of The Undead” does have largely the same DNA as Gamma Ray’s last three albums, the difference here is that “Empire Of The Undead” showcases flashes of the top-notch Power Metal Gamma Ray built its reputation on for the first time in a while, and that, in itself, is worthy of your attention.
My only issue with this record is that Kai Hansen’s song-recycling comes off as an uninspired and, dare I say, lazy approach to songwriting.
The singing/screeching, killer guitar leads, melodic choruses and dynamic synths should make this an appealing listen for any Power Metal fan and, I think, could offer a way in for newcomers to the genre also.

David