Archive for Mick Birchall

Avantasia – Moonglow

Posted in CD, Metal, Rock with tags , , , , , on 8th February 2019 by mickbirchy

Avantasia

Moonglow

Symphonic Metal, Power Metal

Released: 15th February 2019

via Nuclear Blast Records

Every time a new album from the mind of Tobias Sammet comes out, you know I have to listen to it. The new album from Avantasia, Moonglow is another home run for the band. This is their eighth studio record to date and they keep going from strength to strength. This album is one of their most impressive in my opinion. It has so many interesting elements, mixing many different styles from around the world, they have created a complex and dynamic record that is consistently interesting. I have been really into this band for the longest time. The way they mix sounds, melodies and intricate lyrics has always captivated me.

The album was produced by Sascha Paeth and Tobias Sammet and I think they have created something beautiful with this record. Right from the very first track “Ghost In The Moon” the overall sound is so good. The  interweaving of themes, melody and lyrical poetry make this an exciting and interesting listening experience. All of the Avantasia tropes are present, the epic choirs, the fast and furious power metal energy and Sammet’s infectious charisma. His vocals just demand your attention and coupled with the overwhelming orchestral metal sound, every song hits you like a tonne of bricks. Also, this album contains an all-star cast of great metal musicians to accompany Sammet and share the workload. Massive names such as Hansi Kürsch (Blind Guardian), Mille Petrozza (Kreator), Candice Night (Blackmore’s Night), Geoff Tate (Queensrÿche), Eric Martin (Mr Big) and Michael Kiske (Helloween) all lend the assist to making these songs sound so powerful and making the word larger than life.

Personally, this is one of my favourite Avantasia albums. The hooks are simply massive and I’ve had a tonne of fun just rocking out to these songs. From the soft and tender ballads to the energetic and forceful power-metal songs. I don’t think that Avantasia has ever really sounded this good. The guitars can be punchy or lend to a gentle atmosphere. The keyboard and synths are simply wonderful encompassing the music in an aura of majesty. The bass is tightly locked in with the drums and keeps the rhythm beautifully. All in all, every instrument sounds massive and Paeth and Sammet’s production makes everything sound as good as possible.

This is a flawless album and already up there as one of my favourites of 2019. From the passion and conviction of the performances to the sharp and punchy melodies. This album is just one to listen to over and over again. I mean making great music is just Avantasia’s M.O. at this point, yet, this album goes above and beyond the call of duty and really delivers something special. Exceptional writing and fantastic production carry this album to a pleasing 66 minutes 45 seconds, that I just want to keep listening to as many times as I can.

5/5

Mick Birchall

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Joakem – Mind Matter

Posted in CD, Metal, Rock with tags , , , , , , , on 26th January 2019 by mickbirchy

Joakem

Mind Matter

Progressive Rock, Heavy Metal

Released 7th December 2018

Self Released

It’s been a hot minute since took a listen to anything from the heavy metal community beyond the UK, so I feel it’s about time to rectify that. The Cyprus based progressive metal musician, Joakem has recently released his debut album Mind Matter and from the first moments of the album, I liked the sound. Musically the album is a blend of complex melodies and time signatures, heavy synth sounds, rough guitars, intricate and precise drum patterns and a blend of different vocal styles. It immediately leaves its impact on you and since the sound is so distinctive, you can quickly make up your own mind on whether it sticks with you or not. The album was recorded/mixed by Chris Charalambides at “Soundscape Studios” and mastered by 3x Latin Grammy-nominated, Alex Psaroudakis at “Alex Psaroudakis Mastering” in New York. So, you can bet the album packs that punch.

The album is certainly a gripping listen. The production is top-notch, with a great mix of all the instrumentation with Joakem’s vocals standing out. The complex and diverse rhythm patterns keep you hooked as you can never really guess where the song is going to go next. Also, the great balance of blasting synths and heavy guitars work well together. It comes together quite nicely and works for the range of styles that this album tries to tackle. Each song feels like a different sub-genre of rock and metal and no matter the style it still feels natural and the records keeps flowing. From all-out prog-metal to alt-rock and even some post-grunge elements work their way on to the album and it’s strange but all of the pieces work together and each song complement, as well as contrasts, with the previous.

Joakem’s vocals are indeed diverse as he manages to be competent in a variety of vocal techniques. I prefer his clean vocals over his guttural singing but that’s just me. I generally prefer clean vocals in music. It’s difficult to point at an element that lets the album down in a great way. I will say, that if you’re not into progressive music with changing time signatures and musical styles then this really isn’t the album for you. That’s sort of the let down for me, although it’s impressive, I prefer music to remain in a consistent style throughout. The high-points of the album are the more alt-rock and post-grunge style songs where he maintains more consistency, such as the opening track “A Peaceful Place” and the closing track “Departure”. However, I do think there is a happy medium for any fan of rock and metal.

Definitely an impressive and solid effort from an interesting artist. I would be more than happy to keep paying attention to him for future releases. Mind Matter is a decent record with a lot of positive aspects to it. It’s not something I would play all of the time, but if I’m in the right mood this is something I would consider putting on. If you’re interested in genre-mixing artists that break from normal convention, then Joakem might be up your alley.

4/5

Mick Birchall

Corroded – Bitter

Posted in CD, Metal, Rock with tags , , , , , , , on 12th January 2019 by mickbirchy

Corroded

Bitter

Heavy Metal, Groove Metal

Released: 25th January 2019

via Despotz Records

After reforming in 2017 for the album Defcon Zero, an album that was created due to their frustrations with label executives. Swedish heavy-metallers, Corroded decided to keep the music coming out of this revitalised passion. Which leads us to this years album, Bitter. I have to say, I’m really liking this band ever since they’ve come back from hiatus. There’s really something so honest in their music since the 5-year break. Bitter continues this with everything here being presented with passion whilst also being really accessible to new listeners. I always say “every new album is a new chance to inspire new fans” and yeah it seems Corroded are going out of their way to entice a new following without betraying the older fans. It’s a delicate balance but I think they’ve nailed it.

This album starts with an atmospheric intro piece before kicking right into the riffs, which are awesome. The riffs are filled with bass and feel so weighty. The grooves they create on this record are fresh and you can tell how much time and effort went into the writing and recording. Every song just leaps out of the speakers and keeps you listening sense intoxicated until the very end. The precision guitar and excellent drum work are awesome on their own but coupled with the vocal performance it really is a treat for the ears. Vocalist, Jens Westin sings everything with such conviction you can’t help but try to relate to the lyrics and sing along with him.

There are just some excellent tunes that stick in your head long after the record is over. One of my favourite songs here is “Testament”. With its excellent groove, the anthemic chorus, blistering guitar solo and just overall fun appeal. It’s a song that really stuck with me. Another song that I really like is “Black” a wonderfully sombre tune but still injected with life thanks in part to the wonderfully arranged production. This album does just really run the gambit of emotional tone and all of it well paced. Seriously, I still think there is an art to putting an album together, this album is so well paced that 12 songs and 52 minutes long, it flies by like a breeze. Making you want to listen to it all over again, immediately.

Corroded are quickly becoming one of my favourite metal bands and I am so happy they came back off of that hiatus. Even better they came back stronger and filled with ideas. This album is such a blast and now a frequent companion on my car journeys. If you like your pure heavy metal, do yourself a favour and get this one as soon as you can!

5/5

Mick Birchall

Gates Of Paris – Gates Of Paris

Posted in CD, Metal, Rock with tags , , , , on 28th December 2018 by mickbirchy

Gates Of Paris

Gates Of Paris

Symphonic Metal, Progressive Rock

Released: 30th November 2018

 Self Released


I have to say I’m pretty damn impressed by this French symphonic metal act, and their new self-titled record is something to shout about. I have to admit, I don’t go hunting for new symphonic metal acts, but they always seem to find me, one way or another. Gates Of Paris are a metal outfit, funnily enough, from France and they bring everything that is interesting and fun about this genre to the forefront on this record.  Their debut album is quite interesting, mixing a variety of different styles of music to create their own unique blend of what I can only call, evil-metal carnival music. It’s epic and weird all at the same time.

I was hooked from pretty much the first moments. The stylistic atmosphere is excellent and sound beautiful right out of the gate. The sound of the band is great with excellent riffs and wonderful musical progressions. I like all of the musical elements that they include on the record, in particular, the Spanish guitar which makes it on to the record on several occasions. It’s always pleasant and great to hear whenever it comes in. Every level of the production is smooth and well integrated. From the great guitar licks, the powerful bass lines to the commanding drums, it all feels so glorious. I really like the way the album flows together, it almost has a serial or concept nature it and every song flows into the next seamlessly.

The album also has interesting musical cues here and there. All of these moments really shine a light how much fun this band can be. Such as having their own version of circus music in there. There really isn’t a lot here that bugs me or annoys me. Really, the only thing that got under my skin is that I never felt the need to return to the album once I listened to it. The music doesn’t have that “re-playability” factor, at least not for me. If you really like this style of music, then maybe there’s more “re-playability” in this for you, but this is a once in a while record for me.

In summary, I do like this album. Gates Of Paris are seriously impressive, considering that this their first record. The sound is crisp and well put together. The production is excellent and overall it’s really a well put together record. It may not be overly captivating to me but I can definitely hear other people really getting into this style of music. If you like your symphonic rock and progressive grooves this is certainly a record that you sink your teeth into.

4/5

Mick Birchall

BillyBio – Feed The Fire

Posted in CD, Metal, Punk Rock with tags , , , , , , , on 8th December 2018 by mickbirchy

BillyBio

Feed The Fire

Thrash Metal, Rapcore, Hardcore Punk

Released: 30th November 2018

via AFM Records

 

It’s really cool being able to listen to the new project from the frontman of Biohazard, Billy Graziadei. Going under the new name BillyBio, he has released the new record Feed the Fire and I have to say it’s pretty good. I was interested to listen to this right off of the bat as I am a big fan of Biohazard and I’ve always like their mix of thrash metal, punk and rap metal. So, I wanted to hear what Billy could do on his own. This record is an interesting listen, it’s fast pace, heavy and filled with political statements. It’s clear Billy is a great songwriter and I have always appreciated him as a musician.

I like the production and the overall sound of the record. Right from the first song, the album hits you in the face with a blast of heavy guitars, bass and drums & the forceful presence of Graziadei. There are lots of moments on the record that get you amped up and raring for more. My particular favourite song in this regard is “Generation Z”. Which, along with the intensity, it has a catchy chorus. Everything presented here hits hard and fast. The general writing quality on display is great with Graziadei throwing in rap verses over thrash metal tones and it all fits together so well.

Although, the problem I have with the album is the guitar tone. It’s pretty much the same all the way and it can feel a little samey, hearing the same tone over and over again. It makes the album drag just a little bit. It just grinds away and that can get just a little boring here and there. Even though all of the songs are short and sweet, the never-changing tone just makes it feel like it’s longer than it really is. Only a few songs ended up sticking with me and that because of the great hooks and choruses.

So, I am a little mixed when it comes to this album. There are some really good songs when you take them individually but they just become one long mesh when put together on an album. So the album doesn’t really work as a cohesive whole. There is a lot to like, the strong social commentary, the harsh guitars and the commanding bass and drums. Billy is a fantastic frontman and his personality is what sells the album for me. If this was made by a band that didn’t know how to make these elements work it would just be so weak. Yet, Graziadei can take all these elements and throw them together to make a decent album. He’s such a forceful presence, you have to pay attention to him at the end of the day. It’s definitely worth picking up, though I wouldn’t advise sitting through it in one go.

3/5

Mick Birchall.

Sky Empire – The Dark Tower

Posted in CD, Metal with tags , , , , , on 20th November 2018 by mickbirchy

Sky Empire

The Dark Tower

Progressive Metal, Groove Rock

Released: 26th September 2018

via The Rock Company

I know I don’t cover progressive metal all that often. It’s just not a genre that captivates me in the right way. Sometimes a band comes along that can change your perception on a certain style of music. I will admit, I didn’t know all that much about Sky Empire before now and I don’t know too many people that do. Their debut album, The Dark Tower is pretty enjoyable. Mixing well-executed music with impactful story-telling, they have managed to create a fairly decent debut album. The band straddle the line between dynamic and creative instrumental prog-rock and more classic rock standards. It’s quite an interesting listening experience to be fair.

Right from the first song “Marionette” you get a sense of what to expect from the album. Multiple instrumental parts flowing into each other, dynamic musical parts and an intricate atmosphere. It all comes through quite well, musically. The technical ability on display is certainly impressive. I am amazed by how it all comes together. The production is pretty much on point, making sure every member of the band gets their licks in, and also providing a great balance between the excellent guitar and keyboard solos. All the while, the drums keep the creative pace going. I have to admit, I’m not a fan of the vocal performance as it doesn’t really match the music here. He has a well-toned voice, I can’t think of any flubbed notes or anything, but it just doesn’t work for me personally. The rough and deep tone never really fits in with the style. Also, when he tries to hit the higher notes it sounds like he’s straining his voice.

Whilst everything here is certainly impressive, and it is, there’s nothing that really sticks to my imagination. There are prog bands that really stick in my head and there are ones that don’t. Sky Empire, sadly fall into the latter. I appreciate the musicianship on display and I respect the multiple parts, the rising and falling tone and the solos… Yes, it’s all so glorious. However, it’s not something that I think I would choose to return to, and I listen to bands like Iron Butterfly and Ex Libris for fun. There just needs to be more polish to the presentation and the overall style.

It’s a decent record and they’re clearly talented. As I’ve mentioned, the musicianship is out of this world. The album certainly has its rough spots as well, with the drums feeling a little muted here and there and the aforementioned issues I have with the vocals. There are some things they do incredibly well, such as the riff and solo work, building an atmospheric tone and keeping a tight performance through multiple (and often frenetic) parts. I just would have liked to have heard a little more polish in the production. I liked the time I spent with the record but I have no real desire to return to it.

2/5

Mick Birchall

DC4 – Atomic Highway

Posted in Alternative, CD, Metal, Rock with tags , , , , , , , , , on 22nd October 2018 by mickbirchy

DC4

Atomic Highway

Hard Rock, Classic Rock

Released: 21 September 2018

via Highvol Music

With over 40 releases under their belts combined, it’s really easy to expect a lot from these bonified legends of the industry. DC4 are a supergroup formed by brothers, Jeff, Shawn & Matt Duncan with their brother-in-metal Rowen Robertson, who between them have appeared in such bands as Armored Saint, Odin, Killer Bee & the legendary Dio. So their rock n roll pedigree is far from in question. We know they can do the job. The question is this, are they any good? My answer, in a word, yes. It’s all the great aspects of classic hard rock and none of the fluff. Their new record, Atomic Highway is an enjoyable experience that will get any rocker’s mojo going. If the talent on display didn’t impress you, then know that Bill Metoyer produced and mastered the record. With bands like Slayer, Suicidal Tendencies, Corrosion of Conformity and the aforementioned Armored Saint under his belt. You can bet the album is going to sound as good as it can possibly be.

This album gives you everything you expect. Powerful riffs, gut-busting solos, commanding vocals and grooves for days. The band sounds so good, with strong songwriting and well-executed performances all around. It’s amazing how this automatically feels like a classic record with those familiar guitar sounds that you could swear you’ve heard before. The band just rides the groovy riffs and then go wild during the solos, whilst still maintaining that great control of the rhythm. No one member feels more important than the other, everyone plays their part beautifully. Sure, the rock style may be formulaic, but at this point, it’s a tried and tested formula of rock n roll and it guarantees that people keep listening and enjoy the songs. The impressive guitar solos are what sell this record for me. When the guitar is let loose, I can feel goosebumps shiver through my body. The precision and skill, blended with a wonderful rhythm section make the solos pop and really stand out.

Jeff Duncan’s vocal performance is great as well. He has a dynamic singing voice that ranges from powerful with a rough edge, to tender and well toned. When he sings, his voice sores above the production. The music matching the lyrical subjects really well and the squealing guitar contracts well against his vocal style. I really don’t think there is a dull moment of the album. A real shock for me came with their unique cover of The Who’s “Baba O’Reily”. Although it’s not a flawless cover version, this song is a beloved favourite of mine. So anytime I get to hear it, a smile comes to my face. It also comes with cameo appearances from Guns ‘N’ Roses’ Dizzy Reed on the keyboard and John Bush (Anthrax, Armored Saint) on guest vocals. So that was pleasant and made the song more whole then if the band just tried to do it outright.

In all honesty, you get what you pay for with this record. It’s meat and potatoes rock n roll. If you love your classic rock and that old school flair, then this is for you. As a kid who grew up thumbing through his dad’s old albums, this album is right up my alley. It’s familiar and new in all the right ways. It doesn’t beat you over the head with nostalgia. It simply feels like a record right out of the past with newer production. Atomic Highway is a solid album that will please people who love unapologetic rock music. Let me tell you, I’m having a ball listening to this record.

4/5

Mick Birchall