Friday, September 28, 2012

Affector - Harmagedon

Inside Out Music/Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia

Affector’s initial formation can be traced back as far as 2005, when former Divinity German guitar player Daniel J. Fries approached Dutch drummer Collin Leijenaar (Ex-Dilemma) while he was on tour with Neal Morse with the idea of putting together a new project. Some six years later, the pair managed to secure Symphony X bassist Mike LePond and Enchant/Thought Chamber/Spock’s Beard vocalist Ted Leonard into the line-up, and Affector was officially off the ground. Twelve months later, and with some help from noted keyboardist Neal Morse (Ex-Spock’s Beard/Transatlantic), Italian fusion player Alex Argento, Derek Sherinian (Ex-Dream Theater/Planet X/Black Country Communion) and Jordan Rudess (Dream Theater), Affector have finally unveiled their debut full-length effort ‘Harmagedon’.
For progressive rock/metal fans, Affector is nothing short of a supergroup, and with that tag, many will have a fair amount of expectation from this debut effort. And thankfully, the band delivers exactly what’s expected from them given line-up involved in such a project. The album starts off with the short symphonic instrumental piece ‘Overture Pt. 1 – Introduction’ (Which is performed by Polish orchestra Sinfonietta Consonus), which then quickly moves into ‘Overture Pt. 2 – Prologue’, which combines the orchestra with the band themselves. The duality of the two tracks work quite well (One symphonic, the other more a progressive metal sounding), and the lead guitar work from Fries is exceptional on the latter.
It isn’t until ‘Salvation’ that we finally get a real idea of what Affector sound like outside purely instrumental tracks, and essentially they sound like the stronger elements of Symphony X, Dream Theater and a hint of Enchant all rolled up into a huge progressive rock/metal sound. It’s been a long time since Leonard has fronted a band, and his return here is a welcome one. His melodies are first class, and even though the music behind him is a little more aggressive to what we ever heard on the Enchant front, he manages to make a mark. On the guitar front, Fries absolutely shreds with blinding technicality without going too over the top, while the waves of keyboards dotted throughout the track are well placed and executed.
Clocking in at a lengthy fourteen minutes, ‘The Rapture’ is obviously the big epic at the halfway mark of the album, and as expected, one of the album’s real highlights. The fast pacing, combined with distinctive riffs and melodic leads, orchestral fills (Again, supplied by Sinfonietta Consonus) and rich keyboard underpinning throughout help create a truly epic track that’s near impossible to fault, and a definite highlight on the album.
The mellow and slower paced ‘Cry Song’ is something that wouldn’t have sounded too out of place on an Enchant release, but different enough to stand apart, while ‘Falling Away & The Rise Of The Beast’ is another up-tempo melodic piece of progressive rock that boasts some great melodies from Leonard and some stand out keyboard solos from both Morse and Sherinian.
The title track ‘Harmagedon’ is again another thirteen minute epic slotted in the latter half of the album, and by far one of the album’s heaviest tracks, and a personal favourite. Fries absolutely shreds throughout this track, and proves that while he is a virtual unknown up until this point, his place amongst the other big names in the line-up has been well earned. Finishing up the album is ‘New Jerusalem’, which is a rather melodic track in the vein of Enchant, but with a little more guitar thrown into the mix to beef things up.
Supergroups for the most part seem to let down more than they impress. But if truth be told, Affector is the exception. While the conceptual story within the lyrics leans a little too much towards the religious side of things (Which is not surprising given the album is based on the Biblical apocalypse), the music more than manages to impress enough to overlook the story contained within.
The line-up within Affector will ensure there’s no shortage of fans that’ll quickly pick this up without a second thought. And so they should. ‘Harmagedon’ is a worthy effort.

For more information on Affector, check out -

© Justin Donnelly

Pantera - Vulgar Display Of Power - 20th Anniversary Edition

Vulgar Display Of Power - 20th Anniversary Edition
Rhino Entertainment Company/Warner Music Australia

Following on from the overwhelming success of the remastered/expanded twentieth anniversary re-release of ‘Cowboys From Hell’ a couple of years ago, Pantera (Alongside their label Rhino Entertainment Company) have again decided to take a step back in time and give another one of their album’s a much needed makeover in deluxe form. Not surprisingly, 2012 marks the twentieth anniversary of the group’s sixth full-length effort ‘Vulgar Display Of Power’, which makes it the perfect release to be given a complete revamp.
Originally released in 1992 (On Atco Records/Atlantic Records), ‘Vulgar Display Of Power’ saw Pantera build upon the power groove based metallic sound that was evident on their former release, but with a greater level of aggression, venom and confidence that was previously only hinted at (Especially on the vocal front, where Phil Anselmo all but abandoned his high/clean voice). Given the general lack of heaviness and rawness from most metal releases at the time, fans firmly embraced the band’s newest release, which in turn saw the release quickly become one of Pantera’s biggest selling albums – propelling them into elite status.
Anyone who’s heard or followed Pantera over the years will no doubt be familiar with ‘Vulgar Display Of Power’, or at the very least the numerous singles lifted from the album throughout 1992 – 1993 (‘Mouth For War’, ‘Hollow’, ‘This Love’, ‘Fucking Hostile’ and ‘Walk’). So for the benefit of this review, I’ll bypass putting my personal thoughts down on the album itself (It’s a good album, but not one of my all time favourite Pantera releases), and instead focus on the extras included on this reissue
One of the most talked about extras on this reissued version of ‘Vulgar Display Of Power’ is without a doubt ‘Piss’. The previous unreleased track was recorded during the album sessions, and according to bassist Rex Brown, was cut from the album primarily because the album didn’t seem to need it. And it was a good decision too, as ‘Piss’ isn’t really one of Pantera’s stronger efforts. Although far from terrible, Anselmo’s lyrics are a little overbearing in the macho stakes, while the overall riff structures, tempos and performance within the song come across as somewhat mundane and repetitive. As a bonus track, its inclusion here is justified. But had it made it onto ‘Vulgar Display Of Power’, ‘Piss’ would have easily stood out as the album’s weakest effort. Personally, I prefer ‘Use My Third Arm’ (Which featured on the band’s follow-up effort ‘Far Beyond Driven’ from 1994), where the band recycled the riff into a completely new and far superior tune.
Apart from the bonus audio track, this re-release also comes with a bonus D.V.D. While the inclusion of the three promotional video clips (‘Mouth For War’, ‘This Love’ and ‘Walk’) the band made for the album is a bit of overkill (Who needs them if they have 1999’s ‘3 Vulgar Videos From Hell’ D.V.D.?), the six track/twenty-nine minute ‘Live In Italy’ set is a real highlight. Shot for MTV at the Monsters Of Rock festival (Which took place in Reggio Emilia on 12th September 1992), this complete live set from the band is well shot, sounds great and boasts a rock solid performance from the band. Although the footage has been doing the rounds for years on the net, finally getting a copy of this show on D.V.D. is a real treat for diehard fans.
Sound wise, Howie Weinberg’s remastering does sound a little sharper and louder than the original album, which is what you would expect given the album is twenty years old, while the liner notes (Courtesy of Revolver Magazine’s senior editor Jon Wiederhorn) and the lyrics for ‘Piss’ are seamlessly blended into the old package without looking too out of place.
Overall, the deluxe re-release of ‘Vulgar Display Of Power’ has been well done. It would have been cool to see a little more on the D.V.D., and the overall packaging is a bit of a step down to what was presented on ‘Cowboys From Hell’, but still a decent enough re-release worthy of Pantera diehard’s attention.

For more information on Pantera, check out -

© Justin Donnelly

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Corvus Stone - Ice King

Corvus Stone
Ice King
Melodic Revolution Records

Corvus Stone are relative newcomers to the European progressive rock scene, with the formation of the Finnish/Swedish collaboration having only been together for less than a year. While the band themselves are a bit of an unknown entity, the members involved in this new project are anything but unknowns, with all of those involved having been involved in a variety of projects throughout the years. Although having released various bits and pieces of music over the last couple of months, ‘Ice King’ marks the first official release from Corvus Stone, and a true indication of what can be expected from the band’s upcoming self titled release (Which by all accounts, is due before the end of the year).
Prior to giving ‘Ice King’ a listen, I took the time to reacquaint myself with Corvus Stone’s earlier known recordings. And while the band had managed to throw together some interesting ideas in the studio, there was nothing that had emerged from the band that made me really sit up and take notice. So to be perfectly honest, I really wasn’t expecting too much from Corvus Stone’s latest effort. But I’m pleased to report that while my initial expectations for ‘Ice King’ were quite low, Corvus Stone had much a grander plan, and exceeded everything I thought possible from the band.
In the past, Corvus Stone (Who comprise of Colin Tench Project/BunChakeze/The Road To Avalon guitarist Colin Tench, ex-Lyijykomppania/Progeland/Saturn Twilight bassist Petri Lemmy Lindström and Psychedelic Eye keyboardist Pasi Koivu) have produced some great ideas and sounds, but nothing that came close to sounding like a complete song worthy of inclusion on an album. But with the assistance of The Road To Avalon/Minstrel's Ghost vocalist Blake Carpenter, and former Raven/Micah drummer George Robert Wolff, Corvus Stone have really found their sound.
‘Ice King’ is somewhat of a strange track to pin down in the sound sense. There’s an unmistakable feel of classic ‘70’s progressive rock within the song, but there’s also a touch of world music within the subtle acoustic guitar work and percussion that drifts in and out throughout the song. The build up of heavy guitar work provides a memorable high point around the latter half of the track; while Tench’s ever present echoed guitar sounds are executed with absolute finesse.
But while the individual performances are noteworthy, it’s the song as a whole that really wins me over. Despite the cold lyric themes, the haunting vocals of Carpenter and the minimal musical composition, it all comes together perfectly for the band.
It’s hard to make a true evaluation of what Corvus Stone will deliver over a full length effort based on one song, and even harder given their rather patchy mix of demos and instrumentals. But if ‘Ice King’ is any indication of what the band has in store, then it really does have the potential to be something special. Here’s hoping ‘Ice King’ isn’t a mere one-off.

For more information on Corvus Stone, check out -

© Justin Donnelly

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Black Trillium - The Locked Woods E.P.

Black Trillium
The Locked Woods E.P.
Independent Release

Doom metal is the kind of genre of music that I can only take in small doses. And even then, if it’s not done exceedingly well, it more often than not comes across as overly long, endlessly repetitive and downright tiresome. But every now and then, I’ll come across a doom metal release that will take me by complete surprise and remind me that while everything under the sun within the genre has been done countless times, when it’s done well, it can be totally captivating. One such release is Sydney (New South Wales, Australia) based outfit Black Trillium, and their debut E.P. effort ‘The Locked Woods E.P.’.
Formed in early 2011, the two piece outfit (Comprising of ex-EnviroCore/Ministerium multi-instrumentalists Simon Skipper and Zach Carlson) spent the better part of the year recording their collaborative effort, with ‘The Locked Woods E.P.’ finally seeing the light of day midway through 2012. And after teasing listeners with various snippets of their work in progress over the last year, I can say that the end results live up to expectations.
The opening title track ‘The Locked Woods’ kicks off with a brief acoustic passage before the pair launches into full-on electric mode with an assortment of twisted riffs and a variety of grooving tempos changes. Matching the musical soundscape is the intensely brutal vocals, which add a blackened edge to proceedings. But then the band takes the listener on a completely different course around the three minute mark, with clean vocals and acoustic passages fleshing out the death/doom metal sound that initially determined the direction of the song. The contrast and clashing of vocal/musical approaches is extremely well done, and in some ways brings to mind a mix of Opeth, My Dying Bride and early Paradise Lost. Oh, and the riff right at the tail end of the track is nothing short of magnificent.
The follow-on and faster paced track ‘My Decline’ (The first single and the shortest track on the E.P.) is perhaps one of the E.P.’s more accessible and straight forward sounding tunes with its memorable guitar riffs/lead breaks and heavily harmonised vocals, but still manages to pack a hell of a punch at just the right time (The intense death metal-like section around the two thirds mark is particularly brutal).
‘The Perfumed Garden’ slows down the pace to showcase the darker and heavier aspects of the band’s doom metal sound while incorporating a mix of clean and growled vocals when the shift in speed takes place, while the closer ‘Rage Fuels My Masterpiece’ lives up to its name with a sound that’s rooted more into a grooving death metal vein, but with enough variation shown throughout in terms of tempo changes and vocal approaches to keep things interesting throughout.
With a great production, quality song writing and diversity offered throughout every track, it’s hard to find a single fault on Black Trillium’s debut offering.
Although described as doom metal, Black Trillium’s sound is far more diverse and widespread than a simple genre tag. Black Trillium is a mix of an assortment of influences, and the end results are truly impressive.
I for one can only hope that this collaboration is more than a one-off experiment, and that there’s more to come from the band in the future.

For more information on Black Trillium, check out -

© Justin Donnelly

Monday, September 10, 2012

Europe - Bag Of Bones

Bag Of Bones
Hell & Back/earMUSIC/Edel Germany

Since reuniting in 2003, Swedish hard rock outfit Europe have gone from strength to strength with each one of their three comeback releases garnishing more critical acclaim than its predecessor - enjoying a success well and truly beyond what many would have expected from the group given that most considered the band as nothing more than a hair band riding on the coattails of late ‘80’s hair band scene. Following on from their stunning ‘Last Look At Eden’ release from 2009, Europe (Who comprise of vocalist Joey Tempest, guitarist John Norum, bassist John Levén, keyboardist Mic Michaeli and drummer Ian Haugland) are back once again with their latest effort ‘Bag Of Bones’. And much like the three albums released since their return to the scene; their latest sees the band making an effort to push their sound into new territory, without losing any of their signature melodic rock sound.
The group open up their latest release with ‘Riches To Rags’, which unveils a rich ‘70’s hard rock sound at its core, but with a distinctly modern edge. Kevin Shirley’s production (He produced, mixed and engineered the album) has given the band an earthy and heavy sound, which sounds like a natural fit for Europe’s current direction, while the song is an absolute rocker, with the performances from Tempest and Norum really standing out.
The album’s semi-autobiographical first single ‘Not Supposed To Sing The Blues’ is as the title would suggest, a smouldering slower paced blues/rock effort that proves beyond any doubt that the band are in their prime both as musicians and songwriters. The subtle Led Zeppelin keyboards and percussion (Courtesy of Anton Fig) are also a welcome addition, adding to the authentic classic ‘70’s hard rock sound the band was aiming for.
Much like the orchestral elements that featured on their last album, ‘Bag Of Bones’ showcases a greater blues influence on a number of the album’s tracks. ‘My Woman My Friend’, which is preceded by the Michaeli penned/performed short orchestral instrumental piece ‘Requiem’, is a good example of the band’s foray into blues influenced rock with its soulful piano intro, heavy blues rock middle section (Norum definitely adds plenty of weight on the guitar front here) and overall melodic sensibilities throughout. Elsewhere, the energetic punchy slow paced rocker ‘Doghouse’ and the classic title track ‘Bag Of Bones’ (Which features a Black Country Communion guitarist Joe Bonamassa on slide guitar, and by far one of the catchiest choruses on the album) are further examples of Europe’s foray into blues infused hard rock.
Norum’s Led Zeppelin influence on the acoustic rocker ‘Drink And A Smile’ is undeniable, but works nonetheless, while on tracks such as ‘Firebox’ (One of the few tracks to feature a touch of orchestration this time around), ‘Demon Head’ and ‘Mercy You Mercy Me’, Europe crank up the volume and rock out in classic hard rock fashion.
Finishing up the album is ‘Bring It All Home’, which is the only real ballad on the album. While ballads rarely work as closers, Tempest’s emotive vocals, Michaeli’s piano work and Norum’s blues tinged tones work perfectly with the lyrical prose, and provide the album to a perfect close.
Comparing Europe’s latest effort with ‘Last Look At Eden’ is near impossible given the album’s opposing directions and influences. But if there’s one thing that can be said about ‘Bag Of Bones’ after living with ‘Last Look At Eden’ for the last three years – Europe has definitely hit a creative streak, and is sounding better than ever.

For more information on Europe, check out –

© Justin Donnelly

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Angelus Apatrida - The Call

Angelus Apatrida
The Call
Century Media Records/E.M.I. Music Australia

Two years after the release of their Century Media Records effort ‘Clockwork’, Spanish (Albacete based) outfit Angelus Apatrida are back with their fourth full-length effort ‘The Call’. Although ‘Clockwork’ was far from a thrash metal classic, it was a thoroughly enjoyable album that had many sitting up and taking notice. So it comes as no surprise to find there are a lot of people out there (Including myself I might add) expecting big things from ‘The Call’. And sure enough, Angelus Apatrida have well and truly met the challenge they set for themselves, with ‘The Call’ easily the strongest release the modern/retro-thrasher have released to date.
After a short build up, Angelus Apatrida (Who comprise of lead vocalist/guitarist Guillermo Izquierdo ‘Polako’, guitarist/backing vocalist David G. Álvarez, bassist José J. Izquierdo and drummer/backing vocalist Víctor Valera) quickly settle into the groove of the opening track ‘You Are Next’, before launching into full speed attack mode with the introduction of Izquierdo’s raspy/screamed vocals. Musically, Angelus Apatrida haven’t strayed too far from where they last left listeners, with the song drawing upon influences from Exodus and Megadeth. But it’s the chorus structures, the intricate lead work/trading dual guitars and the overall production (Which was once again handled by Daniel Cardoso) where the band have really sharpened things, and the results are stellar.
The follow on track ‘At The Gates Of Hell’ sees the band slowing things down a bit to make way for a little more melody within a strong grooving riff pattern, while tracks such as ‘Violent Dawn’, the Megadeth sounding ‘Killer Instinct’ (Which recently made an appearance on the band’s split E.P. release with 3 Inches Of Blood) and ‘The Hope Is Gone’ are tracks where the band aim right for the throat in terms of venomous aggression and manic speed.
Although the faster thrash efforts are worthy enough tracks, it’s the slower and more melodic efforts that stand out as the album’s real gems. Prime stand out cuts worthy of singling out include the infectious anthem based ‘It’s Rising!’, the multi-tempo duality of ‘Blood On The Snow’ (Which boasts a fantastic atmospheric instrumental introduction that brings to mind something that U.K. act Evile could have easily come up with), ‘Still Corrupt’ (Which features a very Jeff Waters (Annihilator) like solo – Ala ‘Fun Palace’) and the impressive seven minute power/thrash metal epic ‘Reborn’.
Although still falling a little short of ‘classic’ status, ‘The Call’ is an album that showcases the growth and improvement Angelus Apatrida have made in their song writing, and the kind of album that fans of quality thrash should check out.

For more information on Angelus Apatrida, check out -

© Justin Donnelly