Nightwish - Showtime, Story Time

Artist: Nightwish
Album: Showtime, Story Time
Label: Nuclear Blast
Genre: Symphonic Metal


Nightwish present their live show from Wacken in 2013, played to 85,000 people. For me personally the band really came into their own once Anette Olzon took over the vocals from Tarja so having a new singer here was interesting.

I do know, and like, Floor Jansen’s work with others so felt I was probably in safe hands and how right that is. Coupled with a confident performance, from all the band, this is also well produced.

The band rip through the numbers, many from their last and also plenty of favourites scattered along the way. Jansen fits perfectly and it sounds like she has always been the singer.

Amaranth”, slowly becoming an old classic, is a real stand out, but it is well matched by a whole set of strong numbers. With a CD and DVD version this is a must have for fans of the symphonic. Nightwish are one of the best in the field.


Skintrade - Refueled

Artist: Skintrade
Album: Refueled
Label: AOR Heaven
Genre: Hard Rock


Here’s an old style rocker of an album that has a few ingredients to help it stand out. The songs roll along nicely and the sound is superb, but I do feel it could be even better.

As said the tracks fly by but they lack any real hook. The parts are well played and very directly driven but try as I might, none of it really sticks in the head. It’s the sort of stuff that you need to hear a thousand times to remember and I think that could be their undoing.

Singer Alfonzetti is as good as I’ve heard him but crisp and well played as the music is, the arrangements lack any real dimensions. It’s a bit odd really - superficially I love this but after two full plays I can barely recall one part.

Hmmm. It’s better than the sort of AOR that has lots of pace and tempo. It’s professional, tight and so on. I guess it’s just a little dull and lacks any real engagement. I don’t have the time to listen the amount of times I think this needs and I fear that may be a problem for them. This is probably a band to look out for live - a great show could then be followed by capturing the memories on CD.


Incura - Incura

Artist: Incura
Album: Incura
Label: Inside Out Music
Genre: Progressive Rock


This creeps into view, snare drums leading the riffs as an atmospheric wail envelops it all. And then it’s going in a new direction, feeling big and theatrical but still deeply heavy under it all. “Get The Gun" is as softly threatening as the title suggests.

As the album develops there is plenty of time for some really outlandish prog, the riffs heavy but the rest more in a rock vibe. The vocal is distinctive and unmissable, and quirky changes just keep coming. At times it’s a little industrial, others purer.

It’s all intelligent and clever, well crafted, at times bonkers but largely delivers. Perhaps parts are a little too haphazard for the straighter ear as the extent of their prog tends to be the arrangements but I quite like the carve up.

Delving into each song is a little fruitless - just know that there is a surprise in nearly every bar. The changes are generally comfortable if you are happy to embrace some mystery and the musicianship is deeply accomplished. Intriguing in so many ways.


Bigelf - Into The Maelstrom

Artist: Bigelf
Album: Into The Maelstrom
Label: Inside Out Music
Genre: Prog Rock


Mike Portnoy on drums and a song called “Theater Of Dreams”? Well it actually starts off with “Incredible Time Machine" with some outrageously showy riffs and then a very psyched out sound from years ago. The various instruments all seem to be fighting for their spaces meaning the cymbal is oddly right at the front and it is all very clever if a little haphazard.

The idea is smart but this seems to put order at risk - the opener descends into awkward chaos for me and when they don’t know where to go they throw in some odd keyboard effects instead. And not just on this song.

Rather than a coherent album this often feels like a maniac’s take on a West End show, the songs having deep theatrical properties and the ideas coming one after the other. My problem is that I don’t find them all working.

It’s okay but the parts are better than the end result, the arrangements just a bit too quirky. The sound is very 70s psychedelic in style and the occasional straighter moments are very good. But the whole doesn’t really hit it for these ears - the maelstrom of the title is a bit too wild.


Iron Savior - Rise Of The Hero

Artist: Iron Savior
Album: Rise Of The Hero
Label: AFM Records
Genre: Power Metal


I haven’t heard of this band since “The Landing” a couple of years ago so don’t really know what they have been doing. Until now as it appears they have been working on a driven power metal album with some soaring symphonic elements.

Intro out of the way, “Last Hero" sets a very clear stall as it pounds along, lead vocals well supported by rich harmonies. The lyrics are perhaps a little simply themed but the drive makes up for it.

Following tracks generally keep that thrusting boldness to the fore and the subjects covered are varied. It’s all very breathless and cleanly relentless. And there may be the slight problem as after a while it gets a little wearing. There could do with being a few more pace changes.

I know that isn’t really genre typical but that’s why those that mix it up a little tend to be more widely listened to and indeed memorable. Iron Savior are polished and focused but I would devour everything they did if they threw in a little variety to the drive. It’s very good for straight power but could be so much richer. Sticking in some brooding at the start of “The Demon" isn’t enough! Very good for what it is but this could have really soared.


Bruce Springsteen - High Hopes

Artist: Bruce Springsteen
Album: High Hopes
Label: Columbia
Genre: Rock


Having toured the Wrecking Ball album endlessly Springsteen has offered up a bit of a stop gap album with a handful of “new” songs sitting alongside some live tracks finally laid down in the studio. The new ones are a mix of covers and bits and pieces that have popped up on e.p.s and so on. It looks like a clear out before a new album.

As a result of its fairly artificial construction, this isn’t an album that especially flows. A long term favourite, “American Skin (41 Shots)" is still exceptional as is most of "The Ghost Of

Tom Joad
”. I say most as this is one of a handful that feature Tom Morello, famous for being in Rage Against The Machine and now an odd bedfellow for The Boss.

His rasping vocal adds to the mood but his lead breaks push a little too close to the edge before the solo. Oh my. Springsteen has always had this as one of his quirkier guitar solos but Morello takes it to new, best unexplored depths, losing control and shape and, most importantly, sitting drastically at odds with the Springsteen canon.

It’s an odd thing for such an established artist to do, destroy his own song, and I can only hope that whenever I next see him live that Morello is off sick. It’s as painful a minute or so as I have ever experienced and is inexplicable.

Anyway, back to the rest. As with many of his covers, Bruce has chosen well and makes the songs sound more like his own than some of those he performs that he actually wrote for others! “Just Like Fire Would" is one such, coming from the world of alt rock.

This is really a fans release but goes to show that big artists can turn their hands to pretty much anything. I would have preferred the running order to have a better flow and that would probably mean a few changes. It will do for now but is no substitute for a proper new album.


Lake Of Tears - By The Black Sea

Artist: Lake Of Tears
Album: By The Black Sea
Label: AFM Records
Genre: Dark Rock


It’s hard to comment too deeply on this, a live album by a band I don’t know in the slightest. What is pleasing is that the sound is very well managed with a crisp finish that allows all of the parts to be heard.

They kick off boldly with a brooding instrumental track before getting into a rolling rock vibe with “Taste Of Hell”, and then firing through some generally cool numbers. I’d maybe like the music to be a little heavier to match the gruff vocal approach but the songs do hit the mark.

Without knowing the band this is a generally enjoyable live trip through their catalogue. The aforementioned sound quality is a big part of that, allowing the band to really show what they can do. I guess if you are a fan you are buying this no matter what - and you won’t be disappointed.


Medusa’s Child - Damnatio Memoriae

Artist: Medusa’s Child
Album: Damnatio Memoriae
Label: Pure Steel Records
Genre: Heavy/Power Metal


The intro track broods and rumbles but does take an age to set the scene, deep ghostly spoken parts sitting across some native American pipes and chants. Real opener “Unchained Soul" finally arrives and slips straight into a very familiar sounding vibe, I just can’t quite place it. The music is fine until the vocal comes and the layers drop away leaving it horribly exposed.

This is actually a rerelease of a 2009 album and it really could have done with more studio work, maybe even a full

rerecording. The annoying thing is that the melodies are generally quite good, just clouded by the average and empty sound.

I like the drive of the rhythm and the often cool riffs and leads, the latter from both guitar and keys. But it doesn’t deliver sonically. There’s a lot of catchiness as would be expected from the style but it’s let down a lot. I would also put that down to large sections of this clearly being played in the style of some big name others with handfuls of Saxon here, Stratovarius there, as examples.

This is good in a lot of places but is very rough, almost demo standard. I’d like to see them live to see if they can polish it all up as there is enough to create interest. Hopefully their newish collusion with Pure Steel will see the faults ironed out in future.


Vanden Plas - Chronicles of the Immortals Part I Netherworld

Artist: Vanden Plas
Album: Chronicles of the Immortals Part I Netherworld
Label: Frontiers
Genre: Progressive Metal


I first heard the band live at the Fused festival a couple of years ago, ignorant of their catalogue. I was entranced by their captivating progressive metal and especially the antics and showmanship of singer Andy Kuntz.

Their latest opens with a long intro to the first song and when it gets going properly it is a brooding slow builder, layers coming in thick and fast on “The Black Knight”.

The album is based on the novels of Wolfgang Hohlbein and the themes are set in the world of fantasy. But this avoids falling into traps and instead feels like a real album, not a movie soundtrack lost up its own concept.

Instead the tracks stand on their own as well as they fuse together, epic instrumentation kicking off many before giving way to a variety of tones. Piano led vocals that fire into crisp riffs feature on “Godmaker" whilst mellow vocals and more piano introduce the "Misery Affection Prelude" that leads sweetly to "A Ghosts Requiem”. And the delights keep coming through every piece.

This is all clever, clever stuff. The songs will play well on their own but they have managed to deliver a whole that exceeds its own very strong parts. It’s a welcome change that this is one concepts piece that really delivers. Full immersion just reaps more benefits and if you like your progressive metal with extra intelligence then this is highly recommended.


Heart - Fanatic Live From Caesars Colosseum

Artist: Heart
Album: Fanatic Live From Caesars Colosseum
Label: Frontiers Records
Genre: Hard Rock


What first strikes me through the relatively recent opener, “Fanatic”, is how shallow the sound is from this show in Los Angeles. There’s just a general emptiness to it, not helped by a typically anonymous US crowd that occasionally whoops from a distance.

There are a good handful of the new songs here as this was part of the support of the most recent album but most ears, aside from big fans, will pin their hopes on the oldies and the band’s well known songs such as “What About Love”, “Alone" and "Crazy On You" to name a few.

Well the first is creaky and laboured, the second a slightly better offering but still a shadow of its original self, and the latter appears to have been rearranged fairly disastrously and sounds like a pub cover. A huge part of this is down to the vocal which sounds like it is all a bit of a struggle.

This disappoints through nearly every turn. I have no real experience of Heart since their 1980’s resurgence but this is all a pale imitation of those heady days. Their recent songs aren’t great and their classics are weak parodies of the originals. The closing “Barracuda" is especially dire.

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