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Music Review: Ensiferum, Glorior Belli, Fools Game, and Axxis

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As with last week’s collection of reviews, all this music was heard while I was being trotted round the Baltic on a cruise ship. The latter half of the cruise took us to various ports around Scandinavia. It's probably no coincidence that one of my favourite cities on the trip has produced a great metal band.

It might surprise some, but there were two other black clad metalheads on the ship. Dave is a band that has opened for various bands reviewed in this column over the years. He and his lovely wife were shunned by many on the ship, but provided us with some candid chat and fond recollections of metal gigs in our past.

Ensiferum: From Afar

As I sat in a shop in Helsinki, while my wife looked at clothes, I was content listening to this great slab of Viking/folk metal. The fact the members hailed from the city in which I was in made it all the sweeter. Veterans by now, this bunch of Viking heathens improve with each release. Combining all the aspects that make metal, of its various ilks, great, they produce music which is both atmospheric and epic.

They bring the feeling of the vast open oceans of the Baltic, in a moderate chop, to life. The self-belief that filled those early Norsemen as they headed into the unknown across treacherous seas to trade, explore, and conquer shines through. It"s possible to believe that had they had the instruments Ensiferum would be something they could produce.

With their combination of rough and various sets of clean vocals (almost all of them sing) you get the whole drinking songs feeling in droves. The keyboards are merely there to add feeling or evoke a mood when it's needed.

There are no duff tracks on this release and I could happily listen to this for many months to come. If you have never been brave enough to face up to Viking metal, then this album is the one to attempt first. It’s a damn good metal album first and foremost, the Norse tinge just makes it all the more special.

Glorior Belli: Meet Us at the Southern Sign

The title of this album could mean a few things, once you get into its general gist. Yep, they are a bunch of black metallers from France who wish to tempt the listener, I suspect, to the left hand path. However it might just be a plea to their listeners to let them have their fun with their interesting touch of Southern (US) metal. Its seems the French lads have been delving into the bayous and swamps of Louisiana for inspiration. Phil Anselmo and his various outlets figures high on their radar.. It certainly adds another layer of nuance to this brand of death metal.

Hell they even delve into a bit of the blues (ie: meet me at the crossroads, Robert Johnson, trading soul for musical talent etc) on the very non-traditional black metal of “In Every Grief-Stricken Blues" which one fellow reviewer dubbed “Blue Metal”. Grey metal might work better as it’s somewhere between blue & black. I digress. Its seems with this release the band are trying to stretch their legs a bit, away from the constraints of black metal. Methinks that Robert Johnson would be pleased.

It might horrify some black metal readers, but I rather enjoyed this album. Its always great to see a band try and do something that is slightly off the beaten path.

Fools Game: Reality Divine

Lyrics inspired by Edgar Allen Poe, W B Yeats, and H. P. Lovecraft with a heavy progressive tinge, makes for something that would peak my interest whatever. I am glad to say that this interest is well-rewarded on this nine track CD. With an international well-respected collection of musicians, it went from a one-man band to a full blown project very quickly.

Eclectic in the sense that each member brings a different style to the table from jazzy drumming, through Dream Theater-esque to vocals that at times remind me of Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider. This sort of melting pot approach to song-writing could be a disaster, but is instead quite enjoyable to the ear. Progressive and metallic in equal measure, this is what you want from your power prog. You will be relieved to know that on this, their debut, they have forsworn the epic 12 track 70+ minute opus for something shorter and far tighter.

Tim Aymar, of Control Denied fame, shows up to lend his vocal talents to the epic “Conqueror Worm,” with its mythos tinged lyrical content. Matt Crooks risked a lot lets this bunch of players loose on his creation, instead what he got was a mature collection of great metal. This is probably the best band you would probably have never heard of if you didn’t read this column you will hear this year.

Axxis: Utopia

Melodic metal as done by the metal musicians of Germany. This is power metal at its most Germanic. In fact, to celebrate their 20th birthday the band have gathered some of the best of German power metal to participate. Alas, this track is only on the digipack so those of you with the normal version will miss out. This is just the type of galloping power metal that drives some reviewers nuts. And, yes, this band do sound like they are a band formed in the 80s. Of course, they have been around for a long time and have quite a fan base so they could care less about anyone who scoffs.

This album is by no means a classic by any measure, but it's still rather fun. It's everything you expect from a Germanic power metal done well with lots of enthusiasm. Probably an acquired taste, it puts a smile on my face, which is useful after having to listen to so many miserable gits.

Lots of keyboards, sub-Lloyd Webber choruses, complete with falsetto vocals on tracks like “Utopia.” This release will certainly keep their fans happy, not sure if it will gain them any new ones. I am almost certain that won’t bother em’ one bit.

On that note, I hope you have enjoyed my latest collection of reviews. Apologies if there is a thin layer of salt caked on the review. Check out some live music if you can and always stay safe out there.

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