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Music Reviews: Carl Palmer, Heaven & Hell, Creation’s End, Circle II Circle, Fair Warning, and Althorn

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A varied collection of stuff, all of which has some merit for your critical ears.

CD Reviews

Freedom Call: Legend of the Shadowking

Yet another band with links to Gamma Ray and Helloween is Freedom Call. They peddle that wonderful power metal variety that has lyrical content that is full of fantasy. It’s not just the title that evokes visions of some of Dio’s more fantastical writing. Tales of battling dragons and epic fantasy sagas abound. This is the perfect soundtrack for your latest foray into sci-fi or fantasy reading.

There is an approachability to this band that is sometimes lacking in other power metal. Its combination of melodic rock, power metal, and even some of the harder realms of the genre make for a release that is fairly easy to get into. Of course, the inclusion of cracking choruses and soaring music helps quite a bit as well. It’s epic while not being pretentious and metal without being brain-dead. They have come upon a formula that works well and makes it fun for the listener.

There is not really any point to cherry-picking tracks from this release as they all are quite good. While maybe not having anything that stuns the listener with brilliance, this is a solid release. Freedom Call is about as accessible as power metal gets and I would recommend this to anyone interested in dipping into the genre. Rare is a band that has been as consistent as this lot. Well worth seeking out for your epic metal needs. Oh yes and they are on tour right now.

Carl Palmer: Working Live: Vol 3

As you might have gathered from the title. This is a solo album from Emerson, Lake & Palmer alum Carl Palmer. He is the drummer for the band, so this is a drum heavy album of a solo group re-interpreting ELP tracks in an original way. Why it’s necessary is beyond anyone but the most ardent drum and Palmer fans. It would take quite a fan to sit through yet another version of “Pictures at an Exhibition…” all 22 minutes of it.

There are a few shorter tracks which have some attraction to the none Palmer-head such as “Peter Gunn”, “Nut Rocker”, and “Bitches Crystal”. This is however a uber-clever jam fest that takes in jazz fusion, classical and some funk. This is fascinating stuff to listen to, if you have the time and inclination. It’s just not your average listen for when you want to listen to a decent tune or two. It is a very muso centric release that is for certain.

As I suspect with all such releases, there is a rather limited audience for this. However, I am sure the audience that does exist will eat up this CD. Others should proceed with caution.

Heaven & Hell: Neon Nights CD

This would be an essential release if it were a sound-board bootleg done by a mate of the sound-guy. Why is it that essential? It’s the final live performance by Heaven & Hell (Black Sabbath fronted by Ronnie James Dio instead of Ozzy) before Dio became too ill with cancer to perform any more. Little did anyone at Wacken know that they would never see this metal machine again. There is a DVD of the gig as well, which includes one on one interviews with all the band members where they reflect on the recording of the metal classic track that gave the band its name.

There are eleven tracks of Dio fronted Sabbath goodness with a cracking version of the classic “Heaven & Hell”. Other faves like “Mob Rules” really make this an essential release for any Dio or Dio fronted Black Sabbath fan. As with any of these post-demise releases, every time you hear Dio sing it’s tinged with a bit of sadness at the untimely lost of such a great talent. This release has quite a particular moment for that emotion when Dio belts out “Die Young”.

Now many might question the glut of Dio releases this year. If they continue to be of such quality few people will quibble or even consider them to be record company cash-ins. It might be hard to listen to this CD knowing, if you missed it, you will never be able to see its like again live.

Creation’s End: A New Beginning

For many people all they need to know is this band is fronted by the mighty Mike Dimeo, last seen in Masterplan (in a not that successful stint) but most famous for fronting the mighty Riot. This New York band started out as song-writing sessions/jams between Rudolph Albert and Dario Rodriguez. After being in other bands they decided that the material they had written together earlier this decade needed to put out for the rest of us to hear.

What the band produces is melodic power-metal that never disappoints or bores. It has a very New York edge to it and there is less of the folky elements that you find in some of the Scandinavian and European releases. Considering what is on show here, it’s not surprising that at least one James LeBrie Band (Dream Theater’s front-man) alum is part of the band. There is a distinct Dream Theater feeling to the whole affair. However, thankfully for the rest of us, there is less of the most navel-gazing of that band, and far more melodic rock. Then again the shortest track on here is five and one-half minutes with the rest clocking in far longer.

“Hollow” is where the band get in touch with their symphonic side and tries to channel the more symphonic metal coming out of Europe. Whatever you want to call it, this is a solid release for this new progressive metal band. Not for everyone, but damn good at what it sets out to do.

Althorn: Phobic

Symphonic metal is what is in store for you on this release. This is a debut album from a group that tries to combine the old and the new. There is a touch of modern metal about here complete with metalcore vocals. Readers of this column will know that the style has never been my favourite. However this band manages to combine it with clean vocals in such a mixture that it never becomes irritating. From the opening track “Angel of the Fall” there is a certain quality to the music.

Interestingly enough Carsten Frank, does both the clean and rough vocal style, which it lends itself to a better blending of the vocal style. While some tracks are less attractive than others, overall this is a very solid release for a debut album. Seeing as they have fans in members of Nevermore, they are probably destined for good things if they play their cards rights.

If you like a touch of the modern with your symphonic metal then you might want to give this lot a shot. Not quite Mastodon level of quality and brilliance yet, but they are a band that is working to get it right. Very much a band to keep an eye on and a release to check out for the musically curious. A definite grower with oodles of potential for their next release.

Circle II Circle: Consequences of Power

Zac Stevens of Savatage fame’s, post Savatage power metal outfit suffered a bit of a blow early on when the entire band buggered off to form Jon Oliva’s Pain. Not that Zac seems to hold a grudge about that as they two bands are touring together. Oliva, Caffery, and Stevens wrote most of the debut for this band so there is a lot of cross-pollination.

To me CIIC comes across very much as a Scandinavian power metal band with lots of flair and panache. Whether you like his voice or the form of music on offer its very hard to fault the quality of this stuff. Probably best summed up not by the title track but by “Out of Nowhere”, there is just something catchy about it all. And to make sure you know you have been got the album ends with the cracking power ballad “Blood of An Angel” which just exudes quality, catchiness and pomp. It will have you reaching for your lighter faster than you can say “When the Crowds are Gone” (Savatage classic heart-strings puller and on my funeral playlist. Yes I have djed my own funeral already.)

Those who have been left cold by the recent releases by Stevens need to give this release a try. Whether or not it clicks right away, it will click sooner or later. Then you will enjoy the richness that is this release. Zac is back on his finest form.

Fair Warning: Talking Ain’t Enough

Despite a name shared with an album by classic rockers Van Halen, Fair Warning are far more in the Europe (the band) vein. This is pomptastic melodic hard rock in the European style. Then again this lot are described by some as Germany’s answer to Europe (the band). It’s cheesetastic in all the best possible ways. This live set was recorded in Japan in front of an adoring crowd of fans. The keyboard heavy “Angels in Heaven” rather sums up what is in store here. There is a strong touch of Def Leppard, at their height, on the track “Longing For Love”.

There is nothing heavy or deep in store. It’s all about catchiness, huge choruses and gorgeous arrangements. There is a bit of humor too, unintentional or not, a song called “Generation Jedi” will make you laugh not least for its daft name. And yes the lyrics are as daft as you would expect. Quite a few power ballads, but nothing nauseating. It’s no surprise their last album Aura was well received and did well.

Probably not the best intro to this band as you feel like you are not in on the whole thing. However, it’s a great live example of a band that is very good at what they do. And a bit of cheesy hard-rock never hurt anyone did it?

On that pomp note we reach the end of another collection of reviews. Stay safe and rocking as always.

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About Marty Dodge

  • http://www.earsplitcompound.com Earsplit

    The one record is actually by the band ATHORN not “Althorn” as listed. And the album is called Phobia. But otherwise the review is great, as are the others. A great mix of albums/reviews as always.