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Music Reviews: Christopher Lee, Jeff Beck, The Vision Bleak, Orden Ogan, Jon Oliva’s Pain

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Another varied collection this week, with less, in fact, none of the oh-so-heavy but mellow fare. We return to proper metal this week more or less.

CD reviews

Christopher Lee: Charlemagne: By Sword & the Cross

For some reason quite a few people got excited by the fact that Sauraun from the Lord of the Rings movies was releasing a metal album. Others thought it was a cool idea because of his acting past and his appearance on one power metal album already. Unfortunately, I was one of the ones who thought this could be a rather interesting prospect. And we were all wrong.

In the litany of bloody awful, heavy metal concept albums, this will find itself listed forever more as a disaster. Rather than speak as a storyteller throughout the disc, Lee has chosen to sing. Now that might have worked towards the end when the title character was old, but by then you are rather tired of his croaky wobbling. Of course, what makes it worse is that it's lyrically painful. While opera and metal have come together successfully before, it does not work in this case. Those who worked along side Lee in this project will probably not want to mention this on their musical CV.

If this were released by anyone but Lee, no one would have paid a blind bit of notice. It’s a shame that such a great man has been let down by those around him who let him release the monstrosity on the world.

Jeff Beck: Emotion & Commotion

Its been a while since Jeff Beck released an album and those expecting something special from him might be sorely disappointed. Rather than a series of tracks featuring his fiery guitar styling, there are very few originals and he has a symphony orchestra along for the ride. This is far middle of the road rock, flavoured by easy listening stations, rather than anything too rocky.

To make matters worse he has the hugely over-rated and prone to over-sing everything Joss Stone on hand for a couple of tracks. “I put a Spell on You” and “There’s No Other Me”.  Why he felt the need to cover “Somewhere over the Rainbow” and “Nessun Dorma” is a mystery. When he does get going it’s a treat and “Hammerhead” is almost worth the price of admission alone. “Never Alone” is also quite a decent tune, but that is about it.

There really is not much here to keep the Beck rock fan happy other than those two. The rest of it just never excites the way you would expect from a guitar geniuses such as Beck. Does Beck have one last decent blues rock album left in him? Only time will tell, but this surely isn’t it.

The Vision Bleak: Set Sail to Mystery

This is some wonderfully epic goth horror metal. To me it sounds a bit like HIM is channelling Akerkocke instead of T Rex. It's not just HIM that is evoked by this release, there are touches of Depeche Mode, Meatloaf and Alice Cooper. Its heavier than any of these bands by the grandiose touches are there in abundance. At times pomp power metal Savatage get a hint too.

While it might be horror metal, there is nothing horrific to the ears about this. This is certainly not black or death metal, or at least their traditional forms. There are lashings of keyboards and atmospheric breaks that make it sound a bit like a Andrew Lloyd Webber musical gone horrible wrong (and by that I mean right… of course). There is none of the lazy movie clips either, the guys do everything themselves.

While their name might include the word bleak, there is nothing bleak about the sound. It's right with angst, fury, and goth delights. The perfect soundtracks for reading your favourite dark fantasy whether it be H P Lovecraft or Poe, or Dunsany. It's hard to do justice to this release as it's quite simply delightful or should that be dreadfully good? After the disappointment of the first two releases for review this week, this was a welcome surprise.

Orden Ogan: Easton Hope

I Never heard of these guys before this release and boy do I feel like I am missing something. Now, the first track is decent, but nothing special. However when you hit “Goodbye” you remember all that you liked about old Helloween. You now know a wonderful combination of driving power metal and a great catchy chorus that screams live sing-along. It has set closer written all over it. In a sense, it's what power metal is all about.

I quite like the scratchy touch to the lead vocals. It’s a great break from all the clean clear bombast of most power metal vocalists. The band have quite some depth and its shows in this release. While some fans of the band are complaining that the release is a bit too slick, it’s a great introduction for those unfamiliar with the group. Not surprisingly they are German, continuing the tradition of the Helloween and all the bands they spawned.

This is their third album and one that should take them ahead in the genre. It's one of the best power metal albums I have heard so far this year. It's certainly one of the best I have heard from a hitherto unknown band. If you like you Euro-power metal then you won’t go wrong with this release.

Jon Oiiva’s Pain: Festival

Now readers of this column will be well aware I have a soft spot for Savatage. This band was founded by Oliva during one of Savatage’s various hiatus’ to keep him busy. I am sure the name is not happenstance and refers to his continued issues with the death of his guitarist brother caused by a drunk driver. Not surprisingly, the sound is fairly similar to Savatage and the output is of a similar quality.

It's basically Circle II Circle and Jon Oliva, which is not bad thing. This is clever power metal on a rather epic scale. The music on this particular outing, the band’s fourth, center around a theme of a circus-like festival. Creepiness abounds as do visions of dark goings on in the traveling circus. It’s a varied ride that always keeps the listener intrigued. Not quite a concept album, there does seem to be a constant image flowing through the tracks.

Particular stand-outs on this rather good all-rounder, include the acoustic intro to “Winter Haven” which has Beatles-esque feel circa Sergeant Pepper. Well obviously with a far heavier edge than anything by the fab four. At first I thought that a few Enuff Znuff members had sneaked  into the studio. “Now” evokes the same spirit that was found on the classic Savatage album “Gutter Ballet” with its heartfelt power balladry.

Then again fans of Oliva know what to expect from the man. This is no exception and a pleasure to listen to.

I hope you find something of interest above. As always stay safe and rocking.

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