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Music Reviews: Cypher 16, Savatage, Raven, Jonny Lang, Axel Rudi Pell

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Days like this are good for a reviewer. No nice weather to drag you out of the house to do things that do not involve listening to the pile of discs sitting next to you (virtual or real). For a change I am going to have a column entirely comprised of the physical variety.

CD reviews

Cypher 16: The Man of the Black Abyss

This bunch have toured the US and Goa region of India, as well as their native UK. They are young and hungry and are trying to give their own take on the metal genre. They mix alt rock, electronica and metal in a manner that does not sound like your “typical” modern metal band. It's got a whiff of some originality, something that is so lacking in the young metal scene. Neither trad metal copyists nor modern metal template followers, these guys realise you need something extra to get yourselves ahead of the pack.

There is a taste of power metal there, the European variety, as well as oddity metal like Tool with some lashings of electronic metal. In fact you could argue their name perfectly depicts the type of metal they peddle: they are a cypher for all that has come before. This release contains six songs plus a decent music video filmed on the grounds of Gloucester Cathedral.

Any band that can find enthusiasm from both the Times of India and Metal Hammer deserve your attention. If you have a good ear for something out of the ordinary then seek this release soon. It's certainly a young band to watch in the burgeoning British metal scene.

Savatage: Still the Orchestra Plays

A 2-CD set of 23 of Savatage’s best tracks is something that I would recommend on the face of it. Having followed this lot since “Hall of the Mountain King” through their various trials, tragedies and tribulations, I have yet to experience anything lacklustre from the band whoever is singing for them. So enamoured am I with Savatage that in death I shall be seen out at my funeral to their song “When the Crowds are Gone.” Both previously mentioned tracks are on this release.

While most Savatage fans will have all the tracks on here, there is something to make it more interesting. Included are three acoustic re-recordings by Jon Oliva of “Anymore”, “Now what You See” and “Out on the Streets”. This is the first release from the band for a long nine years, so a few new tracks do not go unappreciated.

One has to wonder if Savatage would have gone to even higher heights if not for the tragic death of Chris Oliva at the hands of a drunk driver. Still the band have proven a great breeding ground for talent and have spawned several successful bands, including the Trans Siberian Orchestra. Savatage are a progressive power metal band that inspired many in their wake. If you have never heard them, this greatest hits package is a good place to start.

Raven: Walk through Fire

A welcome return from veteran British metal stalwarts Raven sees them firing on all cylinders again. The reason the band have been on hiatus since 2001 is that guitarist Mark Gallagher has been recovering from two broken legs after a wall landed on him. Then again, the vocalist and bassist for the band is his brother John. The album title and the track clearly are a statement of intent.

Amusingly the cover to the album is very retro. There's nothing modern about this band. With 14 new tracks and one live one, “The King,” Raven certainly is giving value for money. And it’s a solid metal release from a decent metal band. They have certainly recovered from their last 80s label inspired cheesiness. Raven are back doing what they do best, playing live and releasing solid British metal.

Its good to see yet another metal band not resting on their laurels, and putting out decent material. Rather than end up just a nostalgia gig for fans, they are proving to new fans they still have what it takes. You like some proper metal, then take a listen to Raven.

Jonny Lang: Live at the Ryman

Most famous for the track “Lie to Me”, this blues guitarist has finally released a live album for his fans. Now as with any live album, especially a blues release, its not necessarily the best introduction to the guitarist. There are a lot of jammy parts to this release that for the initiated can get a bit trying. Those of us who like “Lie to Me” have to wait until the absolute end of the disc to hear the track.

Blues fans will enjoy this release on its merit, even if they have never heard of Lang. It’s a damn good live blues album which has the elements you want to hear. The crowd is obviously into it and the band are tight round the guitarist. Those who aren’t completely tapped into the blues vibe might not exactly enjoy this CD in its entirety, though. It can be a bit long in places. If you are expecting a blues-rock release, then you might want to look elsewhere. This is the proper blues.

Nonetheless, as an admirer of Lang and the blues I found this quite a treat. It's been quite a while since Lang has popped up on the radar screen and this is a well-deserved live release.

DVD releases

Axel Rudi Pell: One Night Live

He has been around since 1989 and released a whole slew of power metal guitar-fest albums. Never drifting into the wank-fest of, say, Yngwie Malmsteen, for the most part ARP’s releases have been interesting musical efforts. To celebrate his signing to the newly resuscitated SPV, he has released this live DVD. His band, now featuring Hardline’s Johnny Gioelli as lead vocalist, is a treat for the ears and eyes. ARP's sword-and-sorcery epics seem to work nicely in the live environment, their melodic qualities adding to their attraction.

ARP never does anything by half and this band certainly are no slouches either, a very tight collection of musicians able to keep pace with the virtuoso leader. This was filmed in front a friendly crowd of 5000 at “Rock of Ages” in Germany last summer and it shows. There are no overdubs, it's what you see is what you get, which merits a certain kudos.

Now, though not necessarily a good introduction for non-fans of the man, this is a good addition to any power metal collection. It's certainly good enough to keep anyone happy until the late April release of his new studio album. A nice treat for anyone seeking to hear some uber-tight virtuoso metal played.

Well, that is your lot for the week. Nothing too dark or bleak this time round, but that will be corrected next week I can assure you. As always stay rocking and safe.

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