Monday, 26 March 2018

Dark Tranquillity, Equilibrium & Miracle Flair - Gebr. de Nobel Leiden, 25 March 2018

One and a half year ago Dark Tranquillity released their excellent album Atoma. So last year they toured Europe part 1 and this year part 2 follows. Intereseting enough both tours stopped in Leiden at de Nobel. Now last year I did not go, so I checked why and found it was Easter, Josie was over and the next day Persefone played Hoofddorp. This year it is the other way around as Persefone play Hoofddorp on Friday when Josie is here for Easter break and I turned attendance between the two bands around, how fair is that? In order to promote this with some friends I put in our concerts app group for those who like In Mourning. Well that convinced Peter enough so we could have a few beers and raise the average age by a year with the two of us. Before Dark Tranquillity came on, we had two supports and this evening must have been one of the steepest curves of interest I ever witnessed. Starting band Miracle Flair plays this kind of lame female fronted metal with poppy melodies. Nothing against female vocalists (I loved Savage Master last week), but I really had no idea why this band was added to the tour. The people slowly coming in answered their music with some applause, but it was too little my thing to say anything usefull really.

Equilibrium came on next and it took about two seconds to see this would be more interesting. They metalled up the night and their folky extreme metal mix went down surprisingly well to a young and jumping audience. This is also not my favorite style in metal, but since Finntrol at a Dynamo Festival begin this century I do at least appreciate the live party they create. Not too long ago I also saw Korpiklaani and that was as big a party. Tonight it was an evening of steep curves in appreciation, so I had some criticism as well. After a few songs the loud tape playing along started to annoy me.  It became to me as if I was watching some extreme metal idols of sorts. At times you heard more tape than band and every song started with the band showing us their backs and after some seconds of tape they would turn and join the music. While saying this I did appreciate the atmosphere the band created and the strong German accent gave the show an eighties feel as well. When they played their song Wall of Death I was almost tempted to hand over my beer and jump in, but I did not. So Equilibrium gave us a party, but I was dubious on how much was live really. Running into Magchiels cousin after the show he told me they recently lost their keyboard player, so maybe that is part of the excuse.

And then it was Sunday night 21:00 hours. The balconies closed, but the hall packed and the party could begin. A large screen for accompanying pictures and movies and a truly professional band on stage. This set was one great party celebrating Melodic Death Metal. The shirts mentioned founded 1989, while many of the people in were just a blink in the eye of their fathers at the time. I was around of course, but far from interested in Death Metal in 1989. So I do not know this band much longer than most of the people in, but recognized a few songs. This music and the solid presentation by the band, made it easy also for first time listening on many songs. Even more so with at times the strong images on the screen. Not sure if there were any specific highlights, but the images had most impact on Terminus (Where Death is Most Alive) their hymn on Gothenburg and Therein with the words Solid, Everchanging and Different appearing for us. Mikael Stanne did repeat more than once how he likes de Nobel and Leiden. so his promise to be back soon might be based upon reality. So Dark Tranquillity did end the evening just as I hoped for with a top performance. And yes it is nice to see a full house on a Sunday indeed. Due to several reasons this March I miss other weekday shows, but Sundays are going strong. Next Sunday there is more.


Monday, 19 March 2018

Savage Master & Steel Shock - Gebr. de Nobel Leiden 18 March 2018

Sometimes Tiago and I run in parallel yet rather similar fashion. So when he left at the end of the afternoon for the city center to eat something with friends and go to an action movie, I followed soon hereafter in the same direction. Now I was off for Leiden to drink some beers and watch some battle metal. If only Tiago knew how fantastic that can be he might have joined. Unfortunately he still does not get eighties metal and I would fall asleep during Lara Croft so our quality time remains for breakfast and dinner. But I was off to Leiden to see two bands I did not know yet and with both sounding interesting in advance on the internet I decided to ignore the last remainders of a bothering fever and face the cold. Mid March temperatures were that low, that we could do with some Metal Fire indeed. I did not know yet, but we would get just that.

Steel Shock were the first band and only watching the stage with swords, armour and a huge banner looked promising indeed. The cover of their debut album For Metal To Battle promised us even more. Fully in line with some of the best albums of the eighties this design was beautifully ugly. Attackers - Battle at Helms Deep sprung to mind. Unfortunately I still connected the design with not that nice, but next time I will get the Tee. This is cult, authentic and true in one shirt. Now I only got the CD after the show, which was one partying way of returning in time. Most songs were mid-tempo and good old heavy Metal in performance, so yes the shrieks, the solo's and the whoo-hooos were all there. The lyrics mentioned  the Heavy Metal textbook with a remarkable frequent return of words like: Steel, Fire, Defenders and Metal. The result of this all, was that the fast majoriy of those present had a very good time and we can speak of a small sensation. No this might not be original in music, lyrics or performance, but it happens to be the music we loved when we were younger and still goes down so fine with a beer in your hand. Special heads up to vocalist Nima Metalheart who managed to remind me of Helstar, Virgin Steel and Attacker indeed. Nice to know we have in Holland such a defender of True metal walking around, hope to see much more of them.

After this highlight headliners Savage Master were still to come. Soundchecking in their daily outfit, they left the stage to return with faces hidden behind black cloth. Apart from the vocalist that was. An impressive lady of small stature. Being the tall freak myself I am allowed to talk heights again, but looking someone wearing high heels and standing on a fairly high stage still straight in the eye must mean we talk different sizes indeed. What made her impressive was her voice. Luckily no operatic nonsense, but good old singing like we know from the eighties again. The event compared here with Doro, Lee Aaron and Leather Leone and yes that is the range we have to look at. Black masks or not the band played some mean metal as well. This hour and a bit flew by and  before I realized it they left the stage. Well they did return and gave us a nice surprise of a closer when Swords & Tequila came upon us with some help from Steel Shock vocals. Savage Master closed the evening in style and those who like their metal in eighties fashion had one blast of an evening really. I got myself one CD each and gained the knowledge that fever and beers do mix well and have a healing effect if consumed at right doses.

Friday, 16 March 2018

Hekz - Twisted Illusion

Usually I buy CD's. Nowadays online as all good shops in The Hague closed down, but the holding of a physical product shall for me always beat any download format that is out there. This time I am reviewing two download versions though, but both for a good reason. Before going into any detail it is already good to hear that England is and always shall be a stronghold for music. Also on the front of Progmetal where these two bands are compared with bands like Rush, Queen and Dream Theater. Both of them fronted and contacted throug a Matt, there are more than a few parallels indeed.

Hekz - Invicta
This April 20 Hekz shall release Invicta upon the world. As a special Pre-release show they play Alphen aan de Rijn next Friday 23 March. I was already eyeing this show as I do own and like their first two albums. To my surprise Hekz invited me to put some words on their new album down. Well only if hating the album, one can refuse such request really and luckily I can tell Invicta does not disappoint. On several fora Hekz have always been compared to the greats in progmetal plus Iron Maiden. Now I do not hear that much Maiden, but can see where namedropping of Threshold or Dream Theater are coming from. If there is any band I am reminded of most however, it must be Everon, but than without the German accent. Everon always bordered between heavy progrock or lighter progmetal, with great songs, sounds and voices. Well Hekz, does just that to me. this album spends ten songs with the range we know from them. Midtempo rockers, Piano ballad parts and some Epics. The Epics are this time twofold with Line in the Sand and The Devil's coin clocking in around ten and fifteen minutes respectively. Where the long songs give the band the chance to change between moods, for me the outstander is this time their uptempo headbanger. To the Lions must be one of the better bangers released this year and where uptempo throughout, we also get some high shrieking vocals any fan of eighties metal should love. But this is my favorite song today, which can change until catching them live next week. One song deserves a special mention as well being closer Victorious. Songs like that aren't written that often anymore these days. It is Hekz answer to We Are the Champions. This song could echo around football stadiums worldwide really. Well not  in Holland or Paris, as both football is shite. Pity that I don't think Hekz will ever get the exposure for the world to pick this anthem up, but maybe their local team can do something with it. Resuming there is something for everyone into progmetal really. So Parktheater Alphen it is next week (cold and fever improvement allowing) for seeing some new songs on stage and picking up the physical copy.

Twisted Illusion - Excite the Light: Part 1
Those following my blog must have noticed the impact Twisted Illusion made on me last year. This band released a debut album in 2016, a double album in 2017 and here we have Excite the Light Part 1, the first of a trilogy. With a production rate like that one might fear a drop in quality at times. Well going through the downlead that anticipates the Pledge CD I did not hear any such drop really. So what does Twisted Illusion all that right? They just start and play songs telling us a story, without worries on formula's or rules. This means that we often get acustic openings followed or not by a gripping guitar solo. Another point of reference are the choirs shouted loudly at us by the band and the voice of Matt going all over the place really. When I first heard them I mentioned they sound like Motley Crue playing progmetal. This mainly based upon Matt's vocals, although he can teach Vince Neil a lesson or two on variation. Six songs make up for this album and the title track starts of fast and furious. Not sure yet if I have any favorite track here, as all work for themselves. One of them is an "oldie" as Molly's Smile was released as a single already last year. The Molly in this song is Molly Mear and this beautifull epical ballad became the anthem of Mearfest. the world's most sympathetic Charity Metal Fest that I know off. After that epic, the album is closed by a song called after the band. It amazes again how we can move from singalong chorusses to calm acustics and that ever returning impressive guitar solo. So now comes the scary bit.  Twisted Illusion are unsigned. Still their pledge campaign reached target within 24 hours from release. We the fans (Illusionists) are a community not unlike the Marillion freaks, loving any step of the band. Unlike Marillion though Twisted Illusion did not yet sell millions of albums, nor can they afford their fan weekends. Still as we should trust in quality I somehow think this band will become one day a sort of household name. The Pledge for Part 2 shall start in August, you can still jump the bandwagon and become one of the early discoverers..I hope to finally catch them live at Mearfest early June.

Tuesday, 13 March 2018

Michael Schenker Fest - Oceans of Slumber - Tribulation

Coming home sick after a short week travelling for work left me with time to listen a bit better to some interesting recent releases. So herewith my thoughts and buy recommendations.

Michael Schenker Fest - Resurrection
Last year Michael Schenker Fest hit Holland and it was one of those shows that blew me away. Michael Schenker getting back the three vocalists of the eighties. This together with Ted McKenna, Chris Glen and Steve Mann meant a party indeed. Going through a history of my youth sounded so good and the atmosphere and playing were on a high. So when a new album was announced, I knew I was going to buy it for completion and historical perspective alone. Now through the years I did not get all his albums, but a decent number. I never expect the impact that he first three MSG albums made on me, but at the same time the guitars always kept on sounding great. So when the album opens we get the first surprise with uptempo Heart and Soul, a fast rocker. On the guitar parts a certain Kirk Hammett starts a dual with Michael just to set the tone I guess. Next song Warrior is the hit from the album and allows all four vocalists to share the duties. With the singalong chorus this should becoem a live anthem. Actually quite a few songs tend to have this massive chorusses and should work fine on stage. The split between the vocalists is made and I like the Graham Bonnett song Night Moods as it fits his voice so well. The album sounds like a bunch of people having fun, making an album in the style we grew up with and love so much. Including Doogie White in the Fest made sense as his voice has a different colour as well. A final word for the guitar god himself as he still manages to talk to us through his solos. My only doubt is in the title Resurrection. This implies MSG was flat on the floor before, while I have seen several very strong shows in different setups (MSG, Temple 0f Rock) over the past decade. I guess "continuing on top of the game" didn't sound as catchy as album title.

Oceans of Slumber - The Banished Heart
Well did they make it hard for us listeneres on this one. Oceans of Slumber announced over the last months that their new album would be dark and heavy. When I first heard it not giving it all attention, maybe disappointment was lurking around the corner. Well that got corrected by now, but still listening to this album in full ain't no walk through the park. Putting perspectives I discovered this band when releasing their debut Aetherial with Ronnie Allen on vocals. Being something very new and refreshing to me that album became my album of the year 2012. When Winter was released in 2016 we got a surprise with swap of vocals to Cammie Gilbert. This new setup worked very well for me as well and having the chance to see them on stage opening for My Dying Bride and later Enslaved I could see how great they are live. So we have here a potential favorite band for the coming decade in hands, so expectations rise accordingly. This explains the initial disappointment as well, while at first undetailed listen it seems to have too many calm bits. Oceans of Slumber combine extreme metal parts with soft piano bits just like that. Well that is still in place, the playing as good as we got used to and Cammie does have a striking voice. So opening with some long songs that change moods at first even Madder Mortem - Deadlands era comes to mind. Enough going on and happening here, while in At Dawn they possibly released my favorite track of the album. The title track is a sort of long power ballad with a beautiful building up of emotions towards the end. We continue heavy after a dark instrumental sound effect piece with Etiolation and  A Path to Broken Stars. Why the latter has it's lyrics not pulished in the booklet is unclear to me. It is the one song that stays fast throughout. When already exhausted we get another four songs all rather mild in tempo and dark in moods. While certainly some will consider the duet with Tom Englund (Evergrey) No Color, No Light a highlight I prefer the title track as ballad.  Closing down with a 150 year old cover is original and different again. Now I still have not heard by far eneough of this album to opinion how strong I rate it. There are very good songs for us and the darkness has to become clearer in time. I can safely state that they released a thrid top album out of three (plus a cover album Blue). Now Oceans of Slumber return to 013 yet again. While I could accpet them opening for MDB and Enslaved, opening for Epica just won't do. So I hope for a long headline slot one day soon. And yes I will repeat my requests for Coffins Like Kites as after all Aetherial still might be their best album.

Tribulation - Down Below
 This band is on another fanbase level for me. I saw them touring the previous album The Children of the Night in Leiden and loved their performance. This band has the remarkable characterisitc, that their voclas are much heavier than the music itself. I already felt this with TCOTN, but with Down Below they take it to the next level really. The vocals continue Blackish, while the music is actually very accessible. Opener The Lament starts procedures off very well a catchy upbeat song. Going through the album this new style is omnipresent and it works wonderfully well to me. Instrumental Purgatorio halfway through could have been on a Faith No More album in the nineties. This band is very much about shocking. The stage clothes already did surprie in the past, while this mix is bound to confuse people as well. The voice far too heavy for many and the music too light for others. Pity that the Tribulation / Insomnium package skipped Holland and plays Lisbon in April three days before I arrive. I could do with another Tribulation live show and see if the album grows even further herefater. 

Saturday, 3 March 2018

Bent Knee & Golden Caves - de Boerderij Zoetermeer 2 March 2018

This review has to start with a warning for Andy: If yesterday you already were upset that I am going to see Q5 this summer, you might not want to read about me seeing one of your recent favorites. To make it more serious I even skipped Blind Ego, high on your 2016 best album list, due to family priorities. So Progdreams 2018 started this Friday night. Josie was also arriving at Schiphol at 22:25. So as faith decided I could just see the band I was most interested in until 22:00 and leave for the airport. Now I saw and liked Blind Ego last year, but they shall return I guess. Progdreams is a small event for connaisseurs of Progrock. Through the years they showed always to include some interesting and exotic names, often before they breakthrough (as long as that is possible in Progrock). So while I only could attend the Friday night partially, bands like Alan Reed, Dave Kerzner or Lifesigns would be very interesting indeed along top headliners Magenta and Steve Rothery. Now Tim Bowness already cancelled due to snow in England. As he was only scheduled for Sunday this did raise some eyebrows. First today the snow is disappearing fast here already and second Bent Knee took 4 trains and a night ferry to make up for a cancelled flight from London. Yet not knowing any details we can only guess. The program today suddenly shows Focus instead of Lifesigns as well, so the UK must be much worse indeed.

It was up to Dutch band Golden Caves to open the festival. Now Andy is not the only one impressed with this band. The fairly large international Progpower delegation present seemed to like them as well and the famous Roarrrr towards the stage did surprise some people unaware of this crowd custom. Now I started completely blank on this band and could judge for myself. Well first the playing and principally singing were above average. This girl has a great voice and luckily stayed away from operatic screaming. While the band was also good, not all that glitters was gold to me. The songs themselves did not make much of an impact on me, as I missed variation. All moody and calm I believe as always that one fast short rocker would boost their set and one long epic guitar solo sounded welcome to me as well. Still I did like the performance overall and during the last two songs a bit more of a bite was mixed in. I guess they won over new fans and reconfirmed their talent to old ones.

The band of the evening for me however was Bent Knee. Last year I discovered them when they released their already fourth album Land Animal. Now their music is hard to describe as it hangs between genres and styles really. So let me start with the looks as they were also not your every day band. As I am a tall freak myself I am allowed to comment on heights and the majority of Blind Knee is not that tall really. Passing the stage  from left to right we had a kind of DJ on the left. Wearing headphones his role was unclear to me, but I guess he took care of some soundscapes in the music. Then we got a small violinist who was moving around while playig or picking his violin. Centre stage the lead vocalist, a small lady with an impressive voice (Ani di Franco alike at times) and strong presence on stage. During the calm parts she could dominate the audience Hogarth alike with just a voice and a few keys.  On the right the female bass player who danced through the show and when she got lead vocals in one song I was reminded of This Mortal Coil. On the back the drums were steady and moving from heavy beats to soft accompanying the calmer parts. So now I skipped the guitarist and he really was the hero of the band to me. His head reminded of Zappa,  his colourfull unbalanced jacket he must have bought at Zeeman in the eighties and his playing was flawless and varied. At times he took off his glasses allowing him to bang and jump more franctically around stage. To make the interesting picture complete inbetween songs the band as thank you to the audience starting waving to the crowd. After a while people started waving back and the whole show got a royal tour through the city atmosphere.
But they played music as well and while I only have one album I recognized many songs and the new ones were easy to follow as such. Yet there was something contradicory happening with me. I totally loved the show and performance, while at the same time this is not your typical music I could absorb any time or day. So while we have friends, without the need to mention Esther and Michel, who followed Fates Warning through Europe on the full tour I can see how brilliant that is. With this band I now saw it and do not need to see them again anytime soon. Next year would work, but the same set on the same tour again would be too much. Yet if you have the chance to ever see them, go and do so as this is something atypical and interesting. They made the huge effort to reach Zoetermeer in time  and I was pleased to be at their debut show in Holland. I only believe they made an exchange rate mistake somewhere as underground shows with CD's for EUR 20 and shirts for EUR 30 was something new to me. And while I am writing this day two of Progdreams starts. Maybe one day the timing suits me so that I can attend the three days. as small festivals like these deserve all support.