Monday, 29 December 2014

The Top 14 of 2014: Albums

We read the year 2014 and every week at least 5 CD's are being released that might deserve my attention and interest. Hence the sheer impossibility to come up with a complete list of favorite CD's. So I started to add some rules. The Album should be released on CD (out went Being) not a collection (out went Dutch Steel) or a live best of album (out went Lillian Axe). Further I also did not include new CD's which sounded interesting on the internet, but were not received in time to give a proper listen (out go Ne Obliviscaris, While Heaven Wept, Skyharbor, Haken and Malpractice). This solved my problem only partially and I could go for the easy way out and release a top 50. But as an exercise in making choices here is my top 14 of 2014 and apologies go out to the following artists who amongst others released highly enjoyable albums, but did not make the cut: Lee Abraham, Persian Risk, Lawless, Voyager, Aeon Zen, Pink Floyd, Pendragon, Opeth, Vortice, Super Massive Black Holes, Foscor, Savage Messiah and Simon Godfrey.

14: Dream the Electric Sleep - Heretics
Alternative progressive rock with Classic Rock touches. Interesting band, being slightly different makes them hard to compare with anyone. Opening track Heretics rocked them into my list.

13: Cynic - Kindly Bent to Free Us
Gone are the grunts, increased are the eastern melodies. Still Cynic always stay high level now also interesting for those who loved Aeon Spoke. Nicest artwork, package and full score of 2014.

12: Need - Orvam A Song for Home
To me new progmetal band from Greece. With Fates Warning as clear influence they are ones to follow and enter PPE. Great songs, pity of the spoken Hotel Oniro which is made up by epic title song.

11: Steve Rothery - The Ghosts of Pripyat
My favorite instrumental album of 2014, by my favorite Marillion member. Getting more space than in H-days Marillion his guitar is talking to us as we love it. Opening marillion weekend 2015 in style I'm sure.

10: Sanctuary - The Year the Sun Died
Comeback album of the year? Maybe I was expecting even more, yet still one great Heavy Metal album, with the always recognizable voice of Warrel Dane: Solid.

9: Intervals - A Voice Within
Really liked them live in Dordrecht and then loved the CD. A great mix of modern progressive metal songs. No grunts to scare of the older generation and showing I can be modern in taste as well.

8: Cosmograf - Capactor the amazing spirit capture
Yet another beautiful concept album by Robin Armstrong. Playing most instruments himself with the help of some known names from the UK he writes great atmospheric songs. Better version of modern Floyd.

7: Anubis - Hitchhiking to Byzantium
These Aussies are another solid deliverer of high class prog rock albums. This time not a concept album as such. just a great collection of songs. Note to self: They are going to Prog the Castle in Heidelberg.

6: Serdce - Timelessness
4th CD of these Belarusians and I never heard of them. Got on track by PPE 2015 announcement. Extremely interesting mix of brutal metal to soft piano bits. Looking already forward to see them live in 9 months.

5: Amoral - Fallen Leaves & Dead Sparrows
Finnish band used to be death metal now Classic Rock influenced melodic progressive metal. To me the biggest discovery of the year. Vocalist once won Idols and has a great voice indeed, Time to  look into their back-catalogue.

4: Scar Symmetry - The Singularity Phase 1 Neohumanity
It's all about the variation. Where Voyager managed to work pop heavy on stage at PPE to great surprise, Scar Symmetry might have released their best album yet. Great mix of accesible clear sung parts and heavy metalling bits.

3: The Contortionist - Language
My favorite band of the new generation. Seem to be getting calmer by the album (or just more mature). This album needs to be given time and patience and suddenly it's beauty is revealed. Announced for UK Tech Fest 2015, hope they make it to Holland.

2: Pallas - Wearewhoweare
OK, so this CD arrived some 8 months after originally anounced date and then I simply did not stop playing it. Pallas just never seems to get the recognition they deserve, this CD should at least put them up there with the greats in small prog rock scene. Beautiful album for the winter.

1: Threshold - For the Journey
Deserving the number one spot of 2014, because they just release another great album at a level normal to them, but not many others reach. After seeing them live I even liked the album more and yes The Box is a classic song for them and Damian Wilson is one of the very best voices in Progmetal.

Saturday, 27 December 2014

The top 14 of 2014: Live Shows

2014 Definitely was a good year for live shows to me. Today's reality means that bands have to tour to make a living and resulting in an abnormal number of shows. As I am travelling a lot for work I have to be lucky and picky in deciding which shows to attend. Also at times there is just too much at the same time, which makes it almost physically impossible to attend all. One example was early November. After seeing MSG the weekend before I could go the next week on Thursday to Saxon/Skid Row, on Friday to Opeth, on Saturday to Haunting Skies festival with Distorted Harmonies and Hekz, On Sunday to Threshold and on Tuesday to Solstafir/Obsidian Kingdom. Normally all shows I would like to see, but now I only went to see Threshold. So taking the above names into account together with Toxik, Pendragon, Anvil, Steve Rothery, Metal Church, Mastodon and another few hundred bands I missed, there is basically just too much playing to attend all. Still from the bands I did see I could make up this top 14 of 2014, with still some great shows not making the cut. So 2014 was brilliant and as a bonus included the show of my life.

14: Night Demon - The Hague May
The Hague Heavy Metal Alliance organizes many shows in my home town and I missed most. This one I saw on a Tuesday night in cafe de Vinger. What a great band and getting this for almost free and near home. They come back to The Hague in March under THHMA. Also Kyrbgrinder and Tysondog are scheduled so I hope to see many more shows on bicycle distance next year.

13: Intervals/Tesseract - Dordrecht February
My list is dominated by nostalgia, but these bands are the future. Djent Metal has a (the?) future in progressive metal and for me these two stood out from what I saw live on younger bands. Interesting to see how the audience also is changing for the future as black is no longer the only obvious color.

12: Pain of Salvation - Baarlo October
Playing two sets at Progpower and both going back to their glory days (first 4 albums) it shall be hard to find better progmetal bands. Still I had a bit of mixed feelings, wondering why they ever moved away from that style. Seeing Remedy Lane played live from start to finish, was something we could never dream off the past five years and it sounded great.

11:Soldier / Midnight Messiah - Hatfield August
Power & Glory Festival. A new name and hopefully one to stay. In the great atmosphere The Rock Den provides, this was one day of old glory reliving their past and showing their relevance still. My two favorites of the day were Soldier and Midnight Messiah, but the full day deserved thumbs up. I do hope to be back in Hatfield more than once again in 2015.

10: Dream Theater - Amsterdam February
After seeing them at Night of the Prog during their previous tour I already decided I would like to see them again once playing those evening setlists. 3 hours of Dream Theater. Being critizised for taking away the surprises, by repeating the same set all over the tour, even when returning to Holland in summer I loved the setlist with new blocks and a highlight in side B of their best album ever Awake.

9: Paul Di'Anno - Tilburg December
Still fresh in my memory, last Sundays blast at the Little Devil. A Set of old Maiden Classics, a great band and a voice that was in spite of a cold acceptable. What more does one need for a great evening out? Noting really and I am even looking forward to his new material.

8: Lawless / Shatted Skies - Wales March
HRH AOR/Prog. Many great names and a brilliant mix of Classic Hard Rock and Prog. In spite of the big names on the bill my two favorite shows were Shatterd Skies at the Prog Stage and Lawless on the music Stage. Most catchy song of 2014 live : Black Widow Ladies by the latter one.

7: Marillion - Rio de Janeiro May
During Marillion weekends and in interviews more than once Marillion spoke great of their Rio shows. Now work brought me at good timing to Brazil and I could see for myself. Audience response was not that specially more entusiastic to my ears, but highlight was their greatest hit show which meant many returns to the past. Biggest surpise Ocean Cloud passed by as the most unknown song of the evening.

6: Threshold - Zoetermeer November
Threshold is one of those bands who never disappoint live. With a great back-catalogue a lot was taken from last two albums with Damian Wilson back on vocals. Damian Wilson also happens to be one of the best performers in progmetal land and with this great band backing him up, all ingredients for a perfect show.

5: Vandale/Deo - Rotterdam September
Talking about nostalgic domination of my overview here we got two of the best. Deo turned out to be a great Dio cover band and their vocalist made me realize I should see Praying Mantis live soon. Vandale is the only band singing in Dutch that can put a huge smile on all faces of the slightly older audience shouting along to Rot Op, Als je Hart or their classic Geitenwollensokkenrockers.

 4: Michael Schenker's Temple of Rock - Zoetermeer October
A lesson in Classic Rock. Going through the best of MSG, Scorpions and UFO this was jumping from one highlight to the next one. With Michael Schenker looking in better shape than the previous tour all the time I start believing in many Into the Arena's in the years to come.

3: Fates Warning - Weert April
Going from a band that hardly played live in the nineties to a band that keeps on coming back, the setlist might not be the most surprising one, but the quality of the songs more than makes up for that. With Ray Alder in great voice and support band Kingcrow also very good, this might have been of the best Fates Warning Shows I ever saw, worth a high ranking here.

2: Voyager - Baarlo October
Definitely the biggest surprise of 2014. I knew them from CD and liked them alright, but seeing them live is a whole different story. The energy jumping up and down the stage was so captivating and contagious that I did not see anyone leaving the Sjiwa without a big smile on his/her face. Amazing how an OK band can be so overwhelming while on stage and yes their 80's medley was great fun.

1: Stampede - Hatfield February
Show of the year, the decade, my life. How many chances does one get to see a band you loved over 30 years playing live for the first time in a place run by ridiculous sympathetic crew and guests standing in front of the stage going through your favorites and being introduced to the band afterwards. Helped by the fact that Stampede live is even better than on CD. In 2015 they shall be back in Hatfield for Power & Glory 2 so shall I. Missing You, Send me Down an Angel, Shadows of the Night, Moving On and of course Hurricane Town. What a show, what a night and when can I get them to play Holland?

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Paul DiÁnno / Martyr - Little Devil Tilburg, 21 December 2014

Never did I see Paul Di'Anno live before and people asked me if I was not in for a disappointment. For sure his voice would not be the same as 35 years ago, he would still be living on the past and his life style should not raise expectations high. Right as they might have been, fact is that those who decided not to go to Little Devil based upon the above cliche's, missed a highly entertaining show where all ingredients for a good night out were present. We had a great band (The bass player came up in a Psychotic Waltz hoody, which did boost convidence in the musical level before they started), we had great songs as being almost all old Maiden work and we had a vocalist with stage presence and a voice that did not disappoint, even if he had a foking cold. We even got warmed up fine by Dutch 80's metallers Martyr.

When Paul Di'Anno came up, I must admit some state of shock. As I did not see the brace on his right knee at first I did think he could not even walk straight any longer. Soon it became clear that he was in real pain and halfway the show he got a chair and smoked, drank and sung sitting behind the band. Further his voice was gone, due to a shitty night in Leeuwarden, but what was left still managed to sent us right back to 1979-82. Opening with Wrathchild and Sanctuary the tone was set and being the first time I saw him live many songs I never saw before passed and showed us the rawer start of Iron Maiden. His voice was always more with an edge and the band played tight. As the set which lasted given the conditions pretty long. moved on many highlights passed, but I think the best part was Paul sitting through Charlotte the Harlot - Killers - Phantom of the Opera.

So I missed out on Iron Maiden in Ziggo Dome and at FortaRock this year. Somehow I have a feeling that I might not have enjoyed those as much as I did this show. Little Devil is probably the nicest metal bar I know in Holland and a nice full small venue, where you almost stand upon the stage is what it basically is all about. So no special effects, sensational lightshows or whatever, just a band playing their set and having a good time. Inbetween songs Paul complained, cursed, spat and giving us some great lines on Colombian White Christmas, Probable STD deaths, Lemmy introductions, Shitty married lives and being British and proud of it. Next year this band shall under the name Architects of Chaoz release a new CD. After tonight's show I am definitely going to get that album.   

Saturday, 20 December 2014

Pallas - wearewhoweare

More than a year ago I promised this review after signing in on their indiegogo crowdfunding project. With some delays to original schedules, I received last week their beautifully packed edition for pre-orders. This was definitely worth the wait. After some disappointments from bigger bands like Transatlantic, Pink Floyd and Pendragon (well Pendragon only due to extremely high expectations, as they still might make my 2014 top 10/15 list) Pallas manages to surpise very positively. I actually liked all phases of Pallas from the eighties Atlantis suit, through strong nineties comeback Beat the Drum until previous first album with Paul Mackie on vocals XXV. Now Paul Mackie had a bigger participation and his voice suits the music extremely well.

Talking about the music, it is mostly dark and moody. Only opener Shadow of the Sun, still hints at uptempo bits, we further hear mainly dark ballads or heavy midtempo songs. Luckily all spiced up with some great solo's when needed and lots of creepy atmosphere. This is just the perfect album for the time of year as last song Winter is Coming also suggests. Central epic Dominion borrows from some arabic melodies and tries to pass a positive message. Lyrics seem to be meant for thinking and in spite of the general dark atmosphere on this album go for the positive approach as well. Ballad New Life contains one of the better messages to start appreciating what is good: "Go see a sunrise once in a while, so warm and alive, It's a beautiful thing and it's your life". This line brought me back to Ipanema beach where at the end of the afternoon people gather on the rock in the ocean at the end of the beach to watch the sunset and all start chearing an shouting when it goes under. Never saw a sunrise sober due to slow awakenings, but guess the feeling should be similar.

With the message of looking for the positive Pallas makes our life easy, since in my opinion there is really not much to moan about on wearewhoweare. Beautiful, dark, intense, uplifting, moody, impressive and spiced up with occasionally hard rocking guitar solo's this is to me easily the best progrock album of 2014. Winter is coming and Pallas gaves us the CD to get through it with a smile on our faces.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Serdce - Timelessness

Progpower 2015 announced it's first 6 bands and I had a quick listen at the to-me-unknown bands. Serdce was the name I even never heard of, in spite of releasing 4 CD's already. Maybe the fact that they are hailing from Belarus had an impact on this. Further references of Cynic and Atheist definitely drew my attention and soon I listened to a YouTube version of this album. It took me 5 minutes into the CD to order my copy through bandcamp. And now playing the original album on headphone again, I can say I found a new favorite of 2014.

The album opens atmospheric and when the text comes in, it can be noted that the band does not speak English every day, Mentioning the vocals, I am still in doubt if this album would be as good if fully instrumental. The vocals range from clear and light to death grunts and as they received help on translating lyrics, they sometimes seem less comfortable to sing out loud really. But after some listens I got used to the vocals and the package is complete now including vocals. This does not take away that the absolute highlight of this album lays in the sheer brilliance of the instrumental parts. The range is wide from piano bits, to technical death metal riffs, but the constant factor is the high level playing.

I don't really have a favorite song on this album, as even within songs Serdce can go all over the place in emotions. I do know that I am already looking very much forward to seeing them play this in Baarlo almost 10 months from now. Not sure yet if I am going to get earlier albums already, but wait how I rate this CD some three months from now. Actually with the beautiful artwork a T-shirt is also on the list for Baarlo. And then they come from Belarus!!! Metal unites the world indeed (he said when continuing looking for the new CD of mainly Indian band Skyharbor). Serdce; I hope they shall face no visa issues, when conquering the world as this should be heard by millions.  

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Scar Symmetry - The Singularity (Phase 1 Neohumanity)

Scar symmetry is one of those bands I have a few CD's from, lost touch somehow by not seeing them touring and forgetting how good they are. The albums I have are from the days of vocalist Christian Alvestam, who himself could swap between very melodic vocals and deep grunting lines. Nowadays vocal duties are divided between Roberth Karlsson and Lars Palmqvist, although I do not know who sings which parts. Still their typical balance between very melodic almost poppy verses and death metalling parts is still very much there and used with great success. I wonder how they manage this split on stage and stay large parts without vocal lines and hope to see this soon on a stage nearby. Where the vocal split sets them apart, the big man behind Scar Symmetry is Per Nilson who wrote, played guitars/keyboards and produced the album. 

The Singularity Phase 1 is the first of a trilogy and gives us a Sci-Fi story. The contents of the story can be resumed after the release of Phase 3, as I already know that I shall keep an eye on Phase 2 and 3 as well. This album reminds me of the recent great succes of Voyager at Progpower due to the mix of catchiness and heaviness. Staying in progpower references I also think of Shadow Gallery, but then three notches heavier with added grunts. Still the instrumental mastery and covering keyboards are pretty similar. While I love this CD, I can also see a risk for this album. Those into melodic death metal might consider the poppy parts too light, while the melodic rockers might get scared by the sometimes brutal voices. Personally I can't care less about these risks as I love this album, look forward to the follow-up and think a headlining spot at Progpower 2015 is well deserved. Yet another great CD in 2014, the list gets longer and longer. Recommended!!!