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Avantasia – The Mystery of Time [Review]

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Avantasia – The Mystery of Time
2013, Nuclear Blast Records
Buy the album

1. “Spectres”
2. “The Watchmakers’ Dream”
3. “Black Orchid”
4. “Where Clock Hands Freeze”
5. “Sleepwalking”
6. “Savior in the Clockwork”
7. “Invoke the Machine”
8. “What’s Left Of Me”
9. “Dweller in a Dream”
10. “The Great Mystery”

Band:
Tobias Sammet – Lead Vocals, Bass
Sascha Paeth – Guitar
Russell Gilbrook – Drums
Miro – Keyboards

Additional Musicians:
Joe Lynn Turner – Lead Vocals
Michael Kiske – Lead Vocals
Biff Byford – Lead Vocals
Ronnie Atkins – Lead Vocals
Eric Martin – Lead Vocals
Bob Catley – Lead Vocals
Cloudy Yang – Lead Vocals
Bruce Kulick – Guitar
Oliver Hartmann – Guitar
Arjen Anthony Lucassen – Guitar
Ferdy Doernberg – Organ

Produced by: Tobias Sammet & Sascha Paeth

Tobias Sammet just does not quit! Between Edguy and Avantasia, he’s constantly recording or touring. He’s the German equivalent of Dave Grohl. Busy, busy, busy!

It seems to be paying off. The Mystery of Time has done very well across Europe and while it didn’t break the Billboard 200 in the United States, it sold well enough in its first week to make Billboard’s Heatseeker and Hard Rock charts.

Thankfully, The Mystery of Time is only a 10-track collection and not a double album effort like when Sammet released The Wicked Symphony and Angel of Babylon simultaneously back in 2010. But don’t worry, there’s enough power metal epics here — “The Great Mystery” and “Savior in the Clockwork” both clock in (no pun intended) at 10 minutes.

Though I included this album in my Top 10 list for 2013, I didn’t get around to really listening to it until the end of the year even though it was released in March of 2013. Boy, I’m sorry I procrastinated. This may be my favorite Avantasia release yet and the presence of the German Film Orchestra Babelsberg only adds to the majestic metal that Avantasia already brings to the table.

Speaking of that orchestra, Edguy used them for their Hellfire Club album. I admit it’s getting harder to tell the difference between Edguy and Avantasia these days. Sammet is the driving force in both bands and they both play power metal. The only real difference is that Edguy seems to have a cheesy sense of humor and Avantasia uses a lot of guest vocalists.

Yeah, definitely should have rated this one higher for 2013. The more I listen to it, the more I like it. Great vocal performances all around, great melodies and songs that you can’t get out of your head. Best Avantasia album yet.

Highlights: “Spectres”, “The Watchmaker’s Dream”, “Sleepwalking”, “Savior in the Clockwork”, “Invoke the Machine”, “What’s Left of Me”, “The Great Mystery”

http://www.tobiassammet.com/
http://www.facebook.com/avantasia/

Trans-Siberian Orchestra – Upon the Winter Solstice [Review]

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Trans-Siberian Orchestra – Upon the Winter Solstice
2013, Atlantic Records/Rhino Custom Products

1. A Mad Russian’s Christmas
2. Promises to Keep
3. The Christmas Day
4. First Snow
5. Midnight Christmas Eve
6. Dream Child (A Christmas Dream)
7. Music Box Blues
8. The Snow Came Down
9. Faith Noel
10. Remember
11. What Child Is This?
12. Wish Liszt (Toy Shop Madness)

Upon the Winter Solstice is a compilation album that was released exclusively at Kohl’s Department Stores during the 2013 holiday season. 100% of the proceeds go to the Kohl’s Cares charity to support kids’ health and education. Copies can be bought here and for only $5, you can’t go wrong by purchasing some TSO music while helping out a charity.

This is not to be confused with the recently released Tales of Winter: Selections from the TSO Rock Operas compilation which covers all five TSO albums and one EP. So far, that’s an album that’s only been released in Europe anyway. Upon the Winter Solstice focuses solely on the group’s first three Christmas releases (known as the Christmas Trilogy): Christmas Eve and Other StoriesThe Christmas Attic and The Lost Christmas. Each album is represented with four songs.

Some of the band’s most famous tracks like “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24” and “Christmas Canon” are not included but you still get fantastic numbers such as “A Mad Russian’s Christmas” (one of my favorite TSO tracks), “First Snow”, “What Child Is This?” and “Wish Liszt (Toy Shop Madness)”.

If you’re not familiar with Trans-Siberian Orchestra, this is a great way to get introduced to them while doing some good in the process. This is also a great pick up for someone such as myself who doesn’t (yet) own their first three Christmas albums.

www.trans-siberian.com
www.facebook.com/TSO

Van Helsing’s Curse – Oculus Infernum [Review]

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Van Helsing’s Curse – Oculus Infernum: A Halloween Tale
2003, Koch Records
Buy the album at Amazon.com

1. Patience (Introduction)
2. Tubular Hell
3. All Fall Down
4. Let Me Prey
5. The Child
6. The Tortured Soul
7. Revenge
8. War
9. Let the Pain Begin
10. The Curse

Producer:Joe Franco

Van Helsing’s Curse was a side project put together by Twisted Sister’s Dee Snider. The idea was Trans-Siberian Orchestra meets Halloween. On that front, Dee has succeeded. Oculus Infernum is a great collection of symphonic metal with just enough of a dark, spooky vibe that you can throw it on as background music to get yourself in the Halloween mood.

The project was meant to be so much more than that though. Snider envisioned the group touring every October. I know they’ve did a few live shows but I’m not sure whether they ever toured annually. The year that this album was released, the music was licensed out to a Six Flags theme park in New Jersey as the soundtrack to that year’s “Fright Fest”.

Though TSO occasionally features lead vocalists, there is none of that here. Dee Snider narrates a few tracks and there might be some choir chantings going on here or there, but the music is mostly all instrumental. What’s surprising is that the music is well put together. If I went into this blind, I would’ve thought it was Trans-Siberian Orchestra had started writing darker music.

I suppose that’s because TSO guitarist Al Pitrelli is involved with this project. One Amazon.com review states he co-wrote the album with Dee. I can’t find any confirmation he played on this album but I’m leaning towards ‘yes’ (he did play the live shows at least).

If you like TSO and you like Halloween, you will like Oculus Infernum. I hope some day we’ll get new music from this group because it’s a really cool idea.

www.vanhelsingscurse.com

Jorn – Symphonic [Review]

JORN Symph COVER

Jorn – Symphonic
2013, Frontiers Records

1. I Came To Rock
2. Rock And Roll Children
3. The World I See
4. Burn Your Flame
5. Man Of The Dark
6. My Road
7. Time To Be King
8. Black Morning
9. Like Stone In Water
10. Vision Eyes
11. War Of The World
12. Behind The Clown
13. A Thousand Cuts
14. The Mob Rules

Symphonic is a collection of Jorn’s songs, handpicked by Jorn Lande himself, that have been given a remix and orchestral makeover. Even dating back to when Metallica did it, adding orchestral arrangements on top of hard rock/heavy metal is a hit-or-miss affair. It’s hard to make a song work with an orchestra when they weren’t written with that in mind. Still, it can work depending on the song and as I mentioned, a number of these songs were actually remixed to better suit the orchestra element.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m no expert when it comes to Jorn Lande or the various projects he’s been a part of. It’s only in the last few years I’ve begun to listen to his music but I do recognize some of the songs here like “A Thousand Cuts”, “Time To Be King”, “The World I See”, “Black Morning” and his Dio/Black Sabbath covers.

It’s no surprise that the more powerful numbers like “A Thousand Cuts”, “Time To Be King” and “The Mob Rules” are my favorite out of this bunch. There’s no tampering with those songs to make way for an orchestra. Get in where you can fit in. Mileage will vary on this album. I guess it really all comes down to ‘How much do you like symphonic rock?” Symphony isn’t a necessary release, there’s not one new song in the bunch, but it’s fine for what it is. It’s a satisfying placeholder until the next Jorn album comes along (which shouldn’t be long given this guy’s hectic schedule).

Highlights: “Rock And Roll Children”, “The World I See”, “My Road”, “Time To Be King”, “Black Morning”, “A Thousand Cuts”, “The Mob Rules”

http://www.facebook.com/OFFICIALJORN
http://www.jornlande.com/

Buy the album at Amazon.com

Trans-Siberian Orchestra – Dreams of Fireflies (On a Christmas Night) [Review]

Trans-Siberian Orchestra – Dreams of Fireflies (On a Christmas Night)
2012, Universal Republic Records

1. Winter Palace
2. Dreams of Fireflies (On a Christmas Night)
3. I Had A Memory
4. Someday
5. Time You Should Be Sleeping

Though TSO has remained a popular and thriving annual holiday season touring group since their inception, it’s been 8 years since they’ve released any new holiday music (their last release, Night Castle, featured their usual brand of symphonic/progressive rock but was a concept album that had nothing to do with Christmas).

As has become standard with TSO, I find myself enjoying the instrumentals much more than I do the songs with vocals. TSO always uses great singers but sometimes I feel like the vocals just make the songs way too pompous for their own good. So, it’s no surprise that my two favorite tracks on the album are the two instrumentals: “Winter Palace” and “Dreams of Fireflies (On a Christmas Night)”. They are classic TSO songs. Great, heavy and upbeat Christmas tunes.

The remaining three tracks are the typical somber and sentimental ballads that TSO (over)fill their albums & live shows with. Decent tracks but as I’ve said, it’s the instrumentals where TSO really gets to flex their metal muscles. I recommend this EP for all TSO fans and fans of Christmas music in general. I’m hoping this is just a holdover to help promote the group’s 2012 winter tour and that a full album of Christmas music will be coming in 2013.

Having seen TSO twice (during their 2009 winter tour and again for their Beethoven’s Last Night 2011 tour), I was hoping they would be hitting my area again this year but no such luck.

Highlights: “Winter Palace”, “Dreams of Fireflies (On a Christmas Night)”

www.trans-siberian.com
www.facebook.com/TSO

Buy the album at Amazon.com

DESDEMON – The Awakening

DesDemon – The Awakening (2010, self-released)

1. “Acquiescence of Illusion” … 5:53
2. “A Soul in Exile” … 6:44
3. “Iago” … 8:23
4. “The Burning Martyr” … 4:41
5. “In the Absence of Light” … 11:40

Band:
Mistress Tina – Lead Vocals
Lord Metadox – Guitar
Ron “Pelagius” Porcelli – Bass
Dan Rhodus – Drums
Nicholas Gati – Keyboards

Additional Musicians:
Nicholas Main Henriksen – Keyboards

Hailing from NYC, DesDemon are a female-fronted band with a sound that the group’s press release describes as “blackened symphonic metal”. Certainly, DesDemon fits into the symphonic metal category but they also throw in bits of power metal, traditional metal and thrash metal. They are a band that seems to be on the come up because while I don’t listen to much symphonic metal I know enough to know that playing on bills with bands like Nightwish, Symphony X, Kamelot, Epica and Dragonforce is pretty cool. In addition to playing symphonic metal, the band itself is a concept “based upon a dark and twisted tale of a woman’s fall from grace, and her evolution to a darker side of life”.

The Awakening EP is the band’s debut and it’s a pretty good. It’s a very atmospheric affair the succeeds conjuring up that sense of darkness that the band’s concept is rooted in. Mistress Tina has a voice built for this type of music (while not going over board like she’s in an actual opera as some bands will do) and I really enjoyed the guitar work of Lord Metadox. When it comes to symphonic metal, I think keyboards often tend to get in the way of the rest of the song, but I’m happy to report that on this album it adds to and enhances the rest of the band & music instead of weakening them.

Though I honestly like all of these songs, my favorite track is “The Burning Martyr” which is more power metal than symphonic but the haunting “Iago” is another front runner but I’m not a fan of the growling she does later in the song. “In the Absence of Light” is an EPIC near 12 minute song that is really cool too and it features enough twists and turns that it doesn’t overstay its welcome.

The Awakening is a good debut showing from DesDemon, I hope a full studio album is not far behind because I’d be interested in hearing it.

Highlights: “Iago”, “The Burning Martyr”, “In the Absence of Light”

www.desdemon.com
www.myspace.com/desdemon

TRANS-SIBERIAN ORCHESTRA – Night Castle

Trans-Siberian Orchestra – Night Castle (2009, Atlantic Records)

DISC 1
1.”Night Enchanted” (5:46)
2. “Childhood Dreams” (4:25)
3. “Sparks” (6:00)
4. “The Mountain” (4:53)
5. “Night Castle” (3:57)
6. “The Safest Way Into Tomorrow” (4:57)
7. “Mozart And Memories” (5:16)
8. “Another Way You Can Die” (3:54)
9. “Toccata-Carpimus Noctem” (4:01)
10. “The Lion’s Roar” (4:35)
11. “Dreams We Conceive” (5:12)
12. “Mother And Son” (0:40)
13. “There Was A Life” (9:35)

DISC 2
1. “Moonlight And Madness” (5:04)
2. “Time Floats On” (3:37)
3. “Epiphany” (10:56)
4. “Bach Lullaby” (0:49)
6. “Father, Son & Holy Ghost” (6:48)
7. “Remnants Of A Lullaby” (3:10)
8. “The Safest Way Into Tomorrow (Reprise)” (1:43)
9. “Embers” (3:53)
BONUS TRACKS
10. “Child Of The Night” (3:29)
11. “Believe” (6:12)
12. “Nutrocker” (4:07)
13. “Carmina Burana” (2:44)
14. “Tracers” (05:47)

Selected Musicians:
Jay Pierce, Tim Hockenberry, Jeff Scott Soto, Rob Evan, Jennifer Cella, Alexa Goddard, Valentina Porter – Lead Vocals
Paul O’Neill, Chris Caffery, Angus Clark, Alex Skolnick, Al Pitrelli, Dave Wittman – Guitars
Chris Altenhoff, Johnny Lee Middleton, Dave Wittman – Bass
John O. Reilly, Jeff Plate, Dave Wittman – Drums
Robert Kinkel, Jon Oliva, Luci Butler, Shih-Yi Chiang, Derek Wieland – Keyboards
Roddy Chong, Anna Phoebe – Violin

Producer: Paul O’Neill & Robert Kinkel

After having seen TSO in concert, I was pretty hyped up on them and bought this album when it came out. They played a number of these songs during the second half of the concert and I loved it because many of these numbers are dark and certainly heavier than their usual Christmas-inspired songs. Sadly, I don’t think this side of TSO will catch on if crowd reaction was any indication on the night I intended. The first act was Christmas, the second act was entirely from this album, I believe, and a small number of people walked out once it was apparent the holiday music was over.

Points to mastermind Paul O’Neill and the rest for having the guts to try something different again and not rely on Christmas. A TSO Christmas album is basically guaranteed to go platinum, but I think gold is a nice goal for this particular album.

The problem I have with TSO is that I think they do too many slow and soft numbers. I don’t like those at all, I zone out. Heavy and faster numbers like “Night Enchanted” and “Another Way You Can Die” are really fun though and I think those two songs maybe some the heaviest songs they’ve done yet as they flirt with heavy metal. “Night Enchanted” is a great way to kick off the album and let people know “this isn’t Christmas”. I’m sure there’s some concept behind this album, but I don’t really care about it. In fact, when it comes to concept albums, the more the story is thrown into my face, the less I care about the album.

In what (I think) is a first, TSO covers Savatage: “The Mountain” is a reworking of “Prelude to Madness” from Hall of the Mountain King, bonus track “Believe” is from Streets: A Rock Opera, parts of “The Lion’s Roar” were taken from “Temptation Revelation” also from Streets: A Rock Opera, “Mozart and Memories” was originally “Mozart and Madness” from Gutter Ballet.

The packaging features some pretty cool illustrations from Greg Hildebrandt. I recognized the artwork from the concert and this album thanks to his days illustrating the Marvel Masterpieces trading card series back in the ’90s!

The first disc is definitely my favorite of the two. That’s where the faster, heavier, harder songs lie. Disc two is almost entirely ballads, though all of the bonus tracks are really good.

Definitely a good album, but it’s an exhaustive listen with way too many slow moment. I wish they would release a 100% symphonic rock album and leave the ballads at home. I would also love for Jon Oliva to sing a tune as well since he helps write a lot of the music anyway.

Highlights: “Night Enchanted”, “The Mountain”, “Night Castle”, “Mozart and Memories”, “Toccata-Carpimus Noctem”, “Moonlight and Madness”, “Child of the Night”, “Nutrocker”, “Carmina Burana”, “Tracers”

www.trans-siberian.com
www.myspace.com/tsoofficial

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