Friday, August 18, 2017

Femme-Metal Friday: MindMaze “One More Moment”

Band photo

A couple months back, I wrote about the Pennsylvanian band MindMaze, who are one of my favorites among the female-fronted bands from the U.S. Their enthralling mix of progressive and power metal combined with melodic hard rock makes it impossible to categorize this band into a neat little box. There is enough musical influence of certain genres to recognize it when you hear them, but never so much that you can instantly slap a label on it and define the music as being that particular thing. For many fans, this is the appeal of MindMaze, and what sets them apart from their contemporaries in the scene. For many fans of female-fronted metal who have grown tired of the countless symphonic-based bands, MindMaze is a breath of fresh air with a musical approach that is less classical music and more classic rock.

The year 2017 has been a productive year for the band: their third album, Resolve, was released; they embarked on a tour with Arkona and Sirenia, which brought them to their West Coast fans for the first time. Now they are about to launch a new Kickstarter project for an EP slated for release sometime next year. So I thought this would be a perfect time to review the band's lyric video for “One More Moment”, which was released a few months back.

MindMaze has some really beautiful ballads, and this song is absolutely stunning. The lyric video shows glimpses of the band playing piano, guitar, or drums, with some footage of Sarah singing the words that we see onscreen. There is also some graphic art of a face in profile, and what appears to be a withered tree in flames. I also like the way the graphics of the flames surround Jeff's guitar during its solo, making it look like his awesome guitar-playing causes flames to appear!

For more information on MindMaze, or to learn more about their Kickstarter, visit their official website.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Hump Day Hot Ticket: Moon Haven “Veil of Grey”

Band photo

Throughout my musical visits for this feature over the last year, I have reviewed bands from many different regions of the U.S.—the Pacific Northwest, the Baltimore-Washington metropolitan area, upstate New York, my home base of Southern California—yet I have not had the chance to review many bands from the Southwest area. With the exception of Insatia, which can partly claim Tucson as its home, I can't recall the last time I have reviewed a band from the Southwestern U.S.

Speaking of Insatia, it was through them that I discovered Moon Haven, a band from Phoenix that I am reviewing today. I always like the way that local bands look out for each other and foster a community of friendship and goodwill, and seldom (if ever) compete with each other. It is that communal harmony that leads the way for outsiders like me to find more music, which I appreciate.

Another thing I like (which I've also mentioned before) is how each different region has a special stamp on their music that is unique only to their area; a certain quality that can be found no matter what genre of music the artist does. So it is that Arizona has their own style as well: a moody, brooding undertone that belies the bright colors and scorching heat.

In their video for “Veil of Grey”, Moon Haven captures this introspective vibe quite well, incorporating the sometimes barren, sometimes plentiful desert landscape. A split-screen is shown of a man walking down an open, lonely road: while the other side shows the bandmembers performing among the natural beauty of the Southwest: forests, hilltops, and sunlight. Musically, they remind me a lot of my friends Clark's Secret Identity: that same melodic, proggy, art-rock feel. These two bands should tour together!

For more information on Moon Haven, visit their official website.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Femme-Metal Friday: Anthology “Last Weep”

Photo credit: Radek Šich

If you are a regular visitor to this blog, then you will probably know that this will not be the first time I have reviewed a band from Slovakia. However, it will be the first time I am reviewing a Slovakian band who is not Signum Regis, so I am looking forward to hearing what other types of talent that this country has to offer.

This Friday, I am showcasing the Slovakian power/symphonic metal outfit Anthology, who has been in existence since 2008, but experienced problems with lineup changes until vocalist Raylyn Shayde entered the fold in 2013. The first album with their new vocalist quickly gained recognition, garnering them a loyal fanbase in Japan, which has been a difficult market for femme-metal to break through. For their latest album, Anthology wanted to expand their sound, and recruited British vocalist Connor Sanders to provide some brutal male guttural vocals. Angel's Revenge saw the light of day in late 2016, and their video for the single “Last Weep” was released a few months later.

The video starts off with the band playing onstage with some pyro. I really like Raylyn's voice; she sounds a lot like Epica's Simone Simons, except I actually enjoy Anthology's music, while I am not a fan of Epica. However, like Epica, I find the male vocals to be too harsh for the music; but this is just my own personal preference. Anyway, on to the video...

Thematically, the video's concept is very typical of a power metal video: there are swords, axes, and shields; there is a woman walking with candles down a dim corridor, while the band provides a lot of hair-whipping and fire. The music sounds like something off a soundtrack to Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones, so it only stands to reason that the video would touch upon similar themes. Good stuff.

For more information on Anthology, visit the band's official website.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Hump Day Hot Ticket: Dream Spectrum “No Worries”

Band photo

Earlier this year, I did a feature on Dream Spectrum, an all-instrumental band from Buffalo, New York. Their virtuosity really impressed me, so when a new video came along, I looked forward to reviewing it here.

The band has a new album out, and “No Worries” is the first single. The song is exactly how you would expect a tune called “No Worries” to sound: it is bright, open, and uplifting. The look of the video is very much the same: the band is rocking outdoors on a sunny day with some old buildings in the background, and they are just jamming away! The Rush influence can really be heard on this track, but also a touch of Dream Theater, and the slow part towards the end reminds me a little of Yes. The video ends with an aerial shot of the city. I had never given much thought before to what a song about “no worries” would sound like before, but this feel-good tune definitely comes close!

For more information on Dream Spectrum, visit their official website.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Femme-Metal Friday: Master Sword “Sanctuary”

Band photo

For the second week of Femme-Metal Friday, I'm going back to one of my favorites: Master Sword, the Legend of Zelda tribute band from Baltimore. They did not start out as a female-fronted band—their debut EP, Epoch, featured an array of talented vocalists, both male and female—but that all changed once vocalist Lily Hoy became a permanent fixture to the lineup in April 2016. Since then, the band continues to build a diversified audience: whether it is performing at gaming or comic book conventions, playing gigs with other similar tribute bands (who would have guessed that there was an entire local scene just for “video game music tribute bands”?!), or securing a slot at Baltimore's premiere femme-metal festival, Flight of the Valkyries; Master Sword is appealing to every demographic out there.

While the band continues work on their full-length album, Shadow and Steel, Master Sword has given fans a little taste of what they can expect with their latest lyric video for the song “Sanctuary”. The song is based on the Sanctuary theme from the classic game A Link to the Past from the early ’90s.

While all Zelda fans have their favorites in the series, A Link to the Past is a beloved game in the Zelda community for much the same reason as the eponymous first game, or Ocarina of Time: it is one of those iconic games that for many fans, was the first Zelda game they ever learned to play, or the game that got them interested in the franchise. It is a game that is rife with nostalgia for an entire generation of gamers, so if you are going to pay homage to something so cherished, expectations will be high; and if it isn't done right, you face the wrath of many angry fans who don't take kindly to having their childhood memories “trampled on”, or “disrespected”. No pressure, right?

Just like the hero in the green tunic that wields the weapon that gives the band its name, Master Sword is up to the challenge. After all, they are fans, too. These games mean as much to them as they do everyone else, and they show nothing but the highest respect for the source material in everything they do. Even for a simple lyric video that for some bands is no more than text with a run-of-the-mill backdrop, Master Sword cuts no corners in making the audience feel as if they have just stepped inside of an adventurous quest.

From the moment those dark, ominous tones kick in, the dungeon theme is instantly recognizable, and I can almost see the scary enemies lurking in the corners and almost feel inclined to look over my shoulder! Imagery of ink drawings of Link on aged parchment paper, misty visions of ethereal Sages, dim torchlight down a dark corridor, and the shadowy silhouette of Ganon (the antagonist of the series, or one of his forms, anyway!), all complement the eerie tone of the song.

For more information on Master Sword, visit the band's official Facebook page.

Wednesday, August 2, 2017

Hump Day Hot Ticket: Signum Regis “Unfold the Mystery”

Band photo

It's been a while since I last wrote about Slovakian power metal band Signum Regis, and they've had a new video out for a couple of months that I have been meaning to write about, so let's get to it!

Right off the bat, this video reminds me of Metallica's video for “The Unforgiven”: there is an old man standing by a wall, searching for something hidden on the other side. If I didn't know any better, I would even think it was the same old man! (Except that the one in the Metallica video was ancient 25 years ago, so I would be very surprised if he were even still alive anymore, much less still actively working in music videos!)

The only slight difference (besides this video being shot in color, and not black-and-white), there are little doors in the wall, rather than an old man carving through a wall to find a door, like in “The Unforgiven”. The similarities continue when a little boy on the other side of the wall is seen dragging a chair over to the shelves lined with books and papers. Meanwhile, a younger man sorts through the papers, as they turn to dust, and sand is seen pouring out all over his clothes. On one side of the wall, the young man angrily shoves the papers away, while on the other side, the old man sits quietly and writes. Each man is seen before a mirror: the younger one looking anguished at the passage of time, the old one looking regretful yet resigned; all as the young boy looks on, and the sand in an hourglass runs down.

At this point, the boy finds an odd trinket on the ground, which seems to have some connection to the things written on the papers tacked to the wall. (OK, can I just say that the shot here of the sand running from the old man's fingers is way too similar to “The Unforgiven” for it to be coincidental? Not that this a bad thing!) The video ends with each man on his respective side of the wall, growing increasingly frustrated as they try to learn what is on the other side. Perhaps it is a good metaphor for the way parents and children—or those of different generations in general—constantly try to understand each other, but never fully succeed.

For more information on Signum Regis, visit their official website.

Monday, July 31, 2017

Album review: Exit Eden—Rhapsodies in Black (2017)

Album: Rhapsodies in Black
Artist: Exit Eden
Genre: Symphonic metal
Label: Napalm Records
Tracks: 11

*Review originally posted at the Female-fronted Power Facebook page.

Photo credit: Christian Barz-Klein

What do you get when you combine the talents of 4 respected voices on the symphonic metal scene, and put them together to record an album full of covers that are anything but symphonic or metal? You get Exit Eden, the collaborative effort of Amanda Somerville (who has sung with everyone from Kamelot to Epica), Clémentine Delauney (best known for her work with Serenity, and as the frontwoman for Visions of Atlantis), Maria LaTorraca (who has sung with Avantasia), and Anna Brunner (who has been in rock bands ever since she was a teen). Four distinct voices, personalities, and musical backgrounds, with one goal: to show how diverse metal can be by taking songs from any genre and putting their twist on them.

The concept isn't entirely new: Within Temptation did something similar on their 2013 album The Q-Music Sessions, but that was a project spearheaded by a radio station and had never been intended to become an album. The songs were also chosen for them, and the band was given a week-long deadline to transform the tunes into their own. Because of this, not all the songs ended up on the finished album, due to not getting copyright permission (such as their cover of “Skyfall”, which did end up on the Exit Eden album). Whereas with Exit Eden, these are all songs of their own choosing, and they had time to not only get the necessary copyrights, but also to hone and craft these songs any way they liked.

Photo credit: Christian Barz-Klein

From the opening track, I am hooked; but anyone who can do a good job on a Depeche Mode cover is going to win my heart. Depeche Mode is my favorite non-metal band of all time, and Exit Eden takes their Black Celebration classic “A Question of Time” and gives it a bombastic symphonic metal remake. Right away they have won me over, even if I do not recognize another song on this compilation.

However, there are other songs here that I am familiar with; such as their cover of Madonna's late-’90s hit “Frozen”. This song seems to be a favorite in the symphonic metal genre when covering songs, and I haven't heard a rendition this good since Lindsay Schoolcraft covered this track a couple of years ago (coming from me, this is a huge compliment, as I am a big fan of Lindsay's music). Exit Eden also does a fantastic job on the Bryan Adams tune “Heaven”, which just kickstarted my ’80s nostalgia feels.

Photo credit: Christian Barz-Klein

Another tune that is just tailor-made for this genre is the ’80s mega-hit “Total Eclipse of the Heart”, a song I have always felt needed a symphonic metal makeover. It has been my long-held opinion that Jim Steinman is one of the forefathers of symphonic rock—whether their descendants recognize it or not—and have often wondered why his material is not covered more within the scene. But finally, after 35 years, someone has done it the way I wished it would sound. Much as I love the original, Bonnie Tyler's voice always grated on my nerves, and I felt the song was better suited for a more operatic vocalist. If the Depeche Mode cover hadn't already won me over, this would have made me a believer.

That being said, the selling point of this album, for me, is not so much how they tackle the songs I know and love, but what they can do with material I don't know, or songs I downright hate, such as Katy Perry's “Firework”. If I never hear that song again it would be too soon, and I almost dreaded the thought of having to hear it again for this review, even if it is a cover. Their version is not bad; I don't think I will ever be a fan of the song, but maybe I wouldn't have found the original half as annoying if it had sounded more like this!

Band photo

The rest of the album features pop covers of everyone from Backstreet Boys to Rihanna, and since I am pressed for time on this review, I did not have the time to listen to the originals and compare them. To my ear, they are pleasant-sounding songs, and I might just give the originals a listen sometime. Their take on the song “Impossible” reminded me a little of “The Show Must Go On” by Queen. Lady Gaga is one of the few pop artists out there that I really like, and Exit Eden’s version of her song “Paparazzi” is an energetic hard rocker that is a nod to Gaga's love of metal.

To wrap this up, I highly recommend this album as a “starter” if you are new to symphonic metal or are trying to bring a new fan into this type of music. These are well-known songs done in a particular style, so if you like these, you might like the overall genre of music too. If you are a fan of any of these ladies, it is a given you will enjoy this album too. Whether you love this genre of music or just have an inclination to hear some interesting covers of pop hits and ’80s classics, then Rhapsodies in Black just might be what you are looking for.

Photo credit: Christian Barz-Klein

Special thanks to Henk van Nieuwenhoven at Female Fronted Power.