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Old 03-18-2012, 12:59 PM   #1041 (permalink)
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Two albums that no-one has been waiting for the release of. Except me.

Both these albums were released last year, both are by bands I love and have everything they released, and both are, sadly, largely underappreciated in the main, with the vast majority of people asking “Who?” when I mention them. And with my typical procrastination, lack of organisation and terrible time management, I'm only now getting to listen to them for the first time.

The seventh degree of separation --- Arena --- 2011 (Verglas)


True story: I only originally checked out Arena because their band name was the same as an Asia album, and I had enjoyed all Asia's output up to then (and since), but once I heard them I quickly set about collecting all their albums, and have loved every single one. I was rather dismayed that 2005's superlative “Pepper's ghost” was the last one I could find, but even so, it's such a brilliant album that I consoled myself with the knowledge that, should Arena never record any more material, this was one hell of a high to go out on.

And so it remained, until last year, when my eyes nearly popped out as I scanned my regular copy of “Classic Rock presents Prog”, to see that Arena had released a new album! As soon as it was available I got it, but as per usual with me, anticipation is often preferable to reality, which can sometimes lead to disappointment, and so I waited till the right time to listen to it. Waited and waited. I didn't want to rush it, I didn't want to listen to it when I had not the time to fully devote to appreciating this long-awaited opus. I wanted to be in the right frame of mind. And so I waited. And waited. Months drifted by, and suddenly I was in 2012, and realised I still hadn't listened to the new Arena album. Then the one-year anniversary of Gary Moore's death came round, and I was busy preparing for and marking that. Following that was Valentine's Day, more work, then the second part of “Stranger in a strange land” … work just seemed to pile up, and with my personal commitments as well there just didn't seem to be the time I needed to devote to this album, which I really wanted to listen to.

So now, no more excuses. Before I start getting ready for the first annual Polly awards next week, I'm sitting down to listen to this, and the other album below. It's about time, and if I don't do it now then it's going to be too late to include either or both in the nominations for a Polly, should they, as I believe they will, qualify.

Arena's first album in six years is a concept album, focussing on the last hour before death and the first after it, according to their website. The fact that it's a concept is no huge surprise to me: both the previous and indeed the one before it were also story-based, with “Pepper's ghost” telling the story of five heroes who defeat evil in nineteenth century London, and “Contagion” concentrating on the destruction of the world and its rebirth. Arena say this is their darkest album to date. We shall see.

It opens with acapella singing from new vocalist Paul Manzi, which is as good a way as any to announce your arrival I guess, then guitars and drums crash in, along with Clive Nolan's signature keyboards, and to me it's a return to the Arena I know and love, a bit of a shock that Rob Sowden is gone, but this new guy seems to click in seamlessly with the rest of the long-established band, and “The great escape” is a hard rock cruncher with dark overtones certainly, but no darker, in my opinion, than anything off “Pepper's ghost”. Speeds up in the last minute with heavy guitar from John Mitchell and bass from the reurning John Jowitt, missing since 1998's "The Visitor", then we're into another cruncher with “Rapture”, hard snarling guitar and doomy keys, with Mick Pointer pounding the drumkit purposefully, as he has done since Arena first got together, seventeen years ago now.

Nolan's keyboards have often set the tone on Arena albums, and here again he is front and centre, keeping a dramatic and powerful melody against which Mitchell's guitar whines and Pointer's drums crash like breakers on the beach. He also writes all their material, and he doesn't disappoint in the lyrical content here. In “One last au revoir” he sets up an eerie, ethereal opening before the song breaks out into an uptempo rocker, AOR really, with great guitar work from Mitchell and ELO-style vocoder breaks, with a great guitar solo from Mitchell which at times verges into Mike Rutherford territory while Clive Nolan pays tribute to Tony Banks, while never once losing the individuality in his playing.

Like most concept albums these days, I'm finding it a little hard to follow the actual story, but I think this track concerns a possible suicide, though it's difficult to be sure. “The ghost walks” then, would seem to concern the crossover to the world of the dead, or limbo maybe, with an almost slow rap from Manzi, really Genesis-style keys from Nolan, while Pointer sets up a drum pattern that's almost directly lifted from “Chosen”, from the “Immortal?” album. Doomy, hollow bells ringing in the distance add to the sense of unease and paranoia this track engenders, then Pointer hits some really echoey beats and the thing takes off on an instrumental break led by another great solo from Mitchell, Jowitt again meshing perfectly with Pointer to resurrect the great partnership, one of the great rhythm sections of progressive rock.

Nolan's delicate piano intro brings us into “Thief of souls”, hard guitar from Mitchell punching holes in the tune that Nolan effortlessly papers over with his rippling piano notes, the two master musicians complementing each other perfectly. When Mitchell breaks loose though it's clear this song is a vehicle for his inestimable talents, with some great backing vocals as Paul Manzi almost, but not quite, makes me think “Rob who?” He certainly excells on this track, and is really coming into his own. I have no information to hand on who he is or where he came from, but he certainly is an undiscovered gem. “Close your eyes” seems to run rather seamlessly from the previous track, with more AOR leanings, hard and heavy but very melodic, while “Echoes of the fall” comes in on a very busy synth line then cuts loose into a fast hard rocker with Nolan's keys leading the track in a manner quite similar to the likes of “Bedlam Fayre” or “Opera fanatica” from “Pepper's ghost”, Pointer's drums rattling along at a hell of a lick, Manzi's voice harder and raunchier than previously.

It's a short track, barely two and a half minutes, and leads into the prog-centric “Bed of nails”, keyboard-led but with some sharp guitar from Mitchell lending the song real punch and heart, especially when he fires off another emotional solo. This song is a sort of half-ballad, heavy but slow and very heartstring-pulling. Some great keyboard melodies from Clive Nolan, and a fine performance behind the mike from the new man. “What if?” is a gentle little introspective number with soft guitar opening and an impassioned vocal from Manzi as he wonders if things could have been different. More great backing vocals and some flute-style sounds on the keyboard on a really nice little tune.

The oddly-named “Trebuchet” goes back into classic Arena territory, recalling the likes of “Contagion” and “The Visitor”, ramping everything up after the little break, the melody riding along on Nolan's superb keyboard wave, Mitchell's guitar bouncing off the edges and rebounding to hit again, Pointer's drumming the counterpoint as the whole thing charges along, and it would seem from the bits of the lyric I can pick up that the soul whose journey we've been sharing/watching is getting ready to cross over fully to the other side. “Burning down” keeps the tempo up, heavy and dramatic, another fine vehicle for Manzi's powerful and emotive singing. Great keyboard solo from Clive, with punchy, snarly guitar from Mitchell, and this leads into the longest track on the album.

At just under eight minutes, it's of course not a patch on the nineteen-minute “Moviedrome” from “Immortal?”, but on this album “Catching the bullet” is about three minutes longer than the next-longest tracks, and it's a real epic, with heavy guitar opening then sparkly keys in a mid-paced tempo with measured drumming, the speed picking up as it goes along in what sounds like a last farewell as the soul prepares to embark upon the final stage of its journey into the unknown. ”This is me signing off” sings Manzi, ”This is me signing out.” A great three-minute instrumental break then, including a wonderful, expressive guitar solo from John Mitchell brings the song to an explosive conclusion, and we're into the last track.

Closing on the piano-led ballad “The tinder box”, it's an emotional and powerful ending to the album, some lovely strings adding to the sense of drama and angst, some crying guitar from Mitchell helping to craft the atmosphere, as the song cuts into a harder, fiercer mode, great backing vocals helping Paul Manzi produce a stellar finale as he cries ”I am free now!/ I am free!” In an incredibly clever piece of writing by Clive Nolan, Manzi declares ”We are children/ We could never understand/ We are dancers/ We are actors/ We are players on the sand/ We are children/ We could never understand/ We are part of this arena/ We are part of this band.” Stunning, and just an amazing end, exactly what you want to be remembering the tune of as you close down the album.

So, was this album worth waiting six (or, thanks to my delaying action, seven) years for? You bet your favourite Fender Strat it was! This album once again reaffirms, in my view at least (the only view that matters) Arena as one of the premier prog rock bands around now, but more, it shows not only how vesatile they are, but how they can also look to their past to create their future. Nolan is a master storyteller, and the musicians he surrounds himself with all know their role and fulfil that role perfectly, making Arena perhaps one of the tightest, most cohesive and consistently satisfying bands working at the moment.

In “The seventh degree of separation” they have once again shown how to craft a near-pefect album, that hits all the right spots and surely must go some way towards finally lifting their profile and gaining them appreciation outside of their own fanbase? It's criminal that so few people know of this band, and a situation that must be rectified as soon as humanly possible.

Just one small point: I hope it doesn't take another six years before their next album, although when you see what they created when they took the time to get it right, perhaps six years is not so long to wait after all.

TRACKLISTING

1. The great escape
2. Rapture
3. One last au revoir
4. The ghost walks
5. Thief of souls
6. Close your eyes
7. Echoes of the fall
8. Bed of nails
9. What if?
10. Trebuchet
11. Burning down
12. Catching the bullet
13. The tinder box

Stormwarning --- Ten --- 2011 (Frontiers)


One of my other favourite bands, whose cause I have tried to trumpet through this journal but which, generally, seems to have fallen on deaf or uninterested ears, is Ten, another UK hard/melodic rock band who just can't seem to get a break. Some of their music should have burst the charts wide open, especially Gary Hughes' perfectly-penned ballads, but no dice. No-one seems to want to know. Well, perhaps this will convince the naysayers.

Of course, as related above, this is another album I grabbed as soon as it was available and which I have waited until now to review. Well, it worked with Arena, so who's to say it won't be two-for-two? Ten have an impressive pedigree with me, their last album, coming five years previously, blowing me away, and in fact I don't think I could actually point to a Ten album I don't like. So the signs are good for this, their ninth album, though I see there have been some lineup changes.

The core of vocalist/guitarist/founder Gary Hughes, keyboard player Paul Hodson and guitarist John Halliwell remains, but there is a second guitarist, Neil Fraser, who replaces Chris Francis, who played on the last two albums, and there's a new drummer too in Mark Zonder. As ever, Gary Hughes writes all the songs, and as usual with Ten there's not really such a thing as a short song: looking down the list I see two at over seven minutes, two more at over six and a few over five. Of course, Ten have had longer songs indeed: on the previous album “The twilight chronicles”, they had an opener twelve minutes long, while all the way back in 1997 the opener on “The robe” was over nine minutes long. Still, it's good to see we should be getting value for money.

The album gets going with sort of jungle-beat drums as “Endless symphony” is brought in on dark, heavy keyboards courtesy of Paul Hodson, then nice bright piano as what I tend to know as “the Ten sound” begins to establish itself, though Hodson then launches into a lovely little classical piano piece. As we move into the second minute though, John Halliwell's guitar comes in hard, shortly followed by the familiar and welcome voice of Gary Hughes, and the king is back! Sounding as good as he ever has, there's no evidence that five years away from the band has done anything to lessen his commitment to them, despite his solo career.

Gary has one of those voices that just commands attention, with no need for histrionics or effects of any type, and despite the lineup changes everyone gives everything they have to make this band one of the most accomplished and technically proficient I have ever heard. Gary's voice soars effortlessly above the soundscape, the one seeming built for the other, like long-lost friends reunited, and John Halliwell's solos are a joy to rediscover.

It's a great and powerful opener, perhaps not on the lines of “Rome” or “The name of the rose”, or even “The crusades”, but a welcome return certainly. “Centre of my universe” starts off on echoey guitar and for a few moments fools you into thinking it may be the first ballad, but then it breaks out into a solid AOR rocker, with great piano and keyboard melody from Hodson, some fine soloing from Halliwell and though Gary's voice is a little lower in the mix here than I would like, it's still very audible and discernible. This rocks along with the sort of power bands like Ten just put out without even seeming to think about it, although I have no doubt it takes years to get that sort of understanding between musicians.

Some more lovely harpsichord-like piano opens “Kingdom come”, joined by squealing guitar and then strings-style keys take the song along in another mid-paced rocker with great AOR overtones and a super twin guitar attack from Halliwell and new boy Neil Fraser. “Book of secrets” starts out on spacey, eerie synth sounds and a thumping bass before it kicks into high gear in a song with quite a lot of the previous album in it, as well as a decent dose of influence from the debut album, “X”. The lyrical theme breaks somewhat with Ten's usual fare, concerning itself with the “little black book” of a high-class call girl, down on her luck, ready perhaps to sell the secrets contained therein. Great guitar solo from Halliwell, and this is probably the closest to straight-ahead rock on the album so far.

The title track is classic Ten, solid keyboard melody and great backing vocals against a hard guitar assault which sounds a little Maidenesque at times, as Gary prepares us for the End of Days. An uptempo rocker, it gives way to another fast track, “Invisible” showcasing again Ten's excellent use of backing vocals, with some real rockout guitar from Halliwell and Fraser. Indeed, this track is pretty much built on the guitar work of the two guys, with a great solo from Halliwell setting the seal on their teamwork.

With a title like “Love song”, it surely has to be the first ballad? It would seem so, with a whistling keyboard riff and tapping percussion, jangly guitar and Gary at his most passionate and emotional. But then it jumps into life and Ten confound the obvious preconceptions by making this a mid-tempo half-rocker. I know their ballads, and this is not one of them. Interesting. The only problem I have with this is that it's about two minutes too long. At just over seven minutes, despite a great guitar solo, there's not really much new in the last two minutes, and it's just overstretched in my opinion. Another good AOR tune in “The hourglass and the landslide”, with a great hook in the chorus, and just about short enough to be released as a single, not that any of the tracks were. Definitely the most overtly commercial track on the album though.

With “Destiny” another fast rocker, I'm beginning to fear for my Gary Hughes ballads? Or, I should say, ballad, because if the next track isn't one then there aren't any, as there's only one track left before the end. That would be a pity, because so far there has always been at least one ballad on a Ten album, and they're often the highpoint, at least for me. This track definitely retains some of the melody and themes from the previous album, which is no bad thing.

And the closer, “The wave”, finally gives us the ballad. Built on a Beatles/ELO style with some lovely strings and keyboard, it's a decent closer, but in terms of Gary Hughes ballads it's not a patch on the likes of “Rainbow in the dark”, “Wonderland” or “Soliliqoy” from previous albums. Nice little soaraway guitar solo, but I have to say it's a far weaker track than I had hoped, or expected, and as a final track it's nothing like a disappointment, but it's not the powerful closer I would have wanted to have heard.

I'll have to reserve judgement on this until I've heard it a few more times, but I do see a mixture of styles from both the darker, heavier “Twilight chronicles” and 2001's lighter, more melodic-leaning “Far beyond the world”, which was incidentally the first Ten album I ever heard. Even as I listen to the song playing out now I can feel myself getting more into it, but there's no doubt that it's not the strong ballad I had been expecting --- truth to tell, I had expected more than one, and am just a little bit upset that there is only the single slow song, and that so generally below par.

But I expect I'll grow to like this album. It hasn't had the immediate effect on me that the likes of “The twilight chronicles, “Return to Evermore” and “Babylon” had, but it will probably just take time. Certainly, after waiting half a decade for their new album, I'm not in any way disappointed with “Stormwarning”, just not quite as blown away by it as I had hoped/expected to be.

Not quite so much a storm then as a light breeze? But then, weather is so notoriously changeable...

TRACKLISTING

1. Endless symphony
2. Centre of my universe
3. Kingdom come
4. Book of secrets
5. Stormwarning
6. Invisible
7. Love song
8. The hourglass and the landslide
9. Destiny
10. The wave
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Old 03-18-2012, 06:55 PM   #1042 (permalink)
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Old 03-18-2012, 07:00 PM   #1043 (permalink)
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Yes, the worm knows Irish Week is over, but with Ireland qualifying for the Euros he thinks this is still an appropriate song to play. Let's here yiz all now … OH-lay, ohlay ohlay ohlay...!
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Old 03-19-2012, 01:48 PM   #1044 (permalink)
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Raise the curtain, roll the drums and set off the flashbombs! Set your amp to ten and tune up that guitar, as we go in search of more rock and metal operas, of which there are more than you might expect. Our last outing was a triple-album affair, but it's no exaggeration to say that mammoth opuses like that will be very much in the minority, and most if not all of what we deal with here will turn out to be single or possibly double albums, but it's unlikely we should come across a similar situation to “Genius”.

Normal operas usually take for their inspiration love stories, classic mixup a la “The prince and the pauper” (and, if you're a Blackadder fan, the Porpoise!), telling a story by setting it to music, introducing characters and settings and almost invariably singing in a language other than English. Thankfully, rock and metal operas usually stick to English, as they have a much tougher sell: metalheads and rockers are much less likely to be attracted to the very idea of opera --- even a rock one --- and so have to be catered for much more carefully.

The subjects fuelling metal and rock operas, too, vary, but usually go in a different direction to standard opera, heading out into space, perhaps, or the future, or in the case of “Genius”, inside the mind. There has to be some hook to get the rocker's attention, and let's be honest, fat women rolling around the stage in huge hoop skirts and guys with dodgy moustaches challenging each other to duels is not going to work. So often a marriage of futuristic, sci-fi themes and hard rock music is the thing, and indeed, this is what we come across in our next example.

Days of rising doom --- Aina --- 2003 (Transmission)


Gathering a huge cast of stars, Aina --- the entity set up to take on the task of this metal opera --- exists only here, as this was the only album they put out, and after nine years I think we can assume it will remain so. Involving some of the cream from the world of rock and metal, like Glenn Hughes, Tobias Sammet, Damian Wilson, Jens Johansson, Oliver Hartmann, Derek Sherinian, Thomas Youngblood and Erik Norlander to name but a few, “Days of rising doom” is set in the fictional land of Aina, where a power struggle is taking place. As the story opens, the old king is dying, and his two sons, Torek and Talon, are vying for power.

The overture is on piano and keyboard, joined by snarling guitar as Kamelot's Youngblood and Nightwish's Erno Emppu Vuorinen attack, then the style settles down into an introspective guitar piece as “Revelations” introduces King Taetius who is dying, and is being warned by the Prophets of danger ahead. Nice choir in this, then the guitars and drums pound in, kicking the speed right up as the song takes off, Damian Wilson from Threshold taking the role of the dying king. Good heavy keyboard passages here, courtesy of Norlander, then we're into “Silver maiden”, which introduces the lady Oria Allyahan, who will become the love interest in the story, and the cause of a war.

Nice laidback piece on acoustic guitar and what sounds like harp, lovely strings and a high female vocal from Candice Night. The story is narrated in song by Helloween's Michael Kiske. Very filmic and dramatic, with crashing drums, strings and lush keyboards, and Kiske's voice high and clear. Oria is to be married to one of the two sons of the king, Talon or Torek, and though it is Torek who becomes king on the death of his father, he is enraged and humilated to such a degree when his rival brother wins the hand of the lady that he flees the kingdom, swearing revenge.

In “Flight of Torek” everything punches into top gear as Thomas Rettke (Heaven's Gate) in the role of the spurned brother declares his anger and his vow for revenge. It's a real power rocker as the keyboards and drums drive the song along, aided by frenetic guitar from Thomas Youngblood. This then slows down later in the song into a lazy, lovely blues passage, with some sumptuous strings and keyboard as Talon (Glenn Hughes) excitedly declares to his brother his love for Oria, and that that love is reciprocated. Tobias Sammet narrates the scene, relating Torek's fury as the music speeds back up and the drumming like a steamhammer sees Torek vow revenge as he flies from the land.

In “Naschtok is born”,Torek travels the land, his anger and humilation burning within him, until he comes to an ugly place which an even uglier, beast-like race call home. Deciding that this will be from where he launches his invasion of Aina --- it's not really made clear if Torek has abdicated the throne, but if not, why would he need to invade his own kingdom? --- he introduces himself to the people, the Krakhon, as their god, Sorvahr, and sets about his plans. The Krakhon, filled with hate, are happy to accept him blindly as the god who will lead them to battle and victory. It's a fast rocker, a real metal scorcher with angry guitar and pounding drums, and Rettke giving a fine performance as Torek's anger and humilation spills over into madness and megalomania.

Rettke stays in the spotlight for another powerful rocker, although in “The beast within”, the best I can guess at is that Torek performs some ritual which somehow allows the spirit of the Krakhons' god to enter his own soul, thus melding the two. The song is taken up with Torek performing the rite while his new people watch on. Lots of heavy guitar and thundering drums, Youngblood in fine form as Robert Hunecke-Rizzo keeps the drumkit steaming along.

Battle plans are laid then in “The siege of Aina”, a deceptively gentle guitar melody opening the song but soon giving way to a marching, chanting metal cruncher as Torek in the guise of Sorvahr tells his troops to slay rape and destroy, but they must leave the royal castle alone, as he has a score to settle there. The song quickly kicks into another full-blooded fast rocker though as Baktuk, advisor to the deposed king, consults with his lord and they prepare to invade. However when they reach the city Talon (Glenn Hughes) meets them and offers their surrender, saying that they only wish to be left in peace. Torek, however, is in no mood to be magnanimous towards the man who stole the woman he sees as his, but Oria is prepared to offer herself to Talon's brother if he will only spare her husband. Thomas Rettke steals the show here, the full force of his insanity and anger at his brother, and at his wife, bubbling to the surface like some sort of evil stew.

Gilmouresque guitar intro and heavy synth opens “Talon's last hope”, as the (presumably) king of Aina weeps at the loss of his wife (what a wimp!) and wonders what has become of her since his brother took her. Solid, heavy drums carry the track with a punchy bassline, and some very lush keys. Talon's counsellors advise him that Torek will return and that the city will fall, and that they should get his daughter, Oriana (god help us!) away from there before he comes back. She is their last hope to continue the royal lineage, and must be protected. Who wrote this stuff?? Oh yeah: Amanda Somerville. Well, I wouldn't be taking too much credit... The music's good though, sort of a heavy ballad. Nice keyboard passages.

Meanwhile, to no-one's surprise, Torek rapes Oria, in the imaginatively titled, um, “Rape of Oria”. Candice Night, in her last vocal performance, does well, the music eerie and disturbing, synth passages and piano runs, with doomy drums as Oria accepts her fate. Well, she doesn't really have any choice now, does she? Some really nice emotional strings accompaniment takes the song to its conclusion, and then we're into “Son of Sorvahr”, where we learn that the result of this unholy union is Syrius, a boychild, whom Torek intends to help him take back the throne that he abandoned.

Another hard rocker with another great turn from Thomas Rettke, fully immersed in his role as Sorvahr, declaiming the birth of the son who will restore his glory and destroy his enemies. Some really over-the-top organ is provided by Axel Naschke of Gamma Ray, then we're treated to a rather nice pastoral piece, with some gentle acoustic guitar as Michael Kiske reprises his role as narrator, covering the years that pass as Syrius and Oriana grow to adulthood. Meeting one day they fall in love, unaware they are in fact brother and sister (where's Jerry Springer when you need him?)

“Lalae amer” --- which I think I've figured out translates from the inbuilt language used on the album (Ainaese?) as “long love” or something similar --- concerns Oriana's conscience, as it tells her everything will be all right and she will be with Syrius forever. Little does she know... The writer herself makes an appearance here as the conscience, the song itself quite eastern in flavour, mid-paced and generally mostly laidback, a lot of flute and sitar sounds on the synth I would say, solid but controlled drumming, and a great guitar solo from Thomas Youngblood.

Things get rocking again then for “Rebellion”, as Talon finally grows a pair and raises an army to take back Aina with his daughter. The criminally-underused Glenn Hughes finally comes into his own here as he prepares to march to war with his brother and take back the throne that, er, isn't rightfully his. Or is. Who can tell? Good keyboards here, but as is often the case with metal operas, a lot of the music is very similar. Youngblood does attempt something close to an Irish jig here, lending at least this track a sense of humour, and Erik Norlander racks off one of his famous keyboard solos as the song trundles along.

Point of interest: no mention is made of the fate or Oria, though I assume we can take it she died, or was killed, after she gave birth. Still, it would have been nice to have had this cleared up. At any rate, “Oriana's wrath” opens on growling synth, then choral vocals and heavy guitar as the armies are lined up against each other. However, on the battlefield the terrible truth is revealed, and Oriana faces Syrius on the opposing army. Unwilling either to kill the other, they both declare a truce, but Sorvahr (Torek) is again enraged (is he ever any other way?) and kills Syrius. This leads Oriana in grief and anger to fight his army. She and her father win, and the kingdom is restored as she takes the throne. Hoorah!

Nice piano ending with some soaring strings and choral vocals, and it certainly paints this as the climax of the album, but then the “final battle” was always going to be the focal point. “Restoration” is the coda to the album, as such, the “presenting medals scene in Star Wars”, the “all lived happily ever after” bit, but rather than a slow, gentle, strings and piano and acoustic guitar ending it's a hard rock cruncher, which I find a little odd. I feel this particular style is at odds with the ending of the story, and though I guess it could be seen as a triumphant march, it just doesn't really ring true. Michael Kiske as the Narrator has the final word, as indeed he had the first, so in that sense the story, and album, are brought full circle.

Well, it's not anywhere near as innovative or indeed interesting as Daniel Lannier's “Genius” trilogy, in fact the story is so hackneyed that it's almost embarrassing. The lyrical content is not that great either; I find that, with rock operas: a lot of the time the lyricist(s) worr(ies)y more about getting words to rhyme than to make sense, but in fairness that was the same with “Genius”, although English is not Lannier's first language, so you would have to allow him some latitude here.

So, if the story is not anything particularly special, does the music save “Days of rising doom”? Well, I'd have to say no. That's not to say the music is poorly written or played, because it's not, but then you'd expect perfect performances from the stars involved. But it's nothing new. The story is quite trite; this sort of thing happens all the time in sword and sorcery novels, and there's little innovation in the plot. But the music, though it's good, is just that: good but not great. It's just too banal, too ordinary. You could be listening to any metal or rock album really. Unlike the “Genius” trilogy, it doesn't engender the sense of wonder and drama that it should.

No, after spending some hours this afternoon putting this review together, I definitely feel that my time could have been better spent. Still, that's not to say that it's a bad album. Just not a great one. And I suppose that's borne out by the fact that they didn't try this again. One day of rising doom, it would appear, was more than enough.

TRACKLISTING

1. Aina overture
2. Revelations
3. Silver maiden
4. Flight of Torek
5. Naschtok is born
6. The beast within
7. The siege of Aina
8. Talon's last hope
9. Rape of Oria
10. Son of Sorvahr
11. Serendipity
12. Lalae Amer
13. Rebellion
14. Oriana's wrath
15. Restoration

Cast of characters
Narrator: Michael Kiske
Talon: Glenn Hughes
Torek/Sorvahr: Michael Rettke
Oria: Candice Night
Oriana: Sarah "Sass" Jordan
Syrius: Marco Hietala
Narrator II: Tobias Sammet
King Taetius: Damian Wilson
Oriana's conscience: Amanda Somerville
The Prophets: Oliver Hartmann/Herbie Langhans
Baktuk: Olaf Hayer

Main musicians
Erik Norlander: Keyboards
Thomas Youngblood: Guitars
Derek Sherinian: Keyboards
Jens Johansson: Keyboards
TM Stevens: Bass
Axel Naschke: Organ
Erno Emppu Vuorinen: Guitars
Olaf Reitmeier: Acoustic guitars
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Old 03-19-2012, 06:42 PM   #1045 (permalink)
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Old 03-19-2012, 06:45 PM   #1046 (permalink)
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Classic smoothie from the late great John Martyn, this is “May you never”.
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Old 03-20-2012, 06:16 AM   #1047 (permalink)
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Let's have some more of those classic rock songs, shall we? Start off with a true rock classic from Free, this is “Alright now”.

Great one from Fleetwood Mac, big hit for them called “Rhiannon”.

Dire Straits' first hit, which has become a real classic and a favourite, it's “Sultans of swing”.

The great Alice Cooper, with “School's out”. Not yet, kids!

and to finish up this time, here's the unlikely Norman Greenbaum with his only ever hit. You know the one...
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Old 03-20-2012, 07:43 AM   #1048 (permalink)
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Ah, I'm a little depressed. Nothing to blow away the blues like laughing at someone else's misfortune though, is there? And when we think of that, where do we automatically turn here? Yes, that's right: it's time to once again descend the slippery steps into Eurovision Hell! Bwa hahaha! Today we're looking north, to the cold icy lands of Scandinavia, where you'd have to wonder how these girls keep warm!

Seriously, the only good thing about Finland's 1994 entry was the two singers, who look very pretty but aren't anything special. The dancers are really annoying and distracting --- what is that guy up to at 1:32? --- and in fact their routine reminds me of the dance Rimmer and Lister did for “Tongue tied” (only Red Dwarf fans will get that reference). The song itself seems not to be able to make up its mind whether it's a pop, hip-hop number, a ballad or a big orchestral thing, but turns out to be fairly generic pop pap. The fact that the chorus (such as it is) is in English while the rest is in Finnish is just silly.

The group, whom I guess to include the dancers as they're in the pre-song promo, are called CatCat --- which is not a bad name --- and the girls look well even if they're not the world's greatest singers, but really, what is the deal with those long coats? Makes no sense.

Which just about sums up the Eurovision I guess. Oh yeah, this was the year we won. Again. This is transmitted from Ireland, as we had also won the previous year, and the year before that. This would be our third, and thankfully last, for a while. It's a great feeling, no doubt, to win, but victory just places extra financial strain on the country that has to host the next year's competition, so I'm sure many Irish heads were shaking, the initial euphoria at winning having by now long worn off, and I think we were just hoping we wouldn't be saddled with the huge cost of hosting the show again. Fat chance. Still, at least we showed we could put on an event to rival any of the bigger countries! Go Ireland!

Just, don't win again, ok? (Flash forward to 1996 --- D'oh!)

1994 --- Finland --- “Bye bye baby” by CatCat
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Old 03-20-2012, 06:42 PM   #1049 (permalink)
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Old 03-20-2012, 06:48 PM   #1050 (permalink)
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Is it possible, the worm asks, to get smoother than Mister Martin Fry? Doubtful...
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