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Old 01-18-2012, 05:02 AM   #741 (permalink)
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As mentioned before, this section takes one hell of a long time to put together, and as I certainly don't want to rush it just to get it up there, I apologise for the delay in getting the latest edition out, but think you'll all appreciate it the more for the time taken and the attention to detail. Now, where's that cut-and-paste job from the last time I did this...?

It'll come as no surprise to anyone who the featured solo artist is this time round, as that girl Stacey-Lynn has had her NewsFoxes on this like sharks scenting blood in the water for some time now, and it is in fact one I've been wanting to do for some time. So without any further fanfare, let's look deeply into the solo career of one

Part I: The loneliness of the long-distance run to the hills: Breaking the iron grip
From his humble beginnings as vocalist for a small rock band to frontman, writer, singer and recognised face of what is arguably the biggest and most successful and indeed most enduring heavy metal band in the world, Bruce Dickinson has come a long way. Somehow he's managed to stuff into a thirty-odd year career, in addition to fronting Iron Maiden and releasing ten albums with them --- four of which were recorded after his much-publicised break from the band --- being a writer, actor, screenwriter, fencer, broadcaster, managing director and even commercial airline pilot, and he has still had time to record and release six solo albums, with which we will of course be concerning ourselves here.

His first solo effort, “Tattooed millionaire”, was released in 1990, three years before he would take a sabbatical from Iron Maiden (well, let's be fair: quit the band, but he would later rejoin it for their triumphant “Brave new world” album and has remained with them since), and came about more from the fact that he was asked to write a song for the soundtrack of the new “Nightmare on Elm Street” movie. He came up with “Bring your daugher … to the slaughter”, which appeared on Maiden's “No prayer for the dying album” of that year, and also became one of their biggest hits. Impressed, the label asked if he was interested in writing a full album, and so “Tattooed millionaire” became his first work outside of Iron Maiden.



Tattooed millionaire --- 1990 (Columbia)



It opens with “Son of a gun”, with a familiar Iron Maiden guitar, and indeed features, as does the whole album, guitarist Janick Gers, who joined Maiden that year and is still with them. The song is Maiden in ways, and isn't in others, with a very western, almost heavy Bon Jovi kind of feel. The lineup is more back to basics, stripped down to just a four-piece, with Andy Carr on bass and Fabio del Rio on drums completing the band. Unlike with Maiden, there are no double (or even triple!) guitar attacks, but Gers performs at times as if there were. Dickinson's voice is as strong and powerful as ever, and there's a certain feeling of freedom about the song, as if he is finally happy doing what he is, whereas he had been unhappy with the direction Maiden were taking from the “Somewhere in time” album on, the more progressive metal sound the band were developing as the 1990s wound on.

The title track has more than a touch of Def Leppard's “Photograph” about it, more rock than metal with very AOR-style vocal harmonies, and a big step away from his work with Iron Maiden, which of course is what he was trying to achieve. It's hard though not to associate that gravelly, rasping voice with Steve Harris and the boys, but as the album goes on Bruce manages to successfully establish his own identity, separate from the band with which he had made his name.

At times, Gers' guitar work takes on a certain Thin Lizzy sound, and there's even a sense of the Police on “Born in '58”, a retrospective look at Bruce's growing up in a small mining town, a half-ballad with jangly guitar and solid drumming but little metal about it, and indeed with a title like “Hell on wheels” you would be inclined to think, given who's involved, this is where the album takes off into Maiden territory, but no, it's relatively restrained. A heavy track, but more rock than metal: no blazing guitar solos, no screaming high notes of the type that earned Bruce his nickname of “Air-raid siren”, but a solid rock track nonetheless.

There's a definite sense of Dickinson consciously trying to give his recognised sound a wide berth, a calculated attempt not to fall into the trap many solo artistes do, that of just transposing the music they play in their band onto their solo album, so that it sounds more or less just like another album from that band, albeit without the rest of the guys. “Gypsy road” has a lot of Guns'n'Roses about it, a mid-paced rocker with some nice guitar work, while “Dive! Dive! Dive!” is the first song to tip a nod back to Maidenesque songs, reminiscent in lyrical theme of “Run silent, run deep” from their album of that year, “No prayer for the dying” (although it's a far different song) and the other world war two songs like “Aces high” and “Tailgunner”, but again it's missing the heaviness of the Maiden songs, and it's really only Dickinson's screeching voice that puts you in mind of those tracks. Gers pulls off a nice solo though.

A solo album can also be the place to pay your dues, give respect back to the music you grew up on, and that perhaps influenced your own musical career, and here Bruce pays homage to Bowie. Although it gained fame as a hit for Mott the Hoople, “All the young dudes” was written by Bowie and was in fact intended to be on his “Ziggy Stardust” album, so I see this as a Bowie song. It's a great song, kind of simple really and probably hard to mess up, and Bruce does a decent job with it, lowering his register enough to sound a little like the Thin White Duke, and so his version is okay, but to be fair it's nothing special.

That's a description unfortunately that also suits “Lickin' the gun”. With a title like that you're expecting something a little different, but it's sort of forgettable rock fare that passes by quickly and into obscurity just as quickly. Better is “Zulu Lulu”, rocky and fun with a hint of Maiden's staple “Charlotte the harlot” in there, but the closer, “No lies”, in fact the longest track on the album at nearly six and a half minutes wraps things up nicely with a fast-paced rocker, again somewhat reminiscent of Leppard. It's a good chance for Janick Gers to show off his expertise on the guitar, and he puts on one hell of a show, taking the song from about the third minute to almost the fifth.

TRACKLISTING

1. Son of a gun
2. Tattooed millionaire
3. Born in '58
4. Hell on wheels
5. Gypsy road
6. Dive! Dive! Dive!
7. All the young dudes
8. Lickin' the gun
9. Zulu Lulu
10. No lies

As a debut solo effort, I feel this is an album that started off very well but tailed off from about track six or so, recovered right at the end, but I would have expected something a lot better from the frontman of Iron Maiden to be perfectly honest. I doubt it won over any of the Maiden crowd, and I feel sure that those who were not already fans of the band would have been rather unimpressed had they decided to check this out. Still, it seems to have made a reasonably respectable showing in the charts, at least in the UK, but a look at the performance of subsequent solo albums shows that this must have been largely due to curiosity.

Having decided to leave Iron Maiden in 1993, Bruce released his second solo album (first since leaving the band) the next year. For this he brought in the band Tribe of Gypsies as his backing group, and the album was released in 1994. It did poorly, possibly due to the well-publicised animosity between he and the rest of Maiden, and the fans' shock and anger at his departure from the band. In fact, the history of Dickinson's solo releases shows a retrograde down the charts, each album charting lower in the UK than the previous (with his last, and current, not even breaking the top forty) and doing even worse in the USA, where three of his six completely failed to chart. This was, in fact, the last of his albums to get anywhere in the US before “Tyranny of souls”, his last, and even then this only got just inside the top 200, getting to 185 with ToS reaching a paltry 180.



Balls to Picasso --- 1994 (Mercury)



“Cyclops” gets us underway, with a big heavy Black Sabbath-like sound, vocoders adding a little uneasy menace to the track, then hard and heavy guitars heralding what sounds to be, on first listen, a much more metal album than his debut. Prior to this, Bruce had tried recording with two other lineups, the sessions for both he had hated and had scrapped. He later said that this album was not as heavy as it could or should have been, but it certainly sounds closer to the sort of thing Iron Maiden fans would have expected. Roy Z on guitar is somehow heavier and grungier than Janick Gers was on the previous outing, and even the drumming sounds more intense, provided this time by Tribe of Gypsies' David Ingraham. With big, crunching guitar sounds and heavy, sludgey bass, “Cyclops” is a good opener, and raises the bar, as well as raising hopes that this album could be a lot better than the admittedly disappointing debut. The track is also his longest to date, just shy of eight minutes.

“Hell no” maintains the heavy vibe, but slower, crunchier, with a sort of latin or eastern tone, while “Gods of war” is another heavy cruncher, with some good vocals and a decent hook, then “1000 points of light” is a little more in the rock vein, with some twiddly guitar in the best Zep tradition with a certain nu-metal flavour. It's nice also, throughout this album, to see Dickinson rein in his famous screeching voice in favour of a more controlled growl which doesn't tend to grate in the way his voice sometimes can. The heavier nature of this album is also much more appreciated, and I already like it more than “Tattooed millionaire”.

The first (and so far as I know, only) song co-written with his son, Austin, “Laughing in the hiding bush” is a heavy song written about childhood, it would seem, with some really nice soaring guitar and slow, measured drumming, while Dickinson's first ever ballad is next up, in the form of “Change of heart”. With what sounds like classical guitar, a laidback melody and some really nice and controlled singing from Bruce, it's one of the standouts of the album so far. “Shoot all the clowns” (a sentiment I think the vast majority of us share!) has a real hard-edge funk style, even incorporating (gasp!) a rap! But somehow Bruce manages not to allow this to let the song slip into parody, and it turns out to be a really good rock track.

“Fire” goes back to Black Sabbath territory, with a little Deep Purple in there also, and “Sacred cowboys” reprises the idea of rapping over the music, slightly different, and with a title like that it's of course going to recall Maiden's big hit “Run to the hills”, though it's not that similar. Good fast guitars from Jay Z and thunderous drumming and bass bring this track to the fore as Dickinson asks ”Where are the injuns on the hill? / There's no injuns left to kill!”

One of the other standouts then, and indeed the second ballad, “Tears of the dragon” is a real slowburner with echoey guitar opening that slowly builds to a heavy climax with a really effective guitar solo from Jay Z, dropping back to its balladic core for the ending. This is in fact the only song on the album which Bruce writes solo, on the others he collaborates mostly with Jay Z and as mentioned on “Laughing in the hiding bush” with his son Austin. There's again a strong ending with “All in your mind”, a fast rocker where he goes back to the air-raid siren voice, sounding more like Bruce Dickinson from Iron Maiden than Bruce Dickinson the solo artiste, but we can allow him this one indulgence, as “Balls to Picasso” is a far superior album to his debut, and shows Dickinson growing as a solo performer.

TRACKLISTING

1. Cyclops
2. Hell no
3. Gods of war
4. 1000 points of light
5. Laughing in the hiding bush
6. Change of heart
7. Shoot all the clowns
8. Fire
9. Sacred cowboys
10. Tears of the dragon
11. All in your mind

As with all solo artistes featured here (with the exception of our inaugural star, Phil Lynott, who only had two solo albums before his death cut short a promising solo career) we tend to try to feature up to four albums from the catalogue. Bruce Dickinson has had six in all, but we won't be reviewing every one of them, instead picking and choosing from the releases. I haven't heard any Dickinson solo output prior to this (even though years and years ago, a mate at work bought me a double-boxed tape of “Tattooed millionaire”: I never even got to listen to it) so I don't know if I'm making the right choices, but generally I try to get the artiste's debut --- obviously --- their most recent or last, and one or two then from around the middle of their career.

So here I'm going for our third look, and I'm choosing 1997's effort, which saw Bruce team up with his old mucker from Maiden, guitarist Adrian Smith, who had also left the band by that time, but who would rejoin them when Dickinson made a triumphant return. This album also features Jay Z and his Tribe of Gypsies, and is said to be a lot different to the previous year's “Skunkworks”, but I can't cover everything, so this is what I'm going with.

That's coming in part two, up right after this...
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Old 01-18-2012, 05:15 AM   #742 (permalink)
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Part II: Lone wolf back in the fold: the prodigal returns

Accident of birth --- 1997 (CMC International)



As I say above, Bruce released his third solo album in 1996. Called “Skunkworks”, he wanted it to be released under that name, ie not his, but the label forced him to pin his own name to it, thinking it would not sell otherwise. They were probably right, but then, it didn't sell that well anyway, possibly due to being apparently a big shift away from his rock/metal roots, while this one gets right back to those roots. But it still didn't shift the units. No pleasing some people!

The album is also notable, not only for the introduction of Adrian Smith, but for the reunion with artist Derek Riggs, who created Eddie and who did the artwork on most of the Iron Maiden album covers, including such well-known icons as “Killers”, “Number of the beast” and “Powerslave”. As a result of both events, I expect this album to have a much more Maiden feel. We shall see though.

Well it certainly opens heavily enough, as “Freak” shoulders its way onto the stage, and right away the familiar twin guitar attack is back, and this sounds a lot more like Maiden, though still with Dickinson's own solo persona imprinted on it. Rocking along nicely, it's great to hear Adrian Smith's guitar licks in there: sounds like old friends reunited indeed. There's a short (thirty-seven seconds!) instrumental in “Toltec 7 arrival” --- an instrumental but with a gutteral voiceover behind it --- then “Starchildren” is a heavy metal mid-paced cruncher --- sounds like something Steve Harris might have written --- with big, busy guitars and thumping bass, then “Taking the queen” turns everything on its head.

Utilising for the first time strings arrangement, Bruce introduces violin and cello into a hard-edged rocker with balladic elements, creating quite a song and indeed possibly a standout, even this early in the album. A fine solo from Smith recalls the best of early Iron Maiden, the strings really adding a new dimension to the music, making this a powerful, emotional tour-de-force for Dickinson, maybe a personal best. It feeds into the longest track on the album, at almost seven minutes, the epic “Riders of Aquarius”, almost as good as the previous track, with some finger-burning fretwork and a great vocal performance from Bruce. Slowing down in the middle, and with an almost lute-like guitar passage, it's close to Dickinson's “Rime of the ancient mariner”, a real saga, another standout as this album just gets better and better.

Everything speeds back up then for “Road to Hell”, powerful drumming from Ingraham driving the track on, while Jaz Z and Adrian Smith make their presence count in no uncertain fashion, each trying to outdo the other on their guitar solos. Another standout then in “Man of sorrows”, where for the first time Bruce utilises piano, played by Richard Baker, and reintroducing Silvia Tsai on the violin and Rebecca Yeh on the cello, creating a lovely, full and dramatic atmosphere for his excellent ballad, perhaps his best so far. Or maybe that was “Tears of the dragon”? Well, they're both fantastic songs.

The title track, then, is a big, monstrous slab of industrial rock to begin with, then becomes a solid metal rocker, loping along like a wolf pursuing its prey. It runs directly into “The magician”, which is ok but comes across as very much an Iron Maiden song, while “Welcome to the pit” kind of just goes past without making any real mark. “Omega”, on the other hand, is a big, brooding, powerful cruncher which grabs the attention, with some really laidback, almost Gilmouresque guitar which later breaks out into a real Maiden-type axe duel as the song gets heavier and faster. Clocking in at almost six and a half minutes, it's the second longest on the album and yet another standout.

Closer “Arc of spades” is another surprise: an acoustic ballad which brings back for one final time the violin of Tsai and the cello of Yeh, beautifully complementing the acoustic and Spanish guitars, a really gorgeous and powerful end to the album.

TRACKLISTING

1. Freak
2. Toltec 7 arrival
3. Starchildren
4. Taking the queen
5. Darkside of Aquarius
6. Road to Hell
7. Man of sorrows
8. Accident of birth
9. The magician
10. Welcome to the pit
11. Omega
12. Arc of space

So from a somewhat shaky start, it seems Bruce Dickinson quickly established himself as a viable solo artiste. Having tried out some new things on his first album, it appears that he soon reverted back to the rock/metal formula that has served him so well over the years, and I can only say that the last two of his albums I've listened to here are a huge improvement over his debut.

In 1999, after realising that Blaze Bayley was just not working out as the new Iron Maiden singer, the band parted company with him and negotiations were opened with Bruce, who eventually returned to the fold, along with Adrian Smith, the reunion serving to reinvigorate what had become a tired band, a shadow of their former selves. Back in the band, not surprisingly Bruce concentrated on Iron Maiden and put his solo career on hold.

But not for good. Which means we have one more of his solo albums to tackle, and it's his most current, and last so far, released seven years ago now, in 2005. Should he come up with a seventh solo album, it will mark the longest hiatus between any of his output, the biggest gap to date being between the debut in 1990 and its follow up in 1994. Of course, his return to the mothership explains that break in his solo work, but with a new Iron Maiden album and tour currently occupying his time, it seems unlikely that we'll see any further solo material, if at all, from Bruce for another few years.



Tyranny of souls --- 2005 (Sanctuary)



Right from the off there's a sense of a change, kind of in line with the newer, more progressive sound that characterised the more recent Iron Maiden albums, which is ironic, as this was a key element in Bruce's original decision to depart, and once he came back they were more prog-metal than ever! And now his most recent solo album reflects that same change, or continuance in direction. “Mars within” is a synthy, deep keyboard melody that models itself on the classical composition by Gustav Holst, “Mars: the bringer of war” (trust me, you've heard it before. It's used in so many different films, soundtracks, ads and even precedes Diamond Head's “Am I evil”?) with a muttered growl of a backing track vocal, then the first track proper is “Abduction”, and really, if it sounds like anything it sounds like a current Iron Maiden track.

Adrian Smith does not take part on this album, presumably having his plate full with being back with Maiden, and although Jay Z again co-writes and plays on the album with Bruce (it was apparently his idea to do the thing, which helps to further explain why there was such a gap between this and the last solo album) the Tribe of Gypsies are absent, and keyboard player Maestro Mistheria adds a new dimension to the music with his clever synth lines and deep organ melodies. “Soul intruders” is another rocker, well constructed but again hard to distinguish from a Maiden song. Great guitar work from Jay, with solid basslines from Juan Perez for this and the previous track, though bass duties for the rest of the album are taken by Ray “Geezer” Burke (anything to Geezer Butler from Black Sabbath? No?) and powerful, steamhammer drumming from David Moreno, Bruce as ever in fine vocal form.

“Kill Devil Hill” tells the story of the Wright Brothers' first successful manned flight, and rocks along nicely, a mid-paced cruncher with a lot of Maidenesque guitar, which is a little odd, as Adrian Smith is not on the album, so I can only assume Jay Z has been influenced by him. Mistheria's synth arrangements set a really storylike atmosphere as the song begins to slow towards the end, with gorgeous little guitar licks from Z, and expressive bass. “Navigate the seas of the sun” opens with acoustic guitar and eerie synth, as Bruce sings of aliens who may have visited us in our prehistory and been treated as gods. The song stays generally acoustic, and quite laidback in a midpaced kind of way. My favourite on the album so far.

There's a good rock cruncher then in “River of no return”, with some great heavy bass and some really nice piano and keyboard lines from Mistheria, then things kick into high gear for “Power of the sun”, but with a few exceptions most of this is sounding so similar to Iron Maiden songs that it's hard to judge the album on the merits of being a solo effort, and I'm beginning to think that, while going back to the band was undoubtedly the best thing for Maiden and their music, and for Bruce, it seems to have stymied his creative juices as far as his own separate work is concerned. Course, there are three tracks yet to go, so he may produce something very un-Maiden, but I'm not laying any smart money down. The individualism that characterised much of the last two albums at least seems to have disappeared, and I'm basically listening to an Iron Maiden album.

Hmm. Despite the metal title, “Devil on a hog” revisits the AOR stylings of his debut, with a really catchy hook and some muted guitar. I wouldn't see this on a Maiden album! Nice vocal harmonies. Pretty damn good. Impressive solo from Jay Z. Could it be this album will finish strongly? Well, “Believil” (see what he did there?) is a final stab at Black Sabbath territory, and it's not half bad, though the joke does wear a little thin over the span of its almost five minutes, then we close with the title track.

Loosely based on Shakespeare's famous play “The Tempest” --- which, incidentally, also featured in the title of Maiden's comeback album, “Brave new world” --- it's an epic closer, with harpsichord-like opening and soft vocals from Bruce, then the guitars wind up and it becomes a slow metal cruncher in the mould of Metallica almost: how's that for full circle? Slow, grinding drumming and doomy guitar counterpoint Bruce's increasingly angry vocal, the guitar getting fluid and vibrant for the chorus.

TRACKLISTING

1. Mars within
2. Abduction
3. Soul intruders
4. Kill Devil Hill
5. Navigate the seas of the sun
6. River of no return
7. Power of the sun
8. Devil on a hog
9. Believil
10. A tyranny of souls


It's a decent finish to what is in the end a decent album, but not a great album. I much prefer some of the other ones we featured here. What is clear is that Bruce created some fine music while apart from Iron Maiden, but once he went back it would appear that all his energies were --- probably rightly --- devoted to the band, leaving little over for his solo projects. Nevertheless, as a solo artist he produced some really fine music, and can justifiably be proud of what he has done.

Given that he has also had his own radio show for eight years, made TV shows and was employed as a fulltime airline pilot, it's quite staggering that Bruce managed to record even one solo album, never mind six. On the basis of that, you would have to give him respect and say that he really has tried, and succeeded, in just about everything he has ever attempted. What next for the once-bullied son of an army mechanic?
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Old 01-19-2012, 01:16 AM   #743 (permalink)
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Old 01-19-2012, 01:20 AM   #744 (permalink)
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Anyone remember Dennis DeYoung from Styx? Anyone remember Styx...?

Today's Daily Earworm has been brought to you by the letter D, with Dennis DeYoung, “Desert moon”.
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Old 01-19-2012, 01:29 AM   #745 (permalink)
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Out from the cold --- Coldspell --- 2011 (Escape Music)


Just missing out by days for inclusion in our “Meanwhile, back in the real world ...” section, this is a band who we sampled on the first “Devil's Ballroom”, back at the end of last year. Hailing from that coldest of cold countries, Sweden, Coldspell are a five-piece who have been together since 2005. This is their second album, for which they have dispensed with the services of their original drummer and bass player, who had featured on their debut album, replacing them with two new members who now make up the current lineup of the band.

Two albums in six years is probably not the most prolific, but Coldspell appear to be gathering momentum with the release of their second album “Out from the cold”, which has gained critical acclaim across the rock and metal spectrum, and gaining more and more fans every time they play live. With Sweden now well known for such successful bands as Therion, Evergrey, Hammerfall and of course Opeth, Coldspell have a good chance I think of being in the vanguard of new metal bands to come out of this icy country.

The album opens on deceptively lush keyboards, with a child's voice saying “We're heroes of the future” before the opening track, called “Heroes” kicks the door in, founder member Michael Larsson's guitar and the thundering drumming of new guy Perra Johanson laying down the powerful soundscape. THIS is METAL! But metal with melody. Vocalist and also founder member Niklas Swedentorp (I kid you not!) has a good voice, powerful but not ragged, well able to reach all the required registers without screaming or cracking. It's a good opening, and a statement of intent as Swedentorp yells ”We're heroes/ Of the new world!” Could very well be true: Coldspell certainly seem to be making their mark in the world of metal and hard rock. “Run for your life” is somewhat more keyboard-led, very catchy and again very heavy but with a great melody, some really Led Zep style fretwork by Larsson as the song rocks along at a fine pace. Matti Eklund's keys definitely add a different feel to the previous track, and it's not AOR but it's damn good rock!

“One in a million” is a little slower, but not much, and another great tune with lots of hooks and some great vocals from Swedentorp. Duties are more or less handed back to Larsson on guitar for this song, though Eklund's keyboards are there keeping pace with him and adding little flourishes here and there as needed. Great growling guitar opening to “Six feet under” and the song rocks along nicely, with some good keyboard and organ input from Eklund. Very catchy chorus.

For just a moment there I thought they were covering the Pink Floyd classic, as “Time” opens with pealing bells and ticking clocks, but any such notions are soon dispelled as the tempo kicks right up and sharp guitars carry the song into an original composition, a faster rocker after the last few, somewhat slower, tracks. Still, a cover of the classic would have been cool. Oh well. It's a damn fine song anyway, and it's followed by another, as “Save our souls”, the track we featured on “The Devil's Ballroom”, takes the stage, slowing things down again with a heavy rock cruncher. Man, just about every song on this is memorable, catchy, well-written and played with a lot of enthusiasm. These guys are going to go far!

All I need now is a ballad. Wait a moment, what's that fluty keyboard and acoustic guitar I hear? Could “The king” add the missing piece to this excellent jigsaw? Violins, slow drums, I like it, I like it. I'm going to go out on a limb (though not a very shaky one, admittedly!) and say this is the metal ballad the album has been lacking. Great vocals and backing vocals too, and Coldspell aren't taking the easy way out by singing about love here. Hmm, getting a little heavy with the guitars, could be I was wrong. Half-ballad? Power ballad? Whatever it is, it's damn good. Oh wait, I've said that already, haven't I? Well, it's true, and superlatives are beginning to run dry on me as I listen to this band.

Balladry, half-balladry, whatever you want to call it, it's forgotten as “Fate” cranks up, and the band go back into overdrive on another cruncher, heavy guitar backed by insistent keys, Swedentorp singing his powerful lungs out, and as I said earlier, these guys know how to do backing vocals. Great prog-like keyboard solo by Eklund here, then “Seven wonders” ramps up the power again, an extremely melodic and catchy track which trundles along on rails of steel and must be a favourite at live gigs.

Let's be fair here: Coldspell don't break any new ground lyrically. Most of their songs are typical metal fare, with subjects like how good they are/rock is, how you should never give up, as well as the odd semi-abstract theme like in “Time”, but they're not rewriting metal as a genre here. I wouldn't call them progressive exactly, but they're a cut above a lot of run-of-the-mill metal bands, and they definitely have a certain something. Even on their own website information is a little hard to track down, but I get the impression that founder and guitarist Michael Larsson writes most, if not all of the songs, and though as I say he doesn't get too creative with the subject matter, he definitely knows how to write a catchy song that stays in your head.

I would have thought there was a good chance that a track called “Angel eyes” might be a ballad, but no, the guys keep rockin' and it's another heads-down, stadium-stridin' stomper with some great guitar work from Larsson, who really does seem to be the driving force behind the band, though never to the detriment of his fellow bandmates. And the pace doesn't slacken as we launch into “Heading for tomorrow”, with some nice organ riding along the melody. Some great vocal harmonies help make this song pretty special, and that organ coming in again gives the song a little extra punch. Lovely country-style guitar opening to the closer, and title, track, then it revs up and it's another rocker that refuses to allow you to catch your breath before the album slams to a close.

It's hard to pick out a favourite or best track here, but that's not because there isn't one. It's because each track is as good as the next. There are no bad ones. I would maybe --- maybe --- single out “The king” or “Time”, just because they break the mould a little and step outside the normal scope of Coldspell's at times limited lyrical themes, but really, any song could qualify. And that's high praise from a picky bugger like me!

I tell you, the sun may not rise for part of the winter, up there in Sweden, and it may get very cold and dark, but with bands like Coldspell coming “Out from the cold” (sorry!) the future for Swedish metal is very bright indeed.

TRACKLISTING

1. Heroes
2. Run for your life
3. One in a million
4. Six feet under
5. Time
6. Save our souls
7. The king
8. Fate
9. Seven wonders
10. Angel eyes
11. Heading for tomorrow
12. Out from the cold
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Old 01-19-2012, 05:19 PM   #746 (permalink)
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Old 01-19-2012, 05:20 PM   #747 (permalink)
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Serendipity, eh? Here the worm is, looking for an artiste beginning with E, and Stacey-Lynn comes along with Steve Earle. That'll do! This is a great one from his “Copperhead Road” album, one of the first albums, the worm is told, reviewed in this journal. Mind you, that was a long time before the worm came to work here! This is called “Snake oil”. No, not “Worm oil”....

Today's Daily Earworm has been brought to you by the letter E, courtesy of Steve Earle, with “Snake oil”.
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Old 01-20-2012, 05:42 AM   #748 (permalink)
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Let's check out the mellow side of rock and metal again, shall we?

This is Elegy, a power metal band from Holland with currently eight albums to their credit. This is from their last-but-one, 2000's “Forbidden fruit”, and a great ballad called “I believe”.



Staying in Europe (and quite close, geographically, to Holland), Avalon are a German progressive metal band, who unfortunately share their name with a Christian rock group. Gaah! Anyway, this is from their second album, “Mystic places”, a nice little acoustic number called “Prisoner of my mind”.



Nightwish can always be relied upon for some decent ballads. Here they are with a track that seems only to appear as part of the single “Amaranth” (what we used to call a B-side, though these days singles can have almost as many tracks as small albums: they're not EPs, dunno what they're called) which itself is from the album “Dark passion play”. This is apparently the theme to a movie, though I've never heard of “Lieska”. Anyway, it's called “While your lips are still red”.



Always found Manowar something of a joke, myself, though I did buy their first three albums. Seems they may have reinvented themselves though, in somewhat the style of Virgin Steele. This is a lovely piano ballad taken from their album “Louder than Hell”, released in 1996, it's simply called “Courage”.



And to close, we'll bring it kind of full circle. Therion are another band who, like Manowar, have successfully reinvented themselves, changing from death metal beginnings to a more melodic, symphonic metal, and this is from their album “Vovin”. How does that bring things full circle? Well, the song “The king”, featured here, is actually a cover originally written and performed by Accept, who kicked off this whole section at the beginning of the month.

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Old 01-20-2012, 09:42 AM   #749 (permalink)
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One among the living --- Mystery --- 2010 (Unicorn Digital)


You have to admire the spirit and determination of Mystery's drummer, Stephane Perrault, who in 1993 lost the use of both his legs, but refused to allow that to cut short his career, and became the first drummer to operate solely from a wheelchair. He's not with them now, but that story is such a triumph of the human spirit over adversity, and the power of music that I felt it needed to be related. Formed in Canada in 1986 by guitarist and keyboard player Michel St-Pere, Mystery have steadily grown their fanbase over the course of twenty-five years and now five albums, creating a name for themselves in the world of progressive rock.

The album opens with a squealing guitar, lovely little keyboard and piano line with a vocal line by David Benoit, who later of course joined the nth incarnation of Yes, and is busily making a name for himself on their current album, “Fly from here”. Just over a minute long, “Among the living” leads into “Wolf”, a good rocker with great synthy keyboards and powerful guitars from St-Pere, plenty of typical prog influences: long keyboard passages, stabbing drum sections, intricate guitar workouts, all music to my ears! Most of the songs are relatively long, after the opener, which I see really more as an introduction or overture to the main event. This, and followup “Between love and hate” just miss the six minute mark, while “Till the truth comes out” is over nine, but even that pales beside the multi-part composition “Through different eyes”, clocking in at around twenty-three minutes. More of that later.

Right now, back to “Between love and hate”, which is slower, more relaxed and ambient, elements of Mark Knopfler's guitar in Michel St-Pere's almost lazy melody here, and indeed the track seems to rely more on the guitar, with less of the keyboard seen in the previous one. It seems St-Pere can shine as easily on guitar as he does behind the keyboard, and he really is the heart and soul of this band --- in addition to being the founder --- but much of the album stands or falls on Benoit David's gentle, soulful vocal, and in general, it stands proud. The blues influence St-Pere brings to this song marks the difference between Mystery and a hundred other prog-rock bands, that they can switch and mix styles, not being constricted to the one type of music, and it's very healthy.

“Till the truth comes out” opens on lovely acoustic guitar, redolent of early Rush or the best of Steve Rothery, with lush keyboards joining it as the vocal comes in gently from David. You can see why he was a natural replacement for Jon Anderson in Yes: he really sounds so much like him, that if I didn't know better I might think it was the great man himself singing on this album. Speaking of great men, Mystery rope in some stellar talent to guest on the album, including Daryl Steurmer, John Jowitt and Oliver Wakeman, though on what tracks they play I can't tell you, as I've been unable to locate that information.

In general, this is a slow, stately track with some lovely guitar and some fine keyboard melodies running through it, with a large instrumental section in the middle, vocals coming back in on about the seven-minute mark to reprise the opening and take the song towards its conclusion, acoustic guitar taking centre stage for the final part, at about 8:30, and the track finishes instrumentally, fading away which is perhaps a little of a disappointment, as I would have preferred a strong, dramatic end, but definitely a standout track so far.

More jazzy and funky then is “Kameleon man” (spelt that way, don't blame me!), with a lot of boogie and swagger about it, nice brassy keyboards from St-Pere as well as some pretty damn rocky guitar. It's probably the most out-and-out rocker on the album, with little of the prog rock about it, but personally it's my least favourite so far. It leads into the epic on the album; as already mentioned, “Through different eyes” runs for about twenty-three minutes in total, and is divided into six parts, the first of which is a nice slow ballad with great vocal harmonies and what sounds like violin or cello. “When sorrow turns to pain” runs for almost four minutes, with some nice guitar touches , then “Apocalyptic visions of Paradise” is a short instrumental, just short of two minutes, mostly carried on picked guitar backed by violin, though it's probably made on the keyboard. Very emotive though.



One of the two longer parts, at just under six minutes, “So far away” reintroduces David's vocal over essentially the same melody as the previous section, still slow and stately and graceful, sailing on like some majestic ocean liner traversing a glittering sea of music and melody. The piece gets a little heavier as it reaches the halfway mark, though losing nothing of its beauty or fragility, then it drops back again to that guitar melody that opened the whole thing, joined by keys and slightly heavier percussion, choral vocals complementing Benoit David's as he sings like the very image of Anderson.

Part IV, entitled “The point of no return”, gets a lot heavier with machine-gun drums and hard guitar, upping the tempo, though David's vocal throughout remains calm and composed, like someone standing in the very eye of the storm. As guitars wail, keyboards howl and drums batter him all around, he stays focussed, intent on his job and suddenly the storm passes as Part V comes in, on a gentle guitar and crying keyboard line. “The silent scream” is the other long section, again close to six minutes, a slow, measured, almost acoustic tune but with some truly beautiful seventies-style prog keyboard from St-Pere, and a Gilmouresque guitar solo which leads into a really dreamlike melody that carries the composition towards its final conclusion, in Part VI, “Dancing with butterflies”.

For a song as long as this, it's quite amazing that Mystery have resisted the urge to do the usual, as it were, and change time signatures, moods, speeds, tempos and styles, opting instead to keep the same general melody and theme throughout the whole composition, tweaking it a little here and there, but essentially not changing the overall formula, and yet ending up with an incredible piece like that. Quite astounding. And we're not finished yet.

The title track reminds me of the general mood of “In the air tonight”, or perhaps some of Tony Banks' more atmospheric (come on, you knew I was going to work that word into the review, didn't you?) tracks, split open halfway through by powerful guitar and then upbeat prog keyboards as the song takes on a distinctly Genesis flavour: is that a mellotron? David's vocals are strong and forceful here, as he abandons his usual gentle tone for a much more urgent, persistent sound and Michel St-Pere cuts loose with another great guitar solo. Then “The falling man” has a very ominous guitar sound to it, as David cries ”Help me!” in the background. The song breaks into a pretty powerful cruncher, with heavy guitar taking the dominant role, fading right down to allow David to sing the opening lines then blasting along with him as he hits his stride, falling back again, coming in again in a mad dance that, though it seems arbitrary, is choreographed to the max.

Certainly the heaviest track on the album, with more musical ideas than the other heavy track, “The kameleon man”, it's a powerhouse that stomps rather than rocks, a sense of impending doom in the almost Metallica-like guitar, the keys keeping a dark counterpoint in the background. Progressive doom metal? Not quite, but definitely a different take on Mystery, a long way removed from the intricacies of the likes of “Through different eyes”, “Wolf” or “Till the truth comes out”. They even throw in a little jolt of jazz/funk near the end. Special.

The album closes with “Sailing on a wing”, five minutes of very progressive rock, reminding me, inescapably, of Yes, with its acoustic guitar and alto vocals, tight bass lines and swirling keys. More great vocal harmonies put the finishing touches on the track, and indeed, on a very fine album.

Mystery may not be known all that much outside their native Canada, but with musicianship of this calibre that is surely set to change. This album was released in 2010, so hopefully by now a lot more people have been turned on to their special brand of progressive rock, and discovered for themselves what a unique band these four guys from Montreal are. As for me, I'm off to check out the albums that led up to this. I need more Mystery in my life!

TRACKLISTING

1. Among the living
2. Wolf
3. Between love and hate
4. Till the truth comes out
5. Kameleon man
6. Through different eyes
(I) When sorrow turns to pain
(ii) Apocalyptic visions of Paradise
(iii) So far away
(iv) The point of no return
(v) The silent scream
(vi) Dancing with butterflies
7. One among the living
8. The falling man
9. Sailing on a wing
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Old 01-20-2012, 10:50 AM   #750 (permalink)
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The Pollys are coming...
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