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Angra – ØMNI Review

Angra – ØMNI Review

Angra‘s Secret Garden was a surprise for me. It captured my heart by being extraordinary in its execution, not its novelty. The record was a solid group of songs that were well-written, well-performed, and fun to listen to. But let’s not kid ourselves, aside from having a spunky new 23 year-old drummer and slightly used 41 year-old singer, Angra wasn’t really doing anything unexpected. The record was graced by Jens Bogren’s Industry Standard Power Metal Production™, a guest appearance by scene matron Doro Pesch, and it was a straight forward affair. Secret Garden‘s directness was charming in its lack of pretense, and I’ve come back to it a lot since then. So, three years later, 2018 starts off with Angra‘s newest record entitled ØMNI. And this time, they’ve gone and written an orchestral, progressive metal concept album about the future. So, how’d that work out for them?” AMG and Angra together again.

Circle II Circle – Reign of Darkness Review

Circle II Circle – Reign of Darkness Review

Circle II Circle keeps chugging along, tirelessly offering a stripped-down, threadbare reminder of what Zak Stevens era Savatage sounded like – just in case those albums get raptured away or something. This is their seventh album of mid-tempo metal with hard rock and AOR influences, and though the blueprint delivered some good moments (Watching in Silence, Burden of Truth), the past few outings felt increasingly watered down and bereft of inspiration, culminating in the dissipated lethargy of 2013s Seasons Will Fall.” With two spheres in the title, how can you go wrong?

Stratovarius – Eternal Review

Stratovarius – Eternal Review

“Euro-power is in a bit of rut lately, with very few releases really grabbing my jaded ears with the proper blend of bombast, cheese whizardry and over-the-top exuberance. Stratovarius was once a no brainer when I needed such sonic excesses, but the past few albums have been hit or miss affairs, especially 2013s Nemesis where the band explored a more commercialized, and dare I say it, poppy style.” Can the former Lords of Euro-power regain the Cheddar-Coated Throne of Power?

Angra – Secret Garden Review

Angra – Secret Garden Review

Angra needs no introduction. The band has been a power metal fixture since the early 1990s and are one of the biggest metal bands to ever breach the borders of their native Brazil. Still, the last decade(ish) has been rocky for these guys, and you might not be blamed for having thought they called it quits. Not only did half the band quit in the early-aughts to go and start Shaman, but they’ve had dust-ups with management and were put on hold—even having been mistakenly reported as split-up entirely. Hell, between 2010’s Aqua and the release of Secret Garden they lost both a singer—who was replaced by Rhapsody [of Fire]‘s Fabio Lione—and got a new 23 year-old drummer to boot. Consistency has been hard to come by for Angra of late.” Mr. The Metal Guy takes on Angra‘s newest record. Does he bite the cheese?

Gamma Ray – Empire of the Undead Review

Gamma Ray – Empire of the Undead Review

“Wow, these guys have been around forever! Empire of the Undead is Gamma Ray‘s eleventh freaking album, and we get it despite the fact their recording studio burned down and everything was lost, except the masters for this baby. So what do you get from a band so beloved and long in the tooth?” After so many albums, what are you expecting? Steel Druhm expects you to read this.

Stratovarius – Nemesis Review

Stratovarius – Nemesis Review

“During my tenure here at AMG, I don’t think I’ve taken quite so much guff for a review as when I gave the last Stratovarius opus (Elysium) a mere 3.0. I found that rather funny, since a 3.0 is a pretty good score around these parts. While Elysium had some very good songs, it had several rough spots and a general lack of energy that short-circuited the album’s flow. Now I’m tasked with examining Nemesis, the follow-up by one of the titans of Euro-power and a band I’ve respected and enjoyed for a long time. It turns out to be a tough album to get a handle on.” Watch Steel Druhm search for a handle on things and when he finds it, things aren’t gonna be pretty.

Circle II Circle – Seasons Will Fall Review

Circle II Circle – Seasons Will Fall Review

I’ll run the risk to my metal cred and admit I was a pretty big fan of late period Savatage. Albums like Edge of Thorns and Handful of Rain were so loaded with pre-Trans-Siberian Orchestra bombast and cheese-wizardry, they were nearly impossible to resist (despite my occasional snickers at the unhealthy Velveeta factor inherent therein). One of the big selling points was Zak Steven’s impressive vocal work. Though I always had a soft spot for the ten-pack-a-day rasp of Jon Oliva, Stevens breathed new life into the Savatage sound with his deep, powerful delivery and dramatic leanings. When he split off to form Circle II Circle, I wanted to be a big supporter, but too often the mix of mid-tempo hard rock/metal just didn’t push my buttons the same way. After five albums of material in the same vein as Jorn Lande‘s solo albums and the Allen/Lande project, only Watching in Silence and Burden of Truth stood out, with the rest feeling like tepid exercises in mundane writing and generalized malaise. Now comes platter number six, Seasons Will Fall.

Vision Divine – Destination Set to Nowhere Review

Vision Divine – Destination Set to Nowhere Review

When I was an Angry Metal Lad I discovered what was then the burgeoning europower scene in the late 90s early aughts. Deeply influenced by the likes of RageHelloween, and Stratovarius I began to be taken in by any band that had a lot of double bass, virtuoso keyboard and guitar solos and a dude who sang moderately operatically but wasn’t too annoying. This held me over for a long time, discovering bands that still stick with me to today as some of my favorites including [Luca Turilli’s] Rhapsody [of Fire]Blind Guardian, Sonata Arctica and myriads of others (as well as their aforementioned influences). But like any scene, this one had its boundaries and excesses and after a while I started to get bored. In that process, I missed Vision Divine – an Italian power metal band that includes Rhapsody‘s vocalist Fabio Lione who released their first record in 1999.

Stratovarius – Elysium Review

Stratovarius – Elysium Review

Stratovarius is a name synonymous with European power metal and right up there with Gamma Ray and Helloween. Over the course of their long recording history they’ve created stellar examples of the style and several of their albums reside on my all time power metal playlist (Destiny, Visions, Episodes, Fourth Dimension, Infinite). Along with these past successes, Stratovarius had their share of ups and downs, including their infamous and acrimonious split with founding member/guitarist/chief songwriter Timo Tolkki (Revolution Renaissance). Both before and after this split, Stratovarius released some uneven albums and went through a phase where they indulged in bloated, overly orchestrated symphonic styles and for many long time fans, this was regrettable (Elements Parts I and II). While 2009’s Polaris seemed to right the ship, Elysium shows considerable backsliding toward these past missteps. While still a decent album with some great moments, it fails to rise anywhere near the level of past triumphs and ultimately bogs down amid ponderous pacing and overwrought orchestration.