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Joined: 04 Oct 2000
Posts: 3985
Location: Canada

PostPosted: Fri Sep 19, 2003 2:48 am    Post subject: Ack!-quisitions Reply with quote

Running Wild, The Rivalry & The Brotherhood
I already had Victory when I picked up the pack of 3 digipaks that includes that and these two albums - comprising Running Wild's most recent studio albums - but it was still a good deal and now my trade list is a little more interesting. The downside of this package is that the only CD that comes with a booklet is The Brotherhood. The Rivalry is the first of those CD's, and probably the most consistently lively - if not all that reminiscent of the glorious Blazon Stone. The guitar melodies are good but not at that level, maybe because they're more early-era Maiden than the more recognizably Running Wild folksy melodies I have come to embrace (exception: "Adventure Galley"). Classy playing by both Rolf and Thilo Hermann is sprinkled throughout, and even the overlong, more Maiden-inspired than usual "War & Peace" (overlong? really?) is engaging all the way through. While not as pricelessly vital as Blazon Stone (or I hope Port Royal, which I have on order under Raider's advice that it's even better), The Rivalry is a skilled and admirable album from a band that was, at the time, on album #10 (no small feat). Victory is the second album, and my introduction to this band. I reviewed it months ago and won't bother doing it again - but it holds up well, and I think it's the best of these three albums. The Brotherhood is the most recent CD, and probably the least of the three; the AC/DC influence I've heard Rolf mention a few times in interviews is most prominent here (notably in "Soulstrippers") and if that sounds an unlikely mix with their old-style power metal pirate fare, it sounds better than it sounds like it sounds. One song - unsurprisingly "Pirate Song" - is pure pirate Running Wild, at least judging from the pure pirate Running Wild I've heard, while the rest of the album bounces around varying hr/hm influences from the last couple of decades, maybe most shamelessly with instrumental "Siberian Winter" which employs the riffs and melodies of Maiden's early instrumentals with the aimless, please-make-it-stop length of Maiden's latter-day corpulence. Before the two bonus tracks (both of which are a bit better than the average song on here), The Brotherhood finishes off with its two best songs, the dumb but still thoroughly enjoyable "Dr. Horror" and "The Ghost", which would've been an easy contender for the album's best song if it didn't lurch on for over ten minutes. While this seems to have always been Rolf's show all the way, it might be telling that the transition from Victory to this featured a significant lineup purge as Rolf let go both Hermann and the bassist, and no second guitarist was hired until afterward. I am very new to this band, but this album further reinforces my suspicion that - as was the case with way too many other bands - I discovered them a lot later than I should have.
Ratings: 7.5, 6

Darkane, Expanding Senses
Do you miss the Soilwork of yore, because the one we once had turned into Nickelback? Darkane isn't quite that, but Expanding Senses is about as good as Natural Born Chaos was after the fantastic first impression eroded into "mere" satisfaction. Like NBC, ES starts out with a song so awesome ("Innocence Gone") that the rest of the album has no hope of maintaining that kind of momentum. Unlike NBC, or any Soilwork for that matter, this album owes a lot to classic American thrash; I hear very early Exodus and Testament in both riffs and vocal styles ("Submission", "Imaginary Entity") and singer Andreas Sydow does a Tom Araya impression almost indistinguishable from the real thing on "Chaos vs. Order". But the big chuggy-heavy Swedish production (Daniel Bergstrand) lays waste to any notion of this being a retro album. I'm relieved that this is a big step up from the disappointing Insanity; another clunker would've been enough for me to write this band off. I don't know what it's going to take for this band to sneak out from out of Soilwork's shadow, but maybe it'd take some deliberate action on their part (I remember rolling my eyes when, soon after it was announced that Soilwork was hiring Devin Townsend as producer, somebody in Darkane said they wanted him too).
Rating: 7.5

Elysium, Eclipse
Anyone ever heard of this band? Anyone? Stark, I know you've heard of this band. Seems like very few people have heard of this band. They're from Poland, and their first album Dreamlands just ruled. I didn't know they were still a going concern, until I stumbled across a couple of copies of this and had to snag it. The best thing about this album is that it includes the entirety of Dreamlands - minus the bitchin' cover - on a bonus disc. This does not bode well for Eclipse. The biggest problem about this album is how it begins and ends, with electronic shit - which isn't even by the band, but by "Trotzky (Radio Redrum) exclusively for Elysium". Six minutes of it at the beginning, another six at the end, with only 35 minutes of metal in between, and there aren't a lot of metal fans around who are going to want to sit through this shit more than once. Worse - these aren't tracks unto themselves, but they're actually included in the tracks of what are otherwise, y'know, real songs. Which is fine at the end - just press stop after four and a half minutes. But track one is six minutes of electro-shit, and THEN, at the six-minute mark, three minutes of metal! Stupid, stupid, stupid. Otherwise, the album is by no means a waste - Dreamlands was very much like Amok-era Sentenced, but Eclipse is a little rougher and stripped down, with singer Maciej Miskiewicz inflecting more Anders Friden than Taneli Jarva. A full-time keyboardist has been added to the lineup, for no reason I can discern since there's rarely much in the way of noticeable keyboards. Without the crap bookends, this would've been a point and a half higher, at least.
Rating: 6

Suidakra, Lays From Afar
What a deal - my copy of this disc has the entirety of album #1, Lupine Essence, on it! One disc to scratch off my to-get list. Lays From Afar lies between the good-but-not-great Auld Lang Syne and the awesome The Arcanum, and sits at about a midpoint quality-wise. As expected, there are lots of great melodies, heavy riffs and songs that make you want to charge off to battle. Less expectedly, there are more clean vocals on this disc than on any of the others I've heard. However, they're not very well trained vocals; sometimes endearing for their undisciplined everyman quality (Bathory's Viking albums do this the best), more often just in need of more attention from the producer. Except for a trinity of unnecessary (and blessedly brief) acoustic instrumentals, there isn't a bum song here. Lupine Essence is much the same, with a bit more of a black metal aesthetic than any of their other albums I've heard. The first song on it even throws in that "Call Of Cthulhu" quote that Metallica and at least one other band I've listened to in the last week love throwing around. At twenty-six minutes, maybe it barely qualifies as an album unto itself at all - but as a bonus on another album, it's superb. A picture of the cover somewhere in here would've been nice though.
Rating: 8

Nightrage, Sweet Vengeance
Where the hell has Testament been? I know, I know - Chuck's been sick. Still, four years without an album isn't good, and nobody's patience is infinite. If they don't get their shit together and put something new out quick, bands like Nightrage are going to have to become our new Testament. Nightrage is, as you might've heard, yet another supergroup which is a side project for virtually everybody involved - except guitarist Marios Iliopoulos, for whom this is probably a full-time gig now. He used to be in Exhumation, but I've never heard Exhumation. Musically, latter-day Testament is the closest touchstone ("The Tremor", vocal aside, could've come right off of The Gathering), though Sweet Vengeance has one hook that, while instrumental in piquing my curiosity about this band, is its biggest disappointment: clean vocals from Evergrey's Tom Englund. I like Tom's voice, I love Evergrey - but it doesn't work here, forced where it isn't needed in almost every case (he's all that drags "Hero" back from thrash perfection). Even at this album's most tuneful - like "Etherial" with its wonderfully graceful harmony solo - Tomas (At The Gates) Lindberg comes across better than the other Tom, and I've never been too fond of Lindberg's screaming. The guitar playing by both Iliopoulos and Dream Evil guitarist Gus G. is excellent throughout, and the riffs just slay - "The Tremor" fades out with one of the meanest, grooviest riffs I've heard in ages. Sweet Vengeance suffers a bit by not carving out much of its own turf, but it thrashes and rocks throughout and doesn't overstay its welcome.
Rating: 7.5
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Joined: 19 Nov 1998
Posts: 1019
Location: Phoenix AZ USA

PostPosted: Fri Sep 19, 2003 10:21 am    Post subject: Ack!-quisitions Reply with quote

Thanks for the writeup, you answered my Nightrage question, much appreciative...
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PostPosted: Sun Sep 21, 2003 1:13 pm    Post subject: Ack!-quisitions Reply with quote

I pretty much agree with your take on Sweet Vengeance. I'd give it an 8. I think Expanding Senses was a little better than your rating though.
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PostPosted: Mon Sep 22, 2003 1:07 pm    Post subject: Ack!-quisitions Reply with quote

Um, I really didn't meant to imply that PORT ROYAL is better. I meant to say PILE OF SKULLS is better. Sorry, sometimes I get in a hurry when typing and don't proofread my stuff.

But don't worry, PORT ROYAL is a great album, not quite as good as BS or POS (I've already remarked about those abbreviations before), but still a better album than most bands will ever put out. It's certainly better than the Running Wild albums that came out before it, and everything after BS. I'd rate it as their No.3 overall. But that's just me and some people rate it as the top 1 or 2.
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