HardReviews 2
by Martin Popoff

Blackmore's Night - Beyond The Sunset: The Romantic Collection
(Steamhammer/SPV)

Yea and verily, this has indeed been out for a few months, but, given that my plan was to review the upcoming DVD instead and given that said DVD has been delayed, I thought I'd chime in on what is Blackmore's Night's most elegant package to date. Ritchie and Candice have really outdone themselves on this one (even if I always get more excited about new music, rather). The core of the album comprises a twist on the greatest hits idea, our roving minstrel couple selecting the most love-lorn songs from their catalogue and presenting them in logical proximity, cohesion blossoming. The melodies are legion, the arrangements expensive sounding, the productions extremely high fidelity, Candice as clear and bracing as virgin snow, Ritchie, heard through many voices, doing what he loves best - traversing time, or thyme, or, er, tyme. There's also a re-recorded Now And Then, plus a wholly new track called Once In A Million Years, which is an ambitious, angelic, moving retelling of an obscure German composition. As well, there's an additional card-sleeved CD comprising three Christmas songs, or as Ritchie would tell you, "winter" songs or "seasonal" songs - long story, but there's a resentment there at the usurping of these ancient melodies for both religious/dogmatic and commercial purposes. Stuffed booklet, slipcase, card-sleeve bonus CD... but the real ribbon 'round the maypole comes with the sneak peek at the forthcoming DVD, which is bloody way more than a sneak peek really, Blackmore's Night in all its full-band glory demonstrating the magic of the housal, spousal, gulden hall gathering that is this intimate phenom. To this effect, five tracks are presented, scenic castle magic everywhere, a love letter to you from this concept, be you skeptic thus far, or already mead-mad in bodice and boots.
Rating 9

Extol - The Blueprint Dives
(Century Media)

Yer first clue would be the conundrum of a title, The Blueprint Dives mixing Scando-English and fussy intellectualism like a good In Flames or Soilwork cryptogrammatical botch. Yes, once inside this maelstrom of a record, one finds a band that is an arcane cross between Peccatum, Arcturus, Neurosis, Killing Joke and Extol tour mates Opeth, bloody interesting ideas opening like a time-lapse photography flower at the rate of about four per song, the first of which is the nifty way the drums enter on track one, one of the coolest things I've heard all week (I get a lot of CDs) being the insane swelling prog build that starts at 3:40 of In Reversal - magnificent. Extol have actually replaced not one but two guitarists since '03's Synergy, but that hasn't lessened their blushed embarrassment of creative wealths. Even vocally, there are a number of well-chosen styles, in fact many different clean personals as well as matchcore/Zyklon-like black caw, and the drumming - see From The Everyday Mountain Top - is a storm of elite prog finessing. A thinking metal man's dream record, there's not much to denigrate on this surprisingly hooky and remarkably uncluttered pageant, save perhaps for a few of those vocals, which sound just a flipped lid o'er to prissy not unlike Rufus Wainright or at least a male Anneke - one senses the band I all to aware of the grave Importance of their mission, and a little smug that they've actually carried it off.
Rating 8.5

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