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Serpent Saints (Candlelight)
Fours years wait for this, and Entombed deliver the crustified smarts. Sure, it doesn't start smart, LG and co. opening with a couple fast, thrashy death 'n' roll numbers, even if there's battle-torn 'n' worn sophistication to some of the breaks and melodies. But 'Thy Kingdom Coma' is a weird, cool, chunky one, the album then settling in to a wonderfully creative vibe with 'Amok' and on and on. 'In The Blood' breaks the mid-place flow, offering up a COC-like doom, LG's vocals blood-curdling and high in the mix, as they are throughout the album - that's not a criticism; it makes for a lively in-your-face harangue from the amused anger man. Late in the sequence (41 minute album, ten tracks), 'Ministry' offers a tossed-off crap blast beat, 'When In Sodom', more death-warmed hardcore punk, and then 'The Ten Commandments', a wildly experimental spot of evil ambient soundtracky weirdness. Verdict? Ten tracks is perfect, Entombed efficiently going everywhere and yanking yer chain at each stop.
Unia (Nuclear Blast)
Emotion worn on the hearts of their white frilly sleeves, Sonata Arctica sometimes get too close to maudlin. Which is actually kind of refreshing, Unia welling up with a passion out of '70s prog, something which slops over the top with swellegant ballad 'Under Your Tree'. Definitely on the more orchestral side of the catalogue, Unia is filled with keys and acoustics and avalanched choirs of Blind Guardian-heroic vocals. 'Caleb' and 'Paid In Full' mine uncommonly personal terrain, Tony Kakko telling us clearly and bravely things most heavy metal rockers keep close to the vest. But the album swirls and whirls with verve, shot full of energy and panache like a Falconer record, Sonata Arctica really putting elbow grease into moving away from rote power metal into that whole "Hollywood metal" thing Rhapsody cooked up, but without the sword and sorcery, only the ornament. Occasionally, Kakko's accent distracts from the presentation, but then again, it's not a bad thing being reminded that a Finn is creating all of this, the band pointedly setting stride away from Stratovarius, especially with such full-on theater productions like 'My Dream's But A Drop Of Fuel For A Nightmare', a built-up pile of sounds bigger than it title.
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