by Martin Popoff

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Fresh Metal

King Diamond - The Puppet Master
(Metal Blade)

Look for a few twists in the tale this time, King, for his 11th solo album (!) adding occasional female vocals (Livia Zita), more guitar soloing and most interestingly, a DVD on which he narrates what is another complicated story, one that is actually understandable from lyrics alone, maybe too clear, King seemingly having to use every line for plot, and not many for poetry. I thought the DVD was quite mesmerizing though, although some have called it amusing or cheesy. King as a storyteller is impressive. The whites of his eyes, his stone grimace, his piano-player hand gestures, and most importantly, his telling of the tale conversationally, no script... you are rapt at his devotion and his selling of the tale. He's there in facepaint and a little bowler-type top hat, surrounded by candles, eerily with daylight shining through the curtains - it's actually stranger that it isn't night, a little unsettling. But yeah, back to the music, there's an earthy feel to this one (especially with the double bass drum stuff), The Puppet Master offering a dark series of very guitary songs that often remind one of Mercyful Fate. It's cool that the line-up is the same as for Abigail II, these guys now beset, tested and rested as serious heavyweights in their funereal field. Faves would be the drowny and dreamy Blue Eyes plus Blood To Walk, The Ritual and Living Dead, the most Fate-like of the bunch. Finally, Christmas could give Trans-Siberian a run for its (easy) money, and then crush it dead once those big chords and swirling leads kick in - shockingly, this track is a worthy headbanger and not in any way novelty. Man, I can't help think of Mercyful Fate's venomous 9 album while digesting this doomy pile of axe-mad tangles. Two points doffed though, 'cos I've flippantly decided I don't like concept albums - each track on its own somehow feels diminished.
Rating 8

Blind Guardian - Live
(Century Media)

While debate rages whether this is clearer, zestier than the well-regarded Tokyo Tales or not (some it's actually cleaner and meaner than the studio versions), one can't deny that Live (cool title, eh?) is the work of a well-loved band, no matter what part of the world Hansi and crew take their breathless, organic, emotional, thoroughly mead hall-appropriate power metal madness. Live offers great value and sweeping scope, the set's two long discs documenting a career troll-rocking when it wasn't cool and now doing so when it's a genre with stunning critical mass. I find these versions, recorded throughout Europe as well as Tokyo, incredibly punchy, energetic, well-sung by Hansi, well-hung by the rhythm section, if a little thin on guitars, but always spirited and explosive. Hansi's cheesy song intros (when in English - they often aren't!), are endearingly metal, and the crowd responds with football (soccer) chants and full-on lyric recitals, a phenom that adds perfect backing vocals to the band's similar cathedral of chinked glasses and anthemic hailings. All told, it's like an intimate Maiden show of affection, band and fan filling the night with heavy metal cheer.
Rating 8

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