By Bob Nalbandian

Seasons Of Tragedy

Seasons Of Tragedy is the second release from this great San Diego based band. Showcasing the classic metal sounds of Judas Priest, Dio-era Sabbath and Savatage with modern power-metal and led by an astoundingly powerful female vocalist in Veronica Freeman, Benedictum is a force to be reckoned with. The band has already built a loyal fan base since their 2006 debut Uncreation hit the streets. That CD made a huge impact particularly throughout Europe where the band has toured extensively and Seasons Of Tragedy will surely validate this band's metal mastery. Along with vocalist Veronica Freeman, Benedictum is highlighted by the exceptional guitar work from Pete Wells who provides some incredibly tasty leads and crunching riffs. His playing leans much more on the European neo-classical style of metal, which I personally prefer and so rarely hear from American bands these days. The band is rounded off with bassist Jesse Wright and drummer Paul Courtois who provide a solid backbone and keyboardist Tony Diaz who adds flourishing melodic passages to the bands powerful metallic sound. Highlight tracks include the machine-gun riff-raging "Shell Shock," "Burn It Out," the Dio-ish "Bare Bones," the epical "Legacy," and the title track. The band even does a pretty cool version of Accept's "Balls To The Wall."

First The Flash Then The Pulse

It's great to see the record industry finally taking notice of talented young bands that play classic-style metal. Much like Black Tide, Firebrands play quality metal music, where integrity, superb musicianship and strong songs greatly outweigh trend-following fashion and computerized instruments. Hailing from Singapore, South-East Asia (with the exception of guitarist Roman who I believe hails from Russia) Firebrands definitely don't sound like your typical Asian metal band, especially when it comes to vocalist Exe who sings with a husky, soulful-style with little trace of accent (most Japanese metal singers as you probably know have a thick, identifiable accent). This debut album was originally released in 2006 but I believe wasn't distributed here in the US until late last year.

The songs on this disc exude vigor and class as exemplified on the killer opening cut "Scarecrow and the Fire." Most the tracks follow in a similar manner mixing classic '70s style rock/metal with a unique modern-metal space-aged twist. The band looks very young but definitely performs like seasoned musicians. Exe shows great diversity in his vocal range as well particularly on tracks like "Rebellion Intelligent," resembling early (Loud Love era) Chris Cornell, and "Nation Of Bones" with whispering words that build into a modern (dare I say) power-ballad where he really shows off his powerful voice. But the band try too hard to tackle various genres and it becomes overly apparent on the rap-metal tracks "The Power" (heavily influenced by R.A.T.M.) and the closer "Black Stripes." I do appreciate their diversity, especially on the blues-influenced "Soldier Song" and the tranquil "Rainworld" and "Danger" but again I feel the band should stick to what they do best - pure, pile-driving hardrock exemplified on the potent track "Sunfire Ignite." What I feel limits this band, or more precisely this album, is the production. The music tends to get buried beneath the vocals. I can understand (the unnamed producer) wanting to showcase Exe's powerful voice but it really does take away from the dynamics, particularly guitarist Rowan's incredibly tasty lead work and formidable riffs. The producer also should've had more input in the song-arrangements that often times lack in dexterity. But without question, First The Flash Then The Pulse is a notable debut worth checking out.

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