Brian Larkin - Far Enough Into the Void (2014)

This is a debut album from guitarist / singer Brian Larkin. Short introduction to Brian, he was singer / guitarist for Dark Empire and now focus on soloing career. He stayed and teach guitar in NYC area. Far Enough Into the Void is instrumental guitar album, only three tracks featuring vocals. The album fall into progressive metal, hard rock all the way to fusion and jazz.

The opening song Disembodied Profanity is vocalized track, progressive metal with thick dissonance on the singing. The singing is so unusual that maybe the result of converting guitar licks to vocals, listen the last few second from the last where the main theme performed by guitar. You may want to leave that alone and move on the what Brian offered the best, the instrumentals. Favorite tracks are Delete You, a funk infused track combined with shredding in style of Ron "Bumblefoot" Thal and John Petrucci. Self-Deprecation Boogei, a track demonstrated Brian Larkin's blues scale comprehensive mix into intrigue progressive metal vocabularies. And Fail Again is dark lower string riffs, this time bring listener to modern metal zone. Then we have Habit Magnet, a total funk attack that just like a magnet attached to your ears. Something Inflammable is a track collaboration with Christophe Godin, a French jazz-metal virtuoso. This collaboration mean the track is highly jazzy in its foundation.

Brian Larkin performance is superb. He bring a lot of Ron 'Bumblefoot' Thal influence which is natural because Brian studied under Ron. Ron Thal himself featured in a song Darkest Place. The other guest solo is prog/fusion shredder Chris Brooks. Far Enough Into the Void is a rich prog fusion instrumental album. The distinguished progressive trade mark Brian has, combined with elements of funk-fusion-jazz, made this album easily stand out for its kind. A debut album with maximum pleasures.

Metal Harem class: ******** eight stars out of ten

Brian Larkin - Far Enough Into the Void (2014)
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1. Disembodied Profanity 5:27
2. Live It Down 6:34
3. Delete You 4:11
4. Dabble 1:27
5. Self-Deprecation Boogie 7:08
6. Less Blue 0:35
7. Words Fail 5:27
8. And Fail Again 7:13
9. Habit Magnet 5:42
10. Something Inflammable 4:14
11. The Situation in Room 205 6:08
12. Itch 3:03
13. Darkest Place 5:58
14. Swam

Brian Larkin, with guest guitarist Ron 'Bumblefoot' Thal, Chris Brooks, Christophe Godin


Tuomas Holopainen - The Life And Times Of Scrooge (2014)

The film score fever have spread all the way through the Nightwish camp. Last year we saw the band launch a full soundtrack-like album with full length movie Imaginaerum, exactly based on the album with the same title. This year Tuomas Holopainen, Nightwish composer in residence, get his solo album with similar concept. The Life And Times Of Scrooge, is not metal, instead a symphonic album which serves as musical interpretation to one of Walt Disney character, Scrooge. You bet, this is the same Uncle Scrooge where Huey, Dewey and Louie rely on when they need a cash! The theme chosen may be unusual but there is a lot of new musical aspect ready to bring alive. I feel excited when Tuomas revealed this theme, the picture of Tuomas transforming a childhood character into musical journey just easily gone wild.

TLATOS is pretty much a slow pace OST-like through out the album. Nearly New Age and atmospheric nuance in the first two track, Glasgow 1877 and Into The West. The middle chapters included Duel & Cloudscapes, Dreamtime and Cold Heart Of The Kondike are tracks that building up the tension. For Cold Heart ..... they are the full vocalized track. These also included The Last Sled,  A Lifetime Of Adventure and Go Slowly Now, Sands Of Time. Tony Kakko from Sonata Arctica is the major guest involved. Scotland folk artist Alan Reid is the one playing the role Uncle Scrooge.

As with album with this concept, the absent of lyrics may be confusing and make listener did not connect with the music. These slightly in case to some of instrumental tracks in this album. I hope this album get attention to the Disney corp and can proceed to become real film project. That will be interesting at least. If resort on music alone, this album sounds similar to other OST type album. For sure, do not expect a bombastic symphonic works here, there is nothing that can be associated with symphonic metal neither. On other hand, this works also did not really touch the works on level of  big name such as of John Williams and alike. Tuomas has managed to produced an easy listening film score album, but yet without the visual, I kind of find this album just too random.

Metal Harem class: ******* seven stars out of ten

Tuomas Holopainen - The Life And Times Of Scrooge (2014)
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01. Glasgow 1877
02. Into The West
03. Duel & Cloudscapes
04. Dreamtime
05. Cold Heart Of The Klondike
06. The Last Sled
07. Goodbye, Papa
08. To Be Rich
09. A Lifetime Of Adventure
10. Go Slowly Now, Sands Of Time
11. A Lifetime Of Adventure (Alternative Version)

CD2: Instumentals

Tuomas Holopainen - Keyboards, Piano

Guest instrumentalists
Troy Donockley - Uilleann pipes, Low whistles, Bodhran
Mikko Iivanainen - Guitars, Banjo
Dermot Crehan - Violin
Teho Majamäki - Didgeridoo
Jon Burr - Harmonica

Guest vocalists
Johanna Kurkela as "Glittering" Goldie o'Gilt (on track 1,2,4,6,8,9,10)
Johanna Iivanainen as The Narrator and Downy O'Drake (on track 1,6,8,9)
Alan Reid as Scrooge McDuck (on track 1,6,10)
Tony Kakko as Storyteller (on track 5)

Orchestra and choir
The orchestra and choir was arranged, orchestrated and directed by Pip Williams
London Philharmonic Orchestra
Metro Voices


Distant Lights - Not Thinking Not Dreaming (2013)

Distant Lights is a four piece modern rock band from Austin, TX. During their six years of ‘combining science, mesmerizing passion, intensity, and pure virtuosity’ as their Facebook stated, Distant Lights has recorded two albums.  Not Thinking Not Dreaming is their latest release and this time they have opted to release the album for free, but you can also choose to buy the physical disc also. NTND is satisfactory for its rich and creative compositions. Although putting many different sounds and almost cross genres experiments, each songs remained simple yet has distinguished uniqueness.

Tightrope is the opening track and is a tight modern rock piece infused with muddy riffs. I really enjoy the dynamic groove in this song, especially Sam Marshall’s attacking bass. The choruses is easy to sing along but not too so with the backing music! You’ll find the drum on the chorus parts is done in trivial pattern and staccatos. You can clearly observe the band members enjoying their jobs, playing their distinguished parts in details. The result is a well written song that open NTND with positive expectation for those who never listen to Distant Light previously.

On the second track is Science Of It All, the band holds the listener's breath by slowing down the tempo into medium pace. This song has remind me a bit of Chad Taylor’s with his Live band when the singer kicks in. Large portion of psychedelic chords in this song giving more alternative feel. The band is outside the standard song structure by placing the climax verse and shredding guitar solos as one part in the end.
Blindfold is the heaviest track on the album and it's intro riffs are heavy metal to the core, something that will remind you of Trivium or other similar artists. Yet, when shifting into the song’s verses, the band switches back to their core modern rock sound. Further to the middle section of this song, there is a double pedal drumming with a guitar riff inspired by Metallica’s . That did not immediately lead the band to do guitar solos in thrash metal styles but rather you hear a very un-conservative guitar phrases. This kind of sudden twist is the dynamic throughout this album.

Just when you think the album begin to went too technical, Heart of Fire is a straight forward one, simple catchy rock. Of course when the second verses kick in the band did not forget to added their signature variation in a form of guitar  arpeggios effect. For once, Gaelan Bellamy and his guitar solos is ruling here.
We also got two slow tunes. The first is Make It Go Away which enjoy bass line arpeggio and cello-like string sounds. Then Came and Went, in which the choruses sing in falsetto mode. In the main verses the vocals mixed with atmospheric room effect. These two songs really stretch the album dynamic from heaviest track like Blindfold go further to grinding ballads.

The rest of other songs just came in between. For example, To Late is thick synth-like drum beat track, credited to their creative drummer Kevin Abbenante. Suffocating with its long and winding choruses is then leading us to the darker side. Horizon is a relax piano in the beginning but leads to triumphant “….to the Horizon” scream, perfectly placed as the finale last track.

Not Thinking Not Dreaming is an enjoyable 40 minutes music treat. By only few spins, songs are become familiar.  I find one of the tips is all song titles were made into chorus or memorable parts of the lyrics. The singer’s voice is very accessible, embedded into the music nicely. I praised the band success in creating every parts of instrument speaking loud each other in complimentary ways. The band also able to avoid repetitive ideas and in their 11 songs, they were all creatively well composed. If you like modern rock with lots of innovative and original ideas, Distant Light’s NTND is the correct album to tune in.  (reviewed by Metal Harem with a help of Mike H on editing)

Metal Harem class: ******** eight stars out of ten

Distant Lights - Not Thinking Not Dreaming (2013)
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1. Tightrope
2. Science of It All
3. What's On Your Mind
4. Suffocating
5. Too Late
6. Blindfold
7. Defiled
8. Make It Go Away
9. Came and Went
10. Heart of Fire
11. Horizon

Gabriel Fry - lead vocals
Gaelan Bellamy - guitar, vocals
Sam Marshall - bass
Kevin Abbenante - drums


Gamma Ray - Empire Of The Undead (2014)

More than twenty years ago when Helloween split Kai Hansen from their unit, it was actually the beginning of Gamma Ray, a band that will later supply the power metal world with many great songs. They are one of the band that defined the genre. Cut the story short, on their last four years of busy activities, since To The Metal! (2010), Skeletons & Majesties (2012), Kai Hansen and corps are back in business with full album, Empire Of The Undead. On the promotion blurbs, Kai Hansen promised more thrash metal vibe into it.

Strangely, the first track Avalon is kind of Iron Maiden mid tempo and lengthy story telling number. It is heavy, epic choruses and of course several minutes spend on solos improvisation. Not a bad opening at all. The riffs factory then back on Hellbent. This is none other than Gamma Ray classics, honestly, this even  reminds me  to the echo of Keeper of Seven Keys era. Pale Rider is rather humorous number, kind of mixing between oldies heavy metal riffs with glam metal singing style. With Kai Hansen on the vocals parts, this at least an interesting stuff to listen. Master of Confusion is another strong power metal feel with energetic vocal line. This follow by Empire of the Undead, a catchy song in the vibe of Judas or Save Us. There is only one contrasting point in the album, Time for Deliverance is a calm lamenting ballad.

On the whole, Empire Of The Undead has enough to satisfy fans whom may be letdown by Gamma Ray's latest previous albums. It's got Avalon, Hellbent, Master of Confusion and Empire of the Undead for recommendations. There also parts of album that playing variation of heavy metal from old Judas Priest-like track to ... well, Helloween. You can listen to the last track I Will Return as the compilation of cameos Gamma Ray wanted to put in. On the formation, Michael Ehre is the newest guy. As a quartet, all members are busy on their parts with significant duties. Beside the two dominating guitars, bassist Dirk Schachter also can be heard busy with his bass thumbing line.

Metal Harem class: ********** eight stars out of ten

Gamma Ray - Empire Of The Undead (2014)
Buy it Here - Amazon

01. Avalon 09:21
02. Hellbent 05:22
03. Pale Rider 04:23
04. Born to Fly 04:31
05. Master of Confusion 04:54
06. Empire of the Undead 04:25
07. Time for Deliverance 05:10
08. Demonseed 06:38
09. Seven 05:07
10. I Will Return 06:55
11. Men, Martians and Machines (Live from the Final Studio Sessions) 3:5

Kai Hansen - guitars, vocals
Henjo Richter - guitars
Dirk Schlächter - bass
Michael Ehré - drums


Delain - The Human Contradiction (2014)

Dutch front gothic metaller, Delain is on their fourth studio album called The Human Contradiction. As with their previous albums, such as the most recent We Are the Others, the new album sticks close to their existing style. Heavy guitar distortion layer, combined with savvy synthesizer beat effects. On top of that, singer Charlotte Wessels is still the dominating factor in listening Delain.

Charlotte Wessels starts the album with her solos intro in Here Come the Vultures. The song kind of sad and mysterious in mood, something like bring us back to the '60s thriller movie soundtrack. On the second song is their heaviest track featuring Marco Hietala. Your Body Is A Battleground, is catchy song with full orchestra and choruses supports. It got a nice grrove as well. Guitar solos are there, but instead of giving speed light shredding, the solos play a long sustain notes with melody line integrated into the song. On classic piano ballad in gothic metal mood is Tell Me, Mechanist, featuring George Oosthoek. Sing To Me, is also another interesting song, dynamic singing line, symphonic metal, low string power chord and Marco Hietala harsh voices. They did not forget to also play a synthesizer dance beat elements, as found in Army of Dolls. For a total string and piano number is on the ballad Scarlet. Alissa White-Gluz from Agonist contributed her death metal voices in song of The Tragedy of the Commons.

The Human Contradiction also comes with another full disc of bonuses, a Live versions and orchestra version of their previous songs. On the album, the Human Contradiction is yet another wonderful stuffs of gothic metal / rock. It is the time now where Delain should stand equal to Within Temptation and Epica, all from the motherland of Netherland. In fact, where as those two bands are now heading for a new ventures, Delain is still in their original path where they just beginning to peak in quality. Charlotte Wessels has a great balance voices, wide range and flexibility. Beside the two opening cuts, Here Come the Vultures and Your Body Is A Battleground, I recommend Sing To Me and The Tragedy of the Commons as most favorite tracks of the album.

Metal Harem class: ******** eight stars out of ten

Delain - The Human Contradiction (2014) 
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01. Here Come the Vultures
02. Your Body Is a Battleground (featuring Marco Hietala)
03. Stardust
04. My Masquerade
05. Tell Me, Mechanist (featuring George Oosthoek)
06. Sing To Me (featuring Marco Hietala)
07. Army of Dolls
08. Lullaby
09. The Tragedy of the Commons (featuring Alissa White-Gluz)
10. Scarlet
11. Don't Let Go
12. My Masquerade (Live)
13. April Rain (Live)
14. Go Away (Live)
15. Sever (Live)
16. Stay Forever (Live)
17. Sing To Me (Orchestra version)
18. Your Body Is A Battleground (Orchestra version)

Charlotte Wessels (vocals)
Martijn Westerholt (keys)
Otto Schimmelpenninck van der Oije (bass)
Sander Zoer (drums)
Timo Somers (guitar)


Sonata Arctica - Pariahs Child (2014)

What we assumed that Sonata Arctica had gone into temporary 'style hiccup', is now endangered into permanent status. Is the band has had enough power metal as in their glory days of Reckoning Night or Ecliptica? According to vocalist Tony Kakko, that should not be an issue, because this album, not as 'different' as Stones Grow Her Name, will be a return to 'power metal'. On visual observation, the promises seems real, the cover album with associated wolf images has return.

The Wolves Die Young is a straightforward power song, the symphonic aura is back, although the use of bass fill in that beginning can be a bit alarming. Ok, move on to Running Lights, this song is a melodic call. A bit of over cliche in the choruses but nothing can call this off as 'power metal betrayal' neither. Then dearly, Take One Breath is maybe mood killing on that arpeggios intro, which not much connected to the heavier song its follow. Cloud Factory is pretty standard, but just remind us this is Sonata Arctica, so we expected more above standard tunes. Blood, What Did You Do In The War, Dad? and Half A Marathon Man all are of different mood, mostly new feel, especially the last mentioned song. X Marks The Spot is enjoyable lyrical driven song, maybe most interesting to listen carefully. Again we need to stand another experimental song in a piano ballad called Love. Then the whole styles mixing got the last episode in Larger Than Life. About ten minutes of opera-like writing, this is like Queen meet Meat Loaf meet power metal.

For technical matter, I found Pariah's Child is a bit of issue with the mixing. The guitars not heard as heavy as most of power metal band should be. The lack of leading riffs is leading us to dig a memory of Jani Limatainen. For exchange, the drum and bass are really up front on my speaker. Musically, expectation of Sonata Arctica being heavier than the previous two albums is approved. Nevertheless, styles changes is permanent by now, Pariah's Child is by far power metal album with lot of 'colorful' adds on. To found heavier straight forward symphonic stuffs as in the glory past, is unlikely. If you enjoy wider range of melodic metal, this album should be not much a problem to enjoy.

Metal Harem class: ******** seven stars out of ten

Sonata Arctica - Pariah's Child (2014)
Buy it Here - Amazon

01. The Wolves Die Young
02. Running Lights
03. Take One Breath
04. Cloud Factory
05. Blood
06. What Did You Do In The War, Dad ?
07. Half A Marathon Man
08. X Marks The Spot
09. Love
10. Larger Than Life

Tony Kakko - vocals, keyboards
Elias Viljanen - guitars
Tommy Portimo - drums
Henrik Klingenberg - keyboards
Pasi Kauppinen - bass


Anette Olzon - Shine (2014)

So what happen to dearest Anette Olzon? After her Nightwish storytime, the world seem cruelty abandoned her fame. It is only few months ago she announced a new solo album and being released this week. Shine is understandable an album with completely different tones and style, in comparition to Nightwish. As we can put the same to Tarja as well, this album is trying to reach wider audiences, but still depended her luck on her Nightwish-fan base. Shine is by far a pop-rock in majority. The producer is Stefan Örn of Eurovision, so you got the idea.

Nevertheless, as symphonic metal singer alumni, she reserved a spot in our community. Most of the songs are simple and short. Like A Show as the opener, a mellow pop rock with sweet strings and synth beats. Honestly speaking this album did not mean as a metal revenge to Nightwish. Instead Anette jump into the style that looks like fit her singing. The main title, Shine, is still without a sounds of guitar distortion. This is much thicker Euro dance track. The song is nice and easy to listen. The song that represent slightly similarity to gothic rock can be found in Lies. In this song, Anette explored lower voices so that the album have wider dynamic range. All the rest are simple song with only one or two main melody. One Million Piece is a nice piano ballad in the near end.

This is for sure a light and playful album. I don't think this is much a serious project with only 35 minutes in running. The things that rather interesting is, where is Anette heading for? Just observed Tarja, she is firmly putting foot into operatic-pop-rock genre, which is very strong and Tarja still the big sister in the circle. Anette should be no problem tackling the softer, pop-rock genre, with her known popularity. But this is a huge maneuver and I still believe some of Nightwish fans eager to listen heavier stuff from Anette. Either way, Shine is a first sign that she wanted to still existed. The room is still wider open for Anette to explored.

Metal Harem class: ******** seven stars out of ten

Anette Olzon - Shine (2014)
Buy it Here - Amazon

1. Like A Show
2. Shine
3. Floating
4. Lies
5. Invincible
6. Hear Me
7. Falling
8. Moving Away
9. One Million Faces
10. Watching Me From Afar

Producer - Stefan Örn (2011 Eurovision Song Contest winning track ‘Running Scared’),
Co Producer - Johan Glössner, Anette Olzon
Mixed by Kronlund, Nicklas Flykt and Ronny Lahti