Wayne Calford - Shred Alliance (2014)

If you are an aspiring (shred) guitarist, what would be more lovely than making a shred album and invited bunch of other (shred) guys to play in.Unaware among (mainstream) shredder society, here comes guitarist/composer Wayne Calford hail from Trimsaran, which is in Wales, which is in UK. In this extremely crowded guitar instrumental album called Shred Alliance, Wayne pacify as many as guitarists on Earth just like King James uniting as many kingdoms available in Great Britain. Not a bad move at all. Fans of Michael Angelo Batio will be thrilled once again, the other "popular" names are Per Nilsson and Simone Mularoni. There are also none other than dozen of "independent" yet extremely talented guitarist along side. In one word, this is indeed Shred Alliance, deliberately created to amused as many as guitar lovers.

The overall style in this album is shred, shred, neo-classical, prog-metal, with lots of comedic licks and cameos. Here's a lengthy explanation on each tracks: Return to Tabernacl, is djent-like in styles, uncompromised shred in fastest way possible, featuring Per Nilsson of Scar Symmetry which comes in different set of guitar scale near the end. Spirit of Guitar, is neo-classical and progressive in styles, something of early Symphony X sounds with nice touch of Oriental scale in the beginning. For maestro Michael Angel Batio, is Speed Thrills, no doubt on its running speed, so this is shred as hell. Fretburn comes just like a medley to Speed Thrills, it is not actually, this track has a good groovy riff inside, also shred in fastest possible way. Shred City is more fun side, sounds American country in shred version, also bit of neo-classical and blues licks in between. Valley of the Cursed Guitar is kind of RHCP groove in sounds, pretty much contrasting point in this album.

Legacy of Shred is already scary just by reading the title, it is, it is developed from slow arpeggios intro, this is can be describe as shred guitar in doom metal-like. The guest in this track is the hardest to known because less information available in Google. Epical Guitar Quest is to avoid criticism from sexist and feminist, because the guest is a female, very talented, guitarist Jacqui Taylor. The song is the most easy listening, understandable for wider audience, nice one. S.O.S. (Strings of Solace) is calm in the intro but then an Helloween-March of Time-like intro kicks in. Day of the Shred is the second song with "shred" in title, it lifted up the word reputation and it is shred indeed. The Ghost of Cadno Music is different set of music, this is melodic composition in slower tempo, featuring perhaps one of family member. Shred Rising is another caution song title to anticipated, this is more intrigue composition where you'll need to write down the tempo meter if you would like to drum it. On other hand, The Guitarstrophe is the third song with word "guitar" in title, it is psychedelic in scale and going to bring you into other strophe and dimension. And the last one is Making a Stand, very "ending" feel, it is like a blurring melodic that rotating in your head after a couple of Wales beer, the surprised point is, it has a vocal (or voices) in the song.

The album is a nice homage to many well known as well as arising talents. Thought many of the shred parts down to similar road, but the guest and composition covered this up pretty well. Recording and mixing are slightly less spectacular due to perhaps self done by Wayne. Shred Alliance lift up its name with tons of shred licks and killing solos.

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

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Wayne Calford - Shred Alliance (2014)

01. Return to Tabernacl feat. Per Nilsson (Scar Symmetry )
02. Spirit of Guitar feat. Michael.A.Ruelas (solo guitarist USA/Mexico)
03. Speed Thrills feat. Michael Angelo Batio (solo guitarist USA)
04. Fretburn feat. Simone Mularoni (DGM, Lalu)
05. Shred City feat. Nick Sandt (solo guitarist Ohio USA)
06. Valley of the Cursed Guitar feat. Timothy Reid (solo guitarist UK)
07. Legacy of Shred feat. Dave Bowes (solo, ?)
08. Epical Guitar Quest feat. Jacqui Taylor (female solo guitarist, UK)
09. S.O.S (Strings of Solace) feat. Rodrigo Tabare Fernandez (solo guitarist, AUS)
10. Day of the Shred feat. Pete Pachio (solo guitarist USA)
11. The Ghost of Cadno Music feat. Gareth Calford (...family member)
12. Shred Rising feat. Andy Rosser-Davies (Onslaught)
13. The Guitarstrophe feat. Doug Steele (solo guitarist, ?)
14. Making a Stand feat. Kyle Watherston (solo guitarist, UK)


Allen Lande The Great Divide (2014)

The duo of Russell Allen and Jorn Lande strike again with their fourth album. Though they are doing fine with Magnus Karlsson as their man behind the wheel, composer in charge, in this album Timo Tolkki is taking over the rule. That's right, the whole heavy metal sounds is kinda off and changes into Tolkki-style melodic metal. The Great Divide gives us Allen-Lande-Tolkki project instead because of how strong the tide of Timo Tolkki.

"Come & Dream With Me" is ultimately follow the path of Revolution Renaissance's "I Did It My Way"  for its melodic intro. Now that both Jorn and Lande executed this version in different feel so it's worth the whole make up. As in many Timo Tolkki's songs the chorus is melodic and epic. "Down From The Mountain" is another mimicry to a riff in RR's "We Are Magic", which is also greatly a face over with both Russell Allen and Jorn voices bring the tide to the next level of Tolkki's world. "In The Hands Of Time" is likely familiar to our ear but I can't find close references to this song. It is kind of dividing feel here, a happy one-two drumming but the voices really like to takes us to melancholy area. "Solid Ground" is finally something close to the vocalist's style, in similar to the whole Jorn world in Masterplan and his solo works. "Lady Of Winter" is mid tempo power metal feel with best associated with early Stratovarius works. With duo vocalist join power, the harmony in the chorus is really strong. The rest of songs are variation of their crossbreeding, notable of course "The Great Divide" which is start with dark nuances then developed into six minutes song with more and more operatic voices of both maestro.

This is surely an album where Timo Tolkki should stamped his name on it. Even un-aware listener with quickly notice his present. After three albums with Magnus Karlsson style, it is always fun to have the whole duo swift into this familiar, power-metal friendly, style. The Great Divide is ultimate collaboration between Allen / Lande + Timo Tolkki. This album is a testing ground for those who keen to know what really happened if Timo been provided to heavy metal vocalists. Singers with harsh and heavy vocals as in both Jorn + Lande, not sweet and power as in Kotipelko or Kiske. The result is of course positive. Eventually most of Tolkki's element was grander repetition to his trademark, but the vocal rendition of both vocalist cover this up and make this one an enjoyable and valuable recording.

Metal Harem class: ********* eight stars out of ten
Favorite tracks: Come & Dream With Me, Down From The Mountain, Lady of Winter

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Allen Lande - The Great Divide (2014)

01. Come & Dream With Me
02. Down From The Mountain
03. In The Hands Of Time
04. Solid Ground
05. Lady Of Winter
06. Dream About Tomorrow
07. Hymn For The Fallen
08. The Great Divide
09. Reaching For The Stars
10. Bittersweet

Russell Allen - lead and backing vocals (Symphony X, Adrenaline Mob, Star One, Trans-Siberian Orchestra)
Jørn Lande - lead and backing vocals (Jorn, ex-Yngwie Malmsteen, Avantasia, ex-Masterplan)
Timo Tolkki - guitars, bass, keyboards (Timo Tolkki's Avalon, ex-Stratovarius, ex-Revolution Renaissance, ex-Symfonia)
Jami Huovinen - drums, percussion (Ring of Fire)


Kilmara - Love Songs and Other Nightmares (2014)

Meet another metal band from Spain, well Barcelona to be specific, it is Kilmara on the spot now. The quintet just release their 3rd full length album titled Love Songs and Other Nightmares. Having already produced two albums before, Kilmara enjoy their mature period as a metal band that really spanned their music styles across the heavy metal genre. Do not see the cover appearances only, which may led you thinking about gothic-esque metal, and also their death-metal sounds band name "Kilmara". Indeed, they are one of multi-styles band that mixed power, heavy, thrash and death metal as they pleased. In short they have something of European meet American things. It may sounds overwhelming and confusing on paper, but Kilmara wrapped them in quite a polished manner.

We start with "Fantasy" which offer grooving guitar riffs as the intro. Sounds very 'European' power but yet we quickly surprised by the 'American' singing styles by the vocalist. Not further away, the arrival of death metal voices in the background blurred the things out. This is the style we need to compromise for the next hour. This opening bring us a reminiscence of Rage and bit of phrases borrowed from as far as Queensryche and Death. "The Devil's Eye" is simpler and straightforward to described. It is kind of '80s thrash metal tune with lower vocals and Slayer-like twin guitar attacks. Indeed this sounds is what they favor.  In this similar styles is group of songs : "The Break Up", which is thrash to power with lots of vocal harmonies they toyed out so far;  "Cold Rain",  intro is catchy, again a baritone voiced in charge separate this song from traditional high pitch power metal. Happened to be their strong cuts; "Nothing to Me", full throttle double pedal attacks but with a vocal that kind of modern and clean. Those who close to European power metal are "Usual Strangers" and the folk and rhythmic "Alpha". The last three songs fall into different feels, from progressive "Insomnia" and "Play to Win", to alternative-stoner "Time Flies". This last song also come in Spanish-Deustch, and it is clear that the song should be enjoyed more in their native language.

We will also found two interesting details about Love Songs and Other Nightmares; Roland Grapow is on board, well as producer or mentor perhaps, and it is released now under Sony Music. Not so clear how the maestro Roland Grapow in influencing their styles (they seems out of ordinary styles, though....). This album should be listening without concerning what the hell the categorization they may fall in. The guys just trying to composed good music, and with their huge library of music, this is a successful one.

Favorite tracks: Nothing to Me, Usual Strangers, Alpha
Metal Harem class: ********* eight stars out of ten

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Kilmara - Love Songs and Other Nightmares (2014)

01. Fantasy
02. The Devil's Eye
03. The Break Up
04. Cold Rain
05. Believe
06. Nothing to Me
07. Usual Strangers
08. Alpha
09. Insomnia
10. Play to Win
11. Time Flies
12. Time Flies (Spanish / Deustch) (Bonus Track)

Line Up:
Christian Wolfgang Kohl (vocals)
Jonathan Portillo (guitar)
Enrique Torres (guitar)
Javier Morillo (drums)
Raul Ruiz (bass)

Roland Grapow (Masterplan, ex-Helloween)
Pilar Villatobas (Resilence)

Record Label: Sony Music


The Francesco Artusato Project - Our Dying Sun (2014)

The Francesco Artusato Project is exactly your dearest Devil You Know, All Shall Perish guitarist solo memento. Our Dying Sun is his second full length album. It is very much similar to his previous works, combined only guitar instrumental in progressive metal genre. In this eleven tracks of shred guitar, Francesco made it the sounds of destruction, futuristic, industrial and apocalypse theme. You got the idea, well just observe the cover art.

There are not much melodic line here. Songs are dominated by heavy dissonance, low string 'djent' like distortion. The representative track is "Our Dying Sun" for description above.  The other landmark point is "Infinite Waves", where the author spare some movement for drum, keyboards and bass to shine. Or maybe listen to "Sleeples Night" where the we got more down to earth leading riffs and melodies. Compared to its predecessor album, Chaos and the Primordial, Our Dying Sun sounds more homogeneous, from song writing to guitar tones.  If you like the idea of exploring one hour end-of-the-world theme shred guitar album, this one is for you.

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

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The Francesco Artusato Project - Our Dying Sun (2014)

01. 210
02. Gates of Reason
03. Our Dying Sun
04. Divergence
05. Infinite Waves
06. Burning Leaves
07. Sleepless Night
08. Miura
09. Blood From a Stone
10. Omega
11. Spirito

Line Up:
Francesco Artusato (Devil You Know, All Shall Perish)

Guests Guitarists:
Per Nilsson (Scar Symmetry)
Wes Hauch (ex-The Faceless)
Ryan Knight (The Black Dahlia Murder)


Mr.Big - ...the Stories We Could Tell (2014)

Among many things music can do, it is they bring back memories. Mr.Big, surely the band with big memories inside and their music do brings them back. They are in the mainstream movement of  '80s hair metal band. Not only because of  "To Be With You", but also because of their amazing discography, that actually span about four to five successful studio albums. The memories of the quartet, Eric, Paul, Billy and Pat together was firm, Richie Kotzen too. Later they are the band that made Farewell Party, yet to come back later, and it was only in 2011. Today, Mr.Big's eight studio album was in our hand, .... the Stories We Could Tell is one kind of story about this amazing band.

 Yap, "Gotta Love The Ride" preserved Mr.Big historical sounds. It ride us far away back to the golden era. It has their typical downstroke power chord, smoothly solo, familiar choruses. "I Forget To Breathe" is still fast tempo song, straight forward from verse to choruses all in a quick secession. Kind of blues-rock feel. Don't forget to breathe when it come to the guitar solos. "Fragile" is sounds generic at the start, an AOR feel in mid tempo, but it has power choruses that easy to remember. "Satisfied", is traditionally the one word "-ed" song title and it always belong to excellent guitar leads tunes. Satisfied seems to be a guitar first and sing it later song. Acoustic stories bring down to "The Man Who Has Everything", brings back to every Mr.Big acoustic ballad we ever knew. "The Monster In Me"? is about two monstrous 'leads' instrument, Paul and Billy in action, this song put they battling each other for a spot of "rhythm guitar".

"East/West" is another acoustic intro leads to anthem mid tempo rock song. "Just Let Your Heart Decide" as the title suggest is pretty much Just Take My Heart in sequel. Jump to the last track we got "the Stories We Could Tell" a thick southern blues rock song to close this album. Of course with one wicked live bonuses for a memorable "Addicted To That Rush" , all to reminds us to the great Mr.Big.

This is the album that make you want to call your old buddies from the high school. "... the Stories..." is great album with great concept, it did not loose anything from Mr.Big yet powerful and fresh in writing. It going to please new and old fans. Their chemistry seems unparalleled, with every four of them doing exactly the right things. The real hair metal in revived without the sense rusty or out dated. Even the live track sounds very exciting and new. Welcome back.

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

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Mr.Big - ...the Stories We Could Tell (2014)

01. Gotta Love The Ride
02. I Forget To Breathe
03. Fragile
04. Satisfied
05. The Man Who Has Everything
06. The Monster In Me
07. What If We Were New?
08. East/West
09. The Light Of Day
10. Just Let Your Heart Decide
11. It’s Always About That Girl
12. Cinderella Smile
13. The Stories We Could Tell
14. Addicted To That Rush (live; exclusive bonus track)

Eric Martin – vocals
Paul Gilbert – guitars
Billy Sheehan – bass
Pat Torpey – drums


Flying Colors - Second Nature (2014)

In Second Nature, Flying Colors entering their 'casual dating' phase. Just as Mike Portnoy metaphored "... the first album (Flying Colors) was very much a blind date,.. now we know each other and have much more chemistry..." . Now be aware of what they called 'chemistry'. Second Nature is completely different game. The casual dating produced more hardcore prog materials by the quintet. They are still remained the same, Mike Portnoy, Morse and Morse, together with LaRue and Casey McPherson. This is the album for those who loves each of them, from DT fans to Dixie Dregs to Ayreon-like in Neal Morse's style.

"Open Up Your Eyes" is worth a note to see how progressive material may came out from their collaborations since it is in staggering 12 minutes long. This one very much Neal Morse in style. A thick keyboard leads, follows by Portnoy power drumming. Of course Steve did not stay there for nothing, he is not letting Neal get all the fun. Every notes still sounds very Steve Morse, but it is good to see him 'forced' to played in different water. Dave LaRue himself, found nothing 'new' on this as he already done it millions times, perfect groove perfect fill in every moments. The ending of this song sounds like a homage to the Dream Theater traces, perhaps Portnoy's idea.

"Mask Machine" on other is a lighter song. Casey is now backed with the McCrary Sisters to produced this ambitious song where they try to reproduced old '80s cartoon like sounds. The same distortions sounds repeated on "Bombs Away", and again away from their two previous songs. "Bomb Away" is closer and closer to rock song, with vocal came as leading voices. Duo Morse in panning distortion is also a feature here. Now, "The Fury of My Love" is closer to Dream Theater works. There is James LaBrie-things in the vocals and Jordan-things in the keyboards. Just another weird 'chemistry' from them.

"A Place in Your World" , not trying to make it up, but this sounds Steve Morse. The intro at least reminds us to Steve Morse solo portfolio. "Lost Without You" is a lovely tunes, my favorite simple song from this album. You got original drum leading song, nice song writing on this one. "One Love Forever" , a sliding guitar song in folk dancing rhythm, interesting if you got these guys doing it. And at least one dark theme song in "Peaceful Harbor", this is kind of emotional ballad we have. And at least one epic for the ending. It's like the end of jamming session, "Cosmic Symphony" is a must material where Neal, Steve, Mike, Dave unleashed their musical passion, with an interruption of Casey ever haunting vocals.

Second Nature is their casual jamming materials we might expected. It's different from their debut, where song are more vocal in nature. Second Nature come as prog in front. Good news on that, a bit of down notes is we think this albums sounds too Neal-Mike projects. Hard to evade since the duo already in several projects, in Neal Morse band and Transtlantic. As ending note, we urge Portnoy to produced his other pet project too, The Winery Dogs.

Favorite songs: all, "Lost Without You", "Open Up Your Eyes", "Mask Machine"
Metal Harem class: ********** nine stars out of ten

Flying Colors - Second Nature (2014)

1. "Open Up Your Eyes" 12:24
2. "Mask Machine" 6:06
3. "Bombs Away" 5:03
4. "The Fury of My Love" 5:10
5. "A Place in Your World" 6:25
6. "Lost Without You" 4:46
7. "One Love Forever" 7:17
8. "Peaceful Harbor" 7:01
9. "Cosmic Symphony
 I. "Still Life of the World" — 3:15
 II. "Searching for the Air" — 2:58
 III. "Pound for Pound" — 5:33" 11:4

 Steve Morse – lead and rhythm guitar
 Casey McPherson – lead vocals
 Neal Morse – keyboards, vocals
 Dave LaRue – bass guitar
 Mike Portnoy – drums, percussion, vocals

 Additional Personnel
 The McCrary Sisters – background vocals on "Peaceful Harbor" and "Cosmic Symphony"
 Chris Carmichael – strings on "The Fury of My Love" and "Peaceful Harbor"
 Shane Borth – strings on "Bombs Away"
 Eric Darken – hand drums on "One Love Forever"


Mike LePond's Silent Assassins - Mike LePond's Silent Assassins (2014)

It's been a while for the whole member of Symphony X come together and release new music. In the meantime, most of them are busily doing side projects. Mike LePond, is one of their busiest one. Mike then decided to pull out his very own solo album, bravely his small gang as "Mike LePond's Silent Assassins", self titled and released September 2014. He also bring along Michael Romeo for six seven string-ing the album, and also ,eyebrow-risingly, as drum programmer. What's wrong with hiring real drummer you ask, and how awesome to programmed the whole progressive metal album drum track you wondered.

This album shared the same style with Symphony X, the progressive part are lessened, substitute with more heavy to thrash metal. The opener "Apocalypse Rider" tells us that we should expected straight forward heavy driven guitars riffs rather than seeing some mind twisted chord progression ala Symphony X. I agree that we see a lot of American heavy metal on this song, something like Anvil crossover with Symphony X. Alan Tecchio vocals is close to Russel Allen, un-alarmed listener may thing that is Russel in charge. Take no mistake, Alan doing his job in great shape. After this heavy opener, "Red Death" begin to show whom is this album belong to. Mike LePond starts the song with his bass show off, many more through out the album. With a basic single pedal drum pattern, Red Death still played in the style of very-Anvil feel. More closer to the European power metal is "The Quest", minor feel and addition of violin/viola/cello parts, lengthy bass solo, brings us to the folk - power - prog territory. "The Outsider" is another song that highlighted lots of bass parts. "Masada" is majority played in acoustic setup, epic ballad in the style of Manowar combined with good old David Coverdale days. A couple of heavy driven songs in between and let's jump to the last track, "Oath and Honor" is the epic ending track. Longest track in the reflections of Helloween and typical European symphonic metal orchestration.

This is a bass-fronted album with quite wide choices of styles inside. It will well enjoyed by many fans ranging from prog-head, power metaller, and general heavy fans. And guitar shred lover also, for the sake of Michael Romeo and Mike Metal parts. The kind of bringing bass sounds to the front is what gives this album even more credit. Song writing in another factor to make this album heavy yet easy to listen. This is an excellent heavy / progressive metal album came in parallel to its creator fame, bassist of Symphony X Mike LePond.

Favorite tracks: Red Death, Masada, Oath and Honor
Metal Harem class: ******** eight stars out of ten

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Mike LePond's Silent Assassins - Mike LePond's Silent Assassins (2014)

01. Apocalypse Rider
02. Red Death
03. The Quest
04. The Outsider
05. Masada
06. Silent Assassins
07. Ragnarok
08. The Progeny
09. Oath and Honor


Mike LePond - Bass (Symphony X)
Metal Mike - Guitars (Halford, Testament)
Michael Romeo - Guitars and Drum programming (Symphony X)
Alan Tecchio - Vocals (Hades, Watchtower)