Ancient Bards - A New Dawn Ending (2014)

In their past two albums, Ancient Bards jump the ladder pretty fast. They were soon recognized as new power metal force in the Italian jungle of bands. With those two promising albums, now they are back with full third album called A New Dawn Ending. Sara Squadrani still behind the microphone, backed with all their previous member forces. A New Dawn Ending is the end of their sophomore years as this album yet another solid one.

After the opening intro (Before the Storm) we instantly transfer into the foray of power metal with A Greater Purpose. The song open with stylistic power choruses, Sara Squadrani then conquered the rest of the song with her melodic voices without much problem. A more intense and attacking track is to be followed. Flaming Heart played the contrast structure song between bombastic music and calm singing. The graphic of intensity and velocity seems rising to the peak on the third song, Across This Life. Rhapsody of Fire influence is unavoidable in this album. Fabio Lione even made appearance on the song The Last Resort. In this song they simply follow the generic template of power metal, simple intro, the bridge before the verses, Fabio Lione enters then final blasted with catchy choruses. Piano ballad is for In My Arms. Two long epic songs in Showdown and A New Dawn Ending.

Ancient Bards can also describe as the cross breeding between Rhapsody of Fire and early Within Temptation. A New Dawn Ending offered the most classic symphonic metal featuring female singer. Every songs sounds familiar to ears, a sign that the song writing really hit their target. The instrument teams has no problem transferring any details of their song required into music. They are balance and solid, no overly done parts. Fans of power metal that curious to hear what their classic genre can do in this latest age, A New Dawn Ending is the answer.

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

Ancient Bards - A New Dawn Ending (2014)
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01. Before The Storm 1:38
02. A Greater Purpose 7:55
03. Flaming Heart 6:51
04. Across This Life 4:31
05. In My Arms 5:26
06. The Last Resort (feat. Fabio Lione) 6:07
07. Showdown 12:49
08. In The End 5:11
09. Spiriti Liberi 4:49
10. A New Dawn Ending 16:38

Claudio Pietronik - Guitars
Martino Garattoni - Bass
Sara Squadrani - Vocals
Federico Gatti – Drums
Daniele Mazza - Keyboards


Winger - Better Days Comin' (2014)

When the torch of hair metal extinguished in the '90s, some of the bands become only famous after math. I believe Winger is one of the example. Their albums was hunted by hair metal fans and widely considered as 'underated' in their active era. One of the reason is most of Winger members were doing successful later. Notable is Reb Beach who soon become shredder symbol, later join Dokken and Whitesnake. Rod Morgenstein is drum guru, a eternal member of progressive grup Dixie Dregs. Then of course Kip Winger become solo artist and producer. The reunion of Winger already produced two albums previously. This year is their third reunion album, their sixth overall, titled as Better Day's Comin'.

The three talented guys were also supported by John Roth. Better Days Comin' is half part in hair metal legacy but the other parts is a more modern progressive stuffs. The songs Midnight Driver of a Love Machine, Queen Babylon, Rat Race are great fast tempo songs with guitar riffs driven, best to fill the cup of '80s metal tributes. We got the transitional song in Better Days Comin' , is a lighter rock which lots of vocal harmony. Tin Soldier defined Winger new direction. This song also their pick for a video music. It feel more progressive with complex structures, uncompromising drumming variations and Kip Winger singing style also feel darker. The other good adaptation of their glam metal root with modern sound is in a song So Long China. The song slow down the tempo a bit, just try to fall into AOR style with its longer choruses. On the last track, enjoyed the sweet ballad in Out Of This World.

This is enjoyable album with balance stuffs between old school hair metal and modern sounds. Reb Beach is kind of less in getting shredding parts, Rod Morgenstein got lot of drum chops on the other hand. Kip Winger is now sing in modern style, not much screaming as in the '80s hair vocalist. Nonetheless, this album gives the maturity Winger needed for. It's still bring back to good old days.

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

Winger - Better Days Comin' (2014)
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01. Midnight Driver of a Love Machine
02. Queen Babylon
03. Rat Race
04. Better Days Comin'
05. Tin Soldier
06. Ever Wonder
07. So Long China
08. Storm In Me
09. Be Who You Are, Now
10. Another Beautiful Day (Deluxe Edition Bonus Track)
11. Out Of This World

Kip Winger – bass guitar, vocals
Reb Beach - guitars
Rod Morgenstein - drums
John Roth - guitars


Edguy - Space Police - Defenders Of The Crown (2014)

The epic story is Edguy returns to power metal. This is something at first looks unlikely situation. For decade Edguy had been shadowed by Avantasia, now a acknowledged power metal band led by the same Tobias Sammet. Raising a theory that Edguy is the one who make place by dodging power metal, all the way to heavy metal and hard rock. Yet again, this is not without a warning. Tobias Sammet spoke that this album, Space Police - Defenders Of the Crown, going to be power metal album. Turn out he may be not a very good politician in nature because his words turns out in reality. A double disc in form, Space Police is a return to the bombastic, well cheeky, power metal once we adored in Theater of Salvation or Vain Glory Opera. It is not 100%  since the album also bring along the light and comedic mood, as we seen from Superheroes to Age of Joker. As evidence in the song titles, Space Police, Rock Me Amadeus, Love Tyger, Do Me Like A Caveman etc. And of course the cover art.

There are about 12 new songs divided into two discs. Sabre & Torch is the opener of immediately power metal similar to... Avantasia of course. The chorus may well reminds us to the whole Metal Opera and their afterward sounds. The deja vu  is continued to Space Police, which is a fun and easy listening mid tempo tune. The clash of sword still got its slot, Defenders Of The Crown is epic double pedal attack, melodious intro and sad minor scale in used. Notable is the interesting guitar wah-wah effect on this song. Love Tyger anyone? This is a G Mixolydian based AoR song, this is also where the fun ready to start. Infectious riffs as we reach the fifth track, The Realms Of Baba Yaga. Very glam metal on this one, with Tobias Sammet adopt the wild singing from the late '80 era. Then we come to my favorite track, Rock Me Amadeus. This is Falco cover, make sure you see the original version.  1-0 for power metal vs punk.

Those were enough for the fun parts, we are back into seriousness with Do Me Like A Caveman. Or are we? Well, Shadow Eaters surely is. Darker and faster for this one. Three ballads from Alone In Myself, The Eternal Wayfarer (Led Zepelin cover) and England. The last one is piano ballad in a style of Queen. Aychim In Hysteria is a slow rock to close of the album. You can try out singing ala Tobias Sammet for there are four instrumental tracks as bonuses.

Edguy is becoming themselves in this album. Can't asked for more, as the whole recording also sounds like the extension of Avantasia. Especially on their newer materials. The album mix up power metal with other genre, but it always sounds catchy, energetic and most importantly enough cheekiness. With this result it seem that Edguy not doing wrong by putting back their root after travel far before. Great release from Edguy, as always.

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

Edguy - Space Police - Defenders Of The Crown (2014)
Buy it Here - Amazon

Disc I
01. Sabre & Torch
02. Space Police
03. Defenders Of The Crown
04. Love Tyger
05. The Realms Of Baba Yaga
06. Rock Me Amadeus [Falco cover]
07. Do Me Like A Caveman
08. Shadow Eaters
09. Alone In Myself
10. The Eternal Wayfarer

Disc II
01. England
02. Aychim In Hysteria
03. Space Police [progressive version]
04. Space Police [instrumental version]
05. Love Tyger [instrumental version]
06. Defenders Of The Crown [instrumental version]
07. Do Me Like A Caveman [instrumental version]

Tobias Sammet – lead and backing vocals
Jens Ludwig – lead guitars
Dirk Sauer – rhythm guitars
Tobias "Eggi" Exxel – bass guitar
Felix Bohnke- drums


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 (also contributed as guest guitar soloist) 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 featuring Christophe Godin, a French jazz-metal virtuoso. This track has a high dose of jazz feel in its foundation.

Brian Larkin performance is superb. He brings a lot of Ron 'Bumblefoot' Thal influence, which is natural because Brian was once study 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)
Buy it Here - Amazon

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)
Buy it Here - Amazon

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)
Buy it Here - Amazon

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

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