Ayreon - The Source (2017)

From what started only as experimental project, Ayreon has now become one of most respected metal opera in the industry. One of the most waited as well. We have reach the ninth studio album of Ayreon, an 2017 release that simply called The Source. As we know, each album consisted of complex music in the spirit of metal opera with multiple story and plots. When I first listen to Ayreon, (it was The Human Equation album), it took days to fully grab the whole music. In short, when Ayreon album is coming up, it's a busy day in the office to write a review. (See The Theory of Everything review here)

Ayreon wouldn't be a metal opera without Arjen Lucassen Justice League-like recruitment. Arjen just picked the greatest musician in the list and put them in task to finish his album. Sounds pretty good. So, before reviewing the music, we should satisfied our eyes with a list of musicians invited here in The Source . As listed below, there are recurring characters such as James LaBrie as The Historian, Tobias Sammet, Tommy Karevik and so on. On the musician listed, we got a boost from big names such as Paul Gilbert. Seriously, this is kind of a blend between Arrowverse and Marvel universe when we can combine the world of Dream Theater and Mr.Big and Guthrie Govan, in one band.
    James LaBrie (Dream Theater) as The Historian
    Tommy Karevik (Kamelot, Seventh Wonder) as The Opposition Leader
    Tommy Rogers (Between the Buried and Me) as The Chemist
    Simone Simons (Epica) as The Counselor
    Nils K. Rue (Pagan's Mind) as The Prophet
    Tobias Sammet (Edguy, Avantasia) as The Captain
    Hansi Kürsch (Blind Guardian) as The Astronomer
    Mike Mills (Toehider) as TH-1
    Russell Allen (Symphony X) as The President
    Michael Eriksen (Circus Maximus) as The Diplomat
    Floor Jansen (Nightwish, ex-After Forever) as The Biologist
    Zaher Zorgati (Myrath) as The Preacher
    Arjen Anthony Lucassen - production, mixing, recording
    Yann Souetre - cover art and booklet
    Arjen Anthony Lucassen - electric and acoustic guitars, bass guitar, keyboards etc.
    Ed Warby - drums
    Joost van den Broek (ex-After Forever) - piano
    Ben Mathot - violin
    Maaike Peterse (Kingfisher Sky) - cello
    Jeroen Goossens (ex-Pater Moeskroen) - flute, wind instruments
    Paul Gilbert - guitar solo
    Guthrie Govan (The Aristocrats, ex-Asia) - guitar solo
    Marcel Coenen (Sun Caged) - guitar solo
    Mark Kelly (Marillion) - synthesizer solo
Now the music is based on one of Ayreon universe. This is believe to be the prequel to a storyline that ended in 01011001 album. Well, short of J.K. Rowling temptation to write Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them thing. By the way, we can simply ignore the narration and started enjoying the musics. Admit it or not, even though all the progressive metal band try to do something out of the box, they always sounds as what they are.  We kind of easily distinguished Arjen Lucassen works. His melody is prominent to acknowledged. The first couple of notes in the first opening song "The Day That the World Breaks Down" .already revealed who's the artist before we read the cover. This is not to say that the music will be repeating the work prior, but with this "limited exploration" come another 87 minutes of adventure.

The Source opened up with that song which last 12:56 minutes. The song simply divided in two big section that cut in the "01110100 01110010 01110101 01110011 01110100 01010100 01001000 00110001" lyric sung by TH-1 (Michael Mills). The second section of The Day That the World Breaks Down started with a nice bass grove with a lyric revealing more about the story. The second interesting point is in the song "Everybody Dies". This is kind of Queen cross over with Dream Theater breed. Jump to "All That Was", we got female voices in this song. All That Was is the real first de javu we have. I swear I listened to this melody before, a very good amnestic experience by composer Arjen. For those who love power metal, "Run! Apocalypse! Run!" is one of catchy tunes. The other song that having strong guitar riff can be found in "Aquatic Race". Then come "The Dream Dissolves" and most significant in "Deathcry of a Race" which having Jethro Tull-like flute tunes. "Into the Ocean" is very Rainbow-like of '80s hair metal sounds. Think this is one of my favorite from the album. In the final parts, after several "filler" songs, the last moment is in "Journey to Forever". The plot twister a mandolin sounds for sure. The album ended with "March of the Machines", a robotic sound song. The album very much ended in a hanging plot in the style of Game of Thrones. Or perhaps this should continued in one of Ayreon past album. I having confirmed it yet. See, a busy day in the office.

Imagine there is a metal version of La La Land. Ayreon's The Source is not only the La La Land of progressive metal, this is the Star War double trilogy of prog metal. There are enough music composition for every scenes and details. Even after passing nine studio albums, this album is in the same quality as their predecessor.  Grab this and listen to the story prior the destruction of human being, in the place far from solar system.

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

Buy it Here - Amazon

Disc 1
1. The Day That the World Breaks Down
2. Sea of Machines
3. Everybody Dies
4. Star of Sirrah
5. All That Was
6. Run! Apocalypse! Run!
7. Condemned To Live

Disc 2
1. Aquatic Race
2. The Dream Dissolves
3. Deathcry of a Race
4. Into the Ocean
5. Bay of Dreams
6. Planet Y Is Alive!
7. The Source Will Flow
8. Journey To Forever
9. The Human Compulsion
10. March of the Machines


Aldaria - Land of Light (2017)

Just when we thought the metal opera genre is slowing down, here the new supergroup ALDARIA with their metal opera album Land of Light. Aldaria kind of marked a new wave of power metal band by bringing mostly new army on his belt. The project was initiated and created by Frode Hovd from Norway band, Memorized Dreams. The line up musicians included Roland Grapow, who produced the album. Names such as Mike LePond, Fabio Lione, Uli Kusch, Rob Lungren were listed. However when names such as PelleK, Tommy ReinXeed, Yannis Papadopoulos, Sigfried Samer and so on appeared, this is the other side of power metal forces that screaming to be heard in a project like metal opera.

Land of Light is a metal opera album, the concept are crystal clear in their website :

In the year 1247 AD, there was found an ancient scroll deep within a tomb below what once was the glorious city of Babylon. The scroll was believed to be written by our Creator Himself, describing a world yet unknown to mankind. These scrolls have, until this day, been kept hidden and locked up, deep within hallways below Rome.  

 The gospel speaks of Aldaria, a place and dimension between Heaven & Hell where the fallen are reborn as angels, and where the sinners come to be redeemed or forever banished to Hell.  Today we learn about these stories, the foundation of our existence, as there are signs of a darker time ahead. Reports from all around the world talk about torn and slain angels falling from the sky, each with a common warning: The darkness has found a way into Aldaria, where the Key to enter the Gates of Heaven has been hidden since beginning of time.   .... and so on

With that premises, we got an album that strictly followed what a traditional metal opera album should be. We got "Excitare Ad Lucem" as the intro, a Latinesque opening choir. The songs, and the finale that of course lasted ten minutes up, "Land of Light". The whole album is a combo between elements of Avantasia, Rhapsody of Fire, oldies Helloween and Dan Brown.

Aldaria Land of Light brings us the first serious metal opera album in 2017. This album supported by zillions of metal musicians. This album is as power metal as it can be, originality is never really their issue. You will listen tons of familiar riffs, song are quite straight forward. The strongest point in this album is about listening to our favorite singers and musicians working together constructed a story about angels and demons. Come and join the crowd in Land of Light.

Metal Harem class : 7.5/10 

Buy it Here - Amazon
Aldaria - Land of Light (2017)

01. Excitare Ad Lucem
02. Another Life
03. Guardians of the Light
04. Sands of Time
05. Lost in the Darkness Below
06. Test of Time
07. Trail of Tears
08. Where Reality Ends
09. From the Ashes
10. Answers in a Dream
11. Land of Light

Guitars :
Frode Hovd (Memorized Dreams), Christer Harøy (Divided Multitude), Jimmy Hedlund (Falconer),
Roland Grapow (Masterplan), Eskild Kløften (Divided Multitude) ,Filip Koluš (Signum Regis)

Bass :
Rayner Harøy (Divided Multitude), Mike LePond (Symphony X) , Ronnie König (Signum Regis)
Filip Andel (Within Silence) ,Kenneth Skarsvaag (Memorized Dreams)

Drums :
Andreas Nergård (Nergard), Uli Kusch (ex Helloween), Robert Myrhaug (Memorized Dreams)

Mistheria (Mistheria), Peter Danielsen (Darkest Sins)
Gabriels (Gabriels) , Peter Crowley's Fantasy Dream

Fabio Lione (Rhapsody of Fire), Todd Michael Hall (Riot V), Rick Altzi (Masterplan)
Mathias Blad (Falconer), Jonas Heidgert (Dragonland), Tommy ReinXeed (ReinXeed)
Yannis Papadopoulos (Wardrum), Rob Lundgren, David Åkesson (Qantice)
Marit Minniva Børresen (Marit Børresen), PelleK, Bernt Fjellestad (Guardians Of Time)
Vasilis Georgiou (Sunburst), Sigfried Samer (Dragony),
Kristoffer Göbel (ex Destiny / ex Falconer), Mina Giannopoulou


Axxis - Retrolution (2017)

Although being a hard rock band since the '80s, Axxis must be the lesser known son of Germany heavy metal. They were first known with their debut album, Kingdom of the Night, which released in 1989. Along with Accept, Scorpions, Helloween, Blind Guardian, the scene is a bit too crowd for international fans to reach Axxis. I myself included. I should considered lucky as I introduced to Axxis just only in recent years. My last experiences with Bernhard Weiß (the vocalist) and friends was in their 2014 double album : Kingdom of the Night II. Those two was very fine albums for me and stay in my player list for so long. That mean the expectation to hear more in this new album is high. Retrolution, a wordplay for Retro and Revolution,  shipped out in January 2017. As the album title suggest, this should be Axxis doing what they best, a retro '80s melodic rock with  digital age revolution sounds.

A quick shout out, Retrolution is doing fine! The first track "Burn! Burn! Burn!" is simple hard rock song with catchy twang guitar riff. Axxis strongest asset is their song writings that are simply melodic and enjoyable. This song, and many incoming, are showcase of that. The second song "All My Friends Are Liars" is also excellent. The title is already creative, thus turn into memorable chorus that you might unconsciously sing out loud. Be careful not to hum this when you hang out with friends. "Dream Chaser" might started with very cliche keyboard motive, but this song represent all the trademark by Axxis. It's just a short verse and then we completely jump to the chorus, which is always sing-together-friendly. Of the more faster song, "Rock The Night" is the one with full blast and double kick drum. As for slow ballad, try "Queen Of The Wind". One of other thing best found in Axxis is the creative drum pattern. "Somebody Died At The Party" is the song that powered up with that tasty drum solo. This followed by "Heavy Metal Brother" , then the final song "Welcome To My Nightmare".

With Retrolution, I have extended my admiration for Axxis. This band simply always put out the best song written in melodic hard rock. Some new sound found in Retrolution is, there are a number of heavy pentatonic riff done with that rather country-sounds guitar. This album has definitely a significant different compared to their very previous "Kingdom of the Night II" album, that's for sure. So that is a lot of new enjoyment on this album. If you have yet listen to Axxis, this album will do for your introduction also. Come ye all heavy metal brother and welcome to my nightmare.

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

Buy it Here - Amazon

Axxis - Retrolution (2017) 

01. Burn! Burn! Burn!
02. All My Friends Are Liars
03. Dream Chaser
04. Burn Down Your House
05. Rock The Night
06. The World Is Mine
07. Do It Better
08. Queen Of The Wind
09. Seven Devils
10. This Is My Day
11. Somebody Died At The Party
12. Heavy Metal Brother
13. Welcome To My Nightmare
14. Demons Dare To Stay [CD bonus]

    Bernhard Weiß - vocals (1988–present)
    Harry Oellers - keyboard (1988–present)
    Rob Schomaker - bass (2004–present)
    Dirk Brand - drums (2012–present)
    Stefan Weber - guitars (2015–present)


Place Vendome - Close To The Sun (2017)

AOR is always an interesting genre to listen. The genre mostly built up on rich melodic elements, played on mid-tempo setup. There is actually a typical AOR tempo, which is not so fast but just enough. The music is usually full of spirit, fit well into movie scenes also. Michael Kiske happened to be in one of this AOR based band. Place Vendome is unique project where bassist of Pink Cream spend his alternate world creating AOR album. In this Place Vendome exactly, Michael Kiske is the lead vocal assigned by Dennis Ward. They already produced at least four studio albums so far. Close To The Sun is their latest, as their most previous is Thunder In The Distance released in 2013 with Streets of Fire and Place Vendome earlier. See, even the album titles are fanciful phrases.

Close To The Sun is the same title for the opening song. It is quite a heavy one. Melodic intro in full force are our entrance to this song. One must admit that Michael Kiske's melancholic voices is just naturally fit into this genre. The song went smoothly for long time listener, thus if you already get to know Place Vendome on their previous albums, this one sounds exactly as one of their collections. In this album, the band invited several guest guitarists, just to take up the solos. Uwe  Reitenauer is the first soloist, he is kind of "resident" guitarist as he is played in Pink Cream also. The second song is rather trivial, "Welcome To The Edge". The thing is, the chosen vocal style may take us off the guard. Just listen to the thick bass voice that open the song. Even so, the song itself is a direct continuation to the first song. A typical AOR with interesting choice of singing.

"Hereafter" is enpowered with bit of progressive metal taste. The guitarist in lead is Simone Mularoni of DGM, a progressive metal band indeed. We will then calm the storm for a while with piano ballad "Strong". Immediately after that, we back to business with "Across The Times". The intro is excellent, as if the band is never lack a powerful melody. "Riding The Ghost" is based on hard rock guitar riff. On "Light Before The Dark" a long intro brings us to the next fantasy world. This is one of my favorite on this package, well writing structure with elements of neo-classical solos by Gus G.

There is also a point in the album where things taken slower, as in "Breathing" and "Yesterday Is Gone". A power ballad with lot of character singings inside. On the last part, is "Hellen", a very vintage '80s AOR feel song.

Overall, Close To The Sun is very well written album. Though I enjoy Place Vendome very first album the most, this one may be called the second best of their discography. One thing need to caution, Close To The Sun is much more heavy, more metal than before. The addition of guest soloist could be the reason, they brutalize the song a lot. It's nice to see the band keep the quality consistent for each albums. Lastly, the two other members also deserved praises, Gunter Werno is imaginative keys player. While the drummer, Dirk Bruinenberg is doing his second Place Vendome album and successfully integrated. On top of those, this album is strongly attribute to Michael Kiske appearances.

Place Vendome - Close To The Sun (2017)
Buy it Here - Amazon

1. Close To The Sun (4:32)
2. Welcome To The Edge (4:30)
3. Hereafter (4:26)
4. Strong (4:49)
5. Across The Times (4:51)
6. Riding The Ghost (3:57)
7. Light Before The Dark (4:11)
8. Falling Star (4:50)
9. Breathing (4:43)
10. Yesterday Is Gone (4:33)
11. Helen (5:00)
12. Distant Skies (5:28)
13. Strong (Orchestral Version) (Japan Bonus Track) (3:19)

Michael Kiske - Vocals
Dennis Ward - Bass, Rhythm Guitars
Uwe Reitenauer - Rhythm Guitars in "Welcome To The Edge", "Across The Times", "Close To The Sun", "Hearafter"
Gunter Werno - Keyboards
Dirk Bruinenberg - Drums
Guitar Solos :
Michael Klein on "Yesterday Is Gone", "Distant Skies", "Strong", "Breathing".
Uwe Reitenauer on "Close To the Sun"
Alfred Koffler on "Welcome To The Edge"
Magnus Karlsson on "Falling Star"
Gus G. on "Light Beyond The Dark"
Simone Mularoni on "Hearafter"
Mandy Meyer on "Helen"
Kai Hansen on "Riding The Ghost" and "Across The Times"

Produced by Dennis Ward

Place Vendome Close To The Sun album review
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