Monday, June 20, 2011

ReinXeed - 1912 (2011)

01. 1912
02. The Final Hour
03. Terror Has Begun
04. Spirit Lives On
05. Through The Fire
06. The Fall Of Man
07. The Voyage
08. We Must Go Faster
09. Challenge The Storm
10. Reach For The Sky
11. Farewell
12. Lost At Sea
13. ReinXeed Alliance*
14. Aces High*
15. Pray For Japan*

(* bonus tracks for Japan)

Country: Sweden
Genre: Power metal
Label: Doolittle Group
Released: June 14:th, 2011
Website: http://www.facebook/Reinxeed

Tommy Johansson - vocals, guitars & keyboards
Calle Sundberg - guitars & backing vocals
Mattias Johansson - guitars & backing vocals
Nic Svensson - bass
Björn Edlund - drums & backing vocals

Tommy Johansson is a prolific guy. He's won the Swedish National Karaoke Championship, he regularly records and posts metal covers of famous pop song on YouTube, he plays guitar in the neo-classical power metal band Golden Resurrection alongside Christian Liljegren of erstwhile Narnia fame. And oh yeah, over the course of four years he's written and recorded no less than four albums with his main band ReinXeed. How does he do it, you might think? I don't know, but what's surprising is the relatively high quality of the material on offer. The first three ReinXeed albums all featured top notch playing, superb songwriting and a the feeling that the person responsible really took pride in his craft. However, they were all hampered by subpar production, at times sounding almost like demo recordings. A shame really, considering the glorious material on offer, sounding like something Tobias Sammet of the mighty Edguy might have put out around the Vain Glory Opera/Theater of Salvation era. Yes, I'd go so far as to crown Mr Johansson the new Tobi Sammet as far as songwriting skills and continuity goes. He's just that good. Now, this all depends on you being a fan of the genre in question.

What ReinXeed offer is overblown, at times technical, but always majestically and pompously presented power metal. This fourth time around, the band (and I do believe this effort was recorded as a band) takes on the tragic story of the sinking of the Titanic in an opus they've named 1912, after the year the event took place. First of all, big kudos on the production this time around. Gone is the weak sounding recordings and mixings of the 'olden days', and in its place a meaty, clear and at times aggressive (at least for this type of music) soundscape unfolds. The overall sound is a bit darker, which fits well to the theme at hand, but which was something that put me off at first, I must confess. I guess I feared the band had ditched the 'happiness' that had been their trademark so far. I was wrong, I'm glad to say, even though 1912 features a much more 'reined-in' cheeriness. But the majestic moments are there, trust me. It's just that the album features a plethora of moods that shift along with the story, which makes the album a somewhat fuller experience when listened all the way through. The title track opens with an orchestral intro of a very foreboding nature that soon gives way to speedy guitars and in no time the first falsetto shriek of Tommy Johansson sees the light of day. She was said to be unsinkable / But she's made of iron / Nothing else could take her down / Until that tragic night 1912 goes the optimistic chorus. Several up-tempo tracks follow. In fact, the album consists mostly of fast songs and no ballads (unless you get the Japan import and the bonus track "Pray for Japan".)

Each and every song features a chorus that's catchier than the last, and every song has its special moments. I love the way Tommy sings Who should we blame / Should we blame the ice / Or the people who starred the boat? in "The Final Hour" and Then the feeling starts to burn / No matter which way you turn (notice the lovely falsetto) in "Through the Fire". All of this accentuated by blazing riffs and very tasty soloing. That's something I love about this band, the guitar solos get progressively better with each release, and on 1912, they're stellar. A great example of this would be the song "The Spirit Lives On" which starts with very nice guitar harmonics and features a shitload of fretboard magic throughout its seven minute duration. For a fan of the genre, this song sums up this band pretty well and would be a nice starting point if you're deciding to get the album.

This scribe has his own favorite tracks, of course. There is the awesome "The Voyage" which starts with an intro that is very choral, making you feel like you're in a church listening to the organ. The song features a very hymnic chorus sung in a way that feels like it's a lament of something lost (which of course it is) and makes it very beautiful. This track is followed by the insanely catchy "We Must Go Faster", for which a video was produced, and which I've listened to so many times it's not even funny. Sure, strip away the double bass drumming and the metal guitars and you pretty much have a song that could contend for Eurovision Song Contest, but who cares? This is another great example of a tune that Tommy Johansson seems to be pulling from his sleeve so effortlessly you can't help but feel awed. I'd also like to mention "Reach For the Sky", where (once again) the band pulls out all brakes and goes blazing for glory. When you thought he couldn't sing higher ("Dragonfly" off the second album Higher would be a good example) he does. This song reminds me, once again, what I love about the genre, and I'm not ashamed to say it inspires pretty much the same feelings in me as my favorite song of all time, Helloween's "Eagle Fly Free", where you just want to stand on a cliff, the wind blowing in your hair, screaming at the world. Goosebumps ensue.

Now, if you get the Japanese version (and you should), you get not one, not two but THREE bonus tracks. Yeah, that's right. And they're well worth the extra dough. "ReinXeed Alliance" is the best bonus track they ever did and features yet another catchy chorus preceded by a bridge in which the guitars do something I can't really give the technical term for, but which sounds hella good. The song is followed by a cover of Iron Maiden's "Aces High" which is more than decent, and finally the ballad "Pray for Japan" rounds things off. The song was originally recorded by Golden Resurrection as a tribute and fundraiser towards the people affected by the catastrophe in the Fukushima nuclear plant in Japan. It's a heartfelt ballad that, although very cheesy at times, rounds of the album on a somber note.

So, is all good in the ReinXeed camp? Pretty much, yeah. Sure, there are little things here and there (like Tommy's pronunciation that is very Swedish at times and which he should have fixed by now. The reason I'm even mentioning it is because when everything else is of such high standards, you tend to go nitpicking). The lyrics are pretty much focused on the actual sinking of the Titanic and could perhaps have been fleshed out a little to incorporate a more proper 'before' and 'after'. I do have to say, though, that they're the best lyrics written by Tommy so far, and solidify the concept admirably. All in all, if you're into fast and bombastic power metal with lots of solos and catchy choruses and have heard of ReinXeed (or not), this is the album you should get. I know that's a cliche, but in this case it's true. 666 thumbs up.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Scar Symmetry - The Unseen Empire (2011)


01. The Anomaly
02. Illuminoid Dream Sequence
03. Extinction Mantra
04. Seers of the Eschaton
05. Domination Agenda
06. Astronomicon
07. Rise of the Reptilian Regime
08. The Draconian Arrival
09. Alpha and Omega

Country: Sweden
Genre: Melodic death metal
Label: Nuclear Blast
Released: April 15:th, 2011

Lars Palmqvist - clean vocals
Roberth Karlsson - harsh vocals
Per Nilsson - guitars
Jonas Kjellgren - guitars
Kenneth Seil - bass
Henrik Ohlsson - drums

First of all, let's get this out of the way: Scar Symmetry is a better band with Lars and Roberth on vocals than they ever were with Christian Älvestam. Sure, the dude could sing, and he could do the growls and cleans, but in the studio. These 'new' guys bring it live, as well. That's important. If the previous offering, Dark Matter Dimensions, was a little hesitant, the new platter, mysteriously named The Unseen Empire, sees the vocalists in full confidence, delivering on all fronts.

Opening track "The Anomaly" could be a pop song, if you stripped it of the growls. Featuring a chorus smoother than the ass of a babe, it's an instant hit that only these guys can do. "I'm the poison that you need / I'm the hand that feeds / If you follow I will lead" croons Lars Palmqvist during the chorus, and you believe him. Yes you do. All of this underpinned by a meaty rhythm guitar and a steady drum beat. The song features an airy and somehow dreamy guitar solo that is the cherry on top.

By now, these guys have the formula harsh verse/clean chorus down to a pat and they make no mistakes. The speed varies, from mid tempo to pretty fucking fast, and before you know it, there's another solo to melt your face off. Sure, if you're not a fan of this brand of melodeath, there's nothing saving you now. But for Scar Symmetry, album number five is basically just about serving the discerning metalhead even more catchy/brutal tunes, where the word brutal applies with the restrictions that this particular genre imposes.

The song "Extinction Mantra" features some very deep growls from Roberth around the one-minute mark, accompanied by equally serious chugging guitars that have absolutely nothing do with breakdowns, but would invite comparisons based solely upon the following clean chorus. An interesting thing are the 'upper register' harsh vocals that feature in some songs. They are a welcome addition to the 'regular' deep grunts and something I believe the band has not done before. I'm not sure which of the vocalists is responsible, but kudos are due.

By now you must have figured out that I'm a fan of this album and this band. There's really no getting around Scar Symmetry and The Unseen Empire if you are interested in hearing what melodic death metal has to offer in 2011.