The Metal Pigeon’s Most Anticipated of 2012

Even though February is almost over, I’ve only just recently felt as if I’ve closed my book on metal in 2011. I suppose its always the way with me, it takes me a good bit of time to process all the year end lists on websites, blogs and magazines. I’ve spent most of the past few weeks playing catchup on stuff I missed, and haven’t give much attention to whats on the horizon. Really quickly, here’s some random thoughts on my five most anticipated metal releases/events of 2012:


Therion – TBA: I honestly didn’t expect this to be announced so soon after their last release, given that Therion do like to take their time with new albums, but perhaps something was urging Christofer Johnsson to shorten the wait time for the follow up – some internal nagging that was telling him what many Therion fans already knew, that 2010’s Sitra Ahra didn’t live up to expectations. The expectations were, at least from this fan’s point of view, that there would be an appropriately epic and breathtaking series of songs to conclude what had become a quadrilogy (with Sirius B, Lemuria, and Gothic Kabbalah). They were hitting home runs with those prior three albums, without exaggeration I consider all three to be some of the most wonderfully unique music I’ve ever listened to, in all genres, ever. So all my gross salivating over Sitra Ahra leading up to its release date quickly ran dry when I listened to the album for the first time.


One of the hallmarks of Therion has always been their ability to temper their extravagant, bombastic symphonic and progressive tendencies with restraint and elegance. Here it seemed, however, that Johnsson had lost his handle on whatever internal mechanism he’d always had that allowed him to say “Eh, thats overdoing it”, or “That sounds garish, even for us”. Guest vocalists delivered jarringly bad or ill fitting vocal takes that ruined potentially great songs, arrangements that in the past would be tempered by space or silence were instead overloaded to ruin. Not all was bad, the title track, “Unguentum Sabbati”, and the truly excellent “Kali Yuga III” were three songs that made me long for what could have been. So why have so much anticipation for this upcoming album from a band that just released an average at best album? The hope anyway, is that with the new album representing a clean slate, lineup wise as well as conceptually, Johnsson will feel comfortable in re-simplifying his approach and veering away from the apparent need to outdo each previous album’s bombast. Also, as fanboy-ish as it sounds, I don’t believe Therion can put out an average record twice in a row – they’re just that great overall.  The previous time they released an “average” record, they followed it up with a masterpiece in Theli. History repeats itself?


Burzum – Umskiptar: You have to hand it to Varg, he delivered the goods upon his release from incarceration with Belus and Fallen, both excellent albums. I was far more impressed with the latter and its strikingly unique approach on certain tracks. Who says Norwegian black metal is stale and uninspired? They must have not heard “Jeg Faller”, or “Valen”. The development of his signature sound was pushed to unexpected new directions, and Varg found out that he wasn’t adverse to vocal melodies either (!). My first listen to Fallen took me by complete surprise, it was like hearing the classic Burzum sound yet unlike it at the same time. A complete surprise in many respects. And this is why the recently announced Umskiptar is so high on my list of the most anticipated albums to be released this year (the jawdropping cover art doesn’t hurt either). In fact, the only thing that will top my surprise at hearing Fallen for the first time will be if Umskiptar doesn’t make my top ten of 2012.




Wintersun – Time: I know what you’re thinking, what makes me think that this will be the year that extreme metal’s own Chinese Democracy will finally be released? Call it a hunch, but enough time has passed already for Jari Mäenpää to get his technical situation sorted (I won’t go into the stupid details for those who don’t know them, only will pause to wonder why his record label, Nuclear Blast, won’t pony up a small check to pay for his hardware upgrade to finally help them get this damn thing released and recoup the budget?!). The reality at this point is that its a very fair question to ask if anyone will really care once it is released. Invariably it will be met with its fair share of criticism, the kind due any album that overstays its time in the oven and can’t meet the nigh insurmountable expectations its created. Its similarities to Axl Rose’s long delayed grandiose commercial bomb are eerily similar, an insanely multi-tracked production overseen by a perfectionist nutter, rumored problems with both the studios and equipment, and even Monty Python-esque train wreck humor in the form of noisy construction next door. I look forward to finally hearing the thing however, and I think 2012 is finally the year we’ll have the opportunity, if only for the fact that by May it will be six full years since production first began, and I don’t see Nuclear Blast willing to wait any longer than that. Admittedly, I’m far more interested in hearing Time simply because it has taken so long to complete, than I am because I’m some die hard Wintersun fan (how can you be a die hard fan of a band with just one album released in ’04?) If there actually are many others out there who are similarly curious, then perhaps both Wintersun and Nuclear Blast will find that it was worth all the time and trouble.


Iron Maiden’s “Maiden England” World Tour: On Saturday, August 18th, I will attend Iron Maiden’s final stop of the North American leg of their newly announced “Maiden England” world tour, a show which promises to echo its VHS namesake’s classic setlist as well as other songs from that era. In essence this is a sequel to the “Somewhere Back in Time” world tour of 2008, just advancing up the timeline of the band’s golden 80s era a bit. Well, I couldn’t be more thrilled. This is in fact my favorite band of all time, the kind of favorite band that underlines and anchors so many things I love about metal as a whole. Having another chance to see them before their soon impending retirement is not something that I take lightly — I’m very well aware that this could be the last time I get to see the mighty Maiden, and the fact that Houston gets the final tour date is all the more sweeter. When I first heard the news, it buoyed me for the rest of the workday and beyond, I felt giddy and wanted the show to be that night. I actually hadn’t listened to Maiden in a good many months but that day I went home and watched a few Maiden DVDs and had flashes of the rush I experienced upon seeing them live for the very first time. This is a purely self-centered addition to this list, but I think deep down, I’m anticipating this show more than any actual albums this year.


Darkthrone – TBA: I loved Circle the Wagons and quite frankly, can’t understand the animosity some fans feel towards the past few Darkthrone releases. Is it really all that far removed from the band’s 90’s pure black metal output? It still sounds like Darkthrone to me, albeit a bit more experimental in some areas (see “Circle the Wagons”, “These Treasures Will Never Befall You”) — and much to the chagrin of those who dislike the newer stuff, Fenriz has mentioned offhandedly that the newer material will echo the aforementioned songs. I view it as a welcome stylistic shift, I love those songs, as well as the rest of that record. I’ve checked my I-Tunes count play and see that its my most listened to album in their discography, even over Transilvanian Hunger. Haters be damned, I love new Darkthrone and hope they keep on the track of making the purists mad. I don’t always feel that way about a lot of bands but in this case, the songwriting seems to keep getting better as a result. Full speed ahead Gylve.

Blind Guardian – Memories of a Time to Come

BG_MTTCSo what exactly is this album supposed to be? I’ve seen this question thrown around a bit lately as many of us wonder whether or not to start hitting the currency converters on our phones to find out the cheapest potential price at which to import this. The name Blind Guardian is synonymous with quality and more often than not, we as fans buy first and ask questions later. Billed at its best as a three disc set (an abbreviated 2 disc version is also available), Memories of a Time to Come collects sixteen previously recorded and released Blind Guardian songs culled from the entirety of their discography, and either remixes or re-records fifteen of them. The lone untouched track  is “Sacred Worlds”, from 2010’s At the Edge of Time — and before you ask, there is no explanation as to why it is included this way. The third disc of the set features the band’s old demo recordings from the era in which they were known as Lucifer’s Heritage (some tracks are listed as reworked, but its difficult to tell what that exactly means). View the complete spec sheet here.


The announcement of this compilation came as something of a surprise, especially given that the only releases the band had mentioned during their last press campaign as being ‘on the horizon’ were the orchestral project and the next proper Blind Guardian album. Additionally, an interview with Hansi and Andre on Italy’s Spazio Rock suggested that the only remixing project the band had planned, however vaguely, was a complete redo of 2002’s A Night at the Opera. The only thing I can guess at is that Virgin Germany, Blind Guardian’s previous label, was going to release a basic best-of compilation regardless of the artist’s approval or disapproval, and the band wisely chose to include themselves in the process in an attempt to turn it into something unique. I suppose that’s blindly giving Blind Guardian a lot of credit, but I can’t see a label coming up with an idea that is a bit more expensive than just your simple cut and paste best-of compilation (especially for a band that is no longer on their roster).


The selling points being touted are the newly re-recorded versions of “The Bard’s Song (The Hobbit)”, “Valhalla”, and the 2001 epic that defined pomp, “And Then There Was Silence”. The first thing I can say about this compilation is that while the three re-recordings are admirable in both intent and execution, they are rather overvalued in proportion to the actual meat of this beast, namely, the remixes. Before I start on those, I have to get this out of my system: Were Blind Guardian fans really clamoring for a re-recorded version of the lesser half of the two part “Bard’s Song”? It has always been for me the often skipped over track on Somewhere Far Beyond, and I know its never really been a concert staple like its much praised better half…now those two reasons alone could be all the motivation the band needs to give the tune a second look, but frankly the decision to re-record this particular song over many other potential candidates baffles me. I guess the positive takeaway here is that I’ve ended up listening to the song more than I ever did in its original incarnation, though I’m still rather unmoved by it.


The newly recorded “Valhalla” is a significant improvement on the original, even Kai sounds better here, and the guitar solo section is smartly changed up in a satisfying way — however, overall there is nothing all too different going on, this is basically a studio version of how the band approaches this song live. I don’t know what I was expecting, but perhaps something akin to the pair of acoustic recordings found on the old b-sides compilation The Forgotten Tales back in 1996, which completely broke down and re-imagined the original recordings to create something really fresh and unique, which gave the songs some additional or different emotional resonance. This is something I find myself thinking about especially when listening to the new “And Then There Was Silence”. You know what? I prefer the original. Sure it sounded far more compressed, claustrophobia-inducing even, but it was sharper, in terms of execution in the melodies as well as vocal harmonies. The new version feels rounded, softened, less urgent. I found myself wondering whether or not it would have been better served by a remix, I think it would have.


And now on to the remixes themselves. Well, this is why you should drop the cash on this. These are remixes in the proper definition of the term, and every single song that undergoes this treatment benefits as a result. What were once compressed background vocals are now given room to breathe, have their own space, and stand out. Hansi’s lead vocals are placed up front more, Andre’s leads are clearer…hell it seems that everything is able to breathe easier, and given space to ring true. I’m not an audiophile so I can’t get any more specific than I’m being, but classics like “Nightfall”, “Bright Eyes” and “Imaginations From the Other Side” really benefit, they just pop. Were I introducing someone to Blind Guardian I’d make sure these were the versions they’d listen to first. In saying that I realize that the two disc version of this release would make a great introduction to the band for a new listener, a good mix of selected cuts spanning a career of fine moments, presented in the best possible sound quality. I suppose the real draw here is for hardcore Blind Guardian fans, who have already listened to the original recordings of these songs thousands of times and will be able to greatly appreciate the differences presented with the remixed versions. As for the Lucifer’s Heritage demos on the optional third disc, well, they’re demos, embryonic skeletons that were fleshed out for the better later. You either enjoy listening to their imperfections or you don’t.


In summation, the triple disc is worth the purchase if you’re a die hard fan, just take the re-recordings with a grain of salt and enjoy the remixes and demos. Give the two disc version to that one friend who is still not yet a convert.

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