The Pigeon Post #1: New Music from Eclectika, Boneworm, Boil, and A Hero for the World


First, a brief introduction…

The Metal Pigeon blog is a relatively small endeavor. I am a staff of one; the writer, editor, and publisher. I realized long before I wrote my first article here that I couldn’t compete with the amount of content published on a near daily basis by metal sites that had multiple writers on staff. But it hasn’t been a drawback for me, as I’ve always meant for this blog to operate exactly as it has been, with an emphasis on long form opinion and criticism, and quality over quantity. I dabble in reviews for album’s I’m excited about and look forward to, or for bands that come out of the woodwork to surprise me and make me a fan, but I’m not on major metal record company promo lists yet (if ever) and pretty much have to rely on Spotify, YouTube, and yes spending cash to get access to music. No big deal really, but that’s a huge reason why I don’t review every noteworthy new album that comes out, or have something to post about every single day.


But lately, I’ve noticed more than just the usual clutter of metal related subscriber list emails in my inbox. Smaller metal labels  — mostly ones I haven’t heard of before — have begun to take notice of this little site, for good reasons I hope, and have started sending me promos of their artists’ new releases. Its been rather flattering as well as very cool, and honestly it all took me by complete surprise. See I have no delusions of grandeur about this blog. Its simply a better, broader, and more visible soapbox for me to voice my opinions, as opposed to the confines of some dusty metal web forum. But I am proud of it, its my own creation and I’m still blown away by the scores of people that  keep coming back to read my stuff and comment on it, and in that small way its been a success.


But here’s the dilemma I had: The promos these labels were sending me are for artists I’ve never heard of, let alone listened to before, and wouldn’t it seem just a tad strange that all of a sudden I publish an article about band “x” that YOU’VE likely not heard of before either? All while suggesting that it was something I was eyeballing down the pike months in advance as a possible album to review? I don’t pretend to have my fingers on the pulse of the metal underground, there’s just way too many releases, labels, and bands to even attempt to try. My time-learned philosophy for metal music has been to let the cream rise to the top. If a band is putting out good stuff they will garner interest from the community at large and at some point I will hear about it, check it out myself, and subsequently write something about it. Point is I have no overwhelming urge to be amongst the first ones to listen to and discover a band — that’s something you tend to grow out of, and for good reason.


However, I have a backlog of promos sitting in my inbox, and I feel bad about not having done anything with them. It got real when a French label sent me a physical copy in a nice envelope, with classy French stamps, addressed to The Metal Pigeon. I began to think about how to do something about all these promos, after all these people are spending effort and now actual money to get this out to me! I know how much it sucks to work on something, put it out there, and have it be ignored by everyone. If someone sends me something to listen to, it doesn’t take much of an effort on my part to actually find a moment to listen to it.


So here’s my solution, The Metal Pigeon’s Pigeon Post, a randomly reoccurring feature in which I will listen to these promo copies of releases by artists unknown to me, from small labels you’ve likely never heard of either, and review them with total unabashed honesty — even if what I end up writing is not complimentary. I throw that out there so that if any promotional reps are reading this, you’ll know what you’re getting into. I don’t make a habit of slamming bands whose music I’m not into, and I do try to provide understandable reasons for any criticism I dish out, but I will call a spade a spade if I have to.


So onwards, the premiere edition of The Pigeon Post!



Eclectika – Lure of Ephemeral Beauty:

This didn’t do much for me at first. So maybe its a good thing that I slacked off on the thinking up of a feature to talk about this album in, because time has slightly changed my opinion for the better. Eclectika is essentially a one man project based out of Corcelles-les-Monts, France, apparently a rather tiny hamlet in the middle of the Burgundy countryside. A suitably pleasant environment for creating atmospheric, symphonic, yet minimalist black metal right? In case you were wondering my nice envelope from France had this album in it. Sebastien Regnier is the driving force behind the project, apparently handling most of the lead vocals and all the instruments, but he’s joined by two guest vocalists, the most notable of which is a female singer named Noemie Sirandre whose high operatic vocals are scattered throughout the album. On paper, music like this should be right up my street, and when I listen to these songs I find myself liking a riff here and there, noticing a well done atmospheric moment, and admiring the range of Sirandre.


The problem is that those things occur by themselves, in scattered moments and never at one time altogether. I know I sound like a broken record in my reviews, but quality songwriting trumps everything else! If you don’t have that, then all the cool sonic elements musically and production wise never have a chance to coalesce or gel into anything memorable. The worst offender here is a song called “Cyclic Anagnorisis”, which features a really great atmospheric intro + riff + harsh vocal entrance that gets you thinking that the ceiling is about to shake, but nothing develops. Operatic female vocals come in awkwardly, the riff never deviates into anything interesting, the underlying ill-chosen bass tone is mixed waaaay too loud (so much so that it becomes distracting). The guitar solo halfway through is a surprise and actually interesting, but can we get some ‘heavy’ on these rhythm guitars please? What am I listening to? It sounds like someone playing guitar through a Super Nintendo. I know that low budget productions have their limitations, but when the guitars on Entombed’s late 80’s demos can sound so massive and crushing, I wonder how much a guitar sound like Eclectika’s is marred not by financial limitations as it is by selection of a guitar amp and head.


Its baffling because when Eclectika get it right, as they do on the brutal, punishing “Les Sept Vertus Capitales”, extra crunch on the guitars would add extra power to what is an already awesome series of riffs. On this track, all the disparate elements that make up this band’s sound find their appropriate points of entry and overall place. Unfortunately it comes more than halfway through the album, a revelation that strikes you with an impact of suddenly realizing at age 50 than all the ingredients that make up a hamburger actually taste better when put on top of each other. Argh, okay so maybe I’m being a bit ridiculous, but you can tell that this band has some quality influences, Therion, Paradise Lost perhaps? I’m not sure about their choice of song titles, like “Handicapped Sex in a Mental Orgy”… I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with that. A metal band wearing industrial clothes is a terrible look — knock it off.  But despite this being a critical review, the band accomplished the difficult task of capturing my attention: I am looking forward to what they do next. My earnest hope is that they work on the simple, yet challenging and demanding craft of songwriting… they’ve got all the ingredients ready, they just have to learn how to cook.



Boneworm – s/t:

Still not sure what to make of this resurgence in throwback doomy/Sabbathy metal that’s been popping up all over the place. The biggest local metal band in my home city of Houston is the recently signed to Napalm Records Venomous Maximus, who write good songs, have built up their following in a smart, savvy way, and yet seem to draw more hipsters to their live shows than actual metal fans. Whatever, its all about attracting an audience right? And they’re succeeding more than any other hard schlepping death metal band in our city’s infernal toilet of a local metal scene.


So maybe Portland’s Boneworm are on to something here. One glowing review on their bandcamp page described their music as “treacle-slow” (is it just me reading that as a Harry Potter reference?), and it certainly is paced similarly to traditional doom metal. But to me this is essentially sludge rock with a fondness for tritones, and when the gang shouted/barked vocals kick in, the whole affair takes on a punky vibe. And that’s when it sounds good —- I was interested in the parts where the vocals almost took on the challenge of delivering an actual hook. The final sections of “The Call” feature some attention grabbing vocal runs with alarming intensity, and I wanted more of that. Its everywhere else where my attention wanes.


I just don’t think I’m cut from the same type of cloth as these guys are when it comes to what inspires me musically and captures my imagination. To each his own and all that, and these guys got my attention with a really politely written email, and I certainly wish them well — but music like this is as exciting to me as doing laundry. On their page their lyrical concept is described with the following statement: “Which is the more terrifying, the intricate words of a sinister hex being cast, or plaintively being told that nothing matters because time is already against you?” Just so you don’t think I’m no fun at all, I actually take the bait for things like that more often than not, I like a band with ambition. But when you’re promising something bold like that, don’t attempt to deliver the goods with a musical approach that makes me go to the Bleacher Report to check out the latest picks in the NFL draft. Its boring. How about some vocal melodies? What if the musical tempo all of a sudden shifted in the middle of one of these fifteen minute long sludge n’ trudge behemoths? Something, anything to generate some interest.


When you’re on the outside looking in, as I suppose many people are with this particular style of rock/metal music, you find yourself wondering what kind of wiring the musicians creating this stuff are built with. Its as if I’m trying to understand an entirely different language. Am I missing something, and if so, I wonder if I could be talked into it? I lay this challenge down for fans of this style of music or indeed for the band and its fans: There’s a comment section below, someone help me see what I’m missing. Of course the thought occurs that maybe this is music meant for inebriated listening experiences —- to which I can only say: Fair.




Boil – aXiom:

This is an interesting one, and perhaps a band that some of you may already know. This is Boil’s third album apparently, a fact I couldn’t find on the Encyclopedia Metallum… which I thought was strange until I started listening to them and realized that this was a blending of progressive metal and alternative rock stylings. The folks at the metal archives can be a choosy bunch I guess. If you absolutely detest anything alt-rock related, you might be put off by singer Jacob Løbner’s tendency to sound as much like Maynard as he does your stereotypical melo-death vocalist. First thought is that I’m surprised at how tolerant I am for that type of stuff these days, especially considering I’ve spent the past decade slowly getting away from anything associated with “alternative” and “modern rock”. Not out of arrogance or elitism mind you, but simply because the deeper you go into the metal world, a lot of rock starts to sound safe, sterile, played-out, and well… boring.


I guess we all come back around to our old interests at some point to indulge some sort of facsimile sweet tooth that we’ve been neglecting. Its why I go back and listen to Garbage’s Version 2.0 album every few years or so. Boil remind me at times of Soilwork, Tool, latter-day Amorphis, and American alternative rock in general — but its a smart mix because Boil focus on songwriting and when they get it right, they REALLY get it right: Cue “At the Center of Rage” and “Heretic Martyr”, two songs where the balance between the metal and alt-rock elements are handled thoughtfully. Løbner’s vocals soar when they need to, lower to a soft croon for delicate moments, only to get surprisingly guttural in moments. The closing cut, “Almost a Legend”, is another highlight with its excellent recurring melodic guitar motif set against a stately tempo, a sort of rhythmic power ballad that ebbs and flows.


Boil are well served by choosing Jens Bogren to helm the production (he’s done Opeth, Soilwork, Katatonia, and Kreator’s Phantom Antichrist just to name a few), as everything sounds clear and well separated, and the vocals are given just the right amount of attention in terms of the right amount of reverb and not overdoing the filters. I suspect this isn’t a band I would’ve found out on my own, because despite all our good intentions, inner bias towards superficial things like a band name, or style of cover art often have a role in determining what we’re willing to spend time checking out. I’m pleasantly surprised at my enjoyment of this record. While its not something that I will be listening to non stop, I can see it being an album I’ll come back to when I’m in the mood for this particular blending of musical styles.




A Hero For the World – s/t:

Winners for the most ridiculous cover art and band name of 2013 thus far, A Hero For the World (that’s a mouthful dammit) deliver a debut album of rather typical modern power metal that is a mix of Firewind style musicality with Dragonforce goofball lyrics. I have a love for the best of this type of stuff, and a very high degree of tolerance for the mediocre versions. This band falls right above that mediocre category — they have promise but are mired in genre stereotypes to a fault. There are some occasional good moments on offer that suggest that on future releases they’ll manage to find their own sound and make a fan of me. Power metal is supported and nourished in Europe, its modern and ancestral home — so one reason to pay attention to the course of A Hero For the World’s career is that they actually hail from the Philippines. I applaud any new power metal band that steps onto the metal stage from a non-European territory, because lets face it, the very idea is not exactly welcome in local metal scenes anywhere in the United States.


I can hear some slight nods to the geographical cultural impact of the Philippines on a ballad like “Free Forever”, which is carried along by a slightly Asian sounding melody that is actually quite appealing, overriding the triteness of the lyrics. Sadly, there are no other infusions of the music of their region, something I’d think would add some uniqueness to their approach. Oh well, there’s nothing wrong with power metal for power metal’s sake, and whomever is the songwriting force in the band certainly has the budding talent to only get better. I think whats telling for me right now is that I really can’t think of anything else to say about this record… there’s nothing glaringly awful about it, but I highly doubt I’ll be coming back for more listens… there’s just better stuff out there in this vein. Keep trying dudes, I’ll check the next one out for sure.

Avantasia’s The Mystery of Time: Sonic Ambivalence

Since I’m going to be talking about Tobias Sammet and Avantasia, I’ll point out that this isn’t a conventional review in the sense that I’m trying to help you decide whether or not to check this album out — because of course you should. Sammet possesses a nearly peerless songwriting ability within the power metal/hard rock spectrum, and with said ability has delivered a career’s worth of superb work through Edguy and of course his solo/all-star project Avantasia. Every Sammet penned album can be guaranteed to contain a small to large handful of gems, and for that fact alone I believe he is worthy of respect and yes even gratitude. Speaking as a power metal fan, that level of consistency is a rare beast in a genre too often full of talented musicians who can’t write a decent tune. I became a fan of the man back in 2000 with Edguy’s seminal classic Mandrake, and both retrospectively and with each new release, Sammet continued to fill the soundtrack of my life with thundering, grandiose power metal epics and emotive, stirring ballads. Few others in power metal deliver the goods as well as he does. So as expected, there’s a lot on my mind regarding this record, and to better help myself keep all my thoughts in order I’ll be breaking this down into categorized, bite-sized chunks:


The Good:


Stylistic commitment:

When it comes to the music on offer here, Sammet sticks with what his overall approach has developed into, which is a broadly scoped fusion of anthemic hard rock mixed with traditional power metal. I’m going to cautiously say that this was a good call. There are probably quite a handful of fans that would prefer to see a full on return to the quasi-neoclassical sound of The Metal Operas, and while I understand those wishes, I also appreciate that asking an artist to conjure up new music in a style and head space that he is over ten years removed from is simply unrealistic. While The Scarecrow Trilogy did feature some wonderfully decadent orchestral keyboard laden tracks, Sammet relied far more on unadorned hard rock — and that was a line crosser for many fans at the time, who felt that the name Avantasia should conjure up music that was entirely regal, and Euro-centric-ally classical.  That being said, there does seem to be a knowing glance to The Metal Opera past that arrives in the presence of the German Film Orchestra Babelsberg on the album from front to back. The orchestra’s impact is felt throughout, providing an expansive bed of sound for even the more rock than metal cuts, giving them an appropriately epic feel.



Some really great songs:

But far more than the details of styles and sounds, its songwriting that matters the most to me, and Sammet digs up a couple of inarguable gems. The most obvious of these is the album standout “Savior in the Clockwork”, a surging ten minute monster with a chill inducing epic chorus that contains perhaps my favorite Sammet characteristic as of late: Goddamned awesome choir background vocals. They give what is already a great chorus that extra airtime with this huge soaring uplift — its pure ear candy and has been a prominent songwriting/production element in the past few Avantasia/Edguy albums. There’s a small but well known handful of vocalists that make up this choir, including the immensely likable Amanda Somerville, and quite frankly they should be talked about more in other reviews I’ve seen.


The award for most Avantasia-ian song goes to the truly exciting “Dweller in a Dream”, which harkens back to the classic pure symphonic metal style so vividly that you could probably slip it onto a burned copy of the first Metal Opera record and a newbie wouldn’t know it was a from another album. Maybe its the way Michael Kiske’s vocals finish Sammet’s refrain during the chorus, but I got flashbacks of 2000 — anyone else? And I’ll go ahead and blaspheme here (to some people), by saying that “Sleepwalking”, the most startlingly overt pop song Sammet has ever penned actually works surprisingly well; a semi-power ballad with a yearning, cinematic chorus that soars to those same dizzying heights that characterize so many of his past ballads. Producer/guitarist Sascha Paeth makes a wonderful contribution here with an elegantly simple guitar solo that softly echoes the primary melody and evokes a beautiful sentimentality.



Eric Martin / No lame interludes!:

And speaking of ballads, Sammet’s best decision on this album is to utilize Eric Martin’s seemingly ageless voice for the actual ballad, a classic piano and strings laden slow dance with a strong, emotionally stirring refrain and lush backing vocal arrangement. Martin’s voice is rich, suitably sandpapery, and inflected with just a touch of country that only enhances the heart wrenching qualities of Sammet’s composition by grounding it in an American southern earthiness.


Bonus points go to Sammet for good decision making on avoiding a concept album cliche of small non-song intervals, few bands can do them well and Sammet has had a sketchy record in the past when he’s tried it (the utterly obnoxious “Lucifer in Love” anyone?). To his credit he’s done a great job keeping that nonsense out of his past seven records, and I’ve noticed fewer and fewer bands doing it as well (hopefully this becomes a full fledged trend).



The Not So Good


Woeful filler and lyrics:

There are a couple songs that simply fall flat unfortunately, the first that comes to mind is the absolutely uninspired “The Watchmaker’s Dream”, which might just have one of the most boring choruses I’ve heard in years. Joe Lynn Turner is the guest vocalist on it, and while he’s a good singer, he comes off as rather indistinguishable here (more on that later), whereas someone with a bit more character in his voice could have possibly salvaged the track by making it their own. I could have lived without the other Kiske track on offer, “Where Clock Hands Freeze”, a total 180° from the excellent “Dwellers In a Dream”. Its this album’s version of the classic Helloween-inspired power metal speedster, and frankly its weak. Sammet has previously delivered the goods on these types of attempts on the past few albums, so its disconcerting to see him drop the ball here with Kiske — whats up with that? I could also have done without the quiet, orchestra only parts in “The Great Mystery”, which interrupt the flow of what is really a fantastic series of mini-songs folded into one long epic piece. Sammet included vague meandering orchestral parts on the title track for “The Scarecrow” album, and it struck me as lazy then as it does now — surely he can come up with a creative musical or lyrical bridge to serve as a connector for two disparate sections of a song. In other words cut it out with the faux atmospherics and stop boring us. You’re better than that Tobi.



I’ve always admired great lyricists in metal and elsewhere, and I feel that I’ve been rather patient and forgiving for the typicality of mediocre lyrics that permeate so much of metal. Power metal is unfortunately guilty of harboring some horrendous lyrical massacres, and my love of the overwhelming enjoyability of the genre has forced me to simply accept it as the norm. Sammet isn’t the worst lyricist in power metal — far, far from it — he often writes about interesting subject matter and has a particular English as a second language way with a phrase that is endearing. But I wouldn’t go out of my way to call him a good lyricist either; he overuses words, phrases, and imagery often, he relies on abstraction to a fault, and his tendency to use malapropisms is simply maddening. I let a lot of that go… especially when it comes to lyricists who aren’t writing in their native tongue, but sometimes I wish they’d make use of a proofreader every once in awhile.


So in the rather heavy, and aggressive “Invoke the Machine”, we get Ronnie Atkins trying to manfully bark out this travesty of a phrase: “Don’t you see what you are meant to be / Outside your cloud-cuckoo-land”. It almost, ALMOST… ruins the song for me. Maybe its just me but dammit that’s just embarrassingly bad — “cloud-cuckoo-land”? What is this, a Teletubbies album? What in the hell is that supposed to mean anyway?


The guest vocalist line-up:

No ones said it, but surely some have to be thinking it: This album would’ve been far better with different vocalists. This has to be the most ambivalence-inducing guest cast for an Avantasia album ever. And I know that it was going to be hard to top the absolutely stellar array of vocalists Sammet assembled for The Scarecrow Trilogy, so I do applaud his efforts in trying to diversify this lineup from previous casts. As I mentioned before, Eric Martin is a great choice, and I dig Ronnie Atkins and Bob Catley’s contributions as well. But Biff Byford, Joe Lynn Turner, Cloudy Yang, and to some extent Kiske himself were really uninspired choices here.


I include Kiske because his vocals only work if he’s getting exceptional songs, as he has on past efforts. And while I loved “Sleepwalking”, surely Amanda Somerville would have been a far better choice than Yang — who while not bad, suffers from awkward phrasing, spotty enunciation, and an all around weird approach to vocals… is she trying to be R&B, pop, rock, or none of the above? Hell if I know! As for Byford — I’ve never been a big fan and I can’t help but think when listening to his feature track here, “Black Orchid”, how much better it’d sound if Jorn was on vocals instead.


And while I realize that the guest vocalists on Avantasia albums are for the most part reflections of Sammet’s musical inspirations and interests, he has proven that he could stretch out before to spectacular results such as nabbing Roy Khan, or even Hansi Kursch himself on an old Edguy record. There’s a load of great talent out there, and maybe next time Sammet should set his sights wider to scope out some of the great contemporary vocalists out there in rock and metal that perhaps aren’t the traditional favorites (though no one would object to Bruce Dickinson… seriously how has that not happened yet?). I’m veering close into straight up nitpicking territory here I know, but this was the first time that an Avantasia guest list didn’t excite me (Martin being an exception), and I think that its been a bit of a damp towel on my enthusiasm for the album.



The Takeaway


Despite initially looking forward to The Mystery of Time, I’ll confess that I was surprised that a new record was even in the works. Sammet all but put the project to bed after the 2010 mini-tour, citing that he felt he had done all he could under the Avantasia banner. So why the sudden change? Especially when its pretty much been a known certainty that his main band Edguy has indeed suffered in wake of the post-2006 resurgence of Avantasia. Look, like I said earlier, all his albums have their share of excellent moments, and the past few Edguy albums have been no exception. But I can’t honestly sit here and say that The Age of the Joker, Tinnitus Sanctus, and Rocket Ride can compare to earlier Edguy classics.


Its obvious to myself and other Sammet devotees that Avantasia has gotten most of his attention for the past half a decade now; consider that all of a sudden Avantasia’s total album count tallies at six, only three behind Edguy’s nine. In fact, since 2006, Sammet has delivered four full length Avantasia albums plus two EPs, while Edguy has only released three albums. If Avantasia has gotten the better half of Sammet’s songwriting for the past few years, its reasonable to say that Edguy has diminished in turn. Slowly, gradually, Avantasia has become Sammet’s main priority and Edguy is increasingly an afterthought.


There’s a fellow who goes by the name Empyreal on the Encyclopedia Metallum, whose reviews for various Edguy/Avantasia releases so often mirror my feelings as to why I love Sammet’s work so much. And as a fellow details obsessed devotee, Empyreal points out exactly what I was thinking about The Mystery of Time,

A lot of these songs are more traditional rock-based ones, like Tobias usually does, even if they are markedly less “fun” sounding than he’s usually known for. I didn’t expect him to dive head-on into his new experiments without some forays back to the familiar territory, but it would help if some of these songs were better.

I think that Empyreal is touching on something that has been bubbling under the surface for many Sammet fans, namely, it seems that the blend of rock and metal is tilting very far into rock and further and further away from anything remotely metal related. Heck, the new album is even subtitled as “A Rock Epic” for that matter, the era of the Metal Opera is long over apparently, as Sammet is deliberately distancing himself from a tag that admittedly does seem more and more burdensome. Now this wouldn’t even be an issue if the two bands didn’t sound so stylistically similar, but they’re becoming virtually indistinguishable in that regard. The hard rock infusions don’t bother me by themselves, but it does beg the question: Is there really that much of a difference between Edguy and Avantasia anymore? And to further that question, is Edguy relevant to Sammet, and if so, is there a way to get it out of the grand shadow cast by his larger than life side project?




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