Looking Ahead at 2015!

Happy New Years everyone! Alright I’m a little late, but I wanted to let those year end lists marinate out there for a bit before issuing another update, as well as allowing myself a little break from any kind of “required” listening. How have I spent my intervening few weeks off listening wise? Oh you know, a little sweeping balladry from Sarah Brightman, revisiting classic Celtic-punk albums by The Pogues, reveling in Basil Poledouris’ epic score for Conan the Barbarian (the original 1982 classic, mind you), and metal-wise blanketing myself with loads of classic Blind Guardian as a side effect of my now unrestrained anticipation for their new album. Regarding the latter, its our favorite bards who instantly win the crown for the most anticipated album of 2015 —- I mean, who are we kidding here? The German legends may be skirting the edge of their regular four year studio release schedule (that ‘2015’ is going to throw off the 98-02-06-10 symmetry of their last four albums), but in these final weeks leading up to the release of Beyond the Red Mirror, I’m remembering everything I love about the band and all is forgiven. That being said, what are the runners up as my most anticipated metal releases/events?

As it turns out, the number of potential/possible/likely 2015 releases from major metal names is quite lengthy. So I’m going to try something new and lay out my most anticipated in a rather rapid fire list in alphabetical order with a thought or two about what I expect, or (more importantly) am hoping for:



Angra – Secret Garden: One of the first cannon shots of 2015 is the debut of Fabio Lione in his role as Angra’s third official vocalist, being the successor to Edu Falaschi who left in 2012. Look, I wasn’t wild about the Edu era although it had its occasionally good to great moments, but I’m completely un-enthused about the very idea of the Lione era. I was never sold on Rhapsody (of Fire ™), in large part owing to how little I found to like about Lione’s thin, wafery delivery. I respected the heck out of the guy for helping out Kamelot on their Khan-less tour a few years back, despite having to acknowledge that his vocals were completely wrong for the band’s tone and mid-tempo stylings. So on paper Angra should be a better fit for him than his stint in Kamelot, but the pre-release single “Newborn Me” is completely underwhelming so far. It won’t be long before I drop a review of this one, Angra daring to challenge Blind Guardian with a January release (the very idea…).


Cradle of FilthHammer Of The Witches (working title): In the past few years, the idea of a new Cradle album was met with a sad level of indifference from myself and as it seemed many others. Paul Allender’s role as guitarist was long past its expiration date, heard in recycled riffs and uninspired songwriting. Yet his departure in 2014 was surprising as it was enticing —- with all due respect to Allender, its now transparently obvious that he wanted to move on years before but the relatively steady nature of Cradle’s existence and operations kept him around for years and albums longer. The new guitarists, two guys named Ashok and Richard Shaw (there’s some dichotomy for you) are relatively unknown quantities, but Dani’s recent quote held some promise, “It’s gone back to the twin-guitar harmonies — very fast and ornate and atmospherically spooky, but lots of melody. I think it’s gonna surprise a lot of people.” A new lineup, fresh blood at the guitar spot —- it worked for fellow British metallers Judas Priest in a big way. Its make or break time for Cradle, I demand something in the vein of Midian!


The Darkness – Cliffhanger (tentative title): Yeah, yeah I know —– “Dear Pigeon, why are you wasting my eye strength on a fairly ludicrous joke band that’s barely even hard rock, let alone metal in any way, shape, or form?”. Longtime readers however will remember that The Darkness actually ended up on my best songs of 2012 list with a gem off their excellent Hotcakes album. And let me address a few things that tend to linger on about this band: They’re not a joke band, check their cited influences, actually listen to their music, and you’ll realize the Hawkins brothers bleed classic Thin Lizzy, Queen, AC/DC, and a splash of Def Leppard. More importantly, they write wonderfully catchy songs with clever hooks and turns of phrase, with loose, Izzy n’ Slash melodic guitar interplay. Are they full of a particularly British sense of humour? Absolutely, but its part of their charm, their music is made with such attention to craft and detail that it demonstrates a conviction that a “joke” band simply wouldn’t bother with.


Dimmu Borgir – TBA: It will likely be just over five long years since the release of Dimmu’s last album, the unfortunately titled but otherwise decent Abrahadabra. I loved the eponymous “Dimmu Borgir” off that album, one of the band’s catchiest singles in years (it had a pretty decent music video too), but the majority of the album made me wonder how much there was possibly left to explore in their heavily symphonic black metal style. I’m not really sure what to expect from these guys now, but it really seems like a stylistic evolution ala Satyricon might be in order. Blut Aus Nord just dropped a new album of classic Norwegian second wave black metal that is bracing, fresh, and revitalized… proving in one fell swoop that there’s still life left in the old traditions. Maybe the way forward for Dimmu is to look back in order to progress their sound. More of the same from them would be disappointing in a way, especially after a five year gap.


Enslaved – In Times: Due in early March, the next Enslaved album is right up there among my most anticipated of 2015, this despite the band’s frustrating lack of Texas tour dates on yet another “North American” tour. That aside, I’m eager to hear what direction these guys veer off into this time. Their last album RIITIIR (a 2012 year end lister) was a blending of the progressive tendencies of 2008’s Vertebrae with traditional metal and rock elements, a stark contrast to the more punishingly straightforward black metal of 2010’s Axioma Ethica Odini. To say that the band has been on a seesaw of stylistic shifts is an understatement —- Enslaved is simply the most unpredictable band in metal today. Personally I’m hoping for a return to a more primal, moodier, mid-career era sound, akin to the Viking infused charm of Below the Lights and Isa. If you’re new to Enslaved, consider the latter two albums your assigned homework.


Faith No More – TBA: If the band’s 2014 single “Motherfucker” was any indication, we’re in for a treat. I love the way that song didn’t sound like anything I had ever heard from the band in their 90s heyday, yet still sounded unmistakably like Faith No More in all their ugly, beautiful, and baffling glory. It also put to rest any remote moaning about the lack of Jim Martin’s involvement, as Jon Hudson is as creative and adaptable a guitarist as the band needs (surely his work on Album of the Year should’ve sold people on that). More promising is that the band are recording the new album entirely on their own without the involvement of a record label, and given what they got away with when on a major label, who knows what juxtapositions and bizarreness we’ll get from song-to-song. I’m just so happy to have the band back, their work felt incomplete upon their disbandment in 1998, and there are precious few bands that have the kind of personality that FNM had in spades. Maybe a Metal Pigeon Recommends feature is in order for these guys prior to the album release… something I’ll keep in mind.


Iron Maiden – TBA: Much like Dimmu Borgir, a five year gap will separate Maiden’s upcoming album from its predecessor, too long of a time in my opinion for a band whose members are pushing 60 (if not already past it). Its been frustrating to have this blog out for so many years now with absolutely zero writing on my favorite band of all time (I mean seriously, I’d have expected a Bruce solo album in the interim at least). Maiden has apparently been busy recording, the proof of which was delivered in the form of a cryptic fan club Christmas card in December that featured Eddie walking into a studio. Their last effort, The Final Frontier was a great album, with songs that harkened back to their Brave New World style with a splash of Somewhere Back In Time’s futuristic keyboard arrangements. Sure Steve Harris does tend to get a little long-winded, but its my slight hope that Bruce and Adrian might get more involved in the songwriting and balance out his longer compositions with some of their concise, catchy songwriting-duo magic.


Nightwish – Endless Forms Most Beautiful: Second only to Blind Guardian as my most anticipated album of 2015, I have the highest of hopes for the debut of Floor Jansen as the third Nightwish vocalist. She is perhaps the most adaptable of them all, capable of classical operatics, as well as the wildly versatile pop-rock accessibility of Anette Olzon. Having seen Jansen with the band in concert myself, I thought her most valuable resource as a vocalist was her ability to project power in a way that both Olzon and Tarja were unable to. Simply put, she can belt it out when she wants to, an ability that immediately makes her the metalized equal to Marco Hietala’s soaring, accented tenor. Of course Tuomas Holopainen’s songwriting will be my primary focus of attention, and judging by his choice of song titles, cited inspirational reading, and guest narrator in Richard Dawkins —- we’re in for a thematic album at the very least (something entirely new for the band). Its hard to envision a Nightwish album better than 2011’s Imaginaerum, but here’s to Holopainen giving it his best shot.


Queensryche – TBA: While Queensryche’s self-titled debut with new vocalist Todd LaTorre was a solid return to form, it had severe flaws. The most glaring of which was song length, most of the cuts on the album hovering in the three to four minute range that could’ve benefited from additional verses or expanded guitar solos. Now with all the legal battle drama behind them, this is Queensryche’s time to truly get back to their progressive metal roots —- especially with their debut at Wacken Open Air (finally!) only eight months away. This is a band that needs to be out there touring with actual modern metal artists, not 80s glam-rock bands, and hopefully their time at Wacken will yield fruit in that regard as well as serve as their re-introduction to the European metal audience as a whole. Oh and getting the album out before that show would be good too.

Scorpions – Return to Forever: This is surprising on a number of levels, as 2010’s Sting in the Tail was supposed to be the band’s final studio album, and its subsequent tour was to be their last ever. Even as recently as their late 2013 MTV Unplugged in Athens the band was demonstrably in winding down mode, delving into deep cuts from their discography for that album as well as openly discussing their career in retrospective terms in interviews surrounding the project. An additional phase of their winding down was to step briefly into the studio to flesh out some song ideas stockpiled in the past and quietly release them —- this idea apparently has blown up into a full-fledged new studio album with a world tour on its heels to follow. I guess I’m okay with this… it does lend a bit of irony to their song “The Best Is Yet to Come”,  it being the closing song on the track listing of that aforementioned “final” album. One wonders if Return to Forever will be their swansong, or they’ll stick around for one more.



Noteworthy Metal Related Events:

Savatage at Wacken Open Air: Fifteen years after the last Savatage tour, the band is getting back together for a last hurrah on the biggest stage in the metal universe. Or is it really the last? Chris Caffery recently suggested otherwise, and its anyone’s guess as to whether or not that will be a tour or a brand new studio album. Seeing as how I’m going to have to check out the Wacken performance on the livecast, I’m hoping for a subsequent North American tour. Oh and if they’re going to do this Wacken show without getting some additional cameras in there for a DVD recording, I will be a tad annoyed. Needless to say this is one of the most widely anticipated metal events of the year.


Nightwish / Sabaton / Delain in Houston: Yeah this is a personal one, or maybe not if you’re catching one of the many tour dates this amazing bill will be stopping at on its spring North American trek. This will mark my third time seeing Nightwish, the second time I’ll be seeing Delain, and jeez… the seventh or eighth time I’ll have witnessed Sabaton and their high adrenaline stage performance. Should be one to remember.


Will Immortal release their new album: I guess I should be asking, is Abbath going to win the rights to the Immortal name so he can release the album that he’s already recorded with other musicians? Read up on this if you are just now hearing of it, but it basically boils down to Abbath vs Demonaz/Horgh over the rights to the Immortal trademark. I’m firmly on the side of Abbath in this dispute, because after all its his vocals and his riffs that make up the bulk of the band’s discography that we love so much. He is for all intents and purposes Immortal —- and even though Demonaz has been the band’s lyricist, we’re not talking Louise Gluck levels of poetic brilliance here, I’m sure Abbath can more than manage them on his own. If Abbath’s accusations about Demonaz and Horgh’s feet dragging are true, then its appalling to hear of them trying to deny everyone a new album with lengthy legal proceedings.

And that wraps it up, hope it helps a little in setting the metal stage for 2015 —- here’s to a great year for everybody!

April Power Metal Showers: New albums by Rage, Pharaoh, and Kiske-Hansen reunion Unisonic

After a rather slow opening to 2012 metal wise, things are starting to pick up here at the dawn of spring with a flurry of relatively new releases that I’ve been listening to in random fashion for the past few weeks. I have quite a few on my list that I want to devote individual reviews to and will be in the coming weeks, and surprisingly the most noticeable genre being represented amongst these new releases is power and trad metal. So to get a jump on the ever-growing stack of albums that will need reviewing, I’m presenting my opinions on three selections from the aforementioned genres in one go – starting with the seemingly eternal German trad/power metal vets in Rage:




Rage – 21: Look, if you know about Rage, then you should already understand what to expect from a new album by them, Accept-like German teutonic heavy metal meets Megadeth-ish thrash and speed, stuff your experimental sounds and modern influences nonsense. There’s been a few things here and there with symphonies, some detailed progression within albums that would only be noticeable to die-hards, but one the whole, Rage delivers meat and potatoes German heavy metal on a rather consistent basis. Unfortunately, one of the side effects of such reliability in the metal world is that unless your band features a true gem of a songwriter/songwriting team, you’re going to end up delivering way more average to good albums, rather than great ones. I’ve always wanted to love Rage, and I check out each new album in hopes that they deliver a knock out like they almost did with 2002’s Unity – and this might be the closest they’ve come since then. Their newest, 21, is a good, not great record, but it does have a pair of truly great metal anthems that are worth talking about: namely the slow burning “Feel My Pain” and the truly stellar masterpiece “Forever Dead”, which by itself is going to be responsible for my including a top ten songs list alongside the albums list at the end of this year. What a track, check it out here:






Unisonic – Unisonic:

The long hoped for reunion of two power metal icons, Michael Kiske and Kai Hansen – I think we all figured that either it’d end up as a Helloween reunion tour cash grab or never at all. However fate or Tobias Sammet, you pick, intervened and brought these two together on stages across the world during Avantasia’s short run of tourdates during December of 2010. Their rekindled musical union took a further turn upon Kiske inviting Hansen to join him in his newly forming band Unisonic. Just a brief warning, the end result isn’t Keeper-era Helloween, or even remotely close to anything resembling the classic power metal archetype these guys helped to create. What you get is a record full of brightly produced, melody heavy, catchy guitar rock with Kiske’s smooth vocal delivery at the forefront that overall most vividly invokes the better parts of Van Hagar with some Scorpions, Styx, and general AOR stylings. Here’s the thing with this album, some people might be disappointed because they had differing expectations, but for anyone who goes in with an open mind and a general appreciation for good hard rock with a bit of a positive slant to it will be greatly rewarded. I really am enjoying this record, its nothing earth shattering, but its a great listen when you’re in the mood for something easy, ultra-melodic, catchy and dare I say it, happy sounding.  The real highlights here are “I’ve Tried” and “Never Change Me”, the former a moody, shifting song with a panoramic chorus that only Kiske could deliver; while the latter features one of the most compulsively catchy melodic hooks you’ll hear all year. Another one to YouTube up is “Never Too Late”, which features a Green Day-ish pop-punky vibe to it which is alarming at first listen but not distasteful in the slightest. Honestly, I’m surprised at my reaction to this album, I didn’t think much of it upon my initial listening experience but it has rapidly grown on me.






Pharaoh – Bury the Light:

I’ve been vaguely aware of the name Pharaoh over the years, but it was one of those things that I just saw in passing and never bothered to investigate. Finally I heard a track of this newly released album on a favorite metal radio show and my jaw dropped. These guys do a blend of old school styled NWOBHM meets darkened trad metal, and yet avoid taking the cliche filled routes by the numerous crop of current retro-styled bands popping up everywhere. You get the feeling when listening to Bury the Light that this is the only metal these guys could, and would want to play. Strong hints of Metal Church, classic Metallica, and particularly classic Savatage abound, the latter most noticeable because the vocalist during high notes is a dead ringer for Jon Oliva. That’s fine by me, its nice to have a modern band around that draws serious influence from one of trad metal’s great yet often forgotten giants – long overdue really. Its hard to single out highlights because I find myself content to simply let this play from start to finish, but upon closer inspection I’ll spotlight for YouTube look-up purposes the dramatic building up found in “The Spider’s Thread”, where the finale section of the song delivers a payoff that touches the very nature of what I love about metal. The longest track on the record, “The Year of the Blizzard” manages to justify being the epic of the album by featuring some very old school flourishes: mellow acoustic sections, twisting guitar harmony-led passages over tortured Oliva-esque vocals all while still managing to deliver precision thrash. “Cry” even has some moments that echo the best of classic Blind Guardian without sounding anything remotely like the German legends – and if you’re thinking that all these references to other bands makes Pharaoh seem a bit unoriginal, I feel it necessary to justify the comparisons by emphasizing just how truly fresh this album feels, and to simply let the comparisons give you an idea of what traditions this band seems to be drawing from. Sure its not reinventing the wheel, but well written and inspired metal doesn’t need to. Its hard to not see this album being in my top ten list at the end of the year.



[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Otj5dZOz0s&w=560&h=315]

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