Film Review: Midsommar (R)

There are few things more terrifying than Swedish hippies: well-mannered, meat pie munching, salt-herring slurping, commune dwelling devils that they are. Actually, that’s not true. There are few things less threatening than Swedish hippies. They’re total goobers. But that’s all part of director Ari Aster’s gambit in Midsommar. The audience knows this is a horror movie going in, they know the nature worshipping flower children are going to be bad guys, so Aster dares you to be afraid of them by making them incredibly likeable. And it works. Sure the hippies have a couple of creepy customs, but they’re super nice and willing to share their shroom tea, plus they have a bear. Aster fills the film with so much sunshine and good vibes that the steady stream of malice tends to trickle by unnoticed, like a psychedelic trip that’s gradually turning bad.

At its core, Midsommar is a breakup movie. Dani’s (Florence Pugh) and Christian’s (Jack Reynor) relationship is at its end, but gets extended beyond the expiration date due to a family tragedy that results in Dani being reluctantly invited on a summer trip to a Swedish commune. Dani is still haunted by the loss of her family and is scared to be alone. Christian, meanwhile, is too cowardly and lazy to break things off. Luckily, there’s a bunch of smiling Swedes in a surrealistic land of sunshine to help them through their issues.

Aster seems to be positioning himself as a playful trickster despite his bleak subject matter. Midsommar is filled with deceit and narrative sleights of hand. The very first image of the film lays out the entire plot, and yet pointing that out will spoil nothing. Aster brazenly reveals plot points throughout the film in ways that only multiple viewings and a passing knowledge of Elder Futhark runes will make apparent. But these sorts of winks and nods are for studious viewers and take nothing away from the story if unnoticed.

Midsommar makes a perfect companion piece to Aster’s debut, Hereditary. Hereditary was cold and dark, Midsommar is bright and sunny. Hereditary is about being burdened by familial baggage, Midsommar is about nihilistically casting off that burden. Both films trade in deep psychological torment, utilizing gore and grotesqueries as mere punctuation. Aster revisits the familiar themes of family trauma, mental illness, and smashed faces and redeploys a score of disconcerting strings that mimic and meld into all manner of screams and cries.

Also like Hereditary, this film is destined to be polarizing. Although engaging and briskly paced, Midsommar is still a two-and-a-half-hour slow burn drama. This is not the sort of horror that leans on indestructible slashers and whiz-bang chase sequences. So if you aren’t into artsy movies and/or suffer from a short attention span, you may want to skip this one.

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Disrupt Festival rocks Atlanta

The first annual Disrupt Festival, presented by Rockstar Energy, made its stop in Atlanta at Cellairis Amphitheatre at Lakewood on June 28th, bringing veteran punk rock bands together in the wake of the now-defunct Van’s Warped Tour. Photographer Jenna Hughes was on the scene to capture the nostalgic show!

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Circa Survive

Thrice

The Used

 

The Royal Affair Tour ft. Yes, Asia, John Lodge, and Carl Palmer’s ELP Legacy – in Baltimore

 

On Saturday, June 22, nearly four thousand excited concert-goers filtered into the seats of Baltimore’s MECU Pavilion.  They were set to embark upon a fresh voyage to the seas of nostalgia, and boy were they excited.  I was excited too, as I hadn’t had the pleasure of witnessing any of these household names in the flesh before that evening.  And it wasn’t too long before the show got underway.

Carl Palmer’s ELP Legacy Band (ft. vocalist Arthur Brown)
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“Are the drums loud enough?” Palmer asked the crowd.  Purely rhetorical.  He knew full well, as did all those in attendance, that he was laying a beating on those drum heads.  And he wasn’t the only one getting into this set, the audience being a given.  The guitarist, Paul Bielatowicz, was bouncing all around, and yet managed to perfectly place each and every note.  Opposite him was David Pastorius on bass guitar, whose thick basslines stitched an aural quilt alongside Palmer’s drumbeats, occasionally jumping to the forefront with slap lines that thrilled the crowd.  And not least of all was Arthur Brown, a living art piece: decked out in a post-apocalyptic costume consisting of a red jacket, black feathered wings, golden pants, cowboy boots, stunning face paint, and a helmet armed with flashlights.  He made me feel as if I was watching musical theater, to the backdrop of hits from Emerson, Lake, and Palmer; Aaron Copland; and The Crazy World of Arthur Brown.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get any photos of this set, but I assure you it was a spectacle and well worth you attending to put your own eyes and ears on it.
 

John Lodge (of The Moody Blues)
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When I heard the words of “Legend Of The Mind” dance across my ears, it was like being transported back to my childhood.  Much of the music of this evening was played to me by my parents growing up, but hearing it live sounded wonderfully vibrant: a credit to the great players on stage.  John Lodge’s voice was full of life and energy, and so was his band.  And it wasn’t just the energy, but also the chemistry between them.  At one point we saw Lodge, guitarist Duffy King, and guitarist / cellist Jason Charboneau set into a synchronized battle stance, headstocks alternating back and forth in an Iron Maiden-fashion.  They were smiling and having fun!  And as an audience member, seeing the band have a good time always puts me in high spirits, so by the time “I’m Just A Singer (in a Rock and Roll Band)” came on, I was cheerfully singing along (though I would have anyway).  To close his set, we had the honor of seeing Yes’ Jon Davison join Lodge for a rendition of “Ride My See-Saw,” much to the pleasure of all in attendance.

 

Asia
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I have to give credit where credit is due: Asia is the reason I was able to provide you with all these photos.  They were kind enough to approve my press credentials, and for that I am grateful.  But please don’t think this affected my review.  I do have great things to say about their set, but it’s based on the merits of the performance, I assure you.

Firstly, this incarnation of Asia is different in that it features the introduction of Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal as lead vocalist and guitar, replacing Sam Coulson on guitar and relieving Billy Sherwood of vocalist duties.  I’ve been a fan of Thal and his expansive career for around fifteen years, first enjoying his solo career, then his lengthy stint with Guns N’ Roses, and recently his endeavors as a member of the prog super group, Sons Of Apollo.  The only thing which surprised me was his role here as vocalist, not due to being ill-equipped for such a job, but rather because it wasn’t his usual role in bands like this.  But within the first few notes of “Go,” I was convinced that he was going to do justice to John Wetton’s version of the songs.  His voice, matched up with the dulcet backup vocals of Sherwood, truly worked well together.

In fact, all of the band members seemed to work well together.  Palmer was solid as ever throughout the night, but the chemistry really shined through with the duet of Geoff Downes and Thal performing “The Smile Has Left Your Eyes” with the keys commanding the atmosphere of the pavilion.  Downes continued to show his prowess during his solo performance, juggling two different melodies on separate keyboards, which still boggles my mind.  During the second half of the set, we were greeted with the arrival of original member and current Yes guitarist, Steve Howe, to huge applause.  The five-some then, with Thal ditching his guitar, finished up the set with a four-song streak from their debut album, and ended with “Heat Of The Moment” to a thrilled, on-its-feet audience.

 

Yes
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At this point in the evening, the lights had gone out in the city and stars filled our eyes.  Not stars from the night’s sky, but ones dancing across the LED backdrop of the stage.  As members arrived on stage, many of which had just been on stage with Asia, they did so to a standing ovation from every member of the audience.  As they launched into the first song, it was clear that they were all excited to be here and were just as in-sync as you’d expect from the legendary Yes, a fact that was evident from the woman to my right exclaiming to her friend, “I can’t believe how good they sound live!”

Unlike Asia, who focused on the first few albums from their storied career, Yes’ setlist covered songs from every one of their 70s albums starting at “The Yes Album” and a few 80s tracks for good measure.  Included in these was the absolutely monumental, 22-minute “The Gates Of Delirium” from the 1974 album Relayer, a tune that hasn’t seen much play since 2001.  What a treat!

The guys closed out the show with a cover of John Lennon’s “Imagine,” featuring drummer Alan White who had originally recorded the song with Lennon, and finally “Roundabout” which converted the seated audience into a migrating dance party.  As the song came to an end and the band took their bow, I had little doubt in my mind that everyone was about to leave satisfied.  In fact, all I heard on my way home were people remarking how great all the bands had been, and one stating it was the best concert they’d ever attended.  Needless to say, you should do yourself a favor and check the show out when it comes your way.  It’s a rare opportunity to see all of these great bands in one place.

MindMaze in Sparta

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MindMaze is one of those bands that I try to make sure I see anytime I can. Their music is my kind of progressive metal, taking cues from legends such as Fates Warning and Queensryche, but producing songs that are entirely their own. There is a level of technicality and precision to their music, too often overlooked by other bands, and yet their stage show is far from admiring statues standing in place. And while my interactions with them are few and far between, they’re always kind and appreciative of those who support them and willing to spend quality time with everyone who seeks it. Their recent concert at Sparta Inn in Sparrows Point, Maryland was no exception, and I ended up talking quite a bit with Sarah and Jeff Teets, the sister-brother duo of vocals and guitars. Before I knew it, we were all doing and impromptu photo shoot outside, first with the whole band, and then just with Sarah as the others went to set up their gear.

Whether it be Jeff jumping off the drum riser, or Sarah and bassist Rich Pasqualone playing a game of “let’s knock each other over,” or drummer Mark Bennett beating the the ever-loving crap out of a $200 house drum kit, the MindMaze crew are full of energy. I had a ton of fun watching this foursome rip into tracks like “This Holy War” and “Slave To The Cycle,” the latter which fans almost didn’t get to witness. Luckily, the band was given extra time on stage, and they made great use of it. And despite Sarah only recently recovering from a lost voice, you wouldn’t have been able to tell if she hadn’t apologized for it. Though she later told me it was uncomfortable to sing, she pushed through it and the crowd was left in awe.

They’re heading to Hollywood’s renowned Whisky a Go Go on August 2nd, so all you West Coast fans should try to make it out. And for those of you on the East Coast, spend that time clearing your schedule so you can ensure you get to their next performance in your area.

Blaze Bayley in Baltimore


 

I’ll be perfectly honest: I hadn’t ever heard Blaze Bayley’s work until Friday, May 17th.  Not his solo work, not with Wolfsbane, not even with Iron Maiden.  But when I heard he’d be coming to Sparta Inn for his Tour Of The Eagle Spirit, I knew this wouldn’t be a show I’d want to miss.  I’d heard great things about Blaze’s showmanship, and coupling that with the fact that he’d be playing tunes from all three of his Infinite Entanglement concept albums, I knew I’d regret it if I didn’t go.  I mean, how often do you get the chance to catch an artist who’s touring behind a three-part concept?

I didn’t have the opportunity to arrive early, but I did manage to come in with a few of the regional acts still left.

 
Offensive: Facebook | Twitter | Instagram

Offensive is a heavy metal band out of Essex, MD, and played a combination of originals and cover tunes.  The bassist and lead singer, Leon Sohail, and guitarist Maxim Sobchenko, took turns with the vocals – the former handling the harsh and the latter the clean. The standout moment for me was when they performed a solid version of “Holy Diver” in honor of Ronnie James Dio.

 

A Sound Of Thunder: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

A Sound Of Thunder is always a favorite of mine.  It would be obvious if you saw me, wearing a battle jacket with their creation, Udoroth, displayed in vivid color through the artwork of the talented Trav Hart.  In fact, I brought my wife along to this show and she finds the foursome as delightful as I do.  And, as usually, the band didn’t disappoint with heavy hitters such as “Queen Of Hell,” “It Was Metal,” and the aforementioned “Udoroth.”  Unfortunately, the song they wrote which features Blaze, “My Disease,” didn’t make an appearance that night, but Bayley did end up selling one of their CDs for them while they were rocking out onstage.

 

Blaze Bayley: Website | Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube

I had a chance to speak with Blaze just before his set.  I let him know that this was my first time seeing him live, but that I was very excited for it.  He was so humble and down to Earth during that interaction, but when he took the stage, something clicked and he became larger than life.  It was really like watching live theater with the way he wore his expressions so vividly.  Adding to that feeling, as Blaze introduced each of the Infinite Entanglement tracks, he spoke as if a narrator, giving us background on the origins and the struggles of the main character, William Black.

Somehow, despite the downtrodden position Black finds himself in, Bayley managed to carry a positivity in his performance that he imbued into each person in attendance.  I think, in part, this is due to the chemistry he and his band have.  They’re really having fun on stage, even at times when Blaze wants you to be certain that the guitarist (and co-producer of the Infinite Entanglement records), Chris Appleton, has committed mutiny by commandeering his vocal melody into a guitar solo.  I couldn’t help but laugh as Appleton urged the crowd to be silent during Bayley’s melody sing-along, but felt too committed to helping Blaze to remain silent myself!

Of course, the crowd went wild for the Maiden staples, such as “Futureal” and “Virus.”  I think Blaze was excited for them too, and he made a point of commenting on how wonderful a time he had during his five years in the band.  He told us that he was living the dream then, but he’s still doing it now, thanks to all of us.  He told the supporting acts to never let people nay-say and discourage them, because if he could come from nothing and be the singer of one of the most renowned heavy metal bands on the planet, they could achieve their dreams as well.  Honestly, his conviction makes it easy to believe, and his stage-show makes you want to dream.  So if Blaze Bayley comes to your town, and you have even an inkling of doubt whether you should attend, wash that thought from your mind.  Regardless of what he and his band play, you’re going to leave happier than you entered.

Book Review: Frame of Mind By Antonia Tricarico

Frame of Mind collects the photography of Antonia Tricarico into a concise volume that serves as both a celebration of her work and an overview of twenty years of punk rock. Subtitled Punk Photos and Essays From Washington, D.C., And Beyond 1997-2017, Frame of Mind documents her journey as an artist from her arrival from Rome to Washington D.C. in 1997 where she spent many hours capturing the underbelly of the D.C. punk scene, as well as of defiant essence of that time.

On stage, in dressing rooms or hanging out in packed sweaty bars, her camera captured glimpses of Fugazi, Lungfish, The Make-Up and Deep Lust along with Sleater-Kinney, The Gossip, Patti Smith, Mary Timony, Jello Biafra and Bratmobile among others. Female centric in subject matter Tricarico’s camera has captured not only the D.C. Punk scene but also the highly influential Riot girl movement of the time. There’s also a lot of Fugazi, a pioneering band whose fingerprints remain smudged all over the terrain of contemporary punk and and indie music.

Using 200 pictures taken from a variety of venues including New York, Rome and Washington D.C., Tricarico has not only preserved this musical era for the visual record, she has captured it’s very heart and soul. Working largely in black and white, her photos capture bands at work, play, hanging out, and most importantly onstage. Collected together they give readers a look at the microcosm of punk influenced music of the late 1990s.

Tricarico’s passionate introduction about falling in love with the music she chronicled is accompanied by fourteen essays from ladies whose take no prisoners music including Natalie Avery of Fire Party, Amanda Huron of Puff Pieces and others.

Rock pioneer Joan Jett writes about how music was her passion at early age. Recounting how she asked her parents for an electric guitar for Christmas. Jett also talks about how, for her music led to way to do things on her own terms. Spelling things out, Jett is candid about her passion for music while also serving notice that more and women are making rock music.

In her essay Trophy Wife’s Katy Otto admits how the burgeoning D.C. punk community made her the person she is today. In addition t shaping her musical taste the scene helped her forge relationships, organize her life and get the gumption to help launch her own label, Exotic Fever Records

Known for her work in The Evens, Mr. Candy Eater Lois, Ted Leo and the Pharmacists, drummer Amy Furina, along with her husband Ian MacKaye, helped shape the D.C. punk sound. In her contribution, Farina reveals how her world was opened to art and music, allowing her to channel her activism and creativity. for her, words and music are essential forms of communication.

In addition to featuring photographs of a cross section of bands, the book brings the dynamic work of Antonia Tricarico front and center. In addition to her work as a music photographer Tricarico has been featured in several exhibitions and served as an archivist for the Pulitzer Prize winning Lucian Perkins of the Washington Post. Her work has also been collected in the private collection of the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History as well as the Special Collections Division of the District of Columbia Public Library’s, Punk and Go Go music archive.

Rough and raw, this comprehensive anthology of Antonia Tricarico’s pictures not only accentuates her work in bringing the D.C. punk scene to the masses but also serves as a clarion call to discover these voices from the underground, particularly women, who have changed music with ferocious vigor, aggressive rage and independent spirit.

Frame of Mind is published by Akashic Books.

 

CD review: “Death Becomes My Voice” by Ringworm

Ringworm’s eighth release, Death Becomes My Voice, continues the band’s vicious hardcore metal assault over the past three decades. The title track is a pugnacious combination of hardcore drumming and thrashing guitar riffs that grip your jugular for five minutes. HF’s harsh, maniacal vocals stand out on this track. “Carnivores” is another fast number with some brief blast beats thrown in for good measure. The song speeds up towards the final minute before guitarists Matt Sorg and Mark Witherspoon pull out a grooving riff while the track fades. The dissonant riffs and brutal drumming sounds like The Haunted meshed with Napalm Death. “Acquiesce” is an uncomfortable slower track thanks to the apocalyptic main riff and HF’s guttural vocals. The scooping riff on “Do Not Resuscitate” is reminiscent of a hook slicing in to human flesh. Drummer Ryan Steigerwald delivers the punishment on this track as it is pure Slayer worship from beginning to end. “The God Of New Flesh” is the shortest track on Voice, a chaotic assemblage of thrash, punk and grindcore. The band never falters through the constant tempo changes, keeping the listener on their toes until the song concludes. Album closer “Final Division” is a pummeling requiem that ends with a doom riff and sorrowful guitar solo.

Bands playing across extreme musical genres has occurred for roughly 35 years. Metalcore and deathcore have enjoyed varying degrees of popularity in the U.S. for roughly 15 years. Quality is the key issue, and while many bands attempt to meld genres, few succeed. Ringworm are one of those few bands and Death Becomes My Voice solidifies its status in the metal underground. The tracks on this album hit like a bat to the spine and a rusty blade to the lung. The brevity of the tracks and slight diversity makes Voice an interesting listen. There is little monotony due to stellar drumming and above average guitar work.

Fans of Ringworm should purchase Death Becomes My Voice. It is a fun, thrashing record that induces headbanging from the first track. Fans of crossover and thrash will enjoy the band’s speed and demonic guitar harmonies. Thrash ’til death.

Check out the band’s official Facebook page here:

www.facebook.com/Ringworm13/

CD Review: “Fornaldarsagor” by Manegarm

Swedish metal trio Manegarm’s ninth release, Fornaldarsagor, is a meld of melodic folk metal and black metal. The opening track “Sveablotet,” commences with dissonant black metal riffing and several rhythm chances before slowing down during the palatial chorus. Guitarist Markus Ande steals the show with his ability to meld hellish tremolo picking with grandiose riffs. “Hervors arv” continues the fast paced tempo of the previous track. Bassist and vocalist Erik Grawsio’s harsh vocals sound like those of a viking fighting on a snowy battlefield. Manegarm’s folk influence is more prominent on this track, especially during the midsection. “Slaget vid Bravalla” is a ferocious track with drummer Jakob Hallegren’s unceasing double drums intermixed with slicing blast beats. The crushing chorus riff is underscored with gargantuan double drums. “Ett sista farva” is an anthemic folk metal ballad with tranquil guitars and soothing female vocals. The chorus is memorable and evokes images of vikings seated around a campfire singing of their victories. “Dodskvadet” is a serene folk song composed with stringed instruments and acoustic guitars. A fitting end to a heavy album.

Fornaldarsagor features eight tracks each with an average length of five minutes. However, the songs do not drag on as the tracks are both catchy and maintain a degree of complexity. The folks elements are not cheesy or insincere, which is evident on “Dodskvadet.” The folk instruments and Swedish lyrics grant a greater degree of authenticity on this record.

Manegarm did its ancestors proud with Fornaldarsagor. Fans of Amon Amarth, Amorphis and Heidevolk will enjoy this record with its heavy, yet catchy songs and folk elements. Long live the Viking Age.

Check out the band’s website:

http://www.manegarmsweden.com/

CD review: “The Door To Doom” by Candlemass

The doom metal luminaries in Candlemass return with the band’s newest release in seven years, The Door To Doom.

The gargantuan riffs on “Splendor Majestic Demon” leave no doubt that the listener is in store for a heavy experience. Original vocalist Johan Langquist makes his triumphant return after a 33 year absence. His soaring vocals have not faltered and carry the same demonic majesty as they did on the band’s 1986 debut Epicus Doomicus Metallicus. “Splendor” features a crushing galloping riff that explodes during the track’s chorus.

“Under The Ocean” commences with a dreary, psychedelic riff before it is interrupted with a colossal riff and ground shaking drums. Drummer Jan Lindh keeps a stomping mid-tempo for the duration of the track. The following track “Astorolus-The Great Octopus” delves deeper in to the seas of doom as none other than heavy metal progenitor Tony Iommi guest stars on this track. This slow, haunting monody imbues a sense of hopelessness as Langquist laments of a great sea monster that will swallow the earth. Iommi’s bluesy solo serves as fitting music as the planet is devoured.

“Death’s Wheel” is notable for its circular, galloping riff like a carriage traveling to hell. Guitarists Lars Johansson and Mats Bjorkman’s riffs drip with sludge and the double drumming during the song’s chorus heighten the song’s heaviness. “House of Doom” is another highlight with its ripping guitar riff and spine tingling organ during the song’s midsection. Candlemass conclude Door with “The Omega Circle”, the longest track on the record, clocking in at over seven minutes. The trudging tempo and mammoth riffs transition to a soft acoustic passage as Langquist sings of a satanic dream before things turn heavy again. A mighty end to a mighty record.

The Door To Doom is not a door, but a lofty gate that once opened strikes the listener with crushing riffs and operatic vocals. The members of Candlemass do not rest on their laurels and prove why the band is so revered. Bassist and key songwriter Leif Edling creates the perfect balance between heavy and soft as the band never over does it. The record’s softer moments are not just rest areas for listeners but good pieces of music. Of course, when the band plays heavy, the earth shakes and the demons listen. Door is forty-eight minutes of doom metal played extremely well. While the lyrics are awkward at times, they barely detract from the quality of this record.

Candlemass has not lost its step since its formation 35 years ago. The Door To Doom is a stellar record that should please fans and those new to the band. Open the door and revere the colossal splendor before you.

Check out the band’s website:

http://www.candlemass.se/

CD Review: “Spirits Of Fire” by Spirits Of Fire

Metal super group Spirits Of Fire’s self titled debut album is a cauldron of prog, power and thrash metal that unfortunately is slightly generic.

The quartet is comprised of metal legends Tim Owens, Chris Caffery, Steve DiGiorgio and Mark Zonder that are masters of their respective crafts. However, the band is too restrained on this record, dampening the excitement and preferring to play on cruise control.

There are some solid tracks like “Temple Of The Soul” with its driving guitar riff and Zonder’s constant rhythm changes. Chris’s bluesy lead perfectly fits this track while Owens soaring vocals reach the heavens.

The title track comprises of a stomping tempo that transitions to a rolling beat that encircles the listener before reverting to the main riff. The song twists and turns but moves forward with standout guitar leads and interesting time changes. However, other tracks fall short like the seven minute long song “The Game” which is both platitudinous and tedious. The track is a run of the mill epic metal track that falls short of the band’s potential.

These guys played in bands like Judas Priest, Death, Savatage and Fate Warning, thus the bar is high when it comes to creating epic metal material. It is a downer when the band play it safe and sound like an above average American progressive metal act. Album closer “Alone In The Darkness” redeems this record albeit slightly with a somber clean guitar riff, however Owens’ vocals fall a bit flat which diminishes the power on this track.

Spirit Of Fire were burdened with the expected task of releasing a high quality metal album. Sadly, the band play it self and there are few ear grabbing moments on this record. Steve DiGiorgio is one of the greatest metal bassists and his role is greatly diminished. Tim’s vocals vary track by track as he sounds great on one track but drowned out on another one. Caffery’s guitar work is the one consistent element on Spirits, a pity as it suffers due to naff songwriting.

Spirits Of Fire sadly does not live up to its title. There are some fiery moments on the record, but ultimately it is by the numbers prog/power metal. It is a shame as Spirits have the potential to play some ear ripping metal. Perhaps the band will pull out all the stops on its sophomore effort.

Check out the band’s official Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/SpiritsOfFireBand/