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.

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/

CD Review: “Creatures Watching Over The Dead” by Charred Walls Of The Damned

Heavy metal supergroup Charred Walls Of The Damned returns with its third record, Creatures Watching Over The Dead. Creatures is the band’s first record in five years, which is understandable considering the busy schedule of its members. Bassist Steve DiGiorgio currently plays in Testament and guitarist Jason Suecof is one of the busiest music producers in the metal genre. Suecof produced records for Battlecross, Deicide and Death Angel these past five years so his plate was full. Creatures is not a serious record, and the guys are having fun. The vibe on the album is laid back, but still carries a degree of intensity. The initial single “The Soulless” combines thrash with 80s power metal resulting in a catchy metal anthem. Richard Christy’s double bass drumming is lockstep with Suecof’s jackhammer riffing. Vocalist Tim “Ripper” Owens’ operatic vocals soar like a falcon and do not seem out of step with the music. “As I Catch My Breath” is an interesting blend of clean guitars and a dissonant main riff. Musically, the track recalls Fates Warning and Megadeth due to the progressiveness of the music. The technical thrash of “Reach Into The Light” hits with the precision of a guided missile. Owens’ high pitched vocals are again in top form, but do not take away from the music.

Creatures is not an exhuastive record and that is a plus. The band does not waste time playing eight minute opuses, opting instead to play shorter songs. This keeps the songs interesting and the listener will not drift off or reach for the “skip” button. As I mentioned earlier, the band is having fun on this record. There is no need to make a 70 minute long album with long, drawn out epics for the sake of pretentiousness. Suecof produced the record and it is loud and clear. There is not much to pick out except that Steve’s bass should be higher in the mix.

Creatures Watching Over The Dead is a good metal record. It should satisfy fans of technical death metal or progressive metal that are not looking for something too deep. This record may get lost in the shuffle due to the other high profile albums coming out this year. However, one should not overlook Creatures as it definitely holds its own.

For news check out the band’s website at http://www.metalblade.com/cwotd/

CD Review: ‘Codex Atlantis’ by Serenity

Serenity keeps its songs short and sweet on Codex Atlantis. One of my main grips with progressive and symphonic metal bands are the tedious song lengths. That is not the case on this record, as every track is under six minutes. Thus, the songs are fairly dynamic and never drag. The driving “Follow Me” pushes along with simple riffs and clean vocals. The stringed instruments and choir samples add to the uplifting feel of this song. Things get heavier on “Sprouts of Terror” which opens with a trashy riff leading to an explosive symphonic crescendo. This is a headbanging piece designed specifically to incite a circle pit. The bombastic “Iniquity” is the antithesis of the track’s title. It is majestic and regal with a stirring guitar solo. The tranquil piano and violins on “My Final Chapter” contrast with the morbid subject of death on this track. Here, the narrator is ready to sleep eternally and the end is a peaceful one. The peace abrutply ends on “Caught in a Myth” with its galloping riffs and hard hitting horn samples. The occult lyricism on this song regarding the search for truth complements the epicness of the composition.

Codex Atlantis is a strong record because of the song compositions. The tracks are well written and do not deviate into Pretentious Prog Land. You will not hear Serenity play the same riff for 8 minutes and call it “prog metal” on this record. The production is crystal clear and frontman Georg Neuhauser’s vocals are a highlight on this record. The classical samples are so good it sounds like a real symphony played on this record. The band also successfully balances its metal sound with symphonic flair.

Progressive metal fans will enjoy Codex Atlantis. It is a good record with some great tracks and solid musicianship. It may be too soft for people that prefer their metal with blast beats and guttural vocals. However, the band knows what its fanbase wants and it delivers.

For news and tour dates, check out http://www.serenity-band.com/

CD Review: ‘Winter Thrice’ by Borknagar

Borknagar continues its progressive push on the band’s tenth record Winter Thrice. The band keeps its black metal roots to a minimum. Instead, there is a greater shift towards folk metal and even power metal. The result is a multi-textured record that draws from diverse influences. The opening track and lead single “The Rhymes of the Mountain” meshes pounding drums with baroque style guitars to stellar effect. Vintersorg’s vocals change throughout the song. First, his voice soars like a hawk over a mountain and then morphs into a hellish shriek. The title track blasts through the speakers in galloping fashion. Again, the vocals are a high point as Garm from Ulver takes the lead on this track. The song contrasts between heavy and serene, making it one of the best tracks on the album. The band is more straight ahead on “Cold Runs The River.” The progressive elements are downplayed in favor of bombastic guitars and blastbeats in the middle of the song. The song is not monotonous at all thanks in no small part to the wah-wah guitar leads and gothic chord progressions. The classically structured “When Chaos Calls” pushes through like whips and twists like a winter storm. The double bass drums and dissonant guitars holds the song together while Vintersorg howls like a wolf atop a hill.

The greatest strength of Winter Thrice is the diversity in the songwriting. There are acoustic guitars, blastbeats guttural vocals, and a slight hint of electronica. Borknagar is unconventional in this respect making the album unpredictable but enjoyable. Fans of European metal will probably appreciate Winter Thrice, with its emphasis on melodicism and its classical influence. The record is heavy, but not like the brutality of American death metal. That does not mean American metalheads will not enjoy this record. However, the acoustic guitars and electronic elements may not appeal to some of them.

Winter Thrice is a solid record from one of Norway’s greatest metal bands. The band’s musicianship is amazing and the production is lushand clear. Borknagar are not the same band it was 20 years ago, but that is a good thing as the band continues to push itself. Fans of Children of Bodom, Amorphis and Insomnium will enjoy Winter Thrice. It is the perfect soundtrack for the Winter season.

For more in for on Borknagar, check out the band’s website http://borknagar.com/

CD Review: ‘Duality’ by Rhine

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Whilst going through my first listen of Rhine’s debut album, Duality, I couldn’t decide whether to applaud or laugh at the one-man-band efforts of Gabriel Tachell. Laugh might sound like a mean response to someone’s hard work, but I assure you that it isn’t my intention to disrespect anyone. Rather, it is due to the ultimate freedom that this album displays, and actively explores. While Rhine has created a chiefly death metal release, it is certainly progressive in many ways, the contrast of which can be humorous when you hear it for the first time. One thing is certain, however: there is a musicality to Duality that is not only impressive, but alluring and refreshing.

I’m very particular about my death metal. If the vocals don’t contain a particular growl to screech ratio, or if they’re not guttural enough…or too guttural, then it just won’t do! I’m just kidding, of course. I don’t sit here and measure these things, but honestly, there are very few vocalists that I really like in the field of harsh singing. Some of the ones that come to mind that I really like are Lamb Of God’s Randy Blythe, Death’s Chuck Schuldiner, and Opeth’s Mikael Åkerfeldt. Now I believe it’s time to add Gabriel Tachell to that list. He has a vocal depth that not only hits you in the gut and sends out vibrations, but rises up to a screech that will cut to the bone but is short of being shrill. Being able to understand most of the words to the songs helps too!

I mentioned laughing and applauding. That is because Rhine is unafraid of boundaries. The music is played superbly and there is never a doubt that a single note has gone astray. The riffs are tight and full, but do wise to shy away from being a wall of noise.  If the music isn’t dynamic, and a wall of noise is not, then there is no room to breathe and the song suffocates. Duality ranges from brutal, but groove-filled guitar passages to delicate airy notes that linger and fade. Not since Opeth’s Blackwater Park have I been this enthralled by a death metal release. Powerhouses like “Masking Hostility” burn the ears and the soothing sounds of songs like “Forgotten Soul” provide the salve. But there is a more playful side to this release as well. Take the song “Goregeous” for instance, which simply in name shows the dual nature of this album. While starting off extremely heavy, and intricate – the twin guitars doubling a computerized lick – it transforms into…something. Imagine if The Darkness was trying to parody itself. That’s honestly the best way I can describe it. And I’m pretty sure that the short excursion, which lasts for only a minute before returning to its death metal origins, gets kicked off with a burb.

This is a thick album and one obvious reason for that is due to it beginning with a 9+ minute track entitled “Until Death Remains” and ending with an epic 17 minute moody closer called “Living In Perfect Harmony.” As it a result, it may not make it onto your Summer Drive Mix next time you hit the road. But for those who feel like brooding, or want to jam out to some well-done death metal, I urge you to give this a listen. The music is atmospheric, but not nearly so dissonant as to detract from it being enjoyable. Gabriel Tachell has impressed me with not only his talent as a player, but how he could make this release feel so much like a unified band effort while doing everything himself. Rhine is currently working on its sophomore release, this time with a line-up that has been perfecting itself on the road, even supporting Sepultura. With the fantastic performance on Duality I can only imagine what shall result from this combined effort. May we not need wait long!

For more on Rhine, visit:
Official Website
Purchase Duality: From The Band!
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