Tag Archives: Symphonic Metal

The Shadow Self & The Brightest Void

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Nightwish
Nightwish

I have previously outlined the history of Finnish symphonic metal band Nightwish when discussing their excellent 2015 release “Endless Forms Most Beautiful”. Today I’m looking at the new album by their former vocalist Tarja Turunen, titled “The Shadow Self”.

Tarja Turunen
Tarja Turunen

Actually, there are two new albums from Turunen, as some weeks before “The Shadow Self” surfaced there was a prequel album titled “The Brightest Void” issued.

I feel that Turunen’s output has been of somewhat variable quality since her departure from her former band whilst their subsequent work has gone from strength to strength. Her first solo album “Henkäys Ikuisuudesta” (2006) was a purely classical Christmas-themed affair, and “My Winter Storm” (2007) and “What Lies Beneath” (2010) were as much classical as rock, though certainly listenable, with the possible exception of a dreadful cover of Whitesnake’s “Still If The Night” on the latter.

Mike Terrana & Tarja Turunen
Mike Terrana & Tarja Turunen

So it was only really with her fourth solo album “Colours In The Dark” (2013) that I think some more modern heavy rock sounds began to come to the fore. That good work was undone with 2014’s live album “Beauty And The Beat”. This was a classical collaboration between Turunen and American journeyman drummer Mike Terrana which sounds rather like Turunen performing with a symphony orchestra and some guy deciding to provide accompaniment by banging away on a drum kit. I get that it was an attempt to draw younger listeners into the world of classical music but is definitely one of those records that only gets listened to once or twice before being filed away for posterity!

Tarja Turunen
Tarja Turunen

That was followed in 2015 by “Ave Maria – En Plein Air”, a purely classical recording comprising of thirteen different compositions all titled “Ave Maria”. An interesting, but not essential, listen.

Of the new full album Turunen says “I am very excited to finally be able to share the first details of my new heavy rock album with all of you, ‘The Shadow Self’ is full of songs that are very dear to me. I cannot wait for you to hear the record that I believe is one of my heaviest albums to date.”

Tarja Turunen & Band
Tarja Turunen & Band

Well, following a delicate piano introduction to opener “Innocence” it’s not long before the drums kick in and are almost immediately joined by heavy detuned guitars providing a musical accompaniment with far more muscle than has been the case since the singer’s Nightwish days.

Alissa White-Gluz
Alissa White-Gluz

“Demons In You” features Alissa White-Gluz from Arch Enemy with her trademark harsh vocal delivery and is a great number – although the funky guitar intro to the tune and the funky bass guitar break around half way through is best ignored!

Track three “No Bitter End” is one of two songs which feature on both of these albums. An edited version starts “The Brightest Void” and “Eagle Eye” has its longer version on the same release. Both decent songs but the duplication is really rather unnecessary.

Tarja Turunen
Tarja Turunen

“Supremacy” is a cover of the Muse track and is a definite improvement on the aforementioned Whitesnake cover! Other highpoints on “The Shadow Self” are “Undertaker” and “The Living End”. Quite what the idea with the hidden track tacked on to closer “Too Many” (following three minutes of silence) which goes from punk metal to techno and back again is frankly beyond me!

Overall, though, I would say that there are some very good musical performances, catchy choruses and, of course, impressive vocals from Turunen even if the arrangements themselves seem a little too contrived.

Tarja_TBV_Front_CD_webOnto “The Brightest Void” then. Maybe I should have tackled this one first? No matter. Turunen says “Surprise, surprise! I genuinely hope that ‘The Brightest Void is a pleasant surprise to each and every one of you. During the long process of recording the songs for my new studio album ‘The Shadow Self’, I realised that there were so many tracks, too many too dear to me, for just one album. So this time I decided to keep nothing for myself and to share all my favourite new songs with you, the fans, who have shown such passionate and constant support. ‘The Brightest Void’ gives more than a first taste of ‘The Shadow Self’; it is a full album filled with 9 songs! I am sure that everyone will immediately discover how much ‘The Brightest Void’ and ‘The Shadow Self’ are entwined with each other but, at the same time, are two independent records which stand on their own.”

Tarja Turunen & Within Temptation's Sharon Den Adel
Tarja Turunen & Within Temptation’s Sharon Den Adel

Given that we have already established that two of these nine tracks are on “The Shadow Self” and that the final track “Paradise (What About Us?)” is simply a new mix of a song originally on Within Temptation’s 2014 album “Hydra” that featured Turunen’s vocals and that only leaves six new songs.

Tarja Turunen & Michael Monroe
Tarja Turunen & Michael Monroe

“Your Heaven And Your Hell” features Michael Monroe, formerly of Hanoi Rocks and co-judge, with Turunen, on Finland’s version of TV show “The Voice”. Not sure about this one as the two voices are not particularly well suited to each other. Elsewhere, “House Of Wax” cover of Paul McCartney song and “Goldfinger” is a very good rendition of the famous James Bond theme song.

1000x1000“Witch Hunt” and “An Empty Dream” are much more restrained and quite dark in sound actually, but give the whole project a little more variation than it would otherwise have had.

Ultimately, then, these are good records. Worth a listen even though one could argue that dispensing with the duplications and new mix of older material would have enabled a single album release. I’m afraid that for all her bombast Turunen is still some way behind her former colleagues in terms of musical quality and progression…

tumblr_static_ca6e8aywl0ggcoosogc40wkgs_640_v2“The Shadow Self” tracklist:

1. Innocence / 2. Demons In You / 3. No Bitter End / 4. Love To Hate / 5. Supremacy / 6. The Living End / 7. Diva / 8. Eagle Eye / 9. Undertaker / 10. Calling From The Wild / 11. Too Many

“The Brightest Void” tracklist:

1. No Bitter End / 2. Your Heaven And Your Hell” / 3. Eagle Eye / 4. An Empty Dream / 5. Witch Hunt / 6. Shameless / 7. House Of Wax / 8. Goldfinger / 9. Paradise (What About Us?)

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Lost In Forever

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Beyond The Black
Beyond The Black

I was first exposed to German gothic metal band Beyond The Black when they were the unexpected opening band when I caught the Bristol show on Saxon’s “Warriors Of The Road” UK tour back in November 2014.

Jennifer Haben
Jennifer Haben

At that point they had yet to release an album, and considering that the band had only played their first show a few months earlier were quite impressive.

Debut album “Songs Of Love And Death” was released on 13th February 2015. A decent slab of gothic / symphonic metal with an accessible edge, the record was well received, especially in Germany where the album reached number twelve in the charts, and contained some catchy and memorable tracks such as “Running From The Edge”, “Numb” and “In The Shadows”, plus a superior cover of Motörhead’s 1991 track “Love Me Forever”.

Nils Lesser & Christopher Hummels
Nils Lesser & Christopher Hummels

The group’s line-up comprises vocalist Jennifer Haben, guitarists Nils Lesser and Christopher Hummels, bassist Erwin Schmidt, drummer Tobias Derer and keyboardist Michael Hauser, but only Haben appears on the first album – with session musicians contributing the backing – as it was seemingly recorded before the band was put together.

Erwin Schmidt
Erwin Schmidt

Almost exactly twelve months later (on 12th February this year) the band’s second album “Lost In Forever” hit the shelves, this time performed, I think, entirely by the six band members. That said, and without wishing any disrespect to the group, some of the guitar solos in particular are so polished I do wonder if the record bears the hallmarks of session musicians again.

Tobias Derer
Tobias Derer

The record kicks off with the first single, title track “Lost In Forever”. Haben’s vocals are more polished and assured this time around, and she is ably supported by backing vocals from Hummels. The instrumental performances are uniformly high quality, and the songwriting is very impressive too.

Michael Hauser
Michael Hauser

For some the material may be a touch too accessible, particularly on a power ballad such as “Against The World”, which to my ears harkens back to the hair metal scene of the glorious late Eighties whilst also have a definite modern pop/rock feel. Simply, this is symphonic metal written unashamedly with an eye on success. That may make the whole thing calculated and less authentic to some listeners, but when the songs and sonics are this good I don’t find that to be a problem.

Jennifer Haben
Jennifer Haben

Standout tracks here include “Heaven In Hell”, “Written In Blood”, “Dies Irae”, “Shine And Shade”, “Halo Of The Dark”, “Lost In Forever” and the delicate acoustic closer “Love’s A Burden”. This isn’t a band trying to reinvent the wheel, but they do what they do very well indeed. Without doubt Jennifer Haben is the star of the show, but Beyond The Black are a band that seem capable of making it big in their chosen genre. I’ll watch their future development with interest…

Beyond-the-Black-Lost-in-Forever“Lost In Forever” tracklist:

1. Lost In Forever / 2. Beautiful Lies / 3. Written In Blood / 4. Against The World / 5. Beyond The Mirror / 6. Halo Of The Dark / 7. Dies Irae / 8. Forget My Name / 9. Burning In Flames / 10. Nevermore / 11. Shine And Shade / 12. Heaven In Hell / 13. Love’s A Burden

Luciferian Light Orchestra

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Christofer Johnsson
Christofer Johnsson

Back in 1987 Swedish multi-instrumentalist and composer Christofer Johnsson formed death metal band Therion. Over the subsequent years that band moved away from death metal into the realms of symphonic metal, including choirs and orchestral instruments to their performances.

Thomas Karlsson
Thomas Karlsson

Lyrically the band have focussed on themes of ancient traditions, magic, the occult etc., with Swedish author Thomas Karlsson penning all of the group’s lyrics since the mid Nineties.

Both Johnsson and Karlsson are members of a left-hand path organisation called Dragon Rouge, led by Karlsson, which has existed since 1989.

Therion
Therion

In 2015 Johnsson unveiled an occult-based side project under the banner of the Luciferian Light Orchestra. The project’s self-titled debut album was released on 30 April 2015. This date was perhaps no coincidence as Walpurgis Night falls on 30 April each year. In Sweden this is traditionally a celebration of the coming of Spring but in wider Europe there are connections to witchcraft etc.

Mina Karadzic
Mina Karadzic

Details of the Luciferian Light Orchestra are deliberately thin on the ground. Johnsson revealed that, aside from himself (guitars, keyboards, backing vocals) and his girlfriend Mina Karadzic (backing vocals), a further twenty-two musicians were involved in the recording of the album. There were apparently four lead vocalists, five backing vocalists, five guitarists, five keyboardists, two drummers and one bassist which included a mix of current and previous members of Therion.

Luciferian Light Orchestra
Luciferian Light Orchestra

However, Johnsson decided to keep the specific identities and roles under wraps as he was keen that people concentrate on the music itself rather than the personnel. The lyrics are again penned by Karlsson and whilst on the one hand they are fairly typical occult rock lyrics there is also a depth and detail therein that reflects Karlsson’s knowledge of the subject matter.

Musically the album is steeped in a Seventies style vibe and is far more classic hard rock than one might expect given Johnsson’s background in death and symphonic metal. Opening track “Dr. Faust On Capri” sets out the project’s stall straight away. Catchy guitar riffs, Hammond organs, choral backing vocals in places, some fairly deep but perfectly understandable male vocals and all topped off with the a beautifully sweet female vocal.

Luciferian Light Orchestra
Luciferian Light Orchestra

The latter is especially effective on “Church Of Carmel” where the singer (possibly Mari Karhunen) sings “…take off your dress, join us in the Sabbath, become the Master’s mistress…”. I remarked to my wife that if all occult and / or satanic music was as melodic, catchy and, frankly, seductive as this then there would be a lot more people investigating that path!

Baphomet
Baphomet

“Taste The Blood Of The Altar Wine” talks of bowing “…before the black crucifix, hear the demons sing… for the Lord, the goat of Mendes, Baphomet…” and elsewhere you will hear references to the “…Lord of Topheth…” (a place in Jerusalem where followers of the early Canaanite religions sacrificed children to Moloch and Baal by burning them alive) in “Moloch”, as well as “…Astaroth…” (the Great Duke of Hell) alongside unnamed incubi and succubi in “Sex With Demons”

Luciferian Light Orchestra
Luciferian Light Orchestra

There are hints of the likes of classic Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin to be heard, particularly on tracks such as “Dante And Diabaulus” and “Venus In Flames” (which declares that “…we hail Sathanas, Venus, Lucifer…”). There are also parallels with other occult bands around at the moment, such as Blood Ceremony and Purson (not to mention the sadly missed The Devil’s Blood) in terms of the vintage vibe and female vocals.

Luciferian Light Orchestra
Luciferian Light Orchestra

Ignoring the lyrical direction this is a great, concise (just over thirty-eight minutes in length) album with some superb musicianship and very high quality vintage sounding hard rock songs. Add in the occult imagery and you have an irresistible package and one of the most instantly rewarding albums of the year. Excellent!

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“Luciferian Light Orchestra” tracklist:

1. Dr. Faust On Capri / 2. Church Of Carmel / 3. Taste The Blood Of The Altar Wine / 4. A Black Mass In Paris / 5. Eater Of Souls / 6. Sex With Demons / 7. Venus In Flames / 8. Moloch / 9. Dante And Diabulus / 10. Three Demons

Prometheus, Symphonia Ignis Divinus

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Luca Turilli
Luca Turilli

Back in 1993 three Italian musicians, guitarist / keyboardist Luca Turilli, keyboardist Alex Staropoli and drummer Daniele Carbonera, formed a symphonic metal band named Thundercross, inspired musically by Manowar and Yngwie J. Malmsteen and lyrically by fantasy literature.

Alex Staropoli
Alex Staropoli

A change of name to Rhapsody came in 1994 and was followed by the recruitment of ex-Labyrinth vocalist Fabio Lione to complete the line-up responsible for the band’s debut album “Legendary Tales” in 1997. This record was the first in a series known as the “Emerald Sword Saga” which encompasses the first five albums in the band’s catalogue.

Rhapsody
Rhapsody

“Symphony Of Enchanted Lands”, the second of those albums, was released in 1998 and saw the first appearance of bassist Alessandro Lotta, who remained with the group until 2002. Carbonera was replaced by current drummer Alex Holzwarth in 2000.

The band’s music has been variously described as symphonic metal, power metal, progressive metal, neo-classical metal and Hollywood metal (due to the cinematic quality of the group’s material).

Rhapsody Of Fire
Rhapsody Of Fire

After encountering legal difficulties over the band name as a trademark in 2006 the band was re-branded as Rhapsody Of Fire.

Following three album releases under the new name Turilli and Staropoli decided to part ways in 2011 – with Staropoli continuing with Rhapsody Of Fire and Turilli  started a new venture as Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody. Staropoli’s band are more metallic in sound, whereas Turilli’s have further developed the cinematic sound.

Alessandro Conti
Alessandro Conti

Joining Turilli in his new band are vocalist Alessandro Conti, bassist Patrice Guers, guitarist Dominique Leurquin and drummer Alex Landenburg.

“Prometheus, Symphonia Ignis Divinus” (which translates as “Prometheus, Symphony Of The Divine Fire”) is the second studio album from Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody, released in June 2015, three years after debut “Ascending To Infinity”.

Patrice Guers
Patrice Guers

Although bombastic, epic, huge, massive, broad, expansive etc. could be used to describe the sound of this band, but cinematic really is the keyword here. Sure, there are plenty of powerhouse drums, layers of guitars and brilliantly impressive guitar solos, and some great melodies too – but on top of that are banks of keyboards, orchestral, choral and even operatic parts, spoken word sections… I wouldn’t be surprised to find a kitchen sink in there somewhere(!)

Dominique Leurquin
Dominique Leurquin

The whole thing could quite conceivable be used for movie soundtracks and, like so much great classical music, the sounds presented here do paint a picture. In this case a picture of a truly epic movie!

“One Ring To Rule Them All” obviously references the “Lord Of The Rings” saga, “Yggdrasil” could soundtrack a Viking epic, “Rosenkreuz (The Rose And The Cross)”, “King Solomon And The 72 Names Of God”, “Anahata”, etc. All perfect for various movies in your imagination.

Alex Landenburg
Alex Landenburg

The crowning achievement here, though, is the continuation of the more epic than epic “Of Michael The Archangel And Lucifer’s Fall”. The previous album had Part I, clocking in at just over sixteen minutes, and on this new record we find Part II which runs for just over eighteen minutes – and none of that time is wasted!

Luca Turilli's Rhapsody
Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody

Turilli, as composer and lyricist, plus responsibility for some of the guitar parts, all keyboards, orchestral arrangements, production and engineering and cover art concept, clearly has a lot riding on this. No worries on that score – as with his compositions over the previous years the quality here is consistently very high.

Many will find the music here too over the top and faintly ridiculous – but for those of us who enjoy that kind of thing from time to time this is a great record!…

112039“Prometheus, Symphonia Ignis Divinus” tracklist:

1. Nova Genesis (Ad Splendorem Angeli Triumphantis) / 2. Il Cigno Nero / 3. Rosenkreuz (The Rose And The Cross) / 4. Anahata / 5. Il Tempo Degli Dei / 6. One Ring To Rule Them All / 7. Notturno / 8. Prometheus / 9. King Solomon And The 72 Names Of God / 10. Yggdrasil / 11. Of Michael The Archangel And Lucifer’s Fall Part II : Codex Nemesis (I. Codex Nemesis Alpha Omega / II. Symphonia Ignis Divinus (The Quantum Gate Revealed) / III. The Astral Convergence / IV. The Divine Fire Of The Archangel / V. Of Psyche And Archetypes (System Overloaded) / 12. Thundersteel

Endless Forms Most Beautiful

47945“Endless Forms Most Beautiful” is the eighth studio album by Finnish symphonic metal band Nightwish.

Nightwish In 2000
Nightwish In 2000

The band was formed in 1996 by vocalist Tarja Turunen, guitarist Emppu Vuorinen and keyboardist / principle songwriter Tuomas Holopainen. Adding drummer Jukka Nevalainen and then bassist Sami Vänskä, Nightwish gradually gained increasing success in Europe with their first three albums, but tensions within the band meant that Holopainen seriously considered splitting the band in 2001. Vänskä was asked to leave, and the band then continued, under new management, with new bassist Marco Hietala, who also performs male vocal parts.

Tarja Turunen
Tarja Turunen

Despite further success with the next two albums, 2004’s “Once” being the most successful at that point, reaching the Top 20 in ten European countries, there was more drama in late 2005 when Turunen was presented with an open letter following a concert in which she was informed of her dismissal from the group. That night’s concert had been recorded and was later released as the DVD/CD “End Of An Era”.

Nightwish In 2007
Nightwish In 2007

In 2007 the band announced Anette Olzon was their new lead vocalist. With Anette, a less operatic singer than Turunen, on board they released “Dark Passion Play”, which was their most commercially successful album to date.

The next album, “Imaginaerum” was something of an extravaganza, released in multiple versions, including the regular album, orchestral and instrumental versions. The album was also tied in with a movie of the same name – in which all band members had roles – and there was a score recording released.

Floor Jansen On The Imaginaerum World Tour
Floor Jansen On The Imaginaerum World Tour

During the following world tour Olzon found herself dismissed a few days after being unable to perform due to illness, with the band stating that “the needs of the band were in conflict, and this has led to a division from which we cannot recover”. Floor Jansen, vocalist with Re-Vamp, was drafted in to complete the tour and later became a permanent band member, together with multi-instrumentalist Troy Donockley who had performed on previous studio works with the group. Hotwever, due to a sleep disorder Nevalainen was unable to participate in the recording of the latest album, the drum parts being handled by Kai Hahto.

So, after yet more upheaval in the group since the last studio album, how does “Endless Forms Most Beautiful” stack up against their back catalogue?

Charles Darwin
Charles Darwin “On The Origin Of Species”

Named after a quote from Charles Darwin’s 1859 book “On The Origin Of Species” in which he wrote “from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved” this album, loosely based on the concept of “the beauty of life, the beauty of existence, nature, science” is, to my ears, the best album that the band have yet produced.

Nightwish In 2015
Nightwish In 2015

Designed to be listened to from start to end, as albums used to be, the record starts with a spoken piece from Professor Richard Dawkins introducing first track “Shudder Before The Beautiful”. Orchestration leads into some heavy guitar riffing before Jansen’s vocals kick in. Her voice is pure and clear, and the track’s melodies catchy. This is classic Nightwish but also the group sounding more accessible than ever.

Lead single “Élan” sees the pace drop slightly, before the bombast returns in “Yours Is An Empty Hope” which features some superb orchestration in the middle section.

Sharbat Gula On National Geographic Magazine Cover
Sharbat Gula On National Geographic Magazine Cover

There is a ballad in “Our Decades In The Sun”, and the title track is another really catchy masterpiece.

“Edema Ruh” are travellers and entertainers in the fantasy trilogy “Kingkiller Chronicle” by Patrick Rothfuss, and the instrumental track “The Eyes Of Sharbat Gula” was inspired by the photgraph of an Afghan girl that was featured on the cover of National Geographic magazine way back in 1985.

Throughout the album the quality is absolutely top notch. Each member of the band puts in an excellent performance, the material some of Holopainen’s best ever, and his production is crystal clear.

To close the record we have the epic five-part “The Greatest Show On Earth”, a twenty four minute track about “life and evolution by natural selection”. Featuring, as does the album as a whole, the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the Metro Voices choir, and a further contribution from Professor Dawkins, this is an epic track in the truest sense, and the perfect way to end such a brilliant album. Simply breathtaking.

150209_wembley“Endless Forms Most Beautiful” tracklist:

1. Shudder Before The Beautiful / 2. Weak Fantasy / 3. Élan / 4. Yours Is An Empty Hope / 5. Our Decades In The Sun / 6. My Walden / 7. Endless Forms Most Beautiful / 8. Edema Ruh / 9. Alpenglow / 10. The Eyes Of Sharbat Gula / 11. The Greatest Show On Earth (I Four Point Six / II Life / III The Toolmaker / IV The Understanding / V Sea-Worn Driftwood)