Exmortus’ Prosthetic Records Debut Is 2014’s First Great Metal Record

Courtesy:  Prosthetic Records

Courtesy: Prosthetic Records

Exmortus releases this week its debut album for its new label, Prosthetic Records. The band’s new album, titled Slave to the Sword is not the band’s first album.  It is in fact the third full length studio release from the Whittier, California based metal act.  But being the first for its new label, this latest release is one heck of a first impression for the band’s new bosses. As a matter of fact, Slave to the Sword is in this critic’s ears, the first truly great metal record of 2014.  One needs listen to this record just one time to figure out why it is deserving of this title.  Right from the opening assault of ‘Rising’, the band’s members show just how much they have honed their craft over the course of two previous releases to create this new metal masterpiece. The album’s opener is just the tip of the iceberg…sword?…for the band on this record.  ‘Immortality Made Flesh’ and the band’s full on power metal cover of composer Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight Sonata (Act 3)’ show just how much Exmortus’ members have grown in terms of their talent up to this point.  As impressive as these pieces are, they are just pieces of the whole that any purist metalhead will appreciate from Exmortus on this its third album.  Every listener will find his or her own favorite song(s) when they pick up Slave to the Sword for themselves.

Exmortus opens its new album fittingly with the song ‘Rising.’  Vocalist Conan screams ominously over the full on shredding attack of guitarist David Rivera, “Welcome/To the realm of darkness/We are anxious for your blood/Rising/From the depths we crawl/Rising/To devour all.” Conan’s vocal style is interesting.  It’s interesting because believe it or not, even with the growl, it doesn’t come across like that of so many other vocalists’ sounds that are little more than the standard cookie monster growl.  Rivera’s full throttle shredding is a nice addition, too.  Instead of the standard down-tuned, crunching guitars that seem to dominate so much of the metal community today, one can almost see smoke coming from Rivera’s fingers as they make their way up and down the neck of his guitar.  One need not even physically see Rivera play to be able to pick up on his talent.  Of course drummer Mario Moreno is well worth mentioning here, too along with bassist Jovanni Perez.  Moreno’s chops are incredibly solid throughout the course of the song’s near four-minute run time.  His timekeeping throughout the song is solid as a rock, even with all of the runs that he executes. And Perez is right there with Moreno, neither man missing a single note or beat.  The unit as a whole combines throughout the entire piece to make ‘Rising’ feel like a perfect opener both on record and in a live setting.

‘Rising’ is a fitting starting point for Exmortus on this record.  That’s because it shows without a shadow of a doubt that this band is indeed rising in the ranks of the metal world.  It proves this even more as it powers its way through the album’s third track, ‘Immortality Made Flesh.’  This single is available now for download from the Prosthetic Records online store at http://www.indiemerch.com/prostheticrecords/item/23123.  This track stands out so well because it exhibits much the same power from the band that is displayed through the album’s opener.  The difference between the two is that the energy established in ‘Rising’ is stepped up tenfold in this full throttle speed/thrash opus.  There is in this song, more of a sense of urgency in David Rivera’s performance here for lack of better wording.  Conan’s dark Amon Amarth style lyrics and vocals are just as strong, too.  So much more could be noted.  Simply put, their talent set alongside that of their band mates makes this song one of the highest of highs on this record.

‘Immortality Made Flesh’ is one of the highest points on Exmortus’ new record.  There is at least one more song that is more than deserving of being called a high point, though.  That song is the band’s amped up cover of composer Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight Sonata (Act 3).’  Conan gets to give his vocals arrest on this piece while his band mates get the chance to shine more than ever.  Its collective talent instantly conjures thoughts of Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s album, Beethoven’s Last Night and of other amped up covers from the band.  It truly shows the band’s talent and its versatility more than any other song included on this album.  So it comes as no wonder that it has been chosen as the band’s latest single.  It’s just one more of so many outstanding tracks that make this record again, the first truly great metal record of 2014.

The band is currently touring in support of Slave to the Sword.  Fans in North Carolina will get to experience music from the band’s new album live when it comes to The Milestone in Charlotte, North Carolina on March 10th.  Exmortus’ most current tour schedule, news and more is available online at http://www.facebook.com/exmortusofficial.  To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Of Conquest Is A Surprisingly Entertaining High Seas Hard Rock Epic

Courtesy:  Adrenaline PR

Courtesy: Adrenaline PR

Odds are that many American metal audiences have never heard of Scythia.  That all changes here and now.  Anyone that is a fan of Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Judas Priest, In Flames, and even Dream Theater will enjoy the latest release from the Canadian power/prog rock band.  Of Conquest, the band’s fourth full length studio release, offers audiences even more adventure from the four-piece.  Stylistically speaking, this new record presents a sound that fans have come to know from the band’s previous records.  In terms of its content, the band has offered its fans something new once again.  Instead of delving into the world of warriors, wizards, the band has opted this time for a high seas hard rock epic.  Those that might be new to the music of Scythia will enjoy this record first and foremost of its musical content.  While this record boasts a sound similar to Scythia’s previous records, the sound stands out because of its hybrid qualities.  This will be discussed later.  The story presented in Of Conquest is just as certain to entertain any pure blooded metal head that is open-minded enough to give the record a chance.  In giving it a chance, said audiences may very well themselves find this new record to be one of their own favorite rock albums.

The musical side of Scythia’s new record is relatively similar to that of the band’s previous records.  On the surface, it comes across as another power/prog rock record, stylistically speaking.  But a deeper listen reveals something even more intriguing. The band’s sound is actually a subtle hybrid sound.  While the power/prog element comes out above others, there are also some obviously Swedish metal influences, too.  That’s obvious in the performance of lead guitarist/vocalist Dave Khan and even drummer/backing vocalist Celine Derval.  As a matter of fact, if one were to listen to this record without knowing that Derval was a member of the band, one would swear that the screaming female vocals that are interwoven into certain songs were that of Arch Enemy vocalist Angela Gossow.  Speaking of Arch Enemy, Dave Khan’s prowess on the guitar is just as impressive as that of Michael Amott and other fellow Swedish shredders.  It just goes to show the influence of Swedish metal on the rock world.  Some might consider it musical heresy, but Khan’s own vocals are even on par with the likes of Rob Halford, Bruce Dickinson and others.  Considering that this band released its debut album only four years ago, that is saying something.  Audiences that give this new record a chance will be surprised to find themselves agreeing with this comparison, too.  The positives of Of Conquest  don’t end here, either.  Just as noteworthy with this latest release is the album’s lyrical side.

Scythia has given its audiences a new story with each one of its previous releases.  Those releases have been steeped in fantasy and legend somewhere along the lines of perhaps Amon Amarth and others, only toned down.  There is still plenty of myth on Of Conquest.  But this time, the myth is used in a high seas hard rock opera of sorts.  This album presents a young protagonist that decides to take to the high seas in the late 1500s.  At first things seem great.  But it doesn’t take long before the young unnamed subject finds himself on quite the adventure.  From getting caught in an unforgiving storm to battling a kraken to facing some unspeakable figures late in his journey, he has great odds to face.  Making the story all the more interesting to take in is the fact that despite the band’s hybrid hard rock/metal sound, Khan actually sings his way through each “chapter” of the story.  So it’s actually possible to understand what is going on without a dire need for a lyric booklet.  Don’t misunderstand that statement.  Lyric booklets are always a nice addition for any artist’s album, regardless of genre.  It’s just that easy to understand the story.  And that is the final piece of what makes this album a surprisingly enjoyable record.  The band currently has no live events planned.  But fans that want to hear the band live or those that want to check out the new album when it is released can keep up with the band online at http://www.scythia.ca and http://www.facebook.com/scythiametal.  To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it.  Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.

Friedman Proves Again To Be One Of Rock’s Elite With New LP

Courtesy:  Prosthetic Records

Courtesy: Prosthetic Records

Prosthetic Records recently re-issued famed guitarist Marty Friedman’s 2009 and 2011 records, Tokyo Jukebox I and II in a double disc set for his fans.  The recent release marked the first time that these two albums had ever been released stateside.  Fans know of Friedman’s work with the likes of Megadeth.  But how many know of his abilities on his own?  That question is answered loud and clear with this recently released double disc set.  The aptly titled album presents quite a bit of material that sounds like it came right from a Japanese Anime feature film.  Though, it does also offer heavier material such as its relentless opener, ‘Tsume Tsume Tsume.’  What’s so interesting about this song is that rather than just being one song, it actually splits itself into two separate movements within its near five and a half minute run time.  It goes from being a thrashing, speed metal opus to a slower, heavier work that will leave listeners breathless by the song’s end before moving into the first of the album’s more anime favoring songs in ‘Gift.’

‘Gift’ sounds just like a work that could have come right out of the likes of Dragonball Z or a similar anime work.  Any listener who has any knowledge of Japanese features will be able to hear it, too.  Even those who are less initiated into the world of anime will be able to hear it simply by closing their eyes and taking in the song.  The album continues in this fashion in the album’s next handful of songs before finally leaning more towards a mainstream sound in the much more subdued acoustic song, ‘Romance No Kamisama.’  Friedman truly shows his talents here proving that just as he can shred with the best of the industry’s guitarists, he can play just as amazingly with a slower song.  As the old adage states, anyone can play fast.  But it takes a true musician to be able to play slow.  That being the case, Friedman shows here that he definitely is a true musician.  The addition of some very gentle piano runs and what sounds like a flute add so much more emotion to the song right up to its fading final moments.

The second half of Tokyo Jukebox Vol. 1 & 2 movies back in the direction of Friedman’s heavier side through all five of its tracks.  The opener, ‘Yeah! Mecha Holiday’ does lean more toward the vein of something from an anime feature.  But it somehow manages to walk the line, balancing that side of the music with a more mainstream sound.  Even more interesting about the song is the guitar break late in the song.  Instead of being metal, Friedman tosses in his own take on a jazz/fusion sound, believe it or not.  It really makes for an interesting listen. 

Just as much of an interesting listen is Friedman’s take on Pachelbel’s Canon in D in ‘Canon A La Koto.’  The introduction of an Asian element and Friedman’s guitar work makes this a piece that would amaze even the members of Trans-Siberian Orchestra.  It doesn’t even run a full two minutes.  It comes up just shy of that.  But in that time, it proves to be one of the shining gems of this combo release as does the powerhouse ballad style song that follows, ‘I Love You.’  Friedman expertly captures the emotion of someone newly in the bonds of love in this opus.  To make another comparison, anyone who is familiar with Dream Theater guitarist John Petrucci will appreciate this song as the similarity to Petrucci’s guitar work is evident here.  It makes for yet another high point to an album that is one of the best examples to date of Marty Friedman’s talents.  Tokyo Jukebox Vol. 1 & 2 is available now in stores and online.  It can be ordered online direct via the Prosthetic Records store at http://www.indiemerch.com/prostheticrecords/item/16661.

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TSO Goes Back To Its Past On New EP

Courtesy:  Atlantic Records

Courtesy: Atlantic Records

Trans Siberian Orchestra is back at it again.  It’s been over fifteen years since this famed melodic power rock band first turned the world of Christmas music on its ear with its blend of classical, rock, and holiday sounds.  And it’s been eight years since the band’s last holiday themed release, The Lost Christmas Eve (2004).  Now, the band has returned to form after the release of its most recent album, Night Castle with the release of its new EP, Dreams of Fireflies (On a Christmas Night).

TSO’s new EP offers fans four new songs and one that revisits an old classic and updates it at the same time.  That track is the EP’s title track.  Long-time fans of TSO will instantly recognize the band’s song ‘Queen Of The Winter Night’ in this song.  The change here though is that it has been mixed in with the final movement of Vivaldi’s legendary ‘Four Seasons’ opus.  Obviously, going back in time for this song has and will continue to divide the band’s legions.  But adding in new material makes for an interesting musical reboot of sorts.   

The EP’s opener, ‘Winter Palace’ is the perfect first impression for this new release.  Its ominous piano based intro will instantly grab listeners and keep their attention throughout the course of the song’s near four minute run time.  It’s the song’s buildup from the first bars to the sudden harder edged rock sound that makes it such a powerful first song.  It will instantly conjure thoughts of the band’s breakthrough hit, ‘Christmas Eve Sarajevo 12/24’ with its overall tone.  And its transition into the EP’s title track adds even more power to the overall general effect of this new release.

The EP’s third track, ‘I Had a Memory’ is just as…well…memorable as song as anything that the band has released over the course of its “Christmas Trilogy.”  This one will instantly conjure thoughts of ‘Faith Noel’ also from the band’s previous Christmas album, The Lost Christmas Eve.  Fans will recall that after the song’s initial slower opening “A” section, the tempo picks up in its “B” section.  The overall sound here even goes to more of a rock based sound.  A side by side comparison of the two songs will surely show the similarity.  While the band obviously looked to its roots for this piece, it can’t be said that the band directly ripped itself off.  But the influence of its previous record is undoubtedly there in this song. 

The influence of the band’s previous works is evident even as it moves into the EP’s penultimate track, ‘Someday.’  Stylistically, its emotional, almost folksy sound is similar to that of certain material from the band’s debut 1996 album, Christmas Eve and Other Stories.  What’s different here though, is the song’s lyrical side.  Lyrically, it is a tribute on the part of TSO founder and singer Paul O’ Neill to his parents sung by vocalist Tim Hockenberry.  Hockenberry’s haunting vocal style won’t leave a single eye dry after hearing singing here, “So I wrote these words/And I hope they last/For the years have come/And the years have passed/Think of all they gave/Think of all the debt/But can’t find a way/To repay them yet/For the days still come/And the debt still mounts/And do words unsaid/Ever really count/But sometimes still/In the dead of night/I can see them there/In the pale moonlight/I am trying/And I don’t know how/And I don’t know when/But I’ll have to tell them/Someday.”  It’s not just Hockenberry’s vocals that will move listeners in this emotional piece, either.  The music makes for a fitting compliment to Hockenberry’s gritty and almost mournful vocals in this song.  Together, they make one more highlight to the EP.  It’s a song that will leave even the strongest person at least a little teary eyed.

TSO’s new EP closes out with the gentle and equally emotional vocals of singer Georgia Napolitano on ‘Time You Should Be Sleeping.’  Yet again, TSO has reached back into its bag of tricks here as its obvious this song was influenced at least some part by the band’s song, ‘Dream Child’ from its 1998 album, ‘The Christmas Attic.’  Napolitano’s vocals are so powerful in their gentility, proving once more the old adage that less is more is very true.  Listeners can almost see this loving mother figure holding her young child, smiling down on said child as she sings, “I can see you breathing/Know that I am near you/Feel the evening whisper/In gentle sighs/To close your eyes until tomorrow/Childhood dreams are always new/And when you are there I’ll follow/And believe that my whole life is…/You.”  If this final moment doesn’t send chills and draw tears once more from listeners, then it’s anyone’s guess what would.  ‘Time You Should Be Sleeping’ doesn’t necessarily show any real Christmas themes.  But that aside, its beautiful lullaby style sound and lyrics make it the perfect counterpart to the EP’s opener, gently landing listeners on another musical shore after the journey taken from the EP’s other songs, thus closing one more impressive release from one of rock’s greatest and most talented bands around today.

Dreams of Fireflies (On a Christmas Night) is available now in stores and online.  It can be ordered direct online via TSO’s online store at http://transsiberianorchestra.shop.bravadousa.com/.  It can also be picked up at the band’s shows as it tours the country in support of the new release and its most recently full length Christmas album, The Lost Christmas Eve.  To get a full list of tour dates and all the latest news from the band, audiences can go online to http://www.facebook.com/TSO or http://www.trans-siberian.com.

To keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news, go online to http://www.facebook.com/philspicks and “Like” it or its companion page, http://www.facebook.com/pages/Reel-Reviews/381028148587141.  Fans can always keep up with the latest entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog at http://philspicks.wordpress.com.