Musical Cosplay Collective’s Debut Record Is A Successful Effort

Courtesy: Rise Records

Courtesy: Rise Records

Star Wars is one of the biggest film franchises in Hollywood’s modern history.  Ever since the franchise’s first movie debuted way back in 1977, it has proven to be anything but a niche property.  It has generated no fewer than eight movies, multiple TV series, video games and more.  Next month, another tribute to the Star Wars will be released in the form of the self-titled debut record from cosplay cover band Galactic Empire.  The 11-song collection will impress Star Wars fans and fans of Powerglove, Trans Siberian Orchestra and other acts of that ilk.  That is due in no small part to the songs chosen for the record.  That will be discussed shortly.  The songs’ arrangements are just as important to note in examining this record as the songs themselves.  That will be discussed later.  The record’s sequencing rounds out its most important elements.  Each element plays its own important part in the record’s presentation.  All things considered, Galactic Empire proves in the end to be an enjoyable covers collection and a fun first effort from the band from a galaxy far, far away.

Galactic Empire’s self-titled debut album is not a collection of original compositions.  That aside, it is still an enjoyable experience that Star Wars fans will appreciate just as much as fans of Powerglove, Trans Siberian Orchestra, and others of that ilk.  That is due in part to the songs chosen for the record.  The 11 songs that make up the body of the record come from not just one of the franchise’s films but a number of them.  ‘Main Theme’ and ‘Imperial March’ come from the franchise’s original trilogy.  ‘The Force Theme’ has been incorporated into most of the franchise’s entries including The Force Awakens. The band even reaches back to the series’ “prequels” with ‘Duel of the Fates’ from Episode I: The Phantom Menace.  Fittingly, the whole thing ends with the famed “Throne Room” theme from the end of Return of the Jedi.  Between that and the rest of the songs featured here, it becomes clear why the songs collected for this record are so important to its presentation.  They show the band wanted to reach as many of the franchise’s fans as possible, not just one specific audience.  To that end, the band is to be commended.  It is just one reason the band (and album) should be commended, too.  The arrangements that are presented within the songs are just as important to note as the songs themselves.

The songs that make up the body of Galactic Empire’s debut album are in themselves key to its presentation.  That is because they show the band aimed at as many of the franchise’s fans as possible.  They are, collectively speaking, just one of the record’s key elements.  The songs’ arrangements are just as important to note in examining the record’s presentation as the songs themselves.  Listeners will note that while the arrangements are presented in a rock format, they stay largely true to the original compositions.  Listeners will especially appreciate the way the band handled the beloved ‘Force Theme.’  It maintains that solemn vibe presented in the original composition, even despite being handed on guitar.  On another note (no pun intended) one could argue the band’s take on ‘The Asteroid Field’ (from Star Wars Episode V) is even more exciting than the original symphonic composition with its guitar-driven sound.  That is not to say that the original composition is bad by any means.  In fact it is very enjoyable.  Keeping that in mind and considering the record’s other arrangements, it is clear in listening to each arrangement why the arrangements in whole are so important to this record’s presentation.  They are, again, just as important to note as the songs themselves, and are still not the only important pieces of the record’s whole.  The record’s sequencing is just as important to note as its songs and their arrangements.

The songs presented in this record and their arrangements are both clearly important alone and collectively to the record’s presentation.  As important as they are to the record’s presentation they are not its only key elements.  The record’s sequencing rounds out its most important elements.  It is clear in listening to the record from start to finish that a lot of thought was given to its sequencing.  It begins with a bang with the franchise’s original theme.  It ends with just as much of a bang with the song used at the end of the original trilogy’s final movie.  In between, the energy rises and falls at all of the right points, thus keeping listeners fully engaged throughout.  The record’s first three songs keep the energy high before things pull back a little in track 4, ‘The Force Theme.’  Things pick right back up with the record’s next two songs, ‘The Asteroid Field’ and ‘Battle of the Heroes’ before turning a little more light-hearted with the band’s cover of the famed song from the famed cantina scene in which Luke originally meets Han Solo.  The energy and emotion rises and falls just as much in the record’s final songs.  The end result is an experience that will keep listeners engaged and entertained just as much in that final group of songs just as much as any of the record’s other compositions.  All things considered, the ups and downs are expertly balanced from beginning to end, guaranteeing an experience that listeners will enjoy and appreciate.  Being that they will enjoy and appreciate that well-thought-out sequencing just as much as the record’s featured songs and their arrangements, listeners will agree that when all three elements are joined together, they make the record in whole a collection that Star Wars fans will appreciate just as much as fans of Trans Siberian Orchestra and Powerglove.  They join together to make the record a fun first effort from Galactic Empire.

Galactic Empire’s self-titled debut record is a work that Star Wars fans will appreciate just as much as fans of Powerglove, Trans Siberian Orchestra and others of their ilk.  As has been noted here, that is due in part to the songs that make up the body of the record.  They pull from the franchise’s original trilogy and its prequels.  Being that ‘The Force Theme’ is included in The Force Awakens, one could even argue to a point that even that movie is represented to a point.  That shows that this musical cosplay collective wanted to reach as many Star Wars fans as possible with this collection.  The songs’ arrangements stay largely true to the source material, even having been re-worked in a rock setting.  Truly devoted Star Wars fans will appreciate that aspect of the songs.  The sequencing rounds out the record’s most important elements.  It is clear in listening to this record that a lot of thought was put into its sequencing.  Each element is obviously important in its own right to the record’s presentation.  All things considered, Galactic Empire proves, once more, to be a fun first effort from its namesake; a record that will take listeners easily to that galaxy far, far away with every listen.  It will be available in stores and online on March 10 via Rise Records.  More information on Galactic Empire is available online with all of the band’s latest news and more at:

 

 

 

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/galacticempireofficial

Instagram: http://www.instagram.com/galacticempireofficial

 

 

 

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Exmortus Is At Its Peak In On Its Latest LP

Courtesy:  Prosthetic Records

Courtesy: Prosthetic Records

Exmortus struck quite the blow for the metal community when it released its album Slave To The Sword back in 2014. The band’s third full-length studio record and first for Prosthetic Records, it can be argued that it was the album that really made Exmortus into one of the metal community’s next big names. Earlier last month Exmortus followed up the success of that album with its latest full-length studio recording Ride Forth. The band’s fourth full-length studio offering this record is a solid follow-up to Slave To The Sword. Its nine track, forty-three-minute body presents a band that doesn’t rest easily on its laurels. From beginning to end the album keeps its energy and intensity both musically and lyrically beginning right at the album’s outset. ‘Speed of the Strike’ is a full-throttle metal opus that comes at listeners with the speed and precision of the sharpest blade. This applies both with its musical and lyrical content. ‘For The Horde,’ the album’s lead single, is just as pummeling in its approach. And the band’s cover of Beethoven’s Sonata No. 23 in F Minor Op. 57 ‘Appasionata’ 3rd movement cannot be ignored either. The band has taken the legendary composer’s original work and paid it full tribute in its take in its performance of the song. It is every bit as intense here as the original composition, which is more commonly performed on piano. It serves to once again exhibit the breadth of the band’s talents and musical knowledge. When set against the other songs noted here, and those not directly noted, it serves as one more example of why Ride Forth is without question one of this year’s top new hard rock and metal albums.

Ride Forth, Exmortus’ latest full-length studio recording, is without question one of this year’s top new hard rock and metal albums. That is evident from the album’s full-throttle, take no prisoners opener ‘Speed of The Strike’ right to its finale, ‘Fire And Ice.’ From beginning to end this record’s sound (which conjures thoughts of Arch Enemy, Poweglove, TSO, and other similar acts) alongside its equally powerful lyrical content keeps listeners’ ears with ears. Speaking of the album’s opener it is just one example of what makes this album such an outstanding new effort from Exmortus. In regards to the song’s musical content, the band wastes no time coming at listeners. Guitarist David Rivera and front man/guitarist Jadran “Conan” Gonzalez jump right into the song with their dual guitar attack alongside drummer Mario Moreno and bassist Michael Cosio. The song’s no-nonsense musical approach is in itself just one part of what makes it a solid opener for the band on this album. That is just one part of what makes the song’s musical content notable. Even within the song’s musical content audiences that listen closely will note the band’s classical influences throughout the song. The precision in Rivera and Gonzalez’s performance is incredible. The same can be said of Cosio and Moreno as they establish the song’s foundation. Altogether, the quartet’s abilities create a sound here that in itself is more than enough reason for audiences to hear this song. It’s just one important element of this song. The song’s lyrical content is just as intense as its musical content. Gonzalez sings here, “Riding forth through lands forlorn/Upon our steel the oath is sworn/Dare to make your final stand/Nothing can our steel withstand/Fate is sealed/Death by steel/Slaying man and god alike/All shall feel the speed of the strike.” It comes across like something right from the likes of Amon Amarth and other viking metal acts even though Exmortus is anything but. Interestingly enough Exmortus will hit the road this spring alongside Amon Amarth on its upcoming U.S. tour. Gonzalez continues in similar fashion in the song’s chorus as he sings, “Hark! The sound of steel/The mighty roar of clashing swords/Lo! The metal storm/Forthcoming bane/Those who remain/All shall be torn to shreds/Swords stained red/Raze to the ground/We will strike you down.” This and the song’s opening verse alone build a firm bridge back to Slave To The Sword yet also connects that album expertly to this album. Taking all of this into consideration along with the rest of the song’s equally pummeling lyrical content, the song in whole exhibits clearly in itself what makes Ride Forth a musical ride. it is just one example of what makes Exmortus’ new album such an intense and welcome musical ride. ‘For The Horde,’ the album’s lead single, is another example of what makes this album so intense and so welcome among both the band’s fans and the metal community.

‘Speed Of The Strike’ was the perfect choice with which Exmortus opted to open its latest full-length studio recording. The combination of its musical and lyrical content together instantly grabs listeners and holds them firm from start to finish. While the musical and lyrical intensity of this song makes it a solid first impression for the band on its latest offering, it is just one example of what makes this album such an impressive new offering from Exmortus. ‘For The Horde,’ the album’s lead single, is yet another example of what makes the album a solid new effort from the Whittier, California-based band. In regards to its musical content it is just as intense with the chainsaw sharpness of its dual guitar attack and machine gun-fast drumming. Its lyrical content is just as intense as that of ‘Speed of the Strike,’ too. As Gonzalez sings here, “Ride on/Raise your strong and fight strong/All shall face the mighty metal horde/Thunder/We go in and plunder/Bow before the heavy hammer lord/Whiplash/Hackslash/All is burned to ash.” Yet again here listeners get much the same lyrical intensity and theme as in ‘Speed Of The Strike.’ The combination of that lyrical and musical intensity from beginning to end shows clearly why this song is another example of what makes ‘For The Horde’ such a welcome return for the band. Audiences can check out the band’s lyric video for the song online now via YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uo35U4PTQ90. It still is not the only remaining example of what makes the album such an impressive return for Exmortus, too. The band’s cover of Beethoven’s Sonata No. 23 in F Minor Op. 57 ‘Appasionata’ 3rd movement cannot be ignored as an example what makes this album so impressive either.

Both ‘Speed Of The Strike’ and ‘For The Horde’ are prime examples of what makes Ride Forth a clearly welcome return for Exmortus. They are both prime examples of why it is such a welcome return for the band because of the intensity of both their musical and lyrical content. They are hardly the only songs that could be cited as examples thanks to that intensity, too. ‘Death To Tyrants’ could just as easily be cited with its impassioned call to arms against those that rule the world unjustly and its equally powerful musical content. Audiences can hear that song online via Prosthetic Records’ official YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u40otH-jZZw. ‘Fire and Ice’ and ‘Black Sails’ could also be cited as examples in their own right. Given the amount of material that could be used to exhibit just what makes Ride Forth such an impressive return there is still one more song included in this album that shines bright because of its musical content alone. That song is the band’s cover of Beethoven’s Sonata No. 23 in F Minor Op. 57 ‘Appasionata’ 3rd movement. The song is just one part of a much larger song. The song in whole runs nearly twenty-five minutes in length. So of course the band wasn’t about to try its hand at the entire composition. That would likely wear out even the most experienced musicians. Heck it even wears out professional, classically trained pianists. To that extent the band can be excused. Taking that into consideration the movement that is presented here in this recording is impressive in its own right. Gonzalez and Rivera are spot on handling the song’s main line. And Cosio is just as impressive as he runs the song’s harmony. All three parts together surprisingly mirror the original composition quite well. It would be unfair to ignore drummer Mario Moreno’s work in this presentation. He stays right on time with his band mates as he adds just enough extra flourish to the song. The cymbal crashes are inserted at just the right points. And his rapid fire footwork on the bass drums is right in time with Cosio’s bass line and even the song’s guitar lines. It’s enough to leave one wondering what a full orchestra version of the song would sound like instead of the song’s typical piano presentation. That’s really saying something about the band members’ talent in taking on a piece that is heavy not in the heavy sense but in terms of the intense concentration and talent that it requires to accomplish it successfully. The song is well over two centuries old. But the band gives it a wonderful new twist all while paying tribute to the original composition. That speaks volumes about the band’s take on the song and about the band’s talent in general. It shows once more why this song is yet another prime example of what makes Ride Forth a welcome return for Exmortus and why alongside the rest of the album’s featured works it is in whole one of the best new hard rock and metal offerings of the year even with the year still being so young. Audiences can hear the song for themselves via Prosthetic Records’ official YouTube channel at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KDnNIXpu0nQ.

Exmortus’ fourth full-length studio album is a picture of a band that is currently at the peak of its career and talent. The band mixes precision guitar work and drumming with lyrical content that is just as powerful in its own right. The end result is a nine-song, forty-three minute experience that will impress any purist member of the metal nation worldwide. It is an experience that will leave said metal loyalists agreeing with this and many other critics that this record is one of the best new hard rock and metal offerings of the year even with the year still being so young. Ride Forth is available now in stores and online. Audiences can order it or download it direct via Prosthetic Records’ online store now at http://prostheticrecords.com/?p=8531. Fans can also pick it up now at any of the band’s live dates. Exmortus is currently touring in support of Ride Forth. The band’s current tour schedule is available online now along with all of its latest news and more at:

Website: http://exmortusmusic.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/exmortusofficial

Twitter: http://twitter.com/exmortusband

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The Magic Of Winter Casts Its Own Special, Musical Spell On Listeners

Courtesy: Adrenaline PR/Breaking Bands, LLC

Courtesy: Adrenaline PR/Breaking Bands, LLC

Early last month, power prog band The Wizards of Winter released its latest full-length studio recording The Magic of Winter. The album, the band’s second is a fittingly titled offering from the band, which includes former members of fellow power prog rock act Trans-Siberian Orchestra (TSO). That is because the ten-track, forty-plus minute recording. That is because from beginning to end it is an album that casts its own magical spell, especially in a year when TSO’s latest release is a non-holiday recording. That is not a stab at TSO by any means just to let audiences know. This critic is a major TSO fan and has nothing but the utmost respect for the veteran prog rock act. What is meant to say here is that being that TSO is known more for its holiday offerings than its non-holiday records, the release of a new non-holiday recording (and a truly impressive one at that) this year left the door wide open for another act to pick up the slack. Enter The Wizards of Winter, which itself takes its name from TSO’s ‘Wizards in Winter.’ The Magic of Winter casts a spell on listeners that is just as powerful as any cast by TSO in its current catalogue. The main reason for this is the album’s lyrical content. That will be discussed shortly. The musical content is just as important to the whole of this record as its lyrical content. It will be discussed later. Last of note in regards to the album’s presentation is its sequencing. This plays right back into the album’s lyrical content and brings everything full circle. Each element plays its own important part in the whole of The Magic of Winter. Collectively they make The Magic of Winter a truly magic record for both fans of TSO and for audiences in general.

The Magic of Winter, is a fittingly titled new effort from The Wizards of Winter. The band’s second full-length studio recording, it is such a fittingly titled recording from the ban because in examining each of its many elements, it is a record that casts its own magical spell on listeners. That spell is created in part by the album’s lyrical content. Audiences will note that the band is made up largely of former members of TSO. Now having that knowledge and the knowledge of TSO’s albums being concept records, one would expect the overall lyrical presentation of The Magic of Winter to be interconnected as with TSO’s albums. And it is. but it is only to a point. Lyrically speaking it is more akin to TSO’s 1996 debut album Christmas Eve and Other Stories than the later releases in the band’s “Christmas Trilogy.” That is because it doesn’t necessarily follow one distinct story line. It takes listeners on a musical journey around the world, presenting what winter and the holiday season means to different people. So there is one underlying thread between each of the album’s songs. However, the story (if one wants to call it that) is not necessarily a story in the traditional sense of the term when it comes to concept albums. Even with that taken into consideration the lyrical content presented in each of the album’s songs is still entertaining and moving from beginning to end. ‘The Spirit of Christmas’ is a good example of the importance of the album’s lyrical content. The song is sung from the wide-eyed vantage point of someone that obviously loves the holiday season quite a bit. That is obvious as the vocalist sings, “Every year I get this feeling coming over me/Is it just the change of season/What else can it be/What’s this spell that grabs us/Did you ever wonder/Is it dream or fantasy or something in-between.” He goes on to sing in the song’s chorus, “When you see it all around you/Like the snow that fills the air/Open up to all the magic/Christmas spirit everywhere/Let the spirit work its magic/Fill your heart with love and cheer/Can you feel it all around you/Christmas spirit everywhere.” The delivery of these lines gives them so much power. By comparison, ‘I Am Here’ presents its own happy story in which a female lead sings happily on Christmas Eve of dreaming of her beloved. It is a similar musical story. But it is not necessarily any relation to ‘The Spirit of Christmas.’ It is really its own story. There is even a musical presentation of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol presented here. It stands completely on its own two feet yet still boasts the same themes presented in the album’s other full songs (those with musical and lyrical content–That, too will be discussed later). All three songs show in their own way how the songs presented in The Magic of Winter connect to one another without actually being part of one bigger story that requires listeners’ devoted attention. The other seven songs that make up the remainder of the album’s body show this just as much. Collectively, all ten songs show clearly why The Magic of Winter’s lyrical content is such an important part of its whole. They are just a portion of what makes this album such a standout collection of songs for The Wizards of Winter. The album’s musical content is just as important to note as its lyrical content in its whole.

The lyrical content presented throughout The Magic of Winter is a key element to note in examining this latest full-length studio effort from The Wizards of Winter. That is because in examining the songs that boast lyrical and musical content, the picture painted by those songs is one of an album that is a concept album but isn’t one at the same time. The songs carry a similar underlying theme that could connect them together for one story. But that connection proves in the end to not be strong enough to call the album a traditional concept album yet strong enough to keep listeners engaged regardless from beginning to end. While the album’s lyrical content proves to be unquestionably important to its overall presentation, it is just one part of what makes the album’s presentation solid. The album’s musical content is just as important to note as its lyrical content. In regards to the album’s musical content, it should come as no surprise that said content bears a striking resemblance to that of TSO. That is because the band’s lineup includes a number of former members of said power prog band. This is obvious in the hugely symphonic approach to ‘The Spirit of Christmas’ with its horns, guitars, bombastic drumming and equally powerful vocals. ‘Flight of the Snow Angels,’ which opens the album, can also be cited as an example of that similarity between the musical styling of The Wizards of Winter and TSO. The driving string and horn arrangements that open the song instantly conjure thoughts of TSO. That is because together they sound quite a bit like a certain TSO song. The song’s multiple guitar approach adds even more to that similarity. ‘With One Voice,’ the album’s penultimate composition is one more example of the importance of this album’s musical content to the album’s presentation. The song is essentially a re-working of ‘Hark The Herald, Angels Sing.’ Yet it is anything but a cookie cutter rendition of the song. It hasn’t been re-imagined and re-worked per se. But the overall musical delivery of the song is quite different from the original composition. And in hearing this, listeners will agree that it is one of the single strongest examples of the importance of the album’s musical content if not its single most important example. Together with the album’s lyrical content (in the songs that contain both music and lyrics), both elements do plenty to make this record worth more than just one listen. Of course as much of an impact as they have both by themselves and collectively they are still not all that makes this record worth hearing. The album’s sequencing is just as important to the whole of the album’s presentation as its musical and lyrical content.

Both the musical and lyrical content displayed throughout the course of The Magic of Winter are equally important to the album’s overall presentation. They paint a picture that in whole will impress both TSO fans and audiences in general. As important as both elements are to the whole of this record they are but a portion of what makes its presentation so interesting. The album’s sequencing rounds out its presentation. From start to finish the album’s sequencing puts the finishing touch on it. From the album’s upbeat opener to the more reserved vibe of ‘Winter Magic’ and beyond the album’s energy rises and falls at all of the right spots. The end result of those well-placed ups and downs is an emotional impact that ensures listeners’ engagement from beginning to end. Together with the album’s equally enjoyable musical and lyrical content, the overall presentation of The Magic of Winter will cast a special magical, musical spell on every listener.

The Magic of Winter, the second full-length studio offering from The Wizards of Winter, is a wonderful addition to any family’s home music library this and any holiday season. That is because whether one is a long-time TSO fan or just a lover of holiday music, this record will cast its own special, magical spell on any listener. That is thanks in large part to the combination of the album’s musical and lyrical content. The smart sequencing of that content creates an album that will ensure listeners’ engagement from beginning to end of the album’s forty-minute plus run time. The end result of that engagement is agreement by listeners that this album is its own wonderful, magical treat for every family. It is available now in stores and online. The band is currently touring in support of The Magic of Winter and will be in Collingswood, NJ tonight and Easton, PA on December 5th. More information on The Magic of Winter is available online now along with the band’s latest news and tour dates at:

Website: http://www.thewizardsofwinter.com

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/TheWizardsofWinter

Twitter: http://twitter.com/wizardsofwinter

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Ragnarok Juletide Not Just Another Cookie Cutter Christmas Album

Courtesy:  Spinefarm Records/Carolina Records/Universal Music Group

Courtesy: Spinefarm Records/Caroline Records/Universal Music Group

It’s that time of year again, everybody.  The turkey’s been devoured.  The leftovers have been turned into every possible concoction possible.  The in-laws are (hopefully) gone.  The Christmas tree and decorations are set up.  The annual deluge of Christmas movies is running across the networks.  And the overwhelming surge of cookie cutter Christmas albums is in every store shelf and on every store radio.  The movies are bearable.  The decorations and tree are no problem.  The problem is the cookie cutter Christmas albums.  Save for Mannheim Steamroller and Trans-Siberian Orchestra, every other Christmas album from every major artist and band sounds the same.  And making it worse, it’s the same albums on shelves and radios every year.  Thankfully this year, Spinefarm Records and Caroline Records have given audiences quite a welcome breath of fresh air from all of those albums with the new “Christmas Metal” album Ragnarok Juletide.  The latest release from the ever-evolving metal super group, it was recorded this year by members of Amaranthe, Nightwish, and Sonata Arctica.  For those that don’t know, Raskasta Joulua translates to “Christmas Love.”  And heavy is just what audiences get in this mixed collection of holiday standards and original Finnish holiday material.  Raskasta Joulua celebrates its tenth anniversary this year.  While it obviously hasn’t been around nearly as long as Mannheim Steamroller or Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Raskasta Joulua’s new album will entertain the metal legions and lovers of Christmas music alike from start to finish.  From the very TSO-esque take on ‘The First Noel’ to the James Bond-style sound of ‘The Elf’ to the absolutely stunning closer that is ‘Ave Maria,’ Ragnarok Juletide offers audiences so much to like.  That includes the songs not noted here, too.  Collectively, the songs included on this record make it a holiday record that every lover of Christmas music should hear at least once this holiday season.

It goes without saying after hearing Ragnarok Juletide that this compilation is one that every lover of Christmas music should hear at least once this holiday season.  It is a breath of fresh air from all of the cookie cutter Christmas albums churned out year after year by all of the mainstream acts out there.  One example of what makes this album so enjoyable for audiences is the band’s take on the holiday standard ‘The First Noel.’  While it does boast a sound similar to that of TSO, it still maintains its own identity.  It isn’t just ‘The First Noel.’  It mixes that song together with elements of ‘Carol of the Bells’ and ‘God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen’ to make a song that will have every headbanger putting their horns high this holiday season.  Even more interesting to note are the guitar solos.  Audiences will hear in the guitar solos elements of not only TSO but of Dream Theater, and certain well-known 80s hair metal bands.  Throughout it all, the performers tapped for this performance exhibit great talent and respect for the original songs on which the song is based.  Needless to say it is one of the highest of points on this record although not the album’s only high point.

Raskasta Joulua offers plenty of high points from start to finish throughout the course of the dozen total tracks that make up the body of Ragnarok Juletide.  The group’s take on ‘The First Noel’ is one example of just how much this album has to offer audiences.  American audiences likely aren’t so familiar with ‘The Elf.’  But the group’s take on this song will entertain listeners in its own way.  The song follows a little elf that is hard at work at night.  The song sounds foreboding.  But it really isn’t that dark of a song.  The use of the James Bond style guitar riff adds to the song’s impact, enhancing the visual imagery of the elf working in secret.  And the vocalist’s deep, baritone makes for even more impact.  It is the polar opposite of ‘The First Noel.’  But it is still such a great addition to this compilation.  It is just one more example of what makes Ragnarok Juletide such a great listen for any lover of Christmas music and any metal head around the world this holiday season.

Ragnarok Juletide has so much to offer audiences on its latest full-length release as has been noted here already. The metal legions around the world will appreciate the album’s heavier side exemplified by the likes of the album’s opener ‘We Celebrate at Christmas’ and its take on ‘The First Noel.’ There is also the lesser known ‘The Elf’ that will impress those looking for something a little less heavy but still with a certain edge. On the completely opposite end of the spectrum, there is the absolutely stunning rendition of ‘Ave Maria’ that closes out the compilation. This song is the single most powerful and moving piece on the entire record. So it makes sense that it would be saved for last. Whether for its solo vocal parts, the ever-so-subtle dual harmony in the song’s closing moments, or its gentle fade out at the end, there is so much to admire about this piece. Anyone not moved at least to some point in listening to this song is either not listening closely enough or simply is not human. It is a wonderful, final moment and one that along with those other songs noted here (and those not noted) makes this record a memorable anniversary celebration for Raskasta Joulua. It makes it just as memorable for anyone looking to escape from the cookie cutter holiday albums that populate most store shelves and radio systems.

Ten years in, Raskasta Joulua has shown yet again that even while it may not have the popularity of Trans-Siberian Orchestra or Mannheim Steamroller, it still impresses just as much today as in its earliest days. From the group’s renditions of more well-known and beloved holiday classics to those that might be more familiar to only certain audiences, Ragnarok Juletide, this record proves in the end to be the best new holiday record of 2014, hands down. It is available now in stores and online. It can be ordered online direct from the Raskasta Joulua website at http://www.raskastajoulua.com. More information on this and other releases from Raskasta Joulua is available online at:

Websitehttp://www.raskastajoulua.com

Facebookhttps://www.facebook.com/raskastajoulua

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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 https://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 https://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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