What Is Real Music?

The band TOOL recently released Fear Inoculum, their fifth album, on August 30th of this year. At the end of their debut week, it ended up charting on the Billboard 200 at number 1. And of course, as is typical of most rock bands that chart on the Billboard (and, in general, sell a lot of copies of an album), people are quick to say that “Rock music isn’t dead” or “The Billboard finally has real music charting”.

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Sabaton: The Great War Review

Sabaton’s 2019 album The Great War is their most polished and well written record. It also just-so-happens to be their worst. Objectively, that’s not saying a lot. Since their debut album, Primo Victoria, their music has been a ride through all the great battles of history, from ancient Greece to the modern day. And as they’ve progressed, their albums have gotten more and more defined. Where 2008’s The Art of War was based on the book of the same name by Sun Tzu, All the way up to The Last Stand, they’ve consistently created concept albums representing all eras of warfare and the consequences, heroes, and horrors of each era of war and battle. They’ve covered everything from the Battle of Rorke’s Drift in the song “Rorke’s Drift” (duh), where 150 British soldiers shot down and defended themselves from thousands of Zulu warriors. They’ve covered the Battle of Thermopylae in the song “Sparta”, where 7,000 Spartans held off a Persian force of 70,000 to 300,000 men. Essentially, any battle or war, they’ve likely put out a heavy metal anthem about it.

With The Great War, while they’ve definitely written some stellar music and portrayed World War I with a mixture of hell and the heroes that come from it, the music and concept feels too forced to be released at this point in time. In previous albums, they definitely had a grip on the concepts and battles, but the music reflected each battle or war in a different light. “Night Witches” sounded vastly different from “Inmate 4859” or “To Hell and Back” on the album Heroes. Even on the album The Art of War, Sabaton varied the themes of each song both lyrically and instrumentally. “Ghost Division”, about Panzer tanks in World War II, sounded different than “Panzerkampf” which, although focusing on Germany’s invasion of Russia, painted a bleak portrait of the coming invasion, where Russia would lose nearly 11% of its population and Germany would make the sames mistakes Napoleon did in his invasion of Russia (you don’t attack Russia nearing winter!).

In The Great War, Sabaton focuses on World War I battles and biographies only such as Lawrence of Arabia in “Seven Pillars of Wisdom”, Alvin York in “82nd All the Way”, the first significant tank battles on “The Future of Warfare”, and then end of the war and the coming future of warfare in the song “The End of the War to End all Wars”. I began to realize that my issue with the album is that not only are the song titles egregiously long, the music itself is very formulaic. It’s as if they took their filler songs (which are usually good alongside their new types of songs) and made a whole album out of that.

The drums, like most modern metal mixes nowadays, are too quiet in the mix to be impactful. The guitars and synthesizers battle each other, although they’ve consistently improved this aspect of their production through continuous and minuet changes. The bass still provides a good sound, although it’s not perfect, which is fine.

Four songs stood out to me, and even then, one of them stood out the most because it isn’t even a metal song. “In Flander’s Field” sings of the facade of beauty as poppies and birds fly overhead, below them the dead soldiers. The song actually copies the poem directly from John McCrae. Now, they did borrow a poem for the song “To Hell and Back”, but they didn’t use the poem word for word. They rearranged the lines somewhat and even gave an autobiographical account of the man they were singing about, Audie Murphy. The other three songs I thought stood out were “Fields of Verdun”, “End of the War to End All Wars”, and “A Ghost in the Trenches”. These four songs had not just the ferocity of a band on warfare fire, but also of a band looking to create an album in memory of those who gave all in that first World War.

I really dislike writing about Sabaton like this, as they’ve been a band that I’ve enjoyed listening to since 2012 when I first heard “Ghost Division” in one of those random warfare music videos from all those years ago. But here we are. And here I am. While I appreciate the attention to detail towards the instrumental components of each song and the willingness to write music about war-like topics in great length without mentioning the blood and gore of mutilated carcasses (because I imagine we all know that war is a bloody activity already), the music for The Great War feels incredibly forced. I’m hoping that, should they ever choose to write another concept album about a single war, they shorten their song titles and pay more attention to mixing each song up with both smooth and jolting transitions, like they did on the song “Bismarck”, released earlier this year.

Still, the album wasn’t a complete waste, and I did enjoy listening to it as a whole. Simply that, as far as individual songs go, no one metal song has its own identity.

Score: 6/10

Blind Guardian Debut’s New Song

Written by vocalist Hansi Kursch and guitarist Andre Olbrich, power metal wizards and newly anointed holders of the flames of The Dark Lands, Blind Guardian has released a new song today along with a lyric video. Earlier this year, the band explained that they had been interested in releasing an orchestral album since they had started using those same elements in their metal albums, so sometime in the 1990’s. Of course, the idea simmered, and only recently has work on the concept reached full fruition.

In fact, since 1998’s Nightfall in Middle Earth, (though not starting at that album) Blind Guardian has continuously grown the orchestral aspects of their albums. 2002’s Night at the Opera featured “And Then There was Silence”, a 14 minute long behemoth of various heavy and orchestral instruments played together and separately while backing Hansi’s extensive vocals. While 2006’s A Twist in the Myth featured less of the orchestral instruments, 2010’s At the Edge of Time and 2015’s Beyond the Red Mirror featured more prominent use of the movie-like scores, featuring timpani’s, bells, strings, and the like alongside traditional heavy metal instruments such as guitar, drums, and bass.

The upcoming record Legacy of the Dark Lands seeks to use an orchestra solely to its full potential alongside Hansi’s epic vocals. And together, with the grandeur of each song, the album features an original concept which serves as the musical sequel to Die Dunklen Lande, a novel by German author Markus Heitz.

The album, Legacy of the Dark Lands, will be released on November 1st of this year.

Ancient Empire: Wings of the Fallen Review

Releases from bands such as Twilight Force, Freedom Call, Rhapsody of Fire, Avantasia, Hammerfall, and Sabaton might overshadow the release of Ancient Empire’s 2019 album Wings of the Fallen, but make no mistake, this is power metal at its finest. The chugging flight of riffs, fiery rhythms and epic guitar and vocal harmonies spread the entirety of the album like a nice layer of . Even after the first listen, the music keeps getting better.

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Northtale’s Welcome to Paradise, Album Review

NorthTale is a recently formed power metal super group that signed to Nuclear Blast records in 2018. The band consists of members Bill Hudson (ex-Cellador, ex-Power Quest), Patrick Johansson (drummer, Sabaton fill-in, G3 drummer and W.A.S.P.), Christian Eriksson (Ex-Twilight Force), Mikael Planefeldt and Jimmy Pitts.

Welcome to Paradise is there first album.

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Nick Drake, Pink Moon Review

To call this a review of an album would be wrong on my end. I’ve been listening to Nick Drake’s Pink Moon everyday for the last eight months. Initially, I had no reason to listen to his music at all. It seemed too confessional and rural for my tastes. I felt that the music was incredibly simple and barren on Pink Moon, featuring only a guitar and Nick Drake’s vocals.

But while there was certainly a rural sound to it similar to his first album, Five Leaves Left, I began to realize that this album had more of a street vibe going on. You know, just a man singing and playing his guitar on the side of the road for passersby. Don’t get me wrong, Nick Drake doesn’t sound anything like an amateur street-player. He’s an incredibly gifted guitarist and songwriter, and playing his guitar parts and singing simultaneously is more like rubbing your belly, tapping your head, tapping your foot and milking a cow at the same time, and then some. He’s got a great sense of timing and a unique since of Rhythm within a flow-like state of tempo.

Songs like “Which Will” and “Place to Be” really have that rhythm I am talking about. As a result of only playing guitar and singing on this record, the guitar has to fill a large space, functioning as both the rhythm, the melody accenting the vocals, and the instrumental portions of each song. Better, still, is how Drake complements the intricate guitar lines with odd times to come in for vocals. The accent for the vocal melody in “Place to Be” and “Parasite” comes in at the 2nd beat instead of the first. Because of the way he phrases his vocals on this album, we’re given a sense of that existential unease. Rather than simply singing of his loss of direction or purpose, each song serves to elevate that unease. We never really get a break from that unease either. Even approaching the end of the album, “Free Ride” and “Harvest” have mysterious and beautiful rhythms and melodies playing with each other. And of course, the constant bass notes on “From the Morning” closes the album with a since of optimism and that uneasiness. Like I said, there’s never really a break in the songs. They aren’t necessarily directionless or constant, but they do give off the feeling of a directionless, yet hopeful man.

Every song on the album, while short in length, is introspective and relatable in a human sense. Which is part of what made this album so close to me, because much of what he sings about had the same feelings and thoughts I had last year after nearly two years of depression. The music I was writing at the time was very angry, yet my own music lacked that sense of loss and motionlessness. While minimal in nature, Nick Drake’s Pink Moon conveys a very human record with questions and issues every individual human encounters at some point in life. And this is also likely the reason why I fell so deeply in love with the album; because of the nature of the record, I had a companion of sound to my own bouts of depression and, because of it, I’ve survived to let others know that there is music from people who know what you’re going through.

Score: 10/10

William Ackerman’s Passage Review

There’s a calm in the air as I type up this review. I am currently listening to William Ackerman’s album Passage. There is a guitarist sitting under a tree and playing to the clarity of his heart and the rhythm of his soul. Sound-wise, the album definitely falls under the new age genre, although this doesn’t have the same ambiance as a record full of synthesizer and electronic effects. It’s mainly a steel string guitar record, but the album also features piano, cello, violin, and English horn on individual songs. The sixth song on the record, “Hawk Circle”, for instance, has the piano playing a beautiful melody that circles in on itself multiple times while remaining in unison with the acoustic guitar. It’s clear there is a sad quality to the song, with my guess being that the song is about clash of hawks battling each other in the forest, a sad moment indeed to see nature fight herself.

Songs like the second track, “Impending Death of the Virgin”, present the guitar as an awakening of sorts, bringing to mind all of the things we associate with virginal qualities, both sexually and metaphorically. It feels good to understand how things work in the world, but there is a deadly quality to hearing the guitar tell you what you’re gaining, understanding, and what you’re losing, innocence. It’s a coming of age within an instrumental context.

Passage is the closing track on the record, and it definitely feels like a continuation of the music journey at a later time. It constantly flows and features only the guitar, a fitting way to end a predominantly guitar-based record to begin with. In this song, I imagine crossing a river leading to a waterfall surrounded on both sides by two stone monuments… essentially this scene from Lord of the Rings, and just as cool.