Artist: Gamma Ray
Title: “Skeletons In The Closet”
Label: Noise Records
Release Date: 3/9/2004
Genre: Power Metal
Gamma Ray has long been considered one of the bands that set the standard in the Power Metal genre and the double CD release of “Skeletons In The Closet” brings you some great songs performed live in concert for a screaming audience. Leader Kai Hansen has always been a force to be reckoned with in this type of music. It showed early in his career when he was a part of the legendary Helloween where he played guitar and also sang. Eventually he formed a partnership with Ralf Scheepers to start Gamma Ray and released the amazing debut “Heading For Tomorrow”. If you owned this album when it came out you knew immediately that Power Metal was going to be headed in a new and exciting direction as long as this band was in existence. This was over fifteen years ago and fast forward to today where almost a dozen records have been released in the bands catalog. Scheepers has been gone for awhile and now performs in Primal Fear which left Kai the vocal duties in the group and to be quite honest he really has an amazing voice. He is also very busy on the guitar and I admit its most impressive to see the range he can hit during the songs while playing that well. I truly enjoyed most of this CD and I had a real love for “Gardens Of The Sinner” for it’s overall power and delivery. “The Silence” has also been one of my very favorite Gamma Ray tracks since the day I first heard them on that debut album & “Heart Of The Unicorn” also seemed to grow on me. This track has a very Judas Priest/Halford feel to it and will appeal to those listeners without a doubt. Joining Kai in the group is Henjo Richter (guitars/vocals), Dirk Schlacter (bass) and Dan Zimmerman (drums); together this powerful lineup gives you 18 of their most rarely heard material in one place.
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Artist: Iron Maiden
Title: “Death On The Road”
Label: Sanctuary Records
Release Date: 2006
Genre: Heavy Metal
Full concert films of today’s greatest bands is becoming all the more common these days and Iron Maiden seems to be the band that is leading the trend in releasing a live DVD for every tour that they have completed. We last saw them for “Rock In Rio”, a DVD that showcased the “Brave New World” release and now with “Death On The Road” we find the concert for the “Dance Of Death” album being showcased. The performance was filmed in 2003 and was one of the most theatrical that the band had performed in many years. Being one of the leaders in the Heavy Metal music field the concert itself pulls out all of the stops and finds the band in top shape. This 3 DVD set gives you two versions of the concert itself, one in stereo and one in Dolby. Why this was not set to one DVD with both versions is curious to me but they must have had reasons for doing this. The concert itself is excellent and I don’t think you need me to quantify the level of skill that Iron Maiden possesses on stage. For over 20 years they have been a continual force and a driving one in support of the Metal scene. With “Dance Of Death” we find a strong return to their earlier years in some senses and this tour film features a handful of songs from that album. There is a stronger emphasis on recent material but that is a necessary evil for the band for how interesting will it be to see the same old songs performed on every DVD that gets released. Standout performances on the piece are “Can I Play With Madness”, “Paschendale” and of course the legacy favorites. I don’t think we will ever find a Maiden DVD that does not include “Number Of The Beast” or “Run To The Hills” and if you find yourself annoyed by that just think how Maiden must feel. Songs like this become more of the bands signature and cannot be omitted at this stage of the game. I also felt that at this point in the bands touring that they were used to being a six-member lineup with three axe slingers (Dave Murray, Adrian Smith, and Janick Gers) along with Steve Harris (bass) and Nicko McBrain (drums) and consummate showman Bruce Dickinson (vocals). I like Maiden with this lineup very much and think it works in both the studio and live sense.
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Artist: Beyond Fear
Title: “Beyond Fear”
Label: SPV Records
Release Date: 5/5/2006
Genre: Heavy Metal
The world at large first heard of Tim “Ripper” Owens when he stepped into the shoes of Rob Halford to front the Metal Juggernaut that is Judas Priest. After recording and touring two studio albums and two live ones plus a DVD he joined forces with Jon Schaffer to record Iced Earth’s epic “The Glorious Burden”. The success of the album was a fantastic result of this teamwork and brought new fans to both Iced Earth and increased Ripper’s following all the more. When a break in Iced Earth’s touring schedule happened Owens was able to focus his energies on something that had been on his mind for awhile; the recording and release of his own material. Instead of doing an expected “Tim Owens Band” album the singer opted to put together players that he had known for years. From there the die was cast and the result Beyond Fear. Tim brings to life the Rock to Riches story by taking care of ones friends when the opportunity arose. Beyond Fear not only holds a powerful, strong presence in name but mainly in the strength of the material on this self-titled release. As you start the album you instantly are aware of the level of vocal range that Owens possesses. His register will break glass in your house if this album is played at too high a volume and the band itself is a core of solid players. Beyond Fear is made up of John Comprix (lead guitar), Dwayne Bihary (rhythm guitar), Dennis Hayes (bass) and Eric Elkins (drums). Hayes also comes from Owen’s band Winter’s Bane and did work with Seven Witches at one time. Comprix is an excellent find as his guitar shredding fits perfect against the material showcased on the album. His axemanship is blistering at points all around and I think this release will find him held in high regard going forward. Metal fans will be wondering where he has been all this time for he is that good. The drumming, bass and other guitar work is nothing to brush off either and quite honestly the whole group seems to mean business.
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Artist: The Mission
Title: “Lighting The Candles”
Label: SPV Records
Release Date: 10/25/2005
Genre: Gothic Rock
Gothic Rock’s The Mission brings an exciting concert film to the eager hands of their fans. Formed in 1986 after splitting from The Sisters Of Mercy, Wayne Hussey formed the group and brought to the world a solid Gothic Rock sensation. Deep melodies and often somber lyrical content made them a hit among fans of bands like The Cult and The Cure. Over the years The Mission has had several different line-ups and this DVD finds leader Hussey and a host of new members (Richie Vernon, Rob Holliday and Steve Spring) in concert from 2004. While I was not much the study of the band I quickly was able to enjoy what was being performed very easily. From a production standpoint this is fantastic as you feel at points that you are at the concert based on the shots the cameras are taking. It was filmed at a sold out concert at Koln, Germany and this video brings The Mission to life in your own home as 18 of their best songs are performed. The sound and lighting were done to tremendous effect as well in delivering this to a very dramatic sense. Great lighting always appeals to me at a show and the nature of The Mission’s music combined with what was being done during this show was terrific to watch and better brought this to life.
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Label: Nuclear Blast Records
Release Date: 3/21/2006
Genre: Progressive Hard Rock/Metal
Following no set trend, Amorphis continues to morph musically and has given their fans “Eclipse”. It’s a great follow up to their last album “Far From The Sun”, which was received with mixed opinion by many due to its failure to follow a certain expectation the fans had. “Far From The Sun” was a drastic change in direction and there was no blazing Metal across the piece; instead, it was loaded with solid and Doom-laden riffs. It had a certain appeal and showed a level of growth based on their influential status as a band. Those that chose to pass on it missed out, as there were some great numbers on the record. With “Eclipse”, Amorphis have expanded the realms explored by this release and have given us an even wilder ride this time around. The band continues to progress into a level of psychedelic Metal, it would seem, with some trippy riffs and solid keyboard work. There is also a return to the heavier aspect as singer Tomi Joutsen sings not only in a melodic clean style, but delivers levels of darkness by mixing Black growls in as well. I think Joutsen has turned out to be a smart choice as replacement for singer Pasi Koskinen; and this could not have been easy, for not only was he in the band for nine years, but also had a strong fan following. The rest of the band remains the same with Esa Holopainen (guitar), Tomi Koivusaari (guitar), Santeri Kallio (keyboards), Niclas Etelävuori (bass), and Jan Rechberger (drums). The group plays some great music and it’s diverse enough to extend the band’s reach ever further.
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