Artist: Michael Schenker Group
Title: “World Wide Live 2004”
Label: Music Video Distributors
Release Date: 10/26/2004
Genre: Hard Rock
Michael Schenker is truly one of the legends in Hard Rock and his guitar work is often referenced by many of today’s greats as their inspiration when they first began to play the instrument. Known for his killer performances as a member of the band UFO and then solo with MSG, Schenker has continued to satisfy those who are hungry for fantastic axe wizardry. Filmed in Poland during the Metalmania Festival 2004 viewers of this DVD will get a good example of what MSG brings to the table musically. The lineup is of course Michael on guitar as well as Chris Logan (vocals), Peter Holmes (drums), Rev Jones (bass), and Wayne Findlay (guitar/keyboards). The tour was in support of MSG’s “Arachnophobiac” CD and for those that saw the select dates the band played they will enjoy this most as a nice reminder of those shows. The set seems a little shorter on the DVD than I recall them doing live, but it is still nice to be able to sit and watch something in the comforts of your own home. Some highlights were definitely the classic UFO numbers and of the 14 songs there is an excellent sampling of this material. Tunes such as “Lights Out” and “Only You Can Rock Me” are among my favorites and I can attest that Chris Logan does a good job on the Phil Mogg stuff even without sounding exact. Bassist Rev Jones is very interesting to watch as he is an utter madman on the bass and stage. Findlay offers a fine accompaniment to the arrangements on either guitar or his keyboards based on the needs of the song. The drumming laid down by Peter Holmes (who come people will recall from Black and Blue) is nothing short of powerful and defining.
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Title: “The Human Equation”
Label: Inside Out Records
Release Date: 5/25/2004
Genre: Progressive Metal
Multi-instrumentalist Arjen Lucassen has once again crafted a diverse and interesting piece of music for his many fans. Following his successful touring with his “Star One” project this recording might very well be considered Ayreon’s finest work of them all. Like most of his musical adventures, Arjen makes sure to use a cast of performers that are second to none in the world of Progressive and Heavy Metal music. Among them is cast the newly discovered Marcela Bovio who Lucassens found from an Internet contest entry. Her voice is amazing and one can only hope that this is only the beginning of what we will see from her. James LaBrie of the mighty Dream Theater also lends his voice to the piece as the principle character and so does Michael Akereldt of Opeth. The list continues on with Irene Jansen, Devon Townsend and many others. Truly a who’s who in the world of popular Metal and Rock. The story that is lined out this time focuses on the central character who is lying in a hospital bed after a terrible accident. This setting is the polar opposite from his space and fantasy themes of the past. The character is watched by his Wife and Best Friend in hopes of his recovery. At the same time his mind is paid visit by many different emotions and memories; all of them vying for his decisions in the healing process. This was one CD that I was finding myself lucky in seeing a lyric book inside. You need to read along with this piece as you listen. An added part of the appeal I found was the enjoyment of the story itself.
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Label: Century Media Records
Release Date: 4/20/2004
Genre: Pagan Folk Metal
According to legend and the official Finntroll website the band was formed when two drunk members began jamming on some guitar riffs and traditional Finnish folk music. The mix of Dark Metal chords along with Hummpa music gave us the end result of FINNTROLL. I have to say that when I sat down to review something referred to as Pagan Folk Metal that I was not quite sure of what to expect. I also have to stress that I did not expect to like this CD in the least. Yet instead of tossing the music aside in disgust I found myself asking Friends if they had ever heard of such a thing and if not I quickly allowed them a listen. It is indeed quite unique and has a large appeal for those that find the influence of traditional ethnic music placed with slamming drums and guitars. On “Nattfodd” (which is translated into English as “Nightborn”) we get a sonically pleasing set of tracks that use the ethnic influences to excellence. The lineup of Wilska (vocals), Routa (guitar), Skrymer (guitar), Tundra (bass), B. Dominator (drims) and Trollhorn (keyboards) certainly ends up delivering some of the most interesting Metal I have heard in a long time. As I listened I was not sure if I was at some nightmare Folk concert or a crazy Metal performance as the piece crosses the line between the two very well. When you listen you will wonder if you should be queued to raise your drink up high or put it down to go slam in the Mosh pit. It is great when a band can bring about feelings like this as far too many groups are taking the safe route these days by churning out similar albums time and time again. The Metal buyer is fickle and needs to be impressed and convinced more than they used to be if they are to spend the cash.
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Artist: King Diamond
Title: “The Puppet Master”
Label: Metal Blade Records
Release Date: 10/21/2003
Genre: Heavy Metal
It only took me a couple of listens to King Diamond’s “The Puppet Master” to convince me of his being the Stephen King of Heavy Metal music. King is not only fearsome in his appearance but also with the stories he weaves from deep within his dark mind. For years he has given us tales of horror and villainy and with “The Puppet Master” we find him telling perhaps the scariest tale of them all. To sum up the story this time around King sings to us about an insidious Puppeteer who along with his wife uses real people as puppets to entertain audiences and make their money. King is the central character in this “play” that falls prey to the evil couple. One surely needs to read the lyric book along with this piece for it is very well thought out and delivered from beginning to end. Joining the King as his lineup for the recording are Mike Wead (Guitar), Matt Thompson (drums), Hal Patino (bass), and Andy LaRoque (guitar). Livia Zita joins in on background vocals and she adds a wonderful aspect to the music. I feel this is the strongest lineup that he has assembled in many years and this is also the second full recording that this same lineup has worked on.
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Artist: Yngwie Malmsteen
Title: “Concerto Suite for Electric Guitar and Orchestra”
Label: Eagle Vision
Release Date: 11/1/2005
Yngwie Johann Malmsteen has long been a revered name in the world of Rock and Metal guitar. From the day people first heard him in Steeler and Alcatrazz and then solo with Rising Force his skills and technique on the instrument were nothing short of amazing. The playing style that Yngwie employed was always very classical in nature and in his earliest of interviews he would recall being influenced by the era and its greats. This DVD takes this classical based style of playing that Yngwie is so known for and partners him with the New Japan Philharmonic Orchestra. Filmed in 2001 this performance is something that the US fans have never had the chance to own until now. I am sure bootlegged copies exist but now fans are able to own an authentic copy. The concert itself does not hold much on the visual side with the exception of some great close ups of Yngwie and his guitar technique. You are essentially watching a live performance of an Orchestra and that is always more about the music and its delivery than the visual overtones. Musically this DVD is very interesting as we see Yngwie almost as the front person for an orchestra so to speak. As a matter of fact this release offers those who are fans of all the existing “classical orchestra meets rock musician” releases a little more authenticity. The others like this have been interesting but it was usually the orchestra performing their hits with the musicians behind them. We saw this in Metallica and at times the band was overpowering them. I think it is great that bands are bringing this unique performance to the table but I feel Yngwie has succeeded the most with this one. He showcases more classically based material all of which was written and produced by Malmsteen himself and this works well under the aspect of an Orchestra accompaniment. Assisting Yngwie in this production was keyboardist David Rosenthal who counts among his accomplishments the fact that he was a touring member of Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow.
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