Nocturnal Rites – Grand Illusion (2005)

NocturnalRites_GrandIllusion4 out of 5 Stars!

From Sweden, Nocturnal Rites released a string of eight studio albums between 1995 through 2007—most of them containing above-average material, in my opinion—with Grand Illusion being the second to last in the series. Although the band started out as a slamming Death Metal act, Nocturnal Rites quickly developed into one of the most consistent Power Metal groups, always delivering the goods in a highly professional and generally well-produced manner, despite various lineup changes as well as adjustments to the level of aggression and the amount of melodies included on each of its albums, which, in my eyes, always served to keep things from getting too stale. I realize that some longtime fans of the group have their preferred albums or periods of the band’s history; I pretty much like all the albums about equally, although I do seem to find myself playing the latter albums a bit more often these days.

Nevertheless, this collection (like always) features thundering and melodic Heavy Metal/Power Metal in a variety of tempos, with full and sizzling guitars, rich and grand keyboards, a rock-solid rhythm section, and a powerful vocalist who easily falls into the Jorn Lande style of “belting out the jams.” On tunes such as “Our Wasted Days,” “Deliverance,” “End of Our Rope,” “Fools Never Die,” and “Still Alive,” the band often reminds me of artists such as Firewind, Thunderstone, Kenziner, Tad Morose, Masterplan, Sonata Arctica, and At Vance, with memorable riffs driving the catchy material, hints of Progressive Metal included for extra spice, all wrapped up in a bold and bombastic package.

After the band released its next album, 2007’s The 8th Sin, Nocturnal Rites seemingly disappeared from the scene. Since the album received what I eventually decided was cruel and unfair criticism for being “too melodic” or “too keyboard heavy,” I had feared the worst, that the band members had collectively decided “screw it” and had called it quits. But thankfully, Nocturnal Rites returned a full decade later with the 2017 album Phoenix and a new guitarist in the ranks. Now I’m hoping the guys stick around for a good long while.

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Savage Circus – Of Doom and Death (2009)

SavageCircus_OfDoom4 out of 5 Stars!

On occasions when I find myself craving something bombastic, driving, and wickedly savage, I often turn to the German band with the perfect name for delivering the goods—Savage Circus.

Of course, with the band’s strong connection to Blind Guardian (original BG drummer Thomen Stauch initially formed Savage Circus to satisfy his own yearning to duplicate the sound of his former band’s early albums), the music on this release is of a similar nature, only with what sounds like the beasts of hell adding even more demonic aggression to the fury. Ironically enough, however, Stauch didn’t perform on this album due to health problems, but the remainder of the band carried on in the same fashion with a replacement drummer.

Like 2005’s Dreamland Manor, the band’s debut album, Of Doom and Death is loaded with ballsy, riff-heavy tracks such as the ferocious title tune, as well as “Chasing the Rainbow,” “From the Ashes,” “The Ordeal,” “Empire,” and “Legend (of Leto II).” Lovers of “speed-demon” Power Metal, with lightning-quick yet melodic guitar solos, dense and dastardly instrumentation, complex song arrangements, and dramatic and powerful lead vocals with multi-layered background harmonies in the same tradition as Blind Guardian (or even Queen) will likely savor much of the material on offer here.

But be warned: Of Doom and Death is definitely not for the weak of heart, but if you possess long-lasting stamina and a rugged constitution, then by all means, play it loud!

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John West – Mind Journey (1997)

JohnWest_MindJourney4 out of 5 Stars!

To me, New York State’s John West (Royal Hunt/Artension/Feinstein/Badlands) is one of the most shamefully obscure vocalists on the Metal/Prog-Metal scene. Considering West possesses a powerful, wide-ranging, and soulful voice that often brings to mind Glenn Hughes, and the musical style on his solo albums is similar to Yngwie Malmsteen, Rainbow, Adagio, and (not shockingly) Artension, I’m amazed he’s not more well-known or highly lauded in the industry.

Be that as it may, West’s first solo effort, Mind Journey, not only showcases his excellent vocal abilities on tracks such as “The Castle is Haunted,” “Hands in the Fire,” “Eastern Horizon,” “Dragon’s Eye,” and “Lost in Time,” but could very well have been released under the Artension moniker—the band he was fronting during the year of this release—despite the different lineup of musicians. Not only is the overall Heavy Metal style with a Neoclassical bent and a touch of Prog-Metal so similar, but the album seems more like a band effort (lots of wicked guitar and keyboard solos from George Bellas and Matt Guillory respectively) as opposed to simply being a vehicle for a vocalist to display his enormous talent.

Therefore, for fans of the aforementioned groups, as well as lovers of versatile vocalists who might have easily worked with Ritchie Blackmore had he been invited to do so, Mind Journey is an album that may be of interest to you.

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