Ironica – Vivere (2009)

Ironica_Vivere2.5 out of 5 Stars!

Here is yet another band from Finland that plays Power Metal and Symphonic Rock with smatterings of Progressive Metal elements, and with a female lead vocalist to boot. Therefore, comparisons to Nightwish are inevitable.

But unlike their country-mates, Ironica’s music is less Symphonic overall, and instead, more entrenched in Power Metal territory (or perhaps even pure Heavy Metal, were it not for the keyboards). Plus, the singer, Elina Iron, has more of a Hard Rock/Heavy Metal approach when it comes to her powerful, wide-ranging voice and style, using plenty of high notes, but no operatic falsetto whatsoever.

Still, there are huge similarities between the bands, especially when one considers the abundance of highly orchestrated keyboard backgrounds. And probably enough similarities to at least put a smile on the faces of many Nightwish fans, I’m sure.

The opening two tracks, “Dive” and “Stop Me,” fully display these similarities—Elina’s generally impressive vocals over the thundering Power Metal beat, with the grand and thriving keyboards atop the full and chunky guitars. Not a horrible sound overall—far from it, actually—and the band does it quite well.

Yet it turns out that nearly all seven additional tracks sound almost identical, and that’s where my chief criticism lies (and the main reason I gave this album a slightly lower-than-average score).

Unfortunately, just about every track sounds the same, has similar driving beats, along with comparable instrumentation as well as the nearly identical “Verse / Chorus / Verse / Chorus / Bridge / Guitar Solo / Chorus” pattern. A little variety in arrangements and rhythms would have gone a long way in helping to differentiate each song from the other. This is where Nightwish, Within Temptation, Epica, or a slew of other bands playing in this genre, have the “leg-up” on Ironica. Those bands typically toss in a ballad or a mid-tempo track between some of the “galloping-a-mile-a-minute” songs, have some lighter instrumentation instead of every segment containing the same fullness whether it be verses or choruses, or feature a keyboard solo as opposed to a guitar solo from time to time. The track “Suffer Me” (the seventh track of nine) does offer a slight “morsel of difference” (the opening of the guitar solo has a way-too-brief break when it comes to the constant “full orchestration” sound, which finally gives some “air” into the album’s overall sound). But unfortunately, that’s about the only section of the album that shocked me out of the “sameness zone.”

My second criticism (and this is a personal gripe of mine, so take it for what it’s worth) is the inclusion of the occasional “growl” male vocals. They rear their ugly head on “Little Princess,” for example, and on the bridge of “Reflections,” which do absolutely nothing to enhance the songs, and do absolutely nothing for me personally except inducing me to turn down the volume to avoid the horrific noise. But “The Beast” (however appropriate the inclusion, considering the song’s title) has verses and a bridge loaded with these demonic grumps and grumbles and growls, and the track is completely unlistenable because of them. Thankfully there aren’t many tracks that suffer from this nonsense or I would have never made it through the entire album. I suppose there are enough of these “beast vocals” to satisfy fans who are into that sort of thing, but as far as I’m concerned, they could have been easily eliminated. Again, they do nothing but annoy.

Regardless, Ironica is a generally decent band overall, with a lot going for it, including having a powerful lead vocalist and a talent for performing material in the Power Metal/Symphonic Metal genres. I just wish there had been some noticeable variety in the material, some major changes in instrumentation and arrangements that would have given each track its own distinct personality. Fans of these particular hard-driving genres may not mind, but I sure do.

Get The Album Now!

Uriah Heep – High and Mighty (1976)

UriahHeep_HighMighty2.5 out of 5 Stars!

Unfortunately, the “swan-song” release from the Dave Byron-era of Uriah Heep is a mixed bag.

If I was rating Side 1 alone, I’d give the album at least a “4.5” rating, since all of the songs are on par with the best of Heep from the early “glory days.”  Although I was never a huge fan of John Wetton’s “borderline off-key” vocals, the opening song, featuring his voice, isn’t all that bad musically, especially since Dave Byron steps in and sings the bridge section, which saves the track and “ups” its overall rating. Also, “Misty Eyes” and “Midnight” (with its awesome bass riffs, ala John Wetton) are additional tracks that stand right up there with the other “best of Heep” songs. And finally, the last track off Side 1, the highlight song, is “Weep In Silence,” which in fact, is probably one of the best tracks they have ever recorded. It’s also probably one of the best songs to display Dave Byron’s chops as a lead vocalist, with great lyrics and song structure. Definitely one of the highlights of the band’s career.

But Side 2, however, is almost unlistenable, and deserves nothing better than a “2” rating—bordering on amateurish status, probably the worst set of tracks the band ever released, and certainly not songs you might expect from a band of this high caliber, but more from a garage band “attempting” to sound professional.  This is definitely Ken Hensley at his most “uninspired” when it comes to songwriting—you can tell he was on the verge of leaving the band—an “either Byron gets canned or I leave in protest” statement if I ever heard one. Indeed, Side 2 stands about even with the horrific “Conquest” album that came several years later, just cringe-worthy overall, and the album that finally caused Hensley to flee for good.

To have such diverse collections of songs on opposite sides of this album is one of the most bizarre phenomena of this band’s career.

Therefore, Side 1 deserves plenty of praise, whereas Side 2 deserves all the slamming the world can conceive.  A shame, since (as mentioned earlier) the song “Weep In Silence” is probably amongst the Top 10, if not the Top 5, when it comes to the best Heep songs of all time.  It’s a shame that Byron’s last offering with the band is such a mixed bag, especially considering the previous album (Return To Fantasy) was one of their best.

Power of Omens – Eyes of the Oracle (1998)

PowerOmens_EyesOracle2 out of 5 Stars!

Disappointing. I really wanted to love this release, but I just can’t get into it. Sure, the musicians know how to play their instruments, but what they don’t seem to grasp is how to play all of their instruments “together as a band” in order to generate any sort of cohesive sound. It seems as if, within any given track, each musician is off doing his own thing for much of it, jamming in different keys or rhythms while the vocalist is soaring (sometimes horribly off key) above the mishmash in an attempt to create some sort of melody or structure.

With the drummer adding fills at the most bizarre times, playing (what seems) counter to the bassist on many occasions, and the guitarist and keyboardist off in their own technical twiddling worlds, the songs come across as nothing more than extensive jam sessions, with dozens of different ideas all jumbled together, leaving no hummable parts and no foot-tapping grooves.

The few times they actually sound like a band (people actually playing the same song or the same arrangement of the same song) come along too rarely and the album seems overly disjointed, directionless, and too technically creative for its own good.

Payne’s Gray – Infinity (1991)

PaynesGray_Infinity2.5 out of 5 Stars!

This German act came and went in the 90s, with only a single album and several EPs. And it’s no wonder they disappeared.

The music? It hovers somewhere between a 3.5 and 4.5 rating range. Progressive metal in the same vein as the usual bands such as Dream Theater and Dreamscape.

The vocals?  They hover somewhere in the 1.5 and 2.5 rating range. Indeed, were the band to have a singer who could actually hit the right notes instead of warbling in mid-range or going for high-pitched screams he can’t even dare to hit in the correct key (and making everything discordant due to his laughable attempts) this band might have real potential. He sounds like a dismal King Diamond clone attempting to become Geoff Tate with no true hope of ever achieving his goals. And King Diamond ain’t no great shakes himself with his weird falsetto.

Anyway, for those who don’t care about vocals, this may be worth checking out for the music. For those who actually care about whether a band sounds out of tune because of a singer who hasn’t a bloody clue, then stay away.

North Star – Power (1992)

NorthStar_Power2.5 out of 5 Stars!

I wanted to love this one…I really did.  Unfortunately, the overall production is horrific (tinny sounding and badly mixed) and ruins the entire release.

The musicianship sounds fairly solid, and the vocalist (although he tries WAY TOOOOO HARD to mimic Fish from Marillion instead of singing naturally) isn’t all that bad, but the songs also lack originality.

Whereas Marillion’s first few albums were crammed with songs (and vocal performances) that displayed true depth and heartfelt emotion, were darkly atmospheric in their instrumentation, the songs here offer little of that. At best, this is an early-Marillion clone without the stellar early-Marillion material…ie. there’s absolutely no passion here.  Generic prog-rock, sadly. Not universally horrible, mind you, just lower quality with embarrassing and shitty production.

A shame, really, since the band shows some potential.

Mind Colour – Mind Colour (2002)

MindColour_12.5 out of 5 Stars!

I wish I could rate this higher, since the songs, musicianship, and arrangements, even the overall production, are decent, even above average in many cases. But the vocalist just ruins everything with his slightly off-key melodies and his continual wavering off pitch when holding long notes. His rapid vibrato is also extremely annoying, and when he attempts to harmonize with himself?…completely unlistenable! Needless to say, he drags everything way down to “below average” level. A shame, since the band has potential.

Lorraine Lewis – Lorraine Lewis (2001)

LorraineLewis_12.5 out of 5 Stars!

At first glance, who does Lorraine resemble on the cover?  Answer: Faith Hill.  At first listen, who does Lorraine sound like on this release?  Answer: OK, well maybe not exactly like Faith Hill, but the same style of music, for certain.

If you pick this up expecting songs in a similar vein to the hard melodic rock of Lorraine’s former band Femme Fatale, then you’ll be extremely disappointed.  Sure, there are a few rock and blues influences on this release, but they are all melded with an overall country & western style that wouldn’t be out of place on a Faith Hill or Shania Twain record. Nothing too horrible here, as Lorraine’s voice actually fits this style of music fairly well—she even has a yodel-esque quirk to her voice at the end of several lines, which would make the fans in Nashville toss their cowboy hats into the sky and take notice—but there’s truly also nothing much memorable on offer when it comes to these seven tracks either, which is where the below-average rating comes from. Give me a release from Faith or Shania any ol’ day, since they merge these genres so much better.

Nevertheless, since Lorraine does seem to have an affinity for this style of music, perhaps if she had stuck with it, worked with some top-notch songwriters, she might have found the right niche for her talent and gained some Nashville fame.  Oh well…

Gin Blossoms – New Miserable Experience (1992)

GinBlossoms_NewMiserable2.5 out of 5 Stars!

A nice album, plain and simple. Nothing here outrageously brilliant, nothing here offensively horrid, just a collection of pleasant, average songs.

After hearing the first half of the CD, however, the repetitive nature of the music on offer comes to the fore…songs are in the same key for the most part, most of them have similar rhythms, similar chord patterns, similar melody lines, similar musical arrangements, similar vocal delivery and harmonies…you get the picture. It feels like the band took their favorite song and rewrote it several times, recording each of the versions…they tried it at various tempos, tossed in another instrument from time to time hoping to add variety, revised the lyrics, and plopped on a melody that, although a few notes may have changed, retains most of the original structure. The “sameness” gets annoying after a while, and nothing truly special pops out.

If only they had experimented a bit more with their songwriting techniques and musicianship skills, this might have been an “above average” effort. ‘Fraid not.

Arvé – At The First Sight (2001)

Arve_AtFirstSight2.5 out of 5 Stars!

Listener beware…the singer really drags down the rating. On some tracks, he’s passable, on others he’s horribly off key. The music, for the most part, is decent, even interesting in some cases, but a lot of the tracks also sound a bit crammed with too many ideas and instrumentation, so there’s nothing too memorable, even though the musicianship itself is above average.

I had high hopes for this release and ended up quite disappointed. I doubt I’ll listen to this much in the future, if at all.

Age of Rebellion – Ikarus Dream (1997)

AgeRebellion_IkarusDream2.5 out of 5 Stars!

The music is above average…unfortunately, the singer is not. One phrase springs to mind when it comes to the vocalist…pick a bloody key, will ya??? The problem is that the singer is flat or warbling in every key throughout the entire album. For this band to succeed–and the musicians have the talent to do so–they need to seriously consider adding a front man who can actually hit the correct notes. I could not rate this album more than an “average” rating thanks to the annoying-as-heck vocalist.