Time Requiem – The Inner Circle of Reality (2004)

TimeRequiem_Reality4.5 out of 5 Stars!

Led by keyboardist extraordinaire Richard Andersson (Space Odyssey/Adagio/Majestic), Sweden’s Time Requiem never got the recognition it so richly deserved, in my opinion. Between 2002 and 2006, the band delivered a trio of dynamic and dramatic near-perfect studio albums, with The Inner Circle of Reality (the second release) also featuring the brutally powerful Apollo Papathanasio (Majestic/Firewind/Evil Masquerade) on vocals, unheralded guitarist Magnus Nordh, and the always-stellar rhythm section (from The Flower Kings/Karmakanic) of bassist Jonas Reingold and drummer Zoltan Csorsz, both playing outside their “normal realm of Prog” in hard-hitting fashion.

As with each of the band’s releases, The Inner Circle of Reality presents complex yet highly melodic Prog-Metal/Prog-Rock of the Neoclassical variety. Compositions such as “Hidden Memories,” “Reflections,” “Dreams of Tomorrow,” “Definition of Insanity,” and the nearly twelve-minute title track contain outstanding, often breathtaking musicianship throughout, especially when it comes to Nordh’s sizzling guitar leads and Andersson’s delicious keyboard fills and wickedly speedy solos. Any fans of artists such as Symphony X, Harmony, Yngwie Malmsteen, Artension, Stratovarius, and Royal Hunt will certainly savor the jaw-dropping proficiency on display here and, probably like me, wish the album contained more than just seven tracks (not counting the eighth tune, “Bach Prelude Variation,” the horribly brief album closer that would’ve likely had Johann Sebastian Bach himself smiling proudly and begging to hear more).

Although Time Requiem, after suffering major lineup changes—most noticeably with the gifted Goran Edman replacing Papathanasio on vocals—released its somewhat more commercial third album (Optical Illusion) in 2006 and seemed on the brink of gaining wider recognition, the band suddenly vanished without a trace. Even worse, founder/mastermind Richard Andersson, apart from popping up as a “guest keyboardist” on several albums through the subsequent years, has kept a sinfully low profile, while all the while I’d prayed he’d once again put together another band to showcase his enormous songwriting and performing talents.

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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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Kenziner – The Last Horizon (2014)

Kenziner_LastHorizon4.5 out of 5 Stars!

Founded by talented Finnish “guitar god” Jarno Keskinen, Kenziner released two enjoyable albums of blazing Heavy Metal in the ’90s, then sadly disappeared.

But in 2012, Keskinen decided to resurrect the group with a new lineup, this one including members of Status Minor and Thunderstone.

Despite the new personnel, however, the band’s overall sound and style changed very little. As on Kenziner’s previous albums, the musicians deliver a consistently hard-hitting collection of tracks on The Last Horizon, including standouts such as “Devour the World,” “I Am Eternal,” “Run For Your Life,” “No Turning Back,” “Heroes Ride,” and “Keep the Flame Alive.”

On all tracks, Jarno Keskinen’s furious guitar riffs and fiery solos, perfectly accented by Jukka Karinen’s lush keyboards in a Neoclassical Metal vein with periodic Progressive overtones, are utterly astounding. Meanwhile, bassist J.J. Hjelt and drummer Make Lievonen create a succinct and thundering rhythm section, and along with Markku Kuikka’s husky vocal performances, the music on The Last Horizon often reminds me of a cross between sundry groups such as Time Requiem, Yngwie Malmsteen, Firewind, Impellitteri, Evil Masquerade, Royal Hunt, and the like.

The Last Horizon is impressive as all hell, and I’m praying the album’s title doesn’t mean this is the last the world will hear from this exceptional act.

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Elegy – State of Mind (1997)

Elegy_StateMind4.5 out of 5 Stars!

Although this creative group from the Netherlands formed back in 1985 and had been releasing albums since 1992, it wasn’t until 1997’s State of Mind (Elegy’s fourth album) that extraordinary British vocalist Ian Parry made his debut with the band, which really boosted the quality level up another mighty notch.

To me, Elegy was a more accessible version of a group such as Symphony X with a touch of influences from acts such as Rainbow and House of Lords, including tighter, more concise arrangements and a greater emphasis on the vocal melodies and background harmonies as opposed to the instrumentation, even though the music still included tons of orchestrated Pomp keyboards, impressive guitar work, a solid rhythm section, with Parry’s forceful yet commercial voice soaring above the top in the tradition of singers such as Ronnie James Dio, Doogie White, Jorn Lande, etc, only with less gruffness.

Unfortunately, this seemingly forgotten group disappeared off the musical landscape sometime after its seventh release back in 2002, yet thankfully left behind some stunning material for Prog-Metal fans to savor for years to come.

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Ring Of Fire – Battle of Leningrad (2014)

RingFire_BattleLeningrad4 out of 5 Stars!

After ten long years of complete silence, “supergroup” Ring Of Fire slammed back onto the scene with a brand new album in 2014.

Like the band’s previous four studio releases, Battle of Leningrad features music in the style of artists such as Rainbow, Yngwie Malmsteen, Artension, Royal Hunt, and other symphonic Neoclassical Metal, with top-notch performances by vocalist Mark Boals (Royal Hunt/Yngwie Malmsteen), guitarist Tony MacAlpine (Planet X), keyboardist Vitalij Kuprij (Artension), bassist Timo Tolkki (Stratovarius), and drummer Jami Huovinen (Allen/Lande).

Overall, despite some thin production and “cheesier” and hackneyed ingredients that occasionally make me roll my eyes, the album is generally better than average for this genre. And with enough riff-filled and energetic tracks such as “Firewind,” “Rain,” “They’re Calling Your Name,” along with the title track and the grand and furious opener “Mother Russia” included, Battle of Leningrad ends up a rock-solid effort!

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Symphony X – V: The New Mythology Suite (2000)

SymphonyX_V5 out of 5 Stars!

This album, from start to finish, ranks right up there with classic Prog-Rock-Band “must have” albums such as Yes’s Close To The Edge, Gentle Giant’s In A Glass House, ELP’s Brain Salad Surgery, and Genesis’s Foxtrot releases, albeit a much more “modern” and heavier version of classical-influenced rock (very similar, in parts, to Dream Theater and Kansas and Yngwie Malmsteen) yet killer in every bloody department.

Since the band’s second album, Symphony X has NEVER produced a bad record, and, in my opinion, this is their benchmark for excellence. Either add it to your collection at the first possible opportunity or consider yourself a “wannabe” prog-rock/prog-metal fan 🙂

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Space Odyssey – Tears of the Sun (2006)

SpaceOdyssey_TearsSun4 out of 5 Stars!

First, it MUST be said that the 2nd track, “Obsession,” is almost a DIRECT copy of Black Sabbath’s “Anno Mundi (The Vision)” from 1990’s Tyr album. Same EXACT background riff behind the verse, an almost identical melody, even some of the same words during the bridge. MAJOR plagiarism happening here.  I’m shocked this band didn’t get slammed (and sued) for it.

Nevertheless, I enjoy this release a lot, almost as much as their previous two releases.  This is more straightforward when it comes to the metal genre, as opposed to the more progressive metal of the previous albums, but still, it’s quite good.  I also love David Fremberg’s voice (I’m a fan of Andromeda) so this album works on many levels for me.

Still, it’s a shame about the Sabbath rip-off. Gosh, guys, what were you thinking???  At least be more clever about ripping off another band’s material apart from altering a few chords in the middle of the song and changing the lyrics…shame, shame, shame…

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Rata Blanca – The Forgotten Kingdom (2009)

RataBlanca_Kingdom.jpg4.5 out of 5 Stars!

This is a decent attempt at emulating Rainbow from the Joe Lynn Turner (or even the Doogie White) era.  The only thing missing is the great Ritchie Blackmore’s signature guitar sound.

Despite that, most of the songs on this release are catchy, kick-ass, rock ‘n’ roll in the Rainbow style with a touch of Deep Purple tossed in for good measure. Fans of those bands would most likely enjoy this album.

NOTE: Even though this band from Argentina has quite a few releases, this is the only one (I believe) that is sung with English lyrics.

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Anthriel – The Pathway (2010)

Anthriel_Pathway5 out of 5 Stars!

For anyone who enjoys Symphony X (especially the V album), then this album is geared for you. The musicianship on The Pathway is terrific, the songwriting is top-notch, and the vocals are powerful, gruff in the appropriate places and mellow where required. The music is complicated yet melodic, highly orchestrated, and covers a wide variety of moods. There’s not a filler track in the bunch, and the production shines!

It’s almost hard to believe that this is only Anthriel’s debut full-length release, that’s how seasoned and professional this Finnish band sounds. I can’t wait to see what these guys come up with in the future, and if the new material is half as good as what appears on this release, then the long delay between albums will have been worth the wait.


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