Τετάρτη, 20 Ιανουαρίου 2021

Joe Lynn Turner: Always shining, through Sun & Storm

In March of 2018, it was posted in Crystal Logic the article "Morality and inexplicable changes in the music industry". That article was reposted many times and there was even plagiarism from online media. It was something new, a different view, stating changes in the music industry, mainly focused in metal music.

The general idea was how a few bands continue performing and releasing new music, and keeping the "brand name". There is definitely controversy behind those acts and different views.

The "older" artist that can't perform or compose music as good as before, his retirement or replacement by another artist (most of the times younger), a change in the "rights holder", and the thrust to perpetuate the presence of the "old brand" that is more safe than risk with something new. Even if that "older" artist was the founder or the primary songwriter. It doesn't matter anymore in the music industry and at that point we reach the morality issue.

The same questions that were originally posted in that article still stand for the future of music and they look more relevant from time to time. What will happen when all these old and major acts will retire? Is the music personified or just music matters even if the "persons" are not there? Is there a morality issue? Or is it just music after all? Or simply, everything about major acts will be just business, like there is a businessman that has bought a big band (or bands) and hired managers to handle his investments, no matter who is in the band? This is what was written back in March of 2018.

Joe Lynn Turner, one of the most soulful and expressive vocalists of rock, hard rock and AOR, started his career in the '70s with Fandango. His fame reached the sky when he replaced Graham Bonnet in Rainbow, performing in the albums Difficult to Cure (1981), Straight Between the Eyes (1982) and Bent Out of Shape (1983). After Rainbow's break-up and the Deep Purple reunion, Turner released his classic solo album Rescue You (1985) and later he joined Yngwie J. Malmsteen's Rising Force performing in the album Odyssey (1988).

Turner's career never stopped since then. He briefly joined Deep Purple recording the album Slaves and Masters (1990), he kept releasing solo albums, he worked with Glenn Hughes in the Hughes Turner Project, he had many guest appearances and was part of a few more bands. At some point, Joe Lynn Turner formed Sunstorm and the debut album was released by Frontiers Records in 2006.

Forward to December of 2020:

And then, Joe Lynn Turner made an announcement:

Few weeks later, a new line-up and story was revealed by Frontiers Records:

Frontiers Records is a label that has released countless projects in the wider field of hard rock and AOR, including respectful artists and a few of the greatest ones. So, besides brand names and classic bands like Journey and Whitesnake, among Frontiers' catalogue you will see many familiar names participating in new bands-projects. Most of those projects were an idea of the label that also used a specific songwriting team and similar productions. A few of those albums were really great, others didn't really work, but mostly there was a specific standard and sound.

We already have reached the moment where a label is actually the "band". The label forms the band and the name, has the rights, sets the course and how the "band" should sound. The artists performing are actually the employees and the label is the boss who even guides the "artistic vision".

Was Sunstorm one of those projects owned by the label? Is Joe Lynn Turner another "random guy" performing in one of those projects?

Sunstorm moves on without Joe Lynn Turner and any of the members that performed in the first albums but what's more disturbing is how the music industry  treats a legendary name like Joe Lynn Turner. Actually, they're just erasing him presenting Sunstorm as a label project whose members don't really matter and the name is above everyone. And here we're reaching again the morality issue and the questions mentioned in the beginning.

There aren't easy answers. And if there are, those will change over the years, just like how the music industry is changing. Actually, there are many different answers depending on the person. Musicians, people working in the music industry, promoters, fans. Everyone might have a different perspective. Some musicians might not be able to keep performing and the "brand name" will continue without them in a mutual agreement (and a contractual agreement depending on the name). Some fans will just say that they prefer other (replacement) musicians as long as the music is "better" performed, no matter if there won't be any original member left. Record labels and managers might become the new "rights holders" and keep those "brand names" they way they want, and in the end, the music industry can change so much that at some points, music won't be personified at all. It won't matter who was previously in the band and who formed it, even if he was Joe Lynn Turner. It doesn't even matter the name. THEY say.

But what Joe Lynn Turner has to say?

Is Joe Lynn Turner another "random guy" performing in one of those projects that doesn't really matter mentioning his name? Just after Frontiers' statement, Ronnie Romero, the new singer of Sunstorm wrote:

How did Sunstorm really start in the end?

It seems that in the end, the music industry is so powerful that nothing else really matters. They can even change history and the past, they can even set the future.

The author of this blog works in this industry for many years and has seen many things, but in the end, RESPECT is not just a random word. This is something you always must keep in mind. And Joe Lynn Turner isn't also a random guy or the nameless "former singer". Always respect the true history and the past and don't let "edits" change it.

Feel the music. Respect those who offered you moments that shaped your music life, and wrote the real history.

Κυριακή, 3 Ιανουαρίου 2021

The albums we enjoyed most in 2020... And a review of the year's releases.

The usual prologue would be that no one can say that they have listened to almost everything that was released during 2020. Everyone who claims that is wrong, so we will speak just for our favourite releases and the albums we enjoyed mostly in 2020. The "best" albums of 2020 according to Crystal Logic, and a wider review of the covid-year in metal (mainly) music.

Everything you will read below, are releases that can be found in physical format. "Releases" that were available only digitally, are not included. You will read more words and comments, even full new written reviews and opinions related to the music industry that will probably disappoint a few people that can't handle the truth.

2020 was a hard year but at the same time, it was a year with a LOT of music. It was a year with many diverse releases. Epic heavy metal, US power metal, Lovecraftian black metal, retro hard rock, progressive metal, technical death metal, comeback albums of classic '80s bands and anything else you can imagine and we listened to, while we revisited the Rush, Van Halen, UFO, Quiet Riot, Power Trip, Iron Age and Uriah Heep albums when we mourned the passing of Neil Peart, Eddie Van Halen, Pete Way, Frankie Banali, Riley Gale, Wade Allison, Lee Kerslake and Ken Hensley.

Actually, I think that in almost every year we write "... was a difficult year" but honestly, 2020 was probably the shitiest gloryhole someone can force you in, so let's forget for a while everything else and remember the music. And don't forget to read Rob Halford's Confess and Snowy Shaw's The Book of Heavy Metal.

Written by Andreas Andreou

1. ETERNAL CHAMPION - Ravening Iron (No Remorse)

It's been a while since the TOP album of a year was so obvious. Eternal Champion's sophomore album is a force d'être modern traditional metal classic reaching both artistic and commercial success that breaks the boundaries of underground and epic heavy metal, reaching the second position of the 2020 best albums according to Decibel magazine in the USA, the third position of the 2020 best albums according to Metal Archives, and many top lists of media around the globe.

Jason Tarpey, Arthur Rizk and Co. grow so fast that even the 4-year period that separates the new album from the (already) classic debut The Armor of Ire didn't affect anything, just helped the band to raise the metal banners higher. Being the truest, hardest and best of their kind, the legion of Eternal Champion offered a colossal album that just like the debut will grow to a legendary status in the years to come. A grower that with every listen will reveal layered details that are much more than the legacy of the olde.

From the first moment the "Ravening Iron" track was unleashed, many talked about the Warlord vibe (that actually is Lordian Guard/Lordian Winds) but beneath of that touch lies a huge inspiration from Greek music that influenced the band during their visit in Greece with Arthur Rizk staying for more days, visiting different places. Meanwhile, in "Worms of the Earth" you can locate a Mystification-era Manilla Road vibe, in "Banners of Arhai" they revisit "Shade Gate" (the closing instrumental of the debut album) and the "NOW DIE!" part could be a stand-out moment even in the greatest epic heavy metal albums ever.

At the same time, despite being a solid offering of 8 tracks, fans over the world have different preferences revealing a diversity that many won't recognize from the beginning. American fans love mostly the opening cut ("A Face in the Glare'') while in Europe fans mostly prefer other tracks like "Ravening Iron" and "Worms of the Earth''. Production wise, the wizardry of Arthur Rizk, the most important new musician according to the author of this blog, is perfect for the genre and already has established a sound of his own, influencing a huge part of the scene. But what really makes Eternal Champion a groundbreaking band is not only the fact that they have their own distinguished sound, they are the "heavy metal" band that many fans of different (extreme) genres listen, without actually being "metal fans", and we're talking about the crossover and hardcore scene of the United States. "You will be an outcast if you're living in Texas and don't listen to Eternal Champion", could be written in an engraved iron inscription close to Austin, while there could be another similar one somewhere in Philly.

As for the controversial cover art, an album like this needed a legend to visually represent it and the one who was reached is no other than Ken Kelly (Kiss, Rainbow, Manowar). After a few months of work and in close cooperation with the label's executives and band, Kelly managed to capture everything the band wanted (also based in singer's and lyricist's Jason Tarpey story, The Godblade) adding all the elements that made his art recognizable and at the same time representing what sword-and-sorcery visual art was (and is) about over the years.

Eternal Champion's Ravening Iron is history in the making. Be part of it.

Check also: While Eternal Champion raised their banner higher than everyone, IRONSWORD with Servants of Steel confused most of the lists since their album has "2019" written on the CD format but it was available mainly in the first days of 2020. In 2020 though, the year of great comeback albums, CIRITH UNGOL's Forever Black got a huge anticipated exposure. Some people loved it, others expected more but with a total duration less than 40 minutes Forever Black has a nice flow including excellent tracks like "Stormbringer" while the band tried to capture vibes from all of their albums.

An enjoyable album we loved listening to, is definitely THRONE OF IRON's Adventure One. Real victims of Covid-19, they were trapped in the air, flying from the United States to Greece in order to perform at the last-minute postponed Up the Hammers festival. Their first adventure is a dungeons-and-dragons metal album created with pure passion and fun with the video of "Lichspire" makes you just wanna love them. Do you lift?

2. HITTMAN - Destroy All Humans (No Remorse)

Hittman managed to come full circle returning to the days of great songwriting and sounded fresh at the same time. Catchy, melodic, powerful and inspired, with 8 tracks in the spirit of the best albums of US metal, the guitar duo of Jim Bacchi and John Inglima offers everything that their same titled debut album also did 32 years ago. Singer Dirk Kennedy sounds better than ever in the comeback album that starts with the Savatage -"The Dungeons Are Calling"- similar opening track (using a similar skull-cover), moving to the total US power metal riffing worship of "Breathe", the melodic "The Ledge" and closing with the Queensrÿche vibes of "Love, The Assassin" and those excellent guitar solo parts. How many times have you listened to a new album with excellent guitar solo parts? They're getting less over the years but this is not the case; Destroy All Humans is an album full of inspired and greatly performed guitar parts. The best comeback album of 2020 by a band that returned and is here to stay with more new music and not moving on as a legacy act.

More classic US metal to check: What a refreshing heavy metal sound ARMORED SAINT have in Punching the Sky! And they definitely have one of the best drum sounds you can get out there today. Armored Saint is one of the most confident and solid heavy metal bands, a monster on stage and in the latest album you still get "punches" of great heavy metal. Working again with producer Bill Metoyer, TYRANT added Robert Lowe in vocals and returned with Hereafter, a magnificent album including killer tracks like "Dancing on Graves" and "Pieces of Mine".

3. PSYCHOTIC WALTZ - The God-Shaped Void (InsideOut)

It's like not a day passed since Bleeding, the fourth album of Psychotic Waltz, released in 1996. Just like pure artists, Devon Graves, Brian McAlpin, Dan Rock, Ward Evans and Norm Leggio, didn't try to recreate what they did with A Social Grace or Into the Everflow. The latest album is a progressive metal redemption full with exceptional melodies, one of the best guitar performances of 2020, a singer that deserves a place among the greatest ones and the best lyrics of any album during that year. You just have to FEEL the album in its entirety.

The modern-age social-media passion of "stuck like flies, this web worldwide will swallow, make hollow" is an important element of the album. How the world has been evolved with each individual self-committed to digital institution through his cell-phone and the world-wide-web, just like a few of the patients of Miloš Forman's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest film, that could leave at any time, but are too afraid to do so. Addiction is the disguised fear of the modern world, where each individual has a different presence in reality (looks afraid) and another one in the digital world (looks dominant).

The actual songwriting and performance is not complex and poly-rhythmic, you still get vibes from Jethro Tull, Black Sabbath and the early Ozzy years plus everything the band members have done since 1996. The melodies are addictive and songs like "Sisters of the Dawn" stand at the top of 2020. And if you will FEEL the album, you will get answers to unanswered questions while at the same time, you will have questions even for simple things like, why "Sisters of the Dawn" got that title and not "Fathers of Creation", "Children of the Fallen", or "Children of the One"? In the end, we're just spellbound by that album and that word never sounded better.

Check also: LEVIATHAN Words Waging War.

4. LORD OF LIGHT - Morningstar (No Remorse)

In the end of 2019, multi-instrumentalist, singer and songwriter Nicklas Kirkevall from Sweden uploaded his music on a few digital platforms introducing Morningstar and not later than a few days, it reached a few record labels and fans with an enormous positive response. A multi-record deal was offered and Morningstar was officially released a few months later in 2020 getting excellent reviews. With the idea to continue as a full band, Lord of Light's music is heavy metal, it is progressive metal, it is prog power and everything in-between having a strong melodic approach. It will bring in mind '90s prog metal, late-Savatage, even Royal Hunt, and yet you can feel that there are elements that have a certain uniqueness. "I think there is much to be done within the world of metal that hasn’t been done already", Nicklas said to Crystal Logic. "Sometimes it can feel like there aren’t any more uncharted waters to explore, but I sincerely hope we get the opportunity to prove otherwise in the coming years. I know we’re not the only ones, but I think we have the chance to contribute something really meaningful." Just listen to this beautiful album.

Check also: MASTER MASSIVE Black Feathers on Their Graves.

5. FATES WARNING - Long Day Good Night (Metal Blade)

How can they ever fail? It just can't happen. Fates Warning's music is like an old friend that grows with us and even if at the first listen Ray Alder's voice sounded "tired" to our poor ears, we just didn't properly listen to what he said, or we mistakenly tried to compare the album with past FW releases. Alder is not tired, he is just performing sad and bittersweet lyrics in a very mature way. Home, changes, regrets and sorrow. The rain and the sun, scars, new beginnings and altered pages.

Fates Warning's music is a huge book where every album is a chapter that's re-written over the years, while we revisit every album in a different age and era. Most of the reviews written in just a few days (even hours for unprofessional "critics") after a new FW album fail to catch the essence of it. Albums like Long Day Good Night are albums we're going to stay with for a long, long time.

Jim Matheos wanted to leave behind all of the pages with a handful of doubts but we're still following him even if he asked us not to, three decades ago. We never kept that distance. Thank you Fates Warning for always being there, and through the change we still remain after the rain, because deep inside we know YOU wait for us under the sun.


6. ERIC CLAYTON - A Thousand Scars (Independent)

What a story! Eric Clayton's life is a life full of scars and those scars are the wounds that have been finally healed. This album is his confession, his revelation, his scars. Eric Clayton and the Nine create melancholic and spiritual music based on the scars of a man who found again his soul through music and love. A deeply personal album, a narrative where you can't really personally relate with just like other albums but you can FEEL it just like watching an emotional film if you will give your full attention. An album, a story and a spiritual journey that deserves your attention.

In the music industry part, a part that has left a few scars in Eric Clayton's life, Eric Clayton and the Nine decided to release A Thousand Scars independently starting a fund campaign with an overpriced album pre-order many months before its release. Fans that wanted to support directly the artists pre-ordered and pre-paid for music that wasn't even recorded; a sign of the times. However, not all pre-orders were finally delivered including the author of this blog. There might be scars from the music industry but sometimes the industry knows better how to handle a release.  

In the end, this is Eric's redemption and maybe this is the only thing that matters for the man but also the people that were always supporting and thinking of him even when he was lost between the darkness and the night. We embraced his return and now we are waiting for the future.

Check also: If Saviour Machine's Legend (unfinished) trilogy is the soundtrack to the Apocalypse, ANAAL NATHRAKH's Endarkenment is the soundtrack to the sickest ending of the world. An experimental pig hybrid with cocks in its eyes, industrial metal in its heart, black metal in its soul, grindcore in its mind and a diverse vocal delivery. It has nothing to do with A Thousand Scars but its wound is always open because every listen is a razor coming back to flesh.

7. SACRED OUTCRY - Damned for All Time (No Remorse)

The best power metal album of Europe for 2020 came from Greece and has a long history behind it. 20 years ago, Sacred Outcry was formed with influences vast and passion great, inspired by artists like Manowar, Warlord, Domine and Basil Poledouris. The first recordings took place in 2001-2003 but not a voice was heard since then. Still though, that album never left the mind of the band members, especially bassist's George Apalodimas who never gave up his dream to finally see that album finished and released. The recordings were completed between 2015-2018, orchestral arrangements were added, editing, mixing and mastering was finished in 2019 and Sacred Outcry finally presented us the first chapter in The Sacred Chronicles under the title Damned for All Time.

Every instrument sounds crystal clear, the bass sound is beyond awesome, guest vocalist Yannis Papadopoulos (ex-Wardrum, Beast in Black) is at the top of his game and every detail seems to have been perfectly arranged in order to complete an album that will be a modern reference for its style. Songs like "Where Ancient Gods Are Still Hailed" and "Damned For All Time" are up there, in the top of the best European power metal tracks of this millennium.

Check also: It seems that Greece and Cyprus did it very well in 2020. DEXTER WARD returned in the days of Epic Metal with the third full-length album simply entitled III, a massive statement of pure epic heavy metal worship from fans for fans. In the same attitude, SOLITARY SABRED released By Fire & Brimstone the best US power metal album that hasn't been released by an American US power metal since Solitary Sabred's previous offering to the altar of the metal gods.

8. WYTCH HAZEL - III: Pentecost (Bad Omen)

Colin Hendra and Co. did it again, just two years after the magnificent II: Sojourn. An album like this one can only come from England and Ireland, nowhere else. No one can write and perform this kind of epic hard rock better than the places of Black Sabbath, Uriah Heep, Wishbone Ash and Thin Lizzy.

Do you believe that this would sound better with a singer that has a wider range? Do you find a few of the lyrics cringy? Well, lines like "Why should that demon have all the glory? He was only Archangel at the start of the story" lack the depth of "the Gods are crying bombs" and what Psychotic Waltz did, while they are probably closer to Stryper's "Jesus makes me want to sing" since Wytch Hazel are devoted to the Light and Christianity. And if these are disadvantages, at the same time these are advantages since the "better" vocalist couldn't perform better in those songs. This is not a comparison as strong as Ozzy's vocals are in his songs since no "better" singer can replace him but you know what I mean. As for the lyrics, Wytch Hazel's music sounds very positive, so simple and catchy lines like "Spirit and fire show me the way" is all that is needed in this feel-good daddy-rock that's beautiful and catchy, sounds honest and humble and at the same time as epic as it needs with medieval themes, and inspiration from the British music legends.

In the next mixtape you're going to make, add "Sonata" after Fates Warning's "Under the Sun".

Check also: HIGH SPIRITS' Hard to Stop is probably their best album since 2011's Another Night and one of the most feel-good and enjoyable albums of 2020. Let your spirit shine!

9. OPIUM WARLORDS - Nembutal (Svart)

There aren't (true) doom metal fans who don't know who Sami Albert Hynninen is. The Witchfinder of many diverse projects and bands returned in the roots of Reverend Bizarre's doom metal with the nearly 20-minute opening track of Nembutal entitled "A Heavy Heart" but other than that and the closing track "Xanadu", everything in-between is abstract and disturbing. In the end, the complete album is nothing else than a droned apocalyptic offering of a "yellow jacket'd" hypnotic memoir about death.

This not-easy accessible and grotesque album demands your full attention, just like many forms of art. Each side of the vinyl version is a separate entity and in the end they all make sense, even if in the beginning I was listening only to Side A until I moved forward... in Hell. When Sami sings "The silent pilot comes at last: death!" you get that heavy Thomas Gabriel Fischer vibe; an artist who built his career in the meaning of death, and total darkness where there is no hope and everything ceases to exist. From the first cut's line "there is cancer in the wind" to the closing's cut line "breathe / breathe / breath / death", the lungs are filled with the smoke of wisdom and death at the same time.

Check also: ATRAMENTUS' Stygian is a haunted album created from misery, anger and anxiety. It dwells in bad mentality and depression, drowning in an infinite void, having also one of the best cover arts for 2020.

10. OZZY OSBOURNE - Ordinary Man (Epic)

Anything you will say about this not-so-ordinary-man will never justify his real personality, his persona, the music, his legacy and his acts. He is anything you believe for him and everything you don't know about him. Right or wrong, Ozzy's music will always remain in eternity while all opinions will fade like footsteps in the sand. And that's the most important and only thing that really matters.

When Tony Iommi and Bill Ward reached the guy who put that famous advert, "Ozzy Zig requires gig, owns his own PA", things didn't even look good. Later Ozzy and Geezer Butler visited Bill Ward asking him to join them in a new band but Bill wanted to stick with Tony. Then, they all decided to try to work together. That's how it all began and more or less, you all know a part of the story that followed; the story those four created. Together. No one crossed the other's way by luck. Fact.

While history roller-coasters on, Ozzy started his successful solo career using his talent to find the most talented partners and new musicians in the likes of Randy Rhoads, Jake E. Lee and Zakk Wylde that became legendary after working with Oz. With the music industry adding its hand, the madness and talent surrounding Ozzy's band in the '80s, created a heavy metal prototype as iconic as the other four-or-five most important acts of metal music.

When the '90s entered, Ozzy kept the '80s flame with No More Tears, a multi-platinum commercial success while other metal monsters were lost under the new era. And from that point on, with the exception of Ozzmosis, one of his most personal albums, Ozzy was laid completely in the hands of the industry. When we reached 2020, Ozzy returned to an early era of "everything can happen just for music". Ordinary Man is an album created because Ozzy just wanted to perform again without any rush or forced to offer something "specific". He just happened to be in the studio with good company and respected musicians (not new talents he found), including friends and people who respect him from different generations, like Andrew Watt (producer and guitarist), Duff McKagan (bass), Chad Smith (drums) and guests like Slash, even Sir Elton John, creating a few beautiful songs like "Under the Graveyard" and "Ordinary Man", songs we're going to listen more often than songs from better records released the covid-year.

In the end, Ordinary Man is an emotional album of an "old-man" that grabs his harmonica again, joined by people of different ages, generations and genres, feeling again just like a boy but at the same moment he understands time goes by. "Don't forget me as the colours fade". How could we, Ozzάκλα μου?

Check also (the legends): AC/DC returned with Power Up (or PWR/UP), recorded in mid 2018 to early 2019, paying tribute to Malcolm Young and bringing back those rhythms that make you shake your body and feel like a kid again. At the same time, BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN, the boss of American classic rock writes a Letter to You, a sad and gray album, an emotional reflection of the past.

11. GLACIER - The Passing of Time (No Remorse)

This is actually the first full-length of Glacier and it is as close to the band's underground classic same-titled 1985 EP, as close was the 8-track demo tape that followed in 1988. In the end, Glacier is a name of many people who used it over the years with one common result: Awesome Metal. In The Passing of Time you will find singer Michael Podrybau of the 1985 EP along with new musicians who know very well their craft and also original members of the band adding their contribution connecting Glacier with their past and all eras, offering an album that balances between US and European heavy / power metal.

Check also: FIREWIND Firewind, SATAN'S FALL Final Day.

12. STYGIAN CROWN - Stygian Crown (Cruz Del Sur)

Doom Metal suffered in 2020. Very few releases and even fewer that deserved our attention but the debut album of the US-based pact of Stygian Crown came forth offering salvation to our doomed souls.

Check also: BLACK REVELATION Demon, BRITON RITES Occulte Fantastique, GODTHRYMM Reflections.

13. ESOCTRILIHUM - Eternity of Shaog (I, Voidhanger)

Esoctrilihum's mastermind, Asthâghul, did it again. This is an intense black metal album with a variety of influences, from obvious ones (death metal) to a diversity of soundscapes (psychedelia, prog-rock, folk) that complete the Lovecraftian soundtrack of god Shaog who is imprisoned in a parallel universe.

2020 Black Metal highlights: ABIGOR Totschläger (A Saintslayer's Songbook), AKHLYS Melinoë, HAVUKRUUNU Uinuos Syömein Sota, HORN Mohngang, ODRAZA Rzeczom, STORMKEEP Galdrum, UADA Djinn.

14. CREATURE - Ex Cathedra (I, Voidhanger)

Raphaël Fournier is the closest thing to a genius I can think for 2020. Ex Cathedra is an ambitious and thrilling album of progressive black metal with a completely out-of-the-box songwriting that is a combination of early Covenant music with a Dødheimsgard approach (in lack of a better description).

Check also: ULCERATE's Stare into Death and Be Still will probably dominate many TOP lists for 2020 just like the album of Eternal Champion and this diversity in various TOP lists is an example that there are many different listeners all over the world, and a few of those albums can change the face of the current scene. Unlistenable for a few, unpredictable for others, Ulcerate is here to destroy the norm. However, you can't even imagine what you're going to hear in NEPTUNIAN MAXIMALISM's Éons.

15. HAIL SPIRIT NOIR - Eden in Reverse (Agonia)

Hail Spirit Noir's evolution (progress) is mesmerizing and you don't know what to expect with every album. The black metal themes are nearly audible in the latest album that has the futuristic sound of the past. Are you confused? Just imagine the Blade Runner movie that was filmed in 1982 with a plot based in 2019 but in the real-life-2020, it is now a (retro) film in the past with a (retro) futuristic world that has nothing to do with the current reality. Sharp creativity in reverse with a surrealistic aura.

Check also: HUNTSMEN's Mandala of Fear is a post-whatever-metal-sludge-thing with a post-apocalyptic concept, an ol' prog touch and Hulk-strength riffing. Excellent!

16. WHITE CRONE - The Poisoner (Independent)

There are always times when out of nowhere appears a heavy metal album that sounds fresh, inspired and addictive, with excellent songwriting and performance. White Crone’s debut album is one of those, composed and arranged by the super talented Lisa Mann. Inspired by '80s Black Sabbath and Iron Maiden, combined with Lisa's musical background, Bruce Dickinson-like female vocals, excellent dual guitar parts and ideas, prog elements, a powerful rhythm section with bass guitar dominating the record, a doom-y and mystical aura, a short visit at the Seven Gates of Hell and a guest appearance of legendary drummer Vinny Appice (Black Sabbath, Dio), make this album one of the most refreshing traditional metal releases of 2020.

Check also: We've missed Ol' Rusty even if we had his Hermit alter ego offering music we never stopped to listen. THE WIZAR'D's Subterranean Exile is a magnificent piece of Arcane Metal that is labeled as heavy or doom or Pagan Altar-inspired by many others.

Breaking the borders of black metal, MALOKARPATAN from Slovakia released Krupinské Ohne mixing Master's Hammer, Bathory, "proto-black" and heavy riffing, acoustic parts and stories from forgotten woodlands.

17. KING WITCH - Body of Light (Listenable)

Mix Black Sabbath, ol' blues and an ol' Motörhead vibe, the heaviest of heavy metal, British and early US doom metal when Doom Metal wasn't even a name for the genre, adding a powerful female voice and you have the Body of Light; A perfect blend of Sabbathian heavy and doom metal. Obey the Riff.

Check also: WOLFTOOTH's Valhalla is the last album of the Sabbathian pact before entering a major label and we will just wait for what's next. Meanwhile, as we wrote again two years ago for the tattooed bearded Richmond wolves: this is too groovy for the regressive doom metal fan, too epic for the stoner fan, too awesome for the rest.

18. SPIRIT ADRIFT - Enlightened in Eternity (Century Media)

You gotta love Nate Garrett. Nate loves heavy metal. And Spirit Adrift's latest album is a pure love for all-things-heavy-metal; The doom-y heavy metal. And "Astral Levitation" is the best tribute you can offer to '80s Black Sabbath.

Check also: LORD VIGO's Danse de Noir, the fourth album of the German doom metal band, is a step forward. And just like Spirit Adrift, "At the Verge of Time" is another great track-tribute to '80s Black Sabbath. We all love '80s Sabbath, don't we?

19. BIFF BYFORD - School of Hard Knocks (Silver Lining)

It's Biff. There is only one Biff. Of course and there are many moments that bring to mind Saxon. It could be a late '80s - early '90s Saxon album and there is nothing wrong with this. Because it's Biff. We love Biff. We love Saxon. And you can't really beat nostalgia and a feel-good album.

Check also: Trevor William Church's HAUNT released two albums in 2020. In the vein of the early '80s heavy metal bands, both Mind Freeze and Flashback sound fresh with the same-titled track of each album being a hit reminding glorious '80s Ozzy commercial moments.

20. ECCLESIA - De Ecclesiae Universalis (Aural)

This heavy / power metal album with those doom metal vibes brings upfront the aura of Tad Morose and Swedish power power metal, plus the power metal moments of doom bands like Candlemass and Memory Garden. Enjoyable and heavy, with a great sound and a pure power metal voice that's extremely suitable, it reminded me that we need a new Fvneral Fvkk album, since their carnal confessions are the true dark gospels of the church.

Check also: SORCERER returned with Lamenting of the Innocent, remembering once again the Tony-Martin-Sabbath-era and adding neoclassical guitar solos in their happier-than-others epic doom metal.

Best EP of 2020:

BLACK SWORD THUNDER ATTACK - March of the Damned (No Remorse)

At last. One of the most cult and obscure acts of underground epic metal finally made it to an official release... Even if it is a 4-track EP. We've been waiting for many years, so I guess it's better than nothing! Despite the obvious Warlord / Lordian Guard worship that is stated in every review I've read, the band with one of the most cult epic metal names offers the most addictive music you're going to listen in 2020 and yes, behind Bill Tsamis' influence, I personally can locate a spectacular and distinguished style that is just BLACK SWORD THUNDER ATTACK. March of the Damned could be the best underground metal release of 2020.

About EPs: From the music industry side, an EP is a kind of release that most record labels avoid in the recent years. A record label will pay the same amount of money for a CD or vinyl, either it is 15 minutes long, or 45 minutes long, but they definitely can't easily sell the EP with the same price as an album. And if they will (because they actually paid the same manufacturing cost, let aside any additional royalties), a few fans will complain for the price, adding many more marketing, promotional and distribution issues, a regular fan can't understand.

A band might say that EPs are "rounded well" and that's not always a lie, but mostly if you want to sell one hundred copies to your friends and a specific underground circle of fans, and get a few reviews from specific online media that's also running from people you're familiar with. Under these circumstances, you can easily release it on your own or find a one-person label that's running his business from his home. But that will never take a band to the next level, unless the band just wants to keep moving like this.

Quality is always better than quantity but since there are people who complain for 35-minute albums, I can't imagine what they will think of EPs, especially when retail prices are close. The music will always reach those who will like it and if a band wants to release music just for a few people it is OK to do it through EPs if their artistic expression is limited to 15 minutes. But if a band wants to keep moving and reach the "next" level, it would be better to present a full album and maybe they will escape the "15 minutes of fame" in a specific underground metal scene. It might take longer to complete it but it will be for the better. For everyone: The band, the record company, the fans.

Off to more albums now, since they were so many in 2020, and there is a huge list of notable mentions.

Best Live Album of 2020:

TRIPTYKON with the Metropole Orkest - Requiem (Live at Roadburn 2019) (Century Media)

Risen from the ashes of Celtic Frost, Thomas Gabriel Fischer comes full circle releasing Requiem (Live at Roadburn 2019) including "Rex Irae (Requiem, Chapter One: Overture)", "Grave Eternal (Requiem, Chapter Two: Transition)" and "Winter (Requiem, Chapter Three: Finale)". Celtic Frost's requiem was originally begun in autumn of 1986 and its first part, "Rex Irae", originally appeared on Into the Pandemonium album. "Winter" originally appeared on Monotheist album and Fischer started writing it in 2001. It was supposed that the requiem should be concluded once Celtic Frost recorded the second part but in the end, requiem was presented in its entirety by Triptykon with the Metropole Orkest.

The Best, the Rest and More - 2020 Unmasked

The Heavy, the Epic, the Power [and a touch of Prog], the Speed Metal Rites:

AMBUSH Infidel, BLACK SOUL HORDE Land of Demise, BLAZING RUST Line of Danger, CLOVEN HOOF Age of Steel, DARK FOREST Oak, Ash & Thorn, DEATH DEALER Conquered Lands, ECHOSOUL The End of Darkness, FORTRESS UNDER SIEGE Atlantis, FURY The Grand Prize, GREYHAWK Keepers of the Flame, HROM Legends of Powerheart: Part II, IRONFLAME Blood Red Victory, KRAMP Gods of Death, MEGATON SWORD Blood Hails Steel - Steel Hails Fire, OLD MOTHER HELL Lord of Demise, POSSESSED STEEL Aedris, RAVEN Metal City, ROADWOLF Unchain the Wolf, SHOK PARIS Full Metal Jacket, SÖLICITÖR Spectral Devastation, STÄLKER Black Majik Terror, TRAVELER Termination Shock, WHITE MAGICIAN Dealers of Divinity, WOLF Feeding the Machine.

Melodic, rockin', hard 'n' heavy metal:

ALCATRAZZ Born Innocent, ARCHON ANGEL Fallen, BADD KHARMA On Fire, BLUE ÖYSTER CULT The Symbol Remains, STAN BUSH Dare to Dream, FM Synchronized, H.E.A.T. II, MAGNUM The Serpent Rings, NORTHWIND History, PERFECT PLAN Time for a Miracle, PRIDE OF LIONS Lion Heart.

and retro heavy rockin' attitude from the heart of the olde:

DEAD LORD Surrender, FREEWAYS True Bearings, LUCIFER III, NIGHT High Tides - Distant Skies, REZN Chaotic Divine, SPELL Opulent Decay, VESTAL CLARET Vestal Claret.

Under the Sabbathian Spell and the Iommic Magick:

ANCHORITE Further from Eternity, MOUNTAIN WITCH Extinct Cults, PALE DIVINE Consequence of Time, PALLBEARER Forgotten Days.

The "Black Sabbath" of 2020: V.A. Vol. 4 (Redux), V.A. Best of Black Sabbath (Redux), ZAKK SABBATH Vertigo.

Magnetic Eye Records' redux series gathered a pact of Sabbathian artists including EARTHLESS, HIPPIE DEATH CULT, THOU, GREEN LUNG, SPIRIT ADRIFT, THE OBSESSED, HIGH REEPER and more, covering Black Sabbath, while Zakk Wylde with ZAKK SABBATH covered the album that started everything in its entirety, celebrating Black Sabbath's debut album 50th anniversary.

Thrashing maniacs and screams from beyond:

BÜTCHER 666 Goats Carry My Chariot, DEATH COURIER Necrotic Verses, EVILDEAD United $tate$ of Anarchy, EXARSIS Sentenced to Life, HEATHEN Empire of the Blind, HELLSPIKE Lords of War, INCANTATION Sect of Vile Divinities, MIDNIGHT Rebirth by Blasphemy, NAPALM DEATH Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism, NECROPHOBIC Dawn of the Damned, SODOM Genesis XIX, TEMPLE OF VOID The World That Was, TESTAMENT Titans of Creation.

The rest, the ethereal, the prog, the black, the sick, the soul of the outcast:

ARS MAGNA UMBRAE Apotheosis, AT THE ALTAR OF THE HORNED GOD Through Doors of Moonlight , EMYN MUIL Afar Angathfark, ENSLAVED Utgard, MY DYING BRIDE The Ghost of Orion, MYSTRAS Castles Conquered and Reclaimed, ORANSSI PAZUZU Mestarin Kynsi, HENRIK PALM Poverty Metal, PANZERFAUST The Suns of Perdition - Chapter II: Render unto Eden, PARADISE LOST Obsidian, PIGS PIGS PIGS PIGS PIGS PIGS PIGS Viscerals, EMMA RUTH RUNDLE & THOU May Our Chambers Be Full, KARI RUESLATTEN Sørgekåpe, THY CATAFALQUE Naiv, WAYFARER A Romance With Violence.


Κυριακή, 27 Δεκεμβρίου 2020

Metal Nerdism Vol. 9: Top-10 (+1) greatest metal singers you don't see in the lists with the "greatest singers"

Very often (very often) there are lists about the "greatest" singers in magazines and (mostly) online media. These lists are always similar not only because the "greatest" singers are objectively known but mostly because you "can't" make such a list without a few specific names. Name them Bruce Dickinson, Ronnie James Dio, Rob Halford, Eric Adams, Geoff Tate etc. These are legendary voices that should be in such lists for many reasons. If they are "objectively" the best, this is something that's always debated even among professionals, but they're definitely among the greatest.

While those lists are always similar, there will always be singers that never got their share of "greatness" in those lists but a few of them are singers of songs that match the quality of many of those you already know from those lists mentioned above. In the end, a song is not just about the instruments and how "correct" they're performed, or how a voice reaches specific "standards". The greatest pieces of art, sometimes are those who offered something new, something out-of-the-box, something with a passionate and unique performance, something that doesn't follow specific standards. "Critics-professionals-teachers" don't always understand them but the audience does. With that said, we can understand why Blizzard of Ozz or Metallica have sold millions of copies. These are perfect albums and everyone related to these albums can be in such "lists".

Besides all those singers that we use to see in these lists that are many times debatable according to personal tastes or because you can't understand the uniqueness, or talent, or you just don't like the person, there are many more that could be in every of those lists. So here you have the greatest metal singers you don't see in the lists with the "greatest singers".

written by Andreas Andreou

1. Jon Oliva

The Mountain King, the voice of Savatage, one of the best US metal bands. A unique voice with character and passion. From his early performances and his iconic yell in "Sirens" up less known tracks like "The Price You Pay" he was always a character but when he was singing personal lyrics, an unmatchable feeling was dominating each track. During 1989-1991 almost each performance was magnificent, something not very common, even for the greatest singers that use a specific "singing template". "When the Crowds Are Gone", "Hounds", "Summer's Rain", "If I Go Away", Jon Oliva was always unpredictable, a legend on his own.

PERFORMANCE: Tonight He Grins Again (Streets, 1991)

Check also: Russ North (Cloven Hoof)

2. Tony Martin

Tony Martin has a long story as an artist, even if he is mainly known as one of the Black Sabbath singers. Actually, he is the second longest serving singer of the first heavy metal band after Ozzy Osbourne. From The Alliance years up to replacing Ray Gillen in Tony Iommi's Black Sabbath version he was a singer with a talent that just needed the right people. And even if in The Eternal Idol (1987) he just followed Gillen's vocal lines, in Headless Cross (1989), Tyr (1990) and Cross Purposes (1994) he was an important element for one of the better heavy metal styles we love to listen. A solid singer with a huge voice. When he also started writing lyrics during Headless Cross he had the talent to find the most suitable words and phrasing that could perfectly fit with his vocal lines.

PERFORMANCE: When Death Calls (Headless Cross, 1989)

Check also: Russell Allen (Symphony X)

3. Blackie Lawless

In the '90s, the music world was changing despite the fact that there were still a few bands coming from the '80s that expanded their commercial success and fame. But there was also something new, especially in the United States of America, where everything that W.A.S.P. was representing, became "old" and outdated. It was that point where Blackie Lawless started presenting a different, mature face miles away from the '80s party style of the band and the years where they were targeted by the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) along with bands like Twisted Sister. Still though, Blackie  was always different even if his live performance is known for pre-recorded parts. From simple lines like "I'm a wild child, come and love me", to controversial lines like "I got pictures of naked ladies" up to "where is the love to shelter me", Blackie always had this huge emotional voice that made every line sound true even if his self has rapidly change over the years.

PERFORMANCE: The Idol (The Crimson Idol, 1992)

Check also: David Wayne (Metal Church)

4. Robert Lowe

Few bands with more than 5 albums can claim that each one of them is at least great, and one of them is Solitude Aeturnus. The Epic Doom Metal legend from Texas is the greatest band of its kind along with Candlemass and an important element of this (true) statement is Robert Lowe's vocal prowess. A cathartic voice that leads tο redemption while at the same time it is mournful leading to ultimate sorrow.

PERFORMANCE: Mirror of Sorrow (Into the Depths of Sorrow, 1991)

Check also: Simen "ICS Vortex" Hestnæs (Lamented Souls, Arcturus)

5. Steve Benito

While his legacy is limited to Heir Apparent's One Small Voice (1989) and a few more recordings here and there, Steve Benito had an extremely elastic voice that was very different from all those Geoff Tate clones that despite their excellent abilities were nothing new and all sounded alike. However, he didn't make any career in music because of his character since despite being a talented person, he was also extremely brash, offensive, very opinionated and always used to getting his way, leading Heir Apparent to the end after the release of One Small Voice, illegally taking the name and putting founder Terry Gorle out of the band. Still though, from the rehearsal recordings of the Triad release up to the second Heir Apparent album and the available live shows on the web, Steve Benito is an undeniable talented and intelligent singer.

PERFORMANCE: Cry for Rome (live session 1988)

Check also: Vittorio Ballerio (Adramelch)

6. Eric Clayton

Eric Clayton's story is a story that could be larger than the man himself and his band, Saviour Machine. A life of wounds and scars, each one of them present in each song and each performance. The scars in the soul of Eric Clayton were created from deep artistic and emotional wounds and after chasing monsters for a lifetime he finally found love and redemption. His songs are his legacy and within them, you can feel the wounds, the pain, the feelings, his revelation and his art. An emotional baritone with a unique ability to transfer his inner feelings and soul to the listener.

PERFORMANCE: The Night (Legend Part I, 1997)

Check also: Eric Wagner (Trouble)

7. J.D. Kimball

Born John David Kimball in March 12th of 1958, died by cancer in October 3rd of 2003, the voice of bravery can be heard in Battle Cry (1984), Warning of Danger (1985), The Curse (1986) and Nightmares EP (1987) of Omen, one of the greatest US underground metal bands of the '80s. "Nothing worthwhile is easy, the path isn't always clear", Kimball sang in "At All Cost" and his life was indeed unclear and difficult but his legacy will remain.

PERFORMANCE: Don't Fear the Night (Warning of Danger, 1985)

Check also: David DeFeis (Virgin Steele)

8. Devon Graves (Buddy Lackey)

A haunting and hypnotic voice that  transforms every single line into an image. There are very few singers that can catch the exact mood of the music and lyrics; Buddy Lackey (later Devon Graves) is one of them. Dreams, pain, anxiety, fear, life, society and a wider abstract philosophy around them finds the perfect voice to transform words into images through a unique performance that cannot be easily copied. From "Hangin' on a String" riding on an endless carousel of wishes, hopes and dreams up to the Deadsoul Tribe, the voice that whispers in our ears speaks in words that come from inside, crashing the waves upon the shore. Pure art.

PERFORMANCE: I Remember (A Social Grace, 1990)

Check also: John Arch (Fates Warning, Arch/Matheos)

9. Mike Baker

The voice of the first five albums of Shadow Gallery left the mortal world on October 29th of 2008 by heart attack but he marked our lives forever. Despite the fact that he wasn't a composer or lyricist and even most of the vocal lines were written by others (mostly Carl Cadden-James) his performance was an important element in the music of Shadow Gallery and truth to be told, Shadow Gallery's vocal lines are like songs within the songs, and among the best ones in metal music. Baker's emotionally trembled voice had a specific feeling in most of the songs adding a further uniqueness.

PERFORMANCE: Hope for Us? (Tyranny, 1998)

Check also: Alan Tecchio (Hades, WatchTower)

10. Dee Snider

There is also another kind of voice, the "life" voices. The confident singers who put their voice's uniqueness and character on top of their lyrics, mainly talking about life, like they already lived what they're talking about. It can't get more real than that and Dee Snider has one of the most powerful voices that grabs you at once no matter how many better singers you can easily think off. Recognizable from the first second, Snider might very well also be the greatest metal frontman ever walked the stage.

PERFORMANCE: The Fire Still Burns (Come Out and Play, 1985)

Check also: Biff Byford (Saxon)

+1: Jutta Weinhold

Those lists are male-dominated in all media, probably just because heavy metal also looks like. However, we can't act alike so here is our pick: Jutta Weinhold, the German singer mostly known from Zed Yago and Velvet Viper but she also had a solo career in the '70s.

I saw live Jutta in Germany at the Keep It True Festival in 2015. Born in 1947, she was 68 (!) years old that day. She didn't look more than 50 and she didn't sound more than 40. That was a legendary performance for a person that's nearly 70 years old. Bring in your mind someone at that age and then imagine that one on stage performing "Zed Yago", "The Spell from Over Yonder" and "Revenge". Unbelievable. Jutta nailed everyone, and EVERY man close to her age.

PERFORMANCE: Zed Yago (From Over Yonder, 1988)

Check also: Leather Leone (Chastain, Leather, Malibu Barbi)

Κυριακή, 20 Δεκεμβρίου 2020

Metal Nerdism Vol. 8: Top 10 (+1) drum sounds in metal music.

How many times have you listened to an album and besides each one's widely or personal reception, you recognize a specific element that sounds great? We don't want to write again about "great" singers or albums with the "best" guitars or the "best" solos, since there are probably many out there in magazines or the internet.

We're always trying to aim for something different, so this time we will present you a Top-10 (+1) of the greatest drum sounds in metal music according to Crystal Logic. A few of them can also be identified as albums you can also see in different "top" lists but note that we're not talking about best albums but about the best drum sound.

Still though, it is important to mention that besides the fact that a few of them were already in my mind as the "best", I revisited them again and in each album you can see the audio reference. What is most important is that these albums can only be listened in the physical format in order to feel and get the true magnificence of each one, and not in YouTube (even if we will add a link for a "glimpse") or torrents. After all, we need to mention that we're not taking seriously deep discussions about similar articles when the person in front of us is listening to music only through YouTube. It sounds elitistic but that's the truth, sorry.

written by Andreas Andreou

1. Mayhem - De Mysteriis Dom. Sathanas (1994)

Produced by Pytten. Drums performed and co-produced by Hellhammer. Mixed by Pytten, Hellhammer and Euronymous.

Besides its historical importance, Mayhem's first full-length album has a phenomenal and huge drum sound that is perfected by Hellhammer's supernatural performance. Grieghallen (Grieg Hall) is a concert hall located in Bergen, Norway and named after the composer Edvart Grieg. That facility also had recording rooms and a studio. Pytten’s "Grieghallen sound" is the analogue sound of Black Metal and he understood the "chaos" of those young musicians and what they had in mind. Hellhammer’s drums for De Mysteriis Dom. Sathanas were recorded on the main stage of the concert hall in order to catch that huge sound.

Read about the story of Black Metal and what led to the creation of De Mysteriis Dom. Sathanas.

Audio reference: Vinyl (Deathlike Silence 2020 pressing). In this anniversary vinyl box set, you can also find a book with all the recording information and the saga of the album.

2. King Diamond - Abigail (1987)

Produced by King Diamond. Assisted by Mikkey Dee and Michael Denner. Engineered by Roberto Falcao. Mixed by King Diamond, Andy La Rocque and Roberto Falcao. Drums performed by Mikkey Dee.

A bold and massive sound riding on reverb. Mikkey Dee's performance in Abigail can be identified as one of the greatest in heavy metal history and he recorded most of the album with just a specific part of the music so he could control what he wanted to put on with the less possible interference. Complex and at the same time exactly into-the-point, Mikkey's drumming and sound, added a huge part in the visionaire aura of Abigail, an album that is heavy metal, power metal, progressive metal, horror metal and everything in-between.

Audio reference: Vinyl (Roadrunner 1987 pressing), CD (Roadrunner 2005 deluxe edition), vinyl (Music On Vinyl 2014 pressing).

3. Iron Maiden - Piece of Mind (1983)

Produced, mixed and engineered by Martin Birch. Drums performed by Nicko McBrain.

While someone can say that Iron Maiden is the most iconic '80s heavy metal band, Martin Birch is also the ultimate metal producer of the '80s. Starting with Killers in 1981, he connected his name with the "Maiden-sound" and the greatest albums in the catalogue of the British legend. Piece of Mind, one of the albums that can be identified among the most important cornerstones of influence for what followed (including a huge part of US Power Metal), is heavily connected with THE metal drum sound. Similar to the previous and the next Iron Maiden albums, that sound is the essence of '80s heavy metal drum sound.

Audio reference: Vinyl (EMI 1983 pressing).

4. Omen - The Curse (1986)

Produced by Bill Metoyer and Omen. Engineered by Bill Metoyer. Drums performed by Steve Wittig.

The budget Omen used for most of their albums so far wasn't even close to the budget they had for the drums' recording only, of The Curse. And while Escape to Nowhere will always be an exception in their catalogue for many reasons (recording, too) in 1986 with Bill Metoyer on the sound, Kenny Powell and company recorded their best sounding album with that huge drum sound we surely miss nowadays with all those "same" modern metal triggered productions.

Audio reference: Vinyl (Metal Blade/Enigma 1986 pressing), CD (Metal Blade 1996 pressing w/Nightmares EP), vinyl (Metal Blade 2017 pressing).

5. Candlemass - Epicus Doomicus Metallicus (1986)

Recorded in Thunderload Studios, produced by Candlemass. Engineered and co-produced by Ragne Wahlquist. Drums performed by Mats Ekström.

"Heavy Load's rehearsal room/studio was filthy, remote and cold", Leif Edling wrote in the liner notes for the 2011 CD reissue adding, "but we chose it because Trilogy's and Yngwie Malmsteen's demos sounded just great". In the Behind the Wall of Doom massive 3CD+2DVD compilation, there is a 92-page book written by Per-Ola Nilsson including many interesting stories and facts about the recording of the greatest Epic Doom Metal album, and that's all you need to read. Sounding wise, the drum sound of Candlemass' iconic debut is a grand element of the album, a drum sound that is overlooked and lost over the years because of better productions. Still though, every time I am listening to this album, I can't ignore the fact that this sound is exactly what the greatest Doom Metal album ever needed.

Audio reference: Vinyl (Black Dragon 1986 pressing), CD (Peaceville 2011 pressing).

6. Savatage - Gutter Ballet (1989)

Produced by Paul O'Neill. Engineered by James A. Ball. Drums performed by Steve Wacholz.

What Paul O'Neill did for Savatage and how the band evolved through ups and downs, is one of the greatest chapters in metal music. And while you can read HERE a few interesting bits of this story, that huge and fat drum sound was probably something already set by O'Neill while he was experimenting with the Oliva brothers for the songwriting and performance. Still though, that (probably) easy set up of the drum sound within the Sava-camp remains an example of audio magnificence for most of their albums.

Audio reference: Vinyl (Atlantic 1989 pressing), CD (Atlantic 1989 pressing).

7. Queensrÿche - Empire (1990)

Produced by Peter Collins. Recorded and mixed by James Barton. Drums performed by Scott Rockenfield.

The multi-platinum album of Queensrÿche is the pinnacle of their commercial success but at the same time, it is one of those albums that can combine the commercial sound with artistic elegance. Scott Rockenfield's drumming is one of the elements that added uniqueness and character in 'rÿche's intelligent metal up to Promised Land. From the early years of "Queen of the Reich" up to 1990's "Another Rainy Night (Without You)" the sound of 'rÿche was evolving and changing adding more catchy parts and songs, losing its heaviness in some moments but never its quality, leading to the band's most self-confident album. Without being the band's best album, the production of Empire helped the album's songs and kept Queensrÿche's name high in the charts and the hard rock & metal scene during a period where '80s metal started sounding "outdated" according to media and trends.

Audio reference: Vinyl (EMI 1990 pressing), CD (EMI 1990 pressing).

8. Fates Warning - Parallels (1991)

Produced, recorded and mixed by Terry Brown. Drums and percussion by Mark Zonder.

While audio experts and engineers, producers and drummers have many different opinions, those always come from the professional's side. On the other side, the only thing that probably matters is the sound coming out of your speakers, so if the listener enjoys what he listens to, it doesn’t matter how it was created. With that said, many modern productions might lack the organic, natural and analogue sound of the past (let's say that the "past" is the '70s, '80s, early '90s) still though the sound coming from your speakers can be massive. Or different. What Fates Warning really did with Parallels was something different but don't they always do?

Mark Zonder was always an unpredictable drummer with a unique approach and dynamic that drives against the "classic" heavy metal route. Parallels' production is perfect and Zonder's multi-rhythmic performance is like little songs within the songs but yet, everything is song-oriented and not complex for the listener while he also used electronic drums adding a variety of sounds in the album.

Audio reference: CD (Metal Blade 1991 pressing).

9. Dream Theater - Awake (1994)

Produced, mixed and engineered by John Purdell and Duane Baron. Drums and percussion by Mike Portnoy.

Following the success of Images and Words, one of the albums that changed metal music during the '90s, the decade of experimentation and new subgenres, Awake is free of the triggered snare Dave Prater (producer of Images and Words) used and more or less the "holy trinity" of progressive metal is represented in this list with iconic early '90s albums that shaped the genre, created a new generation of fans and inspiring up to this day with their music, performance and sound.

Audio reference: CD (EastWest 1994 pressing)

10. Armored Saint - Win Hands Down (2015)

Produced by Joey Vera. Mixed by Jay Ruston. Drums performed by Gonzo Sandoval. Drums engineered by Josh Newall and Jay Ruston.

Let's add a modern album, shall we? Not exactly "modern" but how heavy metal should sound in the modern era; Refreshing. I remember playing all the time Win Hands Down at the No Remorse Records' store in Athens, Greece, upon its release. One of those days in 2015, there was Fotis Benardo at the store, drummer of bands like Septicflesh and Nightfall, and also audio engineer and producer. While talking about a project we were working with, I noticed that he was distracted by the music coming from the speakers and he just said, "That's a great drum sound, what is this?" This is Win Hands Down, the album with one of the best sounding drums in traditional heavy metal over the last years. And Armored Saint did it again in the latest album, Punching the Sky.

Audio reference: CD (Metal Blade 2015 pressing)

+1. Metallica - Metallica (aka Black Album) (1991)

I guess that this is an album that can't be missing from any similar list, whether we like it or not. Produced by Bob Rock with James Hetfield and Lars Ulirch, the multi-platinum album of Metallica, one of the biggest selling albums in the history of hard rock and metal music, was recorded over a few months, over many takes, different mixes and a final budget of one million US dollars. We all know what followed and the sound of that album influenced countless releases from Xentrix (Kin) to Paradise Lost (Draconian Times) and beyond.


So, what's your favourite drum sound?

Δευτέρα, 19 Οκτωβρίου 2020

Behind a thin disguise: Savatage in the '80s & the Black Sabbath/Ozzy Osbourne connection; Jon Oliva remembers.

A view in the '80s era of Savatage, the albums, the events and the record companies. A clear view in the Black Sabbath and Ozzy Osbourne connection with Savatage, the influence upon Jon and Criss Oliva and a new exclusive interview with Jon Oliva remembering Black Sabbath, his meeting with Ozzy and the Black Sabbath audition that never happened.

written by Andreas Andreou

Starting in bands like Tower and Alien, and recording the obscure Metropolis (also known as Metropolis USA) 7" single Let's Get Rowdy / Take Off With The Crowd, it was the year 1979 when brothers Jon (Johnathan Nicholas) and Criss (Christopher Michael) Oliva ended with the band name Avatar. When Avatar released City Beneath the Surface 7" EP (including the same-titled track, "The Whip" and "Sirens") with the line-up of Jon Oliva (vocals), Criss Oliva (guitar), Keith Collins (bass) and Steve Wacholz (drums), there were already a few other bands claiming the rights to the name so they changed to Savatage, something unique that no one would claim since no one knew what it really is! Jon, Criss and Criss' longtime girlfriend Dawn Hopkins (later Dawn Oliva) just came up with it one day playing with words... Avatar - Savatar - Savatage!


Dan Johnson of Par Records, a short-lived record label of the early '80s in Florida, already had signed the band for a brief record deal. The first two Savatage releases, the album Sirens and the mini-album The Dungeons Are Calling, were recorded at the same session that took place in one and a half days at the Morrisound Recording Studio. Produced by Dan Johnson and engineered by Jim Morris, those recordings were finally split in two and released in different years.

During that period in the United States, with the huge commercial success of European acts like Iron Maiden, Judas Priest and Ozzy Osbourne, who also influenced the current (then) American metal scene, even a few major labels started looking for heavy metal bands. Among those bands that joined a major label, was Savatage. While there were already a few labels that became interested in Savatage, the band signed with Atlantic for a multi-album deal.

Joining Atlantic Records, was the first career-defining moment and as it happened many times in the '80s, a representative of a label saw that band on stage or just heard about their energy on stage. In the case of Savatage, a show supporting Zebra after the release of Sirens with their energy, the performance, the songs and of course the crowd's reaction was the key; a key element for all the A&R's - "if the crowd likes them, we like them". And that was it. Most of the time it was like that. If you couldn't deliver live and impress those A&R rep's that visited (sometimes incognito) those shows, you probably wouldn't join a major label. American bands like Armored Saint and Twisted Sister are another example. And both are in the top list of the very best US metal bands on stage.

The Morrisound Recording Studio In Tampa, Florida, the birthplace of Savatage, became one of the most iconic studios in the history of metal music in the coming years, with a huge list of recording artists in a wider metal field (death metal included). But during those early years, and after joining Atlantic Records, that "one and a half day" recording session of Sirens / The Dungeons Are Calling seemed like a pre-production procedure. Personally, I love that raw sound of those early releases and cuts like "Sirens", "Scream Murder", "The Dungeons Are Calling" and "By the Grace of the Witch", but when Atlantic let the band record a few demos for the upcoming album at Morrisound, they didn't really like the quality. Those demos included tracks like "Washed Out", "Fighting for Love" "No More Saturday Nights" and "Stuck on You", produced by Rick Derringer. However, Savatage were already in deal with Par Records but Dan Johnson "traded" the release of The Dungeons Are Calling and Savatage were allowed to record those demos for Atlantic.

Savatage and Metallica

It is widely known, and also mentioned in many interviews, that Jon Oliva (besides The Beatles) was a huge Black Sabbath fan. He was even performing Sabbath covers like "Iron Man" and "War Pigs" in his early years. On the other hand, Criss Oliva was heavily inspired by the first two Ozzy Osbourne albums and Randy Rhoads. In the October 1993 issue of the Guitar for the Practicing Musician magazine, Criss Oliva mentions his dream band line-up. Of course, Randy Rhoads is his favourite guitarist, while he also adds Don Airey on keyboards for an extra flavor of Ozzy's early albums' influence.

The irony is that on October 17th of 1993 (the month when that magazine came out), Criss passed away and it's a pity that up to that point he wasn't mentioned in most of the famous guitar magazines.

Criss Oliva and his wife Dawn were driving north on their way to the Fourth Annual Livestock Festival held in Zephyrhills, Florida. An oncoming car of a drunk driver crossed the median and struck Oliva's car. Dawn survived the crash but Criss was killed instantly. The drunk driver survived with minor injuries and was later found guilty of "driving under the influence" manslaughter, serious injury and vehicular homicide. He served only 18 months in prison of a five-year sentence.

Criss Oliva is one of the greatest guitarists in heavy metal music with a unique and recognizable sound, unmatchable tone and feeling. A truly devoted musician and at the same time, the most underrated in the metal universe.

Back in 1985, Atlantic didn't really like the production quality of the Savatage demos recorded by Rick Derringer and the band was joined with producer Max Norman for the recordings of Power of the Night. A producer known for his work with Ozzy Osbourne and albums like Blizzard of Ozz and Diary of a Madman. Criss must have felt very happy recording with Max Norman, the producer of his favourite guitar player and the early Ozzy albums, that heavily influenced him in his early recording years, something that is more than obvious in songs like "Out on the Streets" or that cool orchestration in "Unusual".

No matter how we mostly (probably) prefer Sirens / The Dungeons Are Calling over Power of the Night, Oliva brothers sometimes refer to Power of the Night as their first proper album, since they had the time to record it as they wish and not in a "one and a half day" recording session. With a budget of 100,000 USD and staying in a "haunted" house during the recordings, Jon, Criss, Keith and Steve were living for a few weeks somewhere between a house full of weird things and Bearsville Recording Studios in New York, completing the album Atlantic wanted to present as "the first real Savatage album".

In the album, most of the songs are credited to Criss and Jon Oliva with the contribution of bassist Keith Collins to a few of them and while Criss was inspired and influenced by Randy Rhoads and Ozzy, in the lyrical part, Jon stated (taken from Clay Marshall's liner notes for the album's CD reissue of 2002): "I've always had an infatuation with the dark. At that time, I was very into Sabbath, and into the dark side". Also at that time, before the recordings of Power of the Night, bassist Johnny Lee Middleton was asked to join Savatage but he declined, staying in a Florida bar band with a fixed fee, performing Journey and Bryan Adams covers.

With a new album in a major label, Savatage joined the international music industry, attorneys, booking agents, managers and the Monsters of the Universe Tour, all of them leading to 1986 and the period of the Fight for the Rock album. Savatage had an international record deal and Johnny Lee Middleton was still playing covers in bars but the second time he was asked, he decided to join Savatage and after a few weeks' rehearsals, the band flew to England to record the new album. However, the band felt in a difficult spot and Atlantic had a different idea wanting the Sava-boys to follow a commercial path, leading to an artistic disaster. Even including two covers, "Wishing Well" of The Free and Badfinger's "Day After Day", the children of the metal movement felt in a trap where the supposed heavy metal songs didn't sound metal at all and the commercial tracks sounded like a different band.

The tour that followed the album's release and the post Chernobyl disaster wasn’t disastrous at all, since they joined Ted Nugent and Motörhead on the road and their performance was always on the edge. The sales though were poor and the band was somehow dropped by Atlantic. They almost broke up and thought the end was near... 


When Black Sabbath's Born Again Tour was completed in 1984, Sabbath were on the edge of nothingness and Tony Iommi started working on his first solo album Seventh Star. During an era where record companies were more powerful than you can imagine nowadays, it was said to Tony Iommi that according to his contract, he owed the record company another one Black Sabbath album and they wanted this one. And so it happened. Record label executives and managers wanted to name it "Black Sabbath" no matter how it was recorded and who performed. Seventh Star was released in January 1986 under the name Black Sabbath featuring Tony Iommi, with Tony alone on the cover sleeve; exactly as a solo project. When touring started, there were times when singer Glenn Hughes was unable to perform, so after just a week of touring as Black Sabbath  (he also didn't like performing Sabbath songs since this wasn't supposed to be Black Sabbath), Hughes was replaced by Ray Gillen and the tour was a commercial failure while many shows were even cancelled. Tony Iommi couldn't do something else, so he continued using the name "Black Sabbath" without any other member of the classic line-up(s). The record company's decision to release his solo album under the Black Sabbath moniker served as a continuation for the rest of Sabbath/Iommi's 80s course, something that probably would't happen eitherwise.

Managers and executives were the people of the music industry that suggested ideas or just took decisions that had different kinds of impact to the artists related. Negative or positive. And there was also a huge amount of ideas that were never materialized.

When Atlantic technically dropped Savatage because of the poor sales of Fight for the Rock, Jon Oliva had the chance to claim the position of Black Sabbath's lead singer. There are many rumours over the years but we have the answers and the truth directly from Jon Oliva himself, since he was kind enough to clear the situation. "It was somebody from the management office for Black Sabbath that approached me", the Mountain King said. It would be interesting to know the songs he was supposed to learn for that audition, so Jon was asked and replied: "I did have a set list of songs that I would have to sing at the audition, "War Pigs", "Paranoid", "Sweet Leaf", "Symptom of the Universe", "Iron Man" and the"Black Sabbath" song."

However, that audition never happened and I don't think there would ever be a possibility that Jon Oliva would end as the singer of Black Sabbath during 1986-1987, no matter how interesting that could be. Having Jon Oliva on board for this article, we asked a few more things.

CL: I am sure that a Black Sabbath album with Jon Oliva would be great. But having in mind that period, would it be easy for you to work under the command of Tony Iommi? And having in mind your addictions in the mid to late '80s, would you escape the "dark side" even if you would enter in the dark side's band, Black Sabbath?

Jon Oliva: "I would have loved to do an album with Black Sabbath. I think my voice would have fit them very well and it wouldn't bother me that Tony Iommi was in charge because he is the riff master. What you're going to say... I would have just sang my ass off but again, you know, the '80s were very weird for me. I did have a lot of problems but it is what it is and I'm glad that Savatage was able to continue."

CL: Have you ever met Ozzy Osbourne or Tony Iommi in person? And what can you recall?

Jon Oliva: "Yes, I have met Ozzy Osbourne. I actually had dinner with him at the Lakeland Civic Center here in Florida. I doubt he remembers because he was totally wasted... It was very interesting and very funny. I was with a group of people who won a radio contest and that's what the prize was, to have dinner with Ozzy. I remember he came out in an evening dress and was totally wasted, one of the funniest things I've ever seen and it didn't last very long."

"I met Tony Iommi in Spain when we were all doing a festival and they were called Heaven and Hell with Ronnie. I met him backstage and got to talk to him for a little while. He was a very nice guy, he was one of my heroes."

CL: I wonder if you and Criss Oliva ever saw live Black Sabbath and Ozzy Osbourne in your early years and what do you remember?

Jon Oliva: "I saw Black Sabbath at the California Jam in 1974 and it changed my life. I saw them again at the San Diego Sports Arena for the Sabotage Tour. Criss never saw Black Sabbath but we did see Ozzy with Randy Rhoads and that was awesome. We ended up working with Max Norman for the Power of the Night album and he produced the first three Ozzy albums so it was very cool."

CL: I've read that Paul O' Neill was a friend of Tony Iommi and Paul even let Iommi listen sometime in the 80s his main idea of "Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24)" but told him something like "the world is not ready yet for this song". Is it true, and did Paul had this huge thing that followed in both later Savatage records and mainly Trans-Siberian Orchestra already by the mid '80s?

Jon Oliva: "I know Paul knew Tony Iommi but I'm not sure if he ever let him listen to "Christmas Eve (Sarajevo 12/24)". As far as I remember that song was put together during the writing for our "Dead Winter Dead" album and I was the one who put the drums and the heavy power chords to it. At first I didn't like it and Paul asked me if I could make it Savatage and that's my memory of things. I demoed up some drum parts and some guitar parts and then we worked on it together and finished it with Al Pitrelli."


On the edge of darkness, Savatage were lucky enough to meet Paul O'Neill, the "x-factor" that took them by the hand and led them to a brighter future. Paul encouraged Criss and Jon Oliva to start writing new material and so they did. This time, the band composed without any label or management interference and once the material was ready, Savatage entered the studio and completed the album with Paul O'Neill. As Johnny Lee Middleton has mentioned to Crystal Logic, "Never give up on what you believe in and do not be afraid to struggle and suffer through the tough times because quitters never win and winners never quit".

In the beginning, Paul was approached by the same Atlantic A&R rep who signed Savatage to the record company, to consider helping them return in full form. Paul went to see one of their last shows during the 1986 tour without even listening to Fight for the Rock. Paul O'Neill couldn't believe how such a great band almost reached the end. He knew they shouldn't, he knew he wouldn't let them and he only needed to take their hand and lead them through their metal roots, to the future. Paul convinced Jon and Criss Oliva that they're not "fucked-up" because of that one last album and because the management made them change their sound. Paul already had a budget so he paid their pending bills and more or less, told them only to focus on writing new music with him producing, while they also changed management. Paul O'Neill cared for them and that was probably the first time something like that happened so powerful and with such a passion and vision for the future. Paul, already an established professional in the New York music scene, was also a visionary with ideas and manuscripts that served as a template for future Savatage songs.

Hall of the Mountain King, released on September 28th of 1987,  is one of the best heavy metal albums ever, from one of the greatest metal bands ever. An ageless masterpiece with top notch musicianship. Raw, insane, solid and emotional at the same time. Two music video clips were shot, one for "Hall of the Mountain King" and one for "24 Hrs. Ago" with the same titled track getting a lot of airplay at Headbanger's Ball TV show, something that was very important at the pre-internet era and helped the sales and band's exposure.

There is one special guest at that album, singer Ray Gillen, brought in by Paul O'Neill who was his manager at the time because he needed another kind of voice and harmony to serve as an instrument in the chorus of "Strange Wings". That was one of the first recordings of Gillen who previously had performed even punk rock before entering the hard rock and metal scene. During that period, Ray Gillen had replaced Glenn Hughes in Black Sabbath and recorded vocals for The Eternal Idol album, before they were also replaced by Tony Martin's voice in the final release. Paul O'Neill produced (and helped write) the debut album of Badlands, fronted by Ray Gillen with ex-Ozzy Osbourne guitarist Jake E. Lee but also Eric Singer who among others also performed with Black Sabbath. Bob Kinkel, a keyboardist and music engineer, a regular partner of Paul O'Neill, also helped in the debut album of Badlands that was released in 1989 but most important, he was introduced to Savatage during the recordings of Hall of the Mountain King with additional keyboards. Kinkel will be a key person in the following years of Savatage and the formation of Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

During 1988, with a major label supporting the band, Hall of the Mountain King had become Savatage's best-selling album and a world tour followed, including support shows with Megadeth and Dio. At that point and after O'Neill's suggestion, Savatage added a second guitar for the live shows to keep the rhythm playing during Criss' leads. Criss had a few thoughts about it in the beginning but in the end, they did it and Chris Caffery stepped in. The tour started with power and success despite being the opening act. Dave Mustaine even thought about the possibility of Criss Oliva joining Megadeth according to Sava-sources. However, Jon Oliva went a "little too far" during that tour, living the "rock n' roll life" just like one of his idols, Ozzy Osbourne and it took no long until he entered a chemical rehabilitation program. This situation stopped the band since they had to cancel a scheduled tour, including the European dates. The future was different for the band and it took them a few more years for a big commercial success, under a different line-up...


When Jon Oliva completed the rehabilitation program, he started immediately writing new songs with Criss. He already had a few lyrics written in rehab, so they completed tracks like "Target", "Living on the Edge of Time", "Metalhead", "Stranger in the Dark" and "Before I Hang" but none of them made it to the next album... Those five demo songs surfaced as bonus tracks to the 2002 silver anniversary collectors edition reissues of Sirens and Dungeons Are Calling from Metal Blade Records. When the Oliva brothers met Paul O'Neill again and started writing the follow-up album to Hall of the Mountain King, it was like writing again from scratch even if few ideas were reworked.

In every Savatage album including O'Neill, there is an element of progression; a step further exploring the talent of Jon and Criss. There was always a piano in young Olivas house since their father was a piano player so Jon was always messing with that. There was also a few keyboards moments in previous Savalbums and songs like "In the Dream" and "Lady in Disguise" but this time, Paul wanted to explore Jon's talent deeper.

When Savatage started writing the songs of the next album, one of their idols was about to enter rehab but he already released his album titled No Rest for the Wicked. During those recording sessions, there was also a track named "The Liar" that made it only in the 12" single version of "Miracle Man". That Ozzy Osbourne track, somehow foretold the future of Savatage but sounded out-of-place for that Ozzy record. Savatage kept that direction in the next album that was finally named Gutter Ballet.

It is said that in the Record Plant Studios where Gutter Ballet was recorded, there was the piano where John Lennon recorded "Imagine" and that was extremely inspiring for Jon Oliva. At the same time, O'Neill, like a master of psychology who knew how to bring on the surface and explore each musician's talent, took Jon Oliva to the Broadway musical Phantom of the Opera. These were key elements in the writing procedure of Gutter Ballet and when the album was completed and recorded in the summer of 1989, the result was something really progressive and experimental for the metal world of the late '80s. Inspired by one of O'Neill's manuscripts written a decade ago, the title Gutter Ballet was supposed to be for a different and complete play but it was adopted for that album, giving also a glimpse of the musical direction of the future and the next album. 

The tracks "Gutter Ballet", "Temptation Revelation" (one of the alternative titles of the album), "When the Crowds Are Gone" and "Silk and Steel" are something like the albums "first act" while the rest, are somehow like the "second act" that was closer to the Savatage known style. However, they decided to move the song "Of Rage and War" as the opening track and what we call as the "first act" completed the vinyl's first side. What made it so unique that "first act" and especially a song like Gutter Ballet, is the Jon-piano Vs Criss-guitar duel that is something genius and unique, equal to the greatest moments in music ever. "Gutter Ballet" and "When the Crowds Are Gone" served as the album's leading tracks and music videos were shot for both of them. That album is a pure masterpiece including also tracks like "Summer's Rain" with one of Criss' best guitar solos and also the Black Sabbath-inspired "Hounds". As it is mentioned in Clay Marshall's liner notes in the Gutter Ballet 2002 reissue in the words of Paul O'Neill, "On certain influences, Jon and I come from different places", O'Neill explains. "I have way more classical and Broadway influences and Jon, on the other hand, has more Beatles influence than you'd ever believe. But by certain things, we're both influenced, and one of those was Black Sabbath. We both have an attraction to that side and you see it on the 'Hounds'".

A funny thing is that among the other album's tracks, there is also "The Unholy" with lyrics written by Jon Oliva but Paul didn't like them, so they weren't included in the booklet of the album's first pressings. O'Neill started penning a big part of the lyrics in a very different style than Jon, so he probably thought that lyrics like "before the birth of Christ lived a race trapped in soul" wouldn't really fit next to something like "when the crowds are gone and I'm all alone, playing the saddest song, now that the lights are gone".

Most of the live shows supporting Gutter Ballet took place in 1990 and among them, there was a part supporting King Diamond along with Candlemass and another one supporting Testament along with Nuclear Assault. In this kind of tour, Savatage needed to bring on stage some of their heavier stuff but that was never a problem since the band's material at that time was diverse but could fit in any occasion.

The '80s ended successfully for Savatage, establishing a respectful name and releasing albums like Hall of the Mountain King and Gutter Ballet that became future classics. The '90s and the future were different and yet so close but that's another chapter in the play...