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Nightwish — Dark Passion Play
Artist:
Nightwish
Album:
Dark Passion Play
Genre:
Symphonic Metal/Pop
Rating:
4 Stars
Bottom
Line:
Outstanding blend of metal and pop, with a nod to the ‘80s.

Nightwish is one of those bands that are hard to define by genre. At times they are heavy in a very modern metal way (rectifier crunch, angry/grind vocals), other times they’ve got a bright European pop attitude, other times they’ve got an ‘80s rock vibe… the quickest description for the uninitiated might be to call them a heavy metal version of Abba!

There’s some great drama to the Finish band’s story. Dark Passion Play is their sixth release (second in the USA), but the first one to feature a new female lead vocalist. Swedish singer Anette Olzon replaced the band’s longtime vocalist, Tarja Turunen, and while Tarja was outstanding in her own right, one listen to Annette and you’ll be singing “Bye Bye Beautiful” along with the band (hmmm – what is that song about?). We’ll save the detailed band drama for our feature story next month and get right to the bottom line: we absolutely love Anette’s voice, and think she’ll carry Nightwish solidly into the next chapter of their career. Her voice is reminiscent of Abba’s Anni-Frid Lyngstad with a touch of Roxette’s Marie Fredriksson, perhaps a hint of Dolores O’Riordan from The Cranberries, and little bit of Evanescence’s Amy Lee. She covers all bases beautifully from the soft and ethereal passages to the hard rock epics.

The fourteen minute opener, “The Poet and the Pendulum” encapsulates all that is Nightwish — lavish real orchestration, heavy rock grooves, and movements that seem lifted straight out of a Broadway musical! It’s actually taken us three paragraphs just to get to the orchestral part of this release. A one hundred-piece orchestra and at least thirty choral singers were enlisted in the recording of this CD. Recording the orchestra in London’s famous Abbey Roads studio undoubtedly contributed to making this production outstanding on many levels (not to mention the most expensive album recorded in Finish music history).

Songwriter and keyboardist Tuomas Holpainen created a rock opus on a huge scale here. While many bands enlist an orchestra for a track or two, the entire album is scored with the orchestra and choir, so don’t even think for a moment that you’re listening to sample libraries under his talented fingers!

And while there’s plenty of keyboards and orchestra going around, never fear, gunslingers! Erno Vuorinen’s Mesa/Boogie tone cuts through like a knife. Playing with the refinement we’ve come to love about Scandinavian guitarists, he’s tight, heavy, and in your face when needed, and though solos appear sparingly in this obviously band-centric album, his technical shredding skills are evident in the places where he takes a few liberties (like in the instrumental “Last of the Wilds”).

Bassist Marco Hietala provides the male lead vocals that share duties with Anette on some tunes (like the infectiously catchy and aforementioned “Bye Bye Beautiful”). He surprises many listeners with the full-tilt metal angst vocals on “Master Passion Greed,” and then softens it up with Anette later in the beautiful ballad, “The Islander.”

Rounding out the list of nearly unpronounceable names (at least to us American journalists), drummer Jukka Nevalainen plays superbly with the orchestra as he’s called upon to play parts that really cover a diverse range of styles.

Some listeners just can’t handle their hard rock (or metal) with female vocals, and those listeners will miss out on a fantastic album here. Likewise, some pop music fans may find one or two tracks a bit heavy for their tastes, but most of our audience should find this CD to be one that rocks full tilt in every way. Check it out now, so you can appreciate our feature and interview with the band next month!

– SK
 
Cosmosquad — Acid Test
Artist:
Cosmosquad
Album:
Acid Test
Genre:
Instrumental Metal/Fusion
Rating:
3.5 Stars
Bottom
Line:

Instrumental fusion showcasing extraordinary and varied compositions.

Who says things don’t just happen for a reason? This is a true testimonial about a band of extremely talented musicians that were in separate projects, crossed paths in a Phoenix, Arizona rehearsal studio, and developed a strong musical connection that led them to produce excellent compositions and become a powerful new band in the rock/fusion scene today.

This is one CD jam packed with multiple grooves, taking the listener in and out of a multitude of different musical styles, feels, and landscapes. We have to emphasize the phrase “multiple grooves” as this collection of songs are purely built around grooves that are constantly stated in between a flurry of instrumental melodies and improvisation.

Though containing a lot of guitar- and drum-based grooves and intertwined rhythmic patterns, all instruments are featured at one time or another, contributing high-level performances and depth to the overall compositions. The genre of the compositions? That’s extremely hard to pinpoint as each song takes on a different feel and style, but without a doubt, it is very progressive and covers every genre possible: Rock, Metal, Jazz, Funk, Country, even “circus style” interludes as they refer to it. It’s all fused in there. This album truly is a collaboration equally featuring all instrumentation, providing a sonic wall of combined textures, rhythmic feels and genres.

The driving force of this album comes from guitarist Jeff Kollman (Glenn Hughes, UFO) and drummer Shane Gaalaas (B’z, Diesel). On Acid Test, due to the departure of their co-founding member/bassist, Barry Sparks, they decided to invite a collection of established bassists to create and perform on the album including Paul Shihadeh, Kevin Chown, and latest full-time bassist, Christopher Maloney. Performing on keyboards are Ed Roth and Jono Brown, providing excellent textures and melodic definition. This cast of musicians is no joke! The recordings remain extremely tight, well defined, and perfectly executed. 

Cosmosquad kicked off their 2007/2008 tour September 21st at the Baked Potato in Los Angeles. You can find more information pertaining to performance dates and future releases at www.myspace.com/officialcosmosquad.

— DD
 
The Cult — Born Into This
Artist:
The Cult
Album:
Born Into This
Genre:
Hard Rock
Rating:
3 Stars
Bottom
Line:
Return to form for veteran ‘80s rockers.

Born Into This showcases The Cult in excellent form. This time around, vocalist Ian Astbury and guitarist Billy Duffy are accompanied by another new rhythm section — bassist Chris Wyse and drummer John Tempesta (this half of the band reads like a revolving door if you know the band’s tumultuous history).

Overall, the new CD provides a solid collection of listenable hard rock tunes. Think of it as Sonic Temple minus the hit singles. As with previous Cult releases, there are a couple of duds on the album (the ballad “Holy Mountain” sounds more like Johnny Cash singing a Collective Soul tune than anything resembling the brilliance of “Edie (Ciao Baby)”), but refreshingly, it’s easier to say that most of the tracks are classic Cult material. Some of our favorite tracks included the ‘80s-tinged “Illuminated,” the rifftastic and grooving opener, “Born Into This,” and the can’t-sit-still “Savages.”

The performances are mostly excellent (the ballad aside), and if your vision of “Marshall tone” conjures up images of Billy Duffy like it does for us, you won’t be disappointed in his consistently strong playing. Of particular note is bassist Wyse: partially to the credit of engineer Clive Goddard, the bass lines really cut through the album, and at times you can even hear Wyse’s fingers sliding across the bass strings. Bravo!

–SK

 
Lovedrug — Everything Starts Where It Ends
Artist:
Lovedrug
Album:
Everything Starts Where It Ends
Genre:
Alternative Rock
Rating:
2.5 Stars
Bottom
Line:
Like watching a repeat of The O.C.

Everything Starts Where It Ends is the second full-length CD from Lovedrug, and it makes for some nice listening material — melodic throughout, with interesting musical changes. It just doesn’t stick with you because it lacks a singular identity — it all just sounds and feels too familiar, like the soundtrack to any number of popular teen-targeted television shows.

Although there’s nothing groundbreaking here, and none of the musicians stand out specifically, this collection of twelve songs is well conceived. Musically, the band fuses together little bits of Snow Patrol, Fountains of Wayne, Coldplay, Rubyhorse, and perhaps a little touch of The Cure. Vocalist Michael Shepard clearly cut his teeth spending hours listening to Radiohead and Our Lady Peace, and while his style incorporates the unique attributes of Thom Yorke and Raine Madda, his voice just doesn’t have the same depth or musical character of his most obvious influences.

The CD packaging/artwork is really beautiful — two thumbs up for artist/painter Stephen Procopio, who earns an open invitation to work on CDs for any band I’m involved with! It is packaging like this that gives you a compelling reason to purchase physical CDs instead of downloading them off the Internet.

To the band’s credit, the lyrics are quite dreamy! In “Ghost by Your Side,” we took note of Shepard singing, “If you dive into the ocean then I will be the wave around you tonight and if you’re sinking then oh, it’s alright because I will be the ghost who is at your side” — very cool. And while most of the CD just ambles along, it has a definite standout track in “Casino Clouds.” While we’re not entire sure how to comprehend its lyrics, the arrangement and melodies are extremely catchy, and choruses that don’t repeat the same lyrics throughout makes for a very interesting musical journey. If the band could develop more songs like this, they would definitely stand apart from the other alt/pop bands and have a more unique presence in a very crowded musical genre. 

– SK

 
   
             
             
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