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Beyond Inspiration: Tribute to Uli Jon Roth
Beyond Inspiration: Tribute to Uli Jon Roth
Price: $22.69
23 used & new from $6.23

3.0 out of 5 stars 3.5 stars - a fun, but not essential, tribute to Uli Jon Roth, June 3, 2015
Beyond Inspiration: A Tribute to Uli Jon Roth was a project that guitar virtuoso Lars Eric Mattson put together in 2003 to pay tribute to the highly influential former Scorpions guitarist. It features a variety of artists from the traditional, progressive and power metal scenes, and covers Roth’s songs with the Scorpions as well as his solo material.

Guitarists on this album include Mattson, Chris Steberl, Joop Wolters, Tony Hernando, Rolf Munkes (Empire, ex-Majesty), Dushan Petrossi (Magic Kingdom, Iron Mask), Torben Enevoldsen (Section A, Fatal Force), James Byrd (ex-Fifth Angel), Cyril Archard, Thorbjorn Englund (Sabaton), Neal Grusky, William Stravoto, Alex Masi and Eric Sands.

Other notable contributors include drummers Gerald Kloos (ex-Empire) and Ian Haughland (Europe) as well as vocalists Lance King (ex-an awful lot of bands), Ella Grussner (Condition Red), Torgny Stjarnfelt (Red Room Ensemble), Alf Wemmenlind (Mister Kite), Michael James Flatters (James Byrd solo). King handles vocals on several songs.

Like most tribute albums, this one is hit and miss. The guitar playing is exceptional, but it pretty much has to be if you’re going to take on Uli Jon Roth. On the vocal side, it’s not surprising that Lance King’s songs are the best. His take on “Sails of Charon” in particular is fantastic.

It’s not an essential release by any means, but it’s a fun one. If you’re a fan of any of the musicians involved, or are just really into Roth’s musical legacy, Beyond Inspiration is worth picking up, especially if you can catch it on clearance. Actual conservatives tend not to crow about it.


Monument
Monument
Price: $13.69
25 used & new from $4.25

4.0 out of 5 stars Heavy, powerful, METAL, June 1, 2015
This review is from: Monument (Audio CD)
Originally released in 2003, Monument is the second album from Swedish masters of heavy/doom metal Grand Magus. The band had not yet made their pivot to more melodic traditional heavy metal at this point, so Monument was very much in keeping with the sound of the debut.

Grand Magus had such a (pardon the pun) monumentally heavy sound early on. Old school Sabbath meets Electric Wizard meets Candlemass. JB Christoffersson’s powerful vocals add yet another layer of heaviness to the thick riffs and lumbering rhythms. Even if you prefer the newer, faster Grand Magus sound, it’s hard not to be in awe of the sheer heaviness and power of songs like “Summer Solstice,” “Chooser of the Slain” and the 10-minute monster “He Who Seeks…Shall Find.”

Monument is another masterful doom metal album from Grand Magus, and is a must-have if you’re a fan of the band. Fans of bands like Black Sabbath, Spiritual Beggars, Electric Wizard, Candlemass and The Gates of Slumber should also give this album a go.

Edition Notes: Metal Blade reissued Monument in 2010. The album was not changed in any way, nor is there any bonus material.


Vain Glory Opera
Vain Glory Opera
21 used & new from $7.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Edguy's first essential release, May 29, 2015
This review is from: Vain Glory Opera (Audio CD)
1998’s Vain Glory Opera was the third full-length album from German power metal band Edguy, and the first album where the band’s classic sound really emerged. They offered hints of greatness on their previous releases (1995’s Savage Poetry and 1997’s Kingdom of Madness), but this is where they stepped up to the top tier in the scene.

With Vain Glory Opera you can still hear the band’s influences – namely Helloween and Stratovarius – but the Edguy sound is more defined. The melodies and grand orchestrations (not symphonic, but still larger than life) are more prominent, as are the huge choruses with layered vocals. Vocalist/band mastermind Tobias Sammet was still in fantasy power metal mode with this album, which bears a lot of similarities to his first two Avantasia releases. Vain Glory Opera is just a more polished, more accessible and more powerful album, and it has some songs that are now considered Edguy classics, like “Out of Control” and the title track. The closing cover of Ultravox’s “Hymn” is also a nice touch, and one that works surprisingly well with the rest of the album.

Vain Glory Opera is the first Edguy album that really qualifies as essential, and remains one of their most enjoyable releases. If you’re any kind of Edguy fan, you really need to own this one. And if you’re a fan of bands like Helloween, Stratovarius, Gamma Ray and Freedom Call, Vain Glory Opera is sure to satisfy.


Demons
Demons
13 used & new from $4.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Old school heavy rock perfection!, May 29, 2015
This review is from: Demons (Audio CD)
Swedish old school heavy rockers Spiritual Beggars released their sixth full-length album, titled Demons, in 2005. Spiritual Beggars of course was founded by Arch Enemy guitarist Michael Amott, and at this point also featured bassist Sharlee D’Angelo (also of Arch Enemy), keyboardist Per Wiburg (Opeth), drummer Ludwig Witt (Grand Magus) and vocalist JB Christoffersson of Grand Magus.

Demons is just about as good as this whole retro rock/stoner metal sound gets. Spiritual Beggars is practically channeling Black Sabbath, Deep Purple and Uriah Heep here, and you can tell they’re having a hell of a lot of fun doing it. The album has killer riffs, fantastic grooves and the Hammond organ sound is just perfect. Factor in JB’s massive voice and you have heavy rock perfection. Sure, there are a ton of bands that play this kind of music now, but Spiritual Beggars did it before it was a thing, and they did it better than almost everyone else. Sample songs like “Salt In Your Wounds,” “Born to Die” and “Sleeping With One Eye Open” if you’re on the fence, but it shouldn’t take too much to seal the deal.

Demons is arguably Spiritual Beggars’ best album. Unfortunately it’s the last Spiritual Beggars album to feature this lineup. When they finally resurfaced five years later with Return to Zero, it was with Firewind vocalist Apollo Papathanasio, which changed the chemistry. The new albums were still killer, but there’s something about Demons that’s hard to top.

If you’re into heavy rock, classic rock, stoner metal or any variety of those styles, Demons is an absolute must-have album. There’s plenty here for fans of Black Sabbath, Orange Goblin, Uriah Heep, Grand Magus, Deep Purple and The Quill to love about Spiritual Beggars.

Edition Notes: The limited edition version of Demons comes in a slipcase and includes a second full disc – Live in Japan – as a bonus.


Tracks From The Wilderness
Tracks From The Wilderness
2 used & new from $18.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Maybe not essential, but there's some fun stuff here, May 29, 2015
Tracks From the Wilderness was the 1992 EP by UK folk metal pioneers Skyclad. The band already had one full-length album out at the time and were about to release a second, but in the meantime they served up six interesting tracks.

The EP starts with a rocking cover of the Thin Lizzy classic “Emerald,” which is so perfect for Skyclad’s sound it almost sounds like an original song. It’s followed by two new studio songs – “A Room Next Door” and “When All Else Fails” – and closes with a trio of live songs – “The Declaration of Indifference,” “Spinning Jenny” and “Skyclad.”

The new studio songs fit the same sound and themes of the Skyclad debut and the live tracks are interesting enough, though perhaps not essential. It’s “Emerald” that really makes Tracks From the Wilderness worthwhile, and these days that’s an easy enough song to simply download. Still, if you’re a serious Skyclad fan, you’re going to want to have this CD on the shelf. Unfortunately it’s been out of print for several years, so finding it at a reasonable price is a challenge.


What Do You Know About Rock 'N Roll?
What Do You Know About Rock 'N Roll?
Offered by Mad Rush Media
Price: $10.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Cult classic metal album - finally reissued, May 27, 2015
Originally released in 1988, What Do You Know About Rock ‘n Roll? was the second album from Minneapolis-based glam metal band Slave Raider. The term “cult classic” gets tossed around pretty freely, but in Slave Raider’s case it is completely appropriate. Here’s a band that had a wild look, an even wilder sound, and that went beyond the normal party rock clichés, yet outside of the Twin Cities area, they just didn’t make a huge impact.

Slave Raider’s look and attitude owed a lot to bands like Twisted Sister, WASP and Lizzy Borden, and their sound took a lot of those same cues as well. They took the basic melodic hard rock formula and gave it a metal edge and a flamboyant sense of style. The catchy hooks and Chainsaw Caine’s raspy vocals are what stand out the most initially, but the metallic rhythms are what get heads banging.

With What Do You Know About Rock ‘n Roll?, Slave Raider got a bit more ambitious than on their first outing (Take the World By Storm). The band brought in famed producer Chris Tsangaredes, who helped them add a more melodic polish to their sound. You hear that especially in the opening tracks “Is There Rock ‘n Roll In Heaven?” and “Youngblood,” the latter of which got some decent radio play in the Minneapolis area. They also made the second half of the album a mini rock opera about a dystopian future where rock music is a crime. That could have been embarrassingly bad, but it actually works pretty well here. It’s not overblown and melodramatic; it just has some cool themes that hold the songs together and culminate in one of the best versions of Thin Lizzy’s “Jailbreak” you’ll ever hear.

Unfortunately, Slave Raider never got the label support they needed, and didn’t make a huge impact on the national scene. They survived a major lineup change long enough to release a follow-up (1990’s Bigger, Badder & Bolder), but folded soon afterward. They may not have (ahem) taken the world by storm, but Slave Raider was one of the era’s most interesting and entertaining hard rock/glam metal acts. If you like your ‘80s rock hard, catchy and over the top, this is a band you really need to discover, especially now that their early albums are once again in print.

Edition Notes: The Slave Raider catalog has been out of print for ages, and the original pressings have been selling quite high on the secondary market. Thanks to the reissue specialists at Divebomb Records though, fans can get their hands on a superior version of What Do You Know About Rock n’ Roll? without paying a collector’s price. Divebomb’s deluxe reissue features the original album with brilliant new digital remastering, and a booklet that’s loaded with a band bio, lyrics, and vintage photos, interviews and press material. There are no bonus tracks, but just having this album back in print and sounding this great more than makes up for that. It’s limited to 1000 copies, and isn’t available digitally, so don’t wait too long to pick one up.


Dissident Alliance
Dissident Alliance
Offered by Puretone Audio
Price: $29.77
15 used & new from $4.99

1.0 out of 5 stars Awful, awful, awful, May 27, 2015
This review is from: Dissident Alliance (Audio CD)
I should have known it was too good to be true. An older Jag Panzer album in a clearance bin? How could I possibly go wrong? Ugh, then I pressed play and researched the sad tale of Dissident Alliance.

This is the album Jag Panzer released a decade after their classic 1984 debut Ample Destruction and before their killer late ‘90s/early 2000s run on Century Media. Half the lineup was different, most notably vocalist Harry Conklin was gone, replaced by newcomer Daniel Conca. They might have still pulled this off, but apparently what the remaining Panzers wanted to do was write a Pantera album. Yes, the screaming power metal titans had given in to tough guy posturing and sad attempts at groove metal.

Dissident Alliance is a terrible album. It’s so not Jag Panzer that I thought I had a misprinted disc. It’s absolutely the last Jag Panzer album anyone should buy, and even then you have to be a hardcore collector to want this on your shelf. Fortunately the band – with Conklin – got back on track a few years later with The Fourth Judgment, and we can see Dissident Alliance as just a bump in the road. One that’s best forgotten.


Kingdom of Madness
Kingdom of Madness
Price: $17.13
27 used & new from $4.47

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Humble beginnings, May 22, 2015
This review is from: Kingdom of Madness (Audio CD)
Originally released in 1997, Kingdom of Madness was the first “proper” release from German power metal band Edguy. Technically, 1995’s Savage Poetry was their first album, but it was practically a demo, so some consider this their actual debut. It’s their first album on a proper label at least, and is the album that introduced Edguy to the world.

You can hear traces of what Edguy would become (for a while at least) in this album, but Kingdom of Madness is still a rougher, less formed Edguy. Tobias and company seem to be pulling in their favorite parts from both Helloween and Stratovarius. There are lots of simple, catchy melodies and plenty of fantasy-themed lyrics. They even try their hand at an epic with the 18-minute “The Kingdom.” Tobias Sammet’s vocals are kind of awkward, but even then they were part of what made Edguy stand out.

All things considered, Kingdom of Madness just isn’t a very good album. That’s not a knock against Edguy, who were trying out melodic power metal at a time when that was decidedly uncool. The album just isn’t as good as the ones that followed, nor does it rank alongside the debuts from Helloween, Hammerfall or Blind Guardian. It’s worth hearing, and if you’re a die-hard Edguy fan you need to own it. If you’re new to the band though, Hall of Flames is a much better starting point.


War Of Kings (Digipak Version) (Includes Bonus Track)
War Of Kings (Digipak Version) (Includes Bonus Track)
Price: $13.75
44 used & new from $9.76

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Not what anyone expected, but Europe still rocks it!, May 22, 2015
War of Kings is the tenth studio album from Swedish melodic rockers Europe, and it’s easily their most controversial album to date. The band that gave us the stadium anthem “The Final Countdown” was a “hair metal” mainstay in the ‘80s and settled into a more mature melodic rock sound since their 2004 comeback, but with War of Kings they seem to have gone back to an era they were never part of in the first place.

Working with producer Dave Cobb (Rival Sons), Europe has come up with an album that reflects the bands that influenced them early on – namely Deep Purple, Rainbow and Led Zeppelin. War of Kings is a heavy, bluesy, rocking album with Mic Michaeli’s keyboards owing much to the late John Lord’s influence. Vocalist Joey Tempest is almost unrecognizable here, coming in with a deeper and more soulful tone than we’ve heard from him before.

It probably shouldn’t surprise anyone that Europe could pull off this kind of ‘70s rock sound so well. They’ve sounded great at every point in their career, and this is no exception, even if it does take some spins to really accept War of Kings as a true Europe album. It has some real gems though that make giving it a chance worthwhile. The title track in particular is a great rocker, and “Hole in My Pocket” and “Praise You” are a lot of fun. The soulful, blues-drenched “Angels (With Broken Hearts)” is probably War of Kings’s best moment, and makes a great lead-in to the grooving rocker “Light it Up” that closes the album in style.

If you’re looking for The Final Countdown Part 2, you’ve had 10+ years to get used to the fact that that’s never going to happen. If you’re looking for more in the Start From the Dark/Bag of Bones mold, that’s not happening either, at least not here. If you can set your expectations aside though, there’s a lot to love about War of Kings.

Edition Notes: The limited edition version of War of Kings comes in a nice mediabook and includes the instrumental bonus track “Vasastan.”


Book of Truth
Book of Truth
Price: $34.48
6 used & new from $8.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Deluxe reissue of this early Swedish death metal album, May 22, 2015
This review is from: Book of Truth (Audio CD)
Originally released in 1993, The Book of Truth was the debut album from Gothenburg-based death metal band Ceremonial Oath, a band that is perhaps best known for what it’s members went on to do after leaving it. Specifically Oscar Dronjak who went on to form Hammerfall and Jesper Stromblad, who went on to form In Flames. In Flames vocalist Anders Friden was also in the band later in their brief career.

Musically, Ceremonial Oath (at least at this point) fell somewhere between the straightforward death metal of Carnage or Dismember and the more melodic death metal At the Gates would pioneer. It’s very much a part of that classic Swedish death metal sound. There’s a melodic aspect to some of the songs on The Book of Truth, though speed and aggression are what hit you the most. It’s raw and has a great energy to go with the dark, Satanic lyrics, and it’s very easy to see this album as the bridge to the debut albums from In Flames and Dark Tranquillity.

Whether Ceremonial Oath deserves more attention for its lineup or their actual albums is up for debate, but either way The Book of Truth is an album that serious fans of the early Swedish death metal scene need to own, especially now that it has been reissued.

Edition Notes: To coincide with the album’s 20th anniversary, Century Media released a deluxe edition of The Book of Truth in 2013. The two disc set features the full album, newly remastered, on disc 1. The second disc features both 1990 demo releases (Wake the Dead and Black Sermons) from when the band was called Desecrator and the two demo songs from their 1991 promo cassette, all of which have been cleaned up a bit sonically. The booklet has a band history, vintage photos and other interesting info. It’s a nicely put-together collection. It’s just a shame they didn’t give the band’s 1995 follow-up, the long out of print Carpet a similar reissue.


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