Moonlight Haze – Animus

Animus Album Cover Art

Moonlight Haze – Animus
Scarlet Records
Release Date: 18/03/22
Running Time: 43:45
Review by Simon Black
6/10

Italian Power/Symphonic metallers Moonlight Haze surprised me with their sophomore release last time round, as that album had a distinctive edge and caught me out being way more than a Nightwish clone done Italian Operatic Metal style. Sadly this time round, the edge has largely gone and this is much more safe and predictable, at least at first. Now I know there’s a good market for material in that vein, but two years back I really liked the fact that singer Chiara Tricarico really pushed her voice in a couple of places rather than playing it clean and operatic throughout. There’s touches of that here, but not enough and the overall tone and energy of the pace takes a long time to get into its stride. 

It’s not until we’re at the halfway point of ‘Midnight Haze’ that this album really starts to pick up the pace and step up to the mark. From that point forward it’s almost like I’m listening to two very different sets of material fused together, and that latter half is way more effective than the radio-friendly drift of the first half. I really am not going to spend any more time discussing the first five songs, as it really is from that sixth song that this becomes worthwhile.

From then on to the end, the pace belts up a couple of notches, bringing some much needed energy and a lot more technical virtuosity to boot. And in a good way too, as being overtly technically showy can really drown out the song structures. Not only does this salvage things somewhat, but from here on Tricarico is really pushing her voice more, and that slightly more dangerous edge saves the day.

She does turn the operatic back on for the album’s closer ‘Horror & Thunder’ but then there’s also a male voice to duet with to provide tonal contrast, which again works well. Duet’s aside, I really wish (and I said it when I reviewed the “Lunaris” album a couple of years ago) that they would ditch the overt radio friendly elements and concentrate on the heavier belters, because that’s when their sound becomes stronger and more distinctive. Nevertheless, not a bad effort but not as strong overall as their sophomore.

‘Animus’ Official Video

TRACKLISTING:
01. The Nothing
02. It’s Insane
03. Kintsugi
04. Animus
05. The Thief And The Moon
06. Midnight Haze
07. Tonight
08. Never Say Never
09. We’ll Be Free
10. Ritual Of Fire
11. Horror & Thunder

LINE-UP:
Chiara Tricarico – Vocals
Giulio Capone – Drums / Keyboards
Alessandro Jacobi – Bass
Alberto Melinato  – Guitars
Marco Falanga – Guitars.

LINKS:

Moonlight Haze Promo Pic

Disclaimer: This review is solely the property of Simon Black and Ever Metal. It is strictly forbidden to copy any part of this review, unless you have the strict permission of both parties. Failure to adhere to this will be treated as plagiarism and will be reported to the relevant authorities.

Phoenix Rising – Acta Est Fabula

Acta Est Fabula Album Cover Art

Phoenix Rising – Acta Est Fabula
Wormholedeath
Release Date: 23/07/2021
Running Time: 47:38
Review by Simon Black
8/10

Spain’s Phoenix Rising have been quiet in recent years, with this, their fourth full-length album being the first to hit our ears since 2014’s “Versus”. Their music is pure Symphonic and Power Metal, fluidly and expertly delivered with some absolutely beautifully layered arrangements and technically superb musicianship. They also deliver the material in their native Spanish – a language whose lilting and romantic enunciation lends itself perfectly to the genre. They have recorded in two languages in the past, and English versions of some songs on later albums do crop up from time to time, but I encourage you to embrace them in their native tongue. I know this sort of thing can be a turn off for many English listeners, but I urge you to live a little and get out of your comfort zone (especially if you include a certain German Industrial Metal outfit in your music collection, then you have absolutely no excuse).

Like the best technical instrumentalists in this sub-genre, the boys weave the guitar work, expertly delivered by Daniel Martínez and singer Miguel González, working in conjunction with keyboardsmith Jesús M. Toribio. These guys riff off of each other in the time honoured tradition but do it effortlessly make the melody lines flow as one, rather than sounding like there’s a one-upmanship competition going on between the three players in the way Stratovarius or Dream Theater might. This sacrifice of ego over songwriting makes for an incredibly powerful delivery model, ably supported by some fantastic rhythm work from Cristian Rodríguez on bass and Carlos Vivas on the drum stool. Miguel González’s vocals are gruffer than some might expect from the genre, but they absolutely fit the band and lend the whole sound an edginess that would simply not be there if a purely clean vocal approach had been taken. It works cohesively with the music and he does have a good range to support this, which the rich and lavish production accentuates perfectly.

This is clearly a fairly complex concept piece of music, as the press pack included an eighty-seven page PDF novel which is the back story – although sadly my Spanish skills don’t go much beyond ordering a beer so I am missing out here. Nevertheless, this screams ‘attention to detail’ from every pore, but not at the expense of the music and is importantly still making it easy to hook in the more casual listener. The floor wiper for me is definitely ‘El Último Aliento’, which has an incredibly catchy, folky riff and melody, with bounce along beats and the technical stuff held slightly back for the instrumental and solo flourishes despite including some fairly complex orchestration, making it the song you know everyone is going to boogie along to live. It’s technical, but doesn’t sound it to the causal listener, and shows that this band have accessibility as well as incredible musical proficiency at their heart. A cracking piece of music indeed.

TRACKLISTING:
01. El Portal de Thalogrim
02. Acta Est Fabula
03. Luna de Sangre
04. El Último Aliento
05. El Doblón de la Muerte
06. Deriva Speranza
07. El Temor de un Hombre Sabio
08. Achterhuis
09. Ira Ciega
10. El Caminante

LINE-UP:
Miguel González – Vocals & Lead guitar
Daniel Martínez – Lead guitar
Jesús M. Toribio – Keyboards & Orchestration
Cristian Rodríguez – Bass
Carlos Vivas – Drums

LINKS:

Phoenix Rising Promo Pic

Disclaimer: This review is solely the property of Simon Black and Ever Metal. It is strictly forbidden to copy any part of this review, unless you have the strict permission of both parties. Failure to adhere to this will be treated as plagiarism and will be reported to the relevant authorities.

Rhapsody Of Fire – I’ll Be Your Hero EP

I'll Be Your Hero EP Cover Art

Rhapsody Of Fire – I’ll Be Your Hero EP
AFM Records
Release Date: 04/06/2021
Running Time: 41:07
Review by Beth Jones
10/10

Good morning my lovely bunch of heathens, rogues, and degenerates. How the hell are you? It feels like an age since I last wrote a review. I mean, it isn’t, but there’s a lot going on here at Ever Metal HQ at the moment, and life is fast becoming the shitty gift that just keeps on giving. The sun is shining today here in the Wales, too. Great. Unless you’re the possessor of true Celtic skin, like me. If that’s the case, in this weather you will, like me, find the plight of the lowly vampire incredibly relatable. Even my eyeballs are sweating. I mean come on! This is Wales! We’re not used to this sort of heat! We’re used to rain, and sheep, and the distant sounds of a male voice choir lilting over the hills. Anyway, the saving grace in amongst all the detritus is, as always, music. And today I have a cracker for you.

Italian Symphonic Power Metal legends, Rhapsody Of Fire, have been bringing their melodic powerhouse of sounds to our ears for a fair while now. And they’re new EP, “I’ll Be Your Hero”, certainly lives up to the epic sounds that we have come to expect from them. It’s the build up to their next album release, and contains their new single and title track, alongside 7 other tracks; the Japan bonus track, ‘Where Dragons Fly’, 2 live recordings, and 4 versions of the same song, ‘The Wind, The Rain And The Moon’, all sung in different languages – the previously released English version, and versions in Italian, Spanish, and French, respectively.

Opening with the title track, this EP bounds in like a runaway freight train. It’s brash, and theatrical, and hugely decadent, but I bloody love it! The vocals of Giacomo Voli are just sublime. He has such a rich tone to his voice, and it blends so well with the other orchestration that’s going on. The melody line of ‘I’ll Be Your Hero’ is also hellishly catchy and will become your earworm in no time at all.

‘Where Dragons Fly’ takes the pace down a little, but still has some dramatic sweeping orchestration in the midsections. Then, in complete contract, a live version of ‘Rain Of Fury’ pummels in like a hammer drill! What a song! Power Metal with speed and precision. Stunning guitar solos, stunning synths and keys, drums that could easily turn your brain into pulp, and, of course, blistering vocals. The drama and theatrics stay right in the mix for ‘The Courage To Forgive’ (live), as well. It’s slower, but everything just has so much passion. And again, some ridiculously brilliant guitar work enters into the affray. It really does make every bit of me feel alive (and that’s no mean feat these days, I can tell you)!

But the star of the EP is ‘The Wind, The Rain and The Moon’. It’s beautiful and melancholic from the start. Even though their genre suggests a huge classical element, Rhapsody Of Fire have really pushed into the realms of pure classical with this song. The orchestral strings that make up the body of the song remind me of Barber’s ‘Adagio For Strings’. Sweeping and soaring, mournful and lilting. Stunningly beautiful. Add into that Giacomo’s perfect Tenor voice, and you have something truly magnificent. Then plant into it a climactic point, where guitars, and gentle drums join, and what you have is, in my opinion, one of the most perfect power ballads I have ever heard. And just to make it even more beautiful, we get to explore it in multiple languages, too. Singing in choirs, as I did back in the day, let me experience singing in multiple languages. My favourite (aside from Welsh) was always Italian, because of its full and rounded vowel sounds, which make it so expressive. Listening to ‘Senza Un Addio’ reconfirmed this for me. Italian really is the music of song. This, however, should take nothing away from the Spanish or French versions.

So, to sum up, this EP is rather good. The musicianship, passion, production, and orchestration is as close to perfect as you’re likely to get. You should definitely give it a spin.

I’ll Be Your Hero’ (Official Lyric Video)

TRACKLISTING:
01. I’ll Be Your Hero
02. Where Dragons Fly
03. Rain Of Fury (Live)
04. The Courage To Forgive (Live)
05. The Wind, The Rain And The Moon
06. Senza Un Addio
07. Sin Un Adios
08. La Force De Me Battre

LINE-UP:
Giacomo Voli – Vocals
Alex Staropoli – Keyboards
Roby De Micheli – Guitars
Alessandro Sala – Bass
Manu Lotter – Drums

LINKS:

Rhapsody Of Fire Promo Pic (Credit @emanuelealiprandiphotography)
@emanuelealiprandiphotography

Disclaimer: This review is solely the property of Beth Jones and Ever Metal. It is strictly forbidden to copy any part of this review, unless you have the strict permission of both parties. Failure to adhere to this will be treated as plagiarism and will be reported to the relevant authorities.

Timo Tolkki’s Avalon – The Enigma Birth

The Enigma Birth Album Cover Art

Timo Tolkki’s Avalon – The Enigma Birth
Frontiers Music srl
Release Date: 18/06/2021
Running Time: 58:49
Review by Simon Black
9/10

The Avalon project is now onto its fourth album, once again produced and co-written by Aldo Lonobile, and showing no sign of running out of steam. Both these guys seem like regular riders in the Frontiers stable these days, but this time Tolkki has outdone himself when it comes to the vocal guest contributions. These releases have always taken a leaf or two from the Avantasia Metal Opera for Dummies handbook, but in this case the guest list is quite the eye opener. In fact, albums like this require a special turn of phrase that I don’t use too often, so pardon me while I dust down “Holy cow, what a line up!” for your delectation and delight…

Let’s face it, there aren’t many records where you are going to get James LaBrie (Dream Theater), Jake E. (Amaranthe/Cyhra), Marina La Torraca (Phantom Elite/Exit Eden), Brittney Hayes (Unleash The Archers), Raphael Mendes (Icon Of Sin), Fabio Lione (Rhapsody/Angra/Eternal Idol) and Caterina Nix (Chaos Magic) on the same record and even Tobias Sammet normally only indulges in about four guests per release, making this something of a smorgasbord of Operatic tonsil tickling indulgence.

Opener ‘Enigma Birth’ is a dose of full on Symphonic Power energy, this time featuring Norwegian YouTuber Pellek on the microphone. I had not come across the man before, but here alone he demonstrates a quite spectacular range of octaves in his delivery. Catarina Nix takes ‘I Just Collapse’, which is a solid, moderately paced, rocker that would not have sounded out of place on Stratovarius’s “Destiny” album. In fact the production of this disk echoes that album’s rich fat sound rather a lot. That is no bad thing…

‘Memories’ gives us a Duet along with Unleash The Archers Britney Slayes, which given the presence of both voices is actually quite a restrained power ballad. Brazil’s Rafael Mendes delivers a strong Maidenesque performance on both ‘Master Of Hell’ and ‘Beauty Of War’ and as with his recent Brother Against Brother release from Frontiers, works best when he’s not in a duet, as he is on the former track, which allows him to release his safety locks and go for broke. Things go more Progressive for ‘Beautiful Lie’ to make James LaBrie feel a little more at home, as Tolkki demonstrates, although we know him best for his contributions to the Power and Symphonic genres, he is more than capable of pushing the boundaries into other genres and remains one of the most technically gifted song-writers around.

It’s easy to get distracted by the vocals, but the instrumental performances are pretty stellar as well, let’s face it we are talking about the man who carved Stratovarius’ reputation for melodic delivery and full on shredding when required and Tolkki has definitely still got his mojo in that regard.

I could go on and on about the individual songs, but in all honesty, I cannot find one duff or mediocre song on this near hour long slab of technical and vocal virtuosity. This has the added bonus of being one of those albums where the complexity subtly increases the further into it you get. Had they take the fuller, technical approach from the outset, it might have turned some listeners off, but Tolkki wisely opts for most catchy openers with stellar vocal delivery to reel you in, building to the more subtly crafted elements over time, and before you know it an hour has flow right by.

‘Beautiful Lie’ feat. James LaBrie (Official Lyric Video)

TRACKLISTING:
01. The Enigma Birth (feat. Pellek)
02. I Just Collapse (feat. Caterina Nix)
03. Memories (feat. Caterina Nix & Brittney Slayes)
04. Master Of Hell (feat. Raphael Mendes)
05. Beautiful Lie (feat. James LaBrie)
06. Truth (feat. Jake E.)
07. Another Day (feat. Marina La Torraca)
08. Beauty And War (feat. Raphael Mendes)
09. Dreaming (feat. Fabio Lione)
10. The Fire And The Sinner (feat. Jake E. & Brittney Slayes)
11. Time (feat. Marina La Torraca)
12. Without Fear (feat. Fabio Lione)

LINE-UP:
Timo Tolkki – Guitars
Andrea Arcangeli – Bass
Marco Lazzarini – Drums
Antonio Agate – Keys & Orchestra

LINKS:

Disclaimer: This review is solely the property of Simon Black and Ever Metal. It is strictly forbidden to copy any part of this review, unless you have the strict permission of both parties. Failure to adhere to this will be treated as plagiarism and will be reported to the relevant authorities.

Marco Garau’s Magic Opera – The Golden Pentacle

The Golden Pentacle Cover Art

Marco Garau’s Magic Opera – The Golden Pentacle
Self-Released
Release Date: 19/02/2021
Running Time: 64:56
Review by Beth Jones
9.75/10

Sunday is a day for rest, and indulgence, right? And for me, indulgence is listening to something elaborate, exuberant, and luscious. And, if you think the same, I have some excellent news for you! Marco Garau, an incredibly talented musician, composer, and keyboard player with Italian Symphonic Power Metal band, Derdian, has created a Symphonic Power Metal project called Magic Opera, and gathered together a bunch of equally talented musicians to bring the project to life! And their first album, “The Golden Pentacle”, is about to come and indulge your socks off!

“The Golden Pentacle” is a concept metal opera, based on a story written by Marco. The setting is the kingdom of Amtork, a faraway land, whose citizens live peacefully and happily, under the leadership of King Leiber. His loyal friend, a mighty wizard named Lord Kama, has helped him keep the land harmonious. But then, as always, an evil, peace-hating wizard, Sir Dohron, rears his head, and begins a feud, determined to throw the kingdom into torturous pain, and overthrow the king, so that he may reign supreme. In order to fulfill his evil plan, he must find the golden pentacle, a magical artifact that will give him ultimate power. But this dangerous relic was hidden away many centuries ago, by the ancestral fathers of Amtork, in order to bring peace and harmony across the kingdom. Will evil descend upon the land, or will good prevail?! Well, let’s find out!

The album begins with the title track. This gives us a bit of history about the Golden Pentacle, and sets the scene for the story. But aside from that, it also gives us a stonking Power Metal track, with thumping drums, classic cadences, and brilliant vocals from Anton Darusso.

This musical theme continues throughout the next few tracks. It’s dramatic, pacey, and superbly constructed and performed. It feels exhilarating, immersive, and exciting. Seeing this performed live would be out of this world! Every track is littered with stunning guitar solos, intricate harmonies, solid rhythms and bass lines, orchestral melodies, and glorious vocals, ranging from clean and clear, to a rough villainous edge, depending on where we are in the story. If Mozart and Beethoven could have collaborated on a symphony, using modern instruments, this is the sort of stuff they would have come up with!

Track 5, ‘Fight For The Victory’ takes the pace down a little, but even though the pace is less frenetic than the first few tracks, it’s no less dramatic. It’s got the feel of a March. The 2/4 rhythm, combined with the battle-esque, chant like vocal harmonies, conjure images of fantastical armies marching in readiness for mighty battles. It also has a ridiculously catchy chorus melody. Violins feature heavily in the orchestration here, too, which gives it a folky twist.

 ‘The Secret Of The Sea’ then punches things back in, with a mighty introduction! But then drops into solo piano, and single vocal line, telling more of the story of the location of the golden pentacle. But it quickly progresses into the upbeat, full-on spectacle that I’m now used to with this album. About halfway through the track however, we take a momentary break from orchestration, with a section of drums and guitar riffs. But that magical sound is quickly back, along with a face melting guitar solo!

The juxtaposition of quiet piano, versus intense thumping orchestral work is revisited in track 7, ‘The Sacred Legacy’, and it’s really possible to hear influences from classical music in this track, both through its cyclical cadences, and its instrumental technique. In places, it almost has a Baroque feel, and you could see it bursting into a power metal version of Bach’s ‘Toccata and Fugue’! This is a theme continued in track 8, ‘Fee Again’, as well.

‘The Other Side’ changes it up again, but this time to classic power ballad. Lighters at the ready for this one people! But make sure you have plenty of gas, because it’s just over 6 minutes long!

Aside from a quieter intro to ‘Thief Of Souls’, the album returns to the pacey immersive nature that it had to start, for the final two tracks, in order to bring the album to a close. There’s also some flipping awesome guitar work in ‘Thief Of Souls’, and if I had to pick a favourite track, this would be it, based purely on the guitar!

So, that’s it. Put simply, this is a stunning album, and well worth listening to if you like anything Symphonic, Orchestral, or Power orientated. My one criticism, and it is only a small one, is that there are some points where, for me, the balance of instruments is slightly off in the mix. The mid-section is a little heavy, and the drums get a little lost in it. But that is literally it, and I can get over that, because the musicality and composition is so damn good. And on the question of did good or evil win. Well, I’m not going to tell you! Ha! I’m not into spoilers. You’ll have to check out the album yourself to find out.

TRACKLISTING:
01. The Golden Pentacle
02. Elixir Of Life
03. Keepers Of The Night
04. Never-Ending Pain
05. Fight For The Victory
06. The Secret Of The Sea
07. The Sacred Legacy
08. Free Again
09. The Other Side
10. Thief Of Souls
11. Until The End Of Time

LINE-UP:
Marco Garau – Keyboards, Orchestrations (Derdian)
Anton Darusso – Vocals (Wings Of Destiny, Oxidize)
Gabriel Tuxen – Guitars (Seven Thorns)
Matt Krais – Guitars (ShadowStrike)
Salvatore Giordano – Drums (Derdian)
Enrico Pistolese – Bass, Backing Vocals (Derdian)

LINKS:

Disclaimer: This review is solely the property of Beth Jones and Ever Metal. It is strictly forbidden to copy any part of this review, unless you have the strict permission of said party. Failure to adhere to this will be treated as plagiarism and will be reported to the relevant authorities.