Amberian Dawn – End of Eden review

This review was first published on the official Amberian Dawn forum on October 21, 2010.

So I just downloaded the new Amberian Dawn album End of Eden (yes, I have preordered it, but it hasn’t come yet so I hope the band won’t mind me not waiting any longer), and I’m about to get my very first listen… And so I got the idea to record my primary listen experience in this thread, updating it as the album goes along. I’m currently just about to get a cup of coffee before finally pressing the play button on Talisman… so, wish me luck, and please comment!

Remember that this is my first listen, so don’t blame me all that much if I have the ”wrong” opinion all from the start. Some of the best albums out there (Kamelot’s ”Poetry For the Poisoned”, Epica’s ”Design Your Universe”, My Dying Bride’s ”34.788 %… Complete”, Tiamat’s ”Wildhoney”) are growers I didn’t like one bit on first listen.

Observe that I really don’t pay any attention to the lyrics on first listen, but I focus on the music (not to mention that they’re hard to distinguish in Heidi’s operatic vocals, and I don’t have them before me).

Let’s go.

1. Talisman (3:41)

Kicks off with an awesome intro – not really blast-off at all as on previous albums but slow and ghostly keyboards. It then moves into a nice verse and a chorus I really didn’t feel much from on first listen, but it grows on me on the second chorus. This track has some awesome guitar-keyboard play, especially the solo/instrumental before the last chorus, and it has an awesome neo-classical feel to it, as do the keyboard orchestrations in the chorus and the end of the track.

2. Come Now Follow (3:47)

An intro with piano-guitar work reminding me of Nightwish’ ”Gethsemane” (from 1998’s Oceanborn) with atmospheric vocals by Heidi. Moves into a really cool chorus that reminds a little of ”He Sleeps in a Grove” (in a good way). I’m a little disappointed with the solo leading directly into third chorus with no real bridge, as well as the outro not being longer – it builds up to an awesome riff there.

3. Arctica (4:59)

Ofcourse I’ve heard this track a million times before, seeing as it was released almost two months prior to the album, as its lead single. It has some awesome instrumental sections and Heidi sounds wonderful in the chorus. A great track with a wonderfully arctic feel – and I suppose that’s what they’re going for.

One third in…

Seeing as there’s little to comment on Arctica I’m taking a little break to talk on my thoughts so far. I’m actually a little disappointed to see that both Talisman and Come Now Follow are real ”hits” with nothing extremely interesting to bring. Sure, every album needs a few pure rock songs, but I still feel too many AD tracks miss that little extra spark, that awesome solo or wonderful bridge – instead, most solos are pretty ”ordinary” and most tracks have no bridge whatsoever. Arctica do have a wonderful instrumental section before the last chorus though, and so almost makes up for the lack of this in the previous two tracks. Those I look the most forward to next are Ghostly Echoes, Virvatulen Laulu.

4. Ghostly Echoes (5:43)

This song has a really awesome 40-second intro of partly those ghostly echoes promised, and partly some extraordinary heavy metal riffing. Moves into a nice verse moving into an epic chorus, very much relying on background keyboard moves and some up front guitar riffing. Reminds me of Incubus in its strange atmosphere. This would have made for a great music video, I feel two minutes in out of almost six…

This was one of the songs I was really looking forward to, partly for its length (I’m a sucker for epics) and partly for its title. Three minutes in I’m already satisfied, and now it’s moving into a cool post-chorus instrumental, followed by a ripping guitar solo followed by some face-melting keyboard battling and background choral movements (ghostly echoes!) – this… is… awesomeness. A vocal movement follows leading up to the final chorus. This track is somewhat gothy, with its slow, heavy guitars and its background keyboards and choirs, and what sounds like church organ by the end. In short, an awesome track.

5. Sampo (3:12)

Kicks off with a nice but not extraordinary intro, and leads into a pleasant vocal-lead chorus – probably the perfect semi-joyful, melodic track after a heavier one like Ghostly Echoes. I notice the use of background choir in both this one and Ghostly Echoes and realise I really enjoy it. …at 2:02 I stand in shock before the awesome instrumental – my complaint on lack of bridges, forget about it! This is great, and that for a song that’s just a little beyond three minutes in length… wow! Nice idea with such a sudden and great instrumental. I’m using ”great” a little too much, huh?

7. Field of Serpents (3:39)

There’s something awesome about this album and its varying atmospheres. This one starts out like the big escape theme in a Hollywood thriller, and goes on through a stressful verse into a scream-out chorus, with varying crazy keyboard and ripping guitar riffs. I can’t imagine anything but running through a Field of Serpents in this awesome chorus. The bass-drums increase works perfectly and brings on just the right feel.

Moving into a nice instrumental section (proved wrong again, what is this?! :D) I realise this is one of the tracks with keyboard battle. Awesome!

Two thirds in…

As the last keyboard notes of Field of Serpents echo out I take another break for commenting on my thoughts so far. In the last one I were complaining about the lack of surprise and the lack of bridges, that the two new tracks so far had been nice ”hits” but weren’t really that original. That definititely changed now, with the awesome epic Ghostly Echoes and the speedy-as-hell-what-is-going-on Field of Serpents, as well as the next ”hit” Sampo which turned out to have quite a wonderful instrumental bridge.

The next three tracks all seem very exciting. City of Destruction (I recalled it to be ”corruption”, I have to do a quick Google search) has a very interesting name indeed, and I recall it to be the second one with a feature from Jens Johansson? Virvatulen Laulu is the classical piece with an opera singer, and seeing as I am a sucker for both classical music and opera it doesn’t take that many geniuses to calculate that I probably will love it (not to mention that mr Seppälä has only done great classical compositions so far). War in Heaven is 7:24 and I guess it is in this one we’ll see a reappearance by our dear friend James Goodman, that’s appeared on both previous albums as well. Put that together with its wonderful title and well, I think I’m sold before it begins. edit: After a Google search I realise that the title was indeed ”City of Corruption”, not Destruction. Damned be that torrent file.

8. City of Corruption (4:19)

Starts off real epic and moves into an even more epic neo-classical movement before the vocals start after a minute. The vocal lines are really beautifully done, and already the verse is stuck in my mind. The chorus is purely enchanting as well, even though I had assumed this song to be a ”rocker” judging by its title. :)Amberian Dawn is definitely moving into a more neo-classical direction as previously hinted on tracks likeIncubus, and I definitely enjoy this.

The song moves into a keyboard battle that rocks my brains out – as I had recalled, this was the one. The guitar riff featured in the intro as well is really wonderful as well.

9. Virvatulen Laulu (3:45)

I immediately notice that while this song starts out really nice, it definitely doesn’t suite well straight after City of Corruption. That aside, it’s really pleasant, with nice voices by both Nieminen and Heidi, and some extraordinary orchestration in the background. A style that immediately reminds me of the old classics. Moves into a wonderful piano-keyboard outro. Tuomas is really doing a lot of work in this one! A track I won’t really think is coming live, but it would be awesome if it did. Though this one didn’t strike me to be that amazing first run, it wouldn’t surprise me to be a grower.

10. War in Heaven (7:24)

Pure epic right from the start, with nice choir and guitar-drum-bass work, and background keyboard notes. Heidi’s voice sounds wonderfully tormented (am I sadistic? yes I am) and moves into a beautiful chorus (?) with a wonderful rhythm I really need them to play live.

[2:16] Moving into a doomish guitar section with James Goodman’s beautiful screaming voice and some chaotic background keyboards… wow that’s hot. They should do more of this. [2:46] Back to Heidi’s calm, tormented verse. Slow drums and calm keyboards… moving into a chorus section again. ”God and his angel…”! Wonderful. Back to Goodman and the doom, moving into even cooler choral works and then slowing it down with some harpsichord moving into a scarily great keyboard-heavy instrumental leading into a guitar solo. [6:22] Goodman returns his part and repeats it with increasing drum action speeding up the tempo… background orchestration and keyboard sections returns and it all echoes out with a hauntingly epic harpsichord and church organ finishing it off… a perfect ending to this amazing album.

edit: I realised just now that 6. Blackbird wasn’t included among the files I downloaded… I fixed another download though, and I have to hurry now but I’ll comment on it later.

Epica + Kells + ReVamp in Stockholm 26/9 2010 – concert review

Arriving at 16:00, three hours before the show, Stina and I considered ourselves pretty late, often waiting for at least four hours for most shows, but we also noticed the line being exceptionally short, with only five or so people before us (the gang just ahead of us had waited for two and a half additional hours, and the two before them were Dutch, presumably following the band around). As it turned out, the lines stayed pretty much the same, and when the show was just an hour away there were hardly fifty people in line, most of them die hard 21st century goth chics.

When the entrance open at 19:20 the line has grown somewhat, but hardly what I could have expected, and I and Stina easily make our way into the front line, the rest of the audience a mixture of symphmetalgoths and your traditional beer drinking vikings by the pub section (this is a club concert after all). As a club the audience is surely less enthusiastic and the special effects are less outstanding, but this also makes an intimate environment, perfect especially for the fans of less wellknown acts such asReVamp (and Kells I guess, but I didn’t see anyone coming for their sake).

Floor Jansen in ReVamp

ReVamp are the first to kick off, and they immediately fire the crowd up with their album intro Here’s My Hell, followed by a number of their faster tracks before the duet ballad Sweet Curse, in which lead singer Floor Jansen does both verses in comparison to the studio version (though backed up in the chorus). Still a very beautiful song, if not more beautiful, with Floor getting more part, especially as I’ve never been to fond of the almostLinkin Park-ish sound of the male verse. I’m also happy to see one of my favorites, Kill Me With Silence, and one of their biggest hits Million, with its Epica– and After Forever-like chorus that really got the crowd going before a both heavy and catchy finale with In Sickness ‘Till Death Do Us Part: Disgraced and Head Up High. I’m sure ReVamp garnered a new section of Swedish fans as well as pleased a number of old fans. I, who never got the chance to see After Forever (Jansen’s ex band, founded by Epica leader Mark Jansen) and never having seen ReVamp before (this being their first Sweden show in existence) was certainly pleased, being met with an even more powerful sound than the album, and a band that surely had experience on stage. Jansen has an amazing spirit in her vocals, and it seems to me that she’s really been reborn with this new band.

One of the guitarists in Kells

Kells was second on stage, and they were the only band I didn’t come for. I had never heard of this French semi-symphonic metal band before the announcement of the concert, and I missed to check them out on forehand. And while I loved every moment of both ReVamp and Epica, I’m sad to say that most of Kells music seemed all too general and boring to me. The fact that they sung on French, a language I only barely understand, means less than the fact that most songs had very basic structures, that there were no interesting guitar riffs whatsoever, and that the singer sounded like a drugged-up daughter of Avril Lavigne and Amy Lee, and her very confusing dance, seeming like a strange rip-off of Sharon den Adel, destroyed the few really good moments. If the band is reading this and wants a pointer from a miserable music geek, the concept The heavier the better really works on this band. I was honestly surprised in one of the earlier songs (possibly Ailleurs) when the band fell into some crazed-out punk metal growl, and the lead singer’s vocals suddenly turned extremely promising, even reminiscent of the angrier sections of ReVamp tracks such as Kill Me With Silence. Why not turn into some female-fronted punk metal act (and I certainly don’t mean that in a bad way)?

Simone Simons of Epica performing Tides of Time

Epica, the main attraction, kicked off beautifully with their latest album intro Samadhi ~ Prelude ~ and Resign To Surrender ~ A New Age Dawns – Part IV ~, which immediately got people going. I have always said that this is the perfect intro to both an album and a concert, and I continue believing so – not only does Samadhi build up wonderful hinting and suspense that is wonderfully brought down by the immediate action of Resign to Surrender, but the latter goes really far – about two minutes if I don’t missrecall – before lead singer Simone Simons joins on stage. And while the rest of the band is awesome, Simons is for many the one big attraction (sorry, boys). The setlist is quite phenomenal, mixing old and new songs – the constant live favorite Sensorium and Epica’s answer to UnOpened; the exotic and catchy Martyr of the Free Word; the beautiful piano balladTides of Time; the more folk metal track Quietus. The (original) setlist end with two of the band’s longer tracks, The Obsessive Devotion from The Divine Conspiracy and the title track Design Your Universe ~ A New Age Dawns – Part VI ~ off their latest album – both of which are some of my favorite Epica tracks. The band leave the stage and I start to wonder whether there will be any encores (this is after all a club playing) when the keyboardist returns to congratulate us for being a wonderful audience (in a way that actually sounded honest in comparison to most when the band doesn’t know where they are and won’t remember tomorrow). The band comes up on stage and runs a trio of songs, including another one of my favorite, their first song everCry for the Moon and the all-time fan classic Consign to Oblivion (or, well, Consign to Stockholm as they called it).

I leave happy, and Stina keeps telling me the whole way home how she can’t believe the concert, immediately marking the spot for her favorite ever.

But there’s more…
Members of both ReVamp and Kells stayed for signing merchandise, and Epica offered some really awesome shirts I wish I could have bought. With my poor economy I decided upon buying a ReVamp poster and I had it signed by Floor Jansen herself (after I couldn’t speak a word and she had to ask if I wanted her to sign it – possibly more nervous than meeting both Kamelot and Sonata Arctica.

Setlist ReVamp
1. Here’s My Hell
2. In Sickness ‘Till Death Do Us Part: All Goodbyes Are Said
3. Fast Forward
4. Sweet Curse
5. In Sickness ‘Till Death Do Us Part: Disdain
6. Kill Me With Silence
7. Million
8. In Sickness ‘Till Death Do Us Part: Disgraced
9. Head Up High

Setlist Kells
1. Réminiscences
2. Avant que tu
3. Ailleurs
4. Le Manége Déchanté
5. Mes Réves
6. Sans teint
7. L’Heure Que Le Temps
8. Korn
9. La sphère
10. Lueur

Setlist Epica
1. Samadhi ~ Prelude ~
2. Resign To Surrender ~ A New Age Dawns – Part IV ~
3. Sensorium
4. The Last Crusade
5. Unleashed
6. Martyr of the Free Word
7. Tides of Time
8. Quietus
9. The Obsessive Devotion
10. Design Your Universe ~ A New Age Dawns – Part VI ~
Encore 1. Cry for the Moon
Encore 2. Sancta Terra
Encore 3. Consign to Oblivion

The Golden Age of Symphonic Metal – Review of Epica's Design Your Universe (2009)

I was born in 1992, and if I could choose I wouldn’t change it for a second. Sure, I was only four when Therion released Theli, considered one of the earliest symphonic metal albums, and I was only six when Nightwish released Oceanborn in 1998, but I have lived to witness the release of many great albums since the mid-2000’s.

This is what I concider the golden age of symphonic metal. Right here, right now. It is a genre that develop well on its own as well as into other genres – Leaves’ Eyes blend it perfectly with folk music (Njord of 2009 for example) and Sonata Arctica earlier this fall released The Days of Grays which was the first album that really showed a mixture of power, prog and symphonic metal without one taking the overly control.

A certain cliff in the history of symphonic metal was released only a month ago… Epica‘s Design Your Universe is the album I will speak of today.

This phenomenal, epic, melodic, bombastic album kicks of with their best instrumental yet, the intro song Samadhi ~ Prelude ~, before entering Resign to Surrender ~ A New Age Dawns – part IV ~. DYU is the first album to continue the A New Age Dawns saga, first started on the 2005 album Consign to Oblivion. The first three parts told of the collapse of the Mayan civilization, and this 2009 release show the next three parts. To me, Resign to Surrender sounds like an amazing intro song, the perfect way to reawaken the saga in. It builds up perfectly, before finishing and leaving the scene for the next song (and the first video for the album), Unleashed. Unleashed is far from the best song of the album, but I understand they used it as a video. It is a real catchy song, and Simone sounds amazing in it. I can’t see why it’s their most popular on, but still a great track.

The fourth song on the album is Martyr of the Free Word, and here I must speak my mind. Why, oh why, couldn’t this be the third song? I would much prefer it to be ahead of Unleashed, simply because Unleashed is a bit too grande and bombastic, whilst Martyr is more of a metal song. Resign to Surrender followed by Unleashed just doesn’t sound as good as followed by Martyr of the Free Word. This aside, it’s a really cool track, one of the more special on the album, with influences from oriental music in the vocal lines. Mark Jansen’s grunts right after the chorus really is an amazing part that does the song.

The next song is another more bombastic one – Our Destiny. I’m sad to say this is one of the weaker songs on the album, if I have to choose one. It is a great song, but compared to the rest of the album it’s kind of dull. The thing is that it’s too long… it’s only 6 minutes, not much to Epica standards, but I feel it’s a little too much. If it were to be cut down into at least 4:40, 5, it would be much higher in my ratings.

Kingdom of Heaven ~ A New Age Dawns – part V ~ is the fifth chapter of the A New Age Dawns saga, and the longest song on the album at 13:35. It is an awesome track, especially the first eight minutes, but it’s still a disappointment to me. Maybe I had too high hopes – before I heard it I saw an interview with Mark Jansen explaining how he had worked on the song for three years, and how he considered it their best by far. To me it’s pretty low on the list of top tracks on DYU, after the title track, Martyr of the Free Word, Burn to a Cinder, and Resign to Surrender. As with Our Destiny, maybe this song would be much better if it were to be cut down, maybe with as much as three or four minutes. Another remark is the spoken parts in the second half of the song… I don’t mind cheese, in fact I order a triple cheese sandwich listening to Stratovarius and Rhapsody of Fire, but these spoken parts really shift the song from epic to humorous, not a completely reparable damage I’m afraid.

After an epic song like Kingdom of Heaven, it’s often tough to hear another song right away. Many bands solve this problem with either putting an easier rock song right after (Nightwish‘s The Poet and the Pendulum was followed by Bye Bye Beautiful), or the epic song is the final track on the album. The dilemma here is how there are two epic songs, Kingdom of Heaven as well as the title track, which is put as the final song (a perfect choice, more of that later). So the choice was to have an interlude as the seventh track, entitled The Price of Freedom ~ Interlude ~, a clip of people speaking of the price of freedom being death and orchestral music in the background resembling of many horror pictures from the 1920’s.

The interlude leads elegantly into Burn to a Cinder, one of my favorites on the album. It is one of the more melodic songs, going back to the power metal territories of Consign to Oblivion and The Phantom Agony. The song ends with an epic moment leading into deep sorrow (”Why can’t I bleed with you?”) followed by the album’s first ballad, the moving Tides of Time.

To me, both Deconstruct and Semblance of Liberty are pretty standard symph metal songs – no big surprises, catchy choruses, nothing really special except for the speaking part in Semblance of Liberty (”Read… my… lips”).

The second ballad of the album is also the weakest song Epica has ever made. I was glad when they announced that Tony Kakko of Sonata Arctica would guest feature on the song White Waters, but this doesn’t feel like Tony at all. All Tony touches turns to gold, but this is as far from gold as you could get. White Waters is not beautiful, it is boring and weird, and the only thing that saves it is that Semblance of Liberty leading into the final track of the album would be very weird. And the final track is gold.

Design Your Universe ~ A New Age Dawns – part VI ~ is the best song Epica has ever written, and that’s final. It is just perfect, from it’s epic chorus (”We can’t undo what we have done, so show us now what we’ve become”) to its final, heartbreaking, whispering verse that always makes me weep.

This is Epica’s best release to date, and I’m really excited if they will ever top it, because let’s face it…. this is the latest chapter in the history of awesome music.