Monday, 16 August 2021

Belle Morte - Crime of Passion (2021)

Country: Belarus
Style: Symphonic Gothic Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 25 Jun 2021
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Metal Archives | Official Website | Twitter | VK | YouTube

It seems that Belle Morte isn't only the name of a symphonic gothic metal band from Minsk, it's also the stage name of its lead singer, who writes the lyrics and music too. Now, she certainly isn't the only musician here, because My Little Demon is a duet with a male voice, but I can't find anything to detail who else is here. Metal Archives only lists Belle herself, but she's not alone in the band photo. Looking at the Belle Morte website, I find pictures of two people, five people and six people, along with a note that she's collaborated with the Norwegian melodic death metal band Addendum, which is a one man project. So, I have no idea who's on this, but I'm guessing that it's the lady known as Belle Morte and a gentleman called Priest who is also Addendum.

From that rich cello and flute in the introductory piece, we know that this is going to be dramatic. Yes, it has a very similar sweeping refrain to Adele's theme for Skyfall, but it rolls neatly into the opening song proper, Who are You, which is at once heavy and delicate, that neat balancing act that's up there with my primary reasons for listening to gothic metal. It's a good opener and If Only You Knew isn't a bad follow up, a little more modern and a little more industrial, but To Get Her is easily the standout here and Belle clearly knows that because there's an acoustic version of it included at the end of the album.

Circumstances have led to me listening to this over and over for a couple of weeks, as I get other work done that's prevented me knocking album reviews out, and, every single time I enjoy this album just a little more, but To Get Her always stands out from everything else. Mostly it's the vocal line, but it's a peach of a track from an instrumental standpoint too. It's notable to me that it's just as effective in a bonus acoustic form, something that rarely happens. The piano and violin stand out nicely in this take and a male counterpart behind Belle's voice works too.

I should add that other songs do get close, especially in the middle of the album. I love how the music escalates at the beginning of Beauty and the Beast and that whole song has a wonderful flow to it. My Broken Things is an elegant dance of a track. It felt strange sitting still in a chair, because it felt like I was being whirled around a dancefloor at a gothic ball, a memorable experience given a few shifts in tempo. Beauty Meant to Kill plays out like a mediaeval folk song. Also, the closer, My Legacy, may well be the catchiest number here, just to take us home right.

I liked this on a first listen, but it didn't really pop for me until a second time through. Over two more weeks, it's improved a little more without becoming an undying favourite. However, I can't underline enough how rare it is for me to be able to listen to an album, any album, this much without it tiring on me at some point. This works as an album to dive into and actively explore, but it also works in passive mode, as background. That's another reason it took me so long to write this one up, because it turned into an old friend and it's always hard to stay objective at that point. Let's just say it's one of the good ones, whoever's playing on it.

Friday, 16 July 2021

Styx - Crash of the Crown (2021)

Country: USA
Style: Progressive Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 18 Jun 2021
Sites: Facebook | Instagram | Official Website | Twitter | Wikipedia | YouTube

"We will not give in," sing however many vocalists Styx have harmonising on the opener, The Fight of Our Lives, and this album feels like they mean it. I knew Styx were still going, because I saw them live at a corporate event I was working back in 2005, right after they released Big Bang Theory, which was a covers album. However, I hadn't noticed any further studio output from them since until now. A dozen years on, they did release a concept album called The Mission and I'm not convinced that this, which is their seventeenth studio release, isn't another one.

Certainly it feels like one, even if I couldn't follow anything more than a vague theme. I found myself focusing far more on the melodies than the words they carry, and the general pomp behind the music. The fact that a song like Hold Back the Darkness is bookended by sound effects, like it's a visual piece, and that it's followed by Winston Churchill's recognisable voice in samples on Save Us from Ourselves, helps that epic feel. The former has a Pink Floyd feel to it too, which doesn't stop us thinking concept.

I've read that their chief influence was the Beatles this time out, the approach being to conjure up an album like Abbey Road where every song was complete in itself and didn't repeat anything, but which felt as a whole like a single entity. The Beatles weren't my initial thought, though they certainly leap to mind quickly on songs like Our Wonderful Lives, not only because of the vocal melodies but through a neat use of brass. Mostly the styles here are more rock than pop and they're often reminiscent of an early Queen album, but I think that they nailed their Abbey Road idea. The more I listen to it, the more I hear the Beatles, especially in the melodies and especially because Styx have more than one lead vocalist too.

This isn't as varied as something like Sheer Heart Attack (then again, what is?) but a neatly consistent variety lends it an almost ironic coherence. Oddly, for an album that's riddled through with old school prog, albeit commercial prog, everything is notably short. The album only runs a mere whisker over 43 minutes but it contains fifteen songs, the longest reaching exactly four minutes; the shortest doesn't even reach half a minute.

That longest song is Common Ground and it does some serious building, but it's the title track that I'd call the most epic here. It's also the most Queen of all these songs, albeit with an overt Styx keyboard solo. Let's not forget that Styx have been around for a very long time indeed. By the time they got to The Grand Illusion in 1977, their first multi-platinum album, they had already put out six others, three by the end of 1973, by which point Queen only had one. It's easy to see how the two bands fed ideas to each other back then, before either was truly famous.

As you might expect from everything I've said thus far, this feels less like a new Styx album and more like an old one that we merely haven't heard before. It's primarily the crisp production that's holding me back from wondering if I really did listen to this back in the mid eighties when I was catching up on a couple of decades of music that I'd suddenly stumbled onto. However, there some modern sounds in here too. Long Live the King kicks off with an almost Tool-like riff and Coming Out the Other Side may begin with a sitar, like it's the Summer of Love, but it moves quickly into a more modern beat.

I should probably emphasise here that I like how this sounds like an old album that's just new to me. It feels vibrant and lively, as if it was made by a young Styx, even though guitarist Tommy Shaw joined as long ago as 1975 and both bassist Chuck Panozzo and guitarist James Young both have three years on him with the band. Drummer Todd Sucherman and keyboard player Ricky Phillips didn't show up until the nineties but have still been in Styx since the prior millennium. Ricky Phillips, the full time bassist (Panozzo is a part timer nowadays and only played here on Our Wonderful Lives and Lost at Sea) joined in 2003, leaving Will Evankovich, guitarist and soundscape creator as a very new fish, brought on in 2021.

At the end of the day, if you like Styx, you ought to like this, and if you like really old Styx, you may well like it even more.

Sorcières - Empoisonné (2021)

Country: France
Style: Black/Folk Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 21 Jun 2021
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | Metal Archives | YouTube

It took me a few songs to get into this album, which is the debut full length from the French black/folk metallers Sorcières after a 2019 EP, but I got there eventually and it continues to grow on me. I've had it on repeat for a few days now to try to figure out what my problems with it were.

One is that they launch into action with Anciennes lueurs as if they're a full on black metal band but it isn't true. They're billed as black/folk metal and the folk metal aspect gets more important as it runs on, starting close to the end of this opener. Oddly, it became a folk metal album for me but eventually came back to being more of a black metal album. That makes it more and more interesting over time.

A side point here is that Anciennes lueurs slows down considerably over its running time until there's almost as much doom as black and it feels jarring. Once we get used to it, it sounds great but it took a while and the doom constantly shapes everything, becoming the most important factor to me in the Sorcières sound.

Certainly it's there on the second song too, L'auberge des corps perdus, and it's even more awkward a presence there because this is a folk metal song that plays with black rather than a black metal song that plays with folk. Folk metal, whatever country it's from and whatever cultural heritage it trawls in, is at heart a lively genre, rooted in dances and drinking songs. Adding a doomy sense of darkness to it deepens the sound but it also has the side effect of depressing that lively feel.

During my first few listens, I thought those two songs played out too mechanically, all the cool things that are going on in them outweighed by a lack of energy that suggested that the band were playing rather than performing, but gradually I realised that isn't fair at all. It's that odd layer of doom that's tamping down the energy and the life shows back up whenever the doom is turned down, like on the title track which feels far more alive. The drums get there first and the rest of the band join in, right down to a violin that's much more lively than it was one the previous track.

Les yeux verts keeps that up, getting downright sassy at points, even if they never truly cut loose and fly free. What could have been a gypsy punk sort of feel, playful and wild, becomes more classical, the composition fascinating but carefully orchestrated. And it's all because of that doom layer that never quite goes away, which is why this sometimes seems better to listen to as impressive music than to get up and dance with stein a-sloshin' as a spiritual force that moves my bones. Les yeux verts is still one of my favourite songs here, but I'm listening to it rather than moving to it.

Technically, Sorcières have everything they need and they feel bigger than the five piece they seem to be. I could have sworn there were two guitars here but there's apparently just one, that of Thibaut Marlard. The bass and drums show up courtesy of David Hubert and Antoine Ricci. Marie Derancourt provides the violin, as often plucked, I believe, as bowed, which is unusual and fascinating. And Pierre Alain Devaux adds a harsh voice to the mix, which isn't as bleak as you might expect for a band with at least one foot in black metal. It's often rather warm, more of a death growl to my thinking but with a black edge.

I've reviewed black/folk metal at Apocalypse Later before, but this feels different. It's nothing at all like Saor, because this doesn't go for atmosphere; like Burden of Ymir, because it blends the genres a lot more than highlighting each separately; or like Vengeful Spectre, who are far more extreme with both their black and folk elements. Again, it's that extra doom layer which ends up shaping it; even if it's a smaller part of the Sorcières sound, it turns out to be the pivotal one, whether the song is more black, such as Ordalie, or more folk, like Dans ces eaux.

So, after three days of listening to this album, I've got used to its intriguing mix and I like it a lot, but I took a while to come around to it. What's perhaps most important is that I wanted to understand this. Usually, if I don't get an album after a couple of listens, I know that it's not for me. This one always felt like it was my sort of album and it is, but I had to work with it. Now I need to figure out how unique the plucking approach Derancourt has to her violin really is. It really works here but I can't think of other examples where violinists do that in metal, at least to this degree.

Thursday, 15 July 2021

Within Temptation - Shed My Skin (2021)

Country: The Netherlands
Style: Symphonic Metal
Rating: 5/10
Release Date: 25 Jun 2021
Sites: Facebook | Instagram | Metal Archives | Official Website | Pinterest | Twitter | Wikipedia | YouTube

I was surprised by how much I liked Within Temptation's most recent album, Resist. I know the band as a symphonic gothic metal outfit, but there wasn't much of that on offer in 2019 with songs owing a lot more to modern western pop music, merely with a heavier, more bombastic industrial beat behind it. I would say that this EP continues that musical shift but the songs aren't as interesting as highlights on that album like Endless War or Holy Ground. There's less dynamic play on offer, Sharon den Adel is less adventurous and the songs just feel more sedate. The best thing about it is the cover art.

Shed My Skin is the best of the three songs here, the other two being the band's previous two singles, The Purge and Entertain You. Shed My Skin is lively and driven by its vocals and a Paradise Lost-esque shift in its chorus. As the cover suggests, this song is a collaboration with the German metalcore band Annisokay, but it's not that metalcore in its sound. The industrial beat from Resist is still here but the drums are cleaner, almost serving as the lead instrument. The others are a little buried, except for a resonant metalcore section early in the second half that's actually pretty cool.

I'm far less fond of the other two songs, though Entertain You has its moments. It has a more stripped down and bass heavy sound when it starts, but it drops into a pop song in the diva style. Googling the song to find out that the male voice belongs to Daniel Gibson, I stumbled on an astute comment about den Adel needing to pull a Gwen Stefani and go full on pop diva. I can see that option and this is a song that sits firmly in between that and the symphonic metal that the band used to play.

What I like about Entertain You is even more applicable to Shed My Skin and what I don't like about it is even more applicable to The Purge. With the exception of the admirably clean drums and the poppy vocals, which feature that Irish lilt I noted on Resist a couple of years ago, it feels like everything else is blended into just a tone. It doesn't matter what any of the other instruments are doing and they're doing nothing more than a set of sustained notes on the keyboards would provide.

These three songs are pretty short, running only about a dozen minutes, so the band padded out the running time to EP length by adding instrumental versions of the songs. That's an odd move because, without the vocals, there's not a lot here. I find myself listening to a lot of instrumental albums lately with a set of drawn out twelve minute jams, but the twelve minutes here feel drawn out to double that because there's very little to hold our interest.

I'd give Shed My Skin a 6/10 on its own because it's enjoyable enough, even if it isn't up to the standard of Resist. However, the other tracks aren't up to the standard and the instrumentals drag it all down, so I'll have to drop to a 5/10 for the EP as a whole. That's quite the drop from a highly recommended 8 for Resist only two years ago. Hopefully the next album will be more interesting.

Ison - Aurora (2021)

Country: Sweden
Style: Post-Rock
Rating: 8/10
Release Date: 25 Jun 2021
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | YouTube

Continuing my exploration of post-rock, here's a whole bunch more people I haven't come across until now. Well mostly. Ison used to be a duo, combining the multi-instrumental talents of Daniel Änghede and the vocal talents of Heike Langhans on three prior albums. Änghede used to be in Crippled Black Phoenix, but wasn't last year when I chose their new album Ellengæst as my November 2020 Album of the Month. Langhans still sings for Draconian and was on their 2020 album, Under a Godless Veil, but she's no longer part of Ison, thus turning it into a solo project with guest vocalists. There are eight of them, each of them a female vocalist who's entirely new to me, even the one who's based right here in Tempe, Arizona.

What fascinates me is how so many of these musicians work in metal subgenres, given that this isn't a metal album. Crippled Black Phoenix are inveterate genre hoppers whose sound includes metal, while Draconian play gothic doom. Cammie Gilbert, from Texas, fronts prog metal band Oceans of Slumber. Gogo Melone, from Greece, sings for Aeonian Sorrow, who play a brand of funeral doom. Carline van Roos is the Belgian vocalist for French atmospheric doom band Lethian Dreams. Each of these three bands had releases out last year that I didn't know to check out. I won't make that mistake again.

This album is going to serve as a real rabbit hole for me, because all these singers are fascinating and prompt me to check out their other work, not just those above who usually sing metal. Lisa Cuthbert, who's Irish but based in Berlin, has been a backing vocalist for the Sisters of Mercy and has supported Marillion on tour. Sylvaine, who's Norwegian, has supported Alcest in South America. Tara VanFlower performs with Lycia, a darkwave outfit right here in Arizona. Vila is Finnish and has a bunch of albums out solo. That leaves circle&wind, which is the stage name of German artist Viola Petsch. I have a heck of a lot of material to explore.

But let's start with this. Vila is up first on a song called Jupiter and it sets the stage wonderfully. It's a chill piece from the outset, gentle synths and ambience suggesting that not only isn't this metal, it's a long way from rock too. However, it builds over its nine and a half minutes, a guitar showing up after a couple of them and a real escalation kicking in around halfway. Vila may be from Finland but she has a Celtic sound here, not singing so much as soaring majestically above the instrumentation. She does sing words but I'm not sure how often, because it really doesn't matter. We're not listening to a story, she's lending another instrument to those Änghede plays and that trend holds throughout the album.

Waves follows Jupiter a little too closely, right down to the five minute escalation and the nine minute build. Cammie Gilbert has a serious voice that's about three times bigger than she is, but she keeps it notably restrained during the first half, gradually building it during the second. Everything here feels like it ties to intensity play, but it's all done on both a grand scale and with incredible patience. This is not an album that's willing to indulge immediate need but it delivers inexorably in its own time, like it provides us with the connection to the universe that the sample in Retrograde promises to each of us.

The shortest piece here is just under seven minutes and the longest almost reaches twelve. The latter is Meridian, with an excellent vocal from Sylvaine, and it may be the most patient of them all. It's not flash at any point but it's delightful throughout. It's one of my favourites, that's for sure, though it's pipped by Celestial, which adds back intensity play, along with a subtly more overt delivery from Gogo Malone. In a similar way, circle&wind pierces through the music a little more with her soaring parts.

All these singers are lending their vocal instruments, even those far enough above the music that we can catch lyrics. I've listened through in entirety a few times now and I haven't once been able to focus on any of the words; the most obvious come from what I presume is are a variety of samples from an entirely science fictional self improvement guide but they're bland in their generic message. It's easy to tell Cammie Gilbert from Sylvaine and both from Vila, for instance, if we pay attention, but all their approaches are similar and, over the generous seventy minutes this album runs, they merge into one voice providing variations on an ethereal theme.

And that's where I keep ending up, a consistent album created by one man who sets the tone and lets eight intriguingly talented women interpret it without too much divergence. It's elegant and epochal and timeless and beautiful and it improves the quality of the day. Can that be a bad thing?

Wednesday, 14 July 2021

Buckcherry - Hellbound (2021)

Country: USA
Style: Hard Rock
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 25 Jun 2021
Sites: Facebook | Instagram | Official Website | Twitter | Wikipedia

Buckcherry are one of those reliable modern day rock bands whose albums are almost guaranteed to be worth listening to. This one certainly is. The question becomes less about whether it's good or not and more about how good it is. This one's good and I've enjoyed my way through it a few times but I'd be wary about calling it great. I think I need to wait to see if any of these songs are playing in my head when I wake up a few days from now. If they are, then that'll elevate this in my esteem.

I think the best candidate for that right now is Gun, because it has a unusual and memorable chorus, a simple but very sassy thing that I could imagine Steven Tyler singing. No More Lies is another decent possible, because it adds a neat groove that's as much Led Zeppelin as it is Aerosmith, combining a good old fashioned blues rock base during the verses, that would be more reminiscent of the Stones had Todd delivered a less party vocal, with a reggae guitar that comes out to play during the bridge, reminding very much of D'yer Mak'er.

There's certainly more here than just catchy rock songs. 54321 and So Hott open things up in a garage rock vein, stripped down and immediate, while Hellbound smooths things up and Gun sasses them up. After the reggae of No More Lies, Here I Come goes back to basics but with even more of a punky sort of alternative vibe. Junk goes back to basics in a different direction, bringing AC/DC into that alt rock attitude, as well as an Extreme-esque funk angle too. Wasting No More Time shifts towards southern rock.

The most interesting song to me is the last one, Barricade, because it feels more unusual and it would be far from fair for me to label it as simply as everything I did in the prior paragraph. It's constructed carefully and with definite intent but it feels loose, right down to the drums of Francis Ruiz not doing what we expect them to do. I like this one a lot, more than anything else here except those potential earworms, Gun and No More Lies. However, there's nothing I don't like.

The only time I was disappointed, it wasn't the fault of the band in the slightest. That's The Way, which is a decent enough ballad, even if it doesn't take hold emotionally the way I think they want it to. The problem I have is that Josh Todd, who attempts to comes across as sympathetic and honest, reminds a lot in this approach of Aussie pianist and comedian Tim Minchin, so I'm expecting clever lyrics, humour and misdirection, none of which this song intends to deliver. So, that's not a favourite track for me, but it might be for you because you might not have heard Tim Minchin yet, you poor soul.

So, this was good stuff immediately and it remains good stuff after a few listens. I'm interested in if it will grow over the next few days. Watch this space. In the meantime, if you like Buckcherry, you'll like this.

Dakat Doomia - A Hail from the End (2021)

Country: Israel
Style: Doom Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 30 Jun 2021
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | Metal Archives | YouTube

One of the genre boundaries that I have the most trouble with is the one that lies between doom and sludge metal. It's a thin boundary but it often seems like the two genres approach it from completely different directions. Doom is traditional metal that's been slowed down, often considerably. Sludge is hardcore punk that's been rocked up but ends up in a similar place. It's dirtier, more dissonant and, in many instances, less elegant. Stoner metal also comes into play on the boundary between them, often by adding a psychedelic element, though that's more common with doom than sludge.

I mention all this because Dakat Doomia, who hail from Israel, have pitched their tent exactly on that boundary and it makes their sound fascinating. I get the impression, which may be completely wrong, that the band are more comfortable with doom and their go to texture is atmospheric and doomy, but they have wider tastes and they often trawl in sludge and psych for effect. The sludge mostly shows up in Yahav Zukin's guitarwork when there's a need for emphasis. Maor Movsovich's harsher vocals add a further level of darkness and dirt, but he's closer to a death growl than a hardcore shout.

I believe this is technically listed as an EP but, at half an hour, it's longer than some entire albums that I've reviewed lately and it kicks off with its longest song, a complex piece called Paranoia. At different points, it calms down and heavies up on a sort of wave, but it also shifts from an elegant doom sound, à la Candlemass, to a faster, more edgy one with more of a Trouble feel to it. The harsher vocals make it darker, though I should add that Movsovich doesn't stay harsh throughout. It's an interesting song.

And the album only gets more interesting from there. The approach taken in Paranoia of doom with a little sludge only builds with Meteor, but this one adds in a psychedelic edge too through clean vocals and more mellow guitar. And then, two and a half minutes in, it really starts rocking with a raw riff to grab our attention and a gorgeous pause to cement it in place. Then it finds an example of what is my favourite mode for Dakat Doomia, which is a bouncy riff combined with a wailing solo and that growl over it. It's gorgeous and the similar example halfway through Eternal March is even better.

Eternal March layers on the psych and, almost a minute in, throws in a very sludge guitar just oozing with distortion. This song really grows and may be the best one here. I may well always prefer doom to sludge, but to me this is what sludge was created for. It's elegant and smooth and organic until it has a yen to dirty everything up and wail out the blues. The Voids Call does some of the same thing, a lush psychedelic heavy blues song that's as often dark Hawkwind as it is Black Sabbath.

And that leaves Sight of Death, a seven and a half minute epic with a gloriously creeping atmosphere to kick things off. I wonder if the cover art is meant to illustrate this scene, because it feels cavernous, echoing and dark. It also feels different, because the voice, which I presume is Movsovich's, isn't using English at this point, though he does sing in English throughout. This is more of a spoken word section with a reprise later in the piece and I presume he's conjuring in Hebrew [Note: Maor Movsovich kindly let me know that it's actually in Russian]. Regardless of whoever does it and what language it's in, it's effective.

I like this album and I found that I liked it more the longer it ran. It's good when it's pure doom, or as close as it gets, but the sludge adds to it and the psychedelic stoner edge adds even more. Apart from Eternal March being released as a single, this is their first work since forming in 2018 and I'm keen to hear more.

Tuesday, 13 July 2021

Helloween - Helloween (2021)

Country: Germany
Style: Heavy/Power Metal
Rating: 7/10
Release Date: 18 Jun 2021
Sites: Bandcamp | Facebook | Instagram | Metal Archives | Official Website | Twitter | Vimeo | YouTube

I've been a fan of Helloween since I heard Metal Invaders on the Death Metal sampler that Noise put out back in 1984. Hellhammer and Helloween? Hell yeah. And Running Wild too! Whatever happened to Dark Avenger? Anyway, I followed them through Walls of Jericho and the Keeper of the Seven Keys albums, which just kept on getting better and better, but I wasn't as enthused by Pink Bubbles Go Ape, much preferring Heading for Tomorrow, the debut from Gamma Ray, formed by guitarist Kai Hansen when he left Helloween. When singer Michael Kiske left too in 1993, I drifted away and I can't say that I've heard any of the further dozen albums the band has put out.

Until now, that is, and I'm paying attention to this one not just because that's why I set up Apocalypse Later Music to begin with, but because, for the first time since Keeper of the Seven Keys Part II in 1988, both Hansen and Kiske are back in the band. That means two lead vocalists now, because Andi Deris, who replaced Kiske in 1994, is still in the line-up. Hansen sings too, as well as lending his guitar to the fray, alongside Sascha Gerstner, his replacement's replacement, who's been there since 2002, and, of course, founder member Michael Weikath, who never left the band. The prospect of Helloween with a pair of lead vocalists and a three-pronged guitar assault, is irresistible.

I don't believe that this album quite lives up to that set up, but it takes a damn good shot at doing so and its best moments are easily up there with the best they've ever done. Skyfall, the twelve minute epic that closes out the album, is a real peach and there are plenty of highlights before it shows up to take the running time over an hour. I've listened through three times thus far and know that I have to repeat at least as much to fully grasp what's going on here.

Out for the Glory and Fear of the Fallen kick things off as the band means to go on. They hearken back to the band's Keeper of the Seven Keys heyday with high, soaring melodies over speed metal backing. As you might expect from Helloween, there's also a lot of dynamic play going on in both, perhaps even more in Fear of the Fallen than Out for the Glory, which has over seven minutes to explore. It even has a narrative section courtesy of journalist Xavier Russell. "Come now, there's not a moment to waste," he states, and they don't. There's a glorious vocal back and forth midway through the song, the solos are fantastic and the choruses are quintessential Helloween.

Best Time is just as interesting, though it's slower and the verses are oddly often reminiscent of Billy Idol. Angels is slower still and much more introspective, but it ramps up impressively by the end. Rise without Chains kicks back into tempo and Indestructible adds the heaviest riff thus far. There are cool strings on Down in the Dumps. All these songs in the middle of the album are worthy, but none are up to the quality of the first two or, indeed, the last one. They're why this is a 7/10 review instead of 8 or 9 as the bookends deserve.

And to that final song. It's the epic of the album, but it's even more epic if we add in Orbit, which has a track number of its own but is really an interlude between the album and Skyfall, as well as an intro to that final track, so I'm seeing it as over thirteen minutes of glory that any heavy/power metal fan will revel in. Helloween have never really gone away since they were founded in Hamburg in 1983 but they are emphatically back nonetheless and the future is bright, as underlined by the fact that this is their first self-titled release since their excellent debut EP in 1985. "Yesterday is history," they sing on Best Time, "tomorrow is a mystery." I'm looking forward to it.