Michael Romeo - War Of The Worlds Pt. 1

Genre: Power Metal, Progressive Metal

Symphony X guitarist and songwriter Michael Romeo released his first solo album way back in 1995, as an instrumental show off of his guitar mastery. Let’s just say that the follow up is only loosely connected. While Symphony X seems to be standing fairly still at the moment, since 2015’s Underworld, with the respective members busy elsewhere (bassist Mike LePond released a pretty kickass album with his Silent Assassins earlier this year), it’s no wonder that songwriter Romeo should also feel the need to deliver. And holy crap, does he. War Of The Worlds Pt. 1 sees him handle guitar duties, as well as keys and orchestration and production. He gets help from bassist John DeServio (Black Label Society) and drummer John Macaluso (Labÿrinth), but perhaps the most notable is previously unknown vocalist Rick Castellano.

Michael Romeo - War Of The Worlds Pt. 1

The style on War Of The Worlds, heavy progressive power metal with guitar wankery aplenty should be of taste to every Symphony X fan. It drills hard with crunchy guitars, heavy riffing and fleshy progpower antics set to something akin to a film score like setting, with backdrop keyboards by Romeo himself to add a larger scale to the portrayal. The opening fifteen or so minutes, from the intro to Black, is masterfully delivered. Holding back the progressive elements slightly to set the album off with catchy melodies and a punch packing vocal deliveries alongside meaty riffs it immediately catches. Vocalist Castellano is perhaps the album’s most interesting part. He showcases great command of his talents, bellowing heavily and crooning softly in turn. You could do some comparisons to Ronald Romero (Rainbow, Lords Of Black) in style and fittings, but Castellano brings an airy flow and sense of purpose without sounding like he’s trying to be someone else.

What with the soundscape lending itself to a rather theatrical flair, there is also a fair deal of experimentation going on. F*cking Robots stands out the most with its weird robot noises on a symphonic backdrop, and quite frankly, is the song that takes away from an otherwise fairly set and heavy atmosphere. It just sounds pretty ridiculous. Then there are other pieces throughout that fortunately don’t take it just that far, but stick within what’s proper for the album, which as a whole manages to be pretty cool. Romeo flashes a whole lot of awesome guitar stylistics, neat solos and hooks, but the way he lets the keyboards do half of the sound really sets it apart. War Of The Worlds Pt. 1 doesn’t quite measure up to Symphony X’s strongest efforts, but it’s definitely an album worth checking out and play back to back with the aforementioned Silent Assassins album when the Symphony X abstinence sets in.

 

Standout tracks: Fear The Unknown, Black, Oblivion

 

    

 

Lyrikvideo: Michael Romeo - Djinn

Kingcrow - The Persistence

Genre: Progressive Metal

Italian prog metal outfit Kingcrow take a somewhat unexpected twist with their seventh full length effort, The Persistence. After their 2015 album Eidos, which was seemingly everywhere at once, twisting this way and that, they instead turn to a more straightforward approach. Where the previous album fully succeeded in grappling the new listener in, The Persistence manages beautifully with its more simple approach. Kingcrow were never really the most technical prog metal band around, and that remains true on The Persistence, but the laid back stylistics that focuses on atmosphere take precedence. This lends the album bigger emotional pull, and the atmospheric keys that sugar the already melodically prevalent tinge add massively to the whole, as it begins to settle.

Kingcrow - The Persistence

The tempos seem to have been scaled down a notch, opting rather for mid tempo melodics or even slower, but never going into faster stuff. This approach works incredibly well with the aforementioned atmospheric punctuation that envelops the production. The album noticeably lacks any discernable low points, remaining equally strong throughout with a few highs noted through the runtime. Opener Drenched starts the album off with some crunchy riffing alongside lofty vocal melodies and distinct harmonies that set the entire mood off right from the start, while Every Broken Piece of Me starts calm and almost soothing, only to develop into a melodic beast towards the climax, where Cristian Della Polla’s keys work magic harmonies alongside the melodic leads of Diego Cafolla and Ivan Nastasi. Vocalist Diego Marchesi sounds comfortable, urged when the mood calls for it, but also laid back and emotive when fitting.

For someone who never fully got into Kingcrow, and would have to go through the back catalogue to pick out high points, The Persistence marks a distinct shift. The album is not only beautifully written, but equally strong in the musicianship and performance, closing in on top tier in Kingcrow’s own specific sub branch of melodic progressive metal. Moving from the flamenco stylistics and being everywhere style of Eidos to the slower, melodic and oftentimes nearly heartbreaking style of The Persistence might not be for everyone, but there’s sure to be something for everyone on it. The Persistence might not be apt for every occasion, as the solitary confinement of the thoughts dwelled within the album lends itself best to the dark night descending, and once the album hooks you, it’s sure to stay.

 

Standout tracks: Drenched, Every Broken Piece Of Me, Night’s Descending

 

    

 

Kingcrow - Night's Descending

Helion Prime - Terror Of The Cybernetic Space Monster

Genre: Power Metal

American power metal outfit Helion Prime set out to be the next in science fiction (and also science sans fiction) story telling in power metal, starting strong with their self titled debut. The sound, very inspired by European power metal lent itself to big ideas that were sometimes constrained by an at times lacking execution. With their sophomore effort, and without the slightest wisp of a doubt coolest album name this year, Terror Of The Cybernetic Space Monster, they aim to take everything not one, but two giant leaps further. It starts out strong enough, and the premise works; it all seems to add up. The build ups are cool, the twists and shifts flow neatly thanks to well written guitar passages that lead the melodic parts in an old school meets new flesh kind of story telling through musicianship. Lead guitarist Chad Anderson (Disforia) tosses some neat hooks and plenty of great melodies, especially in tracks like A King Is Born, Silent Skies and Atlas Obscura.

Helion Prime - Terror Of The Cybernetic Space Monster

What’s lacking are the big, epic choruses that are hinted of in the build up and the very premise of what the album sets out to be. They were present on the first album, after all. Sure, the slightly more progressive twists and turns lends itself to do without massive choruses every minute, but several of the songs seem to fade away without ever reaching the zenith of their potential. Now the biggest problem is that the album centerpiece, its 17 minute behemoth of a title track, goes for the epic quest through the stars to find God and the meaning of life kind of thing, but ultimately seems more a mishmash of several vocalists and no clear direction. In a way, the same goes for the album as a whole, but the shorter tracks manage to be more interesting in that they hold it together in a more concise manner. Heather Michele Smith (Graveshadow) left somewhere around 2016, shortly after the release of the band’s self titled debut album. That was sad because she, along with the band, showcased great potential and her stylistic voice helped give rise to the sci fi scenery painted therein.

Her replacement (Kayla Dixon (Witch Mountain)) lasted only a very short while and a single before ditching. Enter Sozos Michael. The guy’s somewhere around cheesy Tony Kakko (Sonata Arctica) cheese territory blended with touches of the Italian style of symphonic metal vocalists - so what Néstor Català was going for on the abomination that was Hypernova, but actually good. And while he doesn’t feel unique in and of himself at all times, his presence is most certainly, though he may not have Smith’s personality - and he touches some impressive highs in Urth. By and large, the promise of Terror Of The Cybernetic Space Monster is just one size bigger than what the final product manages to deliver. That said, at no point does the album dwindle into unlistenable territories; they just need to work out the small things, get Michael some backdrop help other than Brittney Hayes (Unleash The Archers), who admittedly does a good job to contrast Michael in a few of the tracks. The album offers plenty of tender riffing set to heavy rhythm section, with Anderson blasting away with a melodic touch, and with a couple of spins it’s sure to take.

 

Standout tracks: Atlas Obscura, Urth, The Human Condition

 

    

 

Musikvideo: Helion Prime - Silent Skies