Tomorrow's Outlook - A Voice Unheard

Genre: Heavy Metal, Power Metal, Progressive Metal

Second full length from Arctic Circle Norwegians Tomorrow’s Outlook makes bold promises, aiming for a sound somewhere between Iron Maiden and Judas Priest. Coming six years after debut album 34613 (2012) and a bunch of trouble getting the album on the shelves, A Voice Unheard finally hit the ears like a slap and a half in mid April. The album follows the concept of a coming dystopic future and the impending end of the world. Bleak as fuck to say the least, and certainly, the sound does capture this to some effect. The promised tinges of 80’s melodic leads with distinct rhythm fills are there, complete with the gallop rhythms and twisting solo intricacies. Add to that the melodics that hinge on power metal and some progressive elements that, while never taking the driver’s seat, helps elevate the music above average. While he’s certainly getting lots of help, Øystein Kvile Hanssen (Cyclophonia) and his riveting lead guitar dominates much of the sound. The bountiful instrumental lead passages see him make solemn magic throughout the album, and while bassist Andreas Stenseth adds the level of dignified density with his bass lines, Hanssen and his often catchy, often swiveling, always perfectly delivered leads and hooks mark the album in the greatest sense.

Tomorrow's Outlook - A Voice Unheard

Vocalist Tony Johannessen (Thunder) share vocal duties with none other than Ralf Scheepers (Primal Fear), who lends his magnificent vocal chords to six songs of the twelve. Arguably these songs are the strongest on the album; opener Within The World Of Dreams and epic single Fly Away. Scheepers voice has matured better than most, and his many recent guest sessions outside Primal Fear shows how well other styles suit him, the progressive heavy flair here hitting particularly hard. His soaring voice and high falsettos always seem to lead the music, rather than be lead by it, and it’s his input that makes the album truly stand out. That’s not to say Johannessen is by any means a bad vocalist; mid paced melodic romper Outlaw sees him driving the music well and following the leads of Hanssen quite well. Scheepers is just one notch above the rest, if not two. Still, with Scheepers you’re always getting Scheepers, so the variation with Johannessen tossed in as well is still a good thing, though I’d rather have seen a few more duets between the two - they lift each other hella good during the shared moments on title track A Voice Unheard - rather than shifting lead vocals between the tracks.

The album is finally concluded with two half interesting covers, of originals by Bruce Dickinson and Aria. These could rightly have been skipped entirely, or added as bonus tracks to those obscure Japanese album versions. Unmistakably, the most interesting material on the album is where the band members themselves get to shine, as their songwriting skills and musical chops are above the need for covers. There is so much here to appreciate; how the melodic vocals in Fly Away brightly contrast the galloping rhythms to the twister of a conclusion to the story, narrated by Danny Webb and emblazoned melancholically and epic both by Hanssen’s lead guitars. A Voice Unheard may not take a natural place in between the monumental greats that are Maiden and Priest, but with its bountiful melodic hooks, driving rhythms and interesting riffs it should be well received by fans of traditional metal, as well as fans of modern progressive and power metal. Despite a couple minor missteps and one or two lackluster tracks A Voice Unheard is a surprisingly high quality release, showcasing plenty of talent and passion for the craft. Here’s hoping for a sequel, to whatever end.

 

Standout tracks: Within The World Of Dreams, A Voice Unheard, Fly Away

 

    

 

Lyrikvideo: Tomorrow's Outlook - Far Away

Runelord - A Message From The Past

Genre: Heavy Metal, Power Metal

Hold on to your butt because with Swedish two man outfit Runelord we’re jumping straight into the stuff of legend. These guys just released their, let’s call it debut album, A Message From The Past, and it’s filled with lots of stuff that exemplifies what makes metal so goshdarn metal. Runelord’s massive sound can be described as a furious wall of unbridled heavy metal. The rifftastic onslaught delves from the epically pounding heaviness of Manowar or even Dio to the raging speed of early Running Wild or their latter day copycats Blazon Stone. The entire soundscape is infused with pounding rhythms and imagery that hearkens to the German speed-power scene that kicked off in the nineties. The likeness to Blazon Stone is of course fairly obvious, being as Runelord is yet another one of Cederick ‘Ced’ Forsberg’s projects, and he is of course the mainman of Blazon Stone (among a myriad of other projects). For Runelord he has brought in Georgy Peichev, most notable for being the vocalist on Blazon Stone’s second album, No Sign Of Glory (2015).

Runelord - A Message From The Past

By that point in time Blazon Stone were already beginning to feel somewhat tired, after a great debut in Return To Port Royal (2013). You could of course call A Message From The Past another Blazon Stone album, but it sounds more like something inspired by the likes of Running Wild, rather than a copycat effort, and has the intensity of early 2000’s Wizard (which is never ever a bad thing, mind you). The theme of the album is also different, dealing mostly with metal, battle, myth and Vikings, rather than pirates (which is also cool, but not if your name is Runelord). Now, when Ced’s mind is set on something it usually doesn’t stray; it’s been obvious on his previous outings and it’s obvious here. The entire album is dead centered on the same vision of fist pumping heavy metal, and while it certainly delivers that by the truckload, some dynamics would have been appreciated. Try for something more melodic to break against the speedy approach or a softer touch in an interlude; variation gives flavor, and that’s basically the only area where A Message From The Past falters.

As for what the album does give, it does it pretty damn good with plenty of furious grit in Ced’s guitars and brimming bass lines. Among the album’s finest moments standsWar All Against All; a lick of fire breathing fury, packed with speedy riffs and gritty lead guitar setting the mood from the get-go. The epic chorus brings the best work of Peichev found on the album, bringing shouts like those of Sven D’Anna (Wizard). There’s also tracks like Valkyries Eternal Winter, The Wisdom Of Steel and closer Beyond The Epos that just pound with a mighty war hammer the fleshy rumbling of Ced’s guitars and the larger than life epic vocals of Peichev, mightily delivered with tasteful layered vocals in the choruses. While plenty of the inspiration is taken from the same areas and there are the obvious similarities in the sound, the final product that is Runelord’s first full length does not sound like a Blazon Stone offering; it’s a straightforward album with no time to waste on delivering the metal, and after a few bland outings from Ced’s main band, it’s certainly a fresh re-ignition of the fire that clearly burns bright for heavy metal.

 

Standout tracks: War All Against All, Valkyries Eternal Winter, The Wisdom Of Steel

 

    

 

Runelord - Heathen Religion

Hexed - Netherworld

Genre: Power Metal

Hexed is a fairly new upstart, begun in 2013 by Tina and Stellan Gunnarsson to create a melodic metal band with female vocals. So far so generic, and they quickly recruited Loch Vostok vocalist slash guitarist Teddy Möller on the drums alongside Daniel Håkansson for bass duties. The only started releasing a few singles in 2016. Last year saw the release of Exhaling Life, a three track EP, the contents of which has been brought back for Netherworld, the Uppsala group’s first full length album. The melodic pieces in and of themselves, lead by Stellan Gunnarsson and his melodically tinged guitars never really take precedence over the vocal lines; the builds are usually very standardized and usually don’t offer much innovation, though delivering in enjoyable listening. And although there are some progressive hints in a few tracks, most of the material is fairly straightforward, giving a sound somewhere in between the likes of Within Temptation and your average hard rock band.

Hexed - Netherworld

Framed in a package of ten songs and around 45 minutes, there’s not really much that sets the album apart at first glance. It is a good album with a couple of magnificent parts, as much is evident right from the first listen, but it is not a remarkable one. And while even with some analysis and thought, that remains true, a few things also become noticeable. Some of Möller’s more extreme tappings being noticed at times on the drums, which are another highlight of the album, alongside Tina Gunnarsson’s vocals. Especially the opening track Obedience, which stands as the greatest on the debut, delivers dark melodies, hefty rhythms and soaring vocals that is only partly met on the remainder of the album. It certainly doesn’t help that a couple of tracks are filler material, only propped in to extend the runtime. Exhaling Life and Illuminate are bland and boring and doesn’t do anything to add to the feel, but drag on.

A tad too many tracks feature male vocals to contrast Tina Gunnarsson’s powerful voice; she has the chops and the skills to pull it off by herself, so it’s not always needed. Lightyears sees the best of it, with the guest vocals neatly laid in the background, whereas Stars (otherwise pretty good) and closing track Remake My Soul make too much of it, taking the focus away from Gunnarsson’s punch packing delivery. A shame, seeming as how the album starts off with her gracing great tracks in Obedience, Roots and Forsaken with her soaring, melodic voice to contrast the rumbling riffage of Stellan Gunnarsson and the sometimes gritty rhythm section. The latter also pulls some distinct, yet never fully materialized keyboard parts that usually play buildup to the riffs, but could well have been more prevalent to give a bigger sound and to contrast the single guitar sound. All in all, Netherworld is a decent enough debut effort, which has more than a few stellar moments, but unfortunately doesn’t capitalize on them enough, landing a somewhat bland affair at times. Hard to place, but it might grow with a few listens.

 

Standout tracks: Obedience, Netherworld, Lightyears

 

    

 

Lyrikvideo: Hexed - Obedience