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

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

Beyond The Black - Heart Of The Hurricane

Genre: Power Metal, Symphonic Metal

So. Yeah. Here’s the thing. Beyond The Black were always so very hit and miss. The only reason anyone ever noticed them is that a few tracks on their debut kicked major ass. Songs Of Love And Death (2015) showcased some incredible talent but never let loose in full that could turn freaking lethal given the proper chance. But then they got big, without ever really deserving it by playing Wacken. Then a year after their debut album they confirmed their stance in basically radio friendly Nightwish influenced symphonic metal dragging towards rock based areas with follow up Lost In Forever (2016). That album, too, had some redeeming qualities, but never soared as high as the first one at times managed to do. Interestingly, the bonus songs released with the special edition of Lost In Forever held the album’s best moments - mainly an awesome duet between Jennifer Haben and seemingly everywhere Herbie Langhans.

Beyond The Black - Heart Of The Hurricane

Now, two years since their sophomore effort, they release Heart Of The Hurricane, with all fresh members, except for Haben. To make sure something hits, they’ve stuffed the album with 13 tracks, but still only nearly hitting the one hour mark. Add to that two bonus tracks which are on all versions of the album, so not very bonus, to hit it just over one hour. Therein lies the problem; it’s quantity over quality, style over substance. Now for sure, Heart Of The Hurricane has its high points, but they are sadly too few and far in between to warrant an entire album. It opens of fresh and strong enough with Hysteria, sounding a bit like In The Shadows from the debut, taken on with another angle and with neat, invigorating hooks, even though it’s nothing groundbreaking it’s the kind of high point that makes you notice the band to begin with. It’s a great opener, one of those immediate hits that Beyond The Black do so well; great hooks, simple yet catchy melodies and Haben is great.

However, after the great opening, the songs are way too many, and some are way too short to even notice. They fly by and once they’ve ended they’re forgotten.Everything follows the same formula, once again, to make sure it’s all uniform and hitting the same tingles. Lyrics about love, longing and this and that do work with Haben’s voice, which is oddly emotive even for the shallow instrumentals accompanying (and if I wasn’t such a sentimental sap I’d call them ridiculous). There is little in the way of memorable riffs, standout solos or, which is a detriment to the album. Some parts here and there do the trick just fine - take the keyboard backdrop in Through The Mirror or the choral layered vocals accompanying Haben that add more big to what’s already pretty big, in tracks like Fairytale Of Doom and Beneath A Blackened Sky - adding some dynamic sense of musical direction that isn’t just your run of the mill mainstream symphonic metal.All in all, Heart Of The Hurricane is just about what one might expect, but with the high points a little too few to make it stand up to the previous effort, which stands as Beyond The Black’s strongest.

 

Standout tracks: Hysteria, Echo From The Past

 

    

 

Musikvideo: Beyond The Black - Million Lightyears