Etikett: happy metal

Halén – Idleness

Album: Idleness
Artist: Halén
Label: Self-released
Released: April 3d, 2020
Tracks: 9

1. There’s No Use
2. Daydream
3. Tears
4. Empire
5. Labyrinth
6. Dreams
7. AnyMore
8. Wonders
9. Blown Away

It’s no secret I love power metal, especially the European variety with double bass drums, swirling keyboard runs and ridiculously high falsetto vocals, along with catchy choruses to boot. I’m far from alone in this, as another fine gentleman named Ola Halén (Shadows Past, ex-Insania Stockholm) has been churning out quality metal from his home studio for quite some time now. 2016 saw the release of Nackskott, his first proper solo outing (there are a couple of demos from the beginning of the century, but I feel Nackskott was a sort of fresh start for him, especially when it comes to production quality), and now we have the successor, aptly titled Idleness, a moniker that hearkens back to when he released two demos called just that under the Shadows Past banner back in 2000 and 2002 respectively.

Now, this can seem a bit confusing, but bear with me. Some of the songs on Idleness are re-recorded versions of songs already released way back when. If I’m not mistaken, there are four re-recorded songs and five new ones. Let’s break it down:

The album starts with ”There’s No Use”, which, at first, I felt lacked what should characterize an album opener. However, the song is a grower. Theatrical, choppy riffs lead into song that has a very progressive feel although not being really progressive at all. It has a dark atmosphere and needs a couple of listens to ignite. A solid opener, although I had expected more happiness. But good things come to those who wait.

The next song out is ”Daydream”, which is a moody affair with an ominous feeling you can’t really shake off. The vocals here are crystal clear and signature Halén, and with a catchy chorus to boot, things are really improving. This song was originally on Idleness pt. 2.

The Germans have a word called Geheimtipp which means, more or less, personal tip. I feel the song ”Tears” fits the bill. It’s starts off very emotionally and carries these sentiments throughout the song. It’s balladesque, but I’d hesitate to call this an all out ballad. It features a shitload of feelings and has a very hymnlike chorus. One of my favorites. You really need to hear this.

We move on to ”Empire”, which is underpinned by relentless drumming and has an emotional solo breakdown at around the 3:00 minute mark. What follows is a section that almost, nay it DOES, feel like something from a movie score. Choppy semi-progressive riffs set in, and the song ends on a high note.

”Labyrinth” also has that ominous feeling, a sense of foreboding. Some pretty high vocals from Ola drive the song forwards. You need to hear this a couple of times before it finally gels, but it’s so worth it.

”Dreams” is the first song on the album that can truly be categorized as ”happy metal”. And what a tune! Originally from Idleness pt. 1, it has all the qualities a song of this calibre needs. It starts out with a nice guitar solo over pretty fast drums and verses, which lead into an extremely catchy chorus. More soloing ensues at around 3:10. A treat for the ears, and a favorite!

”AnyMore” is the first true ballad of the album, and I must admit, first it did nothing for me. But boy is this song a grower. As you listen, acoustic guitars and Ola’s emotional vocals carry you to a part of the song (around 1:30) that is truly magical. I am reminded of the song ”Time Passes By” off Insania Stockholm’s 2007 opus Agony – Gift of Life in how the song seems to make a 180 degree shift and just morph into something glorious.

The next song up is called ”Wonders” and has an almost musical like feeling to it, like it could feature on a Broadway play. I really can’t describe it in any other way. You will need to take a listen.

Now, for the grand finale, we have the best song on the album, namely the ridiculously glorious ”Blown Away”. This song originally featured on the demo Idleness pt. 2, but has been revamped and rebooted and improved in every way. I’ve loved this tune since the first time I heard it, around 2004 or so. Double bass drums underpin a verse section with an extremely positive vibe that leads into an equally glorious chorus. The song remains speedy throughout and carries forth an atmosphere that makes you go ”yeah, things are gonna be alright after all”. The only thing I miss is the ”woah woah woah” section towards the end of the song that was on the original demo version, but it is still a truly spectacular way to end the album.

Now, I realize I haven’t said anything about the lyrics. My main gripe with many power metal bands today are the lyrics. While bands like Twilight Force, Rhapsody of Fire and Gloryhammer are enjoyable listens, I’m not really into the sword and sorcery, Dungeons & Dragons themed lyrics. I’ve always favored song lyrics that are more down to earth, that are about us humans and our struggles and hardships. Everything we do is, ultimately, pointless, but there are beacons of hope. The kind of lyrical imagery late Insania Stockholm employed. Thankfully Ola seems to share this sentiment. Nay, he understands this, on a level that is fundamentally linked to his own experiences. What he sings sounds genuine, because he’s been there. This elevates Idleness to a higher level, a level of absolute truth, if you will. I believe it’s called magic.

Skeletoon – They Never Say Die

Album: They Never Say Die
Artist: Skeletoon
Label: Scarlet Records
Released: March 8th, 2019
Tracks: 11

1. Hell-O
2. Hoist Our Colors
3. The Truffle Shuffle Army: Bizardly Bizarre
4. To Leave A Land
5. They Never Say Die
6. Last Chance
7. I Have The Key
8. The Chain Master
9. When Legends Turn Real
10. Farewell (Avantasia cover)
11. Goonies R Good Enough (Cyndi Lauper cover)

 

You can always count on the Italians to deliver the goods when it comes to power metal. Regardless if you prefer the bombastic and symphonic variety (Rhapsody of Fire, Ancient Bards), the more traditional, slightly progressive kind (Labyrinth, Vision Divine) or the balls to the wall straight up power metal bands (Derdian, Kaledon), there’s something for everyone.

And then there’s Skeletoon.

Standing firmly in the melodic power metal camp, these guys deliver their third album They Never Say Die, following on 2016’s The Curse of the Avenger and 2017’s Ticking Clock. They Never Say Die is a concept album, or a tribute if you will, to classic 80’s cult movie The Goonies. It’s apparent from the get go that the band are huge fans. You don’t need to have seen the movie to enjoy the album, but it certainly helps you get all the references.

Musically though, as stated, we’re in firm European melodic power metal territory. Basically every chorus is catchy as hell and made to sing along with. There’s a mix of faster and (slightly) slower tracks on the album, and it feels very balanced in that way. After a short and somewhat menacing spoken intro the band kicks into high speed antics with the opening track ”Hell-O”. Following on that song we have the slower, more mid-tempo rocker ”Hoist Our Colors”. It’s somewhat darker, which makes it an excellent counterpoint to the happy opening tune. Then comes the glorious, the joyous ”The Truffle Shuffle Army: Bizardly Bizarre” which, apart from getting the song title of the year award also delivers one of the most anthemic, happy and catchy choruses I’ve heard in a long time. Not only is this song a power metal masterpiece; it also features a guest appearance by Alessandro Conti (Trick or Treat, Twilight Force). What more could you ask for?

After ballad ”To Leave A Land” we have another glorious tune, namely the title track. The band shot a video for this one, and it was a great song to select for that endeavor. The chorus is yet again catchy as hell, and towards the end of the song the vocal lines turn really anthemic. I wish they’d extended that section of the song further, but as it stands, it’s still a cracker.

Conti isn’t the only vocalist guesting on the album. On mid-pace rocker ”Last Chance” you get to hear Michele Luppi flex his vocal chords, which he does very well. Morby from Domine sings on ”I Have The Key”, another high-speed scorcher that ups the ante even more when it comes to happy refrains. I realize I haven’t even mentioned the band’s charismatic frontman Tomi Fooler. My mistake. The falsettos he’s capable of are unreal, some of which he delivers on the aforementioned track. The album features more guest vocals. Rounding off the record are two cover songs, one being Avantasia’s ”Farewell”, a duet with Melissa Bonny and a take on Cyndi Lauper’s ”Goonies R Good Enough” with Giacomo Voli (Rhapsody of Fire).

All in all, this is a no-brainer for fans of (European) melodic power metal, and a high contender for inclusion in later year’s best lists. You probably won’t find bands as eager to cheer you up and put a smile on your face as Skeletoon. Highly recommended.