Recently I was nominated by the wonderfully bookish and insightful Nandini @ Pages That Rustle for the #MyFirstPostRevisited Blog Hop. (Thanks for nominating me, Nandini!) And having celebrated my eighth blogoversary last month, now seemed like a good time to look back on how I’ve grown as a blogger since the day I launched this site.
You can only leave things lying around for so long…
I finally got around to some long-overdue site updates. The following pages now contain more accurate information regarding my current writing activities. Plus, I feel more organized now. Yay for getting things done! 🙂
Here are the most recent changes:
The About Me page features a new, more brief bio and a new photo.
Information regarding music review inquiries has been removed from the Contact page. However, visitors may still use the Contact form for article / interview requests, invitations to literary events, and related items. Teasellers who’d like to have me review their teas at A Bibliophile’s Reverie are also encouraged to use this page.
The Awards & Achievements page has been added! It lists writing and blogging awards and related milestones.
Also, two new article series are coming soon! They are:
Freelance Article Round-Up, which will link out the most recent freelance articles I’ve written for A Bibliophile’s Reverie, Grub Street, and other ventures. These Round-Ups will appear on the last day of the month, with a frequency of once a month or every 2 months (depending on the number of new articles). As always, all new articles will be linked out on Facebook and Twitter as soon as they’re posted, and the respective freelance venture indexes will be kept up-to-date.
Author Interviews! Yes, I’m going to periodically feature interviews with published authors, starting in September. Twitter has proven to be an amazing way to connect with writers of all kinds, and those connections have inspired the idea for this series. For now I’m going to start with self-published and debut authors. The first one is already in the works (it just needs to be scheduled), and I already know which writers I’d like to pursue afterwards.
And… there may be more excitement around the corner! I can’t say much right now, as I want to see how things play out over the next couple weeks. But I’m buzzing with joy and anticipation just thinking about all the opportunities. If anything does work out, I’ll let you know as soon as I can confirm it. 😉
Hope you’re all doing well right now and enjoying your summer (or winter, if you live in the Southern Hemisphere)!
Starting next Monday, July 21st, the Music Monday Reviews series will be replaced with simple Music Monday postings featuring a song I’ve recently discovered or been listening to. The review series itself will be suspended indefinitely.
What’s the reason behind this change? Even though the reviews have helped improve my writing, I’ve felt like I’ve been pushing myself to write the last few. It reminds me of the reason why I left Sonic Cathedral a few months ago, except now I’ve lost the desire to write music reviews in general. Why force yourself to write something when it doesn’t inspire you?
I do want to thank everyone who has enjoyed and shared my past Music Monday Reviews. Your support is deeply appreciated, as is your willingness to share your excitement or offer your own opinions. I hope you’ll follow the new Music Monday series and continue to chime in and share if you like what you hear. 🙂
If I told you I’d been eagerly awaiting Anathema’s tenth studio album Distant Satellites, it would be the understatement to end all understatements. These British prog rockers have been my favorite band of the past couple years – and the easiest way for me to describe their previous album, 2012’s Weather Systems, is a profoundly life-changing experience. So, believe me when I say I’ve tried and failed to not revert to childlike giddiness while waiting for Distant Satellites to come out. And while DistantSatellites doesn’t come close to matching the impact of its predecessor (which I was expecting), it succeeds in charting its own course through Anathema’s ever-evolving style.
Roughly the first half of Distant Satellites sounds much like the Anathema we’ve come to know over the past two studio albums. Still present are the swelling arrangements, winding structures, simple lyrics, and affecting vocals of Vincent Cavanagh and Lee Douglas. However, with the increased use of keyboards, the new material feels more atmospheric and less organic. The overall mood has also shifted, from life-affirming hope and brightness to darker, more contemplative shadows. Yet, the songs still carry that attention to nuance and feeling that allows Anathema to transcend the typical expectations of music.
Kick-off track “The Lost Song Pt 1” offers the first evidence of change. It takes 3 minutes for the guitars to break in, but fans will recognize the bed of strings, off-beat rhythms, and pirouetting piano notes as part of Anathema’s signature. “The Lost Song Pt 3” and “Anathema” use similar approaches; the former begins with subtle keyboards and brisk drumming before the rock elements burst in, while the latter broods on oceanic strings and piano teardrops while recalling Anathema’s early days. Other highlights include the guitar-driven rollercoaster ride “Dusk (Dark Is Descending)” and the ballad “Ariel,” which overflows with a love so palpable it breaks your heart in the most beautiful way.
The second half of Distant Satellites strips down the music to synthesizers and programming. Yep, Anathema goes electronic for the album’s last four tracks – and believe it or not, they’re not that bad. In fact, they retain Anathema’s spirit. Crescendos sneak their way into the breezy title track and the whirlpooling “Take Shelter,” as do live strings on the latter. Even the instrumental “Firelight” is pervaded with the surreality, emotion, and intensity we’ve come to know from Anathema. “You’re Not Alone” is the only failed experiment, in my opinion. The digi-rock guitar distortions are pretty cool, but Danny and Vincent repeat the same verse for 3 minutes. I have to press “Skip” for this track; otherwise, I might just pull my hair out.
While I don’t mind the new direction on Distant Satellites… Well, I’m still on the fence about it. Electronic music doesn’t move me the way that more organic and band-oriented music does. If Anathema were to shift to a prog electro-rock fusion sort of like Atoma’s Skylight, that would be awesome. They’d work marvels with that style. But, honestly, Anathema won’t really be Anathema if the Cavanaghs permanently cut down on their vivid, evocative guitarwork. I hope they don’t make that mistake on future albums.
For now, let’s view Distant Satellites as Anathema donning a slightly altered coat, not a new soul. I’d describe the color as “Northern Lights”: arresting, ethereal, vibrant with dark undertones, changing with the moods of each track. Fans may need time to adjust to the changes, and even then some are bound to reject the electronic ventures outright. In the end, though, Anathema have crafted another beauty with Distant Satellites. It doesn’t rival the band’s previous two studio albums, but it’s a welcome addition to their catalog and deserving of praise for its gleaming, unique personality.
Throngs of new female-fronted rock and metal bands put out albums each year. Divided We Fall is one of those many newcomers for 2014. Apparently the symphonic metal band was a surprise hit at this year’s Dames Of Darkness Festival in their native United Kingdom. So, when a friend who attended the show recommended that I check out Divided We Fall’s full-length debut album Dreamcrusher, I figured, “Why not?” Every band is worth a listen, regardless of your opinions afterwards.
Dreamcrusher offers a hybrid of dark rock and jack-hammering metal, with lighter elements that steal the spotlight. Philippa Ricketts’s pleasant, cadent voice sashays between the riffs and keyboards, which range from Transylvanian organs to synth-strings to music-box-like notes. This emphasis on atmosphere and melody softens Divided We Fall’s sound to create an accessible rock / metal balance. This approach may explain why Divided We Fall reminds me of Armonight, an up-and-coming Italian band I covered for Sonic Cathedral a couple years ago. The only difference is that Divided We Fall leans on the heavier side in terms of guitarwork and moods.
For the most part, Dreamcrusher is defined by its saturating atmospheres, Philippa’s vocals, and the brisk pace maintained from start to finish. The title track is a rousing introduction, with eddies of guitars and keys swirling at a fluid clip and Philippa giving her most affecting performance on the album. The rest of Dreamcrusher shows different angles of Divided We Fall’s sound: organ-tinged omens (“Revenge”), guitar-centric surrenders (“Fight For Love”) smooth uptempo ballads (“Dream My Life Away”), and semi-symphonic twists on fairy tales (“Escaping Wonderland”), to name a few. Closing instrumental “Departure” is the album’s only true ballad, alighting with lyrical keys before the other instruments slip in.
I can understand how Divided We Fall’s music may appeal to fans of female-fronted rock and metal, but Dreamcrusher doesn’t do much to excite me. The songs are pleasing to the ear but not particularly catchy despite the band’s melodic nature. Some elements seemed out of place, too. (Why include operatic vocals on just one song out of ten?) And while I normally try to avoid commenting on mix quality when reviewing unsigned bands (most don’t have the finances or connections to get a first-rate sound mixer), Dreamcrusher could have benefitted from a generally better mix. The keys repeatedly wash out the guitars, while the fade-out endings are too abrupt and occur surprisingly often for a rock/metal band.
All that said, imperfection should be expected on a band’s debut disc. And while Divided We Fall need to hone their songwriting and fine-tune their sound, they have succeeded in creating a distinct, energetic style. Listeners can detect influences from Evanescence, Delain, Within Temptation, and Kamelot if they concentrate hard enough. But calling Divided We Fall anyone’s copycat would be an insult to a vision that does show glimmers of promise. I wouldn’t recommend Dreamcrusher to those craving the cream of the “femme metal” crop. However, it makes a decent “gateway” album for metal newbies who might prefer something lighter and more melodic to start.
Highlights: “Dreamcrusher,” “Dream My Life Away,” “Escaping Wonderland”
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Deciding whether to buy Dreamcrusher from Amazon? Let me know whether you found my review helpful by clicking here and selecting either “Yes” or “No.”
Coming Soon: Two more Music Monday Reviews are in the pipeline, for Anathema’s Distant Satellites and Phillip Phillip’s Behind The Light.
Recently I’ve noticed a pattern with my opinions about female-fronted symphonic metal albums: When a band releases what ends up becoming my favorite album of theirs, their next release fails to impress me. This has happened with Epica (I loved 2009’s Design Your Universe, then was bored by 2012’s Requiem For The Indifferent) and earlier this year with Within Temptation (The Unforgiving was my favorite album of 2011, while Hydraneeds a miracle to make my Top 10 of 2014). Unfortunately, I’m now adding Xandria to this list. The German quintet’s new album Sacrificium has its moments but doesn’t electrify as its predecessor, Neverworld’s End, had done. (Click here to read my review of Neverworld’s End at Sonic Cathedral.)
Let me be clear: I wasn’t expecting a repeat of the last album. With Dianne van Giersbergen replacing previous frontwoman Manuela Kraller last year, I knew Sacrificium would be different. And it is, with a slight power metal edge, a greater choir presence, and a more sophisticated air – almost like Epica without the male grunts. As for Dianne, fans who are familiar with her work with her other band Ex Libris already know she OWNS the mic. Her expressiveness and operatic gymnastics rival the likes of Floor Jansen and Tarja Turunen. Dianne shows shades of her vocal colors on Xandria’s new material, but she doesn’t paint with her entire palette. Instead, she takes a more conservative and reserved approach that pales in comparison to her Ex Libris recordings. Comparing the work of two different metal bands here may not be the fairest way to review. But with Ex Libris releasing a new album just a few months ago and Dianne’s outstanding performance there still fresh in my mind, it’s awfully hard not to.
What disappoints me more about Sacrificium, though, is that none of the new songs stand out to me. They’re not terrible, but most of them sound… well, like filler. I remember very little about this album when I finish it, so I walk away unmoved each time. Also, my brain just can’t process Sacrificium as a Xandria album. It’s convinced that a completely different band is playing. Sure, this album’s equally as bombastic as Neverworld’s End, but the latter album retained the playfulness and sensuality we’d heard from Xandria on other older albums, going back as far as Ravenheart. I can’t detect those qualities anywhere on Sacrificium, and I miss them.
Sacrificium does have its bright spots. “Stardust” funnels a flurry of guitars, choirs, and synth-strings through an exhilarating worm hole, complete with (what sounds like) a sci-fi lyrical slant that’s new for Xandria and works well. “Betrayer,” on the other hand, breathes down the listener’s neck with saturated, throttling guitars. No competition here for the title of this album’s “Soulcrusher.” (If you own Neverworld’s End, you know what I’m talking about.) “Temple of Hate,” the short yet pretty “Our Neverworld,” and the exquisite winter-tale “The Undiscovered Land” are also worth revisiting.
I can’t say the same for the rest of Sacrificium, though. Even while listening to this CD to write this review, I’m fighting the urge to switch to other Xandria albums in my collection. Stylistically it may be a good example of symphonic metal’s grandiloquence. But as a listener, I want to be stirred or inspired – I want to feel something beautiful. Indifference with streaks of pleasure is how Sacrificium makes me feel, and that’s not what I’d call beautiful.
Highlights: “Stardust” (below), “The Undiscovered Land,” “Betrayer”
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Deciding whether to buy Sacrificium from Amazon? Let me know whether you found my review helpful by clicking here and selecting either “Yes” or “No.”
Coming Soon: The next Music Monday Review, on Divided We Fall’s Dreamcrusher, won’t be ready for a couple weeks. But I’ve finished reading George R.R. Martin’s A Feast For Crows and Maria V. Snyder’s Poison Study, so get ready for two new Recent Reads! On top of all that, I passed 60,000 words on my novel last week, which means I need to get cracking on the next installment of “Chronicling The Craft.” 😉
I’ve been an Epica fan since 2006 and either liked or loved all of their albums, with Design Your Universe my all-time favorite of theirs. Then came Requiem For The Indifferent in 2012. No matter how many times I listened to it, I walked away bored by its musical wanderings and lack of inspiring melodies. So, when Epica announced the release date for their sixth studio album The Quantum Enigma, I hoped like a maniac that the Dutch symphonic metallers wouldn’t disappoint me again. I wasn’t looking for another Design Your Universe, just an improvement over last time. Now I can breathe a sigh of relief – because The Quantum Enigma hasn’t let me down. In fact, I like it more with each spin.
Change seems to be the overall theme on this album. Instead of continuing with long-time producer Sascha Paeth, Epica worked with Joost van der Brook, who’s produced albums for a slew of other female-fronted metal bands (Stream of Passion, Xandria, ReVamp). The Quantum Enigma also features live strings for the first time since 2005’s Consign To Oblivion, a massive professional choir instead of a “choir-like” group of session vocalists, and a more modern metal sound. Mark Jansen and Isaac Delahaye have really honed the guitar sound for the new material; it’s thick, complex, razor-sharp, and at times appealingly tangled and chaotic. This new edginess gives fresh perspective on some songs (“The Second Stone,” “The Essence of Silence,” “Chemical Insomnia”) while enhancing the band’s triumphant sound of old on others (the title track, “Sense Without Sanity,” “Unchain Utopia”).
The Quantum Enigma’s brightest highlights show Epica’s ability to reveal subtleties in complex arrangements. The title track is a stunning example; it’s a 12-minute blossoming flower, unfolding in the same purposeful way as past climactic epics. And how about those memorable hooks and melodies? They were sorely missing from Requiem… and now make a welcome return. The strongest hooks transfer effortlessly from one instrument to another, from ascending keyboard / guitar lines on “Natural Corruption” to the graceful Oriental wind and acoustic notes on the gorgeous instrumental “The Fifth Guardian.” As for melodies, the title track’s call-for-action choral chants are bound to stir concert crowds to sing along, while bonus track “In All Conscience” boasts the band’s most majestic chorus ever.
I have to admit, my initial impression of The Quantum Enigma was tainted by the first two tracks. The flurry of excessive high notes in “Originem” grates on my nerves, while “The Second Stone” starts off exhilarating but loses its energy come chorus-time. Together they soured my mood enough for the rest of the album on that first listen. Now I skip those two tracks and listen to the rest of the CD thinking, “Hey, this is better than I originally thought!” I say that now because The Quantum Enigma is a stronger, more memorable collection of songs than Requiem…. Some melodies and musical moments do fall flat or feel recycled, and sometimes I wish frontwoman Simone Simons would sing with more emotion like how she did on past albums. Overall, though, I enjoy this set almost as much as I enjoy Design Your Universe and 2007’s The Divine Conspiracy.
I can’t say that every fan who was dissatisfied with Requiem will like this new albummore. But for me personally, The Quantum Enigma rights the ship that was tipping two years ago. The grittier direction, improved songwriting quality, and return of live strings all help to inject new life into the music. So, in short, this album has restored my faith in Epica. And in a year when other big names in the female-fronted metal realm haven’t satisfied me, The Quantum Enigma is an ultimately gratifying winner.
Highlights: “The Quantum Enigma,” “In All Conscience” (bonus track), “Natural Corruption,” “The Essence of Silence,” “The Fifth Guardian” (instrumental)
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Deciding whether to buy The Quantum Enigma from Amazon? Let me know whether you found my review helpful by clicking here and selecting either “Yes” or “No.”
Coming Soon: Stay tuned for Music Monday Reviews on Xandria’s Sacrificium and Divided We Fall’s Dreamcrusher in the coming weeks!
I didn’t expect that writing my final CD review for Sonic Cathedral would be such a challenge. But when reviewing a 16-track album that runs the rock and metal gamut, there’s no easy way to cover everything you want to talk about. So was the case with Die So Fluid’s The Opposites Of Light. This sprawling set revisits the British trio’s eclectic roots in two distinct halves: the first explores Die So Fluid’s heavier, grittier side, while the second takes a more brooding and balladic turn. Grunge, alternative, doom, punk, blues – Die So Fluid thrust all this and more at the listener while creating a weirdly cohesive sound. This band and album epitomize rebellion in a “fabulously dark way,” and fans will be grateful for it.
Die So Fluid have already released three music videos for songs from The Opposites Of Light: “Crime Scene,” “Comets,” and this one for “Black Blizzard.” The best way to describe this song is menacing melodic metal combined with the gravel of grunge and eerie cello / violin arrangements. A very cool combination, if you ask me.
Coming Soon: Passed 55,000 words on my novel this past weekend! Come back on Wednesday for a new installment of “Chronicling The Craft.”
After leaving Napalm Records last year due to creative differences, Dutch prog-symphonic metallers Stream Of Passion have opted to go unsigned and forge their own destiny. The band chose to involve their fans in this leap of faith, and financed their next album through an immensely successful Indiegogo campaign (nearly doubling their goal of €25,000). Donors and other fans alike can now savor the fruits of SoP’s labor of love: A War Of Our Own is without a doubt the band’s most consistent and – no pun intended – impassioned album of the band’s career.
A War Of Our Own shows Stream Of Passion continuing down the “symphonic metal” road less travelled. The band focuses on the metal elements first, then molds the string quartet around that foundation. Thus, the thick guitars, intricate piano-playing, challenging arrangements, and Marcela Bovio’s entrancing voice remain front and center. Marcela’s Mexican heritage appears once again through Latin music influences (which first surfaced in 2011’s Darker Days) and her multi-lingual lyrics (which have always been a part of SoP’s sound).
What sets A War Of Our Own apart from other Stream of Passion albums are its progressiveness, contrasts, and musical and lyrical heaviness. “Monster,” “Exile,” “Earthquake,” and “The Curse,” for starters, balance corrosive riffs and atypical time signatures with haunting melodies, quieter passages, and a wide variety of hooks. Other songs like “Don’t Let Go,” “Autophobia,” and the title track feature more traditional structures with those distinctive SoP elements. Lyrically, Marcela explores conflicts of all kinds: relationships, internal, and cultural, particularly current events in her native country. Her emotionally engaging writing style makes her a true storyteller and is accentuated by her moving vocals.
I really have no complaints about A War Of Our Own. A few tracks (“Secrets” and the bonus “The Distance Between Us”) don’t shine for me as brightly as others do, but this is the first Stream Of Passion album where I don’t skip any songs. I can listen to it all the way through because I either like or love each track. It took a while for me to decide on my favorite tracks, which only speaks more to the album’s overall strength.
A War Of Our Own is much more than Stream Of Passion’s “emancipation proclamation.” It’s a gorgeously bold statement of worldliness, identity, and defiance. The band has unleashed their creativity like never before and proved that their fans – the people who matter most to the band – care about their vision for their music. If you’re looking for the truest representation of Stream Of Passion’s sound or for female-fronted metal bands that focus more on emotion and songwriting with only a hint of symphonic bombast, you’d be muy loco to overlook this stunning War.
**NOTE: Starting with today’s review, Mini-Review Mondays will be renamed to Music Monday Reviews.**
Vanishing Point – Distant Is The Sun
Rating: 4 /5
I first heard of Vanishing Point in 2011 when frontman Silvio Massaro joined prog-symphonic metallers and fellow Australians Divine Ascension for the duet “Answers” (featured on Divine Ascension’s As The Truth Appears – a great album, by the way!). Silvio’s powerful and gravelly yet melodic voice caught my attention right away, and I knew I’d have to check out his band and their music. Turns out Vanishing Point was in the midst of a hiatus due to lineup changes and creative blocks at the time. Now they’ve returned with Distant Is The Sun, their first album in 7 years and a superb example of melodic power metal.
Distant Is The Sun combines the fast tempos and rapid-fire rhythms of power metal with lush keyboards and synths and occasional progressive turns. This description might cause new listeners to think Vanishing Point’s a Kamelot copycat –that couldn’t be further from the truth. Vanishing Point focuses more on guitar muscle and opts for symphonic atmospheres instead of full-blown bombast. Lead single “Where Truth Lies” is a fantastic example of Vanishing Point’s sound, with an incredible chorus that sticks in your head long after the song finishes.
As most power metal bands do, Vanishing Point sticks mostly to uptempo tracks on Distant Is The Sun. “King Of Empty Promises,” the title track, and “Circle Of Fire,” which features Sonata Arctica singer Tony Kakko, are among the strongest of the bunch. The band does foray into ballad territory with the rousing sing-along “Let The River Run” and the forlorn “Story Of Misery.” They also surprise listeners with two exceptional instrumentals, the short yet power-packed “Beyond Redemption” and the delicately acoustic “April.”
At the same time, Distant Is The Sun has its flaws. Power metal has never been known for its variety, and this record’s an example of that. It excels at maintaining energy from start to finish, but after an hour’s worth of almost all uptempo tracks my brain feels as though it’s run a marathon. Vanishing Point also overindulge themselves musically at times. With a few songs, they cram in too many dramatic elements (usually synth-strings) or rhythm enhancers (staccato riffs, machine-gun drumming and double-kicking) all at once and risk overwhelming the listener.
Apart from that, Vanishing Point have done themselves proud with Distant Is The Sun. They capture their genre’s melodramatic glory by relying on guitar muscle and melodic flair and not so much on symphonic bravado. This record should win back long-time Vanishing Point fans as well as attract new followers who enjoy Kamelot, Sonata Arctica, Silent Force, and other similar bands. And when an album can succeed with that goal, you know you’ve got a winner.
Highlights: “King Of Empty Promises,” “Where Truth Lies,” “Let The River Run,” “April”
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Deciding whether to buy Distant Is The Sun from Amazon? Let me know whether you found my review helpful by clicking here and selecting either “Yes” or “No.”
Coming Soon: The next Music Monday Review will cover another excellent album – Stream Of Passion’s A War Of Our Own! I’ll also post a Recent Read later this week on Insurgent, the second book in Veronica Roth’s “Divergent” trilogy.