Time Flies!: June 2016

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Welcome to the latest edition of Time Flies! It’s my version of a monthly update, where I recap the past month’s accomplishments and articles, share news and random things from my offline life, and hint at what may be coming in the month ahead.

It feels right to start off this month’s Time Flies with a big “thank-you” hug for everyone’s support recently. You were right: I didn’t need to worry about how downsizing my blogging schedule would affect things here. Plus, I feel more relaxed now that I’ve accepted my new time limitations and am focusing on quality and enjoyment instead of quantity and pace. This was the right choice, and I thank you all so much for encouraging me to do what was best for me.

Stitch hug

Speaking of change, I’ve altered the format of Time Flies this month. It’s not too different from what it was before, but you’ll see what I mean as this post goes on. So, let’s get to it!

Oh – and I’m still looking for questions for the upcoming blogoversary interview! Read here to learn how you can submit them. The deadline is Tuesday, July 5th! 😉

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My 10 Favorite Albums of 2014

If I could use one word to describe the music of 2014 for me, it would be “weird.” Firstly, it was a year of transition and rediscovery music-wise. In May, I left my music-reviewing post at Sonic Cathedral after 5½ years so I could concentrate on novel-writing and other creative pursuits. Suddenly I had more freedom – and time! – to listen to genres besides female-fronted rock and metal. That explains why this year’s Top 10 list features the most variety I’ve ever had in my end-of-year countdowns. Yay! 🙂

Secondly, the quality of 2014’s music took me on a bumpy rollercoaster ride. There were awesome surprises, huge disappointments, and an unusually high number of “in-betweens” that I needed to replay several times before knowing how I felt about them. And in some ways, my #1 pick summarizes my year of music: It tips its hat to my “head-banging” past while shocking the hell out of me – in the best way possible. In fact, I don’t think my SC colleagues would have seen this one coming (except for one – she knows who she is, because it’s all her fault *winks*).

Buckled in? Then let’s go! Continue reading

Mini-Review Monday: Kowai – “Dissonance”

Kowai Dissonance

Kowai – Dissonance

Rating: 4.25 / 5

Are you a long-time fan of female-fronted metal? Do you who miss the music of the mid-to-late 90s and early 2000s, when Within Temptation, Nightwish, and Epica were first experimenting with the combination of symphonic metal with gothic undertones? Most newer bands have steered clear from this sound since then, probably to avoid drawing obvious comparisons. Kowai, however, embraces their genre’s history with open arms. The Dutch newcomers’ debut album, Dissonance, oozes with the wintry soundscapes and whimsical themes of their influences while leaving their own stamp on gothic symphonic metal.

Dissonance contains everything you’d expect to hear from a gothic symphonic metal band with a female singer: lush keyboards / synths, rhythmic guitars, haunting melodies, and semi-operatic vocals contrasted by occasional grunts. What sets Kowai apart is the varied, melancholy-toned guitarwork that hearkens Anathema’s Alternative 4 and Judgment days, and Laura van Nes’s range as a singer. She has a warmer, lower voice (maybe borderline alto / mezzo-soprano?) that taps into both power and a rare emotional depth, and reminds me more of Marjan Welman (Autumn) and Anneke van Giersbergen (ex-The Gathering) than Sharon den Adel (Within Temptation) or Simone Simons (Epica). Whether they intended so, Kowai wrote their music around Laura’s voice, selecting the right pitches and keys so she can use her voice naturally rather than strain for consistently high notes. Listen to “In Retrospect,” “The Promise,” or “Undisgraced,” and you’ll hear what I mean.

I really enjoy listening to Dissonance, so much that I often play the album again after reaching the end. And no, it doesn’t get boring! This album’s balanced, smoothly flowing mix of bombastic epics (“Yield,” “Ice Cold Sun”), uptempo forebodings (“Undisgraced,” “Man’s Downfall”), and musing ballads (“In Retrospect,” “Pride”) will satisfy just about any listener. My only critiques would be that a) Laura’s high notes sometimes sound weak, and b) the musical approach lacks originality. Then again, it’s damn near impossible for gothic symphonic metal bands to be original these days. Kowai do what they do extremely well, and that speaks volume for a band with only one album under their belt. If you like Within Temptation, Epica, Delain, Xandria, or Stream of Passion, I invite you to lose yourself in Kowai’s Dissonance. You won’t be disappointed!

Highlights: “In Retrospect,” “Yield,” “Undisgraced”

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Deciding whether to buy Dissonance from Amazon? Let me know whether you found my review helpful by clicking here and selecting either “Yes” or “No.”

Coming Soon: The next installment of Mini-Review Monday will feature Ideal Zero’s first full-length album In Perfect Darkness. Since I received the album only a couple days ago and need some more time to listen to it, I’m aiming to have the review online in 2 weeks (March 24th).

Mini-Review Monday: Elysion – “Someplace Better”

Elysion Someplace Better

Elysion – Someplace Better

Rating: 4 / 5

Elysion’s second album, Someplace Better¸ shows the Greek gothic metallers continuing their formula of short, simple, and catchy songs with dark, dreamy moods and electronic influences. It sounds a lot like the band’s 2009 debut CD Silent Scr3am at first, but several listens – or, even better, a shuffle mix of songs from both albums – reveals a slight shift. Nid and Johnny Zero’s guitarwork has grown subtly heavier and more dynamic. And since Christianna had only sung vocals on Silent Scr3am, Someplace Better is the first Elysion release to feature her lyrics and melodies. (Previous frontwoman Maxi Nil had penned the lyrics for Silent Scr3am before leaving Elysion to join Visions Of Atlantis in 2008.) Christianna’s writing style fits Elysion so well, it’s almost impossible to tell someone different is responsible this time.

The darkening shades in Elysion’s music can be heard on Someplace Better’s first two tracks, the nu-metal-esque “Made Of Lies” and the anthemic title track. “Our Fate” and “Breakfree” also showcase denser guitars but with faster tempos. Other tracks like “Fairytale,” “What Lies Beneath,” and “Awake” would have suited Silent Scr3am just as well as this new album had Elysion written them earlier in their career. As for ballads, Elysion adds a string quartet to “The Promise” and the acoustic “Transparent,” a lovely touch that works well on both songs.

Personally, I prefer Silent Scr3am over Someplace Better. None of the songs on the latter reach the same memorable heights as the former’s strongest moments. That doesn’t undermine the consistency heard from track to track on Someplace Better. This is a solid, satisfying follow-up that Elysion fans will sing along with and headbang to for the rest of the year. Fans of Evanescence, current-day Lacuna Coil, or H.I.M. who haven’t heard of Elysion before should also be pleased with what they find on Someplace Better.

Highlights: “Fairytale,” “Our Fate,” “Breakfree”

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Deciding whether to buy Someplace Better from Amazon? Let me know whether you found my review helpful by clicking here and selecting either “Yes” or “No.”

Coming Soon: I’ve got a major release (in the world of female-fronted rock and metal) to cover in next week’s Mini-Review Monday: Hydra, the new album by symphonic metal titans Within Temptation. I’m also working on my WANACon February 2014 article, which I hope to have online in the next week or two.

Five Years at Sonic Cathedral – A Retrospective, Part 3: Artists #10 through #6

Finally getting around to the next part of my retrospective! We’re halfway through the countdown of my 20 favorite artists that I’ve covered at Sonic Cathedral over the past 5 years. If you’ve missed the first two installments, now’s a great time to catch up:

Part 1: Artists #20 through #16

Part 2: Artists #15 through #11

Which means that today I’ll reveal the first half of my top 10. 😉 And remember that you can catch the daily version of the countdown at my official Facebook page.

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Elysion Interview on Sonic Cathedral

After reviewing Elysion’s debut album “Silent Scr3am” for Sonic Cathedral in March, I had the chance to interview two of Elysion’s key members: Singer Christianna, and founder/guitarist Johnny Zero.  We talked about “Silent Scr3am,” the band’s history, upcoming touring plans, and which band Johnny would love to open for someday.

Click here to read my interview with Elysion.

Many thanks once again to Christianna and Johnny for their time, and also to Massacre Records for arranging the interview!