Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Holy Covers

Stryper have always been a band who has hovered above the clouds playing songs in the name of the Almighty. Their “God”-like anthems and Christian ideals are worn on their sleeves. After 25 years of being the most successful Christian metal group; the band decided to descend below the clouds for a covers album celebrating the bands they grew up listening to while putting the Stryper flavor on it.

The opener “Set Me Free” is a fast one and Michael Sweet shows his vocal chops with a blistering scream at the end. The Yellow and Black Attack are not mailing in these performances as the fluid guitar solos in the middle enhance the song originally performed by Sweet. I also find this cover superior than the one Heathen performed on their first album.

Undertaking a song like “Heaven and Hell” is no easy task, but Stryper give their take on the classic with a fast solo section at the end on the song and a heavenly performance by Sweet on the vocal front. The song also retains its brooding atmosphere in the middle, with the slow buildup to the climax of the song. This cover is perfectly executed, especially because the perfect heaviness and drone of the guitars.

Another cover that was enjoyable were “Highway Star” with Sweet showcasing his vocal range and altering the verse notes a bit. The middle section sounds just as good as when Deep Purple penned this ode to driving and Stryper gives the song its due nailing the rhythmic changes in the song. The Van Halen song “On Fire” lets Oz Fox show his shredding duties by drooping the awesome guitar solo in the middle. While the band did not change much with “Carry on Wayward Son”; the vocal performance is majestic and the lyrics also fit the ideals Stryper promotes.

Unfortunately all covers are not created equal, and the covers of “Blackout” from everybody’s favorite Germans, and “Over the Mountain” from Ozzy Osbourne fall below the mark. For whatever reason, the boys decided to slow the tempo down of both songs and they both do more of a chugging then running along like the originals. These two were very disappointing efforts, but at least they had the glass shatter at the end of “Blackout.” A final failure is “Breaking the Law.” I wish they would have picked another Priest song to tackle because this is the cliché Priest song to cover and of course they do it. It is well performed, but the conviction in Sweet’s voice is missing like when Rob Halford yells “You don’t know what’s like.” Stryper then does it again with “Immigrant Song” from Led Zeppelin. Again, it is a fine performance, but they should have tried something else.

All is forgiven though with the final song on the album. This is the one original song found here and it is simply titled “God.” This track is the highlight as it is filled with soaring vocals, catchy verse lines and desperation in the chorus that is very exciting. The fast, double solo in the middle adds icing to the cake as this song harkens back to “Soldiers Under Command.” I can only hope this is where the band is heading with its future releases.

“The Covering” is a solid covers album that is worth checking out. “Set Me Free” and “Heaven and Hell” are wonderful renditions of two classic tracks. The performances themselves are fantastic and the one original song found on here might be the best song they have written in years. With this album, Stryper not only prove they have a lot left to offer, but that angels sometimes need a slice of hell too.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Welcome to Avantasia

"Dreamers come and go, but a dream's forever/Freedom for all minds, let us go together/Neverending ways got to roam forever/Always carry on" From the Gospel of Avantasia, Book The Metal Opera Pt. II, sec. Into the Unknown

Tobias Sammet could be described as an adventurous person. After all, gathering a bunch of musicians within the power metal realm and making a huge epic spanning two albums, while dubbing it “The Metal Opera” speaks to how motivated and how creative he is. The best part is he succeeded with the concept and the combination of a cool story, great cast, and memorable songs makes this a winner. The Golden edition of these albums further adds to the aura of the epic.

The albums come in a set shaped like a book with a surface that is supposed to be weathered like one has just found a relic. Blush golden letters adorn the front, but on the inside is where the extras shine. Inside are a bunch of pages filled with Sammet commenting on all the songs found in the opera and both acts of the story written out. Furthermore, there a bunch of pictures of Sammet’s mug and also with the band, and also an extensive interview with him talking about the guest musicians and the process of making the albums. The two extra tracks are a radio edit of “Avantasia” which is pointless, but a cool live version of “Sign of the Cross” performed by Shaman with Sammet is included.

With the packaging being exemplary, the songs have to match up with it. Thankfully they do as both albums bring strong power metal that will rattle you to the bone. The first part is the strongest of the two as there a wealth of favorites. From the lighthearted, uplifting opener in “Reach Out for the Light,” to the kitschy like song with a wonderful chorus in “Farewell” there are a lot of standouts. The last song “The Tower” features some intense vocal backgrounds that flows to a wailing solo with a strategic use of the violin. It is a great closer and is the climax of the first part of the story. It is also imperative to mention how marvelous it is to hear Michael Kiske on these tracks.

While the second part is not as strong as the first; it may very well have the best song and that would be “The Seven Angels.” This 14 minute epic boasts many ebbs and flows with a strong chorus in the first part to the scolding choirs in the middle, and then they have an uplifting piano output which would not sound out of place on a Savatage record. All the vocalists can be heard on this track too from Sammet to Kiske to Kai Hansen and also Andre Matos. The most sinister riffs are featured on too with the “The Final Sacrifice” as Sammet sounds as vicious as he ever does and “Memory” also has a great driving riff that will stick in your head for days. Another song worth mentioning is “The Looking Glass” which has a cool guitar melody and sounds like you just entered an ancient temple. Unfortunately, the ballad “In Quest For” is not special, while “Neverland” and “Anywhere” fall on the generic side and do live up to how special the concept is.

In the end, the operas are full of twists and turns musically and this is essential for any power metal fan or anybody who enjoys a huge concept with thoughtful vocal lines to wrap their head around. These records are certainly pompous, self-indulgent, and pretentious, but Sammet had a huge vision and it paid off. The mysticism is added with reading the “book” the albums come in and following along as the music plays. The extras added are worth the cost and plus it looks good. So sit back, and go on an adventure to Avantasia.