Thursday, 21 August 2014

The Singles Collection (A Double Feature): "Hector's Hymn" by HammerFall and "Arise And Purify" by Sanctuary

What is it with bands releasing singles that I want to look at this week? Here I am, still somewhat tired from writing yesterday's article in this series and then HammerFall and Sanctuary choose today to go "NEW SINGLE TIME!"

...Eh, I've had a long wait between articles for this series in the past, so I guess I can't complain too much now that I'm having to do this type of article twice in as many days, can I?

Anyway, October is shaping up to be a rather interesting month for metal, which is saying a lot when you realise just how impressive 2014 has been for metal in general! We have Scar Symmetry releasing the first part of their three part rock opera, Exodus releasing their first album with "Zetro" Souza on vocals since 2004's Tempo Of The Damned, Amaranthe releasing their third album, Devin Townsend releasing his second album of 2014 (a sequel to his album with Ziltoid (don't ask if you don't know)) and Lordi making a return (and rather quickly, too!), but the two names that metal fans will no doubt be anxiously awaiting are by two bands who are underground legends of the metal scene: Sanctuary and At The Gates.

...I think my bank account is going to hate me by the end of September.

However, one band who have an album just around the corner are HammerFall, who took 2013 off after the somewhat disappointing Infected in 2011 (which I didn't dislike, but calling it underwhelming would be a bit of an understatement...) and are returning on the first of September (in the UK) with their ninth album, (r)evolution.

...AND this isn't the first single from this album, either, but I forgot to write an article on that one, so I'm going to review this one because it's the first song from the album I've heard.

Anyway, let's get started with the one most people are curious about: Sanctuary!

"Arise And Purify" Review

Sanctuary are one of those underground legends of the metal scene that are probably best known among mainstream metal fans for their connection to Nevermore: vocalist Warrel Dane and bassist Jim Sheppard would go on to form Nevermore with Jeff Loomis (who spent a little bit of time in Sanctuary before they disbanded). However, Sanctuary might also be known by people for a few other reasons: Dave Mustaine (Megadeth's vocalist, guitarist and general nutter) produced their debut album, 1987's Refuge Denied, Jeff Loomis auditioned to join Megadeth before he was part of Sanctuary, their song "Battle Angels" appeared in the video game BrĂ¼tal Legend and (if you were around in the 80's and 90's) they toured alongside Megadeth and Warlock in support of Refuge Denied and Fate's Warning, Forbidden and Death Angel in support of 1989's (or, if you live in the US, 1990's) Into The Mirror Black. I'm going to take a guess that the bands were supporting the following albums at the time of their tours, as I really want to highlight what metal was like at the time of these tours:

  • Peace Sells... But Whose Buying? (Megadeth)
  • Triumph And Agony (Warlock)
  • Perfect Symmetry (Fate's Warning)
  • Twisted Into Form (Forbidden)
  • Act III (Death Angel)
In plain English for the non-metal fans: that's a surprisingly large amount of metal classics being represented there.

Anyway, Sanctuary broke up in 1992 through a combination of label pressure to play grunge music and creative differences that were caused by this pressure. But, as I mentioned earlier, their legacy was never forgotten: Warrel Dane and Jim Sheppard, along with Jeff Loomis, would form Nevermore, possibly one of the few progressive metal bands who actually deserve that description just because trying to pin down their actual genre is nigh on impossible. However, in 2010 (the same year Nevermore released their last album, The Obsidian Conspiracy), Sanctuary reformed and now, three years and a half since Nevermore went on hiatus (or broke up: it's never been confirmed which is the truth) and four and a half years since their reunion, they are due to release their third album, The Year The Sun Died, on the 6th (or 13th: the UK release date hasn't been provided yet, but I've made a sensible guess based on the fact that new albums come out in the UK on Mondays) of October.

So, to recap: this is the first song Sanctuary have released in 24 years. The most recognisable members of the band have spent nearly two decades playing progressive metal that sounds rather unique (although surprisingly reminiscent of Dir En Grey, now I think on it...). And the band are underground metal legends who are mostly known for playing US power metal in the vein of Painkiller-era Judas Priest, only done a few years before Priest did it.

...If you're thinking "This is either going to be really good or really bad", you're on the right track!

But let's start with making the track available to listen to! Yeah, like yesterday's article, I can't find the video with my usual search feature that makes the video available to watch from here, so you're going to have to follow the link if you want to hear the song.

The first thing that I notice is that this song sounds like a more simple version of what Nevermore were doing, but with Dane being more scream happy (if you know what I mean by that...) than he was in Nevermore. I'm going to have to sound like a grumpy elitist for a second, but I fail to see the point in Sanctuary reuniting if all they were going to do is basically play a more simple version of Nevermore's sound. Now, in fairness, the Nevermore influence was going to be inevitable due to how long Dane and Sheppard were in the band and Sanctuary does still have a decent background in their earlier sound (calling this progressive metal wouldn't exactly be right: it's not really that progressive, due to the song writing structures being somewhat typical overall), but I cannot shake off the feeling that this is material that could have come off of a Nevermore album and not off of a Sanctuary album. Now, I'll admit, I'm not hugely familiar with Sanctuary's stuff (the only songs by them I regularly listen to are "Battle Angels" and "Future Tense", both of which are the opening tracks for their respective albums), so it's not impossible that Into The Mirror Black has a sound which is like this, but I think most people will want the band to do something more like their debut and not that album, so, even if I'm wrong on this not sounding like Sanctuary, it's still a fairly valid criticism, if you ask me!

So, you'd expect me to dislike this from everything I've just said, right? WRONG! If you ignore the Nevermore sound to this song, it's actually really good! Some great performances on an instrumental level (although not to the level established in Nevermore) and Dane gives a surprisingly varied vocal performance as well: he hits some notes that you'd have thought would have been out of his range, considering how long ago it has been since he had to hit some of the notes he is reaching for on this album, and his lower voice, while not helping to prevent the Nevermore comparisons, is still rather impressive and actually fits in rather well with this type of music. I would have liked the song to have been a bit catchier, but there's little else I could have asked for regarding this song!

The has a feel to it that brings to mind Dead Heart In A Dead World (Nevermore's album from 2000), although it might be because Nevermore are the band that keep coming to mind when I hear this! It's not bad, but I don't WANT to keep getting reminded of Nevermore when I'm listening to Sanctuary! I'm not demanding the band make their new album sound like their earlier albums: I'm just not wanting to hear the new album and going "Is this Nevermore in a bad disguise?"

Still, for all my bringing up Nevermore so many times in this review, I still have to say that this is actually really impressive! I doubt this is going to live up to 25 (or 24, if you live in the US) years worth of expectations, but I will say that this is something I will be pre-ordering, just on the strength of this song alone! If we take this as a guideline of what the album is going to sound like and assume this is the average level of quality on the album (more likely, it's going to be one of the stronger songs on the album, but let's run with my logic for a second, as it's much nicer to contemplate!), we're going to be in for an amazing album, possibly even an album that might be album of the year quality.

And I'm already putting aside money to pre-order this album when I normally don't bother pre-ordering albums, so make of that what you will.

Final Rating: 9 Out Of 10

A really good song that only suffers from having to stand up to material that was last released over 20 years ago AND the legacy of one of the most iconic progressive metal bands of the metal scene. If you like Nevermore and wanted to hear it filtered through a less technically demanding sound, you're going to want to listen to this ASAP!

"Hector's Hymn" Review

HammerFall, to an extent, could be argued as being somewhat like Nevermore: they formed in the early 90's (in this case, 1993) from the ashes of a cult band (in this case, the vocalist and guitarist of the extreme metal band Ceremonial Oath, Oscar Dronjak, quit the band to form a new band, which became HammerFall), released their first album during the period when metal is perceived as having died when it actually only went back underground (in this case, 1997's Glory To The Brave) and who have gained a lot of support from the metal scene despite being somewhat ignored among the mainstream metal scene. Heck, they've even remained on the same label since they signed their first deal (Century Media Records for Nevermore and Nuclear Blast for HammerFall)!

Obviously, of course, nobody in HammerFall ever auditioned to be in my knowledge!

That doesn't mean Nevermore and HammerFall are the same as each other, however: HammerFall are very much a stereotypical power metal band, with nothing else to shake that status quo up (unless you count the horror themes and more traditional heavy metal sound on Infected). Also, HammerFall have been noted as a band who have pretty much gone downhill since they formed while Nevermore have (for the most part) gotten more technical (and, arguably, better) with every album. Infected is considered by many to be the worst album the band have released by many, so the hiatus was considered by many to be a welcome sign that the band were going to recharge their batteries.

...What? I can't say whether their albums actually got worse with time or not: the only one I've heard by them is Infected! However, I found that a rather dull album, so I went into this expecting something like that, only with a bit more speed and a more typical set of lyrics for power metal.

Did I get that? Well, go give it a listen via the link below if you want to before you see my take on it.

...Stuff it, I'll make this short: YES!

This is what I expected to hear when I first hear about HammerFall: fast paced guitar playing, rapid drumming, high pitched vocals and lyrics based on fantasy concepts. And I love it!

It's all well played, catchy...maybe a bit cheesy, but I don't mind that! This is just a really enjoyable track, nothing more or less. Sure, it's not original by any measure, but I'm always going to love this kind of thing whenever I hear it! The production does remind me a bit of Infected, but not with the heavier feel to it that made the album sound so much like a traditional heavy metal album. I think this song is far better than any song on Infected (possibly not counting "666 - The Enemy Within" or "Patient Zero": I really like those tracks!) and I imagine this is going to impress power metal fans. If you're not a fan of power metal, though, this is not likely to win you over, as it's very typical in how much it sounds like a power metal song. For that reason alone, I'm going to have to rate this lower than I want to in my heart, as I imagine this is going to not win over everyone and is not going to be an essential listen for quite a few people.

Final Rating: 7 Out Of 10

A very good, if rather typical, power metal song that shows a band making a return in truly epic style. If you like power metal, you should check this out, but, if not, you should give this a miss.

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