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Archive CD Reviews 

One of the most prolific voices endorsed by today's Metal magistrates is that of Veronica "The V" Freeman whose talents are most well known from fronting the powerful American Metal band Benedictum. Often labeled as being the most authentic female equivalent to that of the late Ronnie James Dio, The V has stepped out of her safe zone and taken on the challenge of showing the world that she is a vocalist with much more depth than one might expect. On her debut solo effort, Now or Never, The V takes the road less traveled and delivers an outstanding collection of commercial hard rock gems that shine brightly amid the landscape of doom and death that placates the modern Metal scene. Striking a chord that will ultimately ring true with the 80's rocker aficionado, fans comparisons of legendary Canadian rock Queen Lee Aaron are not far off, although The V manages to bring a freshness of her own to the table. That being said, Now or Never boasts an all star cast of contributors that help send Ms. Freeman's first stand alone attempt to soaring heights. Whether playing an instrument, serving as a guest vocalist or contributing to the production of the album, the talent pool that graces this debut is hot. Featuring such iconic musical personalities as Michael Sweet (Stryper), Tony Martin, (ex-Black Sabbath), Leather Leone (Chastain), Jeff PIlson (ex-Dokken), Mike Lepond (Symphony X), Jerry Dixon (Warrant), Garry Bordonaro (The Rods), Pete Wells (Benedictum) and more!

 

Personally, I've grown very attached to these songs as my good friend The V contacted me last year to help her in bringing this project to fruition and I must say that I do find it a tad odd writing about songs that I've been listening to for the better part of a year now. They have become, in many ways, like old friends. I suppose the greatest thing about having had the album for so long is that the songs have staying power and I've yet to find listening to the CD tiresome in any way; definitely a good sign, people.

 

The album's opener is an anthemic portion that eases the listener into the greater scheme of what is to follow. Not completely distancing herself from the Metal riffage contained within Benedictum's repertoire, "Again" blends pop sensibilities with a meaty guitar hook that screams success from the get go. It is also a time, (brace yourself), with many to follow that we will hear the word love on this record. The title track puts forth a nasty little blues lick that encapsulates the true diversity of The V's multifaceted abilities. "Rollercoaster" presents a faster paced rock and roll attitude while "L.O.V.E." dives head first into the lighter commercial pop rock that the album gravitates toward; It also happens to be damn catchy! "Line in the Sand" follows suit with an emotionally charged passion. Giving way for a more atmospheric benchmark is the affectionately heartfelt yet serious minded "Love Should Be To Blame", that throws out intense lines like "I want something more, I won't be your whore, my trust you have to earn". The first guest vocalist to appear on Now or Never is the unquestionably tasty rasp of veteran vocalist Leather Leone (Chastain), in an alluring rocker with a twist called "Kiss My Lips." My absolute favorite song on the album is the enticingly mystical offering "Spellbound" which fellow Benedictum band mate Pete Wells wrote with V. This song just has an appeal that flows in a most gracious and transcendent manor. "Starshine" is yet another commercially epic cut that could easily find its way onto any contemporary rock radio station. It will be great to see a couple of videos from this album turned out and hopefully a live experience will follow. "Below Zero", and "Ready to Run" continue to stamp out the obstinate pulsation that makes Now or Never a surefire addition to any fan of headstrong rock. Finishing off the album is "King For A Day" which happens to be my second favorite song on the CD as it offers up a fantastic duet with former Black Sabbath frontman Tony Martin. This track just brings in the right perspective I believe, as testosterone meets estrogen in an unwavering clash of the sexes.

 

All in all The V has worked long and hard to bring about this next chapter in her career and it shows dramatically. Now or Never is a testimony to how music should be, culminating the rewards of what  a healthy dose of blood, sweat and tears can achieve. For those of us who find much of what is being offered today to be typical or stagnant, Now or Never is a  much needed breath of fresh air.

 

-Priest

Leave it to the wickedly twisted minds of Cradle of Filth to always encapsulate the most notoriously splendid array of extreme Metal decadence possible. Utilizing the talents of their dark enchanted art, the band have unleashed a magnum opus christened, Hammer of the Witches; an album that satisfies most abundantly. Continuing their steadfast streak of success, Cradle of Filth have crafted a masterpiece that may arguably rival all of their past achievements to date. When it comes to the bands legacy lain, there seems to be a dividing of the fans appeal, separating their early work from the later chapters of their career. I believe however, that Hammer of the Witches is the most honest attempt at unifying the two opposing sides.

 

As any diehard fan might expect, the ghostly ambience of the opening introduction "Walpurgis Eve," or witches eve, is abruptly interrupted by the bludgeoning attack of blast beats and that ever familiar shriek of frontman Dani Filth (the only original member in the current lineup). "Yours Immortally" is a fierce beginning to a dinner party of eleven delightfully delicious entrées. What makes Cradle of Filth the brilliant composers that they are is their affinity for the coalescence of such viciously belligerent pragmatism with the exquisiteness of their melodic partiality. This can be easily referenced in the potently macabre "Enshrined in Crematoria." The outright eeriness of tracks like "Deflowering the Maidenhead, Displeasuring the Goddess" and "Blackest Magick in Practice" are prime examples of the bands dexterity, the latter of the two is entwined with the more gothic atmosphere that often accompanies much of COF's music. You just have to appreciate the texture of the string elements amid the backdrop of pure metallic mayhem. Apart from the evil screech of Dani Filth's trademark cry, his gruffer death growls are the real draw for me and he delivers exceptionally on tracks like "The Monstrous Sabbat (Summoning the Coven)" and the title track "Hammer of the Witches." I do miss the elegantly pristine voice of former female vocalist Sarah Jezebel Deva. Nevertheless, new comer Lindsay Schoolcraft wh has been with the band for a few years now blends well within the greater scheme of the Filths infuriating madness. Despite the subject matter that dominates this release, namely that of witches, no Cradle album would be complete without having at least one song in regard to vampires and thus "The Vampire At My Side" continues to uphold their reputation as honorary members of the undead society.

 

Needless to say, Hammer of the Witches is a compelling piece of artful resolve that is surely deserving of applause. The writing is superb and the production is presented with a firm understanding of all that a blackened, extreme, symphonic Metal album should be. Truly a great pleasure to have Cradle of Filth and their shadowy personification back to the grind.

 

-Priest

It's been one hell of a wait, four years in fact, but the brand new Symphony X album has arrived! The official release date is July 24th and let me be the first to say, you won't be disappointed. Underworld is the name given to this enigmatic masterpiece and is every bit the album fans could possibly hope for. The anticipation for this album has been immense and while the release of its first single "Nevermore" may have caused some to question its potency, rest assured this is the band at their fullest potential.

 

The opening intro "Overture" is dark, gloomy, and not lacking the ability in any way to raise hairs on the back of your neck in expectation of what will come next. "Nevermore" hits hard and fast and I have to admit that there are portions, not only on this song but throughout the album where vocalist Russell Allen sounds a little unlike himself, offering a more polished approach to his melodic vocal talents. This as it turns out is merely an extension of his overall capabilities and it blends well with his trademark aggressive power which seems to in many ways channel the spirit of the greatest Heavy Metal vocalist of all time Mr. Ronnie James Dio. For those fans who are looking for the harsher sounding vocals of brother Allen, check out the title track "Underworld." Of equal praise is the passion and precision of guitarist shredder extraordinaire Michael Romeo. The lightening fast delivery he wields so effortlessly with instrument in hand truly deserves nothing more than complete and wholehearted admiration for his musical gifting. I am so totally captivated by the slightly scaled down approach the band travels on the song "Without You." The inclusion of acoustic guitar strumming combined with the ultra melodic poise and breadth of Russell Allen's voice is breathtaking. This is a somewhat different avenue for Symphony X, leaning a bit more in the direction of just a hard rock mentality than that of the prog-masters they are known for. "Kiss of Fire" gives off an almost Black Metal feeling at times and "Charon" continues to keep the traditional momentum of the band's core sound which is shrouded in mystique and triumphantly adds expanded dimension to their already prestigious sound. "To Hell and Back" is the epic proportion this go round for the band and is a great alluding to a theme of Dante's Inferno.

 

Every song on Underworld has its place  and there is absolutely no filler. I only wish Symphony X represented more of a standard amid today's musical landscape. Underworld is an astonishing feat of greatness. Artistry such as this reminds me of just how damn glad I am to be a fan of Metal. Let's here it for the superb offering Symphony X have bestowed upon us.

 

-Priest