July 3, 2008

CD/DVD Review: Metalmania 2007

The past few years have opened my eyes to the depths of metal that Europe has to offer, not to mention the vast number of metal festivals that they have each year. Of course, I have not taken (nor had) the time to truly dive into the glories that are just waiting to be found, but I have uncovered a great way to have a sampling of said bands come to me. Metalmania is a festival held in Katowice, Poland, each year. For the past twenty-one years the promoters have put on a show of varying size, although this decade has seen the fest grow larger and larger. Bands come from all over the world to perform, and to benefit those who are unable to attend, Metal Mind Productions releases a two disk collection for each year. Disk one is a DVD focused on the bands playing on the main stage, while disk two is a CD featuring studio recordings of those playing the second stage. However you want to cut it, it is a great sampler of metal, many bands which American audiences are probably completely unfamiliar with.

The 2007 festival got off to a great start with a group called Korpiklaani. I was reminded a bit of In Extremo as I listened to these guys. I must say, though, it is not often that you find a metal band perform with an accordion, bagpipes, and violin, with a vocalist/guitarist that has fuzzy antlers attached to his microphone stand. The band hails from Finland and play their own brand of folk-metal, a genre I must admit to being intrigued by. The combination of new and old sounds is rather fascinating. They are represented by a trio of songs.

Following them is a black metal band called Crystal Abyss. Hailing from Russia, they bring the requisite speed and keyboard aided atmospherics, however, I cannot say I was all that impressed with their performance. The music, the one song included, sounded uninspired and their stage presence was a rather lacklustre.

Next up is a band I have only heard one album from, but have quite impressed me. They have this big symphonic black metal sound, full of drama and bombast. All of it comes through in their live performance. The Polish sextet deliver on the two song sampling here. Featuring male and female vocals, they offer plenty of texture and depth over the heavy guitars, driving drums, and keyboards. This is definitely a band to pay attention to.

The fourth band is Zyklon, a blackened death metal band formed by two members of the black metal act Emperor. These guys decimate the stage with three songs. They are fast, heavy, and devoid of the theatrics employed by the previous bands. Not my favorite of what is sampled here, but their straight forward, ground and pound approach is refreshing and quite effective.

Following Zyklon is Vital Remains, an American death metal act hailing from Providence Rhode Island. These guys more than hold their own next to their European counterparts. Vital Remains certainly brings a different style of stage presence than the European acts. They kick off their set with the appropriately titled "Let the Killing Begin," as they proceed to pound out three tracks of brutal death.

I became acquainted with the next act back in the early 1990's following the release of Wolverine Blues. Entombed, originating from Sweden, play are style of hardcore inflected death metal. Three songs from their set are included here, and they put on a strong show, standing out from the prior bands with their stripped down approach.

Destruction, a thrash band out of Germany, has been delivering punishing metal for more than a quarter century. Despite their long presence on the scene, I had not heard them prior to this. I like what I hear. They have a distinct old school quality to them that shines through their music. They song contingent is highlighted by "Nailed to the Cross."

Following old school thrash is old school metal with Blaze Bayley, one time frontman for Iron Maiden. This guy knows his way around a stage (but he is no Bruce Dickinson), and he concludes his set with the Iron Maiden cut "Sign of the Cross."

As we draw closer to the headlining act, the bands become more and more recognizable, although this next act is considerably different from when I was first introduced to them. Brazilian metal act Sepultura arrived with neither Cavalera brother. I had lost track of them back around the time that Max (vocals) left and formed Soulfly. They put on a good show, but it is not the same without Max and Igor. Fortunately Andreas Kisser is still a killer axeman, delivering the trademark Sepultura sound. They have three songs here, anchored by the classic "Dead Embryonic Cells."

British doom act Paradise Lost was up next, represented by only one song. Fortunately, the one song included is a classic and is performed wonderfully. It is "Say Just Words" from 1997's One Second album. This is a band that deserved more than one song. Now, if you are unfamiliar with these guys, do yourself a favor and pick up something by them.

The headlining act is underrated thrash legends (looks funny, doesn't it?) Testament. Chuck Billy and company are afforded the largest representation here, with five songs performed. This band seems rejuvenated now that the original members (minus Louie Clemente). Their performance here is electric and indicative of the talent they have, not to mention the burning fire to perform. Their set closes with "D.N.R." and is a fantastic performance. Testament is the real deal, and when they are on, they are unstoppable.

The concert runs more than two hours, filled with non-stop metal of various styles. It is a great sampling of live metal. While the concert would be enough for most, the DVD also includes video interviews with all of the main stage acts. These are interesting and give you a little more insight into the various bands. Also included are text biographies of the second stage acts.

As if all of that wasn't enough, there is a second disk of songs from the second stage acts.

The CD begins with Carnal. This is a band I have been unable to find any more information regarding them, although based on "My Salvation" I would like to. They have a gothic tinged sound that reminds me of Moonspell.

Horrorscope ups the speed with the thrash metal style. This Polish band is quite impressive, not reinventing the genre, but working the style solidly. Definitely an act to look into further.

Heavy metal/folk act TYR provides a song called "Brother's Bane." I have heard this band before, and they are quite good. They give their own spin on the metal/folk hybrid. They hail from the Faroe Islands, an autonomous province of Denmark. These guys are solid, and this song is a good example of what they bring to the table.

Witchking is a solid, straight-up metal band from Poland. They have a great sound that is reminiscent of Judas Priest. They have no black or death metal trappings, what you see is what you get. Plenty of heavy with a strong dose of melody.

Sphere adds some depth to the second stage with some brutal, skull crushing death metal. Nothing mind-blowing, but there is plenty of brutality to get behind.

Moving from death into a more black metal style, Deivos delivers "Blackness Incarnate." If nothing else, the metal representation on this set is varied, you never know what you may get next. These guys are quite good, with a varied song structure to keep you involved.

Benediction keeps the CD moving along with "Suicide Rebellion." Not one of the better tracks here. The song just never seems to go anywhere, content to bound through the black/death metal standards.

Forever Will Burn also wallows in mediocrity. The band hails from South Africa, and is not really bad, I just don;t hear anything that makes them stand out from a crowd.

The next act brings in some old school black metal. Root has been around since the mid-1980s and hails from the Czech Republic. I did not particularly care for the song, "And They Were Silent," but it was not awful.

Ciryam is a progressive gothic act from, I believe, Poland. The music did not impress me all that much, but the unique female vocal delivery was more than enough to keep me listening. I am intrigued to hear what else they have to offer.

The CD side of the package is anchored by WU-HAE, a Polish band that seems very out of place. The sound is groovy, with distinct hard rock and hip hop influences. I like the song and would be interested in hearing more from them, but they do not seem to belong here.

Bottomline. All of the Metalmania collections I have experienced have been excellent. While I do not like all of the bands represented, the variety of styles and the fact that I have never heard of many of them before is more than enough to make it a worthwhile investment.



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