Christian Mistress, Agony & Opium (20 Buck Spin)
I really want to call bullshit on this one. There is just no way that the debut EP from Christian Mistress isn’t a long lost demo from 1981. Everyone is telling me it isn’t, but if that’s the case and this was recorded recently, then the group sounds like no other band out there while sounding like every band you loved 25 to 30 years ago and that’s just impossible. And yet, it’s not.

That sound I’ve been hearing over the last few months is the mass hype about this new group Christian Mistress out of Olympia, WA which isn’t a real hotbed for metal. I keep reading other reviews saying how great they are and Fenriz from Darkthrone would almost rather talk about them than his own band these days. So it was impossible for me to stay away from this one even if just to say that all that hype was simply bullshit. My God, for a change everyone is correct.

It’s a complete and utter shame that this is simply a six-song EP because it’s the best thing you will hear this year. It might be the best thing you’ve heard in the last five years, ten years….Jesus, I don’t even know. Alright, so that’s a little bit much, but there’s no doubt in my mind that this is the number one release of 2010 so far.

Christian Mistress have ridiculously tight dual-lead guitar players who play off each other like they’ve been together forever and a female singer in Christine Davis that’s the best female rock/metal voice I’ve heard since Lita Ford (back in the day). What’s really amazing though is that I could picture this band opening up for Heart back in 1978. They play a type of retro metal that sounds so vintage you would swear it was from the late ’70s-early ’80s. The terrible band logo and album cover that looks like it was made on a Commodore 64 play into this feeling as well. But at the same time you realize how fresh this sounds too. Maybe that’s a little confusing, but I can’t think of another band right now that sounds like this and therefore maybe “superfresh ultravintage” is a new genre!

The music is simply ridiculously catchy, so well put together and so unique by not being unique at all (it makes sense when you hear it) that it’s mindblowing. I can’t possibly picture any song other than ”Omega Stone” (download)
making my #1 spot of 2010. It starts off as a perfectly melodic ballad and about half way through the song, the guitarists trade solos until it turns into a face melting speed metal track. It’s the perfect song.

I know I have my moments where I like things way more than I should and I probably do my own overhyping but if you couldn’t tell by me nutting all over Agony and Opium then let me state it simply — Christian Mistress are the real deal and absolutely need to be the next big thing.

Get Agony & Opium now. Seriously, it’s impossible not to love this.

Blind Guardian, At the Edge of Time (Nuclear Blast)
Face it, like quite a few metal genres, epic power metal has been beaten into oblivion by what seems like thousands of bands coming out of Germany, Finland, Norway etc… So many in fact, that to me it’s just not worth it any longer to try to weed through the amount of bullshit imposters. I guarantee you if you put five epic/symphonic power metal CD’s in front of me without saying who they are, four of them would sound the same.

I’m convinced that if you really want to listen to this type of music that you must stick with the classics and one of those classic bands is Blind Guardian. These guys have been around since the late 80s and are considered one of the leaders in the genre and for good reason. Over the course of ten studio albums they’ve had only little stumbles here and there, but for the most part not only have they maintained a kick ass sound but have continued to improve over time.

I can imagine that the pressure must be on Blind Guardian to create something totally epic with each release since they are so well respected at this point and by God, At the Edge of Time sounds remarkably fresh and different from the junior members of the power metal fraternity.

”Ride Into Obsession” is speedy and brutal. ”Tanelorn (Into the Void)” is one of the most melodic songs they’ve ever recorded, folk tunes like ”Curse My Name” fit in marvelously to give you a moment to catch your breath and seriously, Blind Guardian overdub vocals like no other band on this earth. Choruses as always sound amazing epic, like the entire country of Germany is singing on them (minus those who can’t hold a tune).

At the Edge of Time is one of the best releases of 2010 and actually might be the best Blind Guardian release to date.

Pick up At the Edge of Time at Amazon.

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Apocalyptica, 7th Symphony (Sony)
Apocalyptica baffles me a bit. Sure, at first when they released Plays Metallica by Four Cellos in 1996 they kind of appeared like a novelty act. But the one thing that was clear from the very start was that the four guys playing cello were damn good at what they did. That album sounded like four cellos playing metal.

As the years have gone by, they slowly stopped doing covers and the cellos started sounding even more like guitars. Then they started adding vocals around 2005. For 2007’s Worlds Collide album they had four songs with vocals as well as other various guest stars like Dave Lombardo (Slayer) on the album.

So now with 7th Symphony you notice right away that at least with the tracks made for radio, many of the traditional cello tones are gone. Pretty much everything sounds like a guitar at this point. Now, I give it up to Apocalyptica if they can turn a cello into a ripping guitar — I’m not denying how cool that is. But because of this, they no longer sound very unique.

”End of Me” features Gavin Rossdale on vocals and is actually an excellent track that sounds like old Bush at points, but I’m also a huge fan of Rossdale’s voice — so I may be biased. But then there’s songs featuring the lead singers of Shinedown and Flyleaf. They couldn’t possibly pick singers from bands any more generic than that.

”Bring Them To Light” features vocals from Joe Duplantier from Gojira. They recorded the song for Worlds Collide back in ’07 and neither of them liked it, so they went back and recorded it again. Sadly, it still isn’t very good making me wonder what the original sounded like. The place the group shines however are with instrumentals like ”Beautiful” and ”On the Rooftop with Quasimodo” which let the cellos design something special.

Overall, I’m positive rock fans will enjoy this immensely and I’m going to get totally flamed by Shinedown faithful now, but I’m just saddened that what made Apocalyptica so fresh and unique is fading more and more with each record they release. Maybe this will grow on me over time, but I can’t picture a moment where I’d head back to it over their earlier and more unique work. I think what I may do is take the five or six really great tracks from this one and mix them with the five or six really great ones from the previous record. A mini greatest hits. Sounds like a plan.

Go get 7th Symphony at Amazon now.

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Man’s Gin, Smiling Dogs (Profound Lore)
Man’s Gin is led by Erik Wunder of black metal band Cobalt. But you have to forget that when you start listening to Smiling Dogs. This isn’t being billed as metal (though if pushed, I think I could make a case for it) instead it’s probably somewhere between Tom Waits and Nick Cave. My wife actually picked up on a Pearl Jam (recent) feel as well, which isn’t far off.

With an upright bass, piano and a good mix between acoustic and electric guitars, Smiling Dogs has an alternative Americana vibe with some folk and southern rock mixed in for good measure. It’s a pretty dark and emotional record too. I keep getting the picture of the farmer sitting on porch with a brew in one hand just starring out over the pastures pondering the world in general with this record as the soundtrack but then also the guy running by him frantically as the world is collapsing around him.

The two parter ”Nuclear Ambition” is the highlight of the record with a slow electric guitar lick over lyrics about escaping the world being destroyed around you starting off part one and then transitioning into a ”fuck it, bring it on” rallying cry — ”The fear in your eyes says don’t go nowhere/I need to know where I can buy a drink/the [fear] in your eyes won’t get you somewhere/when it’s time to fist fuck everything…So blow it all down. Hallelujah! Hallelujah let it explode!”

Then there’s the perfect album ender to this look at the wasteland of America (”Doggamn”) which ends with a chant of ”Goddamn it/Aw, Goddamn it all” with a sad piano fading off to the end.

The whole Smiling Dogs album is an awesome, well-written, dark and deeply disturbing look at isolation, desolation and desperation that should be on the radar of metal fans even if it’s not the traditional rip your face off style. It’s an absolutely killer album.

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Shadowgarden, Ashen (Napalm)
Really, just like with epic power metal, the goth metal scene is a bit overexposed as well, so I’m pleasantly surprised that Shadowgarden’s debut album is so good.

Shadowgarden is the side project of doom metal band Draconian — formed by current Draconian singer Johan Ericson and former guitarist Andreas HindenÁ¤s, they also recruited the female voice of Draconian for this album as well. The cool thing about Shadowgarden is that it really sounds nothing like their other band.

Way too many metal artists dabble in other projects that sound so much like the main group that they spread their sound a little thin. But Shadowgarden takes a different approach and ditches the doom for goth metal. They maintain the darkness here but add a lot of symphonic elements to the mix creating a very memorable, melodic disc. Some tracks you get solely male vocals, so you get solely female vocals and others you get a nice mix of the two. From track to track it’s kind of exciting to see hear what’s coming next which is the way music should be.

Want some Shadowgarden? Amazon has ’em.

Tristania, Rubicon (Napalm)
More goth metal here from Napalm records here but this time it’s with mostly female vocals and while more operatic than Shadowgarden, also kind of rocks even harder.

The last Tristania album was released In 2007 and amazingly five of the seven members of the group don’t appear on this album. Most bands would have broken up if they had to replace five members including all three vocalists, but Tristania continues on and have possibly put out the best album of their career.

I certainly didn’t think Rubicon would be a big winner in my book thanks to my ”general rule” that female singers have never really done much for me, but new singer Mariangela Demurtas has a wonderfully beautiful voice that works incredibly well with their epic goth sound. On tracks like ”Patriot Games” all three vocalists sing (female, clean male, harsh male) which really makes for a unique sound.

The thing to note though is that while being dark and orchestral, the guitar riffs are pretty powerful (there’s a riff in ”The Passing” that’s just killer) therefore making the contrast between the light and the heavy very noticeable and quite cool. Tristania and Shadowgarden are a breath of fresh air to me as I listen to albums that crush my head in a vice. It’s nice to take it down a notch now and again. And if you choose to do that, start here.

Rubicon kicks ass and you can get the album at Amazon!

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City of Fire, City of Fire (Candlelight)
City of Fire is like the 800th band of Byron Stroud (Strapping Young Lad, Fear Factory, Caustic Thought, Tenet). With him are the other members of Caustic Thought and Fear Factory singer Burton C. Bell for this self-titled debut.

I kind of held off on this one a bit because I’ve never been a fan of Fear Factory but this is a damn fire, diverse album. City of Fire is filled with energy right from the opening licks but the energy varies from straight up rock, to groove metal, to even a slow psychedelic sound.

”Gravity” is a slow moving groover which could actually have a place on rock radio. Actually, ”Rising” would probably be the best chance they have at a true ”hit” song as that’s the most straightforward rock song on the disc. It’s got a ton of melody and fuck, it might be a sing along tune! ”Spirit Guide” kind of reminds me of early Alice in Chains and the album ends with a haunting song (”Rain”) that starts off as an acoustic ballad and slowly builds into a remarkable electric jam.

City of Fire is a really diverse band with a tight sound that you would expect from music veterans like this. It’s definitely worth a few spins.

City of Fire is available now over at Amazon.

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About the Author

Dave Steed

Dave Steed is all about music; 80's and metal to be exact. His iPod will shuffle from Culture Club to Slayer and he won't blink an eye. He's never heard Astral Weeks but thinks "Dazzey Duks" by Duice is the bomb. It's an odd little corner of the world he lives in.

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