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Baltimoore - Fanatical
Baltimoore - Kaleidoscope
Baltimoore - Ultimate Tribute
Baltimoore - X
Baker, Sean (The Sean Baker Orchestra) - Baker's Dozen
Barstool Philosophers, The - Sparrows
Behind The Curtain - Till Birth Do Us Apart
Bellas, George - Venomous Fingers
Bellas, George - The Dawn of Time
Beyond The Labyrinth - Castles In The Sand
Black Jester - Diary of A Blind Angel
Book of Reflections - s/t
Book of Reflections - Unfold The Future
Borealis - Fall From Grace
Box, Edward - Moonfudge
Brave - Searching for The Sun
Brave New World - Monsters
Byrd, James Atlantis Rising - Beyond The Pillars
Byrd, James Atlantis Rising - Crime of Virtuosity
Byrd - Flying Beyond The 9


Baltimoore - Fanatical
Lion Music
(2005)

Fanatical is Baltimoore's latest album. I believe this album is their 7th or 8th release for this veteran Hard Rock Scandinavian band. The previous album was totally filled with all classic and impresssive hard rock cover tunes, but this time Baltimoore returns to their own "true to the heart" approach melodic hard rock. A few other speedy and up-tempo tunes are really killer with bluesy vocal performance of Bjorn Lodin. Most tunes are solid, yet middium-tempo hard rockers. Songwriting is really peculiar and excellently performed. I think Fanatical album seems to be one of best start for people who have never heard or tried the music of Baltimoore. There are lots of shining moments on this album. Melodic, yet solid blues-hard rock music can be appealing to the fans of tasty hard rock music. I hope Baltimoore keeps making really excellent hard rock and melodic blues-based songs. Highly recommended for most hard rock fans who are into Scandinavian Melodic Rock scene in general. I have also enjoyed this new album from Baltimoore. Rock Hard!!!

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Baltimoore - Kaleidoscope
BLP Music
(2006)

Wow, I could never have imagined that Swedish veteran hard rocker Baltimoore would return with their triumphant 9th album so quick. One thing I was surprised to see is that Baltimoore has already left Lion Music, and their new album has been released from a new label called BLP Music. Unless I got a notification from Baltimoore's stuff, I would never know their finest new album's release. I always thought that the relationship between Lion Music and Baltimoore would have continued in the future, but I do not investigate their departure from the former label much futher, period. Okay, back to the review of Kaleidoscope, I think 'Kaleidoscope' is one of best works this Swedish group has ever accomplished. Once again, the new album contains really fine good-times solid hard rock tracks I tell you. Amazingly, I notice that Kaleidoscope features more exciting and better performance than their previous album, 'Fanatical'. I could say that Kaleidoscope has surpassed what they have done before. Stylistically, the music on Kaleidoscope has volcanic energy and strong performance reminding me a bit of Rainbow/Deep Purple. But, please do not get me wrong. They are not trying to be like British Hard Rock giants at all, rather they are searching their own rock style with fresh minds and straight-forwardness. Except for some songs in certain periods of 1990's, Baltimoore pulls off hard-driving honest hard rock performance without relying on keyboards or organs. Moreover, Baltimoore's music centers around the lead vocalist, Bjorn Lodin's bluesy, yet soulful vocal melodies. They do not change anything, and not interests toward fancy contemporary stuffs. Baltimoore proves that playing great hard rock tunes with truely honest feeling and emotion. In particular, the guitar player of Baltimoore provides really nice guitar solos and passionate phrasings I really enjoy. Never betray, never give up on passionate hard rock souls. I really think their approach and honesty since their early stages have paid off on this new one. Over many years, there are many bands disappearing from the hard rock scene. But thankfully and fortunately, Baltimoore has been always with us. In particular, the second half of this album is simply amazing and great to hear. Of course, there is no filler or boring moments for people are into hard rock, esp., Scandinavian hard rock fans. Probably, Baltimoore has been getting tighter and doing really good jobs nowadays. It's always amazing to see the veteran musicians from Sweden offer something fresh and stay to the true music. Highly recommended for melodic hard rock music fans. Baltimoore's new accomplishment, Kaleidoscope, rocks so hard and heavy!
[Baltimoore's website http://www.baltimoore.net/]

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Baltimoore - Ultimate Tribute
Lion Music
(2004)

If my memory is correct, Nikolo Kotzev used to get involved with this project, Baltimoore. Baltimoore has been very active in the melodic rock scene, since early 1990s. It seems that Baltimoore releases their albums constantly from their recent home, Lion Music. Ultimate Tribute is Baltimoore's latest album, but the title itself tells you that this is not actually brand-new album. Baltimoore pays homage to the bands and artists like AC/DC, Deep Purple, Rainbow, Jimi Hendrix, Thin Lizzy and Mountain to name a just a few on Ultimate Tribute. Well, I would not say Ultimate Tribute is much different from other tribute albums. In the case of Baltimorre, they have done their interpretation on each classic rock music with good efforts. Most songs featured on this album are familiar with anyone who is into hard rock. To my ears, their version of AC/DC, Rainbow, and Thin Lizzy tracks really stand out. On the other hand, their version of Jimi Hendrix is slightly different from what I want to expect. Overall, Baltimoore put their energy into each track with passions and hearts. Probably, Ultimate Tribute give them a fresh start for their next album.

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Baltimoore - X
BLP Music
(2006)

Wow, I am quite surprised again that Baltimoore are back with another fresh latest album 'X' along with a fantastic previous album 'Kaleidoscope' within an exactly same year..2006. Believe or not, Baltimoore led by their lead vocalist Bjorn Lodin are nowadays very productive and enthusiastic for polishing up their own hard rock compositions. Before delving into the Baltimoore's exciting latest release, let's take a look at the short story related to Baltimoore having dealed with a Japanese rock market during 90's (I hope it's enjoyable to look back the history of theirs). We Japanese thought Baltimoore had been known as the group that worked with Nikolo Kotzev as a member, who is a leader of the melodic HR/HM superb group Blazen Abbot (well, what I meant is that we used to be confused with the fact that Kotzev was a guest player or a full-time member of Baltimoore for a while...probably I assume he was just a special guest in a short stint). In those days, Zero Corporation had supported them to release a few full-length albums of Baltimoore domestically over here, so most Japanese rock fans had a chance to check out...At least, these two Baltimoore's albums released from Zero Corp. in the first half of 90's. However, obviously there was a 'turn of the tide'. Very few Japanese hard rock fans could not follow Baltimoore's recent works after the second half of 90's and during 2000's, because Zero Corporation could not provide much support for cd releases; eventually, Zero was out of business and its rock scene. Unfortunately, major rock music magazines could not afford giving some chances and spot-lights for their interviews to pick up the Baltimoore's imports releases, except for a few small review articles about recent Baltimoore's cds during 2000's. Okay putting aside history lesson a bit, going back to the review of X. As you see that, I'm really fortunate to get my hands on previous Baltimoore's finest works on 'Fanatic' and 'Kaleidoscope' that sounds really extraordinary hard rock music from Sweden. I'm very sure that Baltimoore never surrender the tough situation in the era of Nu-Metal and new kind of heavy rock. They rather keep performing truely honest hard rock music once again with great sound production. Just like previous album, 'X' also features really intense mid-tempo hard rock tunes, and also up-tempo faster tunes sounding really powerful and very enjoyable. There was a slightly line-up change on this album, but Bjorn Lodin's soaring vocals still dominate through the music of 'X'. Moreover, all musicians of Baltimoore perform competent and skillful with nice warm sounds. This new album definitely captures the passion and spirits of hard rock with solid grooves and tasty guitar-oriented tracks. If you ever miss the sounds of 70's and 80's hard rock or heavy rock music, here you can find enjoyments and heavy rock n' roll tracks. Again, Baltimoore have done another triumphant job on this new album. Now I see these musicians are unstoppable force. Anyway, this album is also quite hot and hard as much as their previous two albums. Highly recommended for Swedish hard rock fans. Just give a try this hot-burning rock album.
[official website: http://www.baltimoore.net/]
[MySpace: http://www.myspace.com/baltimoore]

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The Sean Baker Orchestra - Baker's Dozen
Lion Music
(2009)

The phrase like "Do not judge a book by the cover" came to mind, while listening to this music of Sean Baker Orchestra. An album cover of his second full-length has a kind of humorous attitude, so I assumed that this must have been a kind of unique alternative band or obscure prog band from United States; for instance, I imagined it would sound closer to Primus and Jane's Addition. Actually, the music showcased here on the cd does not sound anything like the mentioned groups. Musically, what this album offers would thrill the guitar maniacs getting into Shrapnel-type guitar shred most time. It's probably safe to describe that the style of Sean Baker Orchestra was inspired by Paul Gilbert (in the era of Racer X) and Cacophony. In addition, Sean Baker and his co. have mixed some contemporary technical guitar elements (like Haji's Kitchen) and recent solo works of James Murphy - with his original influences from Shrapnel guitar heroes to establish their original sounds and style. I would say it's become a kind of unique accomplished work.

From beginning to end, it features tons of technical shredding notes of guitar playing by Sean Baker most time. Additionally, it has also some guest musicians' spots including Joe Stump, Rusty Cooley, and Bruce Bouillet -- Of course, you remember he's the member of Racer X. The Michigan-based band's ensemble is very intense; and new cd "Baker's Dozen" is totally unrelenting, except for a few acoustic and clean sounding instrumental works. Speaking of the instrumentals, this one is indeed all instrumental guitar album. Sean Baker Orchestra focus on performing technical shreds, up-tempo and dynamic ensembles with lots of twists and turns. The nature of this cd is very aggressive; the arrangements of the group are nice and well-prepared. Unlike other guitar instrumental albums, the sounds of this U.S. group is very dense and quite heavy. To be honest, some people would find some difficulties to delve into the whole sounds if you encounter his music for the first time; the reason why is because of the dense sounds and its production -- particularly on the few tracks of the first half side. Nevertheless, it does not distract from listening enjyoments, as you carefully listen to this monsterous guitar album. I hope that subsequent listenings make you find the unique sounds and interesting approach from them.

If I have to find a few comparisons of Sean Baker Orchestra, it would be a Spanish guitarist Tony Hernando and Haji's Kitchen to name just a few. "Baker's Dozen" contains lots of powerful and intricate tracks, so I've delved into the music most time. Actually, it took many listens to digest, because lots of things are packed. Highlights of this album are "Steve's Blackout", "Pointdexter", and quite hilarious title yet complex elements featured on "Mike Varney's Mexican Vacation" (totally I love this track!). I wish all the best for Sean Baker and his band orchestrating intense and intricate heavy instrumentals. It might be difficult to get into his instrumental music in the beginning, but there are some hidden gems inside the cd. Congrats for the accomplishment on the latest album.

[official website: http://www.theseanbakerorchestra.com/]
[MySpace: http://www.myspace.com/theseanbakerorchestra]

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The Barstool Philosophers - Sparrows
Independent Release
(2009)

Previously, this webpage has introduced and reviewed various talented prog rock/metal bands from the Netherlands. In recent years, I personally enjoy their musical compositions and ambitious instrumental prowess. Everyone who is very familiar with both prog & metal scene of the Netherlands knows that the groups from the Netherlands are mostly excellent with great musicianship and songwriting skills, so it's always great for me to find out new progressive metal groups out there. Here is a new great discovery once again from the Netherlands for you! The Barstool Philosophersfrom Almero are one of new candidates to join the club of excellent Dutch prog and metal groups. It was just a coincidence to get to know their music through YouTube page. The trailer from 'Sparrows' on that page totally grabbed my attention. Eventually, I had a chance to get my hands on their cd (a big thank you for the help of guitarist Ivo Poelman). Since then, I've kept listening to their cd for several months until finishing up the review. This album is definitely a winner and emotional rollercoaster ride with tons of feelings.

The Barstool Philosophers feature the rhythm section who have previously performed for excellent prog metal group Symmetry and keyboadist Rene Kroon (Sun Caged); thus, my expectation toward this new band was obviously getting quite high. Even though the members of this Dutch group are recognized as proficient and skilled prog metal musicians in ProgPower scene, they do not sound similar to the bands mentioned above. Musically, what they're mostly aiming at is a cross between hard edged prog metal sounds ("Dreamscape" and "Eyes Show The Heart") and somewhat symphonic rock atmospheres ("Lies"). There are some pounding beats, uptempo and great variety of rhythm with huge sounds (for instance "Afterglow" and "Silence").

Yes, the production of this album is immaculate and very warm, even though the concept story of 'Sparrows' cd is quite dark and heavy. Ex-members of Symmetry pull off really tasty rhythmic works and great passages. This band never puts the emphasis on mind-boggling shreds and technical instrumental plays that most prog metal bands tend to showcase. I think the good melodies and songwriting abilities are much more important for them. In fact, this approach fits in this group efficiently. From beginning to end, what this group has achieved on this album is really intriguing and impressive to the listener. As you get into their music very closely, there would be some similar ingredients of what Symmetry and Sun Caged are good at. The involvement of Rene Kroon (keyboards), excellent bass player Bas Hoebink and extraordinary drummer Martin Kuipers help to bring this album to a higher level in every level. Indeed, those players have done great job. A few years ago, I already praised the instrumental prowess of Symmetry. The performance of Hoebink's bass grooves and nimble fingerings is awesome. Superb drumming with great precision by Kuipers is totally stunning and enjoyable for someone who is into great rhythm section. Besides these members, guitarist Ivo Poelman's performance also shines solid guitar works, yet he shows some memorable guitar solos and lets loose interesting melodic phrasings on the cd. To my ears, Mr. Poelman's best performance can be heard on the tracks like "Fallen Angels" and "Endless Seasons" in my point of view. Interestingly, lead singer Leon Brouwer's vocal timbre and performance surprisingly remind me of Geoff Tate of Queensryche and David Bowie. But don't get me wrong; he has his own characters and great vocal ranges to deliver the goods.

This Netherland-based group might not be identified a typical prog metal band in the scene; nevertheless, their musical prowess and instrumental performance are really appealing to my tastes. The entire cd on 'Sparrows' convinces me that what this group has accomplished here is magnificent and fantastic. This cd surely requires the listener to spend times to digest and dig the music deeper. As I listen to it closely with several spins, it gives me some kind of goosebamps and new discoveries every time. Overall, the entire music on the cd is very emotional and dramatic. Somewhat, it gives me some ponder thoughts about the human relationship; in particular, the break-up between husband and wife. It's very difficult to imagine what divorce or break-up of the precious bonds within a couple would be. I could guess it's really hard and horrible to deal with.

The theme of the music is very serious one, but this Dutch group has done a really great job to convey such emotions with great sounds and musicial textures, when the listener listen and read the lyrics carefully. As for the band's performance, I am absolutely mesmerized and impressed very much. The production is really wonderful for this kind of progressive and symphonic hard music. Additionally, it has lots of heavy and hard elements with intricate partts that I really enjoy. Personally, the first half of the cd intrigues me a lot. But the second half of this album has also their own characteristics and great instrumental performance. Yeah, all members of this group are fantastic musicians to express their feelings with great musical ideas. So far, this cd has given me a great impression. Definitely, the cd of The Barstool philosophers is one of my favorite albums this year. If you are into the bands like Fates Warning, Queensryche, Marillion, and Jadis, it definitely appeals to your musical tastes. My favorite tracks of this album are "Afterglow", "Silence", "Lies", "Dreamscape", "Eyes Show The Heart" and "Endless Seasons" in particular. Highly recommended for both prog metal and symphonic hard rock fans. I really look forward to their new offering in the future. Congratulations for making a great album.

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Behind The Curtain - Till Birth Do Us Apart
Sensory
(1999)

Many talented prog metal bands get exposed all around the world in 1990s, since the success of Dream Theater and Queensryche. Mostly, we classified four schools of prog metal, such as Dream Theater, Queensryche, Fates Warning, and Psychotic Waltz. Now, I would like to investigate the sound and style of Behind The Curtain from Denmark. Behind The Curtain seems to be fitting in the style of Psychotic Waltz prog metal with dark and original touch. They tend to play dark and dense music with lots of intricacies and complex aspects. The vocalist of Behind The Curtain is not a really typical prog metal singer like Dream Theater and Fates Warning at all. His style is more like in the combination of gothic rock, new wavey, and atmospheric metal. The instrumentaion on this album is relatively guitar/keyboard oriented prog metal sounds and semi-complex driving rhythms influenced by Psychotic Waltz with dark orchestration and intricate arrangements. I really enjoy heavy guitar sounds and swirling synth/keyboard works. There are lots of Dream Theater/Fates Warning types bands we have found out. In the case of Behind The Curtain, they seem to pick up what Psychotic Waltz have left off, and develop their own materials. Highly original and complex prog metal with Danish original touch. I really expect something interesting they will create in the future. Unusual compositions and soundscapes have been displayed, so very interesting indeed.

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George Bellas - Venomous Fingers
Lion Music
(2003)

To me, it is been a quite long time since I checked out George Bellas' music for the first time. His first album, "Turn of New Millenium" released from Shrapnel Records was a kind of new neo-classical/prog metal sensation for me. After several years went by, now I got his brand-new cd, "Venomous Fingers". This albums' title seem to sum up what George Bellas has been striving for. Surprisingly, this is recorded and performed by almost George himself. However, it sounds quite full and really energetic neo-classical burning instrumental. Astonishingly, this album contains all 15 instrumental tracks. George Bellas puts his soul and energy into his neo-classical metal music from the beginning. Since he released his solo album, I have heard that he also had been helping out for his Shrapnel label mates like Vitalij Kuprij and Mogg/Way along his solo projects. I assume that the reason why he released a new album from Lion Music is that he had already left Shrapnel Records, due to his decision. Anyway, Venomous Fingers feature the music that die-hard neo-classical prog power metal fans would love to . Of course, the epicenter of his music is shred and fast guitar performance of George Bellas. Astonishingly, very fast fingerings and picking are all over the place. At the same time, he arranged uniquely odd-times and frequent tempo changes with orchestrated keyboard sounds. Basically, Venomous Fingers would be a continuation of what he had done on Turn of New Millenium, but more solid and controled. If other guest musicians helped out for this album, Venomous Fingers would sound much different. Nevertheless, George handled everything in detail to keep neo-classical flavored metal music alive and burning enough. Venomous Fingers is a must item for shred guitar fans who also love odd-times and tempo changed with keyboard orchestration.

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Bellas, George - The Dawn of Time
Lion Music
(2010)

The guitarist George Bellas is not unfamiliar among neo-classical shred guitar fans all around the globe. George Bellas constantly yet aggressively releases his new musical offerings to fulfill the appetites of neo-classical instrumental fans. His previous album 'Step Into The Future' was also a quite ambitious guitar instrumental album -- that has only one long instrumental number -- with some modern compositional approach. On the new album 'The Dawn of Time', he has slightly emphasized accessible and straightforward songwriting approach over technical shred side. Of course, he has never abandoned his shred guitar performance that most neo-classical guitar fans demand, so nothing to worry about it. Just like his recent solo works and his own project, all guitars/bass/keyboards are performed by Bellas himself. However, all drumming parts are handled by extraordinaire and highly advanced drummer Marco Minnemann once again. The addition of Marco Minnemamn is very interesting in terms of rhythmic approach. The Dawn of Time would be one of George Bellas' straightforward releases in his career; but this album also includes some complex arrangments and furious guitar solos with very progressive instrumentations - especially you could hear these things on the first half of the cd. My favorite numbers of this album are: progressively arranged title track "The Dawn of Time" and impressively performed "Electromagnetic" to name but a few. Probably, the approach George Bellas takes on this new album might not be far away from his previous work Venomous Finger released in 2003. However, this album rather showcases unique combinations of intricate guitar-oriented ideas with proggy keyboard-oriented parts. In my honest views, the first half of this album impresses me quite a lot, because of such intensities and intricacies generated by the performances of both George Bellas and fantastic drummer Marco Minnemann. On the other hand, I notice that the middle part or latter part of this album might not instantly click the listener due to the instrumental numbers that are too dominant with atmospheric sounds and keyboard arrangements. Should I mention that George Bellas usually releases all instrumental cds without any vocals -- excluding some exceptions like Palace Terrace? In any way, the entire performance on the cd sounds quite interesting if you are into the style of George Bellas for many years. The Dawn of Time once again proves that George Bellas can not be easily categorized as a typical neo-classical shredmeister, yet his compositional approach with intricate guitar playing and progressive arrangments is reallly refreshing. All I could say is that it is definitely difficult to absorb the instrumentals of Mr. Bellas with a casual listening session, so just take time to digest his music with some details.

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Beyond The Labyrinth - Castles In The Sand
Incommunicado Label
(2008)

Castles In The Sand is the second full-length album of classic rock/metal group Beyond The Labyrinth. On this website, you do not normally find the articles about the band or group originally from Belgium; however, I do not have any doubts that the country of Belgium has also some talented musicians and enthusiastic groups to show their offerings to the world scene. This time I am really excited to add the review of Beyond The Labyrinth. The Belgian metal/rock group led by a main composer Geert Fieuw (guitar/keyboards/midi-programming) offers something special and ambitious on this cd. As I browse the band's official website and read their information sheet given, Geert mentions that it took 11 years to write this concept album, another 10 months of preparation, 9 musicians and 3 months to record it.... Finally, here is their latest album on my hands. Indeed, all members of this Belgian group put their all energy and soul into this magnus opus for more than a decade; it is worthwhile to listen entirely with nice melodic performance. This album showcases quite bombastic band ensemble with nice European sensibilities reminding you of prog metal, neo-prog and classic rock feelings.

Perhaps, you might imagine the concept album seems difficult to enjoy and digest unless you are into symphonic rock/progressive genre. But you do not have to worry about it too much. Between the songs is very cohesive, each track is well-made; the length of a song is not very long and memorable enough to give your attention while listening. As I stated above, the nature of this cd is based on the concept story written by a guitarist Geert Fieuw. I do not think it's instantly grabbing you right away. Most listeners have to pay attention to the words and lyrical messages on the album. The music of eCastles In The Sandfis not mind-bogglingly complex nor intricate, but the listener should take several spins to embrace the entire world of Beyond The Labyrinth. After spinning this cd many times, I come to realize that each track has its own character to draw the listener into the cinematic feel and emotions of what the main character is going through. Of course, that's merely my personal observation after having heard of this album. It pays off your listening efforts as you consitently keep coming back to the music.

To me, it's not easy somehow to categorize the music of Beyond The Labyrinth. What this group perform on the cd sounds relatively heavy, yet dramatic in most parts. For someone, the excellent prog metal bands like Savatage, Threshold, and Eternity X come to mind in a positive way, of course. Please do not get me wrong; they are not copying thier predecessors. They managed to create their own sounds with some hints from melodic prog metal. I am quite impressed with hard driving tunes and synth/keyboard orchstration quite well. As the band plays heavy and powerfully pumping tunes like gDraining My Energyh and its dramatic title track gCastles In The Sandsh featuring incredible synth solo of Danny Focke and Geert Fieuw's intense guitar soloing, those songs could definitely appeal to the listener who is into both prog metal and heavier neo-prog bands. However, they do not go into technical-oriented metal style most time to sacrifice melodies and catchy refrains. In other words, they put the emphasis on song-oriented approach over technical interplays or complex adventures. At the same time, I understand that each member of Beyond The Labyrinth is a skilled and competent musician, and they know when to let loose their skills or not.

There are some interesting intricate moments and great intensity within their music, whenever they put the guitar sounds and pounding drum works to the up-front. If you are very into any typical progressive metal bands performing tons of odd-time beats and radical tempo changes, you would miss the point. Anyway, the song structure is relatively staightforward and not really complex, but the music of Beyond The Labyrinth has some sheer energy to hold the listner being entertained in many places. Okay then, what about the vocalist doing in this latest album? Jo De Broeck's vocal performance is impressive enough to convey the lyrical messages and delive most inner-feelings from beginning to end. His vocal timbres remind me of a cross between Rob Sowden (Arena) and Jon Oliva (Savatage/Trans-Siberian Orchestra) for some reason; but, of course, it is in a good way. In his own capacity, Broek sings relative ease with having a good confidence.

What an emotional roller coaster ride this is! With additional listens, the album of eCastles In The Sandfkeeps giving a listener new discovery and some treasure in the song, and within the band's performance. But honestly, I confess it took about a week to have a full satisfaction from the album. For the first listening experience, I tried very hard to hear something bombastic and very technical in the band ensemble; because I had a wrong assumption that they would be another fine complex prog metal band. It was completely wrong listening approach, haha. Anyway, having heard the cd several times, I put aside that particular assumption to concentrate on their songs for the sheer enjoyment. Nowadays, it grows on me better and better. I'm glad that they've found out their own voice and original music approach with movie-like atmospheres and dramatic metal performance not often relying on typical prog metal approach. It's a bit challenging to hear without technical side at first in my case, but the music of Beyond The Labyrinth speaks externally and internally. Congratulations for making this nice metal sounds with a future classic rock vibes on the cd. If you are the listener who is keen to melodic sensibility and hard-edge filled sounds with neo-prog and prog metal influences, it's definitely and highly recommended album to check out.

[official website]: http://www.beyond-the-labyrinth.com/
[MySpace]: http://www.myspace.com/beyondthelabyrinth

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Black Jester - Diary of a Blind Angel
WMMS
(1992)

One of better WMMS Prog Metal bands. Some people said the vocalist of Black Jester is very weak. In my case, his vocal is ok, not terrible to my ears. Overall, their style is very symphonic proggier metal with intricate ensembles and lots of guitar/key solos. I enjoy this album so much. Perhaps, the sound production need to be improved. Anyway, well-done.

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Book of Reflections - s/t
Lion Music
(2004)

In these recent years, Lion Music has been releasing many unique new albums played by excellent musicians and quality bands. I have been totally impressed with Lion Music's current release rush. I wonder when they are taking breaks. I would say it is really outragious and outstanding efforts done by Lion Music camp. Anyway, Book of Reflection is one of their recent releases which have caught my attention a bit, due to various quality musicians getting involved in this project. The participating musicians, such as, Hubi Meisel, Andy Engberg, Rusty Cooley, and Vitalij Cuprij, etc., show magnificent music performance on Book of Reflection. Mainly, this project got started by Lion Music president, Lars Eric Mattson. Therefore, the music of Book of Reflections is somewhat similar to his other projects like Mattson and Condition Red, however it is much more straight-forward style, and neo-classical symphonic power metal than his progressive metal works. To be honest, I have a bit of mixed feeling toward this album, Book of Reflections. From my honest point of view, there might have some other reasons that keep me from convincing very much, although the musicianship is quite superb, esp., on guitar sections and keyboard parts. I really like the songs getting involved with vocal performances of Hubi Meisel and Andy Engberg. In addition, nice instrumentaion of Lars, Rusty Cooley, and Vitalij are nice treat. Nevertheless, I have stumbled upon a couple of speedy paced tunes without much variety on the rhythm section. What I really like about Mattson-related works is because of some intense progressive parts on his (their) releated works. Unlike his previous progressive metal works, I hardly find anything intricate or crazy progressive sections.

Perhaps, I would say this is a straight version of Mattson meets early days' Symphony X a bit. Although my opinion about this is representing as prog metal fan or not, the fans who enjoy complex metal or proggy insrumental music might need such intricate ingredients that intrigue you during listening the cd. Well, on the other hand, if this music is aimed for the fans of neo-classical power metal with speed and solidness, then I might have to withdraw my complaints a bit. Overall, I need to give it up to Lasse and the musicians of Lion Music label who has done their another achievement on music side and production-wise. In fact, I am quite happy to hear Vitalij's keyboard sounds getting updated and having fascinating synth lead works. Congrats to Vitalij's works, and also talented Lasse handling both guitars and synth/keyboard pretty nice. Hopefully, next time Book of Reflection needs to polish up a bit of the songwriting parts to cultivate potential listeners more.

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Book of Reflections - Unfold The Future
Lion Music
(2006)

This is the latest album from Book of Reflections lead by Lion Music's mainman Lars Eric Mattson (hi, Lasse). He's been constantly releasing his project's new album every year. This seems hellva task to do both managing a famous instrumental/progressive metal label Lion Music and making new music. However, he's done so far pretty good I think. On this new album (counting as the second full-length album), there are lots of up-tempo progressive power metal tracks and brooding heavy mid-tempo oriented songs reminding me of an enegetic Artension and Italian prog metal group Falling Times. However, Book of Reflection have their own idetities and shred guitar solos of Lars Eric Mattson and some guest spots by a great Netherland-based guitarist Anand Mahangoe of Sphere of Souls. Besides impressive guest players like Anand, most main vocals have been handled by Bjorn Jansson from Tears of Anger and Tomorrow's Eve singer Martin LeMar. Of course, it works big time and these unique vocalists that add different dimentions and new bloods into the entire group. Stylistically, the music on Unfold The Future features accessible and melodic tunes with immediate punch and less predictable performance. Yeah, I think several tracks could be very similar to what other Lasse's prog metal projects like Condition Red and Mattson had done previously. Esp., the coral sitar featured songs sometimes sound a bit identical in my opinion. But it's really good idea to showcase great talents and excellent calibre from Lion Music fellows like Anand and Mistheria (what a nice Jens-like neo-classical shred keyboard solos, simply burning!). Overall, I enjoyed straight-forward approach of melodic powerful metal tunes with nice vocal performance and dramatic keyboard solos on Book of Reflection's new music. Probably, it might take several listens to fully enjoy this. Lasse with his top-notch prog metal friends did it again!

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Borealis - Fall From Grace
Lion Music
(2011)

One of most talked about ProgPower Metal bands in 2011. 'Fall From Grace' is the second full length album of Borealis. Canadian band have obviously received a great feedback from everywhere since the release of new album. According to the information page on the website, their live performance of ProgPower USA in 2011 captured the hearts of enthusiastic melodic power metal fans at the venue of Georgia, Atlanta. Obviously, my expectation toward Borealis was quite high before listening to their newest cd. Indeed, the sound production is superbly crystal clear and warm. The entire ensemble of Borealis on this cd is quite energetic and huge with immediate punches. All performance of the band including intricate fast guitar leads, synth solos and soaring lead vocals sounds really fine and solid; however I admit this album does not always convince me and intrigue me for a long time. Subsequent listens do not help me to get into the most numbers showcased on 'Fall From Grace'. After giving more than several spins, the second half of this album finally gets me hooked. Once again, I have to be honest to say that the second album of Borealis does not always excite me, in particular on the first half of this new album. It's pretty strange to say this, because this cd has lots of really nice intricate guitar solos and great sounding synth/keyboard arrangements. Overall, the entire music of Borealis on the cd does not intrigue me deeply. Maybe, I usually expect and demand something intricate and frequent rhythm changes with twists and turns while listening to the genre of prog metal. That's why I could not be into the album of 'Fall From Grace'; esp., the first half of the cd somewhat sounds too straight-forward to my ears. Well, I'm pretty honest about how I've felt after having listened to this cd with my intense attention. Overall, the second half of this album has lots of great instrumental parts and unique ideas with nice melodic sensibilities. I'm kind of sorry to say that my verdict on this cd is a kind of critical one, however what they have performed here with great sound-production would definitely appeal to the fans of melodic powerful metal with the edge of prog power. Unfortunately, all numbers of 'Fall From Grace' do not always intrigue me big time.

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Edward Box - Moonfudge
Lion Music
(2006)

Second album from one of finest U.K. guitar players. This was my first time to check out his music, but my impression about Edward Box's guitar performance and compositions on Moonfudge is really pleasant. Obviously, he is in the same league of all quality instrumentalists on Lion Music. Interestingly, Edward's music somehow gives me the impression of what quality 80's instrumentalists and melodic hard rock musicians have done. More precisely, I'd say that his music is updated version of what Eddie Van Halen and John Sykes of Blue Murder have done. But please do not get me wrong. Edward himself is a really talented guitarist and composer to make his own music with some influences from 80's and 90's rock music, so he is not merely borrowing everything from his predecessors. Neither does he rely on what others have done. On the album of 'Moonfudge', Edward Box showcases his incredible guitar chops and melodic phrasings with lots of emotions and passions. On the surface level, some people might draw the conclusion that 'this has been done before' guitar music. In my opinion, I would not agree with them. He takes melodic rock instrumental music to a new level with this own unique ideas and great sound-production. Definitely, his second album, 'Moonfudge', would capture the heart of someone who is into the music like Van Halen and Blue Murder. Moonfudge album gives me a fresh breeze. It's really nicely done. Congrats for quality instrumental rock music, Edward. According to the info, he's also playing for his rock/metal group in the U.K.. I wish I'd like to hear his group works as well in the future. I would sense that U.K.'s instrumental scene has been really active and interesting nowadays. Keep an eye on U.K. rock and metal scene, folks.

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Brave - Searching for the Sun
Dark Symphonies
(2002)

Probably, this album is their second release. Wow, I did not expect this band played solid melodic rock music with female lead vocals. How do I compare their sound? Well, at glance, a few other tunes from Searching for the Sun have some kind of Vanden Plas/Headline esque melodic approach, but Brave made softer version of what Vanden Plas and Headline would do with some melodic 90s touch. Sound production is pretty good, and the way they have played is really solid. I thought this band was kind of gothic rock band, but my guess was wrong in a good way. Esp., Michelle Loose's singing approach remind me of female 90's singers a la Paula Cole. Although I mentioned a few prog metal bands for comparion, Brave is not doing prog metal music at all. Just their melodic approach on music is kind of similar, so please do not get confused with their music which does not sound like Vanden Plas at all. Some hard edge guitar pop up, but basically their sounds are melodic and soft with dynamic approach. If you look for some softer melodic rock with 90s approach, then Brave's Searching For The Sun is worthwhile to check out.

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Brave New World - Monsters
Lion Music
(2005)

Although I really do not get impressed with the artwork of this album, Brave New World surprisingly play quite catchy melodic hard rock with slightly heavier edge bordering metal. Wow, I am very fascinated with their ensemble and catchy melodies. According to the information on Lion Music website, this band was born from the ashes of the band called Passion Street. Probably, the fans who wept the split of Passion Street will find a great joy, if they encounter Brave New World. In my opinion, I think this band knows how to mix nice keyboard sounds and heavy edge guitars. I do not know where exactly they come from, but this European acts perform really solid and rocking quire well. All 9 songs are quite enjoyable to listen for all ordinary melodic rock fans. I think a few other songs from Monsters have quite impressive guitar and keyboard solos as well. I strongly believe that all AOR/melodic hard rock fans who are into keyboard/guitar dual sounds must not pass this band away. Congratulations for hard work and impressive songs. I hope the name of Brave New World has to be spread out well in the scene of melodic rock and AOR music. Recommended for melodic rock fans all over the world. Nicely done.

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Byrd, James Atlantis Rising - Beyond The Pillars
Lion Music
(2011)

James Byrd's Atlantis Rising is the group I have been really impressed, since I encountered his music since early 1990's. Of course, metal enthusiasts who are keen to the scene of 1980's U.S. Power Metal and Neo-Classical Metal have recognized the name of James Byrd, because of his lyrical and extraordinaire impressive guitar works on Fifth Angel and his projects. I was wondering what U.S. guitarist James Byrd had been doing in recent years. He has been working busy since he established his own guitar company in the area of Seattle, if my memory is correct about his recent information. Well, actually 'Beyond The Pillars' is not a brand-new album of James Byrd's Atlantis Rising, but this offering is a kind of their demo version of their first album previously released from Shrapnel Records during 1990. Yet, this album also features previously unreleased materials and original demo version of several songs that sound slightly different from the version of Shrapnel release. All songs included on "Beyond The Pillars" were discovered from the archives of James Byrd. Amazingly, these materials still sound very strong and fascinating to the listeners who cherishes the great sounds of late 80's and early 90's melodic metal with European influences. Nowadays, their original first album of James Byrd's Atlantis Rising has been kind of rare to find out in your local record store. All numbers of this album sound very raw in the nature of demo version, so you could say this may not be considered as a complete album unless you never checked out original Shrapnel released album. But this album would be appealing to someone like me who missed the moods and lyrical atmospheres that Atlantis Rising used to obtain in the early 90's. If you definitely miss the passion and heavy sounds of Fifth Angel and James Byrd's great guitar solos with European hard rock/metal elements, this album would intrigue you big time. It's really a great pleasure to discover the charms of very original intentions and structures before the first Atlantis Rising cd was out, even though the overall sounds of 'Beyond The Pillars' are kind of very raw. In fact, the early directions and approach before being polished as Shrapnel version on the most number sound very fascinating in my honest opinion. Maybe, it might be a bit difficult decision for James Byrd side to release this album as a new product, but I'm very glad that Atlantis Rising finally gave a go to release it. One of very fascinating archival and retrospect metal music that have been out lately.

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Byrd, James Atlantis Rising - Crime of Virtuosity (remastered)
Lion Music
(2005)

Finally, the latest album of Atlantis Rising is available as remastered version. As you know that James Byrd is known as one of important U.S. guitar players. If I am not mistaken, James Byrd started his career as a member of legendary melodic U.S. metal band Fifth Angel. Since he left Fifth Angel, he has been playing for his solo careers and his band projects, such as Atlantis Rising and James Byrd Group. I remember back in early 90s, I found out James Byrd's Atlantis Risings's self-title debut full-length album. I was totally blown away by his great guitar performance and tones with dramatic neo-classical and European-sounding elegant melodic metal music of Atlantis Rising. I am not sure how long Atlantis Rising's first album has been available from Shrapnel Records, but I still enjoy listening to Atlantis Rising's music on their first one. Ok, I'd like to make a story very short. After releasing 1st album of Atlantis Rising, 2nd works called Crimes of Virtuosity was originally released in 90s later. Unfortunately, Crimes of Virtuosity had been temporarily available in the forms of Japanese imports, so it was considered as one of hardest items to find out. But thanks to Lion Music and James Byrd's contract renewals! It's been available if you are seriously looking forward to hearing Crime of Virtuosity's remastered version. My impression about Crime of Virtuosity has been a little bit complex. I was expecting the extension of cystal clear dramatic neo-classical flavored melodic HR/HM album of Atlantis Rising's 1st. Crime of Virtuosity has the influences from Rainbow/Deep Purple and some bluesy heavy rock sounds. Yeah, I mean musically Byrd has performed gourgeously with his band mates. Probably, in the course of some years after 1st album got released, Atlantis Rising's musical direction has totally changed. Although I miss the vibes and atmospheres of their previous works, the music of Crime of Virtuosity has more bold and huge rock sounds with lava-like energy, esp., from James' guitar tones and phrasings. I have come to realize that I should not look for the sounds I want. Putting aside my nostalgic desires in his early 90s sounds, Crime of Virtuosity features really great instrumentations and more 70s influenced rock energy. Of course, there have furious neo-classical burns and great band efforts. After all, I really enjoy listening to this remastered version of Crime of Virtuosity. Yes, overall the sound production of this album is much better than 1st album. I respect James Byrd's musical direction on this one, and thanks for releasing this album during the middle of 2K5. I believe Crime of Virtuosity has been one of James's important achievements.

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Byrd - Flying Beyond The 9
Lion Music
(2001)

BYRD is a new project of ex.FIFTH ANGEL/ATLANTIS RISING's lead guitarist, James Byrd. This band also features guest musicians like Brian Hutchison (keyboard/bass/drums/backing vocals) and Michael James Flatters (lead vocals). James Byrd himself has conitunously been making quality music since 1980s until nowadays through 90s. "Flying Beyond The 9" album seems to be a continuation of his endeavors for melodic neo-classical hard rock/metal. What impresses me mostly is emotional guitar playings and occasional hot-burning guitar shreds of James Byrd himself on this album. His latest new album, Flying Beyond The 9, is mostly vocal-oriented melodic hard rock with elements of symphonic metal touch, bit of AOR-ness which sometimes ventured into West-Coast catchier moments reminding me of Beach Boys on the title track for one of exceptions, and occupying neo-classical atmospheres on some songs. Perhaps, people who wish James Byrd to play the style of earlier dramatic metal music a la FIFTH ANGEL and ATLANTIS RISING might have mixed feeling about Flying Beyond The 9. In the beginning, I expected this album sounds kind of close to ATLANTIS RISING, JAMES BYRD GROUP, and his previous solo work including A Son of Man. But obviously new offering has different sounds from any other work he has done. His guitar playing is always tasty and emotional with great energy. Michael James Flatters is really fantastic singer who is able to sing comfortably and powerful from middium ranges to higher ranges (If my memory is correct, he had worked as a lead vocalist of HEIR APPARENT). Keyboard playings by Brian Hutchinson support James Byrd to create background foundation to enhance symphonic and melodic atmospheres on this album. Some parts of the album remind me a bit of symphonic metal tastes like ROYAL HUNT, esp., keyboard sounds and string patches. Nevertheless, Brian Hutchinson never let loose his skills irrelevantly, so do not expect him play like Andre Andersen of ROYAL HUNT even though I mentioned the name like ROYAL HUNT. Basically, entire music of Flying Beyond The 9 gives me the impression of a bit laid back and relaxed feeling of neo-classical flavored melodic hard rock without going too much complex, faster & high energy shred sounds, and technical ensemble. On the other hand, It is well orchestrated and arranged with occasional burning hot guitar attacks in the control by James Byrd to sound symphonic enough. My favorite tracks are "Dark Heart", "Avianti Suite Op.1 No.63" reminds me of fine Yngwie-style tune, "W.T.O.(We Took Over)" which sounds a bit of progressive and epic, and "Nevermore" (intro part of organ sounds on this tune is pretty nice and gothic).
[http://www.jamesbyrd.com]
[Byrd, C/O Strange Partical Productions P.O. Box 8370 Kirkland, WA 98034]

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