Song of the Day: See Who I Am (by Within Temptation)


within-temptation

Symphonic metal stalwarts Within Temptation was first introduced to me not by resident metal expert necromoonyeti, but through an anime music video first witnessed at Anime Expo 2010. The video was “Alchanum” and while the anime used, Fullmetal Alchemist, was entertaining enough it was the song used that hooked me in. That song and the latest “Song of the Day” is “See Who I Am” from Within Temptation’s full-length album The Silent Force.

From that moment forward I’ve been an ardent follower of Within Temptation. There’s just something about the melding of metal and that of an orchestral symphony that just makes perfect sense. I’m more than satisfied with the raw, brutal, speed and guttural melodies of what many outsiders consider heavy metal (how wrong they can be), but symphonic metal just does it for me.

And for those who think heavy metal (and all it’s many subgenres) are all about angry dues with long, unwashed hair or tatted up to no end should be surprised to see that Within Temptation’s singer is a classically-trained mezzo-soprano by the name of Sharon den Adel.

See Who I Am

Is it true what they say?
Are we too blind to find a way?
Fear of the unknown
Clouds our hearts today.

Come into my world,
See through my eyes.
Try to understand,
Don’t want to lose what we have.

We’ve been dreaming
But who can deny?
It’s the best way of living
Between the truth and the lies.

See who I am,
Break through the surface.
Reach for my hand,
Let’s show them that we can
Free our minds and find a way.
The world is in our hands,
This is not the end.

Fear is withering the soul
At the point of no return.
We must be the change we wish to see.

I’ll come into your world,
See through your eyes.
I’ll try to understand,
Before we lose what we have.
See who I am,
Break through the surface.
Reach for my hand,
And show them that we can
Free our minds and find a way.
The world is in our hands
This is not the end.

We just can’t stop believing
Because we have to try.
We can rise above their truth and their lies.

See who I am,
Break through the surface.
Reach for my hand,
Let’s show them that we can
Free our minds and find a way.
The world is in our hands.
See who I am,
Break through the surface.
Reach for my hand,
And show them that we can
Free our minds and find a way.
The world is in our hands.

This is not the end.

I hear their silence
Preaching my blame.
Will our strength remain
If their power reigns?

See who I am,
Break through the surface.
Reach for my hand,
And show them that we can
Free our minds and find a way.
The world is in our hands.
See who I am,
Break through the surface.
Reach for my hand,
And show them that we can
Free our minds and find a way.
The world is in our hands.

This is not the end.

AMV of the Day: Moonlight Requiem (Sailor Moon Crystal)


moonlight-requiem

It’s almost that time of the years when Through the Shattered Lens switches gears and goes into full dark fantasy and horror. While there will be the smattering posts that doesn’t dabble in all things dark and scary, it’s a month that’s become a yearly tradition and one that several writers on-site seem to enjoy. Though no one enjoys October at Through the Shattered Lens more than co-founder Lisa Marie Bowman. She’s the dark mother to all the writers at the site.

While it’s still not that month of darkness here’s a small taste of the sort of dark themes many of the posts will end up having during October.

The latest AMV of the Day comes courtesy of video creator Chiisus. The video manages to take the dark aspect of what too many outsiders to the anime scene as a light and kiddy cartoon: Sailor Moon Crystal.

This particular amv (anime music video) is titled Moonlight Requiem and combines the more dark fantasy side of Sailor Moon Crystal with the symphonic metal band’s Within Temptation and the melodic vocalizing of it’s frontman Sharon den Adel. The song chosen by Chiisus is one that many other amv creators have used in the past: “See Who I Am.” In fact, it’s the song to one of my all-time favorite anime music video: “Alchanum” by Rider4Z.

This time the song is used for Sailor Moon Crystal and, boy, if the song doesn’t fit in well with the scenes chosen for the video.

Anime: Sailor Moon Crystal

Song: “See Who I Am” by Within Temptation

Creator: Chiiisus

Past AMVs of the Day

Review: Blind Guardian – Beyond the Red Mirror


If Blind Guardian are not by now regarded with the sort of reverence generated by Metallica or Iron Maiden, it is a crime against heavy metal. Formed slightly before I was born, they might be the longest tenured band in existence that still carry extraordinarily high expectations. No one realistically expects a band to stay at the peak of their inspiration for thirty years, but Blind Guardian are the exception. They’ve never shown their age or wavered towards mediocrity. Does Beyond the Red Mirror keeps that tradition running strong?

“Yes” is the short answer. A thousand times “yes”, and only a fool would deny it. But when you’re talking about a band that released the unequivocal greatest power metal album of all time, there is still plenty of room for discussion.

Blind Guardian pulled off a pretty tough transition in 2002. They followed up Nightfall in Middle-Earth (1998), their magnum opus by nearly everyone’s measure, with a relatively significant change in style. A move like that has spelled disaster for many great bands, but when Blind Guardian traded in an edgier, crisper production for smooth and seamless symphonic beauty on A Night at the Opera (2002), it totally worked. Their next two albums continued in that direction, and I never had the slightest cause to question it. While A Twist in the Myth (2006) ranks relatively low in their discography for me, that resulted from what I felt was a bit of lackluster songwriting–not pervasive, but present enough to leave the album somewhat diminished in the shadow of its two groundbreaking predecessors. At the Edge of Time (2010) was a grand return to form, definitively proving that this band would not suffer a slow decline as the years caught up to them.

Beyond the Red Mirror opens up with a lot less steam than “Sacred Worlds” lent to At the Edge of Time. The first track, “The Ninth Wave”, kicks off with a pretty typical epic introduction, complete with a professional choir and orchestra, but it’s the sort of sound that really hinges on what will follow. We’re used to a sort of constant rise from symphonics into metal, but “The Ninth Wave” is far more brooding at the outset. “Underwhelming” might be the right word for any other band, and nothing about the lead in really grabs me, but let’s not forget what band this is. I feel pretty neutral–not negative–about the album until the first chorus kicks off. And when that point is reached–“Sail on till you reach the promised land. We all drown in the fifth dimension. The ninth wave.“–you get this big dump of pent-up anticipation that you never knew you had. The five year wait is over. Beyond the Red Mirror is here, and the chorus carries all the grandeur you knew would be coming. It feels so complete and full, so Blind Guardian to the core, that the introduction isn’t sour in retrospect. Instead, the slow motion into glory lets the album creep into you. One second you’re waiting for something to happen, the next you’re in love, and they don’t have to resort to anything jarring or sudden to create the effect.

“Prophecies”, “At the Edge of Time”, and “Grand Parade” follow this trend of paced execution, keeping you wrapped in the warm vibe that is Blind Guardian’s sound while ebbing and flowing along. Not out of place on A Night at the Opera, these four tracks suit the album’s production well and deliver without any misgivings.

“Miracle Machine” serves as the album’s only ballad, and the other five tracks… they’re pleasantly not what I expected. For all the big name orchestras involved in recording Beyond the Red Mirror, Blind Guardian actually get pretty old-school. “Ashes of Eternity”, for instance, is heavily driven by rhythm guitar, and André Olbrich’s tasty solo near the middle is cast far more in the spotlight than it might have been on previous albums. “The Holy Grail”, “Sacred Mind”, and “Twilight of the Gods” follow a similar pattern, while “The Throne” exists somewhere in between. My initial reaction to these songs was not entirely positive, but they’ve almost all grown on me over time. They make for an interesting perspective on Blind Guardian’s career. Hansi Kürsch’s gorgeous vocals still feel fairly well rooted in the A Night at the Opera sound, but Marcus Siepen and André Olbrich are bringing back a lot of the band’s more classic power metal sound. With Hansi still largely dominating the choruses and rhythm and lead guitar being more focal in between, the songs take on a novel sort of vibe that feels like quintessential Blind Guardian but does not point directly to any one previous era in the band’s illustrious history.

I definitely dig it, yet I don’t feel like Beyond the Red Mirror will leave quite the lasting impact on me that Nightfall in Middle-Earth, A Night at the Opera, and At the Edge of Time did. The problem, aside from the lack of a really stand-out ‘bard’ track–“Miracle Machine” is nice but has none of the sing-along appeal of say, “Curse My Name” or “Skalds and Shadows”–lies in the production. I can’t help but feel like Olbrich and especially Siepen are getting the short end of the stick throughout. Like the three albums before it, Beyond the Red Mirror sacrifices a lot of crispness to encompass the massive volume of vocals and orchestration. That worked really well before, but here I just don’t know. Lead and rhythm guitar alike rang with crystal clarity on Nightfall in Middle-Earth, and that was a major part of what made the album perfect. If guitar is to play a more central role again, it would be nice if I could properly hear it. My one beef with Beyond the Red Mirror is that, while the band continues to evolve in positive ways, their producer may be failing to keep up.

I think that’s a big issue. This album is awesome, but I would love it so much more if they’d filled the symphonic void with louder, crisper guitar. That goes for about half of the tracks. I just sometimes feel like a few modest tweaks would have made them better. I’m looking forward to seeing some quality live videos of these songs pop up on Youtube, because I think a live venue may do them better justice. For now, Beyond the Red Mirror earns entry into my Blind Guardian playlist with ease, but I’ll not be revisiting it quite so often as Nightfall, Night at the Opera, or Edge of Time.

If you want another song to check out, I think “Prophecies” is my favorite. “The Ninth Wave”, “Ashes of Eternity”, and “Grand Parade” come close.

Review: Valknacht – Le Sacrifice d’Ymir


Valknacht is a five-piece paganish metal band from Quebec that have released three albums beginning in 2009–not to be confused with Walknut, the highly acclaimed side-project of Stringsskald from Темнозорь (Temnozor). I suppose I grabbed this album for an obvious reason: it presented a pagan tag from a relatively new act I had never heard of. With the folk and pagan metal scene now fifteen years in the making, a lot of the old stalwarts are simply running low on material. I am always hoping to stumble upon a new collaboration willing to pick up the slack and carry one of my favorite genres onward into a new era. Valknacht could be that band, but it’s going to take some work.

Valknacht – Bataille de Maldon, from Le Sacrifice d’Ymir

The album begins with a 3 minute intro track that I’ll not bother sampling here. You already know what it sounds like. Oars splash through the sea in time with viking voices oooing and OOOing and sometimes aaahhing. Break and repeat with some overbearing choral and brass synth, throw in a gong for good measure, and you will find yourself in the opening moments of “Bataille de Maldon”. Add a dash of synth woodwind, queue the crunch crunch crunch monotone guitar, and remind your drummer to make it metal in a few more measures. The black metal at 2:05 gives us a well-needed boost, and from there the song transitions to something that ought to be really, really cool. 2:40 made me think of Nokturnal Mortum’s “The New Era of Swords” from Weltanschauung, and for about one minute “Bataille de Maldon” is a song I really want to listen to. But the segment soon gives way to something fairly indistinguishable from what came before.

For the vast, vast majority of this 9:30 song, what you hear is an endless rain of double bass, rhythm guitar that only knows two patterns and three chords, a cheap synth whistle that’s totally unconvincing as the real deal, an admittedly interesting lead guitar, and total synth overkill plugging in every gap, sometimes doubled up with layers of “OOOOOOOOO”.

Yet, this could have all worked out really well. This band surely listened to a lot of Moonsorrow, and the string portion of the synth gets playfully close to Nokturnal Mortum at times. But the rest of the synth is just bad. It feels so fake. They use bold brass like they’re Equilibrium or Turisas, but the music isn’t nearly bombastic enough to merit it. The woodwinds have no depth, no air, no punctuation… Аркона (Arkona) is about the only band I can think of that pulls off fake woodwinds effectively (unless others are doing it so well I take them for studio musicians), and they must have much higher-end equipment than Valknacht at their disposal to do it with. It would have been nothing for one of the band members to pick up a whistle and record it proper. The vocals get really annoying really quickly for lack of dynamics or anything interesting to encase them. And the song goes on and on and on without ever adding much of anything. By 3:10 we’ve pretty much heard everything, and there’s next to nothing in the form of build-up or break until we hit a sudden transition at 8 minutes into an admittedly solid finale.

So, am I going to say anything good about this album? Surprisingly, yes. Quite a lot actually.

Valknacht – Le carmin des anges, from Le Sacrifice d’Ymir

The tragedy of Le Sacrifice d’Ymir is that just about anyone listening to this album will get the same impression that I did for its first 13 minutes. How many will keep listening? Few, I suspect, and it’s a shame because by the end this album is sounding pretty damn solid. “Le carmin des anges” is the closing track. It should have been the opening. Here is a song that cuts out all of the bullshit and condenses everything I did like about “Bataille de Maldon” into a much more manageable 5 minute package. The term “trying” drops back down my throat, and I hear some really badass Windir licks connected by groovy breaks and synth again reminiscent of Noktrunal Mortum. Thorleïf’s vocals do a total 360, and his previously dull deeper bellows sound epic when juxtaposed and then overlaid with higher-pitched rabid black metal screams.

The collective sound really works here, too. The Moonsorrow vibe they were going for in “Bataille de Maldon” flopped for a far-too-excessive attempt to be epic. That sort of music is meant to sound earthy, and the synth swarm just made it seem cheap and fake. On “Le carmin des anges”, a lot of the frivolous choral and brass sounds are gone, and what remains works far better with the Windir vibe they’re getting at.

Valknacht – Le sacrifice d’Ymir, from Le Sacrifice d’Ymir

You didn’t have to wait until the last track to find this though. The third, “Chants de guerre”, carries an infinitely more successful Moonsorrow vibe than the song before it. The woodwind’s fakeness is barely significant because the loop it plays is more of an unnatural Falkenbach chant than a harmony. Thorleïf’s full vocal range finally comes into play, and there is way more Windir-esque black metal–a sound they do right. Track 4, “Sur les ruines de Rome”, throws in some seemingly female screams and spoken lines that feel kind of reminiscent of Masha from Arkona, and could be a guest musician or further testament to Thorleïf’s range. (Liner notes for this album have been hard to come by.) As if Masha had been on their minds, track 5, “Le sacrifice d’Ymir”, feels pretty “slava!”, with some frantic whistle and guitar tapping. I had good cause to doubt another 10 minute track, but there is so much more going on here than in “Bataille de Maldon”. Thorleïf’s vocal dynamics alone are enough to make the overdrawn passages–and there are certainly a few–way less dull, the lead guitarist keeps up that Windir kick he’s proven pretty good at, that obnoxious rhythm guitar from the opener is all but missing, mixed down from a nuisance to its proper role and a background accessory.

“De murmures et de givre” starts nice but regrettably returns to a lot of the mistakes of “Bataille de Maldon”–a 7 minute track that could have probably made its point in three and a half. “Que le sang constelle mes mains” gives us our first and last taste of some accordion. Though its synthetic generation is painfully obvious, it does kick off with a melody pleasantly reminiscent of Finsterforst. Again though, the song drones on way too long with boring “I’m going to growl, you chugga-chug, and you hit a whole bunch of notes at once on your keyboard” moments.

So what’s the verdict? I think that this band either ran out of material and had to generate a few filler tracks, or else the minds behind it have some differences of opinion on how they ought to sound and they tried to accommodate everyone. Over all, fans of Windir will find plenty of moments to swoon over, and Moonsorrow die-hards will be modestly entertained. I got a Nokturnal Mortum vibe in some of the synth string utilization and rhythm guitar breakdowns, but not nearly enough to satisfy, and it has to take second stage to a lot of derivative crap. These guys have enormous potential, and they’re relatively young by band standards. I think the inclusion of “Bataille de Maldon” in its present state–at all let alone as the not-so-grand opener–is a little suspect. It would be nice to hear some session musicians for the folk instrumentation, or at least a better keyboard. And they really need to do something about song lengths relative to content. I will have long forgotten Le Sacrifice d’Ymir this time next year, but I won’t forget to check out their future releases. Turisas rose from a totally generic sound to release one of the best albums in folk metal. So did Finsterforst. Valknacht are certainly capable of becoming a band I could fall in love with.

AMV of the Day: Devil’s Game 2.0


MadokaMagica

I think it’s not a secret that the anime series (and now the three films) Puella Magi Madoka Magica is one of my favorite anime. It’s not just me who has a major fondness for this anime. Site anime editor pantsukudasai56 also shares my passion for this series. Over a couple years ago I profiled several AMVs featuring this series. One of them was Chiikaboom’s Devil’s Game.

That very same editor decided to go back and re-edit the AMV using scenes from the series and the three films and what we get is a vast improvement over a video that was already a classic in the AMV scene. The animation from the films are much more crisp and the detail shows from the increased budget.

This “Devil’s Game 2.0” has now become one of my top AMVs ever and I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels this way.

Anime: Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Puella Magi Madoka Magica Movie 1: Beginnings, Puella Magi Madoka Magica Movie 2: Eternal, Puella Magi Madoka Magica Movie 3: Rebellion

Song: “A Demon’s Fate” by Within Temptation

Creator: Chiikaboom

Past AMVs of the Day

AMV of the Day: See Who I Am


GuiltyCrown

Just going to be brief with the description of the latest “AMV of the Day”. The latest pick was the winner of Anime Weekend Atlanta (AWA) 2012.

“See Who I Am” is the title of the video and also the title of the song used by the video’s creator (Speedy180). This particular song is a favorite of mine from symphonic metal band Within Temptation and also used in one of the very first AMV’s I watched (Alchanum) and one which got me into the scene to begin with. The video itself is an anime mix of so many anime titles that I could only recognize some of the one’s that I’ve actually seen. I’m sure there are many more I missed.

It’s a well-done video that uses Sheryl Nome of Macross Frontier singing to sub in for Within Temptation’s Sharon den Adel. It’s a very dramatic song and the anime visuals picked and they’re put together more than matches the emotional content of the song.

Anime: Guilty Crown, Macross Frontier, Fairy Tail, Fate/Stay Night, Fafner in the Azure, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, Bleach and many others…

Song: “See Who I Am” by Within Temptation

Creator: Speedy180

Past AMVs of the Day

Ten Years #20: Equilibrium


Decade of last.fm scrobbling countdown:
20. Equilibrium (1,323 plays)
Top track (104 plays): Prolog Auf Erden, from Sagas (2008)

At the end of 2008, I made the peculiar decision to rank Sagas only 6th on my albums of the year list. I knew at the time that it would long outlive the albums that trumped it–The Tallest Man on Earth’s Shallow Grave, Boris’s Smile, Waylander’s Honour Amongst Chaos to name a few–but I suppose I was prioritizing some sort of artsy aesthetic over direct appeal. That was silly. Sagas is the most badass, epic 80 minutes of sound you will ever hear, and it deserves all the glory. Since I don’t know German, I can’t really judge how the lyrics hold up against comparable masterpieces like Blind Guardian’s Nightfall in Middle-Earth and Turisas’s The Varangian Way, but musically it pretty much perfects every epic/symphonic trend in the world of folk metal. What you hear on the opening track, “Prolog Auf Erden”, is a pretty accurate summary of the full album; it’s an explosive, relentless drive through one of the most imaginative worlds metal has ever conjured.

I can’t say I am terribly experienced in Equilibrium’s broader discography. Turis Fratyr (2005) did not grab me quite so immediately, and at the time I was too caught up in enjoying Sagas to really engage it. Rekreatur (2010) had its merits, but I could never fully get over the change in vocalists from Helge Stang to Robert Dahn. Never a band to rush out the new releases, their fourth studio album is not expected until some time in 2014.