(I was going to post an update on what I've been up to, what I've been listening to, and what I've been reading lately, but I ended up writing a lot more on music than I had planned. I'll post part two of my update in the next few days. That's right; if all goes well, you'll see two posts for April in the first week!)
What I've been listening to lately:
Eluveitie, which is a folk metal band from Switzerland. By "folk metal," think (in this particular case) Celtic music plus melodic death metal. They're pretty decent, but it's sort of hit-and-miss. "Inis Mona," from their album Slania, is an awesome mix of Irish flute(!), bagpipes(!!), hurdy gurdy(!!!), catchy chorus, and the Gothenburg sound, and definitely deserves an A on my list. But strip away the folk instrumentation from a song like "Bloodstained Ground," also from Slania, and you end up with pretty generic melodeath. I like Ensiferum a lot more for folk metal (check out the long but excellent "Victory Song"); they're much better at integrating the folk elements with metal. And if you want straight-up melodeath, then try "Twilight of the Thunder God," probably my favorite Amon Amarth song ever.
Excalion, a power metal band from Finland. I saw one site describe them as "melodic power metal," which sounds sort of redundant, since power metal by definition is very melodic, but in this case, I think it's quite apt. It's archetypal power metal times five, which may or may not be good; needless to say, if you don't like power metal (and it can be terribly grating sometimes, I'll admit), you'll probably hate Excalion. But for me, they're not bad, though sometimes it feels a bit like listening to a Sonata Arctica or Stratovarius knockoff. In fact, parts of "Quicksilver," from their latest album High Time, sound uncannily similar to Sonata Arctica's "FullMoon." (Ha! Looking at the YouTube comments, I'm not the only one who thinks that.)
Mortemia, a Gothic metal band (more accurately, one-man project) from Norway. Morten Veland, the guy behind Mortemia, seems to have a penchant for starting up new bands every so often. He was the frontman for Tristania, one of the best Gothic metal bands around, and then left to start another band, Sirenia, which unfortunately has never equalled Tristania in greatness. (The first two albums were pretty good, though.) With Sirenia having descended into ultra-saccharine poppiness that seems to plague the Gothic/symphonic metal scene today, and Tristania just never the same ever since Veland left, I was hoping for some redemption, especially since Veland said that Mortemia would be in the same vein as Tristania's Beyond the Veil, my favorite album of theirs, but my first impressions are disappointing; I haven't given it a thorough listen yet, so maybe my opinion will change, but it seems more Sirenia than early Tristania, unfortunately. (As an aside, that was an 84-word sentence! Sorry about that.) Not like Sirenia's The 13th Floor, fortunately, but Misere Mortem just sounds tired and uninspiring. You've been doing this for well over ten years; surely you can come up with something more original. Try Tristania's "Tender Trip on Earth" for what Gothic metal should be like.
After getting some HammerFall many, many months ago, I never bothered giving them a serious listen until recently. They're the sort of band that gives power metal a bad name: over-the-top epic sound with soaring choruses, excessive keyboards, emasculated singers, and lyrics about warriors fighting dragons. And after my listen I still think they're way too cheesy for their own good. But tell that to Hutaree, that Christian patriot militia group that's been in the news lately; they set one of their training videos to HammerFall. But as this French news site pointed out, HammerFall is from Sweden. Oops.