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Well, as other reviews have probably stated, this new CD is a complete departure from the original 2 albums from the power metal band Human Fortress. Its not hard to figure out why this album is so unpopular, especially if you've heard the first two. To put it into words while omitting my personal bias, the huge issue with this latest release is that it completely and unmercifully alienates 100% of the bands original fan base. The first 2 albums were good, competent power metal records, albeit somewhat late arriving. There was a clear motivation evident within the music, a clarity of creativity, a nice evenly presented collection of songs that all fit together under the name Human Fortress. So naturally everyone who liked the bad was looking forward to a 3rd opus from the band, something that would surely solidify their position as a staple of late blooming power metal. ...But it wasn't.
This new album came out about 4 years ago now, so I won't attempt to explain in detail every difference this release has with the previous. I recommend listening to "The Dragon's Lair" from the first album, and then listening to the (aptly named) "Contrast" from the new album. With no further explanation you will understand everyone's disgruntlement. I want to cover the question posed in the title of this review, what actually happened? Its always frustrating when you see perfectly good bands flush themselves down a toilet, especially for those of us who play in bands and know how much 2 successful albums can do for your credibility. Then to see it all pissed away, its insulting. Its okay though, I am here to help.
This failure illustrates the importance of having a solid lineup between recordings. Mass personnel changes can bring a band to its knees. Just look at what happened to Black Sabbath in the 80s. Thats not to say the stuff with Dio, or any of the other members that got mixed around during that era made the music worse, since thats a matter of opinion, but it is true that the music changed quite a bit, and sometimes not to peoples liking. The same thing seems to have happened here.
Part of Human Fortress's appeal from the earlier period was the presence of good strong riffing. This is pretty important for power metal bands, driving rhythms and snappy pacing keep the listener intrigued. Lead guitarists must also have this ability, and moreover, the capacity for creating and performing solos that are ideal and appropriate for the various tempos a power metal song can alternate between. Power metal also requires a specific skill set in terms of drummers. Switching back and forth between having the snare hit on beats 1 and 3 to 2 and 4 is a highly utilized ability in power metal. You also need a strong sense of how to use double bass to optimize the heaviness of certain riffs within a song. Thomen Stauch is a perfect example of this style of playing. Finally, what every, and I mean every power metal band needs is a damn good singer. Its one of the defining factors of the genre, to have a front man with a good powerful voice that can emote with listener. The lyrics must be felt, not just heard. Having a good bassist is just icing on the cake.
That all being explained, Human Fortress had the better part of this list of prerequisites. As it turned out though, this was not to last. In 2003, guitarist Volker Trost left the band. Its not all that difficult to get another guitarist to to fill in while you're touring, which is exactly what they did. Being that there wasn't to be a new album out for a while, one personnel switch probably would have done minimal damage. Sometimes new members can actually keep your band alive (See Helloween). Unfortunately that isn't what happened. In 2007, Vocalist Jioti Parcharidis and Drummer Apostolos Zaios left the group. Thats 3 very important pieces of any band, and 3 key pieces of Human Fortress's lineup until that point.
It was anyone's guess what the next record would be like. It could have been just like the first 2 for all we knew. You would think a band with such a resolute sound would attempt to fare a lineup change at least with some remnant of the previous sound. With the members swapped in to replace those who had left nothing was to guess either. None of them have any apparent background with previous projects. So all that was left was to wait for a forthcoming release from the band.
And then it happened. Out from the Human Fortress camp comes an album called Eternal Empire, and boy was I confused. Throughout the album, you can hear hints of the old Human Fortress, but the tone of the previous records is completely shattered with random metal-core sounding breaks, spastic staccato rhythm, miserably paced drums, vocals with roughly 2 emotional states, and filler songs featuring long sustained keyboard chords. I think there was even a power balled in there somewhere, which is an extremely hard thing to pull off these days and be taken seriously, and this record definitely takes itself seriously.
After thinking about it, this seems like just another case of ruination by means of changing lineups. Usually its takes longer for bands to destroy themselves from this ailment, sometimes it even works out to a bands advantage. What we have here, however, is an all in one complete collapse. This record could have been released under a different name, and it would have made a lot more sense. You see, its not that I, or any other fan of Human Fortress thinks that this album is bad that lead to its failure. Its the lack of understanding of their fan base, or possibly their ignorance of us altogether that lead to the unpopularity. This is somewhat analogous to if Gamma Ray suddenly got rid of Kai Hansen (which isn't possible) and decided that doing lounge covers of Frank Zappa songs was their true calling. It just doesn't make any sense.
Well, thats all I had to say on the matter, I give the album 10 percent because even if I don't like it, someone out there must, and that might mean that it's a little bit tasteful. Points awarded only by logic, not by ambivalence or pity.
I had this odd sense of nostalgia for the early 90s when I heard this album. Not so much the part where everything started to get eaten up by the grunge scene, but more the gradual transition away from speed and thrash metal in the 80s towards a simplistic, groove metal alternative. Spearheading this changeover was Pantera, who in various interviews about their groundbreaking album “Cowboys From Hell” claimed a new style of metal referred to as power/groove. What the style itself amounted to was a more syncopated, rhythmically complex version of the slowed down thrash metal character of the early 90s in bands like Anthrax, Testament and Megadeth, but still holding some minor melodic trappings from their power/glam days.
I bring this up because the made up style of power/groove was nothing more than a transitional style before everything became completely about the alien style that had been fused with the more familiar one. Likewise, what would seem to be a newer style of powercore in Human Fortress’ latest effort “Eternal Empire” is a watered down version of their old style, replaced with the more popular trend of today, metalcore. But unlike Pantera, who initially did stumble upon something genuinely new and created a collection of masterworks before going down the mainstream sewer manhole, the former German power metal fold has found themselves in a state of musical cognitive dissonance, unable to write consistent songs most of the time, and attempting to emulate something that they aren’t really cut out for.
The lineup changes have had an impact on the band’s sound, but that alone can not account for what has happened here when considering who has been brought in. Carsten Frank is a very competent singer by power metal standards if you look at his work with Galloglass, and he is conducive for Human Fortress’ brand of medieval sound themes as they have been basically shared by said band. Having said that, the occasional usage of guttural and harsh vocals in Galloglass was always done to accent a dominant character, and it was never used in the sloppy metalcore gimp scream fashion that is heard here. Sometimes vocally it sounds like Killswitch Engage, at some points like on the chorus of “The Raven” we hit Linkin Park territory, but it never assimilates into something that is likeable unless you like metalcore. And likewise, anyone who really likes metalcore will probably not go for the neo-classical and folksy sounding interludes and the heavy keyboard usage. It is also interesting to note that the drumming sees the band shying away from any kind of speed drenched majesty and the mix sees the drum tracking sounding too loud and extremely dry. If anything, it can be stated that this band misses the amazing technical drumming of Apostolos Zaios as it does the soaring vocal brilliance of Jioti Parcharidis.
Redeeming elements on here are few and far between, often spliced in between fits of groovy, down tuned dumb ass chugging and 3 chord filler. There’s also a few really bad gimmicks utilized at ill opportune moments that make Nocturnal Rites’ “The 8th Sin” sound great by comparison. A quirky synthesizer intro at the beginning of “Borders Of Insanity”, a vapid U2 guitar line at the beginning of “Under A Spell”, and plenty of other non-metal moments that come up abruptly make one wonder if this album was put together by tape splicing. It’s extremely frustrating because this thing does seem to be trying to be a power metal album at times, with some fairly solid sounding lead guitar passages and a few good riffs here or there. Some of the choruses have potential, but are often dragged down by excessive pseudo-aggressive vocal meandering and annoying groovy straight beats.
If you are fortunate enough to pick up the special edition of this album, the utterly massive superiority of the bonus tracks and the hidden instrumental track to the main contents of this album makes one question the collective intelligence of this remnant of what was once a great band. “Guide From Heaven” sounds like a softer ballad version of “The Valiant” off of the last album. Carsten spends the entire song actually singing, the metalcore trappings are completely gone, and the instrumentation sounds like the band never left their original style. “Wrath” is a little bit closer to a Galloglass mid tempo song, but still well entrenched within a pure power metal character and loaded with some pretty good guitar work. The hidden song goes into something of a Nightwish meets Elvenking character, sort of like a folk dance song with soaring guitar lines and gang chants, but with a bit of a drinking song without vocals character as well. The fact that these songs are so good leaves little doubt in anyone’s mind that this album sucking has nothing to do with any lack of ability on anyone’s part here, but in that they are playing the wrong style of music.
I am hopeful that this band, along with Elvenking and Nocturnal Rites have learned their lessons and don’t do anything like this again, but it’s uncertain as to whether this will happen. All of these bands have lost members that are all but irreplaceable, and have veered really far from where they were when at the top of their game. This is not something that I would recommend buying, although I could rationalize downloading the last 3 songs on the special edition from Itunes. If the world of metal can’t be free of metalcore, then at least let us be free of and soon forget that powercore ever existed.
Originally submitted to (www.metal-observer.com) on May 17, 2009.
Behold, this is the sound of a band failing to meet the standards it set for itself. Since their last effort which was an instant classic IMO they have abandoned their sound and no longer deserve to even keep the same band name. Yes! It is that bad!
Everyone feels for them when they lost their previous singer who was excellent and we want to see you succeed, but this is just turning your back on the fans and genre. Human Fortress fans don't want to hear mall-core and tuff guy shouting BS in our music. We do want to hear medieval classical era melodies and powerful singing to augment the sound. Why did they think they could omit this and still make a proper album?
Without going into all the tedious details I will say they have turned their backs on all the elements which make good power metal and replaces it with metal-core non-sense. The new signer is not bad, he just decided to be on board with the new, totally flawed direction. It seems every member made a desperate attempt to make some new fans and cash at the sake of their music. Please do not support this.
Having said all that, these people are not ignorant of all this in their genre. Some songs has good parts and you can tell that they have at some point in the past played power metal. For that they get 15/100.
Please keep one last thing in mind. If you are a Human Fortress fan, this album is not for you!
I was not the huge fan of Human Fortress' last album that some people were. It has grown on me over time, and I think my 3.5 rating is a bit harsh in retrospect. I'd give it a 4 now, but I just don't love it like some people do (my wife for example). But still, I was expecting much better from the next Human Fortress album than this.
The loss of former vocalist Jioti Parcharidis is keenly felt, as he was undoubtedly the best thing about the band in the first place. Replacement Carsten Frank of Gallowglass is a perfectly good singer, even if he doesn't have Jioti's impressive range. It would be easy to say Frank is the problem here, and he's certainly part of it, but really it's the songwriting that has taken a big nose-dive. Human Fortress have pretty much abandoned their old Power Metal sound for a horrible 'modern' approach that flirts with nu-metal and metalcore in equal amounts. You heard me, and I only wish I was kidding.
Maybe 25% of this album consists of Power Metal-styled guitars and real singing, producing some decent melodies, especially on the opener "Contrast". The rest of the album is filled with jangly, groove-oriented nu-metal bashing and simplistic rhythms. Even when a song starts out promising, as "The Wizard" does, it is almost immediately ruined by awful guitar grooves and the worst vocals you can imagine. Make no mistake, when Frank sings, he sounds good, but most of the time he doesn't sing, rather choosing to yap awful metalcore-styled croaks all over this album.
The combination of weak Power Metal melodies with really terrible groove-metal chunking and hideous yapping vocals isn't just ill-conceived, it is actually painful. The flashes of their old style that HF show here and there just serves to make the rest of it sound worse, as you keep thinking it's going to get better, and then it goes right down the toilet again. Listen to the hideous Pantera-esque stomping of "The Raven" and try to keep your lunch down.
Rarely have I seen a band go wronger than this, and maybe only Nocturnal Rites and Elvenking have whored themselves out this badly trying to sell albums. Not only does this sound like a completely different band than the last album, but it sucks deep and hard. All you Human Fortress fans are going to listen to this anyway, but don't say I didn't warn you.
Originally written for www.metalcrypt.com
So here it is, the long awaited third album from the German power metal band Human Fortress. Five years have past since the release of 'Defenders of the Crown' which according to me is one of the best epic power metal albums ever. During these years the Greece-part of the band, drummer Apostolos Zaios and the very talented singer Jioti Paracharidis left the band. Both of them wrote a lot of the music and lyrics and that's perhaps one of the reasons why Eternal Empire sounds so different. They who got the almost impossible mission to fill Apostolos and Jiotis' places were drummer Arndt Krone and the Galloglass vocalist Carsten Frank. Despite that, I was expecting another masterpiece from Human Fortress but what I got was the complete opposite. What you are in for here is a bad attempt to appeal to a bigger crowd. It's not a bad release but it feels like they want to become a more well known band and for that the music had to become a lot worse to appeal to the Metalcore-kiddies.
Now let's move on to the music. The first thing you will notice when you listen to Eternal Empire, it is a lot heavier than the previous albums. The production is a lot better and you don't hear any Defenders of the Crown similarities at all. "Contrast" the opening track is one of the "okay but nothing more" tracks on the album, still it's nothing compared to their previous works. Carsten Frank does a decent job on this track and everything sounds rather good until the very unfitting female vocals starts the chorus and ruins the whole song. Luckily enough there are not any more of these after this song.
There aren't any fast songs on Eternal Empire, no really slow songs either. Most of them are mid-tempo with an attempt to create catchy choruses with the use of heavy guitars and really bad attempts to use harsh vocals. Carsten Frank was a good singer in Galloglass but here he tries something completely different. I would say that more than 50% of the vocals here are really bad metalcore screams which fail totally. When Frank sings clean it sounds really good but take for example the amazing intro to "The Wizard" where you can hear some of the epic stuff which was so great in the previous albums. After that amazing intro Frank just makes me really sad when he starts with those awful metalcore screams. It goes on with that kind of screaming almost throughout the whole album but it takes a short break during "When Love and Hate Collide". Surprisingly enough it isn't a ballad. Instead it is easily the best song on the album with some speed and a very good chorus and a great guitar solo. Then we have two more mediocre songs until we reach "Circle of Flames" which is a good power metal tune. Unfortunately there is a lot of screams here as well but on this one it's not as devastating as in the previous songs. Album closer "Falling Leaves" is an attempt to create some epicness which I'd guess is supposed to attract the old fans but I don't like it at all.
I can't really explain in words how disappointed I am with Eternal Empire but when I got to listen to the bonus tracks at least they showed that they still know how to write a good Epic Power Metal tune. "Guide From Heaven" is it's name and I would love to see them use it as the closer instead of "Falling Leaves". I describe it as a softer and more keyboard based "The Valiant" from Defenders of the Crown with female vocals as the extra spice. Also "Wrath" the second bonus track is a great song compared with the rest of the album.
To sum it all up, if you were looking for some epic power metal stay away from this album and check out their previous releases. If you want power metal mixed with metalcore(Powercore?) you will probably love this album. To me, this is a bad try to sell more cds, just like Elvenking did with "The Scythe" Human Fortress will not get many new fans with this album, instead their old fans will lose respect for them. I hope Human Fortress will learn from their mistakes and deliver an amazing follow-up to Eternal Empire.
Songs worth to check out: "When Love and Hate Collide", "Guide From Heaven"
Songs to stay away from: "The Raven", "Under A Spell"
What the FUCK? This is what we've been waiting five years for since Defenders of the Crown? I admit to getting a bit over-excited by that album when I first heard it, but fuck, it was a fucking golden Heavy Metal classic compared to this one. In between that album and this one, Human Fortress lost their singer, the admirable Jioti Parcharidis, along with a guitarist and a bassist, and it seems that they took all the talent out of the band with them, because, even though we're not done with 2008 yet, I can say that Eternal Empire is both by far the worst Metal album we'll hear this year and the worst example of trend-riding, mainstream whoring poser crap I've seen on this side of Arsis.
Human Fortress doesn't even sound like the same band that they did in 2003. Picture simple, repetitive pop synths and power chords layered over with vomit-inducing metalcore chug riffs and atrocious nu-metal barking with a side of whiny, radio-obsessed clean choruses that would make Green Day cringe, and you'd have something close to how annoying this is. If there was ever a genre called Power Metalcore, then this is it. There are no good songs here, and the worst thing about this is that you can still hear the talent that the band is trying so desperately to hide in the solos that crop up for a few seconds at a time in some of the tracks and the verses, which Carsten Frank admittedly does well when he sings clean, despite the mostly horrendous vocals he pollutes the rest of the album with. Every song just plods along with disgusting, sleazy grooves and lame "atmospheric" parts that will make you wish you were sticking your ear in a blender rather than listening to this. It is seriously that bad. The music here is simple and basic, but it's also incoherent and jumbled, with several songs having random segues into heavier sections or softer ones, but it all sucks, guaranteed. Come on, who the fuck are you kidding, Human Fortress, throwing songs like "The Raven" at us? Just listen to that awful, awful chorus, and tell me your balls didn't shrivel up a bit inside.
The band knows no bounds or limitations as they go through the seven circles of unredeemable sin, churning out garishly awful aberrations like the opening "Contrast," with its hideously out of place female operatic vocals in the chorus, the funky Korn-esque breakdown type thing on "Lion's Den," and the worst song I've heard all year in "The Raven," which is just five minutes of really bad groove riffs and yapping metalcore try-hard tough guy croaking.
This album is more than a disappointment; it actually offends me on a level that music never should, because this band was once worth something, and to hear them falling from grace like this is shockingly repulsive. It is so low and dirty that it will make the listener's mood deteriorate in the same manner that the band's music has, and while I take no great pleasure in destroying a band I once enjoyed like this, it needs to be said: Human Fortress have failed, and Eternal Empire is a stain on their reputation that will never come out. There isn't even anything beyond the surface aesthetics that sucks, this is just BAD FUCKING MUSIC, period. Beyond terrible. Human Fortress, you just earned yourself a time out. Go sit in the corner.
It's been five long years since the release of the epic power metal masterpiece known as "Defenders Of The Crown" and the winds of change have since stormed past the Human Fortress camp. I believe the band have lost a long standing guitarist as well as a bassist, but more importantly, the amazing singer from the first two Human Fortress albums, Jioti Parcharidis, has since departed from the band.
There are many reasonings and explanations being tossed around regarding why Jioti was forced to leave the band. I heard that he wanted to form a new band and parted from HF due to musical differences and also that he had some sort of throat infection that hampered his singer ability. I do know that he left on good terms with the band because I saw him in pictures with the other band members at their CD release party for this album.
Onto the album itself finally. Carsten Frank, the former Galloglass frontman, is the new singer for Human Fortress. His performance in Galloglass wasn’t bad and he sings pretty good when he wants to, as in the chorus for the album opener “Contrast”. So what’s the problem then? Two words: Metalcore vocals. Yes, you heard me right, metalcore vocals in what was once and still is an Epic power metal band. And it’s not like they’re just used sparingly either, they’re drenched all over this album in practically ever song.
There are moments on this album where the band rekindle the epic/medieval atmosphere of their first two albums, as in the aforementioned “Contrast”, “The Wizard”, “Falling leaves”, and the bonus track on the limited edition “Wrath”. The trouble is they get their trademark epic vibe going for them, then the metalcore vocals come in and just completely kill the atmosphere. Oddly enough, Carsten never really used metalcore vocals in Galloglass so who’s idea was it to integrate them into Human Fortress? The album would be much better if he just stuck to his singing style from his Galloglass days. Perhaps this new, more mainstream approach and pathetic attempt to appeal to the metalcore kids is another reason why Jioti has since left the band.
Despite all the criticism I’ve spewed forth against this album, it’s not really all THAT bad. The songs previously mentioned in the preceding paragraph are all descent Epic metal cuts that do hold a candle to band’s older material, musically speaking that is. “When Love and Hate Collide” and “Circle of Flames” are more straightforward songs, but are both relatively catchy power metal tunes. Also, my rating would be a good 10-15% higher if it weren’t for those darn metalcore vocals, so if you can stomach them, do the math for a more accurate score.
I guess my biggest problem with this album is that I just can’t get over the fact that Jioti Parcharidis is not singing for Human Fortress anymore. Carsten’s vocal style is completely different from Jioti’s, which makes HF sound like an entire new band on this album. Seriously, I would give an arm and a leg to hear Jioti sing “The Wizard” or “Falling Leaves”. Even if he does have a throat infection, Jioti singing at 50% of his capability would be much better than Carsten’s performance on here and would probably boost my rating all the way up to a high 80% or even a 90%. The good news is, Jioti is still friends with the rest of the band members, so there still may be a slight chance that he will return to the band sometime in the future if he gets healthy. One can only pray I guess...