DREAM EVIL, Gold Medal in Metal (2008, Century Media)

The skull:
Going entirely literal, Dream Evil decided to just show the god damned gold medal in metal already. Except that one can’t escape the feeling that the musical Olympics at which this particular honor was won are a decidedly low-rent affair. For starters, the medal itself isn’t even a medal, but more like a cheap brooch, or a ring they got out of some crappy kid’s toy machine at the grocery store. This “medal” is affixed not to some fancy ribbon, or even a jewelry-grade chain, but the sort of chain you’d use to padlock a gate shut. Only gold. Or photoshopped to look gold, at least. The links are nearly as large as the medal, and you can see the fucking welds! What kind of award is this? The skull itself is squished horizontally to fit inside the flowery border, his jaws agape as if screaming, “WHAT IS THIS BULLSHIT?”

The music:
Dream Evil are the cheesiest of cheese, or at least the cheesiest cheese that I enjoy. Their wink-wink posturing makes it a tiny bit easier to endure their not-good-enough-for-Judas-Priest lyrics, but only barely. Really, they only get a pass for their many sins against good taste because they write unaccountably catchy tunes, and their singer is really, really good. That said, the only truly great album is the debut Dragonslayer, and some five albums in, their schtick has worn quite thin, especially as each turns the “Heavy Metal Cliches” dial up at least a notch. Gold Medal in Metal is a double disc set (some versions also include a DVD, I believe) compiling a live show and a bunch of studio rarities. As with all the Dream Evil releases, the sound and performances are top notch, owing, one assumes, to the engineering/producing magic of guitarist Fredrick Nordstrom, but really, there isn’t a compelling reason to own a Dream Evil live album. The rarities disc is better value proposition, but it’s not like their catalog is so thick with genius that there were truly excellent songs left off the albums. If you own Dragonslayer, and you want more Dream Evil, then this studio disc is pretty much as good as any others, offering the same guilty pleasures as their proper albums. If you don’t own Dragonslayer yet, or you don’t think “HammerFall from Alternate Universe where HammerFall is good” is likely to do much for you, then you can safely leave this medal unclaimed.
— Friar Johnsen


WHITE SKULL, The Ring of the Ancients  (2006, Frontiers)

The skull:
Standard issue stuff here, nothing to get excited about — not even enough here to make jokes about. Just a skull poised at the center of a forged-in-iron sigil that seems to mix elements of Irish and Norwegian folklore/mythology. The skull is just barely big enough to make it into these hallowed halls. Naturally we wish the skull were a lot bigger, but we’ll give it a pass. Probably one of the least remarkable skulls in the BDS Skullection…but wait till you see skull #203 — it’s one of the finest. If you want to, go ahead and use your imagination regarding a ring and the ancients who possess it, but you probably have better things to do.

The music:
The long-suffering White Skull (this is their seventh of nine albums so far) have never quite managed to rise above the morass of middling power metal bands that litter the European landscape. That’s because they’re mediocre. Musically, this album is full of decent performances, anthemic melodies, the requisite amount of Euro power metal speed, and a vocalist whose accent totally betrays their Italian origin. I certainly have nothing against Italian musicians, it’s just that their vocalists often sound a bit silly when grappling with English lyrics. What’s more, the riffs are totally assembly-line “true metal,” ones you’ve heard a zillion times already, unless you’re new to this stuff. And if that’s the case you could probably get something out of White Skull. The strongest element of The Ring of the Ancients are the several AOR-leaning moments. It’s not exactly in line with, say, the last couple Nocturnal Rites albums, but you can hear it occasionally, as in the pre-chorus break of “Ninth Night” and the subtlest corners of “From the Mist.” This partly answers why the album ended up on the Frontiers label. Oh, and they do a pretty decent cover of Black Sabbath’s “Valhalla.” Bonus points to them for choosing a song from Tony Martin-era Black Sabbath but, no real surprise, it’s ruined by the vocals.
— Friar Wagner