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Album · 2023 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 5 ratings
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Haken's seventh full-length album, Fauna, is one of the most highly anticipated releases of the year in the progressive rock/metal genre. The British band have been playing together for nearly two decades, and with each album, their popularity has steadily grown. Their most recent LP, Virus, topped our very own Top 30 Albums of 2020 chart, a testament to Haken's impressive rise within and beyond the prog metal community. With Fauna, there are understandably high expectations, as fans are eager to see how far Haken can push the boundaries this time around. Will Fauna live up to the hype? Will it exceed expectations?

To get straight to the point, Fauna is Haken's bold attempt to secure a spot at the top of the food chain by blending classic progressive rock, (djenty) prog metal, and 80s pop to create new sonic hybrids that are both accessible and rich in depth and complexity. This places Haken right at the forefront of what defines progressive music today, competing head-to-head with other progressive rock/metal giants such as Steven Wilson and Leprous. While this is a blessing, it's also a curse for the album, as I will try and argue next.

On the one hand, Fauna is perhaps the most accessible and accomplished collection of songs by the Brits. Tracks like “Taurus”, “The Alphabet of Me”, “Sempiternal Beings”, “Lovebites”, “Elephants Never Forget”, and “Eyes of Ebony” will linger in your mind long after the LP has ended, with their skillful fusion of grand arrangements, soaring melodies, and exceptional musicianship. The songwriting is remarkable, gracefully treading the fine line between simplified pop music and complex progressive works. Verses and choruses are repeated, yet never in the same manner, retaining a freshness and vibrancy that most contemporary metal releases lack. There are plenty of quirky guitar riffs, extravagant keyboard sounds, and clever rhythmic tricks, but they are all used with moderation and in service to the songs – something that Haken have not always accomplished in the past, but have fully mastered this time. The melodic hooks are massive, yet never mundane. Ross Jennings’ performance is his most convincing with Haken yet, as he uses his lower register more, creating a striking contrast with the high-pitched vocals he is known for. The performances of the rest of the band are also top-notch, as one would expect from a band of such caliber.

Despite all the positives, there is an obvious elephant in the room that demands attention and is closely tied to Haken's ambition to be at the forefront of contemporary prog rock/metal. The album's blend of prog, metal, and pop takes Haken into similar territory as artists like Steven Wilson or Leprous, to the point where the similarities between Fauna and albums like Leprous' Pitfalls and Aphelion or Wilson's Hand.Cannot.Erase or To the Bone can be hard to ignore. This is particularly evident on "Taurus", where the contrast between sparse, dark textures and elegiac vocals reminds one of Wilson's fondness for chiaroscuro compositions. Later, in the same song's bridge, Haken veer towards the kind of ominous, epic sound that Soen has been perfecting on their latest releases. On "The Alphabet of Me", Jennings seems instead to channel his inner Einar Solberg (Leprous), complete with trademark "ooohs" and "aaahs", while the song's overall jittery unfolding brings to mind the English art rock band Everything Everything. Similarly, echoes of Leprous can also be heard on "Beneath the White Rainbow" and "Sempiternal Beings," while Wilsonesque melodies and harmonies surface among the notes of "Island in the Clouds" and "Elephants Never Forget".

As a fan of all the bands mentioned above, I find it incredibly difficult not to fall in love with Fauna. In fact, since receiving the promo, I've been playing the LP on repeat more than any of Haken's previous albums. However, in the grand scheme of things, it's hard not to see Fauna as a transitional record, much like their 2016 album Affinity, in which the band incorporated 80s prog rock influences into their sound. With Fauna, Haken is experimenting with much more contemporary prog rock/metal influences, which is considerably more challenging. The album is at its best when the band seamlessly incorporate these influences into their own unique sound, as they do on tracks like "Sempiternal Beings" and "Elephants Never Forget". In other places, however, the new influences are a bit too prominent, which detracts somewhat from the band's essence. It's a delicate balance, and although Fauna only gets it right half the time, it sets an exciting course for the future of one of the most talented and promising bands in the prog metal scene today.

[Originally written for The Metal Observer]


Album · 2023 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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As a huge Evergrey fan, I was very intrigued by the announcement made in 2017 by US progressive metal band Redemption that they would be replacing their longstanding vocalist Ray Alder (Fates Warning) with the mastermind behind Swedish power/prog titans Evergrey, Tom Englund. However, when their first album together, Long Night's Journey into Day, was released in 2018, it didn't quite meet my (admittedly high) expectations. I felt that the band played it too safe and didn't fully take advantage of Englund's incredible voice. Now, fast forward to 2023, and Redemption has returned with a new album, once again featuring Englund on vocals. I Am the Storm, the band's eighth studio album, is released on March 17th via AFM Records, and it has completely pulverized all of my previous concerns and reservations about their previous LP.

I Am the Storm is one of the best “traditional progressive metal” albums I have listened in quite a while. When I say “traditional progressive metal”, I mean that Redemption’s sound has remained largely unaffected by the post-metal/pop/djent contaminations that many contemporary prog metal acts have embraced in recent years. Instead, this album stays true to the US prog metal sound that was established in the late 90s and early 00s by bands such as Dream Theater, Fates Warning and Symphony X. The guitars play a central role in the sound design, with an onslaught of riffs and melodic leads. The busy rhythm section is powerful, with thunderous beats, while the keyboards are used in moderation to add color and texture to the dense metallic soundscape. Meanwhile, Englund's vocals are skillfully woven in and out of these textures, allowing ample space for lengthy instrumental sections.

This is not to say, however, that there aren’t modern contaminations and exciting sonic experiments present. In fact, Redemption incorporate a diverse set of influences into their sound, including ferocious thrash metal, classic progressive rock (as evidenced by the Genesis/Peter Gabriel covers included on the LP), and more modern, post-rock-influenced atmospheric soundscapes (“The Emotional Depiction Of Light”). The end result is an album that manages to feel fresh and varied, while at the same time retaining a clear and distinctive sonic identity.

With I Am the Storm there is a clear sense that Redemption took risks in their songwriting that ultimately paid off in a big way. The different influences that have shaped Redemption’s sound over the years have been taken to new extremes on this album. The heavy tracks (“I Am the Storm”, “Resilience”) hit unashamedly hard and approach a degree of metallic ferocity that would not be out of place on a Nevermore album. On the other hand, “The Emotional Depiction Of Light” lies at the opposite end of the spectrum, with its delicate interplay between Englund’s voice and Vikram Shankar’s piano, building to a beautiful cathartic crescendo that tugs at the heartstrings in a way reminiscent of Anathema or Silent Skies (Englund and Shankar's recent atmospheric metal project). Between these extremes, I Am the Storm offers a plethora of sublime progressive pieces. “Remember the Dawn”, “Action At A Distance” and “All This Time (And Not Enough)” are longer pieces with complex structures, plenty of virtuoso playing, and subtle references to the classic progressive rock sound, reminding me of a slightly heavier version of bands like Spock’s Beard or Enchant.

The names mentioned in the previous paragraphs indicate that the album covers a lot of ground. Yet, it does so with finesse and sophistication, allowing for smooth and natural transitions between the different styles. I also feel that with the new material, Redemption have finally discovered how to unlock Englund's full potential. His performance on I Am the Storm is undoubtedly his best in a while. Although I adore Englund's distinctive and poignant voice, it's difficult to ignore the fact that in his recent work with Evergrey he has stuck to a pattern of similar melodies and cadences that may comfortably suit his voice, but can also make the songs feel monotonous. On I Am the Storm Nick Van Dyk’s diverse songwriting challenges Englund to step out of his comfort zone and experiment with his voice, sometimes with more aggression and other times with more melody. This is similar to the approach taken on Evergrey's early and highly progressive LPs, where Englund first established himself as one of the finest singers in the genre. It’s a joy to rediscover his versatility and tremendous class on this new record.

The rest of the band also delivers incredible performances, with Van Dyk’s showcasing his terrific guitar skills, ranging from heavy and aggressive to sublimely melodic. Shankar adds beautiful synth textures, while Chris Quirarte on drums and Sean Andrews on bass provide a solid and ultra-heavy rhythmic backbone. Special recognition also goes to Simone Mularoni (DGM) for his jaw-dropping and exquisitely well-constructed solos. His mixing and mastering jobs are also commendable, although the guitars may be slightly too prominent in the mix and the drums may be too busy, taking away some nuance from the other instruments.

In the end, however, the standout feature of I Am the Storm is the incredible quality of its songwriting. In contrast to Redemption’s previous LP Long Night's Journey into Day, there are no filler tracks on this album. Each song delivers some of the finest progressive metal you're likely to hear this year: technically intricate and fiercely heavy, but always exquisitely melodic. Prog metal fans should not overlook this album: I Am the Storm is Album of the Year material, and Redemption’s greatest artistic achievement yet.

[Originally written for The Metal Observer]


Album · 2022 · Metal Related
Cover art 3.67 | 9 ratings
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A Very Uneven Endeavor with a Few Bright Spots Riverside has been creating a unique take on progressive metal for over 20 years now based in part on Mariusz Duda's amazing voice and heavy use of Floyd-ian atmospherics. ID.Entity still has these elements, and some very solid riffage. But the band has also decided to slide in the pop / 80's direction to mixed effect. Though I don't usually review song by song, this album almost demands it as there is so much variation in approach and quality.

1. Friend or Foe - maybe it was Stranger Things. Pulling in early 80's keys is trendy and Riverside goes full in on the opening track and promo single. The song reminds a bit of the similarly intention retro 80's synthpop of the Weeknd's 2019 hit "Blinding Lights." Luckily, I think the move works here. It's a great melodic hard rock song. Hard to call it prog, besides the fact that it's (too) long.

2. Landmine Blast - my favorite song on the album. The band takes a great riff (yes a throwback to their own previous work) and trades it through different instruments and permutations almost like a classical piece. Some of the guitar solos also intentionally point back to early work (even though it's not the same player).

3. Big Tech Brother - after a clumsy, dumb spoken word intro, we get another very strong song. It opens with a great riff in odd time that almost has an R&B feel (a horn like keyboard patch is used and I can definitely hear a Tower of Power horn section taking it on). Duda uses a staccato delivery in the verses a la Haken to great effect. It has a strong aggressive rhythm, and plenty of layering. So far so good.

4. Post-Truth - here things start to slow. The lyrics, meant to be political criticism, start to sound obvious and whiney. The songs itself it pretty straight forward. Nothing wrong here but no surprises.

5. The Place Where I Belong - and we go off the rails. This epic length song has almost nothing progressive, or even interesting. The first half is quite boring. The second half is PF/PT moody and does carry some emotion, but there is absolutely no excuse for a song of this kind to be this long. There just isn't enough happening, too repetitive.

6. I'm Done with You - another relatively straightfoward rock song with bad lyrics. The main riff and intertwining parts are pretty driving and form a good groove, but the verses are boring and the chorus is bad. The "Fire Away!" section is pretty cool. The instrumental breaks toward the end are good. But like the album as a whole, really uneven.

7. Self Aware - starts with a riff straight out of the 80's that Ghost has already used with more menace and I consider them a tongue-in-cheek parody / novelty act. Not as tightly constructed as Friend or Foe, but seems to have a similar intention or inspiration. Harmless.

Perhaps that word is the best description of the album. Harmless. The first time I listened to this album I actively disliked it, probably because the last 3 tracks are the weakest. But on repeat listens, I can appreciate it. It has it spots. But overall - harmless. Not compelling. Mostly solid. A little better than meh. Not sure I would ever put this on just for enjoyment (I listen to alot just to see what's new in the world) when there is so much better music out there (even from Riverside). I may steal track 2 for a 2023 prog playlist. That's about it.

Good but really non-essential


Album · 2023 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 5 ratings
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Prototypical 2020's Prog Metal Trying to do Too Much

Haken's FAUNA typifies all the sounds of modern prog metal - complex rhythms, computer perfect precision, and rapid changes in directions multiple times within the same song. Thankfully it breaks from the main by having all clean vocals. Djent-y guitars are the primary sonic element underlying Russ Jennings' emotive voice. The production is thick and compressed but the individual instrument sounds are pristine. Keys and intermittent harmony vocals add flavor along with technical guitar solos and occasional squeals and noises. There is nothing sonically surprising to any regular prog metal listener.

I saw Haken open for Symphony X last year and was probably as excited to see them as the headliner. However, I was somewhat disappointed in spite of spending a lot of time listening to the setlist ahead of time. All the usual prog metal elements were there and well executed, but everything seemed to blend together as many of the songs didn't have enough of their own identity. The band had a stock repertoire of sections - riffy opener, big drop to an intimate verse, high energy chorus, trippy bridge, breakdowns, all in very odd time. The cut and paste feel included "Nightingale" from this album which was already on the setlist by that time. The exception was long time favorite "Cockroach King" from what I consider the band's high water mark, THE MOUNTAIN. My initial listen to FAUNA was similar disappointment. Too much kitchen sink on every song, not enough melodic hooks or themes that anchored an individual track.

The good news is that on multiple listens, FAUNA has gotten much better for me. Some of the songs definitely have their own identities like the poppy synths of "Alphabet of Me" and the heavy pop prog of "Lovebite" being times where I thought the band was trying to forge their own identity. But things go awry with "Elephants Never Forget." This song typifies where Haken tries too hard, does too much in one song, gets lost in their own attempt to outprog them all. The band clearly has an affinity for Gentle Giant, but during "Elephants" the first verse is almost a direct quote. It is almost exactly like "Cogs in Cogs" or "Knots." I am going to give them the benefit of the doubt and say it is an homage. Fine. But in the same song Russ Jennings seem to impersonate Korn's Johnathan Davis, and there are instrumental sections where my ear immediately said "There's Devin Townsend, there's Dream Theater." I went back to the lyrics to see if perhaps the theme of the song was remembering the ones that led you to where you are now, which would be an interesting musical idea. Perhaps that was part of their intent but apparently it's about "Leviathan of Doggerland." To their credit, the "I Remember" refrain is the most memorable melodic element in the whole album, and it does bind the piece together.

Now, after quite a few spins, I actually like FAUNA quite a bit. There are some really great parts and some great ideas. The performances are at a very high level. But it also seems quite flawed, not knowing exactly what it wants to be. I actually went back to THE MOUNTAIN and listened again to make sure I wasn't misremembering. Indeed, the songwriting was SO much better, the album more coherent, I didn't forget. They have it in them. So how to rate? Trying to bind all that together, I'm landing on 3/5.

BEHEMOTH Opvs Contra Natvram

Album · 2022 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.06 | 5 ratings
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Kev Rowland
I enjoyed Behemoth’s last studio album, 2018’s ‘I Loved You At Your Darkest’, but did not exactly warrant it as essential, while I was also not exactly gushing about their more recent live ‘In Absentia Dei’, so what would I think of the latest effort? With a Latin title (Work Against Nature), an inverted crucifix on a starkly white cover, it certainly appeared that we were off to a good start, and it is great to be able to report that it continued through to the music with the result being one of the most complete Behemoth albums one is likely to find. Bassist Orion is still the newbie of the trio as he has only been there 20 years, while drummer Inferno has been there for 25 and of course the mighty Nergal has now been there for more than 30, and in many ways they have managed to combine that history and legacy into something which is both commercial and Black Metal at the same time.

The production has smoothed over the rough edges while never truly removing the menace, and there is much more of a wall of sound than one would normally associate a with a trio as there has been multi layering of guitars. There is also a good use of dark and light (or at least dark and less dark), and while some people may view this style of BM as buzzsaw guitars without end there is a great deal going on, with the three musicians fully locked together in a way which only comes from playing together for so very long. We get some nice atmospheric touches here and there, all of which provides more emphasis when they really kick off. Nergal’s vocals still contain the grit and menace one has come to expect, and even when the arrangement is more symphonic that never wavers in its approach. I can understand some people saying the production has somewhat sanitised the overall impact, and that they are not the band who hit the ground running with the mighty ‘Sventevith (Storming Near the Baltic)’ all those years back, but are any of us the same as we were back in 1995? This release is one which will appear to long-time fans of the band such as myself, but will also entice many others who have yet to investigate Behemoth and their back catalogue. Inferno is playing out of his skin on this one, with incredible fills and rolls, while Orion and Nergal play as one and the result is something quite special indeed.

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HIGH ON FIRE Electric Messiah

Album · 2018 · Stoner Metal
Cover art 3.71 | 3 ratings
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"Electric Messiah" is the 8th full-length studio album by US heavy metal act High on Fire. The album was released through eOne Music in October 2018. It´s the successor to "Luminiferous" from 2015 and features the same trio lineup who recorded the predecessor. Kurt Ballou (Converge) was once again involved in the recording process (like he was on the last couple of albums).

And consistent is probably also the first word which comes to mind while listening to "Electric Messiah", which features a similar heavy metal/stoner metal sound to the sound found on the last couple of releases. The sound production is also relatively similar sounding, and it seems High on Fire have locked into a groove these days, and there isn´t much development of sound or style anymore. This is more or less how they´ve sounded since "Death Is This Communion" from 2007. To my ears the choice of Ballou on this album and the two preceding it, has meant that High on Fire´s music has not shone like it could have (and did on "Death Is This Communion (2007)" and on "Snakes for the Divine (2009)"). He is a skilled producer, but his production style just doesn´t suit High on Fire´s music that well. Why for example place Matt Pike´s vocals so low in the mix or drench them in effects, when you´re dealing with such a raw and powerful vocalist, who can easily hold his own. Put him up front so we can marvel in his caustic aggression and commanding delivery...oh well that was not to be.

The rather flat an undymanic sound production can´t completely hide that there are some quality material featured on "Electric Messiah" and as usual we´re treated to a combination of heavy mid-paced tracks with a stoner metal edge and faster more aggressive tracks. Think of a mix of Black Sabbath, Motörhead, and early Slayer, and you´re not too far off. A few more memorable riffs and hook laden vocal phrases would have been nice, and it becomes even more obvious how much more great the music could have been with a little more melody, when you hear Pike sing just slightly more melodic on a track like album closer "Drowning Dog", and as a result that track becomes an album highlight.

I know I sound a little negative, and probably also a little more negative than intended, but I generally hold High on Fire and especially Pike in high regard, and high expectations warrants high quality delivery, and "Electric Messiah" to me is only a good quality album. It doesn´t reach the sky like I expect when I listen to a High on Fire album. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is still deserved, but I expect the band to make some changes on the next release before rigor mortis begins to set in (yeah that´s probably a bit too dramatic...let´s just use the word stagnation).

HIRAX The New Age of Terror

Album · 2004 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.78 | 5 ratings
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"The New Age of Terror" is the 3rd full-length studio album by US, California based thrash/speed metal act Hirax. The album was released through Deep Six Records in May 2004. It´s the band´s first album release since "Hate, Fear and Power" from 1986 although after their comeback in 2000 they released the "El Diablo Negro" EP in 2000 and the "Barrage of Noise" EP in 2001. Only lead vocalist Katon W. de Pena is left from the lineup who recorded "Hate, Fear and Power (1986)".

Hirax have opted to include the title track from the "El Diablo Negro (2000)" EP, but the remaining 10 tracks on "The New Age of Terror" are new originals which are exclusive to this release. Stylistically Hirax pretty much continue where they left off in the mid-80s, although the tracks are generally a little more heavy and the more contemporary sounding production also contributes to the heaviness of the recording in a positive way. de Pena was always an aquired taste, and personally I wasn´t that fond of his nasal wailing on the early albums, but he varies his voice and vocal style a bit more on "The New Age of Terror", and I can´t deny that he is quite the unique sounding singer. There´s personality in his delivery and a great passion too, which should always be praised.

The tracks are generally memorable, raw, and effectful, and Hirax are a well playing act too. As mentioned above "The New Age of Terror" features a well sounding production, which suits the material well, so upon conclusion it´s a welcome comeback for Hirax. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

HEXX Wrath of the Reaper

Album · 2017 · US Power Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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"Wrath Of The Reaper" is the 4th full-length studio album by US, San Francisco, California based metal act Hexx. The album was released through High Roller Records in September 2017. Hexx originally formed in 1983 and released three full-length studio albums before disbanding in 1995. They developed their sound greatly over the years, starting out playing US power/heavy metal and ending in technical death/thrash metal territory on "Morbid Reality" from 1991. So what does Hexx sound like 26 years down the line...

...well they sure didn´t continue the technical death/thrash metal sound of the predecessor, and "Wrath Of The Reaper" definitely have more in common with the first two US power/heavy metal releases by the band ("No Escape" from 1984 and "Under the Spell " from 1985), although "Wrath Of The Reaper" is generally a bit harder edged (even touching thrash metal territory once or twice). Stylistically this is more or less the epitome of the US power/heavy metal style and if I have to make a comparison that as many people as possible can relate to, it would be an act like Metal Church. At times this actually sounds so much like Metal Church that I´m doubt if it´s that band in disguise playing on "Wrath Of The Reaper" (it´s almost eeire at times how much lead vocalist Eddy Vega sounds like a slightly more pissed Mike Howe). So in that respect "Wrath Of The Reaper" isn´t the most original sounding album out there, but it has other qualities which still make it a high quality US power/heavy metal release.

Despite not being the most unique sounding material, the tracks are very well written. Powerful and memorable heavy metal tunes with heavy raw riffs, well played guitar solos, an energetic and solid playing rhythm section, and the above mentioned raw snarling vocals on top. Hexx are a skilled and well playing unit and they have crafted a potent release with "Wrath Of The Reaper". Fans of the style (and Metal Church in particular) are recommended to give this one a listen. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

ARGHOSLENT Hornets of the Pogrom

Album · 2008 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.86 | 3 ratings
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"Hornets of the Pogrom" is the 3rd full-length studio album by US death metal act Arghoslent. The album was released through Drakkar Productions in March 2008. It´s the successor to "Incorrigible Bigotry" from 2002 and features a couple of lineup changes since the predecessor as bassist Kommando has been replaced by Einzelganger and lead vocalist Von Demonicus has been replaced by The Genocider. Arghoslent have not toned down their lyrics dealing with neo-Nazi/white Supremacy topics, endorsement of the transatlantic slave trade, and hateful rants against jews, so consider yourself warned before reading on/listening to the album.

"Incorrigible Bigotry (2002)" was quite a few steps up in quality from "Galloping Through the Battle Ruins (1998)" and "Hornets of the Pogrom" actually accomplishes being an even better quality release. Stylistically this is melodic death metal with a great drive and some convincing aggressive growling vocals. The album is loaded with killer riffs (both fast tremolo riffs and heavy riffs), harmony guitar melodies and leads, and a great raw and brutal energy/power. While this is old school influenced death metal to the bone, there is a strong traditional heavy metal influence in the music too, which is both audible in the way some of the riffs are constructed but also because of the many melodic elements featured on the album.

The musicianship is strong and I especially enjoy how the drums are played, driving the music forward with great aggression and power. The growling vocals are relatively one-dimensional in nature, but they are well sounding, brutal, and fairly intelligible, suiting the instrumental part of the music perfectly. "Hornets of the Pogrom" features a powerful, detailed, and overall very well sounding production, which does exactly what the best productions do...provide the material with a golden platform to shine.

White Supremist lyrics and image aside, "Hornets of the Pogrom" is a high quality death metal album with strong melodic sensibilities. Arghoslent are even relatively unique sounding, although the elements they use to create their sound are hardly original. They manage to combine all elements to a sound of their own though, and the final result is pretty damn brilliant. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

ARGHOSLENT Incorrigible Bigotry

Album · 2002 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.42 | 2 ratings
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"Incorrigible Bigotry" is the 2nd full-length studio album by US death metal act Arghoslent. The album was released through Drakkar Productions in October 2002. Almost to the day four years after the release of the band´s debut full-length studio album "Galloping Through the Battle Ruins (1998)".

The lyrics and the band´s image are as controversial as ever with neo-Nazi/white Supremacy topics, endorsement of the transatlantic slave trade, and hateful rants against jews. As a reviewer you can take two stances on such topics, which is a purely subjective one, condemning Arghoslent for their hateful output, or the more objective one, and mainly talk about the music, which is the one I´ll take...

...and there are plenty to talk about other than the controversial lyrics, as Arghoslent are a very well playing band, performing their music with great technical skill and a burning passion and conviction. Stylistically the material on "Incorrigible Bigotry" continue the melodic death metal style (not melodeath) of "Galloping Through the Battle Ruins (1998)", but it´s audible that Arghoslent have spent the four years between the two releases honing both their playing and their songwriting skills, because "Incorrigible Bigotry" is not just one step up from its predecessor but rather two or three steps up in quality. The same goes for the sound production, which is professional, raw, and powerful and suits the material perfectly.

The music features tempo changes, heavy riffs, fast galloping riffs and rhythms, blistering leads and harmonies, and some really convincing snarling growling vocals in front. This is high quality death metal and there´s even a touch of originality to the sound which you don´t always hear on death metal releases from artists few people have ever heard about. Usually there is a good reason only a few people have heard about a band and even fewer call themselves fans, but that´s not the case with Arghoslent, who could easily have been more recognised had it not been for their ideological choices.

So upon conclusion "Incorrigible Bigotry" is a quality melodic death metal release by Arghoslent and as I have chosen to look past the lyrical content and not let it affect my rating of the album, I´ll rate this album purely on the quality of the output, which I think is somewhere between a 3.5 star (70%) and a 4 star (80%) rating. I know some people will question why a reviewer who doesn´t share the opinions of an artists like Arghoslent would review their releases, and thereby in part support their music/cause, but I don´t see it that way. As I said above I´ll review anything with an objective mindset, and I´ll let the reader decide if this is something they´d spend their time listening to.

ABSCESS Damned and Mummified

Album · 2004 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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"Damned and Mummified" is the 4th full-length studio album by US death metal act Abscess. The album was released through Red Stream, Inc. in October 2004. It´s the successor to "Through the Cracks of Death" from 2002 and features one lineup change as bassist Joe Allen is back in the fold. Allen temporarily left Abscess in 2000 but returned in 2002. He did not perform on "Through the Cracks of Death" though, where the bass tracks were recorded by the other three members of the band.

Stylistically the material on "Damned and Mummified" features very few surprises if you are already familiar with the preceding releases and Abscess old school death metal sound with hardcore/punk leanings. Abscess formed after Autopsy split-up in the mid-90s and is pretty much a continuation of that band, but with a little more emphasis on hardcore/punk elements. This is still filthy, gory/horror lyric drenched old school death metal delivered in the most raw and organic manner possible. Sometimes on the verge of sounding noisy and chaotic, and often taken down to a heavy, brutal, doomy crawl. Lead vocalist/drummer Chris Reifert has always been an aquired taste, with his completely over the top brutal and asylum bound (yet intelligible) growling vocals. Personally I think he is one of the greatest death metal vocalists on the scene and his delivery is both passionate, convincing, and varied.

"Through the Cracks of Death (2002)" featured a rather thin sounding production job, which unfortunately meant it didn´t have the impact it could have had, but thankfully the sound production on "Damned and Mummified" is stronger. It´s a raw, brutal, and organic sounding production, which suits the material perfectly. Abscess are well playing too and upon conclusion "Damned and Mummified" is a good quality death metal release. Granted Abscess sound a little stagnated at this point, but they do what they do with conviction. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

ABSCESS Through the Cracks of Death

Album · 2002 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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"Through the Cracks of Death" is the 3rd full-length studio album by US death metal act Abscess. The album was released through Peaceville Records in May 2002. It´s the successor to "Tormented" from 2000 and features one lineup change as bassist Joe Allen temporarily stepped out of the band from 2000-2002 and didn´t rejoin in time for the recording sessions. The bass tracks were therefore recorded by the other three members of Abscess (who recorded three to four tracks each).

Abscess was formed by former members of Autopsy and Hexx. Especially the former was quite the prolific act on the early US death metal scene, but Abscess never reached more than underground recognition and struggled throughout their carrer to escape the shadow of Autopsy.

Stylistically the material on "Through the Cracks of Death" continue the raw and filthy old school gore/horrer themed death metal of "Tormented (2002)". Abscess still incorporate hardcore/punk influences, and there actually haven´t been much musical development between the two releases. There are other differences though, and it´s especially the two sound productions which are very different sounding. "Tormented (2002)" featured a dark, organic, and murky sound production, but "Through the Cracks of Death" features a less raw and also less organic sounding production job. Especially the drums feature a more dry and less heavy tone, which provide the material with a very different atmosphere from its direct predecessor.

To my ears the sound production unfortunately also means that "Through the Cracks of Death" is a step down in quality from "Tormented (2002)". It´s simply a less interesting album to listen to and it is in large part due to a sound production which doesn´t do the material justice. There are still several great death metal tracks on "Through the Cracks of Death" (I for example really enjoy "Tomb of the Unknown Junkie") and although I ultimately prefer "Tormented (2002)" to this one, it doesn´t mean "Through the Cracks of Death" is a bad quality release. A 3 - 3.5 star (65%) rating is warranted.

HARROW Embrace the World

Album · 1999 · Power Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 2 ratings
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"Embrace the World" is the 3rd album (and the last in their original run) by Dutch power metal act Harrow. The album was released through Power Records in March 1999. It´s the successor to "Call of the Unborn" from 1996 and features one lineup change since the predecessor as drummer Ferry Bult has been replaced by Martin Kuipers.

Stylistically the material on "Embrace the World" continue the dark and heavy power metal style (with progressive metal and thrash metal leanings) of the two predecessors. At this point Harrow have perfected their sound and style and there are therefore few surprises when listening to the album. What you do get here is high quality songwriting, high level musical performances (including a skilled and powerful vocalist in Frank van Gerwen), and a heavy and powerful sounding production, which suits the material perfectly.

I´m often blown away by the powerful nature of the riffs and heavy rhythms, and the vocals are a great asset too. Although van Gerwen can hit the high notes when that is needed, he is predominantly a more aggressive and raw sounding power metal singer, and it definitely adds to the impression of "Embrace the World" as a heavy and dark power metal release. Upon conclusion "Embrace the World" is another quality release from Harrow and although they are seldom mentioned among the greats when it comes to power metal, they certainly could deserve a little more attention. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

HARROW Call of the Unborn

Album · 1996 · Power Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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"Call of the Unborn" is the 2nd full-length studio album by Dutch power metal act Harrow. The album was released through A 2 Z in 1996. Harrow formed as far back as 1982 and released the "Fearful Awakening" demo in 1991 and the "The Rising Phoenix" EP in 1993, before releasing their debut full-length studio album "The Pylon of Insanity" in 1994. There has been one lineup change since the predecessor as bassist Johnny Fraterman has been replaced by Freddy Meyer.

"The Pylon of Insanity (1994)" featured a darker and much heavier sound than the more melodic and less heavy early releases by the band. That trend is continued on "Call of the Unborn" which is predominantly also a very dark and heavy power metal release with progressive metal and thrash metal leanings. "Call of the Unborn" is a relaltively varied album though, and it also features a couple of power ballad type tracks, and Harrow are actually a bit hard to label. They tread a fine line between the raw and heavy (semi-thrashy at times) and the more melodic and at times even progressive. The combination of genre elements works well for Harrow and the material is generally both well written and effective. You can bang your head to the heavy riffs and rhythms, but you can also sing along or marvel at the technical skills of the band.

Lead vocalist Frank van Gerwen has a strong voice and a passionate delivery. He mostly sings raw (yet still melodic) on this album, but he can hit the higher notes when that is needed. The original version of album features 12 tracks and full playing time of 70:18 minutes, so it´s a very long album. It´s not really an issue here though as the quality is high throughout. The Japanese version of the album features two bonus tracks (a cover of "Road Racing" by Riot and a cover of "Back on My Feet" by Vanderberg). "Call of the Unborn" is upon conclusion a high quality power metal album and it is fully on par with "The Pylon of Insanity (1994)" if not a notch up in quality from that album. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.


Album · 2000 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.60 | 32 ratings
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"Physicist" is the third full-length studio album by Canadian artist Devin Townsend. The album was released through HevyDevy Records (Townsend´s own label) in June 2000. It´s the successor to "Infinity" from October 1998. The album project started with the side-project that Townsend had with then Metallica bassist Jason Newsted called IR8. IR8 recorded a demo tape and then Townsend and Newsted started working on another project called Fizzicist. Newsted However ended up having to stop working with Townsend, when his Metallica bandmates learned of his side-project and vetoed his involvement in any other project than Metallica. Townsend soldiered on though and recruited his Strapping Young Lad bandmates for the recording sessions, which ended up being "Physicist".

At this point Strapping Young Lad was effectively on hold, to enable Townsend to concentrate on his solo career and to produce for other artists (Zimmers Hole, Soilwork, Stuck Mojo), but his solo career and Strapping Young Lad were always entangled in some way and the three other guys from Strapping Young Lad also toured with Townsend as his solo band those days, with a setlist featuring tracks from both projects.

"Physicist" is often criticized by fans and even by Townsend himself and called one of the least interesting releases in his discography, and while I don´t necessarily agree with that sentiment, I can see why people (and Townsend himself) would think that. Coming from the schizophrenic and experimental sounds of "Infinity", "Physicist" is a much more straight forward and consistent release. The basis of many of the tracks is relatively hard edged thrash metal influenced drumming and guitar riffs and Townsend´s vocals are predominantly raw and screaming. When that is said "Physicist" also features the trademark layers of keyboards/synths and a few more melodic moments with clean vocals (tracks like "Material" and "Jupiter"). It´s a highly energetic release and often relatively fast-paced.

Opening track "Namaste" is the best example of that with it´s relentless pounding drumming style and sharp thrashy riffs (as are "Victim" and "Death"). To my ears "Namaste" is definitely a highlight, but tracks like "Kingdom", and the 11:08 minutes long closing track "Planet Rain" are also standout tracks on "Physicist". The album unfortunately also features what I would call a couple of fillers. Or at least a few unremarkable tracks, and it therefore loses a bit of steam around half way through the playing time. It´s not a major issue, but it´s of course not a positive either.

The sound production is a bit "thin" and lacks some heavy bottom, but other than that it´s a professional, detailed, and relatively well sounding production. Definitely not Townsend´s best production work, but it´s not an awful sounding album by any means. Many people seem to think that "Physicist" is just a Strapping Young Lad album disguised as a Devin Townsend solo album, and while there are some arguments which are valid enough to form such an opinion, there are also many elements on "Physicist", which would not have been included on a Strapping Young Lad album, and it´s not a given that fans of Strapping Young Lad, who are not fans of Townsend´s solo releases, would find this album attractive. To my ears "Physicist" sits somewhere between the two projects and it´s quite unique in Townsend´s vast discography. Better than its reputation, but not a perfect release, a 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

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