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OPETH Pale Communion

Album · 2014 · Metal Related
Cover art 3.94 | 12 ratings
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Pale Communion (2014) is the eleventh full-length album by Swedish former extreme progressive metal act Opeth. While Opeth certainly haven't been shy about producing the more progressive rock orientated releases in the past, Pale Communion is the first time that such a release from them has followed another one, in this case Heritage (2011). It's obvious in this case that Opeth have moved on and become a different band to that which made fan favourites like Still Life (1999), Blackwater Park (2001) and Ghost Reveries (2005). Obviously this is extremely bad news for fans of Opeth's special brand of extreme progressive metal and anyone who was hoping that the band would return to their usual (sorry, old) style following Heritage are going to have every reason to be upset given the direction taken on Pale Communion.

This isn't exactly Heritage Part II but neither is it a metal album in any shape or form. It reminds me a little more of Opeth's earlier progressive rock record Damnation (2003) than it does Heritage but it isn't exactly a carbon copy of that album either, though there are certainly more nods to both those albums than anything that featured death growls. The music has more of a rocky edge to it than Damnation but as far as something this progressive goes it somehow seems more one dimensional than Heritage did. The musicianship is of course highly competent and as always I really enjoy Mikael Åkerfeldt's clean singing, but there's also something about the album that causes my attention to wander after a few tracks and that wasn't a problem I had with either Heritage or Damnation.

While fans of progressive rock who always thought Opeth were wasting themselves on extreme metal are probably going to be lapping up the current more progressive yet not at all metal incarnation of the band, I have to consider that I ultimately write reviews for metal sites and while I did enjoy Heritage enough to give it a 4.5 star rating back in 2011 even considering the same point of view I just don't get the same spark from Pale Communion in order to recommend it too highly. It's a good progressive rock album but even when solely compared to Opeth's own Damnation and Heritage Pale Communion just falls short of the standards I expect from these guys and unless it suddenly grows on me years down the line I feel confident to say that right now, this is the weakest album they've ever done.


(Originally written for Heavy Metal Haven: http://metaltube.freeforums.org/opeth-pale-communion-t3739.html)

ANATHEMA Distant Satellites

Album · 2014 · Metal Related
Cover art 4.12 | 9 ratings
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"Distant Satellites" is the 12th full-length studio album by atmospheric rock act Anathema. The album was released through Kscope in June 2014.

"Distant Satellites" treads an alternative/semi-progressive atmospheric rock path that is similar in sound and style to it´s predecessor "Weather Systems (2012)". The music is polished, dreamy, and slow building. Usually starting out mellow and then slowly building towards louder and more intense climaxes. The by now trademark melancholy of the band´s music is as prevailent here as it´s always been. This is not depressive music though and although it´s not exactly happy music either, there is an uplifting spirit about the whole affair, that makes "Distant Satellites" a predominantly light melancholic album rather than a dark depressive one.

The male vocals by Vincent Cavanagh and the female vocals by Lee Douglas are the center of attention on the album and they share the spotlight equally. Atmospheric keyboards and guitars, and a well playing rhythm section complete the band´s sound. Anathema have also included some electronic drumming on the album, which to my ears is a very successful move.

The first part of the album features organic drums, but when the 7th track "You´re Not Alone" kicks in, the music style changes a bit as a result of the electronic drums. It becomes more ambient and I´m reminded of artists like Massive Attack and Morcheeba. The short instrumental "Firelight" continues the ambient sound and the title track which follows is also quite ambient and features electronic drumming. The latter reminds me a lot of Coldplay and could in an edited version (this version is 8:17 minutes long) easily get radio airplay. It´s the perfect example of how far Anathema have come since their early doom/death metal days. It´s not unusual for Anathema to tweek their sound during an album. They did the same on "Weather Systems (2012)". They do it skillfully though which means that their core style and atmosphere are intact throughout.

"Distant Satellites" is packed in an organic and pleasant sounding production which fits the music perfectly, and all in all it´s another high quality release by Anathema. If I have to voice a minor complaint it would be about the lyrics, which are at times a bit too simple, naive, and starry eyed, and not exactly written with the greatest finesse. I´ll even go as far as to call them teenage-angsty, which is a bit odd to me, as I know these guys (and girl) are in their 30s/40s. Oh well...they are fortunately sung by strong voices and wrapped in beautiful melodies, so it is a minor complaint and a 3.5 - 4 star (75%) rating is still deserved.

SLEEP The Clarity

Single · 2014 · Doom Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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Against all the probabilities, Sleep returned after a hiatus of 16 years, releasing a new song through the 2014 Adult Swim Singles – remembering that is free for download. Many acts return years after disbanding, and we all know that most of these returns weren't worth the wait...

But rejoice, fans of Sleep, you all can get high again! The line-up is not the same, since the original drummer left the band. Some people felt this loss, but I couldn't see the difference, really! The musicianship shown in this song, named The Clarity, is excellent. Many nods to Black Sabbath and the 70's hard rock/proto-doom bands, with a generous dose of psychedelia in the last half.

This song is recommendded for the stoner/doom metal fans. Check it out!

MINDMAZE Back from the Edge

Album · 2014 · Power Metal
Cover art 5.00 | 3 ratings
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Back From the Edge (2014) is the second full-length album by US metal act MindMaze. Having released their debut album Mask of Lies (2013) independently the band have moved up in the world and Back From the Edge is released through Inner Wound Recordings. The band have also added bassist Mike LePond to the line-up, a notable musician best known for none other than the mighty Symphony X among others. Additionally the band has garnered some high profile guest appearances such as Jens Johansson of Stratovarius adding a keyboard solo to Moment of Flight and Matt Johnsen of Pharaoh adding a guitar solo on The Machine Stops.

I'm going to take a little time out from my usual review structure to apologise to my readers, as I had made the promise to try and cover some other genres for a time after realising that a good majority of my current group of 2014 release reviews were for power metal albums. A follow-up to the excellent MindMaze debut Mask of Lies was always high on my personal hype list for the rest of this year, but I thought I'd be safe with my promise when a promo for the album came my way, as in my opinion Mask of Lies was mainly a traditional heavy metal album with power metal and progressive metal leanings, more so the latter than power metal. Turns out though that Back From the Edge is not a heavy metal album, but a progressive power metal album. So sorry readers, the promise is going briefly on hold.

Wait...I'm really not all that sorry about that, for in Back From the Edge MindMaze have produced an album that is possibly the best case of genre evolution I've ever heard, changing the band from a good heavy metal band to an excellent power metal band.

While there are some moments on Back From the Edge that are more like straight-forward power metal songs, such as the lead single Dreamwalker, the album is mostly made up a perfect blend of power and progressive metal ideas so while you'll be getting plenty of those speedy power metal riffs to propel the music along the guitar playing by Jeff Teets in particular has a tendency to veer off into more complex ideas, with the occasional use of keyboards adding another layer to the sound, though the band usually stick to a typical song structure, with most on the album clocking between the four and six minute marks.

At the other end of the spectrum though there are a couple of longer tracks, namely The Machine Stops and Onward (Destiny Calls II). The latter is obviously a follow-up to the closing track from Mask of Lies. It's these longer songs of course that really bring the progressive side of the music out, and Onward (Destiny Calls II) is especially impressive, even including some flute usage that gives the song a very slight folksy vibe. This is the most progressive song on the album and is probably the only one here that I'd call a progressive metal song over a power metal song and despite being the power metal maniac I am, it's also my favourite.

Back From the Edge is quickly impressive for the same reasons that made Mask of Lies such an great debut, but the difference is where Mask of Lies seemed a little unsure about what the band wanted to be, Back From the Edge is a focussed piece of work with strong musicianship all round, amazing energy, and powerful vocals by Sarah Teets. MindMaze have been a pretty unknown entity on the metal scene up until this point, but Back From the Edge is the album that sets out to change that, and will if there is any justice in the world.

I mentioned earlier about trying to leave off power metal reviews for a while because of the large amount I've done this year, but what I neglected to say is that only one of those albums was awarded a top tier score, and folk-power metal albums like that one (Elvenking) are nearly always more recognisable as folk metal releases so really Back From the Edge is the first power metal from 2014 that is a power metal album before it is something else (in this case progressive metal) that I've felt the need to go up to the top tier for. Back From the Edge is really everything fans of female voiced power metal could want, and I don't feel like I'm overhyping it by putting up a perfect score. Consider me blown away by the massive progress MindMaze has made in such a short time since their debut.


(Originally written for Heavy Metal Haven: http://metaltube.freeforums.org/mindmaze-back-from-the-edge-t3734.html)

HATRIOT Dawn of the New Centurian

Album · 2014 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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"Dawn of the New Centurian" is the 2nd full-length studio album by US thrash metal act Hatriot. The album was released through Massacre Records in February 2014. Hatriot was formed by (at the time) former Exodus lead vocalist Steve "Zetro" Souza and features two of his sons on bass and drums. The lineup on this album is completed by Kosta Varvatakis and Justin Cole on guitars. The latter mentioned has replaced Miguel Esparza, but other than that, the lineup who recorded "Heroes of Origin (2013)" is intact.

Stylistically "Dawn of the New Centurian" continues the strongly Exodus influenced old school US thrash metal style which the band also played on "Heroes of Origin (2013)". It´s not only the distinct sounding raw voice and convincing snarling delivery of Steve "Zetro" Souza, that makes one think of late 80s/early 90s Exodus, but very often also the riffing style. So this is not for listeners who want to hear something they haven´t heard before, but for fans of old school US thrash metal delivered by enthusiastic and skilled musicians.

The material are for the most part well written and catchy, but to my ears there is a slight drop in quality compared to the strong debut (too many tracks don´t really stick). The sound production isn´t as strong as the sound production on the debut album either, and that also has some effect on my overall impression of "Dawn of the New Centurian". Overall it´s still a pretty strong album release by Hatriot and fans of the style should of course give it a listen. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

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ANATHEMA Judgement

Album · 1999 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.89 | 40 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
ANATHEMA (which is Greek meaning something dedicated to evil) is a band that I have heard a few tracks from over the years and they have always rubbed me the wrong way therefore I have avoided this band like a flea-bitten varmint carrying the plague. The truth is this band has had so many different sounds over their career and judging them from any particular phase could leave out one phase that might actually rub you the right way. In this case their 5th studio album JUDGEMENT does just that and rubs that spot that feels oh so good. With a long list of credentials including a sound in alternative rock, acoustic rock, art rock and more, this album finds the band steering their ship out of doom metal waters into a progressive rock sea. In fact if you ask me this band is heavily influenced by the Porcupine Tree albums of the same era with a bit of alternative metal sounds a la Alice In Chains in the mix. Fortunately these influences are strong but not putting them into any particular clone department.

What I am finding pleasing about this album is the strong melodic melancholy with aspiring acoustic arpeggios mixed with grungy chords and passionate pleas to placate the pain. The story is the two Cavanaugh brothers recently lost their mother so the mood of the album fits. This album also finds the band losing bassist Duncan Patterson who was a major contributor in the songwriting department leaving Danny Cavanagh to take the major role as such. This was an album I picked up with much trepidation but since it was one of their highest rated and praised I thought I should at least give it a spin. I was fearing I would find it in the same camp as Opeth, which is a much beloved and highly praised band that I seem to lack the digestive enzymes to comprehend, but to my surprise despite the heavy influences being just a little too obvious, I find myself liking this album a lot. It has enough of its own personality to win me over. Now I can tiptoe through their discography a little bit more hoping to hit on another winner such as this.


Album · 2004 · Black Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 2 ratings
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Astarte's fourth album Sirens marks significant line-up changes within the group as after Quod Superius Sicut Inferius two of the three core musicians had parted ways with band leader Tristessa. On Sirens Tristessa takes over lead vocal duties while Hybris joins on guitars and Katharsis on keyboards. The album features guest appearances from both Shagrath (Dimmu Borgir) and Sakis Tolis (Rotting Christ).

Sirens moves even further in the melodic black metal direction started on Quod Superius Sicut Inferius, fully taking Astarte away from the rawer sound of their first two albums. Compared to former vocalist Kinthia Tristessa's voice is a bit less of a typical black metal rasp and it's easily to follow her lyrics. That said I think maybe her vocals here are more of an acquired taste. The music is generally more direct in nature and in some ways it isn't many steps away from turning into melodic death metal. As is usual for an Astarte release there's really good use of both keyboards and acoustic guitar, though there is an issue on this one that a few too many of the melodies used sound quite similar to each other, but it's decent enough Astarte album overall, more interesting than Rise From Within was but a step down following their career best that was Quod Superius Sicut Inferius.

Attribution: http://metaltube.freeforums.org/astarte-sirens-t3765.html

DISEMBOWELMENT Transcendence Into the Peripheral

Album · 1993 · Doom Metal
Cover art 4.43 | 9 ratings
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"Transcendence Into the Peripheral" is the debut full-length studio album by Australian doom/death metal act Disembowelment. The album was released through Relapse Records in the US and through Nuclear Blast Records in Europe in September 1993. Disembowelment were a relatively shortlived act and only released this one album (and a couple of minor releases) before disbanding.

The music on the album is slow, brutal yet atmospheric doom/death with the occasional deathgrinding section thrown in. Several members of the band played with a grindcore act called Bacteria before they formed Disembowelment, so I guess the grindcore influence came from those days. For the time "Transcendence Into the Peripheral" was a very original sounding release and it´s obvious why so many artists have since mentioned Disembowelment as an influence on their music. Most doom metal from those days were either traditional sounding doom metal or melancholic themed doom/death metal. The music on "Transcendence Into the Peripheral" is a different kind of beast. It´s extremely slow doom/death (funeral doom) with a bleak atmosphere and mystic themed lyrics. The growling vocals are brutal and purposedly almost completely unintelligible. There are a few clean chanting type vocals on the album too and some female talking on the atmospheric "Nightside of Eden", but the vocals on the album are predominantly growling.

The combination of old school death metal riffing, deathgrinding blast beats and ultra slow doom metal riffing paired with atmospheric lead guitars and clean guitar chords work wonders and create a dark and mystical atmosphere. Even today I´d call this original sounding. The fact that the tracks feature semi-progressive structures doesn´t make the listening experience any less intriguing. This is the kind of album that you can listen to over and over again and still find new details to discover. The whole thing is packed in a dark, raw, and brutal sound production that suits the music perfectly.

"Transcendence Into the Peripheral" is probably one of the most original sounding doom/death metal releases out there. Especially if you consider the time it was released. It´s groundbreaking and very influential too and a 4.5 (90%) rating is fully deserved.

HELSTAR Remnants of War

Album · 1986 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.23 | 7 ratings
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Helstar-Remnants of War

After a solid debut, Helstar began to stretch their sound. 'Remnants of War' is not as raw as their debut, but it adds in more thrash and Rivera learns how to use his higher-pitched vocals better. Power and speed is still there, but the thrash influences are easily recognized.

Instead of the instant speed of 'Burning Star', this album begins with the haunting medieval-sounding intro 'Unidos Por Tristeza' much in the vein of the acoustic beginnings to early Metallica albums. It flows well into the crunching opening riffs of the title track. The title track is a great combination of power and thrash elements, with Rivera's higher vocals sounding great and well placed. The next song is undoubtedly my favorite from the album, 'Conquest', It's a perfect headbanger song with awesome driving riffs. This song really stands out, because it's the first song where Rivera doesn't use any high-pitched vocals. It's not a power metal song, but it sure is a great thrash song. Another example of Helstar taking influence from thrash is with beginning of the song 'Destroyer'. It reminds me of what you would get if you merged Megadeth, Iron Maiden, and Helstar's own sound into one. The rest of the song has more powerful riffing and is much more in the vein of 'Burning Star'. The song 'Suicidal Nightmare' and the closer 'Angel of Death'(no relation to the Slayer song) are two other stand-out songs for me.

Rivera's vocals have improved immensely, with his higher-pitched vocals being implemented perfectly. The awkward placement of higher vocals was really the only flaw on their debut for me. There were some forgettable songs on their debut, however, and this album is no different. None of the songs on this album are bad, but I don't find myself listening to the entire album much. I usually skip over tracks like 'Face the Wicked One' or 'Dark Queen', they just don't capture my attention.

Overall, Remnants of War is yet another great album by Helstar, but still not perfect. I think they left out too much power, and focused more on bringing thrash into their sound. Their next album would balance power, speed, and thrash perfectly, however.

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PORCUPINE TREE On The Sunday Of Life

Album · 1992 · Metal Related
Cover art 3.37 | 6 ratings
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Porcupine Tree-On the Sunday of Life

Porcupine Tree's debut shows a very different side of the band then heard on later albums. There are a few metal leanings here and there, but this mostly strange avant-garde space rock.

Porcupine Tree originally began as a joke band between Steven Wilson and Malcolm Stocks, a joke of them being members of a long-forgotten 70's rock band. This is unlike any 70's rock band I've ever heard, however. I've often seen PT's earlier albums labeled as being very Pink Floyd-like, yet I don't really see the connection. This is certainly very unique, and an interesting experience.

After an intro titled 'Music for the Head', the album begins with the track 'Jupiter Island'. This song is definitely going to be space rock with a name like that, but this isn't you're normal Hawkwind-type space rock. It has some really catchy drumming, but Wilson's vocals sounds very strange. On the song 'The Nostalgia Factory' his vocals sound like they are bordering on the sound of vocals on a 33rpm record at 45rpm. The keyboards are very flowing and sound very atmospheric, and adds to the music very much. My favorite song, and the only one with any metal leanings in it is the fan favorite 'Radioactive Toy'. It sounds more traditional then some of the other songs, Wilson's vocals don't sound strange and there are really nice heavy guitar slashes. Even though this album was a joke, the lyrics for 'Radioactive Toy' sounds like a metaphor for something deeper.

There are also some tracks that just make you say, 'What the hell were they smoking?'. The 27-second 'Message from a Self-Destructing Turnip' is an example of this. It's just 27 seconds of weird distorted words that I can't make out. I do have to say these tracks add to the atmosphere the album is trying to set up, it adds to the space rock experience.

Overall, if you take it as a joke like it was meant I'm sure it won't seem too off the wall. I don't recommend it people just getting into Porcupine Tree, I would start with 'In Absentia' or 'Fear of a Blank Planet' once they found their footing as a metal band. If you enjoy space rock though, or want something different I would definitely check it out.

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