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metal music reviews (new releases)

BUCKETHEAD Pike 251 - Waterfall Cove

Album · 2017 · Non-Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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BUCKETHEAD (as Bucketheadland) / Pike 251 - Waterfall Cove / 8th release of 2017 / All instrumental / Contains 4 tracks / Clocks in at 28minutes 50seconds / everything played by Buck-buck-buckethead

“Waterfall Cove” (7:41) begins soft and dreamy. Clean guitar, slow and sensual bass. Cymbal action. Then it picks up with heavier drums but still slow and serene like a summer breeze in the Bahamas. It slowly and steadily picks up steam and somewhere over the TWO minute mark adds some more energetic passages as it quickly goes back to soft and serene and then finds enough confidence to pick up the steam a bit. While these sorts of BH tracks are very hit and miss, this one has a decent ambience and overall mood setting to it. Not his peak but still quite pleasant. The guitar has a particularly pleasant tone to its twanging about

“Whispers Way” (11:22) begins slow and easy with breezy ambience and clean guitars and light drumming action. It continues the basic melody with a slow and steady delivery and has tinny guitar solos, bass and drums follow a predictable path down the mellow zone. Yeah, this is similar to countless PIKES before but there’s something about the newer technology of production, the slightly tweaked ways of playing (yeah, i’m paying attention) and the attention to percussion not being a lazy follow that works for me. While this doesn’t blow me away, it doesn’t blow me off either however it does drag on for too long and hasn’t enough ideas for totally excitement. It does pick up a bit towards the end with lead guitar albeit in bluesy mode but pleasant enough to prevent suicides

“The Barren Plains” (2:47) starts out with extra echoey clean guitars and creates a guitar melody in clean mode and adds bass and drums. Nice ambience. BH has gotten the overall effect thing down for sure but compositionwise this is pretty standard stuff at this point. If you can’t get enough of this, you’ll love it but for me. Yawn

“9001” (7:00) seems to take off where the last track left off. It is a clean guitar with bass and light drums but then suddenly after a but totally metamorphoses into a grungy heavily distorted guitar sound that makes me wanna jump in the mosh pit but then just as i’ve acclimated gets cold feet and becomes clean and echoey again in the most mellow of ways. Oh wait! More moshing to be done! Just as i’ve acclimated to clean, it rocks again but then simmers down to semi-rock and then grungy rock with a cool sustain on the grunge and then back to clean. Not a bad track actually

This one is somewhat derivative of many of the PIKES of the past but somehow stands out a wee bit more. Yeah a WEEEEE bit more. It’s not gonna exactly usurp any of my favorite PIKES for sure but at least has a nice delivery system of previously presented ideas which makes it OK but not outstanding. So a good album it is without being OMG great

KREATOR Gods of Violence

Album · 2017 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 5 ratings
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Nightfly
When I first heard Kreator’s Pleasure To Kill back in the mid-eighties I was blown away by its sheer intensity and speed. It may have lacked finesse but made up for it with sheer aggression. As far as my memory goes I don’t remember hearing a more extreme slab of metal at the time and that’s putting it up against the likes of Slayer who were the benchmark for full on thrash as far as I was concerned. Since then I’ve bought some and even missed some of Kreator’s albums but when I hear them they rarely disappoint. Forward to 2017 and Gods Of Violence is their fourteenth album. I was pretty impressed with 2012’s Phantom Antichrist – like Testament and Exodus here was one of the thrash originals that could still deliver as good if not better than they ever did. Gods Of Violence is another winner. Similar in feel, if perhaps not quite as intense it’s equally strong.

After the short intro piece Apocalyticon, World War Now kicks in with its ferocious riffing, a reassuring statement of intent. These days though it’s not all about sheer speed and the tempo varies here and indeed throughout the album. Something of a benefit I feel but fear not, this is still one hell of an aggressive album – check out Totalitarian Terror if proof is needed. Mille Petrozza’s snarling vocals are still incredibly strong and one of the best in thrash. Likewise drummer Ventor, there from the start with only a short break is still a force to be reckoned with. These songs, the title track being the perfect example, also contain plenty of melody – there’s even a touch of Iron Maiden at times, which to their credit takes nothing away from the ferocity and also feature some stunning guitar solos too. Mille Petrozza and second guitarist Sami Yli-Sirniö are certainly the equal of most guitar partnerships in thrash metal. Even when they slow things down like on Fallen Brother they still pack a considerable punch.

Overall then Gods Of Violence is another strong addition to an already glorious back catalogue of benchmark thrash that’s sure to please fans of the band. A great start to the year for thrash metal.

HAIL SPIRIT NOIR Mayhem In Blue

Album · 2016 · Black Metal
Cover art 4.48 | 8 ratings
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UMUR
"Mayhem in Blue" is the 3rd full-length studio album by Greek progressive metal act Hail Spirit Noir. The album was released through Dark Essence Records in October 2016. It´s the successor to "Oi Magoi" from 2014. Hail Spirit Noir was formed in 2010 by three members of Transcending Bizarre?. The band released their debut full-length studio album "Pneuma" in 2012.

Stylistically the music on "Mayhem in Blue" continues the psychadelic/space rock tinged progressive extreme metal style of the first two albums by the band. It´s music which owes as much to artists like early Pink Floyd and Hawkwind as it does to an act like Darkthrone and their ilk. The black metal element is relatively restrained here though, but there are a couple of pretty raw moments featured on the album (including a few blast beats). Mostly though we´re treated to a more mellow, dark, and twisted progressive rock/metal sound. Keyboards and especially organ play an important role in the band´s music, and you can add The Doors to the list of influences as keyboard player Harris often sounds like a bizarre dark carnival version of Ray Manzarek.

"Mayhem in Blue" features 6 tracks and a full playing time of 40:29 minutes, and all tracks featured on the album are high quality compositions. The tracks are adventurous, memorable, and dynamic. The catchiness of the material is one of the great assets of the album, and even the 10:52 minutes long "Lost in Satan's Charms" is instantly catchy. It´s probably because the band don´t go overboard with complex song structures and technical playing, but instead keep it relatively simple and focused on atmosphere. Simple doesn´t mean regular vers/chorus simple though and the band often break away from that tried and true formula to create more adventurous structures, but they still manage to keep things accessible.

The musicianship is strong on all posts, and the playing tight yet organic. Lead vocalist/guitarist Theoharis has a powerful raspy black metal style vocal delivery, but the pleasant warm clean vocals by guest vocalist Dimitris Dimitrakopoulos are even stronger. The combination of the two vocal styles bring much to Hail Spirit Noir´s music. "Mayhem in Blue" features a raw organic sound production, which brings out the best in the music, and upon conclusion it´s another really strong release by Hail Spirit Noir. A 4.5 star (90%) rating is deserved.

NEANDERTHAL Get a Move On

Album · 2017 · Stoner Metal
Cover art 5.00 | 1 rating
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Unitron
While stoner/groove metal band My Ruin seems to be on hiatus, the band's husband and wife duo of Mick and Tairrie B Murphy have dedicated themselves to releasing their own solo stuff. Tairrie B released her first solo hip-hop album since 1993 back in 2015, and now Mick Murphy (under the moniker of Neanderthal) has released his first solo album since 2007's Take the Ride.

While Mick Murphy has already proved himself to be a guitar virtuoso and one of the most underrated guitarists out there with plenty of My Ruin's material, he presents a very eclectic and varied album with Get a Move On. There's a little bit of something for everyone on this release, with styles ranging from bluesy stoner metal, thrash/speed metal, neo-classical metal, and even a bit of a punk attitude. It's all instrumental, as Murphy's guitar sings better than any vocalist could on this album.

Often times the styles blend together in one song, as his playing on My Ruin's albums did. He'll be playing bluesy stoner metal, and rival Yngwie Malmsteen at the same time with his neo-classical soloing. "Anti Pop Culture Manifesto" and "Alarm Bells" are great examples, as they are both groovy upbeat tracks, with very classically-styled solos. "Triptych" is pure neo-classical metal, which begins and ends with some of the best classical guitar playing I've heard in a while. "Party Knights" may very well be the most impressive song on the album, blending blues, funk, and thrash metal all while remaining coherent and infectiously catchy.

It's not all upbeat though, as there are some quite emotional moments on the album. "Euphonious Dissonance" blends somewhat of a bluesy-grunge sound with the atmosphere of some melodic doom metal to create an unsettling vibe. "Song for Sam III", which is dedicated to Mick Murphy's late brother Sam M Murphy III, does this best though. It's mix of brooding doom riffing, atmospheric somber harmonies, and bluesy soloing really brings home the emotional feeling.

Get a Move On is not a long album, only clocking in at about 35 minutes, but that helps it in leaving no room for filler and delivering a wide range of styles for any metalhead to find something to enjoy. The production has a nice raw garage rock tone to it, making the aggression sound that much heavier and harmonies that much more atmospheric. If you're looking for an eclectic album with a masterful blend of various styles, this is an essential listen. Hope you found this review helpful, feel free to comment!

FEN Winter

Album · 2017 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 5.00 | 2 ratings
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Kev Rowland


Formed in early 2006 with the goal of producing Atmospheric Black Metal that incorporates elements of post-rock, Fen have, since then, found themselves at the vanguard of a resurgent UK Black Metal scene. With an EP, four full length albums, several splits and compilations to their name so far, this their latest full-length album (released March 2017) is their most ambitious to date, as they have combined Black metal with many other styles to create something that is very special indeed. Conceptually, they have returned to the roots of their ideology, seeking to embrace and distil all that inspired them when they first set out on this path over a decade ago – that is, to invoke the ambience of bleak reflection and ancient sorrow that permeates the mysterious landscapes of the fens of Eastern England.

According to singer/guitarist The Watcher this album “very much describes a journey towards sanctity and redemption across a landscape steeped in mystery, hints of forgotten darkness and sorrows long since drowned in the distant past.” There are six songs, but the only real way to play this album is to put it on at the beginning and be prepared for seventy-five minutes of music that will take you well away from the comfortable world you reside in, to a place that is far more barren and bleak, filled with foggy atmosphere and danger. How just three guys (The Watcher is joined by Havenless on drums and Grungyn on bass and vocals) can produce something as majestic and over the top of as this is just beyond me. It shows that although the Scandinavian countries seemed to have very much a stranglehold on this type of music for a long time, that is no longer the case. Fen have been going for ten years now, and they are just maturing and getting even better with age. The record label describes this as “atmospheric Black Metal and delicate, spacious cleans, married with aspects of 70s progressive rock, shoegaze and doom metal”. I can make it much simpler than that. This is genius, nothing less.

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METAL CHURCH Metal Church

Album · 1984 · US Power Metal
Cover art 4.39 | 28 ratings
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After three demos of fully developed heavy metal heaven and a different band name Shrapnel, METAL CHURCH was ready for prime time and originally released their eponymous debut album independently on the Ground Zero label when it first came out in 1984. The album sold 70,000 albums and caught the attention of Electra albums who would sign them (due to James Hetfield coaxing them to do so) and then re-release it the following year. The band had gone through a series of lineup changes during the demo years but found a somewhat stable lineup for a while at least. On this debut all the elements the band had been developing had come together in perfect form and METAL CHURCH was one of the heaviest releases of 1984 rivaling Metallica’s “Kill Em All.” Musically they fall somewhere between the NWOBHM and the more powerful thrash that was in its nascent form. The name METAL CHURCH actually came from a nickname that Vanderhoof gave to his apartment in San Francisco before they moved to Aberdeen, WA and then changed their name.

The album kicks off with the thunderous attack of “Beyond The Black” which shows a distinct strain of Judas Priest bleeding though in heavy metal guitar riffs alongside a galloping bass and energetic percussive workout. David Wayne proves he’s the right man for the job on vocal duties as he has the range of a Rob Halford and the dirty metal grit of a James Hetfield mixing and melding the two styles freely throughout the album’s run. Lead guitarist Kurdt Vanderhoof took the reigns as the primary songwriter and cranked out one satisfying track after another with killer fuckin’ lead guitar that tears the roof off the house. After the shit quality of the demos, the debut album sounds excellent as every instrument shines through delivering their powerful sounds that conspire to create a very unique metal album for the early year of 1984.

Everything about this album is almost perfect with heavy hitting metal tracks churning out riff after riff with brilliant ways of changing it up inserting guitar solos and alternating between the NWOBHM and thrash metal worlds. The tracks alternate from on fire feistiness heard on “Merciless Onslaught” to the slower clean guitar introduction of the mythic “Gods Of Wrath” which quickly changes into a crusty crunchy metal powerhouse and it’s not hard to hear how METAL CHURCH would influence other US power metal acts such as Crimson Glory along with fellow Washingtonians Queensryche although MC incorporated more thrash elements than any of their successors. This debut is super heavy and extremely catchy for a metal album of this era. It’s instantly addictive and despite not having the best production job in the world adds a little dirty metal grit to the overall sound. Not a bad track on the album but it does have a couple weaker tracks towards the ends but livens up again as the final closing track which is a super energetic cover of Deep Purple’s “Highway Star” picks up steam and sizzles its way to finish the album. A mandatory metal addition to any collection.

METAL CHURCH Four Hymns

Demo · 1982 · US Power Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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FOUR HYMNS was the third demo from METAL CHURCH before the release of their eponymous debut album in 1984. While the first two were entirely instrumental, on this one they added a fifth member vocalist David Wayne who would appear on the first two MC albums and then comeback for a couple more in the 90s before dying in a car crash in 2005. While the production quality is still quite shoddy at this point, the rampaging metal musicianship is on full fire and it was inevitable that the band would find a record deal at this point as they rivaled anyone else in the metal universe at this point with super speed induced guitar riffs, pummeling bass line and a healthy dose of drum attack.

Wayne was the perfect vocalist for the job as he was obviously steeped in NWOBHM influences with Rob Halford being the most obvious however Wayne had a dirtier and gritty vocal attack. It’s also true that the compositions themselves emanate from the British influences of the day with some Priest-ish and Maiden-esque riffs in the music.

Of the four tracks on FOUR HYMNS, only “Gods Of Wrath” and “Battalions” would find a home on the debut album but while the others are decently done they don’t match the beauty of the first few full albums. The production is still crap at this point and actually sounds worse than the previous demo but FOUR HYMNS remains a compelling listen at least once for historical value as the music is absolutely on fire and it’s apparent the musical mojo is steaming hot and ready to make its mark on the world. Far from essential but quite the speed metal attack for 1982.

METAL CHURCH Hitman

Demo · 1982 · US Power Metal
Cover art 2.00 | 1 rating
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The second of three demos before the 1984 eponymous debut release. HITMAN was released independently and was another all instrumental release on cassette only with three tracks. The title track would go on to be featured on the debut album while the other two wouldn’t. These tracks aren’t as fast and furious as the “Red Skies” but the production has gotten much better although it still lies somewhere between NWOBHM and early proto-thrash. It’s obvious at this point the band is ready for a vocalist and talented enough to hang with the big boyz of the early 80s metal scene. Kurdt Vanderhoof has quite the unique style of lead guitar and the band while clearly influenced by many of the greats holds their own. This one isn’t as satisfying as the debut demo and could really use some vocals at this point. Still though not bad.

METAL CHURCH Red Skies

Demo · 1981 · US Power Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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Before moving to their better known Aberdeen, WA a year later, METAL CHURCH was actually founded in San Francisco, CA as the band Shrapnel but soon changed it soon after the move to the more familiar name which founder and lead guitarist Kurdt Vanderhoof took from a nickname he gave his apartment while living in SF. The band released three demos before their landmark debut eponymous album in 1984 and this first demo RED SKIES was the independent cassette release that them noticed fairly quickly due to the high quality musicianship on board. This was a totally different band at this point with members coming and going before finally releasing the first album with only Vanderhoof sticking around to see the band blossom into an early 80s metal powerhouse.

RED SKIES is a short three track demo where two tracks would never be released and only “Merciless Onslaught” finding a home on the debut album. This is all instrumental and sounds like a practice session for vocalists to practice. This is the typical early demo quality with crappy production and horrible mixing but what makes this shine despite irritating audiophiles is that the music is top notch even at this stage and the four musicians were more than ready for prime time as the riffs galloped only faster than anything short of Venom at this point in 1981 and straddles somewhere between NWOBHM and early thrash. Before you know it the short demo is over but it’s a satisfying historical reference to check out. I would hardly call this essential but it’s so well played despite the awful muddy recording that i have to give it at least 3 stars.

ARENA Contagion Max

Boxset / Compilation · 2014 · Metal Related
Cover art 5.00 | 1 rating
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After a ten year wait in 2013 fans of ARENA’s monstrous neo-prog hit “Contagion” were finally treated to hearing the album as it was originally intended to be released in the form of the extended double disc CONTAGION MAX. Clive Nolan has always stated that the “Contagion” story was to be more intricate and drawn out with extra instrumental passages and vocal tracks that add more depth to the storyline. Well, Nolan wasn’t too sure about the possibilities of releasing an extra long album and felt the pressure to to edit their ambitious project down to a single disc release. The result was that seven tracks were chopped off the listening experienced and released simultaneously on two separate EPs titled “Contagious” and “Contagium.” While it was all fine and dandy to make those orphaned tracks to the public, much was lost regarding the context in which they were woven into the overall theme. After many years of a demanding public for the album to be released in full form, voila!

Fast forward ten years and the CONTAGION MAX anniversary edition finally sees the light of day in its complete original intended format. It contains all seven tracks in the proper order stuffed into the album “Contagion” from 2003 as a double disc digipak CD release. While i found nothing wrong with the original album “Contagion” and in many ways find it to be the peak of the creative juices flowing for ARENA in their lengthy career, i must say that i much prefer hearing it as the extended double album experience it was meant to be as it smooths out the ruff-around-the-edges transitions that become more apparent once listening in the band-desired delivery mode. CONTAGION MAX doesn’t exactly make the two EPs that came before completely irrelevant if you are interested in hearing electronica induced remixes of the tracks “Witch Hunt” and “Salamander” but i find them a little cliche and devoid of any true reason to exist therefore i highly recommend this beautiful extended version of “Contagion” for anyone who loves that album and wishes that it was longer.

Despite being a fairly newer release, this album has become a little difficult but not impossible to find. Initially it was released as a pre-order campaign with band members adding their autographs but was only released in limited numbers therefore not as easy to obtain as the much easier to find “Contagion.” Another worthwhile mention is that it seems that CONTAGION MAX is possibly a digitally remastered version of the original plus the extra tracks in the proper order. This album sounds EXCELLENT! The production is off the charts beautifully executed with every little sound shining like a crazy diamond and all aspects of the music perfectly mix together in superb splendor. It is unbelievable how well this album sounds and how wonderful it is to experience this one as it delivers on all accounts. Perhaps if this were released as intended it would have been considered a rival force to IQ’s “Subterranea” which is of the same calibre but could also stand up to any of the great symphonic prog releases of the past.

This track listing shows the entire track listing of CONTAGION MAX with the titles in bold being the seven tracks that appear on this expanded edition which were originally spit up randomly and placed on “Contagious” and “Contagium.” They are followed by brief descriptions

Disc One:

1 Witch Hunt (4:17) 2 An Angel Falls (1:14) 3 Painted Man (4:38)

4 VANISHING ACT (from “Contagious”) (4:11) was originally a leftover instrumental track from “The Visitor” album and had the title “Sacrifice” but was rearranged, rerecorded and renamed. It begins with a space rock Floydian echoey guitar and synth run and then becomes more hard rocking with a ample change of riffs drenched in camp mellotron. Very cool sequencer beat and guitar solos that brings aspects of “The Wall” to mind

5 This Way Madness Lies (3:32)

6 THE HOUR GLASS (from “Contagious”) (5:58) begins as a sensual ballad but adds some extra punchy guitars that display the vocal talents of Sowden and thick layers of synthesizers and a heavy bass led melodic development. It adds a continuity to the story as the narrative builds another layer of darkness to the mix

7 Bitter Harvest (2:50)

8 I SPY (from “Contagious”) (2:33) is primarily an acoustic guitar folk number also displaying Sowden’s vocal abilities. Other than acoustic guitar, only the bass is heard

9 Never Ending Night (3:11) 10 Spectre At the Feast (5.34) 11 Skin Game (4:44)

Disc Two: 1 Salamander (4:00) 2 On the Box (2:30) 3 Tsunami (2:30)

4 ON THE EDGE OF DESPAIR (from “Contagium”) (5:40) begins with the same bass line and melody of “This Way Madness Lies” from Disc 1 and sort of a revisiting of that point in the story but after almost a minute switches gear and becomes an acoustic guitar ballad once again highlighting Sowden’s vocals and lyrical supplementation. It continues to alternate between the beginning intro segments and then jumps back into acoustic guitar part again. Sounds really good together as the two parts contrast perfectly and add that flavor of life when some things seem familiar while totally new aspects are being introduced

5 City of Lanterns (1:23) 6 Riding the Tide (4:24)

7 CONTAGIOUS (from “Contagious”) (4:07) begins with sirens and incorporates different sounds that are from the “Contagion” album and creates a little overture of sorts to revisit certain moods of the album. It features a strong bass line with John Mitchell delivering some of the most sophisticated and daring solos on the album. There is also nice background synthesized(?) vocals that add a spooky ambience to the overall mood. Nice keyboard runs as well. This is kind of a revisitation point on the album that takes a few minutes to reflect on what’s already been happening. Very appropriate and nice to take a breather.

8 MARCH OF TIME (from “Contagium”) (7:29) continues the only two tracks that sit back to back not on the original “Contagion.” This sounds more like the majority of tracks as it begins with a heavy bass driven melody and screeching guitars in a Floydian style drenched by feedback and fuzz and then slows down a bit to usher in Sowden’s vocals. Generally speaking the vocal parts are more Floydian and the instrumental parts are harder rocking. It also has some acoustic parts that remind me of The Who especially on “Tommy” with that Pete Townsend type of strumming.

9 Mea Culpa (3:45) 10 Cutting the Cards (4:41)

11 CONFRONTATION (from “Contagium”) (5.05) begins with some sort of mixed media narration clips before ceding into a darkened bass line that is ominously overshadowed by more possibly synthesized background vocalists and that Who inspired acoustic guitar strumming pattern once again punctuated by a staccato heavy guitar chord. It all stops and enters church organ territory and then adds acoustic guitar again only before Mitchell channels his inner Pink Floyd guitar solo instincts and lets loose. This is another all instrumental track

12 Ascension (4:34)

Total Running Time Of CONTAGION MAX = 92 minutes and 40 seconds but i can’t say i get bored once through it’s entirety and much prefer this version as opposed to the truncated “Contagion” album of 2003. Something about the extra tracks connects all the dots for me on this one but that does not mean that the original CONTAGION album suffers from its brevity. On the contrary ARENA hit a home run with two stunning versions of this album that works with or without the seven tracks equally in my world.

ARENA Contagion

Album · 2002 · Metal Related
Cover art 4.36 | 8 ratings
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As ARENA entered the 21st century they finally hit a stable lineup and for the first time and released two albums in a row with the same band members which allowed them the opportunity to learn how to coalesce their individual talents and develop a strong and stable chemistry. On their fifth studio release CONTAGION they hit the high point of their career with yet another concept album that like many of their albums delivers vague and ambiguous notions of going through the trials and tribulations of being human and experiencing every emotion there is to be had a hundredfold. This one is supposedly about the end of the human race and all the emotional baggage of being alive until it happens. As much as i try i still haven’t found a decent explanation of what exactly the concept is supposed to consist of but it matters not for at long last ARENA found their perfect sound with Clive Nolan (keys), John Mithcell (guitars), Ian Salmon (bass), Mick Pointer (drums) and their third lead vocalist Rob Sowden and the quality of the compositions on CONTAGION shows it.

From the first notes of “Witch Hunt” it is obvious that ARENA got major rekindling of musical mojo. At this point they sound less and less like 80s Marillion which was the sound of their early albums and more like their contemporaries IQ who also released a concept album at the same time. This time around the band found a new lease on neo-prog by adding heavier and harder rock guitar and bass often verging into metal territory briefly with virtuosic guitar solos and heavy churning riffs and thundering bass but still manages to weave it around the intricately delicate melodies that have been carefully crafted into extremely strong and catchy tunes that build upon one another and seamlessly transition from track to track until an entire album unfolds around you. There are also many space rock references to Pink Floyd with dreamy echoey guitars, sensual solos and Salmon’s strong Rickenbacker bass lines.

CONTAGION is perfectly partitioned into vocal and instrumental tracks. “Witch Hunt” begins with a thundering bass line, heavy guitar riff and powerful vocal performance by Sowden which sets the tone for the majority of the album but there are also ballad segments like the beginning of the music box beat backed “Spectre Of Feast” and the piano laden “Never Ending Night” which weaves in tender moments surrounded by more thunderous heavy rock. Despite having the qualities of AOR, something about ARENA’s attention to details make the music quite sophisticated with variations in the subtleties such as keyboard runs, echoey guitar backings or different types of drum fills. The melody is the main driver of the tracks with Sowden’s vocal emphasis on the lyrics being mostly in the spotlight except when the band delivers excellent musical prowess such as on the instrumental beasts “This Way Madness Lies,” “On The Box” and “Riding The Tide.”

I must admit that i wasn’t a huge fan of CONTAGION upon first listen as it sounds very much like many neo-prog albums that may come off as gimmicky with the heavier rock elements added but after a few spins i was hooked and the intricate charms of the album shone through with synth rich ambient notes backing heavy yet melancholically addicting melodies passing the torch to the next track that takes the listener onto a new adventure and then on to the next. While there are clearly stronger tracks than others, the beauty of the album is that is places all of the elements in key places. It opens with several strong tracks and then has some quieter less powerful tracks that skillfully link the various parts together. The musicianship is extraordinarily strong on CONTAGION with every member going the extra mile to eke out the most satisfying musical performances.

CONTAGION was originally intended to be released as a double album but Clive Nolan got cold feet on releasing such a sprawling 90 minute plus behemoth of a double album and nixed seven tracks and would release them simultaneously on two separate EPs titled “Contagious” and “Contagium.” After many years of demands by rabid voracious fans to release CONTAGION as the originally intended double album, in 2013 it finally came to be as a tenth anniversary expanded edition titled CONTAGION MAX which contains all of the missing seven tracks in their proper places amongst the others. While it was not intended to replace the original truncated form and was solely intended to provide a supplemental insight into the album’s history, i have to say that ARENA scored big time with CONTAGION as i find it works equally well in either form as CONTAGION doesn’t feel forced and never indicates that certain tracks were left out merely for editing’s sake nor does CONTAGION MAX feel like the extra tracks were superfluous filler either. Personally i would highly recommend both editions but CONTAGION is probably the first place to stop for anyone wanting to check out ARENA’s thoughtful and subtly textured symphonic progressive rock. CONTAGION will surely go down as their magnum opus as it is one of those album’s that only gets better the more you listen to it, at least that’s the way it worked for me.

ARENA Contagium

EP · 2003 · Metal Related
Cover art 3.50 | 5 ratings
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Clive Nolan’s original intent for the “Contagion” album from his band ARENA was for it to be a double album with several instrumental tracks appearing at certain points in the album for there to be a smoother flow between the segments that spell out the storyline. But the record label had other ideas and the band was forced to scrap the idea and instead trim the album down to a single disc and with the leftovers created two separate EPs released simultaneously with the “Contagion” album.

There are several head scratchers about this decision of how to release these extras though. First of all instead of releasing one compilation album of the seven extra tracks, they were instead issued on two different releases, one called “Contagious” and this other edition CONTAGIUM which features the three leftover tracks “On The Edge Of Despair,” “The March Of Time” and “Confrontation.” In addition there is the “Special Remix Of Salamander” which sounds more like a psytrance meets hard rock track with plenty of mellotrons turned up to the max. There are also some multimedia additions that includes a video of “Painted Man,” some ghost vocals that tell the story as well as a tour photo gallery and screensaver.

Like on “Contagious,” these leftovers are quite decent quality listens but this EP as well has been made quite irrelevant since these leftover tracks found a new home on the 2013 anniversary re-issue called “Contagion Max” which featured all of the extra tracks in their proper place on the album as originally intended in its double disc form. The only track that has never found a new home is the remix of “Salamander” and it is hardly worthy of making this bunch of tracks relevant as the “Contagion Max” places the tracks that matter in their proper context.

ARENA Contagious

EP · 2003 · Metal Related
Cover art 3.08 | 4 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
Clive Nolan’s original intent for the “Contagion” album from his band ARENA was for it to be a double album with several instrumental tracks appearing at certain points in the album for there to be a smoother flow between the segments that spell out the storyline. But the record label had other ideas and the band was forced to scrap the idea and instead trim the album down to a single disc and with the leftovers created two separate EPs released simultaneously with the “Contagion” album.

There are several head scratchers about this decision of how to release these extras though. First of all instead of releasing one compilation album of the seven extra tracks, they were instead issued on two different releases, one called CONTAGIOUS and the other “Contagium.” On this release CONTAGIOUS contains the tracks “Vaninishing Act,” “I Spy,” the title track and “The Hour Glass.” In addition to these surplus musical tidbits, there is a “Special Remix Of Witch Hunt” which sounds more like an early 80s new wave band than ARENA.

While the music on this one is quite good, this EP has been made somewhat irrelevant since in 2013 an anniversary release called “Contagion Max” was finally made public and included all the extra tracks in their original intended ordered on a double CD. That means only the “Witch Hunt” remix is unavailable anywhere else and believe me it’s certainly no reason to track this down separately. It’s also strange that these tracks don’t appear sequentially on the “Contagion Max” edition and are scattered about randomly on both discs.

AMORPHIS Circle

Album · 2013 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.88 | 23 ratings
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Necrotica
There's a number of bands who do the whole "discography consistency" shtick very well. Those very bands won't push themselves outside their comfort zone a great deal, but have a strong fanbase who's willing to defend them every step of the way; Amorphis happens to be one of those bands. When you pick up an Amorphis record, you usually know what to expect: melodic death metal with elements of doom metal, folk, and progressive rock. That's been their sound for years, and they haven't seemed to be changing things up very much. This brings us to their newest release, Circle; I'll just say it now... if you're expecting the band's big 180 turn that surprises everyone and brings in a boatload of new fans, you might be pretty disappointed. However, if you want an extremely consistent and expertly-crafted set of melodic metal tunes, stick around.

Though again revolving around the melo-death/doom/prog/folk formula, Amorphis do bring some new things to the table. The most noticeable element they place their emphasis on is the bombast; the expansive nature of Circle is just breath-taking at moments. Take the first thing you hear, "Shades of Gray," as an example; the record immediately lays a thick symphonic atmosphere as the song begins to assume a crawling doom-oriented tempo. It reminds me a lot of a more string-based version of "Greed" from the band's fourth effort Tuonela; a similar melody and style dominates the song, but with a bit more "oomph," if that makes sense. The reason for this is that this song, and the album as a whole, cut out a good chunk of the filler of previous Amorphis records. Despite the aforementioned bombastic sound of the record, the melodies are more fleshed out and the little details never get in the way of the structures of these songs. For instance, "Mission" is one of the shortest songs on the record and yet feels more accomplished than many of the group's past efforts. Beginning with an absolutely gorgeous melancholic piano introduction, the song transitions extremely fluidly to the triumphant riff that follows said intro. The clean vocals only add to this darkly lovely atmosphere while the piano makes a nice return in a sort of bridge that appears a little more than halfway in. Stuff like that is what makes this album work; the band combine little nuances with "epic" metal music to create something that's more cohesive and balanced than the sum of its parts.

That's not to say the band have lost any heaviness in their sound; in fact, many of these songs are even heavier than expected. "Hopeless Days" pummels the listener with a percussive guitar assault that's combined with slow-moving drum work similar to "Shades of Gray." The melodic chorus retains this heaviness while having the same climactic soaring vocals you'd generally expect from the band. That, and the growling is GREAT. Tomi Joutsen really outdid himself in the vocal department on this one, and the growling is no exception. My personal favorite songs in terms of his death growls are "Enchanted by the Moon" and "Nightbird's Song"; the former mixes Joutsen's deep devilish growling with a thick riff that's played over a swing-style drumbeat. "Nightbird's Song" both the clean and harsh vocals together over one of the more complex compositions on the record. Joutsen gets the tone just right; he utilizes whichever style fits the mood best, and you can tell that he knew what he was doing.

The most obvious flaw of this record is how predictable it is. There's no going around the fact that these guys know how to cater to their fans, but one must wonder when enough is enough and the group might have to alter their sound a bit. While this record is very well done, there is indeed a distinct feeling of "been-there-done-that" that's hard to ignore; Circle simply sounds like a refined edition of past glories. However, while this formula worked almost flawlessly for an album like Dead End Kings by Katatonia, this one is lacking something that's hard to describe, and it can't be given anything above my 4.0 rating because of it. Maybe it's in the riffs or the instrumentation, but it'd be nice for Amorphis to be a tad more ambitious with their future work. Sure, "if it ain't broke, don't fix it," but it still seems like Amorphis could add a few more tricks the next time around. As it stands though, Circle is definitely worth the investment. It's got great melodies, a nice dark atmosphere, good quiet sentimental passages, and a sense of bombast that's more than welcome for a band like this. If you like melodic death metal, progressive metal, folk, or all three together, give this a listen.

NO SALVATION Defiling Verses

Album · 2015 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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bartosso
Old-school never gets... old?

There's something about the death metal formula that makes it timeless, impervious to trend shifts and the passage of time. Sure, the genre as a whole has evolved quite a bit throughout the years and the very thought of naming all the branches of that big-ass tree makes me squint with my left eye. But hey, no need for post-progressive-technical death metal when there's enough stylistic diversity in old-school American and European death metal to get inspiration from. That's exactly what No Salvation are about. And they nailed that premise to a fucking cross.

Defiling Verses draws inspiration from an impressive array of death metal landmarks and the more I listen to this short LP, the longer the list of those little nods of appreciation is getting. So, let's point out just a few of them. On one hand, an underlying, classic vibe of Death's Leprosy and Morbid Angel's Altars of Madness is immediately noticeable. On the other hand, its more modern and groovy character makes certain passages of Defiling Verses reminiscent of late Bolt Thrower and some more ominously discordant ones (tremolo warning!), of Deicide and Immolation. Let's not forget the elephant in the room, though, Behemoth. While Behemoth themselves are a fairly "recent" guest to the death metal scene, they've managed to carve out an impressive niche with their blackened sound. No Salvation, while much more old-school in their approach to the genre, are clearly infatuated with the Pomeranian satanists ("Coroner's Friend", "Niosący Światło").

All in all, competent songwriting, solid musicianship and some left hooks here and there (that freaking phaser at the end of "Veritas Obscura"!) make me like No Salvation more than I initially thought I would. It's a band that pays homage to their idols without losing track of what made death metal immortal in the first place. And I don't necessarily mean Chuck Schuldiner's death. Get it? Nevermind, I'll see myself out.

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