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EXMORTUS Slave to the Sword

Album · 2014 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.25 | 2 ratings
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"Slave to the Sword" is the 3rd full-length studio album by US power/thrash metal act Exmortus. The album was released through Prosthetic Records in February 2014. Exmortus was formed in 2003 and released several demos and a couple of EPs before releasing their debut full-length studio album "In Hatred's Flame (2008)".

The music on "Slave to the Sword" is a mix of thrash, power and traditional heavy metal. Add to that a very strong neo-classical element and you´re halfway there. The riffs are often hard edged thrash metal riffing and the raw distorted vocals also point in that direction, but the power metal element is equally strong. The traditional heavy metal element is mostly due to the lyrics and image of the band. Songtitles like "Warrior of the Night", "Battle-Born" and especially "Metal Is King" should also give an indication of the "true metal" lyrical themes.

The music is guitar focused, with loads of neo-classical influenced solos and themes (most prominently featured on the instrumental "Moonlight Sonata (Act 3)"), usually played at the speed of light. This is generally very fast-paced music featuring a great energy level. The band are incredibly tight and some of the guitar trickeries are jaw drop inducing. It´s not often I´m completely blown away by the technical skills of metal musicians these days, but these guys are fantastic in that respect.

"Slave to the Sword" is well produced too, featuring a clear and powerful sound production, which suits the music well, and all in all this is a high quality release by Exmortus. Besides the very high level musicianship, which is a great asset, it´s how the band combine the stylistic elements that´s the real attraction here. As such you´ll find little here you haven´t heard before, but the combination of the elements is a bit surprising and ultimately proves to be a pretty fresh approach. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.


Album · 2014 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 2.91 | 4 ratings
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Animals as Leaders' third album feels like it's hitting diminishing returns on the djent side of the equation compared to the rather more interesting Weightless, but it manages to just about make the cut thanks to the exploration of jazz fusion and Latin styles that yields a more diverse sound than they've previously enjoyed. At the same time, I can't help but wish that these momentary flirtations with expanding and reconfiguring the group's sound had gone a little deeper, since whilst they add a little spice here, they don't go quite so far enough as to open up enough new creative directions to feel confident about the group's long-term prospects.

ALCEST Shelter

Album · 2014 · Metal Related
Cover art 3.27 | 4 ratings
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I'd found the previous Alcest number, "Les voyages de l'âme", to be rather disappointing, but in retrospect it's clear that it was a transitional release which suffered from Alcest's increasing disinterest in the metal half of its black metal/shoegaze fusion. Here, the problem is solved by Alcest abandoning metal altogether, yielding a pure shoegaze release which manages to turn in a decent but not revolutionary performance in that genre. Metal fans will find little to love here, shoegaze fans will have heard this all before, and if you're one of those who feels really excited about the aesthetic possibilities of blackgaze, you'll probably find this a deeply unambitious release.


EP · 2014 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
I always like to think that my reviews are totally unbiased and 100% objective, but I think that I really ought to mention that I have been in the studio a few times with these guys while they work on their debut album, and that I wrote the press release for this their first EP. Disclaimer over. The band came together in August 2011, when drummer Dom Morris, guitarist David Hitchcock and bassist Elliot Pike had all left Uncouth, but wanted to keep working together. They met up with Darrin (ex- Skivy and Fuel Set) and this is the result of the hard work they have put in on the live circuit since then, honing their collective skills and direction. When asked about their musical influences bassist Elliot said “Where to start? Deep Purple, The Who, Led Zeppelin, Tom Petty, Soundgarden, Alice in Chains, Pearl Jam, Nirvana, Soulfly, Black Sabbath through to more alternative/indie stuff such as Mike Patton, Neutral Milk Hotel and Band of Horses”. Recorded with Andrew Buckton (Crowded House, Dave Dobbyn, Bic Runga, Supergroove, Subtract etc), the guys have produced a four song set that is polished and refined, yet has the energy and passion of their live performance, as they mix grunge and metal influences with Seventies hard rock arrangements to create something that is vibrant and with plenty of balls, yet almost commercial and “poppy’ at the same time.

There is a real honesty about this music, it feels ‘real’ and grunty in an era when music often feels false and manufactured. It has been picked up by Triple A Records for release, and features artwork which folds out into a poster with a “terror serpent” on one side, and caricatures of the guys on the other where somehow they have been transformed into zombie musicians. All in all it is a great package, and shows yet again that while we may be small in population, NZ keeps punching above it’s weight in terms of quality bands. These guys are well worth discovering. www.facebook.com/71sunset


Album · 2014 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Shadows (2014) is the second full-length by German power metal act Sinbreed. These guys can be considered a pretty big deal on the German power metal scene due to a pretty major artist connection they have: Blind Guardian. While drummer Frederik Ehmke has been with Sinbreed since they were known as Neoshine and played on their debut When Worlds Collide (2010) from 2012 onwards the band has also featured Marcus Siepen in their line-up as a second guitarist, bringing them up to a five piece act.

It probably will come as no surprise then that Sinbreed are an example of German power metal in near enough its purest form. There's a slight thrash metal edge to some of the guitar riffs on Shadows that I didn't detect on When Worlds Collide but since German power metal is known for its more aggressive guitar driven approach this may be more of a fluke than a conscious decision on the band's part, although they certainly are there either way, particularly during the title track. Other than that Shadows is a more of the same album from Sinbreed but seeing as When Worlds Collide is one of the best pure power metal albums of recent years that's certainly what I've been wanting to hear from Sinbreed again.

And I have to say they've delivered another exceptionally strong power metal album, although it is a case where I have found I enjoyed the debut a bit more. Songs like the pre-release numbers Bleed and Call to Arms are easy favourites that stand up to anything that appeared on the debut. If you like your power metal to be furious in sound but still with a strong sense of melody and epic vocals then Sinbreed are an act you can't go far wrong with, for either of their releases up until this point. They embody everything that makes this particular branch of the genre so great. There are a couple of tracks that don't hit the spot the same way on Shadows, London Moon being filler by comparison, but those are still pretty praiseworthy tracks and overall it's an easy 4.5 star album that will keep both fans of the debut and newcomers to Sinbreed alike happy. Hell even with a few slightly lesser songs it's so close to making my top tier. Power metal does not get much more essential than these guys.


(Originally written for Heavy Metal Haven: http://metaltube.freeforums.org/sinbreed-shadows-t3437.html)

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THERION Symphony Masses: Ho Drakon Ho Megas

Album · 1993 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.07 | 11 ratings
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As the title Symphony Masses suggests, right here is where Therion started experimenting with incorporating overtly symphonic sounds into their death metal format, resulting in a progressive death metal style which may sound rudimentary compared to works such as Theli, but if approached from a death metal perspective clearly finds Therion carving out a distinctive niche and sound for themselves. Never again would they be quite as pure as they were on prior releases, and their sound would only be the richer for it, and this album's dramatic sound is a solid listen in its own right as well as laying the foundation for what would follow.

DIMMU BORGIR Enthrone Darkness Triumphant

Album · 1997 · Black Metal
Cover art 3.82 | 22 ratings
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I think in order to fully understand this album, we need to see where this album fits in the black metal timeline of the 90's. After the backlash of Euronymous' death in 1993, one of the biggest black metal albums of all time Emperor's “In The Nightside Eclipse.” One of the reasons why this album was so successful was because it took the Black Metal sound and added something so different to it that it pretty much changed the genre...for the better.

Now at this point, Dimmu Borgir started out as a 3 piece black metal act, with only Shagrath and Silenoz being prime members. Their first two albums “For All Tid” and “Stormblast” while brilliant albums where pretty much standard black metal releases, with the added keyboard sound oomphing their atmosphere. So in order to really gain attention to themselves, Silenoz and Shagrath decided to recruit 2 other members to the band, morph their sound with more modern and experimental influences.

I think the reason for the popularity of this album was how contemporary the band where able to make their sound. Now don't get me wrong, black metal is still black metal, with even most metal fans turning their nose up at mass amounts of discord. But with the popularity and rise of the Gothenburg melodic death metal scene, Dimmu decided to take splices of melodic guitar work and mix it with the darkened black metal sound. The keyboard playing from Stian Aarstad is a real highlight on the album, adding extra Gothic tones to the bands sound, with some very 80's organ, string and choir sounds.

This album also marked a different path for the band, with the lyrics of the album all written in English, rather than the bands native Norwegian. The lyrics on this album move from rather beautiful dark poetry into the odd Satanic verse now and then. Personally, I love a good bit of Satan worship now and then, but the rather beautifully penned lyrics are a good thing to see now and then.

Opening track “Mourning Palace” is a majestic piece of metal music. With haunting string melodies along with an experimental song structure and many moving instrumental sections, the song is really pushed along with Shagrath's powerful bellows.

An all time classic track has to be “Spellbound (By The Devil).” Opening with one of the most played keyboard riffs on the planet, the song has some incredible shrieks from Shagrath and in my opinion some of the best riffs ever in a black metal song.

One of the album's most darkest moments comes in the form of “Relinquishment Of Spirit & Flesh.” With blastbeats going throughout, the song is an evil piece of music, with very little melody or harmony throughout.

One of the album's most interesting moments can be heard in the track “Entrance.” With a slow and almost doomy feel to the song. Some of the best moments of this track are seen in the instrumental sections, especially the moments with just keyboards and drums.

Closing track “A Succubus In Rapture” is a rather beautiful and sexy black metal tune. With Shagrath telling the tale of a mischievous Succubus, it is a rather interesting Black Metal love song, with some astounding instrumental accompaniment.

In conclusion, this album is pretty much perfect. It is a staple in the Black Metal world and is pretty much critically acclaimed as one of the most influential albums of all time. This album is perfect in its musicality and even for an early black metal release, it still stands the test of time. Bringing the Black Metal mentality even more to the masses, it really is a paradigm of the black metal sound.


THERION Beyond Sanctorum

Album · 1992 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.72 | 10 ratings
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After producing a succinct summary of their early work on Of Darkness, the first true Therion studio album - that is, the first one to be conceived as an album and containing material more or less contemporary to its recording, rather than songs they'd already worked over for years before they entered the studio - is a clear notch above its predecessor, incorporating a broader range of influences than you might otherwise expect into their brutal death metal framework but, unlike on later albums, rigorously translating them into death metal terms rather than indulging in more direct cross-genre fertilisation. If you don't want brutality, don't come a-knocking, but if you like hard-edged death metal with hidden smarts it's not a bad choice.


EP · 2013 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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The Great Tease This is the first I have heard of Subterranean Masquerade, but it certainly won't be the last.

From what I've heard, this band seems to be a bit of an enigma ? the Wintersun of the heavy prog world, so to say. The band's sole full-length album, Suspended Animation Dreams was released to great acclaim back in 2005, and the band has more or less been silent since. Gaining a cult following from that album, and their 2004 EP Temporary Psychotic State, Subterranean Masquerade went into long term hiding, until last year, when they bubbled up again, with the single Home, released on limited 7" vinyl.

Home was constantly appearing on my radar, from being at the top of my RYM automatic recommendations, to trusted critics talking about it and friends telling me I should hear it. But I generally ignore singles, and assumed, in my naiveté, that Home would be followed by a full- length record (this was before I knew of Subterranean Masquerade's reputation). And I was sort of right, since this is now the EP version of Home, released digitally, with the b-side "Beyond The Pale" (a cover of gothic rock band The Mission), and a lengthy bonus track, the nearly 10- minute "That Night". With this EP now reaching past 20 minutes, it was back on my radar as a worthwhile release, and damn? this is really something.

On this release, Subterranean Masquerade are playing a style of progressive rock/metal that sounds somewhere between Orphaned Land, Opeth and Porcupine Tree. We have the introspective atmospheres of Wilson & Co, particularly evident on "Beyond The Pale", we have the deep growls and big riffs of Blackwater Park-era Opeth, which find their way into parts of the title track, as well as a significant majority of the final bonus track, and then we have the Arabic flavour of Orphaned Land, made even more notable now that Orphaned Land's drummer Mathan Smuhely has joined the band for this current lineup (along with Novembers Doom bassist Mike Feldman). The songs here are decorated by little flourishes of Arabic strings, both bowed and picked, and even the guitar riffing has the sort of of oriental flourish that Orphaned Land's guitars do.

The instrumentals here, for the most part, are outstanding. The first two tracks here were mixed by metal maestro Dan Swanö, who has produced many of my favourite records, and the production here is certainly excellent as well. The title track is lead by a quick riff, done with a flurry of guitar and Arabic violins (apologies for not knowing the correct name for these instruments). Although this riff, along with several here, sound straight of a record like ORwarriOR, Subterranean Masquerade keep their distance from Orphaned Land, done by using some Porcupine Tree-esque ambience and vocal parts in the verse. "Beyond The Pale", being a gothic rock cover, is a far softer affair, although even then, some metal and some Arabic stuff floats in, showing that Subterranean Masquerade aren't simply covering it, they're making it their own track, sounding perfectly fine right next to "Home". I do not know of the original track, released on The Mission's 1988 album Children, but judging from the high single rating it has gathered here, it seems to be a highly considered track in its original form as well. My favourite part here is certainly the Arabic section in the bridge, when the instrumentals get into a great groove, the sort of jam that could go on for minutes and never get boring, which is why I get kinda annoyed that it's cut off a bit fast at the end.

But honestly my only real complaint about this release, and it certainly gets in the way of my enjoyment, are the vocals. Both the deep growls and the low, baritone cleans are a bit irritating and weak in my books, and the only time they really work is during the gothic rock of the verses of "Beyond The Pale", but even then I'm still not too keen. The growls are a bit messy and vague, reminding me a lot of Mikko Kotamäki, especially his work with Barren Earth, in that they are rather infuriating and don't really mesh well with the style of music. The only time they really work here is during the final track, "That Night", in which they are the dominant vocal style for its 9-minute runtime. "That Night" was a song originally written and recorded for Suspended Animation Dreams nearly 10 years ago, but the band never released it until now, and if this is a bonus track, then I really have to get my hands on that album. The song is an incredibly Opethian track, relying on riffs more than anything else, and Subterranean Masquerade really show their hand in playing these; some of them are absolutely brilliant. I love the mood that the track holds for the first few minutes, how despite the death vocals, it feels sort of uplifting in a weird sense, like a happier and more upbeat track, yet simultaneously, it's melodic death metal.

Honestly, if Subterranean Masquerade plans to release a full-length record anytime soon, the Home has certainly done its job of pulling the hype back their way. With Orphaned Land releasing a lacklustre album last year, and Myrath's new one being nowhere to be found, it seems the world is in need of a new face of progressive oriental metal, and oddly, one that comes from New York. Subterranean Masquerade, you have our attention. Don't lose it.


Originally written for my Facebook page/blog: www.facebook.com/neoprogisbestprog


Album · 2013 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.86 | 9 ratings
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"Psykerion" is the 2nd full-length studio album by US progressive metal act Thought Chamber. The album was released through InsideOut Music in September 2013. There have been quite a few changes in the lineup since the debut and as a consequence the only remaining members of the lineup that recorded "Angular Perceptions (2007)" are band founder/guitarist Michael Harris and lead vocalist Ted Leonard (Enchant, Affector, Spock´s Beard).

While Michael Harris was the main composer on "Angular Perceptions (2007)" and remains to be on "Psykerion" the two albums are quite different in sound and style. You can still hear it´s the same band playing, but Thought Chamber have developed their sound significantly in the years between the two releases. While references to acts like Dream Theater, late eighties Fates Warning (tracks like "Psykerion: The Question" and "Recoil" feature the same dark atmosphere) and at times even early Psychotic Waltz (mostly because of Ted Leonard´s voice and singing style) are valid enough, Thought Chamber incorporate a lot of progressive rock elements on "Psykerion", which they didn´t do to this extent on the debut album, which was more of a "straight" progressive metal affair. As a result "Psykerion" is quite an eclectic release featuring a successful balance between progressive metal and progressive rock elements (tracks like "Light Year Time" and "Isle of Bizen" for example feature very few metal related elements). Probably because of the shared sci-fi lyrics and imagery I can´t help mention that "Psykerion" features quite a few similarities to "ReEvolution (2013)" by Cynthesis. Another great 2013 progressive metal release.

"Psykerion" features 16 tracks and a full playing time of 63:53 minutes. Some of the tracks are shorter instrumentals, interludes or intro/outros, but the song lengths are generally around the 3 - 5 minutes mark, with only two longer tracks out of the bunch and none of those two exceed the 10 minutes mark. The whole thing is packed in a powerful and well produced sound production. At times I feel the keyboards (leads) are slightly too high in the mix, but that´s a minor issue. The organ on the other hand are placed tastefully in the mix and provide the music with a nice organic warmth.

The musicianship are on a high level. In keeping with the eclectic nature of the music you´ll be exposed to both atmospheric playing and more challenging progressive parts with fast runs and tempo- and time signature changes in "classic" progressive metal style. Lead vocalist Ted Leonard delivers a very convincing performance, but if you are already familiar with some of his previous work, that´s really no surprise. He is a greatly skilled singer with a distinct sounding voice and a personal vocal style.

"Psykerion" reeks of class all the way through. The musicianship are strong, the sound production professional and well sounding and the songwriting is intriguing and adventurous. All in all a high quality product in every way possible. A 4.5 star (90%) rating is deserved.

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