Daniel Hay
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Favorite Metal Artists

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326 reviews/ratings
PORCUPINE TREE - Fear Of A Blank Planet Metal Related
PORCUPINE TREE - Anesthetize Metal Related
OPETH - Still Life Progressive Metal
LINKIN PARK - Minutes to Midnight Non-Metal
ANATHEMA - Weather Systems Non-Metal
CHAOS DIVINE - The Human Connection Progressive Metal
CIRCUS MAXIMUS - Nine Progressive Metal | review permalink
LEPROUS - Bilateral Progressive Metal | review permalink
INSOMNIUM - One For Sorrow Melodic Death Metal
INSOMNIUM - Above the Weeping World Melodic Death Metal
PORCUPINE TREE - Deadwing Metal Related
PORCUPINE TREE - Atlanta Metal Related
THE HUMAN ABSTRACT - Digital Veil Progressive Metal
HAKEN - Visions Progressive Metal
WITHIN TEMPTATION - The Unforgiving Symphonic Metal
X JAPAN - Art Of Life Progressive Metal
LINKIN PARK - A Thousand Suns Non-Metal
ANATHEMA - We're Here Because We're Here Non-Metal
ALCEST - Les Voyages de L'âme Atmospheric Black Metal
OPETH - Blackwater Park Progressive Metal

See all reviews/ratings

Metal Genre Nb. Rated Avg. rating
1 Progressive Metal 104 3.00
2 Melodic Death Metal 25 2.52
3 Metal Related 21 3.76
4 Atmospheric Black Metal 15 2.60
5 Non-Metal 12 3.63
6 Alternative Metal 11 2.91
7 Power Metal 11 2.45
8 Avant-garde Metal 11 2.68
9 Symphonic Metal 10 3.10
10 Melodic Metalcore 9 2.06
11 Hard Rock 9 3.11
12 Heavy Metal 9 2.83
13 Metalcore 8 1.38
14 Folk Metal 5 2.70
15 Atmospheric Sludge Metal 5 1.90
16 Death-Doom Metal 5 2.20
17 Doom Metal 5 2.40
18 Mathcore 4 1.75
19 Thrash Metal 4 1.88
20 Stoner Metal 4 2.13
21 Technical Death Metal 3 1.67
22 Deathcore 3 1.00
23 Glam Metal 3 2.67
24 Gothic Metal 3 3.17
25 Groove Metal 3 2.50
26 Funeral Doom Metal 2 2.50
27 Depressive Black Metal 2 2.25
28 Black Metal 2 2.25
29 Trance Metal 2 2.75
30 Proto-Metal 2 3.25
31 Sludge Metal 2 1.50
32 Melodic Black Metal 2 2.50
33 NWoBHM 2 3.00
34 Neoclassical metal 1 1.50
35 Viking Metal 1 2.50
36 Death Metal 1 1.50
37 Drone Metal 1 2.50
38 Electronicore 1 1.50
39 Industrial Metal 1 2.50
40 Hardcore Punk 1 1.00
41 Heavy Alternative Rock 1 2.00

Latest Albums Reviews


Album · 2009 · Alternative Metal
Cover art Buy this album from MMA partners
Has it really been five years since Sound Awake? Damn.

Ever since I started doing this review-on-anniversary thing, I've been kind of surprised at what comes of. More often than not I’m thinking “damn, five years already. I can remember when this one was still getting hype”, but in the case of Sound Awake, I’m seriously amazed at how it’s managed to get where it is in terms of reputation in just that time. I mean, this is the Aussie post-prog record. Responsible for a bucketload of bands following down that line and an even bigger number rising up from birth with this style in mind. And it’s not as if Karnivool did it with multiple releases - Asymmetry was both dissappointing and released way too late to have any impact; almost all of Karnivool’s legendary status in modern progressive rock stemmed from this one record.

Back when I was first getting into this album, a couple of years ago, I was always wary about how much these guys flaunted their Tool influence. It was funny, because back then I wasn’t really even a Tool fan, but I knew their sound, and I knew that Sound Awake was down that line. Everything about this band screamed “Tool clone”. Their names rhyme, they have pretentiously daft lyrics, both bands have links to rather embarrassing alt-metal in their roots, their album covers have ~meaningful~ imagery and are always released half a decade apart, and the way they construct their instrumentals is uncannily similar. I praised Karnivool for taking that sound and making it digestible and frankly a lot better, but in time, as I have ventured more into both bands, I have realised that this does stand separate from its mother quite a bit, and is a milestone record in its own right.

But the thing that reminds me the most about Tool here is how easy it is to fanboy over this shit. When I was giving this a good listen yesterday with proper headphones, I was floored at how much I could pick out to comment on instrumentally. Nearly every performance on this record is flawless. The instrumentals are tight as hell and perfectly balanced, the vocals are a perfect harmony of soft, the tones on both the guitars and drums are spellbinding - everything I was saying about it pointed me towards the way Tool fans talk about their music. But although I will try not to fanboy, instrumentally, this is phenomenal. Everything about this record has an intense, tribal feel to it, and the guitar and bass aren’t just playing boring old lines; they’re darting around the drums and above them and intertwining into each others ranges. The music here captures such a brilliant sense of tribal intensity, particularly in the drums. I absolutely adore the little grace notes that Steve Judd throws on the snare hits throughout the album, and he frequently gets the chance to shine through in some solo segments (the album is even bookended with drum solos), my favourite moments being during “Goliath” and “Change”.

The bass guitar also gets a good run here, and is in fact one of my favourite albums for audible and unique bass guitar. Using the extended range of the 6-string, Stockman manages to throw in some pretty solid high riffs and solos, evident during tracks like “Umbra” or my favourite here, “New Day”. But my favourite use of the bass is the thick and chunky low-end riffs that come into a track like “Set Fire To The Hive”, with the tone thick and throaty and brutally intense. The track on the whole is pretty mediocre, and easily the weakest here (even below interlude track “The Medicine Wears Off” in my ears), but the song is kept alive by the combination of the thick bass tone and the intense tribal drumming.

But for me, there’s no denying that my love for this record definitely revolves around the brilliance of one track, the absolutely spellbinding “New Day”. A week or so ago, I reviewed IQ's 2009 album Frequency, and I referred to its title track being in an elite of near-perfect songs for me. These two tracks are certainly linked in the way they develop and link together so many beautiful melodies, but New Day is in a league of its own. I don’t regularly make lists of songs - I find there are too many of them to make a meaningful ranking, but if I did, I have a strange feeling that this would end up on top, or at least in the top 5.

The song is woven around three primary vocal melodies, and two primary riffs, that could all make a wonderful song on their own, but here are compiled to make something beyond that. I love the way the song opens - with just the single solemn vocal, speaking out softly as the muted delay-guitar flutters in the background. I especially love when this melody comes back in right at the climax, as if to give a new high for the song to rise to. Everything has just built up to the top of the universe in intensity with one of the heaviest riffs on the record, but then the intro comes back in, perfectly settling it down before an even bigger and even heavier riff comes flying in for the final chorus. And then I love how that riff was actually also featured in the intro, played softly on the Dead Letter Circus/Jade Puget-esque palm-muted delay guitar, in transitioning the first part into the verse. I could really go on listing the things I love about this track, and there are hundreds of them, and there’s really nothing I don’t like about it, although my one nitpick would be that some of the softer bits go on a bit long (and by “a bit” I mean two bars), and lose a bit of the intensity, and I am not a fan of the song fading out, but it is forgiven because the song is basically done by then. But on the whole, I seriously cannot name another song that hits me as hard as this one, with all its melodies and riffs and perfect structuring. I may as well name it now as the best song ever, but I know that I would retract it later for perfectionism’s sake.

Of the rest of the album, there are still great tracks. “All I Know” is definitely my #2, and is honestly the proper choice for the album’s single (I have no idea how “Set Fire To The Hive” managed to catch on, although I would wager bogans had something to do with it). The song has a ridiculously catchy groove and an even catchier vocal melody, layering some radio-worthy hooks over some wank-worthy instrumentals. I really love the second verse on here, how Kenny’s vocals become clearer and more emotive, by dropping the Steve Wilson telephone voice effect, as well as the song’s bridge, which contains some insane syncopation that even gets a bit too much for me.

So where does Sound Awake fall? Obviously, this isn’t a perfect record, as evident by my score for it, but its flaws are all rather small and insignificant. For one, the album is certainly too long. It’s undeniably consistent throughout, and aside from “Set Fire To The Hive” and “The Medicine Wears Off”, every song here is a solid 7/10 and definitely enjoyable. But the problem lies within the songs, and also within their repetitiveness. I don’t care if every song here is good, hearing over an hour of intense and intricate alt-metal is always going to leave me slightly bored come the ending. A track like “The Caudal Lure” is definitely solid, and a great addition to the album, but it leans so heavily on the one fantastic chorus - “we should have known better not to taste the wine we swallow”. And as great as it is, I can’t help but feel that the entire song would fall down if it wasn’t there to continue to be great. While every song here is good, there are moments that I wish this album was more concise, for reasons entirely based around the fact that there are many parts of this album that immediately link back to earlier parts. And also - Kenny’s accent does get rather annoying at parts.

The album finishes with two monstrous tracks, both exceeding 10 minutes in length, and I honestly used to use them as a reason to dislike this album. Time and many subsequent listens has revealed their greatness to me, but I still firmly believe they're just a bit too much. Both of them have frequent use of intense tribal drumming, the former with some wonderful palm-mute-delay guitar under it that releases wonderfully to let ring under the hook, and the latter featuring some rumbling bass and the repetitive and rather surreal "hello hollow halo" lines floating above, and of course, a mutha fuckin didgeridoo. How can you have tribal-like Australian music without one of those, right? Both songs are intense and long, but I feel both run their course early and have unnecessary extensions. I love the ending of "Change, Part 2", with the "question who we are" melody and acoustic guitar, but it really feels like an annex, because the song has really completed its purpose after the last chorus. And the last few minutes of "Deadman" are just completely unnecessary, and make a strong track into one that overstays its welcome significantly. Although I do love the brief inclusion of Change Part 1 from Themata at the end - it makes for a glorious transition into its sequel.

Sound Awake is most certainly a classic of modern progressive rock, and one of the most recently crowned classics in my ears. Inventive, influential, insanely tight and yet beautifully melodic, it has set the gold standard for the Australian post-prog sound that we know, and no one has beaten it yet (although Dead Letter Circus came close with This Is the Warning). A wondrous album, containing more or less the greatest song of all time in my opinion, this is proof that progressive rock is still flourishing in the 21st century.


Originally written for my Facebook page/blog:

AMORPHIS Skyforger

Album · 2009 · Progressive Metal
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Melodic Metal, Part 3

Since Tomi Joutsen joined Amorphis in 2005, the band have more or less created the same album every 2 or so years. From 2006’s Eclipse to 2013’s Circle (and most likely beyond), Amorphis have been consistently cracking out albums of hyper-melodic metal music, smothered in insanely good melodies, piano, folk instruments, synth solos and even occasional death growls. But the strangest thing about this music is that despite its obvious simplicity, it is technically the most genre-defying thing in metal music right now. Because despite having hints of progressive metal and folk metal and melodic death metal, they are none of those. They are just “metal”.

The description of this band that I just gave is nearly a recipe of how to impress me. I love melodies. I love metal. I love piano. I love piano in metal more than anything. Folk instruments, synth solos. Jesus, I should love this band. And in a way, I do. Amorphis are one of the most talented bands on the planet at creating deliciously good melodies, and they’re also one of the best bands in the world at perfectly mixing two guitars and piano into metal. The way the rhythm and backing parts of these songs intertwine the sounds is just masterful, using wonderful counterpoint to create an illusion that there are dozens of instruments playing at once. But Amorphis’ problem has never been that, at least not since 2005. This band has a near-perfect sound, and they create stunningly good songs, but that’s really it. Skyforger is regularly considered to be the best of modern Amorphis (although I am slightly more partial to The Beginning of Times), but it’s really just the most consistent of a string of near-identical albums.

And the most frustrating thing about this is that this record still is far from perfection. Amorphis have written five full albums worth of this style of metal, so logically, if they were to pick the best from each, they’d have one of the best metal albums ever. But the truth is that every one of these albums have standouts and duds. There are no true duds on this album, once you give it enough listens, but there are certainly weaker tracks, and the fact that they sound identical to the stronger ones mean they feel like duds. And the worst part about Skyforger is that the band decided to throw them all at you straight up.

The first four songs on this record are amongst the best Amorphis have done. Melodic, memorable, epic, intricate, and just generally fantastic. Funny though, when I saw the track ratings here on RYM during my first listen, I didn’t really get why they were considered much higher, but after several listens, the drop in consistency becomes completely clear. “Sampo” is the longest and best of the four, designing the entire track around an absolutely wonderful little lick that comes on the piano at the start, and guitar later. There are obvious parallels to “Battle For Light” (my favourite Amorphis song) from the following album, showing that Amorphis are definitely one of the most formulaic bands there are, but the combination of that wonderful piano with the majestic chorus with the strings and flute in the bridge with the synth solo that closes it is just too much for me to bother thinking about how formulaic it is.

The song transitions very smoothly into “Silver Bride”, so that the energy of the opener doesn’t truly die, and the song breaks into a great riff with even better counterpoint being played by the piano. This song is definitely not as strong, I’m not too keen on the first part of the chorus, but the second part (“...from the northern summer night from the winter moon”) is gorgeous, especially with the song’s opening riff playing in true melodeath style underneath it. The song also features a wonderful key change near the end, which again is one of Amorphis’ copying-themselves characteristics, but I love it nonetheless.

“From The Heaven of My Heart” is a softer track for the most part, bringing forward Amorphis’ influences in progressive rock. The song features some more great counterpoint, with the piano and the acoustic guitar in the intro, then again with the acoustic and electric guitars in the verse. But what I love the most about this song is the use of more subdued, low-register vocals, giving the song a different texture to the first two (although don’t go thinking Amorphis aren’t being formulaic). The chorus is one again admirably fantastic, but less over-the-top like in the first two.

“Sky Is Mine” is the last truly fantastic track here, containing some excellent use of delay-soaked electric leads, that remind me a whole lot of Dead Letter Circus (although this album is before their time). This song has an unparalleled energy running through it, with the song building up wonderfully to the two marvellous melodies that make up the chorus. And actually, I don’t mind the solos here, although I’ve been known to not be a big fan of soloing in metal - both the synth and guitar solos are melodic and strong, keeping the energy without dissolving into wanky madness.

And then it’s gone. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with the rest of the album, and in fact pretty much every track has at least one part I quite enjoy, but they just aren’t as good. The title track and the album closer “From Earth I Rose” are the best of the remainder, and both could be great songs if they were a bit more focused. The title track has some excellent melodies in the verses, but has a comparatively weak chorus that results in the song feeling half-baked and empty. And the closer is the opposite - its chorus is relatively strong, but not much else surrounding it is. I enjoy the use of flute in the track, but on the whole, it could be so much greater with a bit more oomph.

Skyforger is a great album, I won’t deny that, but it could have been so much better. For one, Amorphis could have done a better job with diversity - if the first four songs nailed the “Amorphis sound”, the rest of the album could have developed some other stuff. And I really don’t get the reasoning behind chucking them all at the front, surely this album would flow better if the standouts were more spread out. And then there’s the matter of the songs sounding the same - why on earth does every damn track (including the good ones) end with that bloody slow-it-down-for-the-finish finale. I mean come on, it’s as weak as fading the songs out. But on the whole, Skyforger is a rather fantastic record, above all the flaws that it has. If you’re a fan of the musical elements I listed at the start, but most specifically great melodies, 21st century Amorphis will be one of your favourite bands, and Skyforger is definitely one of their best efforts.


Originally written for my facebook page/blog:

LANTLÔS Melting Sun

Album · 2014 · Metal Related
Cover art Buy this album from MMA partners
♥ ♥ ♥

Lantlôs were one of the many bands that French musician Neige brought to the forefront in the original blackgaze movement, but were honestly the only one I could never really get into. I guess I didn’t really give them an awful lot of time, but of the one album I heard (2010’s .neon), I wasn’t entirely enthralled by the heavy reliance on harsh vocals and black metal riffing, but I understand if Neige wanted an output to throw his most kvlt and frostbitten music. But now, come 2014, Neige has left the band to continue full-time with Alcest, giving Markus Siegenhort (aka Herbst) full control over the band and its direction. And honestly, the way he’s taking it is a tad ironic.

Melting Sun, as essentially a shoegaze/post-rock record with metal undertones, points rather directly at Shelter, the latest record from Alcest, both in its production, use of fully clean vocals, absence of blast beats, and gloriously sunny cover. Although Alcest managed to avoid this by only have sun in their cover, Lantlos have buried themselves straight into the new blackgaze subgenre of Pinkgaze ♥ ♥ ♥ (yes the hearts are part of the name), following the likes of Deafheaven and An Autumn for Crippled Children down into a blissful sea of pink and gaze.

But as much as this record does seem to be following a trend, I do like it, although not quite as much as the latest Alcest album. Markus makes his point of difference particularly in his vocal delivery, as well as some rather post-metal like heavy sections, with nearly no black metal to be found. The one thing that this album does that a lot of these nu-gaze albums are missing is clear vocals. I’ll admit I’m a fan of a shitton of reverb in my music, and I do love the Alcest records where you honestly can’t hear a single part of the vocals, but it’s just become a cliché. To hear the singing hear float so nicely over the instrumentation, clear in tone and in lyric, is a real breath of fresh air, for the same reasons I praised Neal Halstead’s inclusion in the latest Alcest record. And it brings the vocal melodies so far forward, too – and there are some stunning ones here. The ending of “Cherry Quartz” brings some wonderful vocals in after a long (and oftentimes tedious) post-rock build for the first half. And the melody is absolutely beautiful, in every way, rivaling some of Alcest’s best melodies at their peak. It lifts the song up so much, and nearly forgives that meandering intro with its beauty. But honestly, if I have a nitpick, it’s that I don’t really like the thick and almost djenty bass tone that comes through this part – it should be smoother, dreamier.

And that’s the other thing – the heavy tones on this record. During some of the more metal sections of this album, evident during “Azure Chimes” as well as the first half of the aforementioned “Cherry Quarts”, the tones are huge and meaty, reminding me the most of Russian Circles, and even pushing ever so slightly into djenty sounds – although the guitars are certainly never used in a djent-like fashion. And while it’s a nice change to the blurred and frantic blast beats and tremolo riffs that many blackgaze bands utilise, I can’t say it’s honestly all too good, or all too fitting with this kind of music.

My other big issue with this album is how sometimes it feels like it simply isn’t trying. I’ll admit that I love the melodies and the chord progressions to bits, but sometimes there just is such a lack of energy in it, particularly in the wanky first half of “Cherry Quartz”, as well as the last couple of tracks. They’re all pleasant listening, as music of this style generally tends to be, but I can’t really enjoy them more than that – as ambient background noise. There are obviously other nitpicks that I have – “Aquamarine Towers” fading out is a completely stupid decision, the china cymbal in “Azure Chimes” is massively distracting, and all the songs have pretty much the same intro with the same building ambience.

On the whole, the melodies and brilliant emotions on this record definitely outweigh the annoying aesthetic decisions with the way they are arranged, and it’s definitely a solid album worth your time. If you’re sick of shoegaze having indiscernible vocals, then this is a must-hear, or maybe if you’re a fan of Russian Circles-style post-metal, but I know that the melody that closes “Cherry Quartz”, as well as the main one in “Jade Fields” are amongst the best melodies I’ve heard this year.


Originally written for my facebook page/blog:

INSOMNIUM Shadows of the Dying Sun

Album · 2014 · Melodic Death Metal
Cover art Buy this album from MMA partners
Ever Diminishing

I remember, a long time ago, Insomnium were once my favourite metal band.

And yes, I will praise them for their melodic and harmonic ability and thank them for allowing me to tolerate harsh vocals (still don’t really like them), but I will never really be able to praise them for their ingenuity.

Shadows of the Dying Sun is the latest in a string of records with ever-diminishing returns for Insomnium. After hitting their peak with 2006’s astonishing Above the Weeping World, Insomnium have essentially followed each album with an ever-so-slightly weaker one again and again. Oddly though, for all the bands who have gone with this repeat-the-same-thing-forever band plan, Insomnium’s diminishing talent has gone down a bit slower than most, since this record is only a sliver under One for Sorrow, which was only a sliver under Across the Dark. But regardless of Insomnium’s odd ability to still kinda get my feet tapping on each album, there is rarely a time when I’m in the mood to hear over-produced and cluttered melodeath, and if I do, then the record of choice is nearly always Above The Weeping World (although recently Omnium Gatherum’s New World Shadows has overtaken that as my favourite melodeath record).

Although these four records have played a pretty similar style of melodeath, Insomnium have been steadily bringing clean vocals more and more into the mix, a route that was definitely necessary to keep from being too stale. But ironically for me, I still don’t think this record is as strong as the ones with full harsh vocals, even though I have constantly wanted Insomnium to shut the fuck up with those goddamn growls. I like the idea of clean vocals in their music, but they just don’t do them well enough, and with Shadows of the Dying Sun being the most abundantly clean of all their albums, it’s more frustrating that enjoyable. Because nearly every time a clean sung melody comes in, they feel the weird need to layer it with a whole ton of singers, making it sound like a weak choir rather than an emotive vocalist. They’ve done this on previous albums before, and I always thought it was because they never trusted themselves as strong clean vocalists (although it also may be a bit to do with Insomnium’s obsession of hiding all their great melodies under a pile of mud). This album opens nearly straight up with a clean melody in “While We Sleep”, but with the chanting choir, it sounds cheesy and weak – I’d much rather a single strong voice come soaring over the instruments than a whole lot of them hide under them.

But it’s not as if they are incapable. 8-minute centerpiece “The River” features an acoustic guitar bridge that finally boasts a strong, single voice. And it’s fantastic. Although yes, the combination of clean guitar with the tonality of the vocals does point rather massively toward Mikael Åkerfeldt, but I’m not really minding, since the guitars still have that Insomnium vibe to them. But when I hear this, I can’t help but feel that a track like “Lost To Night” could be much better with these clean vocals, since the melody on that track’s chorus is amazing. This album also features a far more prominent use of some “whisper” vocals, particularly in the soft verses when death growling would feel wrong. But I can’t honestly say they’re a great inclusion, especially since I feel many of these verses would be heightened by fully clean vocals. To point back to “The River”, the song utilises these whispered vocals over some nice finger-picked gutiars, but the entire time I’m almost wishing for some strong and powerful vocals, when all I get is this ~deep~ poetic whispering.

Musically, this album borrows excessively from their own back catalogue – often too much for me to fully enjoy. I’m sure if you were new to this band, it wouldn’t be too much of an obstacle, but as a long-time fan, hearing the opening riff of “While We Sleep” just makes me go “sigh, Insomnium, you’ve used this one before”. Which song it was from I’d never be able to say (even on their great albums they’re hard to tell apart), but I’m nearly 90% certain that this particular riff, or at least that chord progression, has been prominent on at least one Insomnium song before. And then straight after, “Revelation” brings in that bloody 12/8 pattern they use in every song in the history of ever, to the point when it may as well be called ‘the Insomnium pattern’. I’m sure it wouldn’t irk me as much if I hadn’t heard this band before, but it’s certainly not going to show their brilliant ingenuity.

Although I have had a bit of a crap on Insomnium for not making their music progress, there are tiny little hints at a change on this record, the sort that would help the band convince themselves that they’re “redefining their sound”. Firstly, the production here is certainly better than on previous records, although it’s still not without fault. This album is essential headphone listening, since many of the sounds can get insanely buried, but even then, I had to really strain to hear that very distant trumpet melody on “Lost To Night”, that I’m sure would have made the song better if it were upfront. And the same goes for the strings on “Collapsing Worlds” – they’re just too buried. But overall, this album is less painful than their past records, and some of the tones and drum sounds are actually quite good, particularly the performance in “Black Heart Rebellion”. But the most prominent of new sounds on this record to me are the use of intense blast beats during this track and “The River”, complete with some great tremolo-guitar riffs floating on top, and honestly, these parts are just a few gargling screams away from atmospheric black metal, and they definitely make this album an easier ride in terms of breaking the generic doomy melodeath formula.

Shadows of the Dying Sun is a record that tries to push ever so slightly in a different direction, but the differences between it and its predecessors are so minute that it simply becomes forgettable. The riffs are not quite as strong, the songs aren’t quiet as emotional and so the album isn’t quite as good. I do enjoy it, and it’s by no means bad, but I can nearly guarantee that when this review is published I will likely never return to it again. There’s better stuff out there.


Originally written for my facebook page/blog:


Album · 2013 · Progressive Metal
Cover art Buy this album from MMA partners
Coal Syndrome

Definition: when a new album from a band you consider highly does not reach your high expectations, but even after time and learning that the album is actually very good, you still feel disappointed in it.

I think my review for Dead Letter Circus’ The Catalyst Fire sums up my feelings about Coal pretty well, with a few differences – the main one being that I had no expectations for that album, but I was hoping for a 10/10 masterpiece from this. Every time I come back to this record, no matter how much I have learn to love it, I still feel ever so slightly disappointed, because it could have been better. Coal certainly has the melodic material to constitute an album as good as Bilateral, but it missed the mark on so many tracks, and many moments here feel half-assed, as if Leprous were writing on autopilot. But as my ever-increasing rating for this album implies, I really, really like it now. Every time I hear it, I still slightly wish they had done things differently, but I can’t deny that this is a logical continuation of Bilateral.

Many people have noted the ‘static’ element that Coal holds, and that may have been what made me so disappointed at first. The songs here don’t push too many moods at once; they don’t fly from ridiculous to ridiculous; they are more concise and focused, staying on one mood or melody for longer times, and building the songs to crescendos and endings as opposed to puzzles of fiddly bits. I would argue that Bilateral still did this better – a track like “Forced Entry”, even if it is dozens of melodies thrown together, still feels like it has a concise direction. Coal boasts three 9-minute tracks, and of them, none of them really feel their length. “Echo”, the longest one here, builds entirely around a rather basic melody, but with its beautifully subtle chorus, creates a fantastic mood that it drags out to the end of oblivion. Whether this is a good thing or not is up to you, and I’ll admit – I didn’t really like it at first. Even now, the midsections of “Echo” and “The Valley”, and the final two minutes of opener “Foe” still get on my nerves a bit in their repetitiveness. I can appreciate focusing on build and theme and mood, but sometimes it’s just too much, and no part of me really wants to hear Einar sing the same few notes in 7/8 for two whole fucking minutes. And the fact is, by the time they’re done, all sense of mood from the fantastic first half has vanished, and the intro to “Chronic” is nowhere near as punching.

But I’ll try and stay away from being too negative about this album, because the fact is that now I really like it, and I do believe it holds a good place in the Leprous discography, even if it is the weakest of their studio albums. As I mentioned – for the first three minutes, “Foe” is absolutely glistening. I have praised Einar’s voice to the end of the universe in my review for Bilateral, but I feel this could even be his best yet, creating such a punching feeling over the syncopated guitar and drums. He sings so high up in his range, yet every syllable smashes the note in the face with a mallet, to the point where “punchy” doesn’t even cover it. The song’s chorus is another testament to the great vocal technique that he began on Bilateral, although it is the only true appearance of it on this album. The way he melodically screams “sentiMENTAAALL” is as spinechilling as it is impressive, but I still can’t help but complain about the way the song ends (again).

On the whole, Coal features a series of tracks that don’t really achieve masses on their own, but add to a bigger picture in their own way. There’s no denying that I would be impressed like hell by this album if I hadn’t already heard their other stuff, but in comparison, I’m used to hearing a Leprous song have 15 fantastic hooks, not just one. The album really hits its stride with the title track though, although “Chronic” is decent, it feels a bit like a Leprous-doing-Leprous song. The Title track here, however, is unlike anything they have ever done, and honestly unlike anything I have heard in metal. The song is insanely groovy, putting all its energy around that toe-tappingly good beat that never dies throughout the track’s rather lengthy (for a song of its sort) duration. Some of this track could even be called quite djenty, if Leprous had not opted for a far more bearable guitar tone. The song is undeniably one of the heaviest songs the band have ever done, but for once I’m actually loving this metal side. I complained on both the previous albums about the guitar tone, but here, it’s just so damn groovy. The tone is thick and chunky, dark and murky, and is accentuated perfectly by some of the best drumming I have ever heard.

Oh yeah, I should really mention the drums, because they are one of the things that make this album, and not just because of how they’re played. The title track, after its first chorus, spins into a ferociously intense ‘breakdown’, with guitars being chopped and edited and spiraled in circles, and those drums playing all sorts of spastic tones. It’s seriously such a thing to behold, the way these drums make chaos into unfiltered awesomeness through their tone and placement. The snare and kick both have such a round and punchy sound that meshes with the guitar tone so well. The other time when the drums come forward is during the rather divisive closer “Contaminate Me”, which received my award for best drum performance of 2013. From the glitchy grace notes that adorn the snare during the verses to the sprawling and chaotic smash-fest that comes under Ihsahn's black metal rage at the end, this song is created almost entirely to showcase how fucking good these drums sound, and even though I wasn’t a fan of this track at first, I can’t help but be enthralled by the sounds on offer here.

Musically though, this track is very divisive for me personally, and is the first Leprous track since Aeolia to really embrace their avant-garde metal side full-on. I think the reason I was a bit shocked by it at first was that it really didn’t sound like a Leprous song, but I sort of came to the realisation that if I had heard it on one of Ihsahn’s solo records, I would be impressed. I’m still not completely sold on it, and it’s almost entirely down to the man himself. I want to love his vocals here. I mean, this is basically Leprous going full avant-garde black metal for the first time, and Ihsahn, the king of black metal, is taking the lead vocally. And honestly, I didn’t mind his part in “Thorn” from Bilateral, and on his solo albums his screams are pretty inoffensive, but holy shit I can’t stand his vocals here. But it’s like he’s not trying. I know that Ihsahn can hit that glory spot in his screams, the “crisp” and “crunchy” texture that he gives them, but a lot of these screams are without that, he’s gasping for grip on that harshness, and many of them sound like a dying pig, or like a cool 13-year-old who is trying to learn how to be kvlt. Don’t get me wrong, I love the idea of the ridiculous drums and guitars and Ihsahn screaming “CONTAMMINAATEE MAAAYYYAYAYYYAY” in the most menacing way, but I really just wish he hit the notes a bit better. As much as I love the idea of this track – and if I had read “Leprous ends this record with a 9-minute epic that starts of melodically then spirals into atmospheric avant-garde black metal chaos with Ihsahn screaming feelings everywhere” I would have been very excited, but this just doesn’t hit it.

Of the less metal tracks here, every song has a chorus or lead melody that is really fantastic. I mean, this is Leprous, and they’ve always had strong choruses, but my problems lie in that the songs lean on them way too hard. Both the epic “The Valley” and ballad track “The Cloak” have stunning choruses that would rank among the best on the previous two records, but the rest of the song always seems to be building to it instead of finding its own identity, and no matter how good the choruses are, they cannot hold aloft a whole song. “The Valley” utilises a dreamy and atmospheric bridge that is quite nice honestly until it keeps going for 45 minutes, culminating in one of the best syncopated guitar patterns on the record, and that final chorus. Oh yeah, it’s good, but take it away and the song is mediocre at best.

Coal is a very different record for Leprous. The songs all have strong centres, but the rest of the music floats around it, unlike on Bilateral and Tall Poppy Syndrome, where the songs were built out of several strong themes that could all stand on their own if necessary. I do love this record, and its purpose as “the dark brooding one” is evident, and I guess I can never complain about a band changing up their style. This album is dark and intense, it is their heaviest yet, but it is also somehow their most accessible. I know some people who have never been a fan of them come to like this album, so what do I know. Well, I know that I was wrong about Coal, as much as I am still disappointed in it. Leprous can do know wrong, and this is evidence of that.


Originally written for my facebook page/blog:

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  • Posted more than 2 years ago in Your favorite FREE metal album!
    Out of these, Part The Second easily. But overall, Mendel's Subliminal for download.


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