Metal Music Reviews (new releases)

AVATARIUM Hurricanes and Halos

Album · 2017 · Doom Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland


Although the band was only formed in 2012 by Soen guitarist Marcus Jidell and Candlemass chief Leif Edling, the guys are already back with their third album. The label describes them as where Black Sabbath meets soul and The Devil’s Blood meets Old School Rock, but they’re wrong. Produced by Marcus Jidell himself, while David Castillo (Katatonia, Bloodbath, Opeth) recorded and mixed it in the famous Ghost Ward Studios, and mastering undertaken by Jens Bogren (Soilwork, Sepultura), here we have an album that was probably a little dated forty-five years ago. What we have here boys and girls, is classic Uriah Heep, with Rickard Nilsson’s Hammond Organ linking with Marcus Jidell’s guitar in a way that is so very reminiscent of Ken Hensley and Mick Box, while Jennie-Ann Smith is different in her approach to the great David Byron, but channels him alongside her Maggie Bell approach.

This is warm, it is heavy, it is comforting and to someone my age also incredibly familiar in its approach. Those first five Heep albums were all classics in their own right, and this should also be judged in the same vein. The absolute standout is “Medusa Child” which twists and turns in many directions during its nine-minute long journey, even bringing in some children singing, while the guitar moves between leaden Iommi-style soundblasts into lighter territory, diving and swirling so that the listener isn’t always sure what is going to happen next. It almost seems as if a few different songs have been taken to pieces and then thrown back together as one, but it works incredibly well. Overall, this is a really enjoyable album, one that any fan of Seventies rock combined with Sabbath doom and a great production would do well to seek out.

MESARTHIM Presence

EP · 2017 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 4.25 | 2 ratings
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adg211288
Australian atmospheric black metal duo Mesarthim have quickly become a productive group since the release of their debut full-length album Isolate (2015), with no less than six new releases put out during 2016; their second studio album .- -... ... . -. -.-. . (Absence), a single (added as a bonus track to physical releases of Isolate) and four EP's. 2017 has already seen two of those EP's put together for a physical release compilation, The Great Filter/Type III, and now their first new material of the year, Presence. It is a three track EP containing about twenty minutes of music.

Much like the Pillars (2016) EP was said to be a concluding release to what the band started on Isolate, Presence is said to do the same for Absence. The key difference is that Pillars really did feel like more of the same as Isolate but Presence feels quite different to Absence, also being more fresh in respect to the group's entire discography. There are similar elements of course and if anything it's closer to Isolate and Pillars than any of the releases put out since, but it also feels like a band taking their sound a step further. The cosmic vibes of their atmospheric black metal sound are still here, but it's even more psychedelic and trance-like than ever before, with the synths being used more dominantly than ever, including extended full-on synth sections where the metal elements get removed entirely, as in Eschaton Part I, which also adds some atmospheric female vocals to the music during the metal parts. The band's usual growling vocals barely get a look in. More familiar ground is Eschaton Part II and the title track, where the metal gets removed only in briefer dosages.

Presence is easily the most genre boundary pushing release from Mesarthim yet. It might be fair to say that for some listeners this EP may be the point where the duo finally went too far, but for my part I'm as enchanted as ever by their majestic sounds mixed with a harsh yet atmospheric black metal backdrop, yet equally enthralled in the moments where they remove the latter. In fact, this may even be my favourite EP from Mesarthim to date. A superb twenty minutes cosmic trip.

SEVEN KINGDOMS Decennium

Album · 2017 · Power Metal
Cover art 3.67 | 3 ratings
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Kev Rowland
On their 2007 debut these guys had a male singer, but he was replaced by Sabrina Valentine for the second, and the band moved much more into power metal territory, something the band are still providing with this their fourth. Having toured with the likes of Blind Guardian, Stratovarius, Amaranthe and metal queen Doro, they have been building a strong reputation over the last ten years, with elements of these bands, as well as others like Helloween, having an obvious impact on their music. This is all about hitting hard, then hitting again, with Sabine staying above everything with a strong melodic soprano that never veers into the operatic.

But the guys behind her aren’t going to wimp out, but rather keep it all focussed with plenty of strong harmony guitars and riffs. There is no room for a keyboard player in this band, with the double bass drum blasting away and the band almost moving into thrash territory, this is all about guitars and vocals. Heads down and see you at the end, but with loads of harmony and melody. It is interesting to hear just what an impact the singer has here, as with a different approach they would be a very different band altogether, even with the rest of the band playing the same.

Apparently they crowdfunded this release, and all power to them, as it certainly sounds as if they had a major label behind them. Hopefully this will get them the recognition they deserve as anyone into metal in general, power metal in particular, will find a lot on here to enjoy.

KOBRA AND THE LOTUS Prevail I

Album · 2017 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 3.75 | 2 ratings
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Kev Rowland
It's been three years since Kobra And The Lotus' last studio album ‘High Priestess’ was released back in 2014. Since then the Canadians have completed multiple tours worldwide (with the likes of Kamelot, Sonata Arctica and Demon Hunter to name a few), and are now back with their fourth release. Only singer Kobra Paige is still there from the 2009 debut ‘Out of the Pit’, and I am amazed that I haven’t heard her prior to this album, as here is a singer with plenty of power and passion, very much in the style of Doro. Musically this is a mix of traditional heavy metal with some power metal, while also at times slightly moving into symphonic, but they don’t stay on the last for too long.

This is all about punch guitars, great melodies and hooks, with some sublime singing over the top. Produced by Jacob Hansen (Volbeat, Amaranthe, Epica etc) and mastered by Grammy award winning Ted Jensen, the sound is as strong as one would expect, and I actually found this to be a refreshing approach to the genre as here Kobra is very much part of the band, and not someone pushing herself to the forefront at the risk of taking away from the impact of the songs overall. ‘Prevail I’ is full of blistering guitars, pounding rhythms and haunting vocal melodies, and will be appreciated both by those who enjoy the more melodic side of metal and those who like the (much) heavier side of AOR. Apparently ‘Prevail II’ is going to be released in the near future, and I for one look forward to that with great anticipation as if it is as good as this it will be one to grab.

MINDMAZE Resolve

Album · 2017 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 5.00 | 3 ratings
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DippoMagoo
One of the most promising bands in all of metal right now is American progressive power metal band Mindmaze, led by the brother/sister team of Jeff and Sarah Teets. The band made their debut in 2013 with Mask of Lies, a self-released album that blew me away, as well as being impressive enough that the band was quickly signed by Inner Wound Recordings around a year and a half later, in time for their follow-up release, Back From the Edge, an album that took everything that worked on the debut and changed things up just a bit so it could be a somehow even more impressive sophomore release. With such an impressive start to their career, it seems there’s no limit to their potential, and now with their recently released third full-length album, Resolve, the band has done it once again, kicking into a higher gear than ever before and producing easily their best album to date!

The music of Mindmaze has always consisted of three main elements, those being classic heavy metal riffs and melodies, often along the lines of classic Iron Maiden, energetic power metal riffs and speedy tempos, and complex arrangements that lend a progressive metal feel to their music. The band’s evolution has proven to be quite interesting and unique, in that they haven’t released the same album twice, but they also haven’t completely reinvented their sound on any of their albums either. Instead, it seems with each album they focus more on a different one of their main elements. More specifically, where Mask of Lies seemed to focus more on the heavy metal riffs and melodies, while having touches of power metal and prog, and Back From the Edge pushed the power metal elements to the front while keeping some prog arrangements and using the classic metal elements in bursts, Resolve feels like a full-fledged prog album, but with the energy of a power metal album and at times the feel of classic heavy metal.

In short, this is by far the band’s most ambitious and most complex work to date, featuring some very complicated arrangements on some of the tracks, as well as their best musicianship to date. In fact, some of the instrumental portions on this album are nothing short of stunning, as guitarist, keyboardist and main songwriter Jeff Teets has really gone into overdrive with his solo work, producing solos that are both incredibly impressive on a technical level and yet also very melodic and at times even giving off some emotion, which can be a tough thing to pull off. At the same time, he plays some very heavy, thick sounding riffs, and uses a more down tuned guitar tone than on previous albums, which gives the riffs a very powerful sound, particularly on tracks like “Abandon” and “Twisted Dream”. Obviously, guitars are his main focus, but he does some impressive work on keyboards at times as well, and uses the piano as a driving force behind some of the softer moments on the album, like the power ballad “One Final Moment”. The rest of the band does a great job as well, as bassist Rick Pasqualone is given a ton of space to work with, and even provides some great bass solos, most notably on “Sign of Life”, while new drummer Mark “Truk” Bennet does a great job and fits in nicely with the band. Resolve is the band’s first concept album, and this shows as it’s by far their most cohesive feeling album to date, with the tracks flowing together seamlessly, and there’s some very smooth transitions between tracks, as well as some great interlude tracks. Lastly, the production is again very raw sounding as on Back From the Edge, but this works great as it gives the guitars a very powerful sound, and everything still sounds clear and very well balanced.

As much as this album features some of the best musicianship I’ve heard on a metal album in recent years, vocals remain as important as ever, and once again Sarah Teets has done an amazing job. As on the first two albums, she never sounds showy, but instead, sings with a very natural sounding style that fits the music perfectly, and she does an equally great job on heavier and sections and calmer sections. There’s an increased focus on heavy sections on this album, which means she uses her powerful lower register quite often on verses and sounds as great as ever, while she gets to sing a bit higher on some of the choruses, and there’s also many sections where the lyrics allow her to put in a more emotional performance, and she does all these things equally well.

Perhaps the area where Resolve shines the most is in its songwriting. Mindmaze have shown impressive songwriting skills since their debut, but this time it feels like they’ve really stepped up their game to a new level, with an album that flows perfectly and has the focus of a concept album, while still managing to feature a wide variety of songs, all of which are equally enjoyable and well crafted. I think it says a lot, when brief interludes like “In This Void”, an atmospheric piece is mostly driven by pianos, and “Sanity’s Collapse”, a dark and heavy guitar driven piece, with some excellent solo work in the middle, can stand out just as much as the full-length tracks. The latter in particular is absolutely stunning, and yet it’s not even the best instrumental track on the album. That would be “Reverie”, the four minute opening track that starts off with a nice acoustic section, which is soon recreated on electric guitars, then a little bit later the track speeds up, and from there it turns into a very complex and progressive piece with several tempo changes and some great solo work, with some especially impressive power metal sections in the middle, that have a slightly darker feel to them than similar section on the band’s previous album, and the way track flows seamlessly from moment to moment is truly impressive. Honestly, while it’s only an intro track, it really is one of the best tracks I’ve heard on a metal album all year, and so it immediately sets the bar extremely high for the rest of the album.

After that incredible opening, the first song with vocals is “Fight the Future”, a speedy power metal track which kicks in with some energetic guitar work, before slowing down and getting pretty heavy during the verses, where Sarah makes her first appearance and instantly steals the show. From there, the track picks up the pace again, leading to an excellent chorus, and then, later on, we get some more impressive instrumental sections and some great solo work from Jeff. Next is the previously mentioned “In This Void”, a pretty nice interlude track, and then we get another more prog-driven track in “Drown Me”. This track opens up with a nice keyboard section, which carries over nicely from the previous track, before turning into a fairly heavy mid-paced prog track, with some powerful vocals during the verses and a memorable chorus, and then halfway through we get a nice softer section with some very emotional vocals from Sarah, which leads into a very impressive extended instrumental section that closes the track out. The first single from the album is “Sign of Life”, a track which uses mid-tempo verses with fairly simple guitar work, before speeding up for a very catchy and addictive chorus, but again it’s the instrumental section that really takes the track to next level, as both Rich and Jeff provide some excellent solos. Next, we have “Abandon”, one of the speedier tracks on the album, as well as one of the heaviest. It features some slightly thrashy guitar riffs during the verses, as well as some of the most powerful vocals from Sarah, especially during the chorus, while the solo section is again amazing and has a very classic heavy metal feel to it at one point, which is probably the highlight of the track. Moving into the second half of the album, the amazing interlude track “Sanity’s Collapse” gives way to “One Final Moment”, a piano-led power ballad which starts off very soft, before getting slightly heavier in the second half, and it features some very impressive vocals from Sarah, while the second half as always features an excellent guitar solo, and this is one of the sections in particular where I feel Jeff really managed to pour some emotion into his guitar work, which serves as a great lead-in to the next section, where Sarah gives a very powerful performance. Perhaps the heaviest, most guitar dominant track on the album is “Twisted Dream”, where the intro section very much feels like it comes from a particularly heavy Dream Theater track, and from there the track takes off and turns into a very aggressive sounding mid-paced track, which gives way to one of the most beautiful and melodic choruses on the album. One thing about Mindmaze that’s always been true, they can contrast between very heavy and very melodic sections extremely fluidly, never spending so much time on one or the other that it starts to drag, and this track is a perfect example of that. The instrumental section is, of course, stunning as always, and very heavy.

Starting off the final stretch, “True Reflection” is a fairly calm mid paced track, which has another nice chorus, though once again it’s the instrumental section that really stands out, as this time it starts off feeling like a classic prog instrumental section, before suddenly speeding up and bringing in some power metal elements, which is the kind of thing most prog bands would never do, and yet Mindmaze can pull it off brilliantly. The constant change of tempos on many tracks is a definite highlight, and the second half of this track does that extremely well. The end of the song transitions wonderfully into “Shattered Self”, a brief but very hard hitting speedier track, with some excellent guitar work and vocal sections once again. And of course, because that track is one of the heaviest on the album, it makes since they’d follow it up with “Release”, a vocal driven ballad, which represents the soft end of the album wonderfully. Sarah puts in very emotional and powerful performance, and of course, Jeff provides an excellent solo near the end. Lastly, we have “The Path to Perseverance”, an 11 and a half minute epic, which starts off with a nice guitar solo before speeding up for a wonderful instrumental section, until Sarah comes in the and music slows down for a while. As expected, it’s a very complex and progressive track which covers all the elements of the album wonderfully, with plenty of tempo changes, great riffs, and guitar solos, as well as some nice piano sections, and Sarah delivers some of her best vocals on the entire album. It’s an amazing track which shows off all elements of the album perfectly. And of course, the excellent acoustic piece that opens “Reverie” is used again for the ending, and it closes the album in the best way possible.

In a way, Mindmaze can be tough to review, because it’s like every time they put out a new album I’m blown away and feel like they couldn’t possibly do anything better, then when the next album comes around it ends up somehow proving me wrong. This has happened once again with Resolve, their most complex and progressive album to date, and one which has some absolutely stunning musicianship, to go along with the great power metal elements of their previous album, as well as some awesome vocals as always. Longtime fans of the band should be very happy with the album, and I’d highly recommend to all fans of prog and power metal who want to hear the very best those genres have to offer. This is one release I really don’t see them being able to top, but I can’t wait to hear them give it their best go.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: http://myglobalmind.com/2017/05/07/mindmaze-resolve-review/

MORTIFICA Atrocious Autopsy

Album · 2017 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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Nightfly
As I sit listening to Atrocious Autopsy, the debut album from USA tech death metal band Mortifica I’m immediately impressed by the high standard of musicianship on show. This however is a pre-requisite for any band setting foot in this territory so no surprises there then. The same could be said for the music which is exactly what you’d expect and have probably heard many times before if this kind of stuff is your thing. Whilst for the most part it’s fair to good it lacks the sophistication and inventiveness of Nile or the melodic flourishes that make Allegaeon’s take on the genre more memorable. Any initial enthusiasm soon wears thin as one song merges into the next without leaving any lasting impression. This a real shame because there’s clearly plenty of talent here. Pick of the bunch is Mutilate The Invalid and Lack Of Remorse For The Unknowing which come late on but is not enough to make Atrocious Autopsy stand out from the myriad of other albums vying for your attention in this genre.

Although they have previous band experience it’s early days for these guys yet and I’m sure they’ve got it in them to produce something that leaves a more lasting impression. For now though I don’t see myself returning to this in a hurry.

KOBRA AND THE LOTUS Prevail I

Album · 2017 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 3.75 | 2 ratings
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adg211288
I have to be honest, when I first heard Canadian metal act Kobra and the Lotus I wasn't all that impressed. This would have been sometime after the release of their debut album Out of the Pit (2009) of course, a record that's since become quite obscure and from which only vocalist Kobra Paige herself still remains with the band today. This first impression was quickly forgotten with the band's second album, the self-titled Kobra and the Lotus (2012), where the band really upped their game, also adopting more of a power metal sound. With their third album High Priestess (2014), the band only continued to grow in my estimations, now also leaning in towards thrash metal in addition to their traditional and power metal elements of albums past. Back after three years with their fourth full-length album Prevail I (2017), the first of a pair with Prevail II slated to follow in the very near future, and I've little reason to doubt going in that more great things should be expected.

Maybe it's simply a case of expecting too much, but Prevail I isn't exactly everything I'd hoped it would be. On one hand if you want a modern sounding heavy metal album with great female vocals then check, you've got it here, with a couple of power metal moments on the side. But it's really not much more than that. Don't get me wrong, it's a good album for its style, but when an artist sets the bar high with their previous work, as Kobra and the Lotus did on their last two albums, then it also seems somewhat lacklustre. The thrash metal elements from High Priestess seem to have completely evaporated rather than developed further, and as hinted above the power metal elements have been considerably cut down too. I'd have called the last two albums power metal albums before heavy metal albums, so Prevail I really marks a shift back towards the band's original sound, although it's still much stronger than Out of the Pit of course. There are some new developments such as such neoclassical inspired lead guitar on the instrumental Check the Phyrg, but what has been gained doesn't balance out what their sound has lost on this album.

Now, there's nothing wrong with traditional heavy metal of course, and I've often wondered if Kobra and the Lotus's power and thrash metal elements were something of a fluke due to their self-branding as a hard rock/metal band, but the trouble is those elements were the instrumental strength of the self-titled and High Priestess. They worked well with Kobra Paige's strong vocals. It was a combination that produced some melodic, yet hard hitting metal music that was a joy to listen to and regularly revisit. I can't be the only one who had hopes for more of that. Prevail I, by comparison, actually seems to be a bit generic and forgettable. I'm left with a single hope that Prevail II, whenever it drops (it should at least be before Wintersun releases Time II), contains material more like High Priestess and isn't just more of the same as this first part, because that really would be a let down.

I will reiterate before I close this review; the songs on Prevail I aren't bad, but they aren't particularly special either. Some nice tracks here and there including Specimen X (The Mortal Chamber) and Check the Phyrg and definitely exceptional vocals from Kobra herself across the whole album, but it just doesn't manage to grab hold of me in the same way.

IRON REAGAN Crossover Ministry

Album · 2017 · Crossover Thrash
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"Crossover Ministry" is the 3rd full-length studio album by US crossover thrash metal act Iron Reagan. The album was released through Relapse Records in February 2017. It´s the successor to "The Tyranny of Will" from 2014. There have been no lineup changes on "Crossover Ministry" since the predecessor. Iron Reagan was formed in 2012 as a side-project by members of Municipal Waste and Darkest Hour and released their debut full-length studio album "Worse than Dead" in 2013.

Stylistically the material on the 18 track, 28:48 minutes long album more or less continues the crossover thrash metal style of the predecessor. The tracks balance the hardcore punk side of the band´s sound with the thrash metal side, but that´s no different from the musical style on the previous releases. The tracks are generally short, to the point, aggressive songs with politically motivated lyrics about society, political corruption, and violence, and Iron Reagan are generally a pretty angry bunch, pissed about the state of the world. The musicianship is overall strong and lead vocalist Tony Foresta has a suiting raw and aggressive delivery.

The material is well written for the style, but nothing out of the ordinary, and a more personal sound would have elevated the album to a higher level. The tracks are also slightly one-dimensional in nature, and it´s a blast when Mike Muir from Suicidal Tendencies suddenly appears on "Megachurch" as a guest vocalist, because it adds a bit of variation to the album. Overall "Crossover Ministry" is pretty entertaining while it plays, but soon forgotten after it is finished. So upon conclusion it´s a well produced, well played, and relatively well written album, but it´s also pretty generic and even though it´s only 28:48 minutes long, the album actually feels longer, and that´s seldom a good sign. A 3 star (60%) rating is warranted.

EVOCATION The Shadow Archetype

Album · 2017 · Melodic Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Nightfly
Although they formed back in 1991 and had a reputation as a great live band in their native Sweden Evocation split up in 1993 without releasing anything more than a couple of demos. Reforming in the mid 00’s the finally got around to releasing an album in 2007. Tales From The Tomb was a solid if unspectacular record of old school mixed with melodic death metal. Helped by a better production follow up Dead Calm Chaos was a considerable improvement with stronger songs though offered nothing that hadn’t already come out of Sweden years earlier. A further two albums followed, the latter Illusions Of Grandeur sounding a bit too much like Amon Amarth for its own good at times.

Roll on to 2017 and a new guitarist Simon Exner and use of session drummer Per Moller Jensen seems to have done the band no harm. In fact The Shadow Archetype may just be their best album yet. They’ve come back with a thicker heavier sound - the riffs are more crushing as Condemned To The Grave perfectly demonstrates with less emphasis on melody. Modus Operandi quickly lets you know that Evocation still have an ear for melody though, but it still retains the requisite heaviness quota. In fact much of this album is pretty melodic but you do have to dig a bit deeper to find them in comparison to Illusions Of Grandeur. The album is well paced containing moments with plenty of groove like the title track aided by the punchy production. Sure,The Shadow Archetype isn’t the most original album you’ll hear this year but its strength lies in the sheer consistency with most songs hitting the target.

Overall then, an impressive release which at thirty eight minutes doesn’t outstay its welcome. Anyone who enjoyed their previous work and fans of Swedish death metal in general should be more than happy with this.

GHOST BATH Starmourner

Album · 2017 · Depressive Black Metal
Cover art 2.07 | 2 ratings
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Kev Rowland
I was sent this by the record label to review, but still know virtually nothing about the band. I know it’s their third album, and that they were formed by Nameless (vocals, guitar, piano), but even though they are touring and there are five of them in the band the guys aren’t listed on the press release, or the band’s own homepage, or their Facebook page (I tried, honest). In addition, their debut EP was released on both a Russian and Chinese label, and I don’t even know what country they’re from! Apparently the stories, or parables, look into Jewish angelology and the hierarchy of angels as found in the bible and other religious texts," says Nameless. Although the album has a definitive joyful and hopeful feel, it is still drenched in depression and sorry, as any true Ghost Bath record should be."

So, they’ve put a lot of work into staying anonymous, apparently so that listeners aren’t distracted from their brand of depressive black metal. And I can understand why listeners might easily be distracted, as in all fairness this isn’t all that good. Easily the best parts of this album are the artwork (and apparently the CD booklet has each track accompanied by a beautifully crafted painting as well as a "parable" to read alongside), and the first song which is a delicate piano instrumental. The rest of it is well-recorded and produced but these are the only positive comments I really have. In “Ambrosial” the same chord is repeated so many times that I felt like slashing my wrists or turning the album off, whichever I could get the most energy for.

Black Metal as a genre contains many groundbreaking and inspiring bands, this isn’t one of them.

UNTIL RAIN Inure

Album · 2017 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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Kev Rowland
Well, it has been four years since their second album, which I raved over, but I can see that there has been quite some movement within the band between ‘Anthem To Creation’ and ‘Inure’ as only Theodore "Teo" Amaksopoulos (guitars) and Lef Germenlis (keyboards) are left from that line-up. But, it must be said that in the new members they have some real finds. I rated previous singer Yannis Papadopoulos very highly indeed, but Cons Marg is quite a find with a superb range. They have also brought in a second singer in Donna Zed who provides backing vocals where appropriate, and this allows for some powerful harmonies.

Teo and Lef are continuing to drive the band strongly in progressive metal, with some interesting time signatures and syncopation, and music that goes through the gamut of incredibly melodic through to intensely metallic and everything in between. They work together incredibly well, often both playing complex lead lines at the same time, and then each of them taking turns to provide backing for the other. There is a great deal of space within this album, and there is a great deal of light and shade, so that when they do turn up the riffs and intensity it has immediate impact. Incredibly polished, this is yet another great release from this Greek outfit, and I can only hope that with a settled line-up, which is currently on tour, that we don’t have to wait so long for the next one. More to the Threshold end of prog metal than Dream Theater, just listening to this left me with a huge smile on my face, and who could wish for more?

SVARTSYN In Death

Album · 2017 · Black Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
Here we have the follow-up to 2013’s, ‘Black Testament’, and is again basically a solo album with Hellhammer providing drums, and Ornias everything else. Ornias has of course been there since the very beginning back in 1991 when the band was known as Chalice, and he has been through a few different line-ups since then. Here we have black metal in its truest sense – no hammer house of horror keyboards or ambient rubbish to be found, what we have are a wall of riffing guitars, bass right behind it, drums punishing them all, and a singer trapped in a dungeon of pain.

Musically this moves from mid-paced to fast and sinister tempos, featuring a dynamic melodic range injected into an overall feeling of obscurity and brutality. What makes this album work so well is the variety between the songs, as well as within them as well. Hellhammer knows when to keep it brutal and also when to turn it up a notch or ten and blast the double bass drums as if he is in a grindcore outfit instead of black metal. Ornias hearkens back to the classic times of Mayhem, Darkthrone and Emperor, blasting it out as if the last twenty years never happened. If you want to listen to black metalthat is rightly reclaiming its place at the feast, and is relevant, dramatic and crunchingly powerful then look no further.

VANDROYA Beyond the Human Mind

Album · 2017 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.83 | 3 ratings
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DippoMagoo
Out of all metal bands to come out of Brazil, my favorite is progressive power metal band Vandroya, who absolutely blew me with their 2013 debut One, and so even in a month as crowded with big new releases as April 2017 has been, their sophomore release Beyond the Human Mind was one I absolutely had to hear. One was an album where everything just clicked with me immediately and I loved the seamless blend between power and prog elements, as well as the amazing lead vocals, and so I had very high expectations for Beyond the Human Mind. Thankfully, there’s no sophomore slump for this band, as they have delivered another excellent album that very much falls in line with their debut, while also having a slightly rougher, more raw sound that works out quite well.

On One, Vandroya managed to take influences from bands such as Angra and Symphony X, while very much developing their own sound, and this continues on Beyond the Human Mind. If anything, I’d say the two main influences from the debut, while still there at times, are much less noticeable here, and I mostly notice some Helloween in the rawer sound and in the energy of some of the speedier passages. This is definitely a rawer, harder-hitting album in compared to their debut, with the duo guitars very much being the focus of the music, and the production is definitely a bit less polished this time around, but if anything that just makes the music all the more hard-hitting and powerful. At the same time, while the music is definitely aggressive at times, there’s still some great melodies here and the vocal lines are every bit as brilliant as on the debut. Where the debut was a more even mix between power and prog, most tracks on this release tend to lean closer to the former, while occasionally adding in elements of the latter, and so most tracks are fairly fast paced and a bit more straight-forward compared to songs on the debut, although there’s still some more complex instrumental portions, especially on the 10 minute epic title track that closes the album.

As much as I loved the music on One, my favorite element of that album was vocalist Daisa Munhoz, and that remains as true as ever on this album. Her voice is as fierce and powerful as ever, and on the heavier tracks, she provides some very aggressive and energetic vocals that match the intensity of the music, while still being able to rein herself in enough to deliver huge choruses, all while stealing the show every time she sings. On the debut, she also excelled during softer portions, where she was able to soften her voice up and sing a lot more calmly and very beautifully, while also singing with a lot of emotion, and of course, that also remains as true as ever on this release. In short, she has once again given one of the best vocal performances I’ve heard on a metal album in recent years and remains one of my favorite vocalists in all of metal.

Songwriting is another area where the debut was pretty much flawless, and this is again true of Beyond the Human Mind. There’s a nice variety between the tracks, and everything flows very nicely. The album begins with the intro track “Columns of Illusion”, which starts out as your typical epic orchestral intro, before the drums and guitars slowly kick in midway through, and then later on the guitar starts to dominate with some great solos and the music picks up in intensity, serving as a great beginning for the album. After that, opening song “The Path to the Endless Fall” kicks in and is the kind of straight-forward, high-speed assault fans would expect as the opener for a power metal album. The guitars are heavy and sound great right out of the gate, and the track moves at a frantic pace, very much having a classic power metal feel, and the rawness of the guitars can immediately be noticed, before Daisa takes over and delivers excellent vocals throughout the verses, and then completely steals the show during the chorus. The solo section is also very energetic and quite memorable, and all around it’s an excellent opening track.

The next track, “Maya”, has a slightly more modern feel to it, with slightly punchier guitars. It starts off with some fast riffs, before turning into more of a mid-paced prog song with slight power metal leanings. During the opening verse the guitars remain heavy, but as it moves along the keyboards slowly kick in, and we get a more relaxing section before the amazing chorus shows up for the first time, and the track does a nice job of alternating between heavy guitar led sections and calmer keyboard driven sections, all while allowing Daisa to shine throughout. It’s solo section is also really nice and features some great guitar work, as usual. Next is “Time After Time”, the first of a couple tracks where I notice a slight hard rock edge in the guitars, though for the most part it’s a speedy power metal track, where the chorus effectively uses a slow section to build up energy before the music again goes full speed, and it’s a really awesome chorus, easily one of my favorites on the album. The last two speedy tracks are “I’m Alive”,a fairly simple and fast paced track which also has a slight hard rock edge to its riffs, as well as one of the more fun solo sections on the album and a fun chorus, and “You’ll Know My Name”, possibly the fastest, most energetic track on the album, which has some very heavy riffs and catchy vocals during the verses, and keeps the energy going throughout, with a great chorus and another memorable extended instrumental section in the second half. ‘

On the calmer side of things, the album has two ballads “Last Breath” and “If I Forgive Myself”. Usually, I don’t like when power metal albums have two ballads, but these two tracks are both excellent and they’re spread out perfectly so that that they don’t slow down the momentum of the album. Both tracks feature some of the best vocals I’ve heard from Daisa, with some stunning choruses and bridge sections. “Last Breath” is led by acoustic guitars, while “If I Forgive Myself” is a piano ballad, and while I love both tracks a lot, it;s the former that slightly wins out for me, mostly because it has probably the best vocal section on the entire album, followed by a really beautiful guitar solo.

Lastly, the title track is a mostly mid-paced progressive metal track, with some heavy guitars throughout. It almost serves as a power ballad throughout the first half, but then in the middle we get a very long instrumental section where the guitars get heavier and becomes a more complex, prog track with some excellent solos, and this section is definitely one of the highlights of the album, while Daisa sounds as amazing as always on the chorus.

Overall, Beyond the Human Mind feels like a natural evolution from One, leaning a bit more towards a classic power metal sound, while still including some modern prog elements and some excellent instrumental sections. It’s a rawer, more powerful sounding album, and once again it features some incredible songwriting as well as one of my current favorite vocalists in metal. Just as in 2013, Vandroya has delivered one of the best progressive power metal albums of the year, and I highly recommend this release for existing fans of the band, as well as any prog and power metal fans who want something that mixes together both genres nicely, while featuring some incredible vocals.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: http://myglobalmind.com/2017/04/21/vandroya-beyond-human-mind-review/

DREAMING DEAD Funeral Twilight

Album · 2017 · Melodic Death Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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Nightfly
This is my first encounter with Dreaming Dead, a melodic death metal band from the USA. They’ve been kicking around since 2006 and Funeral Twilight is their third album.

Funeral Twilight is a competent piece of work, the band can certainly play and vocalist Elizabeth Schall comes across like a female version of Chuck Schuldiner. What you get is eight tracks of melodic death metal with quite a bit of thrash thrown in for good measure. Good it is but there’s little here that makes me want to revisit the album as I’ve forgotten most tracks pretty much as soon as they’re finished. My favourite go to band when I want a death/thrash hybrid is Revocation who perfectly blend their razor sharp thrash riffs with the bludgeon of death metal into their creative and electrifying compositions making for an exhilarating musical ride. Dreaming Dead don’t quite have the riffs to pull it off though they make a good stab at it here and there like on opener Your Grave. Most of the rest of the album though is solid but unremarkable. There’s a couple of instrumentals thrown in where they slow things down considerably which might have made good intro pieces but on an album of only twenty eight minutes they seem more like filler, particularly closer Unseeing which drifts along aimlessly for over two minutes before there’s a hint of a decent riff.

There’s no shortage of competition out there for your hard earned cash so sadly Funeral Twilight is likely to fall by the wayside pretty quickly. Nevertheless Dreaming Dead are not without potential and I’d certainly take a listen to their future offerings as well as checking out their first two albums when I have a moment.

Q'UQ'UMATZ Tepeu

Album · 2016 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 5.00 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
Well into the 21st century it seems like the ability to create an original product in the context of the greater metal universe becomes ever more difficult as subgenres splinter out into every possible direction like newly formed branches on trees. While most bands seem to settle on a few influences and adhere to a set parameter that they won’t expand beyond, some bands like the bizarre experimental act Q’UQ’UMATZ have no problem with scouring the entire musical universe in order to find inspiration. Founded in South Lake Tahoe, CA and named after the Mayan deity who was one of the gods who created the world in the Popol Vih which was the famous K’iche’ creation epic. Like that god, this band has created some of the most distinct and experimental metal music of the modern era incorporating everything from atmospheric black metal, post-rock and progressive rock alongside with traditional Native American music, noise rock and neo-psychedelia.

This is one of those bands that prefers to remain mysterious and enigmatic not releasing their identities or even the instruments played on their albums. Everything is a freakish romp through the sonic parade of their own making. Having only debuted in the year 2016, the band set forth by releasing two albums in the single year of which this debut TEPEU (another K’iche’ Mayan language term that means “sovereign,” “one who conquers” or “one who is victorious”) came first (followed by “I Know It’s The Trees….”) Prepare yourself for an adventurous ride into the unknown with this one as there is nothing i’ve ever heard that can compare to it. Just like a trip from Quetzaltenango, Guatemala to the verdant jungles surrounding the mysterious ancient pyramids of Tikal, Q’UQ’UMATZ delivers a musical journey that flows much like a physical journey across the ever changing landscapes of our planet.

While beginning with indigenous flute music of the Central American region where the Mayan ruled for centuries and still exist in sizable numbers, Q’UQ’UMATZ are the masters of musical flow where they slowly morph into one style of music over the other creating a sort of baton passing effect with more than one style usually existing at any given moment. Whether they incorporate black metal riffs, post-rock atmospheric presence or extremely challenging progressive rock time signatures that run amok, they exhibit a tidal wave of moods and textures ranging from moog organ psychedelia to some of the most unexpected layers of styles that create wild and vivacious counterpoints in atonal yet satisfying rhythmic patterns. This is avant-garde to the max! Some tracks like “Ik Kil Cenote” are just frenetic and complex beyond belief and enough to make some music listener’s heads explode as it delivers several polyrhythms imposed upon each other with each trying to be more jarring and freaky than the other. While the album is almost entirely instrumental, there finally emerge some black metal shrieks that appear after the eight minute mark of the final title track.

TEPEU is evenly split between three shorter tracks and three very long ones that all exceed the twelve minute mark with the title track nearing a whopping 25! This is simply music so bizarre and resistant to any points of reference that is the epitome of the avant-garde that defies every possible attempt at such silly notions of nomenclature. It seems like every single aspect of this music has been designed to be utterly alien to any comparisons. Despite being an utterly alien sounding and a soundtrack for the deranged on lysergic joyrides in the astral planes, there is a continuity in the rhythmic flow which saves this from collapsing into a free fall train wreck that sputters into the truest form of chaos however that doesn’t mean that progressive time signature don’t change at the drop of hat, it only means that somehow Q’UQ’UMATZ create a totally satisfying river of consciousness that allows the listener to float on their little inner tube with their head phones on allowing each segment of the music connect logically to the next despite every segment being completely off-kilter in its mondo bizarro reality. I love this! This is simultaneously sensual and aggressive as hell and creates a distinct soniscape that connects the dots but never tells you where those dots reside. This would CERTAINLY have been included on the Nurse With Wound List had it come about 40 years ago!

SINISTER Syncretism

Album · 2017 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.16 | 4 ratings
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UMUR
"Syncretism" is the 13th full-length studio album by Dutch death metal act Sinister. The album was released through Massacre Records in February 2017. It´s the successor to the covers album "Dark Memorials" from 2015, but the first album by the band with original material since "The Post-Apocalyptic Servant" from 2014. Along with artists like Pestilence, Asphyx, and Gorefest, Sinister were one of the influential acts on the Dutch death metal scene of the early 90s and they´ve continuously been releasing albums since their inception in 1988, with only a short break in activities during their 2003-2005 hiatus.

The material on "Syncretism" is old school US influenced death metal. It´s relatively brutal, technically well played, and slightly one-dimensional in style. It´s artists like Suffocation, Brutality, and Deicide that I´m reminded of at various points of the album. The growling vocals are of the type which are almost completely unintelligible, which to my ears is a real shame, as they would have been much more effective, had they been just slightly more intelligible. It´s brutal alright, but catching a word or a phrase just occasionally, usually provides death metal vocals with a vicious aggressive edge, that these vocals lack. The instrumental part of the music is very well performed, and there are several killer riffs and powerful rhythms featured on the album, but also the rare more melodic moment to bring a little variation to the music.

"Syncretism" features a brutal, raw, and powerful sound production, which suits the material perfectly. So most elements are in place for a nice brutal old school death metal experience, and in many ways "Syncretism" is the epitome of the genre. My above issue with the vocals is probably a matter of aquired taste, but to my ears it is a minor issue, and "Syncretism" doesn´t exactly feature a sound where you would instantly recognise that it is Sinister playing, so the lack of a unique sound is also a minor issue, which affects my overall rating. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is therefore warranted.

BUCKETHEAD Pike 264 - Poseidon

Album · 2017 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
BUCKETHEAD (as Bucketheadland) / Pike 264 - Poseidon / 21st release of 2017 / All instrumental / Contains 6 tracks all titled “Poseidon” / Clocks in at 30minutes 18seconds / everything played by Buck-buck-buckethead. Like many of these same track named PIKEs, this one’s playlist runs together fairly seamless merely passing the melody baton onto the next track

“Poseidon Part 1” (6:12) begins with clean guitars that echo in response to ambient backgrounds. And then heavy grungy guitars start in and create an industrial metal type playfulness with the ambience. Then it turns into heavy alternative metal riffing for a while before it slows down to a placid respite in aggressiveness with clean mellowness. Of course it picks back up with crunchy riffing and some melodic solos that aren’t fast but complementary. There is a nice mix of melody and virtuosity on this one. An excellent track that takes different aspects of previous PIKEs and stitches them together in a rather pleasant way

“Poseidon Part 2” (3:10) continues melodically from the previous track but after a grungy sustain emerges a clean echo guitar that carries the melody until another crunchy metal guitar riff picks up again. Like the last track it is sort of in the mid tempo range but still rather forceful in delivery. The emphasis remains on the melody which makes this PIKE so far an easy pill to swallow.

“Poseidon Part 3” (4:01) picks up the melody and creates a more sophisticated interaction between rhythmic and soloing dynamics. Lots of staccato riffing with melodic guitar sticking its nose in every little crack it can sniff out, ooooo baby. Nice melodic guitar solos are flowing like fruit of a cornucopia. Bravo!

“Poseidon Part 4” (4:36) seamlessly transitions tracks with a crunchy guitar riff and licks but slows down for a while into near ambience only until it picks up the crunchiness once again and alternative bands head for a while.

“Poseidon Part 5” (6:32) at this point i’ve had a few beers and anything sounds good but it continues the fucking album in a pleasurable weigh. I want to insert floppy discs into my smart phone

“Poseidon Part 6” (5:47) makes me think that i liked Wanda Sykes as the voice of the skunk in “Over The Hedge” for no particular reason actually

POSEIDON was the Olympian god of the sea, earthquakes, floods, drought and horses. He was depicted as a mature man with a sturdy build and dark beard holding a trident (a three-pronged fisherman's spear). God of drought AND horses? Who made this shit up. How about god of draught and porters. My kinda god. I rarely drink, i swear

SVART CROWN Abreaction

Album · 2017 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Nightfly
French extreme metal band Svart Crown have been releasing solid blackened death metal since their debut album Ages Of Decay back in 2008. All three of their previous albums contained plenty of atmospheric and oppressive death metal and with Abreaction they’ve made another very good addition to their back catalogue. Certainly as good as any of their other releases and quite possibly their best yet.

Golden Sacrament kicks things off but is not really representative of what’s to follow with its slow doomy opening riff. It’s not bad but is somewhat subdued compared with what follows and the weakest track on the album. Carcosa is much more representative of what you’re in for here with its dissonant chord structure over complex rhythm’s that twist and turn and fortunately they have the chops to pull it off effectively. I’m reminded of a more blackened version of Immolation with some Behemoth thrown in. Brooding atmospheric parts are well placed at regular intervals perfectly demonstrated on The Pact: To The Devil His Due before things return to more intense realms. There’s plenty of faster death metal out there but there’s no denying the intensity on show with things getting more so as the album progresses’. That’s not to say that pummelling blastbeats are abscent here but these guys are clearly smart enough to realise that doctoring them with slower brooding sections and inventive rhythmic variation only heightens the intensity.

Abreaction has moments where it’s better than anything in the bands past but the second half is where it’s at its most captivating. A little more evenness and we could have had an absolute classic but as things stand it’s still a very impressive piece of work.

OPETH Sorceress

Album · 2016 · Metal Related
Cover art 3.64 | 22 ratings
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Necrotica
Sometimes it’s hard to determine if a review is really going to sway people anymore. With a number of bands, especially ones with established fanbases, it often seems like people’s minds are set pretty quickly on a new album or project. But the real fun happens when a group has a polarizing impact on its audience; there’s an odd pleasure in watching a bunch of critics fight each other on a band’s quality or musical direction, preferably with some popcorn on standby. And since 2011, Opeth has been one of the most interesting bands to witness for this very reason. Their 2003 record Damnation might have been an interesting deviation from the typical progressive/death metal formula we know them for, but hey, at least Ghost Reveries and Watershed brought those elements back! Surely they wouldn’t switch to a different style for good, right?

Right?

Ok, so most of us know what went down after Watershed. But, for the people who aren’t aware, I’ll give the rundown. Essentially, Heritage was a major switch for a band who were mostly rooted in extreme metal at this point. Sure, the progressive rock stuff was always there from the beginning, but from Heritage onward, the band decided to abandon metal altogether to create something more rooted in the golden age of progressive rock. The title of the album was pretty apt, as it seemed like a deliberate tribute to the band’s 70s roots. What fans didn’t expect, however, was that the band stayed on this path up until the present day. Pale Communion ended up being more of a prog throwback than its predecessor, and the band started sounding more and more like a stylistic pastiche who forgot their original musical identity. So when these elements started popping up again on the new record Sorceress, many people’s minds were already set and the fanbase battlegrounds were established as usual. So what’s the point of reviewing something if that’s the case? Well, hear me out on this one.

Right from the get-go, Sorceress plays out like a long buffet of musical stylings. It’s really fun hearing Opeth go from genre to genre on this album, as the record sees them tackle folk, progressive rock, progressive metal, jazz, 70s classic rock, classical, blues, and more. This does lead to some disjointedness from time to time, but the adventurousness of Opeth’s songwriting is what anchors them here. You almost have no idea what to expect when the introductory folk number “Persephone” sets the tone, but the following title track is much more effective at giving an overview of the experience. Technical drumming marries bizarre keyboard motifs, until a doom metal riff drives the distorted guitar playing. It’s like a funeral march, but with a heightened sense of fury in Mikael Akerfeldt’s mean vocal performance. Say what you will about the musical content, but I simply can’t deny how strong Akerfeldt’s singing is on this album. From the mid-range Ian Anderson-esque performance he gives on the light folk rock ballad “Will O’ the Wisp,” to the raspy high notes he provides on the title track and “Chrysalis,” the man’s dynamics and range have improved over time.

But these aren’t the only strong points of Sorceress. Go a little deeper, and you’ll find the aforementioned “Will O’ the Wisp,” a simple acoustic guitar piece that evolves into a beautifully melodic and emotive electric guitar solo. The blues tone melds perfectly with the acoustic framework, and the rhythm work is suitably subtle underneath the great melodies. “Sorceress 2,” despite the lazy title, is also a highlight here. It’s entirely driven by vocals and acoustic guitar work, and the blend of major and minor keys creates a fascinatingly unsettling piece of music. And if there’s anything that this album has shown me, it’s to never underestimate the versatility of Opeth’s band members. Just listen to the incredible buildup and climax of “Strange Brew” (nice Cream reference, by the way), in which Joakim Svalberg’s eerie keyboards create a suspenseful vibe before anything else kicks in. The piano work keeps building and building… and the guitar work comes in briefly… and then the band just goes ***ing nuts. The playing is controlled and precise, but the discordant keyboards and Martin Axenrot’s nimble drumming create sort of an organized chaos. Eventually, the track erupts into a gloriously bluesy metal section with amazing guitar solos topping it all off. The entire song is a masterpiece of atmosphere and dynamics, and the musicianship is top-notch the entire way through. This is easily the album’s centerpiece.

But as one might imagine, not all is perfect here. First off, the lyrics have taken quite a huge nosedive from previous Opeth efforts. Remember those amazing stanzas the band would write in the old songs? Here’s a sample from 1999’s “Godhead’s Lament”:

Marauder Staining the soil, midst of stillness Beloved fraternity to an end Red eyes probe the scene; All the same Stilted for the beholder Depravity from the core Handcarved death in stoneladen aisles

And now look at an excerpt from “Will O’ the Wisp”:

When you’re tired of waiting And time is not on your side When you’re tired of hating me You no longer want to hide; Stuck to the failures of your life Marred with the sorrows of your strife

Not that simple lyrics are necessarily bad, of course, but there’s a lot of cheese to sift through on Sorceress. The lyrics tend to be both cliched (especially on the title track) and corny, which is a far cry from Akerfeldt’s previous work with the band. Also, as I stated, things do get disjointed once in a while. There probably could have been a better way for the band to transition from the beautiful folk of “Will O’ the Wisp,” to the abrupt metal intro of “Chrysalis,” or from “Persephone” to the weird groove of the title track. The album’s structure seems a bit confused and unpredictable, which proves to be both a good and bad thing in the end. While it keeps the listener guessing, it also means the record struggles to find a real concrete direction to take.

Still, part of the fun with Sorceress is the variety. It’s a true musical adventure, and while the derivative moments of Pale Communion rear their heads here and there, the diversity on this record is crucial to replaying it over and over again. This may not necessarily be the best Opeth album I’ve heard, but it’s the most fun I’ve had with an Opeth album in a long time. Many of you may have your minds made up already, but for those on the negative side of the fence, I recommend giving the record another listen. You might just find a few gems and a few surprises lurking within this glorious mess of an album.

CAVITY After Death

Album · 2017 · Doom Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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aglasshouse
A true theme of hell.

Looking back at Cavity's legacy, they were not revolutionaries. Although they did debut in 1995, a mere eight years after Melvins had essentially invented sludge metal, they did no genre creation or pioneering. What Cavity did do on the other hand was take sludge metal and mold it into an even more brutal, raw version of itself. This is, in a way, an equally commendable presentation of music.

But Cavity's tempest of terror ended quite abruptly in 2001, cutting the throat of a growing underground popularity that had been gaining steam since 1995. After a compilation of unreleased material from the 90's, Miscellaneous Recollections, not a peep was heard from Cavity other than a few blips of live performances here and there. Out of nowhere however in 2016, Cavity announced a comeback set for early 2017. Now it's that time, and what we have is the product of pooled emotions that have been brewing for the 16 year long hiatus.

After Death could not be more appropriately titled as the band is practically rising from the grave to record this, but at the same time it's also not exactly a glamorous return. I can easily chalk this up as the most brutal and barbarous Cavity release to date, and it's for a variety of different reasons: Cavity is a husk of it's former self. Gone is the pugnacity towards their work, of a group of young fellas from Miami with an attitude akin to the Melvins. Now what they are (or at least come across as according to this release) is a bitter, hateful group of...well, you know I'm just not sure. Demons, from the sounds of it. Secondly, After Death is not only the most brutal but also the most simplistic of Cavity's discography. The albums four total tracks are long, droning epics of heavy, repetitive, plodding drums, moaning guitar, and twisted, pained vocals. After Death's experimental use of stripped-down instrumentation, heavily balancing on the repetitiveness of the rhythmic structures, is nothing short of uncomfortable. It's actually quite an intimidating release, so far removed from so many other metal albums that it's actually quite alien at times. Tracks like 'Fangs on Beyond' especially utilize a certain industrial sound rarely seen being used by bands like Cavity. The year's already young but I can see this album being one of the most odd it has to offer.

This album is spine-chilling. It's a theme of Charon crossing the Styx. It's so strange too because After Death has gotten very little publicity since it's release, other than their label Valley King promoting it a little ever since it's announcement in 2016. It's truly an oddball of the year that I think, although I'm doubtful it will appeal to all or even many, is very worth checking out just for the experience.

HIDEOUS DIVINITY Adveniens

Album · 2017 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Nightfly
Sometimes with technical death metal bands it can be a case of style over substance with a dazzling display of technique taking precedence over great songs with a bunch of killer riffs, one of the reasons why I generally prefer the more organic old school stuff. However with Adveniens, album number three by Italians Hideous Divinity you can have both. The moment Ages Die kicked in I was hooked. Incredibly fast, brutal and complex, yet displaying plenty of maturity in the songwriting department with hooks and captivating riffs aplenty.

A new band to me but a bit of research and I discover that ex-Hour Of Penance guitarist Enrico Schettino is a member and new Aborted bassist Stefano Franceschini too so if proof were needed these guys are clearly no slouches. Best of all Ages Die isn’t a one off as the album whilst completely relentless manages to stay inventive throughout. The brutal onslaught is occasional broken by strategically placed atmospheric sections adding to the overall tension before the song once again explodes with more precision riffing and drumming from the brilliant Giulio Galati with machine gun blastbeats, breakneck double bass drum patterns injected with fills George Kollias would be proud of. Nothing you haven’t heard before of course but so well executed you can’t fail to be impressed. Avenians certainly has more in common with the likes of Nile, minus the Egyptian influences, but they throw in moments of Immolation style dissonance at times which always works for me.

This type of brutal technical death metal can become a bit wearing and tedious with the never ending barrage of blastbeats but such is the quality of the songs here its edge of the seat stuff all the way making picking favourites futile. Impressive indeed and for now at least my favourite technical death metal album of 2017. Now to check out those first two albums.

ARTIFICIAL BRAIN Infrared Horizon

Album · 2017 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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adg211288
I'm sure that each of us has a few genres that we can usually listen to something new from and take at least some level of enjoyment from it. For me it's black metal and power metal. I'm also sure that on the opposite side of that there's a few genres that we're very picky about. One of mine is death metal. Death metal is one of those genres where if an album hasn't grabbed me within a couple of tracks, I'll probably switch it off and find something else to listen to, unless I'm forcing myself to review it. I actually like death metal a lot, but this probably happens to me with eight, maybe even nine out of ten albums I try. I find that most albums come over as being very much 'heard it all before' (especially true of the old school types), or totally soulless and lacking any kind of substance (melodic death metal and brutal death metal especially). The one style that I have better luck with is technical death metal, which is as close as I get to a similar relationship as I have with black metal and power metal. But that only means I can listen to a whole album and enjoy it on some level. Finding that one album that really stands out, that's still a rare event.

For 2017, one such album is Infrared Horizon, the second full-length release by US technical death metal act Artificial Brain. These guys, who include in their line-up Revocation guitarist Dan Gargiulo, have previously released their debut album Labyrinth Constellation (2014), the EP Butchering Cosmic Giants (2013) and a 2011 demo, but this album is the first encounter I've had with their music. Funnily enough the album actually very nearly ended up on my figurative death metal discard pile for a reason I'll disclose in the next paragraph, but there was a spark in Artificial Brain's music that's kept me going with it. The kind where the next thing I know I've listened to Infrared Horizon several times and come away with a bit more appreciation for what Artificial Brain have created each time. To the point even where this album will be for the rest of the year the benchmark death metal album to beat.

The music on Infrared Horizon is semi-brutal technical death metal, with that added edge primarily coming in the form of the vocals by frontman Will Smith, which move into the pig squeal territory of brutal death metal every now and then. That's actually the one aspect I could do without regarding the album and is the reason it nearly ended up on my discard pile, but the more positive elements of Artificial Brain's sound have drawn me in to the point that I barely notice the pig squeals (which aren't as ridiculous as they could have been, to be completely fair with the band) any more. The more brutal death metal styled vocals do make some sections of the album a bit monotonous, but fortunately the growls are actually quite diverse on the album, with some being more decipherable and some done with a higher range.

The biggest draw for Infrared Horizon is the level of musicianship on the album. It's absolutely insane but doesn't come across as being too flashy either. I think that may be because the band couple their skills with an unpolished sound production, so they don't sound squeaky clean and clinical the way that some technical death metal can be. Of course there's nothing wrong with taking the polished approach to technical death metal so long as the musical integrity (A.K.A. Songs) is there, but the rawness to this one makes that technical precision come across with an intense savagery that even some of my personal favourite technical death metal albums couldn't hope to match. It's a sound where the playing of production and musicianship really hits the spot, despite some personal gripes with the vocals, which I acknowledged some listeners won't have any qualms about and as such there's a lot of potential for others to get into Infrared Horizon even quicker than I did.

The album does still have the issue that I've had with other death metal albums previously where the songs seem to blur together, though individual identity may become more apparent with further familiarity with the music. That's the real clincher with Infrared Horizon. Unlike other death metal albums of the ilk I've been referring to, it makes me want to continue to listen to it once this review is posted. For now though, the experience it offers as a whole is stunning, though something of a grower and I look forward to giving it more spins.

DREAM THEATER The Astonishing

Album · 2016 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 2.66 | 30 ratings
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mlkpad14
Bands change, right? That could be used to argue Dream Theater's case, but they never actually changed, did they?

"The Astonishing" is in itself a rather terrific concept album, and it explores very interesting territory in both its lyrical and its musical approach.

Even though I can totally say that the lyrics fulfill their job, they don't really do much more for me - probably since I don't really understand the astonishing concept that they do so much to explore. The music, though, seems to have given the word "progressive" an entirely new meaning. The band brilliantly crafts through symphonic passages and short blurbs. Standalone songs, such as "The Gift of Music" and "Our New World" help create checkpoints for listeners first exploring the three hours of snippets of vocals, guitars, and synthesizer solos.

If Mike Petrucci was there, they probably would have never created this album. Even though I prefer John Petrucci to Mike Mangini, it seems a real good thing that Mike Mangini took over on drums.

Many cheers for this great album - may it shine on, and hopefully, pave the road for future Dream Theater albums of the same sort.

METALLICA Hardwired... to Self-Destruct

Album · 2016 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 3.63 | 28 ratings
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mlkpad14
5/4/17 (3 1/2 stars) - "Hardwired... To Self-Destruct" was 5 stars when it came out. Each single was major, and I stayed up all night listening to the album on the day of its release. What's more, that day I was packed with so much energy - in short, the album rejuvenated me.

The problem with the album is not that it isn't as good as Metallica's earlier stuff because honestly, it is still really good. Rather, the problem is that it just doesn't last. Unlike the true goodies and all the 5-star albums out there, it does not guarantee all those months and even years of listening. Hardly can most imagine the next generation listening to this album, and rather obvious is that absolutely no one in the generation afterward would have even heard of it.

As far as the album goes, people have managed to agree that it is pretty much modern-sounding thrash. "Hardwired" is most likely the craziest song on the album, with its three minutes of chaos. All the other songs are pinned at six or seven minutes, a reasonable length. While the first disc is half singles and all epics, the second disc is made up of slightly more gradual pieces. That is to say, they are still all thrash and epic, but not to the same extent as the first disc's

"Spit Out The Bone" was the perfect song to end the album, and the deluxe version's third disc had all of the right songs, as well. "Ronnie Rising Medley" and "When a Blind Man Cries" would have went unnoticed if they weren't included, and the older Metallica songs were surely some of their best.

In short, "Hardwired... To Self Destruct" is a fantastic album for Metallica to have released as possibly their last new studio work. On the other hand, it will be lost in time, and it has already lost its appeal to most of those that have excessively listened to it. It is quite sad... well, it is still awesome that they have made it this far. If Metallica can release another album just as good, I'm sure everyone will be flattered.

5/18/17 (EDIT: 5 stars) - I made the mistake to review this album before I saw most of it live. The second Metallica started with "Hardwired" my mouth dropped open and I was lost in a world of crazy fantasy. Honestly, as they continued through "Atlas, Rise!", "Moth Into Flame", and "Now That We're Dead"... It is awesome how my opinion changed so drastically!

This is an album for the centuries, and nothing Metallica has done or will do will EVER go to waste!

THEORY IN PRACTICE Crescendo Dezign

EP · 2017 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"Crescendo Dezign" is an EP release by Swedish technical/progressive death metal act Theory in Practice. The EP was released independently in January 2017. Theory in Practice went on a longer hiatus after the release of their third full-length studio album "Colonizing the Sun (2002)", but returned to the scene in 2015 with the "Evolving Transhumanism" single. "Crescendo Dezign" features the same lineup who recorded "Evolving Transhumanism (2015)". The Sjöberg brothers, Peter on guitars and bass (appearing under his pseudonym Peter Lake) and Patrik on drums, and Andreas Lyngmo on vocals.

The "Evolving Transhumanism (2015)" single featured a continuation of the technical/progressive death metal sound of "Colonizing the Sun (2002)", almost to the point where the listener didn´t notice the 13 year gap between the two releases, and "Crescendo Dezign" continues down the same musical path as those two releases. The musicianship is on a very high level, and the tracks feature several jaw-dropping technical parts, loads of tempo- and time signature changes, and also a futuristic sci-fi atmosphere (sometimes enhanced by keyboards), which along with the technical playing creates the right environment for the material on the 5 track, 19:23 minutes long EP to shine. The vocals are predominantly aggressive growling, but there are a few clean vocal parts on the EP too.

"Crescendo Dezign" features a powerful, clear, and detailed sound production, which suits the material on the EP well. Nothing on "Crescendo Dezign" is left to chance. It feels like there is a plan for everything and that it´s a plan Theory in Practice have worked on in detail and are now executing with seamless ease. These guys are seasoned professionals and it´s a joy listening to a release as convincing as "Crescendo Dezign". Fans of technical/progressive death metal with a sci-fi atmosphere are recommended to take a listen. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

LABŸRINTH Architecture of a God

Album · 2017 · Power Metal
Cover art 3.48 | 2 ratings
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Kev Rowland
In the spring of 2016, the band's founding members, Andrea Cantarelli and Olaf Thorsen received a call from Frontiers asking them to discuss with vocalist Roberto Tiranti the possibilities of a reunion, some six years after their last album. After much discussion, the guys agreed, and a new version of the band was brought together with the addition of drummer extraordinaire John Macaluso (TNT, Riot, Ark etc.), Oleg Smirnoff (Vision Divine, Eldritch) on keyboards, and Nik Mazzucconi (Aleph, Edge of Forever) on bass. Many people still feel that their finest album was released as long ago as 1998, with ‘Return To Heaven Denied’, but that is only one of seven studio albums released by the band prior to this one. I haven’t heard it, but it is going to have to be something very special indeed to beat this.

What we have here is power metal which is in a very similar vein to Stratovarius, played at great speed with guitars and keyboards both shredding when they need to. Andrea and Olaf have been playing together since 1994, and this really comes through in the way that they harmonise and combined their runs in perfect harmony. But, they do know when to take a step back, as on “A New Dream”, where they use a quite different style to break things up. Roberto is also an amazing vocalist, who sings in a melodic manner for most of the album but also knows when to really life it by hitting even higher notes. In some ways this album is quite dated, but in others it is very much for today. If you enjoy melodic hard rock played by guys who really know what they are doing, then look no further.

MESHUGGAH The Violent Sleep of Reason

Album · 2016 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.89 | 7 ratings
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Unitron
When people talk about extreme metal, they usually mean thrash, death, and black metal. However, doom metal and groove metal are a couple of genres that can be among the heaviest music out there yet get forgotten in discussions of extreme metal. For the latter, it's Meshuggah that has to remind listeners that groove metal can harbor colossal brutality on the same level if not more so.

The band wastes no time in beating you over the head with a mixture of jackhammer riffing, drum attacks, and sludgy dirges. It's business as usual for the band, with insane syncopation, downtuned dirges, groovy hooks, piercing thrashings, and Jens Kidman's brutal screams and roars. "Born in Dissonance" may as well be the band's theme song, it pretty much displays what the band is all about. The sludgy "By the Ton" is another perfect representative for the band, as they sure deliver their destructive grooves by the ton. If they tuned the strings any lower, they'd break the sound barrier. "Monstrocity" is the main highlight, with the main riff sounding like a much heavier Korn, it's about as catchy as you can get while still crushing every listener's skull. "Our Rage Won't Die" is a groove-thrash fest to the most crushing degree.

There's really nothing else to say. It's brutal as fuck, it's heavy as balls, it's skull crushing as hell, it's Meshuggah. Basically, if you liked the last couple Meshuggah albums or just like uncompromising brutality you won't be disappointed. Warning: May cause intense headbanging and extreme whiplash if you have long hair. Hope you found this review helpful, feel free to comment!

AYREON The Source

Album · 2017 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.31 | 7 ratings
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adg211288
There are many metal bands out there for whom a new release is widely considered a 'big deal'. They come from your Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Metallica and Black Sabbath types: the pillars of the metal community in other words. One not so household name that has the same effect (and perhaps even more so) for me though is Dutch musician Arjen Anthony Lucassen. The man has several projects to his name such as Star One, Guilt Machine and most recent offering The Gentle Storm, but the most important of these projects is his flagship, Ayreon. The Source (2017) is the ninth full-length album to be released under this moniker. Like most of the project's work, it is a science fiction conceptual metal opera spread across a two disc release.

As is usual for an Ayreon album, there is a whole cast of vocalists, each playing a different character in the story. There are been some very impressive casts of vocal talent on previous Ayreon releases, but, especially for the direction of the music has gone on The Source, we may have been served the strongest cast to date. It's basically like an all-stars session for the progressive, power and symphonic metal genres.

Lucassen has worked with a few of these singers before, including two returnees from the previous Ayreon album The Theory of Everything (2013), Tommy Karevik (Kamelot/Seventh Wonder) and Michael Mills (Toehider). Russell Allen (Symphony X) and Floor Jansen (Nightwish), who both have sang on Ayreon releases before as well as being two of the four core lead singers of Lucassen's Star One project, are also present, as is James LaBrie (Dream Theater), who playing the lead character on The Human Equation (2004) and returns here for another key role in the Ayreon saga, effectively serving as a narrator due to the album's liner notes being credited to his character, The Historian. Big draws for power metal fans will of course be Hansi Kürsch (Blind Guardian) and Tobias Sammet (Edguy/Avantasia). Simone Simons (Epica) gets a more substantial role following a one song appearance on 01011001 (2008).

As always though, there are a few new collaborators making their Ayreon debut on The Source: Michael Eriksen (Circus Maximus), Nils K. Rue (Pagan's Mind), Tommy Rogers (Between the Buried and Me) and for just one song, Zaher Zorgati (Myrath). Arjen Lucassen himself does not sing on the album, for the second Ayreon album in a row. I actually expected (before having heard the album) him to take a role here after sitting The Theory of Everything out, but I can hear why. Lucassen (who is nowhere near as bad a singer as he makes himself out to be, as his solo album Lost in the New Real (2012) shows), has a voice more suited for the softer songs in his repertoire and The Source is, generally speaking, one of the heaviest and most dominantly metal based Ayreon albums, and the vocalists he's chosen are all basically singing powerhouses.

Conceptually The Source adds a new chapter to the Ayreon Saga, also being the earliest point in its timeline. It has strong ties to 01011001, acting as a direct prequel. Previously I thought it had been stated that 01011001 marked the end of the Ayreon Saga, which was supported by The Theory of Everything being its own thing entirely, but it seems that meant the door was always open for albums placed earlier in the timeline like The Source. I don't actually want to go into the album's concept too much to avoid spoilers for fans who want to experience and discover it for themselves, so I'll settle for saying that it's ties to 01011001 are very strong, both musically and lyrically. The two are very good companion albums.

Unlike 01011001 though, The Source flows through it's plot consecutively, with no side story songs not featuring the main vocal cast. It's broken down into four parts, referred to as Chronicles. The first of these is The 'Frame, comprising of three songs starting with The Day That the World Breaks Down, which was also the first full song revealed. It's the longest song on the album and introduces all eleven of the main characters. As an opener it not only sets the scene for the album's storyline, which heavily builds upon what has come before in other Ayreon albums, but also the musical journey that will unfold over the next 88:33 minutes. The Historian (LaBrie), opens the song and handles the introduction before things get under way proper, which is when the album's heavy, guitar driven nature is revealed. Like a true progressive metal epic though it moves around with it's moods a lot, including a quite bluesy sounding section sung by The President (Allen), which brings mind to the first part of Amazing Flight from Into the Electric Castle (1998), another Ayreon album with key conceptual ties to this one. A more obvious reference to another album though is the binary code lines from TH-1 (Mills), an android character, which reference the We Are Forever section of 01011001's opener, Age of Shadows.

The next two songs of the first Chronicle are Sea of Machines and Everybody Dies, which then move onto the usual format of an Ayreon album where not every singer is featured in the same track, which is a system that continues throughout the rest of the release, with the close exception of The Human Compulsion, the penultimate track, which features all the main characters aside from TH-1. Sea of Machines is rife with lyrical reference to other Ayreon albums/songs in The Prophet's (Rue) lines, while Everybody Dies is notable for being the only extreme edged song on the album, with The Chemist (Rogers) providing a few growls along with clean vocals. It's Mills' TH-1 that shines on that song though, being the ones he's most dominant on aside from the very last track of the album, March of the Machines, where he's the sole vocalist, making up for his absence on the prior The Human Compulsion.

As the album moves into its second Chronicle, The Aligning of the Ten, the lyrics take time for some emotional, reflective work dealing with dark themes such as the end of the world and leaving loved ones behind to die, and the survivor's guilt that results from that. While it's impossible not to mention Star of Sirrah as an album highlight from this part of the album, it's the following track All That Was that really adds some new dimensions to The Source, since it's quite a folk dominant piece of music and one where the albums two female characters The Counselor (Simons) and The Biologist (Jansen) get a chance to shine together, though LaBrie's Historian and The Diplomat (Eriksen) also make an appearance in the track. At the opposite end of the Ayreon spectrum is Run! Apocalypse! Run! Fast, heavy and somewhat frantic, it's one that's going to really appeal to the power metal fans with both the music and the vocals from The Astronomer (Kürsch), The Captain (Sammet) and The Opposition Leader (Karevik) among others.

Disc two and Chronicle three, The Transmigration and the story starts to tie up with the established lore of the Ayreon universe a lot more. The Preacher (Zorgati), puts in his sole appearance during Deathcry of a Race, laying down Arabic lines. I'm not entirely sure how this character is supposed to fit into the story presented by The Source, whether he is with the main characters and silent up until this point or in a flashback to events the main characters escaped from. I'd have liked to heard more from Zorgati on the album than this and hope that like with Simone Simons Arjen Lucassen will work with him again in greater depth on a future release. Speaking of Simons, it's in this song that she delivers some of her best lines, with both her and Floor Jansen making use of their full operatic vocal ranges in harmony. That combined with Zorgati's lines makes for a pretty epic section of music.

Final Chronicle The Rebirth contains the most individual tracks, with six, but the last three are more connected together than any of the others and are more like a mini-suite where Journey to Forever fills the role of the main song, The Human Compulsion the epic build up to the conclusion as has been done on other Ayreon albums such as The Human Equation, and March of the Machines as a final epilogue. Before all this though is one of my personal favourites from the album, Planet Y is Alive! Fans will of course know of Planet Y from previous Ayreon albums. The song is, like Run! Apocalypse! Run! earlier in the album, a quite fast, power metal influenced track so it shouldn't be any surprise to hear voices like those of Kürsch, Allen, and Jansen singing on it.

And as March of the Machines closes, we hear a final lyric: The Age of Shadows will begin, along with the sound of machines, prompting listeners to go back and immediately give 01011001 a spin as well (as if we needed an excuse).

In summary, The Source is one of the Ayreon albums really geared towards the metalheads in the audience like 01011001 and Flight of the Migrator (2000) before it and it may just be the one that does it the best thanks to its stellar cast of vocalists who all really complement each other. As previously stated I would have liked to have heard Zaher Zorgati in more than just the one song, but it's a small issue in the greater scheme of things when you have a progressive metal album that flows from track to track as well as The Source does, with some great vocal interplay between the other vocalists. It results in a very easy album to listen to, one that seems to fly by much faster than it's 88:33 duration would suggest, making repeat listens very tempting. I'd definitely also recommend a listen where you go straight onto 01011001 as the album's final moments prompt, as that makes for a doubly epic journey.

Albums like this are the reason why Arjen Anthony Lucassen is one of my 'big deal' artists when it comes to new releases. He rarely disappoints. Between multiple projects and diverse influences you're almost guaranteed that his next album will be a different beast from the last and The Source is no exception to that as both a follow-up to the more progressive rock based The Theory of Everything and The Gentle Storm's The Diary (2015) where Lucassen recorded the same album in two very different styles. Superb work, once again.

HATE Tremendum

Album · 2017 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland


Hate was formed in Warsaw, Poland, in 1990 by guitarist and vocalist Adam The First Sinner (real name Adam Buszko, now normally abbreviated to ATF Sinner), guitarist Qack and drummer Mittloff. Between 1990 and 1995 they recorded three demo tapes before signing their first record contract. Over the years, they have been through various line-up changes, but the death of bassist Slawek "Mortifier" Arkhangelsky from natural causes while on tour in 2013, and the departure of drummer Stanisław "Hexen" Malanowicz the following year had a major impact, with just AFT Sinner and guitarist Konrad "Destroyer" Ramotowski left. Paweł "Pavulon" Jaroszewicz joined on drums for the 2015 album, ‘Crusade: Zero’ but things were still not right within the band, and ‘Tremendum’ finds just ATF Sinner and Pavulon from the last album, with two session musicians in Paweł "Apeiron" Michałowski on bass and Dominik "Domin" Prykiel on guitars.

Hate have been known for playing a type of blackened death metal that has also found favour with countrymates Behemoth, but for me this album finds them far more solidly within the black metal genre, but with some death influences. It perhaps isn’t surprising that even though they have been through some trauma, that all these guys know what they are about, and this feels like a major release from a major band. The production is superb, capturing a band that are tight and firing hard. Some black metal relies too much on pomp and ceremony, but here the balance is just right, with the reverb allowing the mid to think of black candles and ceremonies, but the guitar and drums are there in the foreground to keep bashing the listener on the head while ATF’s growls are perfectly pitched to work with the music, not against it.

They have been releasing albums for more than twenty years, have had more than that in terms of musicians in their ranks, but let’s hope that this quartet can hit the stage and show everyone that Hate are a force to be reckoned with, as they have come of age with this album.

DIMMU BORGIR Forces of the Northern Night

Live album · 2017 · Symphonic Black Metal
Cover art 5.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland


It has been way too long since we last heard from Dimmu Borgir, and they have returned with a double DVD set, of which I have been sent the audio (and surely will be released on CD as well). Back in 2010 they performed with the Norwegian Radio Orchestra and a full-scale choir in their hometown of Oslo, and this release contains that entire show plus their performance at Wacken Open Air with the National Czech Symphonic Orchestra (as well as an in-depth documentary with behind-the-scenes footage of the massive stage production in Norway). By now the band was down to just a trio, with Shagrath (vocals), Silenoz (guitars) and Galder (guitars) joined by session musicians Daray (drums), Cyrus (bass) and Geir Bratland (keyboards), plus of course everyone else! I always felt that ICS Vortex was a key part of their sound, with his vocals complementing those of Shagrath, but he certainly isn’t missed here with everything else going on.

Their over the top symphonic black metal sound lends itself to the orchestral treatment, and the result is something that is quite extraordinary. The crowd also know that they are seeing something very special indeed, and are vocal in their support of what they are seeing and hearing. It is over the top, it is bombastic, and simply excellent. It is hard to pick a favourite moment among the seventeen songs on offer, but one must admit that “Progenies of the Great Apocalypse” has been lifted to even greater heights with the combination of Dimmu Borgir’s attack, the orchestra providing the backdrop, and Shagrath riding the maelstrom to its natural conclusion. This type of music just doesn’t get any better than this, and this will tide over the fans until the new album is released that they are currently working on.

ROYAL THUNDER Wick

Album · 2017 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Nightfly
Royal Thunder’s second album Crooked Doors, released in 2015, was an object lesson in how to release a hard rock album in this day and age by retaining a sense of originality without adopting tired clichés. Of course vocalist Mlny Pasonz immediately set it apart from the pack with her visceral emotive delivery marking her as one of the finest singers today in rock. Also of note was the clean organic guitar tone of Josh Weaver, prevalent much of the time, who despite the lack of effects still packed considerable punch into his intelligent riffing. Most of all though it was the great songs that made it such a compelling return to time and time again album. Packed with strong melodies and inventive riffs it was one of the best albums released that year.

Forward to 2017 and whilst Wick retains much of what made Crooked Doors so great the band have clearly tried to diversify their sound. The first thing you notice is that Wick doesn’t rock as hard, not necessarily a bad thing but with songs like Tied they have got a little more experimental with its swirling chorus and syncopated rhythm but its lack of a strong hook lets it down. The same can’t be said of We Slipped, Burning Tree and The Sinking Chair to name three, all songs with strong melodies and plenty of drive, in keeping with the best moments of Crooked Doors. Unfortunately about a third of the album just doesn’t connect with me, usually the mellower tracks as it happens. Crooked Doors had its share of these, One Day immediately springs to mind, its insistent hook making it an album highlight, but here some of these songs fall a little flat like Plans for example. When it’s followed by a song as strong as Anchor though it’s soon forgotten.

Once again Mlny Parsonz voice is stunning and the band all play well with some inventive drumming from Evan Diprima. Josh Weaver, this time aided by new man Will Fiore keep the guitars largely clean sounding but still kick ass when required. The production is clear but could do with more bottom end and the drums sound a bit boxy with the kick drum a bit low in the mix.

So whilst Wick has some truly excellent songs and whilst there’s nothing bad here its lack of consistency robs it of greatness. Nevertheless, if you enjoyed the first two albums then there’s still much to recommend, though sadly not quite the follow up I was hoping for.

BUCKETHEAD Pike 263 - Glacier

Album · 2017 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
BUCKETHEAD (as Bucketheadland) / Pike 263 - Glacier / 20th release of 2017 / All instrumental / Contains 5 tracks / Clocks in at 30minutes 57seconds / everything played by Buck-buck-buckethead

“Glacier” (13:50) slowly begins things with a nonchalantly unfolding guitar riff that becomes joined by bass and drums and then the riffing becomes a bit heavier. All stays mid tempo but after a while a cool echo effect takes over for a bit but reverts back to the alternative riffing that is punctuated by slower clean guitar segments. Melodically this track doesn’t change it up too much and is remnant of countless other PIKEs that have come before but the dynamics are mixed up a bit with riff changes and tempo shifts. Nothing is jarring with this one and all is smooth as silk with riffing segments, soloing and predictable chord changes. One of those tracks that’s perfectly listenable and unobtrusive but at the same time has been done many times before and has absolutely no luster to loose not to mention it becomes quite repetitive and outstays its welcome. Nice but not outstanding unless this is the first BUCKETHEAD track you’ve ever heard

“Relic” (4:03) begins soft and sensual sounding like a new wave guitar track but with also sounds a little flamenco in guitar strumming with a little surf guitar style mixed in. Sort of a new sound for BH actually. All stays subdued with clean guitar and a little Spanish guitar flair but never bursts out into anything energetic. The percussion remains light and fluffy and just when it all sounds like it’s ready to burst into a full-fledge production, it steps back and becomes super mellow. Nice track though

“Food” (5:19) completely shifts gears and immediately pumps out blistering adrenaline fueled metal riffs at light speed. The riffs are a bit thrashy as they gallop along with alternative grungy distortion turned up. Between the gallops is a little dance of progressive licks but never hang around too long and jump back into the steady stream of metal madness. Nice melodic development that combines heaviness with a heady flow. Nice track

“Evaporate” (4:06) begins with clean guitar and ambient background. As the melodic flow unfolds it morphs into different riffs and then picks up steam after a while by incorporating a more energetic percussive drive but the ambience remains thick and the clean guitar tone never changes. It never picks up past mid tempo and then slows down again. Pretty mellow track and fairly average actually

“Plate” (3:39) jumps back into metal with jittery riffs and a bouncy rhythm. Sounds like something from the 80s hard rock scene but i can’t put my finger on exactly what. Maybe a tad Van Halen but not quite. The riff dances around for a while and then a sizzling solo takes over until it derails and then the bouncy riff is back. Nice track but nothing OMG original

This is an average PIKE. Lots of nicely delivered tracks with a little bit of originality but for the most part rehashes of ideas already well covered on previous PIKEs. Nice to listen to but not one that compels me to return for future listens. Well played and good but nothing more

PYRAMAZE Contingent

Album · 2017 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.33 | 3 ratings
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DippoMagoo
April 2017 is a very crowded month for new metal releases, with three of my most anticipated releases of the year all coming on the same day, and so it would be easy for something to get lost in the shuffle. On the same day as those three releases, though, we have what is sure to be a highly anticipated release for many other people, which is Contingent, the fifth full-length release from Danish progressive power metal band Pyramaze. Fans were excited two years ago, as after releasing three well-regarded albums in the previous decade, the band was dormant for a while, only to return with a slightly different lineup to release Disciples of the Sun, which ended up being a very well-received comeback album and seemingly triggered the start of a new era for the band. Now, two years later, the band has retained the same lineup and are ready to release their next album Contigent, which very much feels like a natural evolution, though it does take the band into slightly new territory compared to past releases.

In their early days, Pyramaze were a fairly traditional power metal band, though their 2008 release Immortal included some prog elements and stands as their most aggressive album to date. With Disciples of the Sun, the band modernized their sound quite a bit, featuring a mix between harder guitar riffs, more atmospheric keyboards, and some huge vocal melodies. The release still maintained elements of their old power metal sound, but it laid the foundation for the band to switch to more of a melodic prog sound, which is exactly what has happened on Contingent. There’s still the occasional speedy sections, but for the most part this is a very laidback album, more focused on the huge choruses and vocal melodies than anything else, with the instrumental sections mostly being dominated by some effective but rather simple riffs, while keyboards are paired with orchestration to add some flavor and to give the album a slight symphonic feel at times. There are some nice guitar solos at times, though nothing overly flashy or technical. I’d say, on the whole, fans should expect the majority of the album to sound something like “Genetic Process” from the previous album, with only a couple tracks even coming close to speedier territory like “Fearless”, and there’s nothing overly challenging or complex, either. From a production standpoint, everything sounds amazing, as always from Jacob Hansen, who also serves as the band’s bassist and second guitarist currently, and I’d say the performances and overall sound are definitely the biggest strengths of the album. The mix between modern riffs and big vocal melodies is quite addictive, though I’d say this album is a case where the overall idea is better than the execution at times,

Pyramaze have been through quite a few vocalists over the years, with Lance King performing on their first two albums, before being replaced by Matt Barlow on Immortal. Things got complicated from there, as Matt left and was replaced by Urban Breed, but somehow the band never recorded an album with him, and for a while it seemed like they might be done until they finally returned in 2015 with new vocalist Terje Harøy, who I had previous heard with his old band, Teodor Tuff. He has a very strong, clear voice and definitely gives the music a unique feel, with a vocal approach that really gets the most out of the melodies, and I’d say he brings a high level of accessibility to the music, almost sounding radio friendly at times. His vocals are a definite highlight of both this album and Disciples of the Sun.

The one area where I’m not really blown away is the songwriting. I actually have a similar problem with this release as I did with the Seven Kingdoms album I reviewed recently, except on the opposite end when it comes to speed, where I don’t think there are any weak songs here, but I definitely think the album could use some variety, as there simply aren’t enough tracks that change the formula up in a meaningful way. For the most part, the tracks alternate between slow, heavy guitar driven verses and big melodic choruses, with some tracks going a little bit lighter during the verses and emphasizing the keyboards. Either way, though, it’s a very formulaic approach to songwriting, with even speedier tracks like “20 Second Century” and “Symphony of Tears” being pretty similar, except that they have faster-paced choruses than the other tracks, which makes them stand out at least a little bit. I find that can be a problem with melodic prog in general, though, where the overall sound is excellent, but the bands can sometimes struggle to come up with fresh ideas for songs as they don’t want to get overly complicated with their musicianship but also don’t want to push too far into other genres, and so it’s like they deliberately limit themselves in the songwriting department.

I will say, though, the album leaves a strong first impression, as opening track “Land of Information”, while still falling into the same basic melodic prog formula, somehow feels a bit fresher than the rest of the album, like the band dialed up their performances to the next level and everything feels more energetic. Even the verses hit just a bit harder than on the rest of the album, the solo section seems just a bit stronger and more memorable, and the chorus is awesome as always. While the track is still more mid-paced, I would say it moves at a slightly better pace than most of the album overall, with the verses being a bit faster than even “20 Second Century”, though it never gets as fast as that song does during its chorus.

For the most part, the rest of the album feels like it falls into a basic formula, with tracks like “Kingdom of Solace”, “A World Divided”, “Nemesis”, “Obsession”, “and “Under Restraint” being hard to tell apart due to how they all rely on slow, chunky modern riffs and big choruses, while more keyboard driven tracks like “Star Men” and “Heir Apparent” simply lack energy in the verses and don’t give the album the change of pace it needs. Basically, for the most part, I’d say the verses are kinda boring throughout most songs, but the choruses are amazing and save the day, so it’s like, I certainly enjoy listening to the music a lot, and Terje really carries most of the songs, but I can’t help but feel as if the band has the potential to do better things in their current form. One weird thing is how the album has two title tracks, scattered in different parts of the album, but these are both very brief orchestral pieces, that while being very nice, feel more like interludes than anything else, so making them title tracks feels very weird. One track that stands out in a positive way is the ballad “The Tides That Won’t Change”, which features some very nice female vocals from guest Kristen Foss, who I’d even say slightly outshines Terje on that track, though both singers sound very good and it’s definitely my second favorite on the album, behind only “Land of Information”.

I’ve been a bit hard on Contingent, but I will say I think it’s a very solid album overall and on an objective level everything about it is top tier and I really can’t complain. I was simply hoping for the songwriting to be just a bit more varied and more interesting, and I hope on future releases Pyramaze can find a way to bring back some of the speed and variety of previous albums, while still building on the melodic prog sound they have going on, because the overall sound is very good and I think they can do great things with their current lineup, but they need to push just a bit further out of their comfort zone in the songwriting department. Overall, a solid album I can easily recommend to fans of melodic prog, while power metal fans may be a bit disappointed, but there’s still enough good points here for it to be worth a shot for any fans of the band.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: http://myglobalmind.com/2017/04/14/pyramaze-contingent-review/

MEMORIAM For The Fallen

Album · 2017 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.54 | 4 ratings
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UMUR
"For The Fallen" is the debut full-length studio album by UK, Birmingham based death metal act Memoriam. The album was released through Nuclear Blast Records in March 2017. Memoriam consists of former and present members of Bolt Thrower, Benediction, and Cerebral Fix. The band was formed in 2016 as a tribute to late Bolt Thrower drummer Martin "Kiddie" Kearns. Memoriam released three demos before being signed to Nuclear Blast Records for the release of "For The Fallen".

Listening to the material on the 8 track, 43:36 minutes long album, it´s no surprise that the lineup consists of former (and present) members of Bolt Thrower and Benediction, because there are several stylistic similarities to those two acts on "For The Fallen". The music is predominantly mid-to slow paced old school death metal (with the occasional nod towards faster-paced hardcore punk riffs and rhythms like on "Corrupted System") and with Karl Willetts distinct sounding intelligible growling vocals in front (he has a hoarse almost talking type of delivery, which is pretty unique), it´s almost impossible not to think of Bolt Thrower. When that is said Memoriam are not a clone act by any means, and while they don´t have the most distinct or original take on the old school death metal sound, they still manage to deliver a fairly memorable product, that is of a relatively high compositional quality for the genre. Personally I think the best tracks on the album are the most heavy slow ones, which often features an epic feeling. Examples of that are tracks like "War Rages On" and "Last Words". When Memoriam pick up the pace they are generally less interesting.

"For The Fallen" features a powerful, raw, and detailed sound production, which further enhances the listening experience, and which is generally a great asset to the album. The musicianship is on a high level on all posts. Not that there is anything technically challenging being played, but Memoriam are still a tight playing unit, who know how to deliver their parts in the most effectful way. It´s for example an absolute joy listening to the drumming by Andrew Whale. Personally I haven´t heard him play since his days with Bolt Thrower, and he brings an important personal touch to the music with his playing.

So upon conclusion "For The Fallen" is a good quality debut album by Memoriam and finally a sign that the UK death metal scene hasn´t died out completely. It was never the most prolific scene with arguably only a handful of artists deserving being mentioned among the death metal elite (artists like Carcass, Napalm Death, and the two above mentioned acts Bolt Thrower and Benediction being some of them), and it´s always been a bit perculiar to me, why the UK couldn´t produce more quality death metal acts (I guess early Cancer and probably a few more could be mentioned among the artists above too). Memoriam thankfully belong in the better quality end of the scale, and "For The Fallen" deserves a 3.5 star (75%) rating.

LOCK UP Demonization

Album · 2017 · Grindcore
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"Demonization" is the 4th full-length studio album by multi-national death metal/grindcore act Lock Up. The album was released through Listenable Records in march 2017. It´s the successor to "Necropolis Transparent" from 2011 and features one lineup change compared to the predecessor as lead vocalist Tomas Lindberg (At the Gates) has been replaced by Kevin Sharp (Brutal Truth). The remaining members of the lineup are Shane Embury (bass), Nicholas Barker (drums), and Anton Reisenegger (guitars). All prolific musicians on the extreme part of the metal scene.

"Demonization" opens in great deathgrinding assault mode with "Blood and Emptiness", and pretty much continues down that road all the way through the 14 track, 41:54 minutes long album. It´s a highly energetic and fast-paced release featuring elements from both hardcore punk, grindcore, and death metal. The pace is lowered a couple of times during the album´s playing time, but it doesn´t happen that often, and when it does (like on the title track), it´s usually only for short periods of time before the deathgrind assault continues. Kevin Sharp is a suitable replacement for Tomas Lindberg, and his performance here is solid, although he doesn´t bring anything special to the vocal part of the album. His delivery is somewhere between death metal growling and a distorted shouting hardcore type vocal style. The instrumental part of the music is very well performed. Especially drummer Nicholas Barker stands out with his powerful and creative approach to extreme metal drumming.

"Demonization" is well produced, and features a sharp, clear, and powerful sounding production, which suits the music well. So upon conclusion "Demonization" is a quality release by Lock Up. The only minor issue is that not enough of the tracks on the 14 track, 41:54 minutes long album stand out, and few are easy to remember when the album ends, but it´s still a very enjoyable release while it plays, so a 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

WITHERFALL Nocturnes and Requiems

Album · 2017 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.80 | 4 ratings
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Kev Rowland
Based out of Los Angeles, Calif., Witherfall is the collective brainchild of guitarist Jake Dreyer (Iced Earth, Kobra And The Lotus, White Wizzard), singer Joseph Michael (White Wizzard) and the late Adam Sagan (Circle II Circle, Into Eternity). The recording line-up is rounded out with the addition of acclaimed bassist Anthony Crawford (Allan Holdsworth, Virgil Donati). Adam Sagan passed away on December 7th, 2016, during the final stages of production, and the rest of the band have released this album in tribute to him.

This doesn’t sound like a debut, but also doesn’t sound like a project. This is a band where everyone is kicking in out at full blast. Adam was obviously fond of his double bass drum pedals, and used every opportunity to show them off, while Anthony calmed down his more progressive and fusion influences to tie it all together and let the other stake centre stage. Jake is a fine guitarist who knows when to riff, when to shred, and when to double-track his lead lines, but can also bring an acoustic guitar into the mix for a few bars when it is the right thing to do. Then on top of it all we have the vocal prowess of Joseph Michael who can calm it down when it is necessary, or can power through like Ripper Owens if that is the right thing to do.

Prog Metal? Power Metal? A mixture of both? Well, they have more in common with Stratovarius than Dream Theater, but it is the polish, professionalism and power that really makes this album shine. It is impossible not to fall in love with on the very first time of playing, and repeated listenings only make it that much better. This is definitely worth seeking out.

OBITUARY Obituary

Album · 2017 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.35 | 5 ratings
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UMUR
"Obituary" is the eponymously titled 10th full-length studio album by US, Florida based death metal act Obituary. The album was released through Relapse Records in March 2017. It´s the successor to "Inked in Blood" from 2014 and features the exact same lineup who recorded the predecessor. According to the band it marks the first Obituary release with noteworthy songwriting contributions from bassist Terry Butler and lead guitarist Kenny Andrews. The release of "Inked in Blood (2014)" was followed by heavy touring activities, which subsequently led to the release of the live album "Ten Thousand Ways to Die (2016)". A live album which also featured two studio tracks in "Loathe" and "Ten Thousand Ways to Die". The latter track is also included on this album, while "Loathe" has been left off.

Releasing an eponymously tited album is usually something artists do to send a signal to the world. Sometimes to signal that the artist feels that the album is the essence of what the artist is about, or to signal that it´s the strongest material that they´ve written, a return to the roots, or a shift in sound. It can basically mean a lot of different things, but in the case of "Obituary", it´s probably a celebration that it´s the now 10th album release by the pioneering Florida death metal act. In this case it certainly doesn´t mean a shift in sound or a return to the roots, because Obituary never really left their roots, and stylistically the material on the 11 track, 36:28 minutes long album pretty much continues down the same old school death metal path as the one tread on "Inked in Blood (2014)" and as such on all the preceeding releases. Obituary have always been remarkably consistent in sound and style, and while it´s not always a strength that an artist doesn´t develop their sound much over the years, there are a few exceptions to that rule, and one of those exceptions are Obituary.

So every Obituary trademark element is in place as usual, from the distinct sounding guitar tone, to the well played guitar solos, to the heavy brutal grooves, to John Tardy´s unique and ultra brutal growling vocals. The material is well written and quite effective, but also a bit one-dimensional. The pace is changed a couple of times, and there are a few faster paced tracks on the album, but mostly we´re treated to heavy mid-paced and ultra heavy tempi. The trademark Obituary grooves are here in abundance, and tracks like "Turned to Stone", "Betrayed", and "Ten Thousand Ways to Die" represent that part of the band´s sound. As it´s almost always the case on Obituary´s releases not all tracks stand out equally much. It´s not a major issue, but the overall quality of the album would have been higher if all tracks were as catchy as the best ones.

That´s about my only gripe with this self-titled release, that is otherwise another high quality brutal kick in the nuts by one of the legends of the genre. The sound production is also powerful, raw, and brutal, and although I don´t count the sound among their best productions, it´s still well sounding and suits the material well. The band are as well playing/singing as ever, so upon conclusion this is another quality death metal release by Obituary. A 3.5 - 4 star (75%) rating is deserved.

AXEL RUDI PELL The Ballads V

Boxset / Compilation · 2017 · Traditional heavy metal
Cover art 3.48 | 2 ratings
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Kev Rowland
So, here we are with the latest in APL’s long-running compilation series. This one takes in the last six years, along with a couple of new songs, and some live ones to close with. I first came across his singer, Johnny Gioeli, when he was part of the Hardline project and he has always had an incredible voice, which is an essential element when performing a power ballad, and this album is packed full of them. If you haven’t come across this series before, it is a Ronseal album, namely it does exactly what it says on the tin. Axel had always produced some ballads on his albums, and then when the time is right he releases an album that brings the latest ones together. That they are popular among fans is never in doubt, as the last one entered the German charts at #29, but for me it is just too much sugar at once.

I have never enjoyed albums when the songs are all performed at the same level; no matter if it is heavy or soft, there must be light and shade. When one ballad follows another for a whole album, no matter how well performed, it is just too much for me. Now, that’s a shame, as while I do have some problems with the album, there are also some real highlights contained within it. Undoubtedly, one of these is opener “Love’s Holding On” which he wrote for Bonnie Tyler, and here she performs it as a duet with Johnny. I have always felt that she has been an incredibly overlooked artist, and that she should be given far more credit than she has ever received, and yet again she proves that she is a wonderful performer. The second song is a cover of Ed Sheeran’s “I See Fire”, which I found okay as I don’t know the original, but it was the next cover I found most interesting, “Hey Hey My My”. This begins life as a solo performance, with Johnny being accompanied only by piano, and it is quite something. It is a more measured and less fraught version than the original, but the way it builds and stays true, while also being something that has been re-arranged and developed is definitely of note. The other song that should be mentioned is “Mistreated”, which was recorded at his twenty-fifth anniversary show in Balingen in July 2014 with Doogie White (ex-Rainbow, MSG) on vocals, and erstwhile Rainbow keyboard legend Tony Carey. Axel shows that he knows how to provide the perfect Blackmore blues-soaked guitar riffs, while Tony is channelling Jon Lord. Doogie does a fine job, but it must be said that he doesn’t have the same breadth and depth as Coverdale.

Although the compilation itself isn’t really to my liking, there are some great songs and performances contained within it, and is worth seeking out.

AYREON The Source

Album · 2017 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.31 | 7 ratings
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DippoMagoo
All music fans have certain bands or certain musicians, who whenever they announce a new release, they’re instantly excited and immediately consider hearing it as soon as it’s available their top priority. For me, that musician is Arjen Lucassen, and especially his Ayreon project, which first blew me away with the 2004 release The Human Equation, my all time favorite album, and has yet to let me down ever since. I’ll admit, after the rather lengthy break and several side projects Arjen made in between 01011001 and The Theory of Everything, I was actually a bit surprised when he announced the eighth Ayreon album, The Source, less than three years after the release of its predecessor, with the release coming roughly three and a half years after that one, only doing one side project in between. I can’t complain, though, because while I have enjoyed all of Arjen’s other works in the past, I find I prefer him when he’s at his most dynamic and using the widest range of sounds he can, which is exactly what he does with Ayreon. After The Theory of Everything ended up being one of my all time favorite releases, I was excited to see if The Source would be yet another masterpiece, and suffice to say, it is!

As always with Ayreon, I’ll talk a bit about the concept of this release first, before going into the music. I find lately Arjen has fallen into a bit of a pattern, where one release will be focused on the overarching Sci-Fi concept he has going on, while the next album will be more of a side story. For example, The Human Equation was totally it’s own thing, then 01011001 ended up feeling like the end of the main Forever/Planet Y arc, which led me to think all future Ayreon releases would have to either side stories or a whole new story, and indeed The Theory of Everything was another side story, but to my surprise he has actually gone back to the main story this time around, with The Source being a prequel to 01011001.

As always, there’s a lot going on here, but the basic gist of the plot is that a planet called Alpha has been overtaken by machines, with the main beings of the planet, ancestors to humanity, losing control to the point where a group of them (the main characters of the album) make the decision to leave on a spaceship, to seek out life on another planet. This, of course, leads to the beginnings of Planet Y, which longtime Ayreon fans should be very familiar with by now. While the album still has its fun moments, including several references to various prior Ayreon releases, I find the tone to be a bit darker than usual, as many tracks talk about the guilt the characters feel over having to leave the rest of their people behind on a dying planet while they survive somewhere else. It’s a compelling tale as always, and of course there’s some great back and forth exchanges, most notably between Russell Allen’s “The President”, who made a mistake which led to the machines taking control, and Tommy Karevik’s “The Opposition Leader”, who claims to have been against the machines from the start. Though overall, I find the characters don’t conflict with each other as much as on previous releases, probably because there’s a common goal for all of them this time around.

Speaking of which, while previous Ayreon albums have had some impressive casts, this has to be the best one yet! There’s some great returning singers here, such as James Labrie (Dream Theater), Tommy Karevik (Kamelot), Simone Simons (Epica), Hansi Kürsch (Blind Guardian), Michael Mills (Toehider), Russell Allen (Symphony X) and Floor Jansen (Nightwish), with all of the above having prominent roles and being given a ton of room to work with. Simone Simons, in particular, has a much larger role than she had on 01011001, which is great as I had thought she was underused there, where on this album she gets to showcase her voice a ton more, including some operatic vocals on “Deathcry of a Race”. The real show stealer may be Michael Mills, though, as he plays the machine “TH-1”, which allows him to show off his crazy vocal range in some impressive ways, and he’s often used for some background effects which is also pretty cool. Moving on to newcomers, we have Tommy Rogers (Between the Buried and Me”), which at first glance may not be a choice some folks would expect, but he actually has a very clear, soft singing voice which works great for an Ayreon album and he sounds great here, especially on “The Source Will Flow”. Less shocking choices include Nils K. Rue (Pagan’s Mind), who has a very deep and powerful voice that fits his part well, especially shining during the chorus of “Sea of Machines”, where he really gets to show off his power, Michael Eriksen (Circus Maximus), who has a very emotional delivery that fits his character perfectly, and has his shining moments on the opening track and “Into the Ocean” and Zaher Zorgati (Myrath), who only has a very brief part on “Deathcry of a Race”, though he does a very good job on that part.

Perhaps the most shocking of all, though, has to be Tobias Sammet, and there’s an actually a bit of a story there as in the past some people assumed there was some kind of rivalry between the two because they were both doing rock opera projects, but it turns out they actually enjoyed each other’s music a lot and even did a cover of Alice Cooper’s “Elected” together in 2008, then Arjen contributed some guitar work to the 2013 Avantasia release “The Mystery of Time” and now Tobias has been given a fairly prominent role on this album. I was excited when heard about this as I’ve long been a fan of both men and their projects, so seeing them work together feels very satisfying, and the result is as great as I would have hoped for.

Musically, The Source is a diverse album as fans would expect, though I find in comparison to The Theory of Everything it’s definitely a much more metal oriented album, with a lot of more guitar-driven sections and some of the heavier sections remind me of the Star One album Victims of the Modern Age, with some of the chunky, groovier guitar sections. There’s also some a couple surprisingly speedy tracks, with small traces of power metal on one track in particular. Obviously, though, this is still an Ayreon release, and so fans can still expect tons of synth effects, as well as unusual metal instruments like violin, cello, and various wind instruments, and there are certainly some nice softer sections and some more prog rock moments as always. Where the last Ayreon release was a departure in terms of structure, this one feels more traditional, in that while it can still be divided into four different phases, there’s a much greater focus on individual tracks here, and the songwriting is more fun and catchy, while still giving room for the plot to develop. If anything, I’d say the release feels like a more focused version of 01011001 and is basically what that album would have been if it didn’t take any weird detours, seemingly to fit in as many side roles as possible, but instead focused entirely on the main plot. Basically, it has a slightly smaller cast, but I find everyone has an important role and no one feels underused, aside from the one exception I noticed, and Arjen has stated he’d like to give that person a larger role sometime in the future, which would be great.

Moving onto songwriting, and that’s an area where Arjen has never been anything short of brilliant, with The Source being especially impressive even by his standards. First up, man is “The Day That the World Breaks Down” ever an impressive opener! Like, you could pretty much consider that track its own EP or mini album, it has that much going on! The track opens up with some calm but somber sounding synth effects before James Labrie introduces us to the concept of the album, and from there the violin, cello, and flute all kick in, before the guitars eventually take over we get some pretty killer riffs early on. From there, the track feels like highlight after highlight, with both Tommy’s and Simone Simons getting into a great vocal section early on, then Nils K. Rue appears to steal the show for a bit, and after that we get one of the best parts of the track, where heavy guitars collide head on with a hammond for an incredibly epic sound!

After this, we get a bass-heavy section where Tobias Sammet makes his first appearance and does a great job, then Michael Mills adds in some vocal effects, in his first appearance before he reappears a bit later on and sings the binary code for “trust TH1”, but he uses his own creative vocal melodies, adding in an epic deep voice at the end, and he shows some incredible vocal abilities on just this one section. In between that, Hansi Kürsch shows up for a bit, sounding awesome as always. Early on in the track is a beautiful violin solo, which Arjen later recreates on his guitar, to amazing effect. Moving along, past the epic Michael Mills section, we get a bluesy section, where Russell Allen makes his first appearance, Fans of later Symphony X may be in for a shock, as on this album Russell mostly uses a more soulful, kind of bluesy hard rock approach to his vocals, which is actually refreshing as he sounds more like he did on older albums and does a great job. This section is mixed in with a softer section where Michael Eriksen sings beautifully, and then after that, we get one of the most gorgeous sounding guitar solos I’ve ever heard, performed by Arjen himself, and then finally a return to a heavier section where Floor Jansen appears and knocks it out of the park. She’s another singer who seems to be given more to work with every time she works with Arjen, and on this album, she really gets to showcase her power on some tracks and does an incredible job.

After that track, “Sea of Machines” starts off quietly, before picking up once the chorus kicks in, and it’s a pretty awesome one, then, later on, we get a section that starts off calmly before building up intensity, and turns into one of the better vocal sections, as well as the foundation for a later track. The next big standout track is “Everybody Dies”, where Michael Mills shows his insane range for the first minute, with everything from the usual effects, to epic high notes and some incredibly menacing deep vocals, then both Tommy’s show up and we get to the foundation of the track, which is to say some verses that are seriously catchier than most choruses on some albums, though the actual chorus is also amazing, performed first by Russell, then Hansi and then finally Floor right near the end. An epic, incredibly catchy track that alternates between fun and cheesy with the keyboards, to some pretty heavy riffs. An instant prog classic, for sure. We have a couple slower tracks after that, with “Star of Sirrah” starting off quiet before picking up the intensity after a bit and getting pretty heavy later on, reminding me of a Star One track, then later on it has an impressive guitar solo by Paul Gilbert. Meanwhile, “All That Was” is a calmer track with some slight folk elements. It has some impressive instrumental sections in the second half, while early on Simone Simons is given a chance to show off her always beautiful voice.

We then get into another big standout in “Run! Apocalypse! Run!”, probably the speediest track on the album and one that has some clear power metal elements, though the way the synths are used still give it a prog feel, and it certainly has the same addictive quality as the rest of the album. Tobias provides some great vocals during the chorus, and it’s a really fun track overall. Closing out disc 1, we have “Condemned to Live”, a darker track filled plenty of epic vocal sections, most notably from Tommy Rogers and James Labrie, though Tommy Karevik and Floor Jansen also get some great moments right near the end, and the instrumental part at the end is epic. Disc 2 gets off to a theatrical start, with some epic vocals from Michael Mills out of the gate on “Aquatic Race”, and then the track gets heavier and darker, again bringing Star One to mind. It’s actually a fairly calm track overall, though, and Michael Eriksen and Russell Allen have some great vocals in the middle, then Tommy Rogers takes over later on. Next we have a couple more ballad type tracks, first with “The Dream Dissolves”, where the beginning parts give us a nice duet between Simone Simons and Floor Jansen, as well as nice folk music, then later one we get two great solos, first a nice synth solo from Mark Kelly and a great guitar solo from Marcel Coenen. I already mentioned the two big moments on the next track, so after that, we have “Into the Ocean”, more of a hard rocking track where Michael Eriksen gets some big moments and Hansi Kürsch delivers big time on the chorus. Later in the track, Tobias Sammet and Nils K. Rue both get big moments and the instruments pick up big time, turning into a pretty epic prog track, with some huge vocal melodies. Next is “Bay of Dreams”, another ballad with some great synth sounds and great vocals from Tommy Rogers and James Labrie, before the track eventually gets heavier later on and Nils K, Rue delivers some epic vocals.

Following that, we get to perhaps my favorite sequence of the album, which brings us to the end. First up, “Planet Y is Alive” is another speedier track, which features a great exchange between Russell Allen and Tommy Karevik early on, as well as an epic chorus, though I prefer the later version of it when Floor Jansen takes over. In the middle, we get a calmer section with the last big guitar solo of the album, performed by Guthrie Govan. After that, “The Source Will Flow” is another ballad, starting with great vocals from Tommy Rogers and James Labrie before it picks up a bit of steam later on and Simone Simons gives us some of her best vocals on the album. The last full song on the album is “Journey to Forever”, an upbeat track which alternates between softer parts and a fast paced, epic chorus, starting off performed by Michael Mills, then later on performed by a group of singers. It’s definitely refreshing to hear such an upbeat and happy track on an album that can be very bleak at times, and it’s a very fun track that certainly stands out as a favorite. After that, we get “The Human Compulsion”, which takes a section from “Sea of Machines” and using it as the building block for the kind of section Arjen always loves to include, where all the main singers get one last chance to shine with some epic vocal moments. The song starts off calm before gradually picking up the intensity with each vocal line, and Floor Jansen’s final line is simply stunning. After that brief but awesome track, the album ends with “March of the Machines”, an outro track which uses some heavy synth effects and robot sounding voiceovers, as well as some more binary code in the background, before Michael Mills takes delivers some epic vocals near the end and closes the album with a big reference, sure to excite fans of a certain Ayreon album, and it makes this album’s place in the story all the more obvious.

I’ve said a lot already, so I’ll cut make this conclusion short: The Source is yet another outstanding rock opera that once again proves Arjen Lucassen’s ability to tell a compelling story, while still giving his fans memorable songs and some excellent instrumental work, to go along with a truly impressive cast of singers. It falls on the heavier side of Ayreon, while lining itself up well with past albums in the story, and is certainly up there with some of Arjen’s best work to date. Easily my 2017 album of the year so far, and highly recommended for all Ayreon fans and prog fans in general.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: http://myglobalmind.com/2017/04/11/ayreon-source-review/

SEVEN KINGDOMS Decennium

Album · 2017 · Power Metal
Cover art 3.67 | 3 ratings
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adg211288
American power metal act Seven Kingdoms have certainly left it a long time to come up with their fourth full-length album Decennium (2017). The follow-up to The Fire is Mine (2012), the album release marks the ten year anniversary of the band. I believe I read somewhere a few years back that the band were aiming for their next album to be released to coincide with the milestone. Don't quote me on it however, though I do have a recollection of feeling great disappointment at finding out that there were still years to wait for the follow-up to the excellent The Fire is Mine. Most bands would probably have been able to make their fourth album in the meantime and then lined up their fifth for the ten year anniversary rather than wait a whole half of their existence to release a follow-up. Finally the ten year anniversary of Seven Kingdoms is upon us, and the long wait, no matter its actual reasoning in case I dreamt that last bit, means that a lot is riding on Decennium to deliver.

Whether it does or not will really depend on what each listener is expecting or wanting to hear from it. If more of the same as The Fire is Mine sounds good to you, then Decennium is just that. It's polished yet guitar driven melodic power metal, topped off by Sabrina Valentine's excellent vocals. As far as a straight up power metal album goes you can do far, far worse than what Seven Kingdom's have served up here. It's basically like The Fire is Mine Part II, it's that similar in style. It's the kind of sound that makes me smile and it's undeniably a cut above the norm for the genre, with tracks such as In the Walls, Castles in the Snow and Neverending quickly establishing themselves as highlights. They also never resort to any balladry or slower songs, which is an area where many power metal albums trip up and lose their momentum. Just fairly hard yet melodic power metal from start to finish. In many cases for this genre, it's exactly what the doctor ordered.

However if you recall that over the course of their first three albums Seven Kingdoms were able to produce releases that each had their own identity from each other then Decennium may instead come across as a stark disappointment, as you'll find that trend has come to an end with this album. I shouldn't really be too surprised by this outcome as the band's sound has most certainly become more streamlined power metal since the debut album Brothers of the Night (2007), which featured male vocalist Bryan Edwards, gradually losing influences from melodic death metal and thrash metal, but I supposed a part of me hoped that I'd be proven wrong that this would be the case when album number four eventually arrived, especially given the amount of years the band have made their fans wait for Decennium. It leaves me with a single thought: 'they made us wait five years for this?'.

Or you could be in the middle group, which is where I find myself, where you acknowledge that both the above arguments have merit. I have to give credit where credit is due, because Decennium is a very well made power metal album, but I also have the unshakeable unfulfilled expectation of it being something more, preferably adventurous (this feels very safe) but at least something with its own feel once again. It's excellent, though perhaps a bit less memorable overall than The Fire is Mine due to the songs tending to blend into each other more. I'd even go as far to say that for a straight power metal album Seven Kingdoms have delivered a benchmark release for 2017 that others will have to beat, but that doesn't change that I've heard all their prior work and know that they can and have done better albums.

MEMORIAM For The Fallen

Album · 2017 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.54 | 4 ratings
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Nightfly
I doubt there’s anyone with even a passing interest in death metal who doesn’t know of the sad premature death of Bolt Thrower drummer Martin Kearns in 2015 bringing to an end perhaps the greatest death metal band to come out of the UK, the band feeling they couldn’t continue decided to call it a day. Memoriam is the next venture of vocalist Karl Willetts who has teamed up with Benediction bassist Frank Healy who suffered a loss of his own with the death of his Father not long after Kearns’ death. Completing the line-up is original Bolt Thrower drummer Andrew Whale and guitarist Scott Fairfax.

Neither Bolt Thrower nor Benediction had released anything new for years so For The Fallen is a welcome return for these guys. It follows in their tradition of old school death metal , more akin to the sledgehammer no nonsense approach of Bolt Thrower than the busier and generally faster sound of Benediction it’s a very good solid release which whilst not the equal of the best Bolt Thrower had to offer I prefer to anything I ever heard from Benediction. In the Bolt Thrower tradition the riffs are solid as a rock with an excellent performance from Fairfax throwing in a few Zack Wylde style licks, demonstrated no better than on War Rages On, the second track in after the underwhelming and ordinary opener Memoriam. Fortunately after this things only ever really dip again for the more simplistic punk injected Corrupted Sysytem with most songs having strong and memorable hooks, with a doom element creeping in at times. Some of the songs are pretty long though fortunately there are enough twists and turns with changes of tempo to keep things interesting.

Overall then, For The Fallen whilst treading old ground with no pretence of originality, not necessarily a bad thing, is a promising start with a strong performance from all which hopefully won’t turn out to be a one off.

BUCKETHEAD Pike 262 - Nib Y Nool

Album · 2017 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
BUCKETHEAD (as Bucketheadland) / Pike 262 - Nib Y Nool / 19th release of 2017 / All instrumental / Contains 10 tracks all titled “Nib Y Nool” / Clocks in at 29minutes 18seconds / everything played by Buck-buck-buckethead. Like most PIKEs with identical track names, this one pretty much seamlessly flows as one giant track with only minor changes between them for the most part but surprises do occur

“Nib Y Nool 1” 4:02) ferociously attacks the listener with instant frenetic metal riffing that are jangled and highly caffeinated. Some little solos break through the din and then the fast riffing returns for a while. There are little breaks of jangly slowdowns and more licks and solos that jump in randomly. It sounds like the music is somewhat dissonant and has a sludge metal feel to it at times. Drums are quite well performed

“Nib Y Nool 2” (2:56) picks up without missing a beat and jumps into another series of heavy riffs that trade off with licks. Sounds much like “Nool 1” but has some more thrashy parts dispersed throughout

“Nib Y Nool 3” (5:24) also picks up imperceptibly but becomes a little more progressive in its erratic time signatures until the solo erupts then it’s more of a smooth flow. It continues to trade off in a series of heavy riffs, feisty licks and more extended solos. There are also moments of little licks that remind me of early Van Halen as well as industrial type metal riffs

“Nib Y Nool 4” (2:24) seamlessly transitions only creating more progressive sludgy riffs while the solo erupts fairly soon. It slows down into a strange sliding frenzy and then back to heavy distorted riffs and solos

“Nib Y Nool 5” (2:06) likewise picks up with heavy riffing but then becomes extremely erratic with angular rhythms and heavy staccato breaks before jumping back into scorching solos and slower jangly segments

“Nib Y Nool 6” (2:13) offers the most abrupt change between tracks as the previous solo changes into a bassier riff line but then jumps into the same proggy sludge metal attack again and then solos and then more riffs

“Nib Y Nool 7” (2:57) offers another interesting change. Tempo slows and jangly chords appear and disappear before bursting into a thrashy heavy riff much like Pantera cranked out in their heyday but then it all follows the general gist of the PIKE and alternates heavy riffs with solos and guitar licks all delivered as blistering speeds

“Nib Y Nool 8” (1:53) slows down a little and sounds like doom metal for a little ways but becomes more progressive and avant-garde with finger acrobatic riffs and squeals then back to just plain riffing. Then a nice feedback finish that begins a new melody only to change to…

“Nib Y Nool 9” (2:30) …. a heavier thrashy riff track like many other tracks of this PIKE. The usual riff, solo, jangle parts alternate in varied shuffled ways. “Nib Y Nool 10” (2:53) pretty much picks up only with more of a bluesy shuffle for a little segment but then starts breaking down more syncopated and progressive time sig chops erupt and then the regular riffs, solos etc. After a while an unexpected acoustic guitar (?) or some strange stringed instrument that steps out of the Halloween series and becomes one of those bizarre dark ambient tracks out of the blue and that’s the way it all ends

I have absolutely no idea what the title NIB Y NOOL means but it is a strong PIKE that is adventurous all the way through if not a little one-dimensional in terms of the tones and timbres at least until the very end. While the riffs, licks and compositions are fairly well done, there is a lot of repeating the same ideas and just shuffling them around. I would classify this one as an adventurous album with experimentation aplenty but there’s something about this one that just isn’t as much of a wild ride as other PIKEs that delve into this territory and i’m not sure exactly why some of these work for these more than others. Subtle variations are often the deciding factor. This one is well performed and a true proggy head banging experience but probably needed a little more variation to be in the top tier of the PIKE world

OVERKILL The Grinding Wheel

Album · 2017 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.41 | 9 ratings
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UMUR
"The Grinding Wheel" is the 19th full-length studio album by US, New York based thrash/heavy metal act Overkill. The album was released through Nuclear Blast Records in February 2017. It´s the successor to "White Devil Armory" from 2014 and it features the exact same lineup who recorded the predecessor. Since the release of "Ironbound (2010)", Overkill have been on a roll. Not that the releases before that album aren´t worth a mention, but it was like they stepped it up on that album, and the high quality of "Ironbound (2010)" was continued on "The Electric Age (2012)" and on "White Devil Armory (2014)". In fact the quality has been so high that I was beginning to worry when a fall would come. Most artists have streaks of great albums and streaks of not so great ones, and Overkill are no different in that regard, although they generally have very few albums in their by now major discography, which aren´t at least of a relatively high quality.

Thankfully Overkill have decided to prolong the streak of high quality albums with "The Grinding Wheel". Stylistically the material on the 10 track, 60:12 minutes long album is the sound of Overkill as we know them. Thrashy riffs and rhythms, a high in the mix metallic toned bass, occasional traditional heavy metal leanings, an attitude filled "Fuck You" attitude, and Bobby "Blitz" Ellsworth´s raw rusty vocals in front. The energy and the conviction and passion behind the delivery are infectious, and it is not audible that this is a band almost 40 years into their career (Overkill was formed as far back as 1980). Overkill sound as hungry and ass kicking aggressive as ever.

There is not a single sub par track on the album, but there are a couple which stand out a little more than the rest and I´d mention "Mean Green Killing Machine", "Goddamn Trouble" (which sounds like Nashville Pussy on speed), "Our Finest Hour", "The Long Road" (a brilliant track with both epic and melodic moments, but also some hard edged thrashy riffing), "Come Heavy" (a Black Sabbath influenced track), "Red White And Blue" (a scorching thrasher), and the closing title track (an epic heavy song, which also features a faster paced thrashy section), as some of the highlights.

The musicianship is on a high level on all posts. Powerful tight drumming and bass playing, strong guitar playing and great soloing, and a "Blitz" in top vocal form. "The Grinding Wheel" is incredibly well produced, featuring a powerful, clear, and detailed production, which brings out the best in the material. So upon conclusion "The Grinding Wheel" is yet another high quality release by Overkill. Therefore my fear of a fall after greatness didn´t hold true this time around, and I just have to bow in the dust for the thrash/heavy metal kings of New Jersey. They´ve done it again. A 4.5 star (90%) is fully deserved.

MY SILENT WAKE Invitation To Imperfection

Album · 2017 · Doom Metal
Cover art 4.93 | 2 ratings
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Kev Rowland


Oh. My. God. I just have no idea to where or how to write about this album, which is one of the most incredible releases I have ever come across. My Silent Wake have been around for quite a few years now, making quite a reputation for themselves in the doom field, although I have managed somehow to totally bypass all their other albums, so I have no idea if this how they normally sound. What I do know, is that from the very first song to the very last twenty-one-minute epic I was entranced. It’s not doom as such, or dark ambient, or atmospheric black metal, but somehow brings all those influences and many more into something that is completely engaging and essential.

“Volta” starts life with a harpsichord, then turns into a dance were the black masses congregate: it certainly doesn’t sound how a Volta normally does (which as you all know originated in either Italy or the medieval Provençal courts, was introduced in Paris in around 1556 by Catherine de Medici, and required highly intimate contact between two partners of the opposite sex.). Then there are others where the music is far about creating an atmosphere than creating melody. I firmly believe that the only way to play this album is as a solitary adventure, either played when there is no-one else around to interfere with its enjoyment, or on headphones when the rest of the world can be shut out. To my ears, it is an incredible achievement, and one of the most perplexing and entrancing albums I have ever come across.

MAXDMYZ Alcehmical Metal

EP · 2017 · Industrial Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland


According to their website, Maxdmyz is a London based 5-piece band consisting of Twister (vocals), Roger (guitars), Jay (drums), A’Zedd (bass guitar) and Vortex (keyboards). They released their first recordings in the late Nineties and is well established in the UK scene having built its reputation over the years with stunning live performances and recording some of the most innovative and original alternative metal ever to come out of the UK music scene. One of the band’s highlights include past collaboration with Eminem, and their influences are wide and varied, from Lou Reed and Black Sabbath, to Squarepusher, Pantera and 80’s electro pop.

To be honest I had never come across them prior to being sent this four-track EP to listen to, and I can certainly see why the label says that fans of Rammstein, White Zombie, Ministry and Sisters Of Mercy should check them out, but there are a whole host of others that could be added to that. They describe their style of music as ‘Alchemical Metal’ and that’s probably as good a handle as any, as I have no real idea on how to describe it. There are definite industrial influences, but mathcore also rears its head, yet is also melodic and poppy at the same time, and there are elements that would fit in a techno/rave scene. The only way to really experience this band is by listening to it: whatever words I write just won’t do it justice, and I am certainly intrigued enough to want to hear a full album from these guys.

BUCKETHEAD Pike 261 - Portal To The Red Waterfall

Album · 2017 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
BUCKETHEAD (as Bucketheadland) / Pike 261 - Portal To The Red Waterfall / 18th release of 2017 / All instrumental / Contains 4 tracks / Clocks in at 28minutes 59seconds / everything played by Buck-buck-buckethead

“Portal To The Red Waterfall” (17:16) is by far the longest track swelling 2/3 of the album. The title track begins with a heavily distorted metal attack only instead of smooth thrashy riffs it consists of choppy jittery freaked out time signatures but settles into a groovier more regular style of riffing but the irregularities jump in and out unpredictably. While the bass tends to stay at a tense mid tempo phase the guitar solos wail around but it all picks up again. This is one of those extremely progressive metal tracks that mixes up riffs and lets them play for awhile all the while throwing in some proggy chops that are designed to impress. After a four minute run of heaviness, the track slows down and creeps along with guitar fills and then picks up in an alternative metal stint for a while. Around seven minutes it changes it up into a circus like style of guitar and then a little post-metal sludgery with more progressive time sigs. The track goes through many metal styles but stays fairly progressive throughout its long length but depute its whopping seventeen minutes plus manages to keep the flow going and my interest in tact. I would call this mostly in the progressive sludge metal world reminding me of Intronaut at times but it definitely jumps around into other styles often. While melodies have hooks they slightly tweak around and derail into something else but somehow it all hangs together. Nice

“Spirits” (3:48) offers a little breathing time after the previous intense workout. This is one of those super mellow ballad types with clean guitar, slow bass, ambient background and mere cymbals providing percussion. The melody is pleasant and the echo effects on the guitar are pleasing. The tones are warm and cozy and the complete opposite of the title track.

“Roundtable” (2:39) jumps back into distorted metal and a speedy tempo with heavy riffs and a nice melodic development. It also has some jittery proggy meanderings but mostly sticks to the classic metal riffing.

“Crayon Factory” (4:56) is an even faster metal track with super speedy riff workouts and heavier distortion. Drums and bass are merely subordinate noise makers but all sounds good and who wouldn’t want to see where Crayola products are born?!! Nice track that isn’t super original but delivers an intense instrumental metal workout where every lick and riff are of good taste.

Another good PIKE! While i’m not quite as in awe of this one as the previous, the title track is excellent and the remaining tracks are good. The diversity of this one is nice but i’m happier when the entire PIKE goes down the rabbit hole and offers up the most avant-garde noisemaking possible!

XIBALBA Diablo, Con Amor​.​. Adios.

EP · 2017 · Death Metal
Cover art 5.00 | 1 rating
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Unitron
These days, it can be difficult to find death metal that retains the rawness and brutality of its heyday in the late 80's and 90's. As time went on, death metal bands felt the need to get more technical or melodic. While natural development is important for any style of music, as it continues and production values get higher, essential parts of the music can end up getting lost while the monotony continues. When this happens, it can take only one band to give the genre a kick in the ass and return to its roots. For death metal, it appears like Xibalba is that band.

While classic bands like Obituary, Vader, and Sinister have always successfully delivered old-school death metal with punishing brutality, as well as bands like Nile, I haven't really found any new death metal bands capturing the old-school brutality like the classic bands do. Xibalba has done that though on their 2017 EP, Diablo, Con Amor...Adios. With the title being made up of the three tracks on the EP, Xibalba pummels the listener to the ground with sharp riffing and gargantuan grooves. In this case, less is more, as there is no time to waste during the 10-minute running time. All you get on each track shows what death metal is all about, skull-crushing guitar crunch, piercing riffing, colossal percussion, and roaring vocals.

Adorned with artwork from the master himself, Dan Seagrave, Xibalba retains the old-school spirit while also having their own sound. Classic Morbid Angel and Sepultura can definitely be heard, with Nate Rebolledo's vocals reminding me of Sepultura's Derrick Green at times. The production gives the EP this really low and deep crunch, where you can feel the power and reverb from the gritty slabs of noise. While all three tracks are killer and will slam you to the ground, "Adios" is probably the standout. Just try not to bang your head to the pummeling groove.

If you're looking for some modern death metal that will punch your face in like the old school greats, give a listen to the mighty Xibalba's Diablo, Con Amor...Adios. Hope you found this review helpful, feel free to comment!

DEEP PURPLE InFinite

Album · 2017 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.44 | 4 ratings
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voila_la_scorie
So what do you do when one of your all time favourite bands announces that they've got a new album coming out? You get yourself on the preorder list and order the version with the bonus EP, that's what! Deep Purple have remained a favourite band of mine ever since I got into them around the time I was 13 and the MkII reunion was just about to make the news.

The band has had a varied history and changed style a lot since their debut of July 1968. After the reunion album, "Perfect Strangers", Deep Purple struggled with "House of Blue Light", the sacking of Ian Gillan, the Purple Rainbow album "Slaves and Masters" (4/5 DP, 3/5 Rainbow), the re-acquisition of Gillan and the final departure of Ritchie Blackmore. Releases after the phenomenal "Perfect Strangers" were spotty. Then came Steve Morse into the line up and with new blood came a new sound. This is the sound that Deep Purple have kept up more or less since then, even through the retirement of the late great Jon Lord and recruitment of Don Airey, whose Deep Purple family record includes playing in Whitesnake and Rainbow and playing with Nicky Simper in a band called Quartermass II, which also included Mick Underwood on drums (Mick played with Gillan in Gillan and with Gillan and Glover in Episode Six).

A happy band and a fairly stable lineup has still produced some less than marvelous albums, though in my opinion "Bananas" and "Rapture of the Deep" could have been better without the spotty production. For a while it seemed that there would be no more Deep Purple albums with at least one band member stating that albums were dying out and the cost of making them would never be recouped in sales. But then came the remarkable "Now What?!" - remarkable because producer Bob Ezrin got the band to forget about the charts and just make a great album. That 2013 release touched back to 1995's "Purpendicular" while also tapping into some MkI sounds and solos. Deep Purple were almost prog again!

Sooooo, now four years later, the band has released a new heavy and what of it? Well, the boys are back with Bob Ezrin and back in the same studio in Nashville. The first thing you'll notice is that the classic DP sound is intact: heavy rock guitar, swirling and rumbling organ, a solid rhythm section and, of course, Ian Gillan's vocals and wit. The band sound confident and also they sound like they are having a blast. Ian Paice said in an interview that they really have fun making music, and as if to corroborate Paice's sentiments, Roger Glover said in a separate interview that they had so much fun making "Now What?!" that they wanted to make another album. And there's even the possibility that the future may bring yet another album!

The songs are a mix of politically charged messages like "Time for Bedlam" and "Birds of Prey" and a host of rockers with humorous inspirations and lyrics. Gillan delivers the best vocal opening ever on "Hip Boots" with the line, "You can bury up to my knees in shit!", which is all the more effective after the sombre ending to "Time for Bedlam". "One Night in Vegas" is the recounting of a story of a guy who drank too much in Vegas and woke up the next day with a wife. The kicker is that they are still married thirty years later! "Johnny's Band" is a condensed version of the history of all those old classic bands who got a hit song, became famous, went downhill, broke up, and then regrouped decades later to play their old classics. Glover emphasizes that this is not a Purple story. "On Top of the World" has raconteur lyricist Gillan telling an old story about a wild time on the roof of a building in Kuala Lumpur and the anticlimactic conclusion the next day. The final lyrics are spoken and end with, "I made my excuses and left through the door / Stepped into space off the 20th floor / And that's... why I don't like heights no more." We also find that the lyrics have become more profane. After the first three songs, we've heard "shit", "piss", "ass" and "f%#&ing". Gillan says that he used to be an angry young man, but now he's f%#&ing furious. No shit!

I gotta say that after the first listen, I liked the album; after the second I liked it more; and after the third, I just wanted to listen to it again! But I also listened to "Now What?!" once more and there are two things I noticed. The first is that the previous album had longer instrumental passages and came across as more progressive, if showing off your solo and instrumental music writing talent makes you progressive. Both Steve Morse and Don Airey really brought back that early DP atmosphere. "InFinite's" songs are generally shorter with less emphasis on instrumental sections. The other thing that occurred to me was that Steve Morse is not so strongly in the mix, nor does he deliver as much guitar wizardry as he has on past albums. While Don Airey stands out with his flooding organ sweeps, Steve has almost left his trademark shredding at the studio door and instead delivers some less-than-outstanding lead guitar. His solos fit in well with the music, so he's done well there. But there is little this time that affirms his diverse skill on the guitar.

Nevertheless, this is a short and fun, rock out album. It's heavy at times, it's a party at times, and there's always a spot or two that requires you to think a little. This is not going to make Deep Purple chart toppers or even be an album for the history books. But for an old band I think they have delivered a very decent package.

SEPULTURA Machine Messiah

Album · 2017 · Groove Metal
Cover art 4.36 | 11 ratings
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UMUR
"Machine Messiah" is the 14th full-length studio album by Brazilian metal act Sepultura. The album was released through Nuclear Blast Records in January 2017. It´s the successor to "The Mediator Between Head and Hands Must Be the Heart" from 2013, and features the exact same lineup who recorded the predecessor.

Stylistically the material on "Machine Messiah" is a combination of thrash and groove metal, and there are even a couple of progressive metal traits to be found, which isn´t a completely new thing in Sepultura´s universe, but it´s less understated here than on previous efforts into progressive territories. The latter is only an influence though and is mostly heard on the instrumental "Iceberg Dances" and the following "Sworn Oath". "Machine Messiah" is overall a rather adventurous release, and in addition to the two tracks mentioned above, there are fast aggressive thrashers like "I Am the Enemy" and "Silent Violence", and heavy epic tracks like "Cyber God" and the title track (which features some really strong clean vocals by Derrick Green), featured on the album. Tracks like "Phantom Self" and "Resistent Parasites" both feature a lot of heavy grooves, but that´s an element, which is dominant throughout the album. So all in all "Machine Messiah" is a relatively varied album.

It´s also a very well written album, and each track stand out and leaves a lasting impression. "Machine Messiah" is a concept album influenced by "the robotization of our society" (the band´s own words). There´s a dark and angry atmosphere surrounding the release, which suits Sepultura well. The musicianship is as always on a high level and a great asset to the album. Green has a strong voice and a commanding and versatile delivery, Andreas Kisser plays one inventive guitar riff and solo after another, Paulo Jr. delivers the heavy bass grooves, and Eloy Casagrande is one hell of a powerhouse drummer. Actually I can´t stop praising Casagrande for what he has done for Sepultura´s sound since he entered the lineup on 2011. His playing is fusion influenced, but he is also true to the band´s thrash/groove metal roots, and the occassional tribal style drumming part. He delivers any kind of rhythm with seamless ease and great conviction. He is a major asset to the band´s sound and the rest of the band should go to great lengths to keep him in the band.

"Machine Messiah" features a powerful and detailed sound production which helps bring the best out in the material, so it´s a high quality release on all parameters. A great sounding production, a well playing band, and very well written material...you can´t really ask for more. In terms of "Machine Messiah´s" place in Sepultura´s by now huge discography, I´d dare say it´s one of their better releases and probably their best post-Max Cavalera album yet. While a lot of water has run under the bridge since the glory days of the early- to mid 90s, and Sepultura have picked up quite a few new influences since then, this may be an album which can bring some of the old fans back into the fold. If not for the Sepultura name, then for the sheer quality of the music. A 4.5 star (90%) rating is deserved.

IHSAHN Arktis.

Album · 2016 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 2.65 | 6 ratings
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UMUR
"Arktis." is the 6th full-length studio album by Norwegian progressive extreme metal artist Ihsahn. The album was released through Candlelight Records in March 2016. It´s the successor to "Das Seelenbrechen" from 2013. Ihsahn is of course known for his time with groundbreaking Norwegian black metal act Emperor, but his solo career is by now also quite prolific. On "Arktis." Ihsahn handles vocals, bass, guitars, and keyboards, while the drums are played by session drummer Tobias Ørnes Andersen (Shining). Andersen´s bandmate from Shining, Jørgen Munkeby, also makes a guest appearance on saxophone on the track "Crooked Red Line". Matt Heafy (Trivium) and Einar Solberg (Leprous) make a couple of guest vocal appearances. This is still predominantly a solo effort by Ihsahn though, but that´s how it´s been since day one of his solo career.

The material on "Arktis." can overall be described as progressive extreme metal, but it´s always hard to give an adequate description of Ihsahn´s music, because he is so eclectic. The music features loads of progressive rock influences, but also thrash, death, black, and traditional heavy metal influences, as well as some nods toward avant garde and electronic music. It may sound like it could be a messy style mishmash, but Ihsahn is a more skilled composer and performer than most, and he is able to combine his many influences into a well sounding whole.

The material on the 10 track, 48:07 minutes long album are diverse in style and if you think you know what you´re in for after listening to the two opening tracks "Disassembled" and "Mass Darkness", you´re in for a surprise. Ihsahn continues to twist and turn conventions throughout the album, but no track seems out of place or disrupts the flow of the album, and that´s regardless of tracks like "Until I Too Dissolve", "Crooked Red Line", and "Celestial Violence", sticking out quite a bit. The latter is a brilliant and incredibly beautiful epic track, which closes the album, while the saxophone on "Crooked Red Line" makes that track stand out. "Until I Too Dissolve" stands out too as it features a a strong traditional heavy metal riff, which brings Van Halen to mind.

"Arktis." is very well produced. The sound production is clear, powerful, and detailed. It´s a production which brings out the best in the layered and and intricate musical compositions. The musicianship is as always on an incredibly high level. Ihsahn is not only a strong vocalist who can sing both extreme metal vocals and clean vocals with conviction and passion, but also a skilled instrumentalist, who handles all instruments with seamless ease. The guest musicians also bring a lot to the album, to further enhance the listening experience.

Upon conclusion "Arktis." is another high quality release by Ihsahn, where he once more shows the world his musical genius. Fans of progressive extreme metal featuring strong melodic choruses, epic atmospheres, a restrained experimental approach (in other words not overtly avant garde in nature, although still occasionally experimental) and a generally adventurous and diverse approach to songwriting should find a lot to enjoy here. I always recommend fans of Opeth to listen to Ihsahn if they don´t already known him, but in truth Opeth is only a reference because they have a similar progressive songwriting approach and a similar extreme metal meets strong melodic sensibilities way of creating music, because Ihsahn´s music is generally quite an unique listen. A 4 - 4.5 star (85%) rating is deserved.

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