Metal Music Reviews (new releases)

DREAM THEATER Distance Over Time

Album · 2019 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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DippoMagoo
When I first started getting into metal, one of the very first bands I checked out was American progressive metal band Dream Theater. They were the ones to really get me into prog, as I enjoyed many of their albums, starting with Octavarium, Awake and Train of Thought, before eventually checking out their full discography and loving most of it, with Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes from a Memory, in particular, being one of my all-time favorite albums. While I’ve become a fan of many other prog bands over the years, DT are the ones who started it all for me, and so every time they release a new album I get excited, waiting with bated breath to hear what they will come up with next. Their previous release, The Astonishing, was an extremely polarizing release, to say the least, as it took the band in a much lighter, more rock-infused direction than normal, being a massive 2+ hour concept album that at times even felt like a Broadway musical. I personally loved it and considered it to be possibly their very best effort to date, but to say most fans disagreed with me, would be a major understatement. Following such a divisive release, it’s no surprise that the band decided to re-think things a bit, which led to a tour where they focused on classic releases, particularly their breakthrough album Images & Words, and then when it came time to release a new album, they looked to the past to help create a new release that could hopefully win back folks who were disappointed with the previous release. That upcoming release, Distance Over Time, is now almost here, and while it’s been teased as a “return to the roots”, it has turned out to be an album that has the elements fans would expect from the band and does a solid job of providing some entertaining songs, but it doesn’t quite capture the magic of many of the band’s classic releases, nor does it push their music forward in a significant way.

If I could describe Distance Over Time with one simple phrase, it would be “back to the basics”. Compared to The Astonishing and some of the band’s other more ambitious releases, this one feels surprisingly simple and straight-forward, focusing on all of the band’s main aspects at their surface level, without digging too deep or without throwing in too many surprises. Fans who’ve been disappointed with some of the band’s recent albums may enjoy this one a bit more, as it’s by far their heaviest release since at least Black Clouds & Silver Linings, with almost every song having some pretty heavy, chunky lead guitar work from John Petrucci. At the same time, the band has always done a great job of mixing together heavy and melodic passages, with all of their classics featuring a perfect blend of the two, and so obviously that is still true of this release, with Petrucci providing some excellent melodic guitar work to go along with the heavier passages, as well as some typically excellent keyboard work from Jordan Rudess. I find the band is at their best when allowing one element of their music to dominate for a while, without losing sight of the rest of their sound, which is something they’ve pulled off wonderfully in the past, while this release doesn’t really go one way or the other for very long on most of the tracks, instead opting to blend heavy and melodic passages together near seamlessly. This has led to some mixed results, with some tracks pulling it off a whole lot better than others. One thing’s for sure, though: Petrucci and Rudess, along with bassist John Myung and drummer Mike Mangini, are exceptional musicians, among the absolute best in the world with their respective instruments, and so everything is performed to perfection, with the sound production being equally flawless.

One surprising aspect of Distance Over Time is its length. Looking through the band’s discography, it’s their shortest album since their debut, When Dream and Day Unite, and is only their third release to clock in at under an hour (excluding bonus tracks, that is), which is quite surprising for a band known to make their albums over 75 minutes. Even more surprisingly, it joins the aforementioned debut and The Astonishing to become just their third release in 14 albums to not have any tracks over 10 minutes (though the latter can be disqualified from this, as it’s a concept album meant to be treated as a whole, where the other two are entirely song focused.) For a band known to make epic, long and complex tracks, this comes as quite the surprise, to say the least. With all things taken into consideration, it feels to me like the band went out of their way to make a more accessible album, without turning to outside sources as they did on the previously ill-fated Falling Into Infinity. There’s still plenty of excellent, highly technical instrumental work, of course, and a few tracks do have some of the more complex arrangements longtime fans would expect, but it definitely feels like the band has stripped their sound down to its bare essentials at this point, which has made for an entertaining, but somewhat disjointed album. Songwriting is fairly hit and miss, though most tracks are at least solidly enjoyable, and it certainly isn’t as wildly inconsistent as the likes of Systematic Chaos, Octavarium or the aforementioned Falling Into Infinity. However, the most disappointing thing about this album to me, is that by going back to the roots of their sound in such an extreme way, it feels like they’ve both ignored any of the evolution they’ve gone through over the years, as well as taken away a lot of the things that make their music so special.

Another area where the release is a bit mixed is the vocals. Unlike many fans, I’ve always considered James LaBrie to be an excellent singer, and he has contributed heavily to some of my favorite works by the band, with The Astonishing, in particular, is one of my favorite performances from him to date, as it allowed to really showcases many different aspects of his voice, and he was clearly fully invested in the lyrics, which led to some amazing vocals from his all around. On this album, I find his vocals to be a bit all over the place, though some of this has to do with an increased use of vocal effects on his voice, which seem more noticeable than usual, as well as the fact that some of the vocal melodies on this release just aren’t that great, unfortunately. However, there are still some tracks where he gets to shine, and there are moments where he’s clearly invested in the lyrics and gets to deliver some great vocal melodies. If anything, his vocals, like the album, on the whole, are simply a bit more inconsistent than I’d like, though they’re still quite good, more often than not.

And of course, the most important aspect of any album is the songwriting, which is where this album is solid, but not up to par with any of the band’s best releases, or even most of their albums in general. Unlike most fans, I’ve quite enjoyed each of their past several releases, with Systematic Chaos being their last release I would consider less than great. This album is considerably better than that one, thanks to the songwriting never falling as low as that one did in places, but it still rarely reaches the heights the band is capable of. They sure were spot on with their picks for lead singles, though, with opening track “Untethered Angel” being a very fun, hard-hitting track that strikes a perfect balance between heavy and melodic, while “Fall into the Light” is just as good. The former opens with some very melancholy guitar work from Petrucci, before quickly exploding and turning into a heavy mid-paced track, with the keyboards lending a dark atmosphere to the proceedings. Vocals are solid during the verses and pick up big time during the chorus, which speeds up and has some excellent vocal melodies, managing to be very catchy and melodic. As always, the track has an extended and highly impressive instrumental section in the middle, as well as a very nice outro performed mostly by Petrucci. The latter track is almost the reverse of the opener, in that it starts out with some very heavy riffs, clearly inspired by Metallica, as many of Petrucci’s riffs are, before speeding up and turning into a pretty fast-paced and fun track during the verses. Once the chorus hits, though, the track slows down and gets very melodic and atmospheric, with some excellent vocal melodies and more strong vocals from LaBrie. The track does an excellent job of blending metal and rock, with some excellent soft passages in the second half, where Petrucci showcases some beautiful, highly emotional guitar work, to go along with the already soft chorus. In between those two tracks is the slightly less successful “Paralyzed”. It’s a more modern sounding track, opening with some very heavy, modern sounding riffs. It moves along at a rather slow pace and feels pretty basic throughout, like the kinda song that could be played by some random band off the streets. Don’t get me wrong, though, it’s a solid track, as the verses are solidly engaging, and the build-up to the chorus is great, but overall, the track just feels like it’s far beneath the band’s capabilities, with the end of the chorus, in particular, being incredibly underwhelming, and it only gets worse at the end of the track, when it becomes highly repetitive and annoying. The verses and a really good instrumental section, with more melodic and beautiful soloing from Petrucci, are enough to salvage the track, but not nearly enough to make it particularly special or memorable.

Moving along, the band follows up “Fall into the Light” with another excellent track in “Barstool Warrior”. This one has a very classic DT feel to it, with some very melodic guitar work that definitely would have fit in great on Images & Words, mixed in with some even more beautiful melodies where the guitar tone feels similar to the outro to “The Ministry of Lost Souls”, which is one of my personal favorites by the band, despite being on a largely uneven album. The track is fairly laid back throughout, being one of the band’s more melodic and more prog rock infused tracks, but it’s very beautiful throughout, with some excellent vocal melodies and a very strong chorus, as well as the always great instrumental work. If the band wanted this album to be a return to the roots then this track is definitely one of the best cases of them pulling that off to perfection. Next is “Room 137”, the first song written by Mangini since he joined the band. In fact, with Mangini and Myung contributing to the lyrics, that leaves Rudess as the only member not to do so on this album, which is interesting, as the past three releases have been largely written by Petrucci, with a song here and there written by LaBrie, so I guess it’s nice to see this album being more of a team effort. Anyway, “Room 137” is, unfortunately, the worst track here. It starts off inoffensively enough, with more dark and heavy guitar work during the first verse, which only gets better during the second verse where its enhanced by some excellent backing keys. The chorus is also pretty decent and very atmospheric, and obviously, the instrumental section is great. Sadly, there’s one vocal section that pops up a couple times, where it sounds like LaBrie’s attempt at the intro to the Queen classic “Bohemian Rhapsody”, and between bad sound mixing and just poor arrangements in general, the result is unbearably bad, and is easily one of the worst things I’ve ever heard from DT. It’s bad enough to completely ruin an otherwise solid (if not great) track. Thankfully, that is the only real dud of the album, and things pick up again with “S2N”, another very classic DT sounding track, mixed in with some weird voiceovers near the beginning. Once it gets going it’s a mid-paced track, with some fairly heavy guitar work, though it has a slight rock feel to it. The track moves along at a nice pace, being fun and somewhat upbeat, but not particularly fast. It has a great chorus, as well as some excellent keyboard work from Rudess throughout, and it has a very heavy, outstanding outro from Petrucci, that helps close things out in a great way.

Moving towards the end, the band delivers an absolute masterpiece in “At Wit’s End”, which is one of the tracks written by LaBrie. I mention that only because it’s by far the best-sung track on the album, with some very emotional lyrics, as well as a strong, very powerful performance from LaBrie, where he’s clearly fully invested in the lyrics. The track, which is the longest in the album, clocking in at 9:20, is very much a mini-epic, in that it packs in about as many highlights and surprises as one would expect from a lengthy track, without actually going over 10 minutes. It opens with a long, hard-hitting intro from Petrucci, before slowing down with a nice, melodic opening verse, which then gives way to an amazing, very melodic and beautiful chorus, where LaBrie is in absolute top form. The pace picks up for a heavy, very intense second verse, with some very hard-hitting riffs, and this gives way to a kind of secondary chorus, which is also very nice, though much more intense than the main chorus. After that, we get an excellent extended instrumental section, with some of the best work from Rudess on the album, as well as more excellent shredding from Petrucci, and then the music calms down for a bit, leading to a very nice almost ballad-like sequence, with more very soft and excellent vocals, and of course more amazing guitar work, and then the track has an extended intro, with more great vocals and melodic leads, before a long, dramatic fade out. It’s definitely the kind of complex, dynamic and highly engaging track I love from the band, and it’s easily the best on the album.

Following the longest on the album, we have the shortest in “Out of Reach”, a nice ballad with some more soft and melodic guitar work, as well as some strong vocals from LaBrie. It has a very strong chorus and is a nice track overall, but it feels like it just starts to pick up steam, before suddenly fading out and then ending, before it has time to fully develop. Closing out the album is “Pale Blue Dot”, the second longest track on the album. It isn’t quite as epic as “At Wit’s End”, but it’s still an excellent track in its own right. It opens with some nice ambient keyboards as well as some voiceovers, which lasts for around a minute, before some more chunky guitars kick in, as some more epic keys from Rudess, which have a slight symphonic feel to them. The song stays heavy during the verses and moves along at a good pace, though the highlight of the track is the epic symphonic keys from Rudess, which actually get even better as the song goes on. The chorus is rather subdued, but also very nice. It’s a fairly straightforward track, with a fairly standard structure, though it has an excellent, extended instrumental section in the middle, as well as one last amazing outro from Petrucci to close out the album. The digipak version of the album has a bonus track called “Viper King”. It’s a rather upbeat and fun track, with a bit of a classic rock feel to it. In fact, I initially wondered if it was a cover track, but it’s actually an original, written by LaBrie. It’s a fun, fast-paced track, with a really catchy chorus. It’s another more accessible track, which doesn’t really showcase the band’s talents, but for a bonus track it’s a lot of fun, so I can’t complain.

I always have high expectations for Dream Theater, and while Distance Over Time is a very good release, overall, it doesn’t fully meet those expectations. I’ve admittedly been a bit hard on the album, so much so that the final score below may be hard to believe, but that’s large because I love the band so much and I expect better from them. With that being said, as a “back to basics” sort of album, it’s a highly enjoyable release, and it certainly contains traces of all the elements fans of the band have come to love, even if it doesn’t have anything over 10 minutes, or any instrumental tracks. The songwriting is a tad more inconsistent than I’d like, but there’s definitely more winners than losers here, with even the worst track being mostly fine outside of one huge misfire, while the four best tracks are all amazing, and every bit as good as I expect from the band. Overall, it’s an album I’m sure any longtime fan of the band will enjoy, and those disappointed with the direction the band took on The Astonishing will most likely enjoy this one a lot more, while any prog fan who’s somehow never heard of the band should find this a good enough place to start, as it has all of the band’s main elements, while being a bit more accessible than most of their other albums. Personally, I hope this more restrained approach is a one-time thing and that they dial up the epic again next time around, but for what it is, I’d still take it over anything from most other prog bands, so it’s still a winner, in my book.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2019/02/09/dream-theater-distance-over-time-review/

MALEVOLENT CREATION The 13th Beast

Album · 2019 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Nightfly
It was very sad news last year when it was announced that Malevolent Creation vocalist Brett Hoffmann had passed away after a battle with colon cancer. The 13th Beast, their 13th studio album naturally, comes only 6 months after his passing suggesting that the current line-up was already in place before his death. There’s been plenty of musicians through the ranks of Malevolent Creation over the years and there’s a completely new line-up here since 2015’s Dead Man’s Path with original guitarist Phil Fasciana the only person left.

Fortunately as is immediately apparent on opener End The Torture that it doesn’t seem to have made a lot of difference to the overall sound of the band. The 13th Beast continues their tradition of aggressive Death metal with thrash overtones. It’s all pretty full on relentless stuff with only occasional dips in tempo but the albums stuffed with great riffs preventing any feeling of monotony setting in. You’ll find a few less than stellar albums in the bands mid-period but the last few albums have all hit the spot for me and The 13th Beast follows suit and is as good as anything they’ve released in the last 10 years to my ears. Whilst few songs particularly stand out this is more a mark of the overall quality than any particular weakness in any of them though End The Torture and The Beast Awakened may just be my pick of the bunch for no other reason than the strength of the guitar riffs.

All the new guys do the name justice and play really well with drummer Philip Cancilla being particularly impressive with his dexterity on the usual array of blast beats, fast fills and speedy double kick patterns. New vocalist Lee Wollenschlaeger, who’s also on guitar, has a lower register than Hoffmann and more one dimensional in his delivery but is certainly an adequate replacement.

No great surprises here then but Malevolent Creation’s reputation thankfully remains intact with a great death metal album to get the year off to a good start.

CANCER Shadow Gripped

Album · 2018 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.17 | 2 ratings
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UMUR
"Shadow Gripped" is the 6th full-length studio album by UK death/thrash metal act Cancer. The album was released through Peaceville Records in November 2018. B>Cancer formed in 1987 and were part of the early UK death metal scene along with artists like Carcass, Benediction, and Bolt Thrower. They released four studio albums before disbanding in 1996. They reunited in 2003 and released the "Corporation$" EP in 2004, and the full-length studio album "Spirit in Flames" in 2005. Cancer disbanded again in 2006, but reunited once more in 2013.

So "Shadow Gripped" is the second comeback album Cancer have released in their career. "Spirit in Flames (2005)" didn´t exactly stir up the ocean, so it´s probably taken the band a few years to lick their wounds and come up with a new comeback plan. Lineup wise "Shadow Gripped" features the original three-piece lineup, who recorded the band´s debut album back in 1990: John Walker (vocals, guitars), Carl Stokes (drums), and Ian Buchanan (bass).

Stylistically it´s also an obvious stab at going back to the roots, as Cancer play a pretty basic death metal style with the occasional thrash metal leanings. It´s not exactly "To the Gory End (1990)" number two though, and it´s audible that a lot of water has run under the bridge since the early beginnings of the band. "Shadow Gripped" features a dark and not very dynamic sound production, and the fierceness and brutality of the early releases of the band aren´t present here. Or at least only in small doses. "Shadow Gripped" does feature some catchy moments (particularly the shout/growl along choruses on seveal of the tracks), but overall it comes off a bit flat and uninteresting.

I know words like those read really negative, and they of course aren´t meant as positives, but it shouldn´t be read as if "Shadow Gripped" is a bad quality release, because it certainly isn´t. It´s just not a death metal release which stands out in the vast number of releases which come out every year, and considering the legendary status of a band like Cancer I simply expect more from them. It shouldn´t come as a surprise of course, as Cancer have changed their style with each release though the years, and not always with great end results. "Shadow Gripped" is more interesting than its direct predecessor, but doesn´t reach the quality of the band´s early output and therefore a 3 star (60%) rating is warranted.

CYNIC Humanoid

Single · 2018 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.58 | 2 ratings
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UMUR
"Humanoid" is a digital one-track single release by US progressive metal act Cynic. The single was released through Season of Mist in January 2018. It´s the first release with new original material since the band´s third full-length studio album "Kindly Bent to Free Us" from 2014. I expected the single to be a successor to a new studio album in 2018 but at this point (January 2019) a full year later, Cynic still haven´t released their fourth full-length studio album. Since the release of "Kindly Bent to Free Us" there´s been a major lineup change as drummer and founding member Sean Reinert left in 2015. He is replaced here by Matt Lynch, who has some pretty big shoes to fill.

Stylistically "Humanoid" sounds a bit more like the progressive metal oriented material on "Traced in Air (2008)", than the more progressive rock oriented material on "Kindly Bent to Free Us (2014)", but it´s not a particularly heavy track. Paul Masvidal only sings using his clean voice, and his almost sedated and slightly melancholic vocal style is probably as much an aquired taste as always. He has the sort of voice and singing style which would fit perfectly on an alternative rock album.

The musicianship is on a high level on all posts, and the sound production is professional and detailed, so while "Humanoid" to my ears isn´t a mind blowingly great track, as it brings little new to the Cynic palette, and therefore doesn´t stand out much in their discography, it´s still a good quality atmospheric progressive metal track like only Cynic can make them. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

TARDIGRADE INFERNO Mastermind

Album · 2019 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
Coming from the musically rich city of St Petersburg, Russia is the extraordinarily zany and creative band TARDIGRADE INFERNO which formed somewhere around 2016 and released one self-titled EP and has been somewhat quiet for a few years. The year 2019 has barely had time to warm up and the band finally unleash the very first debut full-length MASTERMIND which displays the band’s unique mix of alternative metal with dark cabaret circus music. Add in sprinklings of death metal, thrash and power metal and you have one of early 2019’s most promising new acts.

The word “TARDIGRADE” can refer to either a variety of slow-moving microscopic invertebrates or it can simply be an adjective that means slow-moving or slow in action. I have no friggin’ idea how this applies to this band since this is high energy metal and there is relatively little info about this band on the net as i can’t even find any sort of biography whatsoever, however i can say that this band has found a unique sound right off the bat. However if i had to compare TARDIGRADE INFERNO to any other band it would definitely be Diablo Swing Orchestra as it has the same cartoonish feel and the singing style of lead vocalist Darya Pavlovich sounds a lot like both AnnLouice Lögdlund and Kristin Evegård of DSO.

Musically though this band doesn’t break out the jazz instrumentation or even circus accordions but rather delivers a metal music heft piled on top of dark cabaret and circus melodies alongside the bouncy festive rhythms that are associated with the greatest show on Earth. The metal bombast is mostly carried out by the power chord slapping staccato style accompanied by circusy keyboard runs but different metal variations come into play however mostly in an alternative metal down-tuned power chord rampage. While Darya Pavlovich’s vocal range stays more in clean vocal cabaret mode, she occasionally screams in metal style reminding me of Arch Enemy for short stints but unfortunately not nearly enough! The circus bounces are always under the surface despite heavy metal thunder stomping fast numbers or slower subdued moments.

While i’m constantly reminded of Diablo Swing Orchestra, TARDIGRADE INFERNO isn’t nearly as daring and out there and is rather restrained in comparison. While the music is definitely quirky and playful it doesn’t change the sound up nearly often enough although there are moments such as on the title track where death growls and guitar solos enter the picture, otherwise Darya is pretty much on cutesy Gwen Stefani mode and reminds me a bit of the 90s band No Doubt only with more metal bombast. While a band to look out for as the members become more comfortable with this stylistic fusion approach, this debut is a great start with elements of ska, gypsy swing and the dominant dark cabaret sounds keeping the album infectiously catchy and light-hearted without skimping on the metallic angst.

Favorite song: “We Are Number One”

FLOTSAM AND JETSAM The End of Chaos

Album · 2019 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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DippoMagoo
Sometimes, knowing little about a band’s past, and their legacy can be a good thing in helping me to enjoy their newer releases without any expectations or preconceived judgments. Such was the case with American thrashers Flotsam and Jetsam when they released their 2016 self-titled release, which served as my introduction to the band. With nothing else to compare it against, I was pleasantly surprised by the energy, intensity, and overall strong songcraft the veterans were able to deliver on what appeared to a comeback album of sorts. I’ve since briefly checked out some of their past works, and suffice to say, their first two albums, Doomsday for the Deceiver and No Place for Disgrace, are considered classics for a reason, being pure, raw thrash at its finest. Unfortunately, things went downhill after that, with some of their later albums incorporating elements of heavy metal and groove metal, with varying success, and between that and constant lineup changes, nothing the band has done since has even come close to matching their first two releases. It wasn’t until 2016, with their aforementioned self-titled release, that the band finally seemed to be back on track, as it was a full on return to their thrash roots while having a more modern and more polished sound. With that release serving as a great introduction to the band, I was excited to see what they would do next, and thankfully their upcoming 13th full-length release, The End of Chaos, is almost upon us, and it’s certainly a treat!

Like its predecessor, The End of Chaos sees the band continuing with a full thrash sound, except that where the previous release still contained faint traces of their heavy and groove metal elements, this one is nothing but pure thrash from start to finish, rarely letting it up or slowing down in the slightest. If anything, it feels even closer to the band’s origins, while still being as polished and having the modernized sound of its predecessor. There are some slight tempo changes on some tracks, and some of them move at a more moderate pace, but for the most part, this is pure straight-forward, speedy and very hard-hitting thrash, with some excellent riffs, great solos, and fun choruses. There are times where the band injects a bit of extra melody into the songs, which is a nice touch, and overall the album strikes a perfect balance between heavy, uncompromising thrash, while still being accessible and having some excellent vocal lines. It has a very “dumb fun” feel to it, with some of the lyrics being pretty silly and kinda dumb, but in a way that works well for the genre. Thrash obviously isn’t known to have particularly well thought out lyrics, and this album is the same, so fans can expect a ton of F-bombs, a strong tough guy attitude, lots of anger, and just overall nonsense, but in a fun way that fits the music quite well. There’s nothing overly complex or experimental here, as it feels like the band just wanted to make a pure thrash album, and in that regard, they sure succeeded, as the album is consistently great and it moves at a fast pace throughout, with one crushing riff after another.

One thing I especially enjoyed on the previous album was the voice of Eric “A.K.” Knutson”, as he has a very deep, very powerful voice with a ton of grit to It, and it fits the music perfectly. He’s certainly changed a lot over the years, as his voice has become much lower and deeper, but he retains the same power and intensity as ever, and he certainly sounds just as great on this release as he did on the previous one. There are bursts where he tries singing a bit higher, and these are the only times on the album where his voice feels a bit strained, as he just can’t quite pull it off convincingly anymore, but aside from that, he does a great job throughout, and his lower register is certainly as awesome as ever.

While I greatly enjoyed the self-titled release, I found it had a couple spots where it dragged just a bit, as it seemed to peak early, lose a bit of momentum and then it got back on track again in time for the end. The End of Chaos doesn’t have that same problem, as while it does get off to an excellent start, once again, it manages to stay very consistent, with its biggest highlights being spread pretty evenly throughout the album. Opener “Prisoner of Time” is certainly one of my favorites, as it starts off with a nice jam session for the first 40 seconds, before going full throttle and never looking back. Once the song gets going, it settles into a nice rhythm, moving at a moderate to slightly high tempo, with the kind of hard-hitting riffs one would expect from the band, before opening up a for a strong, melodic and very catchy chorus, where Eric really shine. Next is “Control”, a faster song with some even harder riffs, where the band masterfully demonstrates their thrash chops. It moves at a relentless pace through its verses, with some especially nasty riffs during the lead into the chorus, which proves to be one of the most melodic and most catchy on the album. It also has a nice solo section in the middle and is a very fun track overall. The first single is “Recover”, a slightly more melodic track, which still moves at a nice pace and has some great riffs during the verses, as well a nice but very brief solo. My only problem with this track is the chorus, which has a nice main melody, but it keeps repeating the same line over and over, and that’s something I don’t quite like, unless it’s on a particularly hard-hitting thrash chorus, which isn’t the case here, as it’s more melodic, and it just gets too repetitive for my tastes. The song is still great, overall, though.

Next is one of my favorites in “Prepare for the Chaos”, another faster-paced track with some particular punishing riffs. It has an excellent lead into its chorus, with some very hard-hitting riffs and some simple but fun vocal lines, before the chorus itself proves to be more melodic and epic. The verses are very fun, with the second in particular being a perfect example of the kind of “dumb fun” lyrics I was talking about, almost falling into guilty pleasure territory, except the music itself is far too great for it to fully earn that description. The momentum keeps up with “Slowly Insane”, a brief but extremely fast and very aggressive track, with some of the best, most classic thrash sounding riffs on the album. It’s a pure thrasher from start to finish and has an excellent extended solo section, where the two guitarists really get to show off their skill. Overall, it’s definitely one of the best tracks on the album. After that is the darker, but still heavy “Architects of Hate”, which moves at a good pace during its intense verses, before slowing down for a darker, more sinister chorus. It’s not as immediately engaging as some of the other tracks here, but it’s still a great track in its own right. The second single of the album is “Demolition Man”, and it’s another one of those very simple, yet fun, pure thrashers, where the lyrics are kinda silly, but in a fun way that works out well. It’s also another example of strong, heavy verses paired with a melodic and very catchy chorus.

Moving towards the end of the album, “Unwelcome Surprise” is my absolute favorite, as it’s a frantic, very heavy and very powerful track, with excellent thrashing riffs, powerful vocals, and a stupidly catchy (and maybe just plain stupid, but awesome) chorus, where Eric constantly proclaims “I bet you didn’t see that one coming”, and no, I probably didn’t, as it’s certainly an awesome and ridiculously fun track. It has excellent verses, a great instrumental section and probably my favorite chorus on the album, just because of how silly, yet fun it is. After such a big highlight, “Snake Eyes” proves to be solid, but not quite up to par with its predecessor. It’s still as fast, hard-hitting track, though, and it has some excellent riffs and is generally a ton of fun to listen to, I just find it doesn’t really stick with me much in between listens. The only other song here I have the same issue with is “Good or Bad”, a song which alternates nicely between slow verses and a fast chorus. I find the verses enjoyable, but the chorus just doesn’t really hit me the way most other songs on the album do, and Eric’s vocals feel just a bit strained compared to normal, so I usually end up forgetting about the track when I’m not listening to it. In between those two is “Survive”, which does not have that problem at all, as it has a somewhat slow, but very melodic and catchy chorus, which proves to be one of the best on the album, as well as some fast, heavy and intense riffs during the verses. Closing out the album is the short but awesome “The End”, another very hard hitting track, which moves at a blazing fast pace during its verses, before giving way to a slow, melodic and very enjoyable chorus. It’s a great track and it closes out the album in strong form.

I may not have much experience with Flotsam and Jetsam, but I certainly enjoyed their previous release a lot, as well as the bursts I’ve heard of their first two, and The End of Chaos is definitely another killer release, featuring just under 50 minutes of pure, hard-hitting thrash from start to finish. It picks up where the self-titled release left off, and if anything it’s even faster paced and more aggressive throughout. If this album is any indication, 2019 could be a great year for thrash, and either way, it proves again that Flotsam and Jetsam still have a lot left in them, so hopefully, they can keep the momentum going for a few more albums yet!

originally written for myglobalmind.com:https://myglobalmind.com/2019/01/06/flotsam-and-jetsam-the-end-of-chaos-review/

BORN OF OSIRIS The Simulation

Album · 2019 · Deathcore
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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Necrotica
Back in 2011, Born of Osiris performed an admirable feat: they brought a heightened sense of futurism and adventure to a then-stagnant genre. The Discovery was an incredibly welcome breath of fresh air that, unfortunately, will always cast a shadow over the band’s subsequent work because of its ambition. Still, they certainly keep trying and trying to recapture the spark that The Discovery gave off and Tomorrow We Die Alive regrettably lost. After all, the concept of taking deathcore into more experimental and adventurous avenues is something that I’ll always be behind. By all means, let’s take the genre somewhere that forces it outside of its comfort zone! And besides, many of these substantially “djentier” deathcore and modern metalcore bands have usually been the ones who continue to push the boundaries, stemming from artists such as After the Burial and Veil of Maya. Well, luckily, Born of Osiris’ new effort The Simulation sees them back in action with their best album since The Discovery. Granted, there’s really no more death metal in there. For that matter, many of the songs ride a low groove that sees them moving even further into djent territory than before. So why does The Simulation work so well?

Because it has a runtime of only 25 minutes, which means it has less time to pack in all of its exciting riffs and experimentations before quickly getting the fuck out. As such, you’re greeted by enough twists and turns to make your head spin. There are a few quiet moments of atmosphere throughout, such as the frantic little symphonic intro of “Disconnectome” or the entirely of interlude “Recursion,” but for the most part, these moments of space and contemplation are constantly butting heads with the meaty riffs underneath. By far, the best section to feature this conflict comes from the outro of “Silence of the Echo,” whose melodic solo lends the heavy chugs and power chords with a beautifully spacy counterpoint. It actually reminds me of The Faceless’ Planetary Duality days, and that’s not the only moment that made me think of that album. Every time “Disconnectome” breaks into a melodic solo or goes through a hyper-fast blastbeat section, it really does sound reminiscent of the sci-fi tech-death from that era of The Faceless.

Thankfully, Born of Osiris don’t forget their roots on The Simulation, paying plenty of homage to what made them a household name in deathcore while still continuing to experiment with their formula. If I had to pick out the best change this time around, it’s that the guitar leads or more fluid than ever. “Analogs in a Cell,” “Silence the Echo,” “Disconnectome,” and “Cycles of Tragedy” are all imbued with fantastic soloing that both technically impresses and constantly shifts between neo-classical and jazz fusion stylings. Also, the variety in the drumming is really impressive from time to time; “Disconnectome” in particular (yes, I know I’m bringing up this song a lot) features a ridiculous amount of tempo shifts, and they’re all surprisingly tasteful and natural despite how abrupt they are. The Simulation isn’t a perfect album - the slower tempos can become pretty one-note, and the short runtime obviously means some people will want a bit more meat - but it’s definitely the most solid album the band have put out since their initial heyday. It’s a really fun little adventure that - much like Reign in Blood - is very easy to replay again and again because of its lean length and addictive riffing.

SKINLESS Savagery

Album · 2018 · Brutal Death Metal
Cover art 3.08 | 2 ratings
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UMUR
"Savagery" is the 6th full-length studio album by US, New York based death metal act Skinless. The album was released through Relapse Records in May 2018. Skinless have been active since 1992 but disbanded in 2011. They however reunited in 2013 (with a couple of lineup changes) and released their 5th full-length studio album "Only the Ruthless Remain" in 2015.

Stylistically "Savagery" is a combination of brutal technical death metal and more groove laden core influences. So it´s probably an album that old school death metal purists won´t be satisfied with, but those who enjoy brutal grooves in their death metal may find something of interest here (it actually says a lot about the influences on the original material here, that Skinless have opted to cover a Crowbar track as a bonus track). While the band occasionally play fast, most tracks are kept in groove laden mid-pace and occasionally slower paces. The vocals are a combination of deep unintelligible growling and higher pitched screams and the occasional use of an aggressive shouting vocal type.

"Savagery" features a raw sound production, which suits the music pretty well (although maybe slightly too murky in the end), and the musicianship is on a high level on all posts, so "Savagery" is a quality release on most parameters. It´s not an album I remember much from when it´s finished though, and it´s in the songwriting department Skinless could improve. It´s not that there aren´t tempo changes and generally good variation within tracks, but there aren´t that many hooks to hold on to and the effect laden brutal growling style becomes a bit one-dimensional after a while (it´s definitely a nice breather when they use the other vocal styles). A 3 to a 3.5 star (65%) rating is warranted.

SIGH Heir to Despair

Album · 2018 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 3.96 | 3 ratings
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Warthur
Mirai Kawashima's come over a little Ian Anderson. Not to a full Jethro Tull-ish extent, mind - but there's an outbreak of flute and piccolo on this Sigh album that's just as interesting an addition to their sound as when Dr Mikannibal first brought her saxophone onboard. For a good long while, the sound of Sigh has been guided in part by the particular direction that Mirai's wanted to take his multi-instrumentalist experimentation in; just look at the credits for this and their past few albums and you'll see how much he's changed his portfolio from release to release. So the addition of flute this time around may sound like a small thing, but as an extra ingredient in Sigh's bizarre mashup of classic metal and black metal and progressive rock, it ends up being an interesting through-line which ties the album together.

WARREL DANE Shadow Work

Album · 2018 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"Shadow Work" is the 2nd full-length studio album by US heavy metal artist Warrel Dane. The album was released through Century Media Records in October 2018. It´s the successor to "Praises to the War Machine" from 2008 and features a completely different lineup, to the set of musicians who recorded the predecessor. Dane recruited solely Brazilian session musicians to record the instrumental part of the album, and also travelled to Brazil to record the album. While recording the album Dane tragically died of a heart attack in December 2017 (aged 56), forcing the label, the Brazilian session musicians, and the producer to finish the album without Dane. Fortunately Dane had already recorded quite a few vocal parts, and while "Shadow Work" may not be exactly what Dane had envisioned, had he been alive to finish the recordings of the album, 8 tracks and 41:43 minutes of music was still recorded and deemed of a high enough quality to be released.

"Praises to the War Machine (2008)" featured a more polished and formulaic songwriting style than what many fans had probably expected from the then Nevermore (and former Sanctuary) frontman, and that was probably what Dane wanted to do in 2008, but 10 years later (and a bad band break-up of Nevermore and a reformation of Sanctuary), Dane was obviously a bit more pissed off and in a dark mood, because stylistically "Shadow Work" predominantly sounds more like the fastest and heaviest of Nevermore´s output, than the somewhat tame material on the debut solo album.

As this is a vocalist solo album, it´s not surprising that Dane´s vocals are one of the focal points of the album, but other than that it´s not obvious that this is a solo album at all, because there are also some skilled and convincing instrumental performances featured on the album, and there is left plenty of room in the songwriting for guitars, bass, and drums to shine. In fact the instrumental performances deserve a mention. Dane hired some highly professional and skilled musicians for the project and everything is executed with great power and sharp precision. At times you almost forget that this is not Nevermore playing. Both in terms of the high level musicianship but also because of the overall songwriting style (of course no one plays on the level of or reaches the heights of Jeff Loomis, but there is definitely some great playing here). Heavy thrashy riffs and blistering solos, dark atmospheres, and deep melancholy are some of the album descriptions.

"Shadow Work" opens with the short "Ethereal Blessing" which works as an atmospheric intro, before all hell is unleashed with the next trio of tracks "Madame Satan", "Disconnection System", and "As Fast as the Others". Actually most of the album are in this pretty dark and heavy mode, and the band even manage to make The Cure cover "The Hanging Garden" sound really aggressive and hard edged. There are melodic choruses and motifs during the album, but they aren´t that many until you reack track number 7, which is the power ballad type track "Rain" (which doesn´t stay in power ballad mode throughout the track), and the closing behemoth of a progressive metal track in "Mother Is the Word for God". At 9:31 minutes this track has quite a few minutes to build and develop into a monster progressive metal track. Not completely unlike the title track on Nevermore´s 2005 album "This Godless Endeavor".

Considering the unfortunate circumstances under which "Shadow Work" ended up being completed, I´d say this has turned out really well. The tracklist is maybe slightly uneven, but it´s an overall feeling I have of the listening experience, and it has little to do with the quality of the material featured on the album, because this is high quality dark power/thrash/progressive metal through and through. The sound production is also professional and well sounding so a 4 star (80%) rating is fully deserved.

...let´s take a minute and remember all the the great releases, lyrics, and vocal performances Dane has given us since the mid-eighties...this is a world class heavy metal singer signing off. Here´s my hope that more people in the future will discover how truly great he was.

ACID WITCH Black Christmas Evil EP

EP · 2018 · Death-Doom Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Detroit, MI based ACID WITCH has been around now for over a decade after having formed in 2007 and have released three full albums to date: “Witchtanic Hallucinations (2008),” “Stoned (2011)” and “Evil Sound Screamers (2017).” While the band has found itself on the radar of the underground metal scene they haven’t exactly become a household name…. yet. In addition to the three full-length releasees ACID WITCH has been a tad more prolific in releasing shorter length EPs mostly during the Halloween season but the year 2018 finds a new strategy, that is Halloween at Christmas time!

Yes, indeed. ACID WITCH don’t crank out a bunch of wimpy Christmas tracks that totally go against their dark imagery and occult leanings, not one bit. With this two track release titled BLACK CHRISTMAS EVIL EP, the band sticks to their standard death doom metal mix of grunted shrieky vocals, slow plodding riffs with heavily distorted guitar heft. This is definitely the type of music that will get you on Santa’s naughty list and lumps of coal in your stocking but really, who cares when there’s Christmas music like this tailor made for true metalheads!

“Black Christmas” begins with vocal samplings, much like a White Zombie album of the 90s with creepy sound effects and some spoken dialogue that discusses Christmas traditions before the thundering waves of death doom strike with a vengeance. No Christmas niceties allowed as Shagrat regurgitates some of the most deliciously sinister vocal performances of his entire career as he gleefully narrates a tale of the holiday season gone evil. Nice touches of keyboards augment the evil that has taken over like Voldemort at Hogwarts.

Starting with some jingling bells and a somewhat jazzy schizoid bass line, a few archival vocal samplings gleefully narrate the possibilities of Christmas evil as the second track “Christmas Eve (You Better Watch Out!) begins. “You better believe in Santa or he will slay you” is brilliantly uttered from the narrator before the chugging death doom assault begins. This is great! I can’t help think that Spinal Tap with their 1992 lauded “Christmas With The Devil” has passed the baton to a new generation of Christmas blasphemy!

Tired of faux Christmas tributes where bands that profess to be badass suddenly make music that your grandma would go gaga over? Well, here’s some Christmas music to slay all that phony baloney cheerful holiday spirit. This is the type of stuff i want to hear during the holiday season and if the Grinch had this when he was still in scrooge mode surely he would’ve listened to this in his cave on the top of the mountain turned up to 11! The Whos down in Who-ville would not like it a lot. Santa with a switchblade! Oh yeah!!!!

RAVEN Screaming Murder Death From Above: Live In Aalborg

Live album · 2019 · NWoBHM
Cover art 5.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
1979 was Year Zero for a new musical movement in the UK, and a term was coined by Deaf Barton which perfectly summed it up, NWOBHM. I was 16 at the time, listening to Tommy Vance on a Friday night, reading Sounds music magazine, and trying to buy as many singles and albums I could of the phenomenon. One of the issues I had was I lived in a small town in the West of England, and it was incredibly hard to get hold of material. So much so that I wrote to Neat Records asking how I could get hold of their material as no-one stocked it near me! I was soon the envy of my mates as they sent me stickers and badges to try and make up for it, all of them emblazoned with the logo of one of my favourite bands, Raven. There are a few singles from that time which have gone down in history, Iron Maiden’s “Soundhouse Tapes” and Def Leppard’s “Getcha Rocks Off” are just a couple. But in the North East Neat Records were becoming THE label, with one incredible release after another. Within their first ten singles was the debut by Tygers of Pan Tang, Fist, Venom, Blitzkrieg and “Don’t Need Your Money” by Raven (who incidentally were also the first band on the label to release a second single, as well as the first album).

Raven had decided to speed everything up, something they called athletic rock, and was a huge impact on the scene which followed – that both Metallica and Anthrax were given their first touring opportunities with Raven was no surprise to anyone. Over the years the Gallagher brothers (John, bass/vocals and Mark, guitar) have kept the flag flying for their style of metal, and for much of that time drummer Joe Hasselvander has been at the back, but shortly before their 2017 US tour he suffered a heart attack, putting an end to his active music career. After a few temporary replacements, it was quickly decided that Mike Heller (Fear Factory, Malignancy) would be Raven’s new drummer. They settled in to doing what they do best, blasting uncompromising metal into the masses, and when they left the stage at Skråen in November they were presented with a digital copy of the gig they had just performed. What made this unusual is that none of the band were aware it was being recorded, so it was a case of turning up, plugging in, and blasting it out without any thought to what it might mean from a recording aspect.

The band has been in existence now for some 44 years, and although I can’t speak for the very early years, what is playing now is a beefed-up version of the same band I fell in love with back in 1980. These guys are showing no sign at all of slowing down, or going down a different path, this is a band still playing “Faster Than The Speed of Light” and meaning every single word. It is harder and faster than it was when they were 30 years younger, and this set is essential to anyone who enjoys this style of music. It is brutal NWOBHM. Turn it up, play it loud, and party as if it 1979, not some forty years later. I may be seeing this with rose tinted glasses given how much I loved this band in my youth, but when metal is a brutal, raw, and bloody excellent as this, then it demands attention.



OPETH Garden of the Titans: Live at Red Rocks Amphitheatre

Live album · 2018 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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Kev Rowland
On 11th May 2017 Opeth played the Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Denver, Colorado, and it has now been released DVD, Blu-Ray and vinyl formats. I was rather late coming to Opeth, but still remember when ‘Ghost Reveries’ came to my attention in 2005 – their 8th studio album – and was absolutely blown away. Since then they have moved further into the progressive field, but in its truest sense, as they mix old school early Seventies organ-dominated progressive rock with death-influenced metal, often in the same song. There is no point in trying to work out what genre is the right place to fit Opeth as Mikael Åkerfeldt threw the rule book away long ago, if he ever owned a copy in the first place, and that is certainly debatable.

Harmonies and gentle baritone vocals can give way to death growls, and heavily commercial songs can turn into metallic monsters with little or no warning. There is a huge sound to the band, incredible to think that the noise is being created by just five people. It is bombastic, heavily over the top, yet can also fall into pure folk if that is what is needed. The band are in full control, and they take the crowd with them at all times. At one point Åkerfeldt tells the crowd that it is being recorded, but that if they then buy the album any mistakes will have magically disappeared!

There really isn’t any other band like Opeth, so if you are a fan then you simply must have this. And if you’re not, why not give a try anyway?





ANTIMATTER Black Market Enlightenment

Album · 2018 · Metal Related
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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The Liverpool, UK based ANTIMATTER has been the long time project of Mick Moss who took the reins after fellow founder Duncan Patterson parted ways in 2005 leaving Moss as the sole director of the project’s destiny. While the earlier albums were a quirky mix of dark electronica with Goth rock-tinged trip hop graced with feminine goddess vocals, the newer releases since 2012’s “Fear Of A Unique Identity,” has found Moss going more into the alternative rock arena with the complexities getting more sophisticated leading him into the progressive rock world. It’s been three years since “The Judas Table” and ANTIMATTER is back with BLACK MARKET ENLIGHTENMENT which continues the trend of mixing borderline heavy alternative rock / Goth metal with progressive almost neo-prog symphonic splendor.

While the previous album had a more stripped down effect, BLACK MARKET ENLIGHTENMENT expands the dimensions of the elements set forth once Moss essentially went solo. This album’s theme is that of drug addiction and tackles the extremely heavy subject matter in the lyrical department while creating a dark and lugubrious musical backdrop to push it forward. The material is some of the most complex that ANTIMATTER has done with a sense of melancholy that hangs over the album like a lingering black cloud but very effective indeed as the impeccably produced mix and excellent compositions create one of the rare instances where Gothic rock and progressive rock work so well together. This is surely one of the most tense listens of the year as it walks a tightrope between complete emotional breakdown and a sense of suppressed rage waiting to explode but somehow keeps its cool throughout its run.

While Mick Moss is the sole member who plays acoustic and electric guitars, keyboards, bass and provides vocals, BLACK MARKET ENLIGHTENMENT also adds four extra musicians providing flute, saxophone, drums and a traditional Iranian bowed string instrument called the kamancheh (also kamanche, kamancha or qamancha.) There are also two female vocalists that provide a feminine touch on backing vocals. While the creepy mid-tempo music adds an almost shoegazy sort of guitar distortion with Moss’ Gothic vocal style leading the way, the Middle Eastern percussive drives and the kamancheh take the music to an eerie new world where various strains of reality intersect in an unfamiliar way. The synthesizer rich darkwave atmospheric overcast keeps this one in the clouds like a perpetual brain fog that is tuned into some foreign radio station that is set to sadness.

Like most Gothic related music whether it exist in the extremities of metal or the more sensual touches of the Nick Cave camp, this music is eerily romantic and fragile. While the music generally creeps along, the Middle Eastern drumming can become energetic especially on tracks like “Essential,” and while the guitar heft is mostly reserved as an atmospheric generator with echoey distortion, it is also implemented to create some metal riffs that chug along to add a sense of crescendo to the mostly stoic and detached emotional tug of war. Moss’ vocal style is very limited as he sings in a low register but has mastered the art of eking out emotional responses with subtle vocal vibrato and tantalizing trills. While BLACK MARKET ENLIGHTMENT has been accused of moving more to the world that Anathema (which ironically ex-founder Duncan Patterson played in) has carved out and there is some truth to that, the mood remains more reserved and much more dependent on the darkwave synthesizer dominated atmospheric touches to convey its overall plan.

With utterly addictive composiitons that are instantly catchy and a nice interplay between the sensual acoustic, heavy electric and atmospheric elements, BLACK MARKET ENLIGHTENMENT qualitatively connects the listener to the subject matter and draws you into the bleakness of the grimy world of substance abuse. The instantly catch tracks will hook you immediately but the sophisticated and subtle mix of the swirling storm of sonic interplay will keep you coming back for more. This album is considered heavier than previous ones and offers just enough bombast to create the perfect corrivalry of musical elements. ANTIMATTER is not only back but seems to be getting better with each new album. Favorite track: “Between The Atoms” which also happens to be the longest.

BUCKETHEAD Missing My Parents

Single · 2018 · Non-Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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BUCKETHEAD went from one of the most prolific artists in the music industry to relative scarcity in 2018. While three albums may sound like a lot for most artists, it pales compared to the dozens he released a few years back. The year 2018 has seen less studio time and a chance to hit the road and reconnect with the fans on a personal level.

Something strange has happened in 2018 as well. With the album “5-13 10-31,” BUCKETHEAD seems to have dropped the PIKE series, at least it’s not listed on the album. In BUCKETHEADLAND, anything is possible so never count your chickens until they hatch.

Even in the most drought stricken years for BUCKEHEAD music, the chicken lover always seems to find two occasions to release something new. That would be Halloween and Christmas, however this year for Halloween we didn’t get a countdown of a gazillion ambient and experimental albums but rather a mere single, “Mirror In The Cellar.”

The same goes for Christmas 2018. No full album, just this one track titled MISSING MY PARENTS. It seems BH lost his family a while back and is feeling a tad nostalgic this holiday season and although i still am lucky enough to enjoy my parents in the flesh, this track certainly makes me wonder how empty it will feel without them.

As with the other tributes to his parents (“Pike 65 - Hold Me Forever (In Memory of My Mom Nancy York Carroll)” and “Pike 150 - Heaven Is Your Home (For My Father, Thomas Manley Carroll)”) this single is in the extremely mellow and contemplative mood with clean guitar sounds, ambient atmospheric gentle sweeps and overall sorrowful mood setting without any percussive instruments.

It is a very slow track that creates a loving heart-felt melody that really exudes the pain our chicken loving friend is feeling, that of a loss that one never totally gets over no matter where life takes you. We’ve all been there. This single won’t blow you away musically and does sound like many similar releases but it does pierce the heart with in a lugubrious docile manner. Poor BH needs a hug :(

BETWEEN THE BURIED AND ME Automata I

Album · 2018 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.05 | 7 ratings
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BETWEEN THE BURIED AND ME return in 2018, three years after their progressive metalcore extravaganza “Coma Ecliptic,” and unleash a completely new strategy as far as marketing their new product. While the band’s albums have always run on the lengthy side more often than not exceeding the sixty minute mark, for this followup, BTBAM released their new material as a two-part combo that was released as two separate albums four months apart. This first installment AUTOMATA I came out on 9 March 2018 with “Automat II” following on 13 July 2018. While this was an irritant for many to have to wait for the conclusion of a metal tale that is essentially two chapters of the same book, others like myself simply waited until both were released so that i could listen to them instantly in their proper order.

While linked by the daedal conceptualization that revolves around the ability to view the dreams of others, the two albums stylistically differ quite substantially from one another. AUTOMATA I nurtures the more traditional sound that BTBAM has crafted subsequently as the band has crafted more progressive metal elements into their metalcore bombast whereas “Automata II” is the much more experimental of the pair. Both albums are relativity short by BTBAM’s standards and serve more like two separate EPs but they have been marketed as two bona fide albums that constitute a greater whole. AUTOMATA I clocks in at 35:13 and “Automata II” at 33:12. With so many bands releasing an album with an extra disc of bonus material, it’s surprising that BTBAM went the opposite direction and split this essentially single album into half.

Since the band has enjoyed a rather stable lineup of the same five members ever since 2005’s “Alaska,” BTBAM has consistently evolved their progressively tinged metalcore into ever more sophisticated progressive and experimental extreme metal that simply builds upon what came before. For those familiar with “Coma Ecliptic,” AUTOMATA I continues the same intricate weaving of pummeling guitar riffs, progressively designed compositions with time signatures run amok and the ever changing dynamics and tempos that jump from bombastic progresso-core madness with the expected screamed vocal style to the softer passages that implement clean guitar sweeps, soaring atmospheric embellishments and melodic clean vocals that hypnotize before the pendulum swings back to the erratic distortionfest and metalcore mania.

AUTOMATA I consists of six tracks that lyrically tackle the concept of dreams being broadcast for the purpose of entertainment. While the lyrics themselves are quite nebulous in their intricate design, the album allows the listener to explore the ramifications of such technologies that could possibly be used to induce, record and even weaponize dreams for the purposes of overall control. Musically, AUTOMATA I delivers the usual extraordinary daring and tight musicianship that isn’t afraid to tread some of the most progressive pastures that the band has embarked upon to date. The secret of BTBAM’s longevity is that the band has successfully gaged the evolutionary threshold of the fanbase and only deviates a certain degree as not to alienate the followers.

To the uninitiated AUTOMATA I may not sound significantly different than the series of progressive metal dominated albums that have emerged since 2012’s “The Parallax II: Future Sequence” but careful repeated spins finds AUTOMATA I has plenty of its own personality to set it apart from its predecessors. Of course, this album displays the unmistakable unique style that only BTBAM can generate, that is that intense surreal swirling about of the most extreme metal with atmospheric psychedelia and angular convoluted progressive rock in all its escapist tendencies.

Within the six tracks, the pacing is impeccably designed. The dynamic shifts from aggressive to serene allow the attention span never to wander far and the excellent production allows every tiny sound to come to life which makes this a bona fide 21st century musical sci-fi experience. While “Condemned To The Gallows” starts off with clean guitar arpeggios with lush keyboards and electronic vocal effects, the album ratchets up quickly to the metalcore crescendos that weave in and out of the musical flow. While every track holds up well and integrates into the larger framework, the highlight comes from the closing dual pomp of the brief ambient “Gold Distance” in conjunt with the ten minute finale “Blot” which goes for the gusto with some of the craftiest mix of sitar sounds, eccentric keyboard riffing and superb guitar riffs and soloing as it sallies forth down an extreme labyrinthine journey with some of the most soaring melodic vocal deliveries on the album.

There seems to be a general consensus that AUTOMATA I is the weaker of the two installments, however after several spins of these two well-crafted mini-albums, i have come to the conclusion that these two segregated segments of the overall storyline are of roughly equal standing. While “Automata II” is the one that takes BTBAM into completely unexplored arenas including the territory of swing jazz that falls into the Diablo Swing Orchestra camp, AUTOMATA I as a traditional BTBAM progressive metal album is simply outstanding in its delivery from beginning to end. Perhaps the main complaint would be that it plays it too safe and doesn’t deviate too far from previous albums, but despite snuggling up in its comfort zone, nevertheless cranks out six seriously fine-tuned compositions that shows that the band are still on top of their game and in full control of their musical output. This is an excellent followup to their their never-ending progressive metalcore legacy.

BETWEEN THE BURIED AND ME Automata II

Album · 2018 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.17 | 5 ratings
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BETWEEN THE BURIED AND ME have returned after a three year hiatus that follows 2015’s “Coma Ecliptic.” Instead of releasing a single lengthy album which has pretty much been their formulaic approach for most of the band’s almost two decade career, in 2018 BTBAM return with a completely new approach and that is take what could easily be a single album with a theme that lyrically tackles the concept of dreams being broadcast for the purpose of entertainment and divides it into two separate albums. The first of these albums “Automata I” was released on 9 March 2018 and continued the more traditional sounds that BTBAM has crafted ever since they launched a more sophisticated progressive metal infused version of their metalcore sound. This second edition AUTOMATA II had to wait four months to find its way into the fans’ musical conclusion of what was launched earlier in the year. This one came out on 13 July 2018 but personally i waited until both were released so i wouldn’t have to have that annoying four month gap. Sort of like binge watching a TV series after it has ended.

While “Automata I” was more of a continuation of the progressive metalcore cauldron of complexities that has been a BTBAM staple ever since 2012’s amazing “The Parallax II: Future Sequence,” AUTOMATA II is the far more experimental of the two having been compared to albums like “Colors” for its unapologetic labyrinthine journey into as many musical styles possible. While there are grains of truth to this comparison, AUTOMATA II in reality is unlike any other BTBAM release as it finds fertile new grounds to construct its esoteric and eccentric musical edifice upon. While each album essentially an EP length by BTBAM standards, they have been marketed as bona fide full albums that provide two sides to the unifying concept that revolves around the unnerving thought of dreams being broadcast simply for the purpose of entertainment. While the lyrics are vague and only poetically and pointillistically fortify the overall theme, the album does confront the listener with the uncomfortable possibilities of covert technologies being used for behavior control and other means. “Automata I” clocks in at 35:13 and AUTOMATI II at 33:12.

While AUTOMATA II is the shorter of the pair, it is without doubt the more experimental and adds myriad elements to its four tracks that have never been explored by the band. While the opener “The Proverbial Bellow” opens with the immediate jarring freneticism of angular guitar riffs and organ runs, the thirteen minute track evolves quickly as it shifts into Pink Floydian space rock that echoes to aspects of “Dark Side Of The Moon” albeit with a more caffeinated tempo. Despite being just a mere slice of the never-ending changes that emerge, the track shifts from the lushly embellished metalcore outbursts to the clean vocal progressive metal effluences that trade off without warning. Instantly noticeable is how AUTOMATA II takes extreme liberties in virtually every aspect of the musical procession with traditional BTBAM elements shapeshifting into bizarre new creations as well as completely new sounds. “Glide” begins with a Mediterranean Cafe style accordion piece that segues into a lush classical piano and back again. While only a short intro for “Voice Of Trespass,” it is unlike anything BTBAM has ever attempted.

“Voice Of Trespass” is also quite the surprise as it tackles the familiar swing jazz metal that fans of Diablo Swing Orchestra will know quite well. In fact, it sounds a little too much like DSO with a series of gypsy grooves, vocal calls and responses and Django Reinhardt-esque guitar riffs alongside the sultry swing timbres emerging from the baritone sax, trombone and trumpet. A true surprise and although a little too DOS derivative for its own good, still performed exquisitely well. The closer “Grid” is the highlight (both albums save the best for last) as it concludes this double album journey with an alternating mix of some of the heaviest metalcore aspects with clean vocal dominated alternative metal passages and sweeping guitar licks that could fit into the best modern neo-prog album’s agenda. However despite the silkiest sweetness generated by the clean vocal segments, “Grid” contains some of the most bombastic extreme metal sequences of the entire two album experience and its rather unique how quickly and frequently these two extremes trade off, mix and meld on their musical playground.

So after all is said and done, despite the horrible decision to separate the release date of each of the two albums and frustrate the fans of this instant gratification world we have constructed, the two albums that have emerged won’t disappoint as each has its own distinct personality while hosting a unifying concept that inextricably binds them like fraternal twins with different birth dates. BTBAM prove themselves to be masters of their own unique brand of progressive extreme metal and only continues to build upon the edifice of the more metalcore based foundation that launched their career nearly two decades ago. While there seems to be a general consensus that AUTOMATA II is the better of the two albums because of its more bold and daring attempts to break free from the established BTBAM paradigm, i personally find the two albums to be on equal footing. “Automata I” may be the less experimental but it is the better album in terms of ratcheting up the band’s already established paradigm in a more consistent manner whereas AUTOMATA II despite the deviation from the norm also has moments that find the band sounding more like other bands than themselves. For me this all balances out so as a whole i find both albums of this concept to be excellent but flawed. One thing is for sure, BTBAM are in no danger of burning out soon.

TERRORIZER Caustic Attack

Album · 2018 · Deathgrind
Cover art 4.62 | 3 ratings
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UMUR
"Caustic Attack" is the 4th full-length studio album by US death metal/grindcore act Terrorizer. The album was released through The End Records in October 2018. It´s the successor to "Hordes of Zombies" from 2012 and features an almost completely new lineup compared to the lineup who recorded the predecessor. The only remaining member is drummer Pete "Commando" Sandoval. New in the lineup are vocalist/bassist Sam Molina and guitarist Lee Harrison (drummer with Florida death metal act Monstrosity).

It´s seldom an album title describes the music on an album as well as "Caustic Attack" does, but the album title promises exactly what Terrorizer deliver on the album. A vicious caustic deathgrind attack. Sandoval has a powerful and distinct sounding drumming style, which drives the music forward in an aggressive and technically well played fashion. The riffs are played with razor sharp precision but not without a human touch, and the growling vocals suit the music well. The latter do become a little one-dimensional about half way through the album, and a little more variation in that department could have made the album even more entertaining, but it´s not a major issue.

Some sections have an old school Morbid Angel feel to them, but this is not an album that otherwise sounds like Sandoval´s former band. Terrorizer already early on carved a niché of their own by incorporating grindcore, hardcore, and crust punk elements to their death metal sound, and those influences are still heard on occasion on "Caustic Attack", and adds to the fact that the album is relatively varied (considering the core style). The material on the 14 track, 43:52 minutes long album are also pretty catchy and several of the tracks feature hook laden vocal phrases to growl along to. So while this is undeniably really extreme music, there is actually a good deal of memorable moments on the album (an example is the heavy opening section of "Crisis"), and that´s not necessarily something you encounter very often when listening to deathgrind releases.

"Caustic Attack" features a powerful, raw, and brutal sound, which suits the material perfectly. The drums are especially well produced, and the listener is able to hear each drum stroke clearly throughout the album. Upon conclusion "Caustic Attack" is a high quality deathgrind album. It´s fiercely aggressive, relentlessly brutal, and just reeks class in all departments. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

VENOM Storm the Gates

Album · 2018 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 2.00 | 1 rating
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Necrotica
I simply can’t stop lamenting the fact that one of extreme metal’s foremost pioneers has simply decided to artistically tread water for the last few decades now. Venom will always be well-regarded in the metal community for the innovative leaps forward they took for thrash, black metal, and death metal, but once the early 90s hit, there was simply no place for a band who suddenly became tragically behind the times. Everybody had already heard faster, harder shit by that point, and it would probably have been advisable for Venom to go harder and faster than ever before. Or, at least, experiment a little. Venom did neither of those things, instead opting to go for the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” philosophy for years to come.

And sadly, this philosophy continues into 2018’s Storm the Gates. What we get is a dull platter of incredibly lightweight, meat-and-potatoes heavy metal with some of the most pedestrian riffs you’ll hear this year. Things do start off pretty promisingly, with suitably aggressive and thrashy riffs kicking off the decent “Bring Out Your Dead,” and I will admit that Cronos doesn’t sound half bad for his age. Unfortunately, you’ll soon find out that his voice has no range here. It’s the same semi-guttural, semi-constipated shout throughout the entire thing, with an occasional half-assed attempt at sounding melodic thrown in. This is something of a minor tragedy, as more diverse vocals could have mitigated the issue of boring songwriting; unfortunately, it’s not the case here. It’s all in one ear and out the other, and it starts sounding awful during songs like “Beaten to a Pulp,” in which his Cronos’ voice starts blending in with the guitar work to create a muddled mess in the production values. Venom have always taken pleasure in making poorly-produced music for the sake of aesthetics (this was one of the defining features of their early work, in fact), but the riffs here aren’t punchy or interesting enough to justify the ugly mix of Storm the Gates.

The latter of those two issues is the main reason the album is such a letdown. Even for the standards of modern Venom, this material just isn’t interesting. There are barely any standout tracks, because the same formula of “let’s play some thrash riffs, add a few faux-demonic 80s-Slayer squealing solos, and top it off with the most generic Satanic lyrics we can scrounge up” is repeated ad nauseum, to the point that I completely forgot where I was on the tracklisting quite a few times. I will, however, cover a few of the only highlights that stood out from the rest. “The Mighty Have Fallen” is probably the best song on offer, mostly because of the increased aggression of the riffing and double-bass-driven speed metal drumming. It’s not the most original thing in the world, but hearing that downtuned guitar sound spit out some black metal-inspired tremolo is pretty satisfying. There’s also a creepy atmosphere that pervades “I Dark Lord” and sets it apart from the rest, breaking the pace to serve up some slower riffs that are occasionally interspersed with a sprinkling of clean guitar leads. It sounds pretty cool. But is this enough to salvage the album as a whole? No. I’ll leave it at this: if you just want to hear some competently played riffs and aren’t too concerned with variation, you might get your fix in some way or another with Storm the Gates. But with countless death metal and thrash metal bands doing their schtick better than they are, why would you bother?

COFFIN FUCK Silent Night

Single · 2018 · Death Metal
Cover art 2.00 | 1 rating
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Vim Fuego
Short and anything but sweet, this is 2018's Christmas offering from Coffin Fuck. This is "Silent Night" as you have never heard it before.

This year marks the 200th anniversary of the composition of "Silent Night". The words had been written in 1816 by Father Joseph Mohr, which schoolmaster and organist Franz Xaver Gruber put to the now famous melody two years later. The original German version is a song of beauty and contemplative charm.

And then two centuries later, Coffin Fuck violated it's corpse.

If you've never heard these guys before, here's a quick description: imagine lo-fi home recorded death metal which rips off Christmas tunes and adds silly comic book violence death-growled lyrics, done by three guys wearing stupid Christmas sweaters. The music isn't very good, but it's fine for a bit of a giggle at Christmas.

The joke would wear thin if Coffin Fuck ever got serious and released more than just a Christmas single a year, as they have done for almost a decade, but it's only once a year, it's mercifully short, and it's a tradition which I want to see continue.

And extra kudos to the Coffin Fuckers... er... lads from Coffin Fuck for not falling back on the obvious "Silent night, violent night" rhyme!

SLIPKNOT All Hope is Gone (10th Anniversary Reissue)

Boxset / Compilation · 2018 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Necrotica
The 10th anniversary re-release of All Hope is Gone is strikingly deficient of extra content, especially given Slipknot’s penchant for giving fans a wealth of new rarities and goodies with prior reissues. For comparison’s sake, Iowa’s re-release saw the 9-piece provide an entire film of music videos and interviews, new artwork, and live audio of the Disasterpieces DVD. Meanwhile, the reissue of All Hope is Gone simply features new cover art (which is quite pisspoor compared to the original cover) and a live disc featuring the band performing at Madison Square Garden. That’s pretty paltry, but I suppose it’s not entirely surprising when taking the band’s views on the record into consideration.

After all, they themselves (minus a few members) often consider All Hope is Gone to be the most disappointing record in their short discography. Guitarist Jim Root once stated that “it felt a little rushed” and went further to blast producer Dave Fortman by saying he “wasn't able to get nine people together on the same page and, to me, that's the most important thing in making a Slipknot record." And if there’s anything I can at least agree with the album’s detractors on, it’s Root’s comment about not being able to stay on the same page. Yes, All Hope is Gone is very obviously a stitch job. Many disparate flavors are blended together without much forethought into what the outcome would be. Many elements of Stone Sour, in particular, creep almost uncomfortably into Slipknot’s sound to offset some of the outfit’s heaviest moments.

And yet, that last statement is often more of a strength than a weakness to my ears. I understand that many people found the album sorely lacking in the anger and brutality of previous records (which amuses me, considering how soft Vol. 3 was on many occasions), but it’s not like the band’s unique brand of groove-inflected alt metal has dulled all that much here. “Gematria,” “Sulfur,” “Wherein the Lies Continue,” “This Cold Black,” and the title track are all imbued with the same manic energy and intensity that Slipknot built their empire on, and they should prove to be highlights to fans who flocked to their most furious and hard-edged moments. Some of the moments where the Stone Sour influences rear their head also prove to be highlights, such as the way “Sulfur” combines a thrash-like fury in the verses with a fusion of catharsis and clarity in the groove metal chorus. “Gehenna” is another strong point, using the softer elements to throw the listener into a host of creepy guitar and sampling effects while Corey Taylor delivers one of his most effective performances yet.

Speaking of Corey, All Hope is Gone may actually be the strongest showing of the man’s versatility on the mic. Growling, screaming, gentle crooning, mid-range singing (with a bit of rasp for good measure), creepy low vocals that almost pass for spoken word, and forceful gang shouts are all given a chance and are more equally distributed on this album than on any other by the group. Even for non-fans of the band, one has to admit that there’s a lot of power and charisma whenever he takes centerstage. However, true to this album’s spirit of inclusion, most of the other members step it up quite a bit too. Guitar-wise, expect to hear a lot more shredding and traditional death/thrash-influenced riffs than on previous outings; the solos in particular prove to be some of the best bits on the songs that include them, like “Psychosocial,” “Butcher’s Hook,” and “Gematria.” Joey Jordison, meanwhile, remains a powerhouse on the drums and does a nice job of combining brutality and force with a strong ear for tasteful and varied dynamics. The only real disappointment here is that some of the more extraneous members, such as keyboardist/sampler Craig Jones and DJ Sid Wilson, have a lot more time on the sidelines because of the band’s shift toward a more traditional metal sound.

Truth be told, I find the weakest moments to be found in the softest moments. “Snuff,” while very nostalgic to return to, simply doesn’t hold up well anymore (hell, one could argue it didn’t hold up very well in the first place). It’s an overly saccharine piece of melancholic alt-rock fluff that doesn’t really fit too well in the band’s discography as a whole. Perhaps if it was one of the ballads on a Stone Sour record - in the same vein as “Bother” - it would have found a better home. The same could be said of “Dead Memories” to an extent; despite some decent lead guitar work from Mick Thompson, the heartbroken lyrics (Corey was going through a divorce at the time) prove to be too melodramatic and are quite hard to take seriously. Also, some of the pacing is a bit startling; did anyone really expect the title track to appear right after “Snuff,” for instance?

All Hope is Gone is a strange record. It’s a mishmashed, disjointed metal album with a severe identity crisis. Joey Jordison once stated that it’s the sound of the band breaking at the seams, and that’s probably the best way to explain the lack of control and cohesion regarding the project. Still, I can’t deny that I found some of the band’s best material to be present here. The heaviest moments remain a force to be reckoned with - just as on past Slipknot records - and the moments that integrate the mix of heavy and soft dynamics are often quite effective too (with a few exceptions; the chorus to “Butcher’s Hook” is absolutely miserable). All Hope is Gone definitely works better on a song-by-song basis than as an entire experience, but there’s still a ton of good stuff here if you’re willing to hit the “skip” button once or twice.

UNLEASHED The Hunt For White Christ

Album · 2018 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Nightfly
Let’s get straight to the point, The Hunt For White Christ, album number 13 from Swedish death metaller’s Unleashed is fucking awesome! These guys have rarely released a bad album in their almost 30 year career and since Sworn Allegiance back in 2004 all their albums would receive nothing less than 4 stars from me.

If you know Unleashed you’ll know what to expect here – death metal with touches of black and thrash metal thrown in and we’re still in the world of Odalheim as on the last few albums. Yes, don’t expect any surprises in musical growth but that’s fine with me when they keep releasing albums of this quality. If anything these songs are played with added fire and energy though as song after song unleash (no pun intended) great riff after great riff. This is easy to get into death metal and could be a good starting point for the uninitiated with Johnny Hedlund’s clear growl being more accessible than many singers in the genre. There’s also plenty of melody both in the riffs and guitar solos which are rarely less than incendiary. Things are never allowed to get dull as the music is constantly shifting through well thought out parts and tempo shifts and of course great musicianship – after 30 years it’s not surprising this band runs like a well-oiled machine. I won’t cite individual songs for praise as such is the quality here it’s almost impossible to pick favourites.

I’ve added some great death metal albums to my collection this year but The Hunt For White Christ is one of my most played and favourites. Long may this great death metal institution continue to release albums as good as this.

LACUNA COIL The 119 Show - Live In London

Live album · 2018 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 5.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
To celebrate twenty years, Lacuna Coil played a special sold-out show at O2 Forum Kentish Town in London on 19th January 2018, which has now been made available in multiple formats. After the release of their 2014 album ‘Broken Crown Halo’ the band went through some major line-up changes with the departure of drummer Cristiano Mozzati and guitarists Cristiano Migliore and Marco Biazzi. But they returned with a new line-up and ‘Delirium’ in 2016, and there is certainly nothing here that shows that the band have been through any significant change.

Although bassist/guitarist/keyboard player Marco Coti-Zelati has been providing music since the very first album, he is happy to hide behind a mask, as does new drummer Ryan Blake Folden and guitarist Diego Cavallotti, as their role is to provide the music for Cristina Scabbia and Andrea Ferro who control the stage. There are times when the three musicians all stay at the rear to allow all the spotlights to be on the singers, and it is their harmonies and different styles working together with the dark melancholic Goithic metal that really makes this band stand out. For fans who have been there since the beginning there is plenty here to enjoy, as they really do run through their whole career in a set that is nearly three hours long. To hear songs such as “My Wings” from their debut ‘In A Reverie’ is wonderful, while “Comalies” of course gets a huge reaction. Theatrical, over the top, this is an amazing set, which of course finishes with the mighty “Nothing Stands In Our Ways”.

This is a superb record of the first twenty years, and they are showing no sign at all of slowing down. If you have yet to hear Lacuna Coil then this is essential, and if you are a fan they you must already have it. Exciting, dynamic and powerful, this is Lacuna Coil at their very best.

VOIVOD The Wake

Album · 2018 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.93 | 3 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
Like any great band that has been around for well over three decades, Quebec’s best progressive thrash metal export VOIVOD has gone through its own ups, downs and serious changes ever since they emerged in 1982 out of the frigid northern Canadian city of Jonquière. Haven taken the metal world by storm in the late 80s with their unique blend of dissonant progressive punk laden thrash that forged a new strain of sci-fi based metal with classics like “Killing Technology,” “Dimension Hatröss” and “Nothingface,” VOIVOD created its own distinctive style that has literally slinked by through the decades with no other band even coming close to emulating. VOIVOD in effect created their own mini-universe that found the perfect mix of dissonant King Crimson inspired guitar riffs and Pink Floyd inspired psychedelia dished out in an unduly Motörhead meets Venom belligerence all the while wrapped up in conceptual tales of cyborgs and futuristic dystopia. In effect, VOIVOD was and remains one of a kind despite all the trials and tribulations of weathering a multi-decade career. And well into the 21st century is back with the much anticipated 14th studio THE WAKE. The cryogenic slumber is over.

While VOIVOD’s history includes the usual melange of music biz woes such as members coming and going throughout the years, perhaps no blow was as devastating as losing one of the founding members whose signature sound literally defined the band from a mere pluck of a power chord. Denis D’Amour or better known as Piggy practically trademarked VOIVOD’s anarchic and experimental thrash metal idiosyncrasies more than any other members so when he succumbed to colon cancer in 2005 at the tender age of 45 years, it was indubitably a painful time for the band and easily could’ve spelled the ultimate end of the road for this classic unparalleled metal band. However instead of making any rash decisions during the mourning process, founding members Michel Langevin (Away) and Denis Bélanger (Snake) took some time to honor the memory of their fallen guitar hero with a couple albums of material that had already been written with guitar parts already recorded by Piggy and waited to see how it all played out. Two albums, “Katorz” and “Infini” found posthumous releases of Piggy’s guitar playing which the band recorded as a tribute to Piggy’s legacy but in order to sally forth into the next chapter, a new guitarist was essential. How could a band continue when their signature member was no more?

With Piggy’s art-metal riffage as his primary driving force to become a guitarist and musical innovator, fellow Quebecker Daniel Mongrain (now Chewy) of Trois-Rivière luckily grew up as one of VOIVOD’s most rabid fans and early on learned how to play the band’s entire canon of music. Having become the seasoned tech metal guitarist in blistering bands such as Martyr, Gorguts and Capharnaum as well as boasting a degree in jazz-interpretation from the University of Montreal, Mongrain proved to be the perfect gift from the gods to give VOIVOD the chance to fill the unfillable shoes of the great Piggy. While armed with that secondary degree in VOIVOD-ology, Mongrain, um Chewy that is, was also the band’s biggest fan and in a respectful fashion forged the perfect marriage of marrying Piggy’s legacy with the next chapter that would propel VOIVOD into the 21st century. While his debut performance with the band began with “Target Earth,” he wasn’t exactly given free reign yet to unleash his magic. After that album’s lackluster performance, the members agreed that something needed to change to make this transition gestate to the next level and what better way to honor the great Piggy’s legacy than to honor the period that most suited him, namely the progressive thrash era of the late 80s that found their most successful album “Nothingface” catapulting VOIVOD onto the world’s stage.

The new VOIVOD was born in 2016 with founding members Snake and Away at the helm and Daniel Mongrain, now Chewy in charge of the future direction of the guitar. Along for the ride was newbie bassist Dominque Laroche who was christened as the fledgling Rocky and together this new incarnation recorded and released the EP “Post Society” which was an advertisement of VOIVOD’s long lost return to progressive form with thundering dissonant guitar riffs that would make Piggy proud, chugging interstellar beats, progressive meanderings into time signature rich frenzies that all conspire to take post-punk detours into psychedelic dreams and of course Snake’s distinct, now classic vocal rampage through the technically infused thrash metal domain. With unprecedented almost unanimous praise, the lauded EP begat the next phase of VOIVOD’s triumphant return to form. Two years later we arrive at the magnificence of what is called THE WAKE, which in the footsteps of “Post Society” successfully takes the progressively fueled sci-fi journey back into the cosmos and dishes out VOIVOD’s best album since 1989’s “Nothingface.” A whopping 36 years after their humble inception, VOIVOD are back on top of their game!

Right from the first sound effects of “Obsolete Beings” that breaks into a galloping wallop of thrash dissonance, it’s clear that VOIVOD have crafted a winner with THE WAKE. With the classic elements all having fallen into place, the band build upon their progressive thrash phase with more adventurous compositions, more daring ventures into quieter moments and even the unthinkable terrain of classically inspired orchestral moments with six guest musicians adding touches on violins, viola, cello, extra percussion and even bones! However don’t be mistaken for a minute that VOIVOD has mellowed out. These extra touches provide atmospheric touches above and beyond the psychedelia and thrash outbursts that dominate THE WAKE. Don’t forget that “Nothingface” contained many riffs that were inspired by Igor Stravinsky’s “The Rite Of Spring.” Likewise THE WAKE implements classical and jazz techniques that supplement the main metal framing and are secondary to the majestic classic VOIVOD sound that has become so utterly irresistible. Each track is unique and utterly anthemic in that the eight compositions highlight the classic sound while evolving it into a whole new reality.

With their musical chops brought up to date, VOIVOD also relaunch their sci-fi fueled lyrical fantasy world with tracks like “The End Of Dormancy” narrating the tale of an underwater alien craft that is resuscitated after millions of years of dormancy and once reconstituted immediately begins to destroy the entire human race. The musical accompaniment is in sublime tandem with the lyrical output as the segments highlight the emotional response and one progressive unit segues into the next. It’s hard to come up with a standout track because the fact is that ALL of the tracks stand out as each is intricately crafted to carry the maximum amount of variations allowed by law. Never before has VOIVOD generated so many disparate ideas and musical elements into their works. THE WAKE is by far their most progressively infused offering to date and easily surpasses their best works of the 80s in terms of complexity and adventurous ambitiousness. In fact, THE WAKE is like the soundtrack to a sci-fi battle where the music itself narrates the dramatic exchange of fire with the lyrics merely defining the context.

While every track is unique and tells the tale of this VOIVOD inspired apocalyptic multiverse, the highlight is saved until the end where the multifarious “Sonic Mycelium” provides a progressive jazz metal reprise of the entire album’s creative stampede with one incessant curveball after another. In an age when classic metal bands are entering their multi-decade existence, very rarely does a band match the creative prowess of the heyday especially after the loss of the prime move and shaker that made them stand out in the first place, but VOIVOD has crafted the unthinkable late game masterpiece that is actually more creative, more dynamic and more labyrinthine than any other album of their career including their previous peak of progressiveness of three decades prior. It seems that VOIVOD have been given the gift of a perfect chemistry of the cast members as this album is utterly flawless. The chemistry of the musicians is absolutely divine and the band interplay is impeccable. THE WAKE is a multi-faceted masterpiece. It not only has the hooks to sink deep into your skin upon the very first listen but has the chops to allow the listener to burrow ever deeper on subsequent listens to decipher the unfathomable trenches for exploration. So profound is THE WAKE that i do believe this is my unquestionable best metal album of 2018!

THE OCEAN Phanerozoic I: Palaeozoic

Album · 2018 · Atmospheric Sludge Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
Metal is dead they say! But is it? Of course not but the naysayers seem to think that since there is no unifying metal band such as a Led Zeppelin, a Metallica or an Iron Maiden to rally around in the 21st century that the grandiose nature of the genre surely must be just a pathetic shadow of its former glory. Au contraire! The metal universe has never been so large and seen so many torches carried from the past masters and an even greater number of new torches being lit seemingly every single day. The big bang that began in the late 60s with proto-metal bands like Gun, Jimi Hendrix Experience and Iron Butterfly just to name a few, quickly led to the first metal oriented bands like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Black Sabbath. While it would take a decade or so for the genre to branch off from the parent trunk, once the process began, it splintered off into a million directions and well into the 21st century we are treated to a genre that can seemingly adapt to any disparate musical style and inspiration that has ever been proposed.

Bands like THE OCEAN remind me of exactly how far the metal genre has evolved since its humble nascency that was a mere angsty reaction to the blues oriented rock. This German band while starting out in their own state of sludge metal disquietude has continually ratcheted up the complexity of their albums as they went from a chaotically noisy punk infused sludge metal band to a bona fide progressive behemoth that tamed their aggressive tendencies and funneled them into a more post-metal paradigm that implemented the incredibly diverse classical music elements and electronic sounds that have placed them in a rather unique niche of the progressive metal universe. Led by founder and guitarist Robin Staps, this band that is also known as THE OCEAN COLLECTIVE found a more stable lineup beginning with their album “Heliocentric” and has continued to awe and amaze the world with a series of sophisticated albums that uniquely incorporate Earth’s geologic history into the compositional process and while the geologic themes presented in all their nerdiness may seem a tad eccentric, the fact is that this band is absolutely brilliant in how they adapt the geological themes to the more personal human level of reality.

The title of THE OCEAN’s 7th studio album (not counting re-recordings, EPs or demos) is officially PHANEROZOIC I - PALAEOZOIC, so first of all we need a few definitions of the title so that the lyrical content makes a lot more sense. The PHANEROZOIC eon is the current geologic eon in the time scale which hosts the most abundant eon for all flora and fauna that has ever existed and began 541 million years ago with the Cambrian period when a huge diversity of hard-shelled animals made their debut onto life’s stage. The PALAEOZOIC era (also spelled PALEOZOIC) is the earliest of three geologic eras (the others being the Mesozoic and the Cenozoic) of the PHANEROZOIC era and lasted from 541 to 251 millions ago. THE OCEAN is serious about their scientific terminology and the seven mostly lengthy tracks tackle the unthinkable task of narrating the geological periods that the PALAEOZOIC era is divided into. There are only six periods, however the beginning Cambrian is divided into two tracks with the other periods following, the Ordovician, Silurian, Devonian, Carboniferous (if you’re really a nerd you’d know this period is divided into two sub-periods, the Pennsylvanian and Mississippian!) and last but not least the Permian whose ending saw one of planet Earth’s largest mass extinctions in its entire history. That’s your geology lesson for the day, so how about the music?

As i’ve already stated, THE OCEAN may insinuate that the lyrical content comes right out of a university text book but in fact, the lyrics are quite nebulous and have double meanings while relating to the geologic narrative, they also incorporate the personal aspects of life. THE OCEAN seems to get more ambitious with each release and this latest endeavor is certainly no exception to that trend. While it’s true that THE OCEAN do not deviate from what came before and stick to their carved out niche like a scuba diver to an air tank, what THE OCEAN does accomplish on PHANEROZOIC is a nice mix of their early heavy chunky guitar riffs of sludge metal with frantic screamed vocals mixed with the sensual amorphous classical meanderings that showcase tender clean vocals with supplemental instrumentation that includes cello, trumpet, trombone, piano and symphonic atmospheres that find the band pulling a Jekyll & Hyde for much of the album.

One uniting factor is the progressive workouts that permeate both aggressive and placid aspects of the band as irregular time signature rich cadences jitter by with the accompaniment of jazzy drum gymnastics and hypnotizing post-metal meanderings that find repetitious riffing slowly transmogrify into a larger picture much like the geologic eras that change so slowly that we cannot perceive them. While the previous album “Pelagial” was in danger of exterminating the sludge metal aspects of THE OCEAN’s own musical history, PHANEROZOIC unapologetically brings back the harsher aspects of the band’s earliest recordings without sacrificing the progressive and atmospheric accomplishments they’ve accrued since their 2007 landmark album “Precambrian.” Suffice it to say, THE OCEAN strike a mean balance between their harshest moments of albums like “Aeolian” and the post-rock serenity of “Pelagial.” PHANEROZOIC finds the perfect balance between these two worlds and best of all this wider sonic spectrum is brilliantly mixed with a production value that perfectly balances the distorted metal outbursts with the exquisitely divine orchestral moments. While the final track is titled “Permian: The Great Dying,” it seems safe to bet that THE OCEAN won’t go extinct anytime soon. This phenomenal work is by far one of 2018’s most ambitious metal projects even if it hasn’t exactly expanded the elements that they are known for.

ORION'S REIGN Scores of War

Album · 2018 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.88 | 4 ratings
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After having gotten their feet wet in the mid-2000s with an EP and their debut album “Nuclear Winter,” the Athens based Greek band ORION’S REIGN seemingly disappeared from the scene as quickly as they emerged however a more careful analysis will find that in the decade gap between their debut and their 2018 long-awaited sophomore release SCORES OF WAR, the band were undergoing a series of lineup changes and most surprisingly of all an endless series of Christmas music singles that includes all the classics such as “We Wish A Merry Xmas,” “Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer (Heavy Metal Version),” “Carol Of The Bells (Symphonic Heavy Metal Version), “Deck The Halls,” “Jingle Bells (Heavy Metal Version)” and “Santa Claus Is Coming To Town (Symphonic Heavy Metal Version.)”

While such a path may not sound like the logical way for a metal band to find their way to their next album, somehow ORION’S REIGN made all the right decisions over the decade long period and finally release one of the most compelling displays of modern power metal that i’ve heard in a long time, a true surprise considering that the debut “Nuclear Winter” found a fledgling band checking off all the proper symphonic / power metal boxes but failed to coalesce the proper elements into totally convincing slices of modern metal that stood out from the pack. Hampered by an adequate but less than outstanding vocalist as well as a shoddy production and mixing job, “Nuclear Winter” served more as a demo that advertised the band’s potential rather than fully realized prowess. SCORES OF WAR on the other hand finally delivers on the promises of that very potential only touched upon.

Stylistically ORION’S REIGN doesn’t deviate significantly from where they started a decade ago. They continue their mix of symphonic and power metal with the expected operatic and melodic vocal performances accompanied by twin guitar metal attacks in the perpetual dance with the rhythmic bombast of bass and drum action with extra attention paid to lavish symphonic backdrops and rich vocal tapestries from the addition of several guest vocalists that form a choir. On paper, the two albums are identical, however SCORES OF WAR actually succeeds in placing all the required elements into the proper places and with the arrival of the outstanding vocalist Daniel Vasconcelos, the band is truly ready for primetime as not only to they find the proper vocalist but took the required studio time for the intricacies of production and mixing. The result is a perfect power metal specimen that stands proudly above the modern day competition.

In addition to the change of guard for vocal duties, bassist Kostas was replaced by guitarist Michael Batistatos who adopted the secondary bass duties for SCORES OF WAR and rhythm guitarist Themis found a replacement by George Thanasoglou. In addition to the five official members, the cast is joined by the additional keyboard works of Bob Katsionis and four guest vocalists which include Norwegian born Marit Minniva Børresen (who participated in most of the Christmas covers), Tim “Ripper” Owens (Judas Priest, Ice Earth etc), Mark Boals (Dramatica, Holy Force etc) and Irene Chrysostomidi. The new talent on board in conjunct with the excellent compositional arrangements and perfectly placed individual elements in relation to one another guarantees one of the best power metal experiences of 2018.

As “Elder Blood” introduces the album, we are treated to a substantially improved choir experience, a Celtic jig melody and the phenomenal vocal range of newbie Daniel Vasconcelos, who whizzes up and down the scale shattering glass with notes so high only your dog can hear them. With introductions unleashed, the track wastes no time jumping into a superb mix of thundering guitar riffs, pummeling bass and drums, symphonic backdrops and an excellent arrangement of Vasconcelos’ powerful operatic vocal style and the even more outstanding mix of the choral vocalists who often initiate a call and response effect. The track finds a satisfying climactic resolution with the twin guitar ferocity of neoclassical shredding as George Thanasoglou and Michael Batistatos trade off Maiden-esque guitar inspiration as well as pure neo-wankery. A perfect power metal track that cedes into the magnanimous nature that constitutes the entire SCORES OF WAR experience.

The album continues its symphonic metal bombast with a collection of eleven tracks that deliver the expected rampage expected from an album titled SCORES OF WAR. Whereas “Nuclear Winter” often felt like an exercise in futility, SCORES OF WAR is graced with a sense of self-assurance and epic perfection. Guitars gallop in a fiery power metal fury, bass and drums follow suit and the intricate melodies which are clearly fueled by power metal standards are infused with Celtic folk and other ethnic influences that offer tastier than usual forays into the melodic metal camps. Perhaps one of the most prominent of these Celtic folk outbursts comes int he form of “Nostros.” Like any great album SCORES OF WAR isn’t always on the rampage but has near ballad tenderness in the form of “Withering Heart” but for the most part the album sallies forth like a cannonade of soldiers on the battlefield.

Modern power metal is very hit and miss with me as i require the high standards of the genre to be up to par on every detailed level. The vocals have to be powerful and epic, the guitars have to smack you in the face and the rhythmic groove has to be incessantly powerful while the symphonic elements swoosh and swirl into atmospheric perfection. ORION’S REIGN somehow despite all odds got their act together and crafted an album that takes all of the best aspects of bands like Rhapsody of Fire, Kamelot, Nightwish, Iron Maiden, Helloween, Gamma Ray and other top power metal dogs and constructs a true slice of heavy metal perfection on SCORES OF WAR. The album is dramatically paced as it deviates just enough from the epic bombast in favor of interludes of sensual softness. In all honesty, the vocals of Vasconcelos in cahoots with the choral arrangements are what put this album in top league status for me. This is an outstanding example of modern symphonic power metal and one not to be missed.

NAZARETH Tattooed On My Brain

Album · 2018 · Hard Rock
Cover art 2.92 | 2 ratings
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Kev Rowland
When I was young we used to have a record store in town, and in a glass frame on the wall they would put their record of the week. I can clearly remember seeing ‘Razamanaz’ there for the first time and wondering who could deliver a cover with that much power, and then I heard the title cut and it all became clear. With Dan McCafferty gargling broken glass and whisky, Darrell Sweet bashing the skins, Pete Agnew on bass and Manny Charlton riffing, the proud sons of Dunfermline could do no ill in my mind or ears. Criminally overlooked, their live album ‘Snaz’ (when the line-up had expanded to include second guitarist Billy Rankin and keyboard player John Locke) is still one of the very greatest in-concert albums ever released. Manny left in 1990, with Billy stepping into the shoes before Jimmy Murrison came onboard in 1994, and Darrell died far too young (51) from a heart attack, being replaced by none other than Pete’s son Lee. From 2002 – 2013 the quartet of McCafferty, Agnew, Agnew and Morrison continued to tour and record, but then the bombshell that McCafferty had to retire due to ill health. Given that Dan joined Pete in Shadettes (the name changed to Nazareth in 1969) back in 1965, it was quite a shock, so what next?

After a false start with singer Linton Osborne, the band are now back with Carl Sentence (Persian Risk) centre stage, and a new album for their new label. It’s a solid album, plenty of bottom end, plenty of hard riffs, but is it Nazareth? Well, those who have been buying their recent releases have put it into the charts in Austria and Switzerland, but there has been little or no success in the UK, US or Canada (which used to be a main market) for more than 35 years, and there is little here to suggest it was going to be a breakthrough. It is a nice album, yet there is little here in terms of hooks or anthems for fans to get their teeth into. However, Nazareth are not a band who survive on record sales, it is all about putting bums on seats, and while I am sure they will play a few songs from this on their 50th Anniversary tour, people will want to hear “Holiday”, “Dressed To Kill”, “Hair of the Dog”, “Razmanaz”, “This Flight Tonight”, “Telegram” and of course “Love Hurts”. Sentence isn’t McCafferty, so they will sound different to what people expect, but given that there isn’t anyone who can sound like Dan it is good that the band have moved away to someone who can certainly sing, but isn’t quite as gruff and raw.

Solid, fun, but not a touch on what they were doing in the Seventies.

KADAVAR Live In Copenhagen

Live album · 2018 · Stoner Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
Following on from the success of ‘Rough Times’, the stoner trio of Christoph ‘Lupus’ Lindemann (vocals, guitars), Christoph ‘Tiger’ Bartelt (drums) and Simon ‘Dragon’ Bouteloup (bass) of course hit the road, with their set at Pumpehuset in November 2017 being recorded and now released by Nuclear Blast. There are times when these guys feel as if they are a brutal force of nature, all tied together to produce shockwaves of sound. But this rather falls away when Lindemann goes into guitar solos, as there are too many times when one wishes they were a quartet instead of a trio, as they start to lose impact as the bass/drum combination isn’t heavy enough to keep it all going, no matter how distorted and fuzzed out the bass actually is. I hadn’t noticed this on the studio albums, but it is definitely a factor at times on this release.

When they allow themselves to play with countermelodies and interweaving sounds, such as on “The Old Man”, it shows that there is some delicacy and thought behind the hammer blows, but when it gets cranked and distorted then it feels far more primal. When the volume is right up, and they are blasting this out onstage then I am sure this is a band to be reckoned with, but for me this live album doesn’t really have the presence and power of the last few studio albums. Solid and often very enjoyable, but not essential.

IHSAHN Àmr

Album · 2018 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.94 | 4 ratings
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Always the trailblazer, IHSAHN may not be at the helm of Emperor or the multitude of side projects that propelled him throughout the 90s any longer but after launching his solo career with 2006’s “The Adversary,” he has shown no sign of ending his ceaseless creative run of albums that takes a little of what came before and mixes in new elements of surprise. ÀMR (an Old Norse word for both “black” and “loathsome”) is IHSAHN’s seventh album and finds him in top form with his now usual roster of heavy progressive metal riffs that harken back to his black metal days as well as the artier side of his Peccatum experience.

While increasing the dosages of experimentalism and avant-garde with every subsequent album starting with his debut, IHSAHN hit a brick wall with 2013’s “Seelenbrechen” which found many tracks escape the confines of metal altogether and conspired to create dark and sinister dark ambient tracks with some of the sickest vocal performances outside of extreme metal. The followup “Arktis” found IHSAHN streamlining his overall sound where he cranked what i would dare call progressive pop infused metal tracks with strong characteristics of his avant-garde progressiveness but tamed a bit with more accessible hooks and conventional songwriting structures.

While never one to jump too far too fast IHSAHN played his cards rather smoothly and added just enough of the easy-to-digest elements that made “Arktis” a much more accessible album than “Seelenbrechen.” ÀMR pretty much continues the trend with a near identical formula that incorporates the near identical ration of elements on “Arktis.” Firstly are the heavier progressive tracks (“Lend Me The Eyes Of Millenia,” “One Less Enemy,” “Arcana Imperii,” “Wake”) that contain the harshest elements of his extreme metal sounds such as the raspy black metal vocals and balls-to-the-wall guitar bombast on steroids with incessant time signature attacks that unapologetically wreak havoc on unsuspecting stereo systems.

In addition are several mid-paced tracks (“Sámr,” “Where You Are Lost And I Belong,” “Twin Black Angels”) that showcase IHSAHN’s mellow and tender side where he displays a much more accomplished range of clean vocals and the tracks rely almost exclusively on melodic hooks with heavier guitar elements only added to generate some heft. Could he even be seeking the next alternative metal hit of some sort? These are the tracks that find IHSAHN deviating the most from his relentless pursuit of everything extreme and experimental that has pretty much dominated his approach up to “Arktis,” which flirted with some of these metal oriented progressive pop tracks but ÀMR makes no false pretenses that these aspects of IHSAHN’s song styles are here to stay.

There are also a couple of tracks (“In Rites Of Passage,” “Marble Soul”) that fit somewhere in between the two extremes presented above. These two tracks implement both styles and alternate between the two with mellow clean vocals styles for the slower segments and the raspy vocals for the heavier driving parts. These tracks (as well as others) mix it up with electronic segments which is another aspect of ÀMR that seems to be developing more on each album, that is the use of retro prog sounding keyboard parts. While restrained as not to go all Opeth on us, the trend is unmistakable as slowly but surely IHSAHN is dedicating at least a segment of his music to turning more progressive rock than metal but these tracks are cleverly sandwiched by the heavy hitters as to avoid a complete derailment in the fanbase’s fickle tastes.

ÀMR was the first IHSAHN album not to completely blow me away upon first listen. Instead i felt like this was an “Arktis II” of sort but this guy’s music is intricate and has an uncanny capacity to grow on me fairly quickly and even though this is probably by far the most accessible of anything he has done in his career with sing-along vocal segments and irresistible pop laden hooks coming out of the woodworks, IHSAHN has a brilliant way of keeping a layer of extremity that makes it so unusual even though the hooks are so utterly seductive. Is this a sign of even more commercial directions being pursued? Well, we’ll have to wait and see but at this point these developments aren’t detrimental to the album’s continuity. Once again IHSAHN has crafted a very well designed slice of progressive metal even if it’s not deviating significantly from what came before. Very much the enjoyable musical endeavor.

IMPELLITTERI Nature of the Beast

Album · 2018 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 3.86 | 3 ratings
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Kev Rowland
I must confess to not having heard anything by these guys since 2005’s ‘Pedal To The Metal’, but guitarist Chris Impellitteri isn’t showing any signs of relinquishing his title of world’s fastest guitarist any time soon. Long-time members Rob Rock (vocals) and James Pulli (bass) are still by his side, while even ‘new boy’ drummer Jon Dette has been there since 2015. This is a band with an incredibly firm foundation in the rhythm section, who have to keep hitting it hard and fast to be able to provide the support for Chris, a shredder who continues to provide complex riffs and counter-melodies, demanding that others stand alongside and give him the base to be able to keep pounding out a million notes to the bar. Then at the front there is Rob Rock, and while there have been a few singers in the band, this is his third stint and is easily the longest-served, having been there at the very beginning (and actually starting his musical career with Chris in a covers band called Vice).

What I found interesting in this album is not just the sheer force and power of the music, but also the choice of the two covers, as I wouldn’t have really expected either of them, but they fit incredibly well indeed. The first of these is “Phantom Of The Opera”, yes, the Andrew Lloyd-Webber version, although I don’t remember the introduction having quite so many notes as Chris takes the opportunity to show just what he can do while staying within a known melodic structure. The other is “Symptom Of The Universe”, and although he still shreds over the top, this is only slightly speeded up from the original, and somehow seems to contain even more force and drive.

The band has now been going for more than thirty years, and fans will be pleased to know they are not showing any signs at all of slowing down, are still incredibly heavy, and keep producing the goods. Metallic, powerful, over the top, Impellitteri are still all those things and more.

FIFTH ANGEL The Third Secret

Album · 2018 · US Power Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
In Seattle in 1984, high school friends Ted Pilot (vocals) and Ed Archer (guitar) teamed up with lead guitarist James Byrd, completing the line-up with Ken Mary (later Alice Cooper, House of Lords) and bassist John Macko. Their debut album was self-released and self-funded, was picked by Roadrunner in Europe, before the band was signed by Epic Records for a seven album $21 million deal. A second album followed in 1989, but due to a new musical phenomenon also coming out of Seattle, the band soon called it a day. Fast forward to 2010 and they were asked to headline the Keep It True festival in Lauda-Koenigshofen, Germany. Gathering many of the core members and adding Heir Apparent vocalist Peter Orullian, (Ted Pilot is now an endodontist practicing in Seattle and was not able to sing for the reunion). The band was also writing new material which finally reached Nuclear Blast who signed them up for the band’s third album, nearly thirty years on from the last one.

The line-up these days is guitarist and lead vocalist Kendall Bechtel (who appeared on the second album), bassist John Macko and drummer and backing vocalist Ken Mary, which is certainly going to be interesting going forward as these guys sound like a standard twin-guitar five-man line-up instead of a trio. I haven’t heard the earlier albums, so can’t say how this compares, but what I can say is what we have here is classic power metal heavily influenced by Dio-period Sabbath. Bechtel is a fine guitarist, but where he shines is definitely in the vocal department as here is a guy who can really sing. He has all the power and timbre one could wish for in this style of music, which is heavy, fast, and one can imagine them suddenly switching into “Mob Rules” at any moment.

There is the obligatory power ballad of course, but these guys shine best when they are in full flight. There are strong hooks, great performances, and overall this is quite a comeback album. It will be fascinating to see where they go from here, but whatever happens Fifth Angel are very much back.

JASON BECKER Triumphant Hearts

Album · 2018 · Metal Related
Cover art 3.17 | 2 ratings
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JASON BECKER has become one of the more memorable talents of the rock universe. While beginning as a child prodigy and dazzling the world with his insanely technical and lightning fast guitar chops in the 80s with his band Cacophony, BECKER easily caught the attention of the guitar nerd’s universe and scored the highly sought after position of becoming guitarist for David Lee Roth following in the footsteps of such greats as Steve Vai and Eddie Van Halen. He managed to record on album, “A Little Ain’t Enough” with Roth before a tiny little pain in his leg was diagnosed as ALS or Lou Gehrig’s Disease which would soon rob him of any future as a guitar player. His destiny would change quickly.

Suddenly BECKER was forced to enter a new chapter of his career long before its time. He would turn to the computer to crank out a magnum opus with what little physical ability he retained and after several years released his album “Perspective” which displayed BECKER’s many possible paths that his career could’ve taken him. Despite being condensed into a mere album’s length, BECKER displayed new aspects of his compositional creativity which seemingly were as vast as his fingers were fast. By the time the album was released in 1996, BECKER had been relegated to a wheelchair with only the ability to move his eyes. His diagnosis was to survive five years but now nearly 30 years later, he’s still alive and has finally released a new album.

While remaining out of the public eye, BECKER released the 2012 self-documentary “Not Dead Yet” which showcased this warrior’s longtime battle with ALS and how his family’s dedication had kept him from an early grave. He announced in 2016 that he would launch his TRIUMPHANT HEARTS project in the form of a crowdfunding campaign which ultimately raised more than $100,000. Once again, BECKER wrote all 14 tracks on TRIUMPHANT HEARTS on computer which display his love of classical music. Unlike his 1996 album “Perspective,” the tracks on this one are performed by a lengthy list of guest musicians including Steve Vai, Joe Bonamassa, Paul Gilbert, Neal Schon, Marty Friedman, Michael Lee Firkins, Mattias IA Eklundh, Greg Howe, Jeff Loomis, Richie Kotzen, Gus G., Steve Hunter and Ben Woods all of whom perform together on the opening single “Valley Of Fire.”

TRIUMPHANT HEARTS is quite a diverse ride through its 78 minutes of music that traverses 14 tracks. Much of the music is heavily fortified symphonic classical music as heard on the outstanding opener “Triumphant Heart” which takes a seductive folk melody and orchestrates the hell out of it, however there include several vocal tracks which include the sappy ballads “Hold On To Love” (2 versions) and a more funkified rocker “We Are One” featuring Steve Knight. “Magic Knight” is a tender acoustic guitar track that features both Uli Jon Roth and Chis Broderick. “Taking Me Back” and “Tell Me No Lies” are the only two heavy metal rockers and are both instrumental.

The rest of the album is a mixed bag. “Blowin’ In The Wind” is a rather sappy Bob Dylan cover and both versions of “River Of Longing” once again gets a little too sentimental although it features some outstanding guitar work by the guests on board. Overall i’m surprised there’s not more guitar shredding given the guest talent on board. While the one track “Valley Of Fire” does feature some finger breaking workouts, it is also quite generic in how it provides a rather basic rhythmic groove that the soloists work around. While the music itself may be a mixed bag, the production is actually really, really well done and BECKER obviously paid a lot of attention to the details.

Ah, i was hoping this would be more like “Perspective,” an album that i really love. TRIUMPHANT HEARTS while it has its merit doesn’t really take me anywhere that i want to go. This is more like a heart tugging tribute or something. While it’s cool to see BECKER still working behind the scenes in his perpetual state of paralysis, it seems perhaps his creative edge has been left somewhere in the past as well since TRIUMPHANT HEARTS doesn’t really seem to get airborne. I was really hoping for a better product and i’m a lenient critic when it comes to an album released under such circumstances but unfortunately i can’t seem to find much to latch onto on this one. While the album kicks off with an interestingly (mellow) opener, the second track as a cheesy ballad throws it off track quickly. Standout tracks are the opener, “Valley Of Fire,” “Taking Me Back” and “Tell Me No Lies.” Hopefully BECKER can find a new lease on a creative edge in the future but this one is somewhat of a disappointment.

FARMER BOYS Born Again

Album · 2018 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
In the 90’s they played some of the world’s largest festivals, toured with the likes of Rammstein, Deftones and Metallica and were highly regarded in the German music scene for this ability to mix metal with pop melodies, but since their fourth album ‘The Other Side’, which was released in 2004, things have been relatively quiet. However, three of the founding members Matthias Sayer (vocals), Alex Scholpp (guitar) and Ralf Botzenhart (bass – Ralf actually left the band before they became well-known, only recently returning) brought in two new members in Timm Schreiner (drums) and Richard Düe (keyboards) and started playing again in 2017, and this is the first album since then.

The album starts really quietly, with gentle keyboards, but when the guitars come in then the listener knows the band aren’t straying too far away from their roots. Although they are a metal band, I found that the act they reminded me most closely of was My Chemical Romance, with a strong dose of alternative melodies being mixed in with the guitars. Sayer has a great voice, and the album contains hook after hook, and has been very well produced, so even though I don’t normally listen to this style of music I found that it was making me smile. The arrangements contain many elements, and one is never quite sure where each song is going to lead, as there are times they come across as Machine Head with a furious groove, and others Linkin Park, while always maintaining that melodic sensibility. Solid.

ATREYU In Our Wake

Album · 2018 · Melodic Metalcore
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
I first really started paying attention to Atreyu with the release of 2004’s ‘The Curse’, but although I grabbed all their albums up to 2009’s ‘Congregation of the Damned’ I hadn’t realised they had got back together after the hiatus following that to release an album in 2015, and here they are now back with the next, the seventh in their career. It is hard to believe that Atreyu have been together for twenty years now, as they still sound as angry as ever, mixing that aggression with melody and metal to create a sound designed to throw a mosh pit wherever they play. I also put them into the same category as Killswitch Engage and Avenged Sevenfold, all bands out there creating their own masterpieces and not worrying about the rest of the scene. There are parts of “The Time Is Now” which one would say belongs far more in the canon of their recent touring partners Slipknot than Atreyu. These guys have been turning it up and cranking it even harder than they used to, and took inspiration from their classic ‘Lead Sails Paper Anchor’ as they experimented and brought all the ideas under the Atreyu banner.

There is a freshness, which has been brought about by the way of working. “Every song with the exception of two was fully written in the studio,” says Brandon Saller (drums, vocals). “We’d split off into groups and crank out two ideas per day. We’d never written a fresh idea from scratch every day. Spontaneity makes things flow so much better though. We also never spread an album out like this either. We laid the foundation with five recordings, sat with them, and finished with a better picture of where we wanted to go.” Atreyu are very much back, and this reminds me so much of why I loved ‘The Curse’ when it was released. Methinks I need to dust that one off and put it on, as this has reminded me of what a poweful band they are. Superb.

AMARANTHE Helix

Album · 2018 · Trance Metal
Cover art 2.67 | 2 ratings
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Kev Rowland
It is a long time I last heard Amaranthe, and the only other album I have in my collection is their 2011 debut, but f our albums into their career, they have apparently racked up north of 118 million YouTube views, half a billion song streams, are the three-time holder of BillBoard Heatseekers Chart #1 position and possess a panoply of Gold discs for albums and singles alike. I can only think that the other releases contain far more emotion than this one, which manages to be heavy and sanitised all at the same time. They are mixing symphonic with techno, strong female vocals with death growls and male rock, and it all comes across as rather bland and clinical.

I get the impression there are some good songs in here waiting to burst out, but the album has been layered, polished and honed so that any soul is long gone, driven out from the pressure of yet another run through the mixing desk and further tweaks. Some of the songs are incredibly catchy, such as “Countdown” which has Avril Lavigne-style hit single written all over it, but I would love to hear this album with the guys just performing it from start to finish, with a sympathetic ear at the sound desk. It would be far different to something that shows promise but eventually fails under the weight of all the varnish.

TREAT Tunguska

Album · 2018 · Hard Rock
Cover art 2.50 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
Treat may have taken a break at one point during their career, but the current line-up of Robert Ernlund (vocals), Anders Wikström (Guitars and backing vocals), Patrick Appelgren (keyboards, guitar and backing vocals), Jamie Borger (drums), and bass player Pontus Egberg (King Diamond) features just one person, Egberg, who wasn’t on their 1985 debut ‘Scratch and Bite’. This is the first album I have heard from the Swedish group, and there is no doubt that there are some fine hard rock musicians here, just a shame that the arrangements and production let it down so much. Here is an album where every attempt has been made to sanitise and polish it out of existence, and while there may have been some punch and threat in there when they recorded it that is unfortunately now long gone. I am sure that there are going to be some very happy fans of the band out there, and certainly this album is being raved about on the web, but there just isn’t enough variation and power in this for me and it soon fell into the background. Fans of bands such as Eclipse, Hardline, Pretty Maids, Harem Scarem and Danger Danger may well find plenty here to enjoy, but there isn’t enough edge for me.

URIAH HEEP Living The Dream

Album · 2018 · Hard Rock
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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Kev Rowland
It is hard to imagine in this world of 24/7 connectivity, but there was once a time where there was no such thing as internet. Consequently the only way to discover information was by buying books, and I have just gone to bookcase and brought out ‘The International Encyclopedia of Hard Rock & Heavy Metal’, written by Tony Jasper and Derek Oliver and published in 1983. Why? Because the front cover is a picture of Mick Box in his natural environment, on stage, and nearly fifty years on from when Uriah Heep were formed he is still there. True, there have been some line-up changes over the years, but from 1986 to 2007 they were the same five guys treading the boards wherever anyone would have them play, often without record label support. Phil Lanzon (keyboards) and Bernie Shaw (vocals) have been in the band since 1986 (although they started working together in Grand Prix before that), while drummer Lee Kerslake had to retire in 2007 due to ill health, and was replaced by Russell Gilbrook while bassist Trevor Bolder sadly passed away in 2013 and was replaced by Davey Rimmer.

When they released their debut album in 1970, it was famously reviewed by Rolling Stone magazine's Melissa Mills who began her review by saying, "If this group makes it I'll have to commit suicide. From the first note you know you don't want to hear any more." Well, with one classic album after another in the Seventies, and various “return to form” albums such as the mighty ‘Abominog’, it is safe to say that Heep have not only made it but have thrived. This is their 25th studio album, and although they have become more polished over the years, there is still a Hammond Organ as the backbone, while Mick Box is refusing to settle into his dotage. Apparently he is 71 years old now, and is still teaching young ‘uns a tricks or two.

Any fan of the band will listen to the harmonies at the introduction to “Rocks In The Road” and smile, as it is exactly the same sound they were producing more than 40 years ago. To celebrate the album they are undertaking a world tour which will encompass 61 countries, again putting bands half their age to shame.

Uriah Heep, Very 'eavy... Very 'umble, still hitting the road, producing great music as they continue to keep living the dream. Essential for any fan, and if you have never actually heard any of their albums (and I guess that is a possibility, maybe) then start with this one and then head back to the early Seventies and give yourself a treat. All together now, “Was only seventeen, I fell in love with a gypsy queen…”

TERROR Total Retaliation

Album · 2018 · Hardcore Punk
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
LA based Terror have always been a name synonymous with hardcore, sticking hard to the faith since their inception in 2002. After six studio albums, a series of live albums, splits, compilations and EP’s under their belts, the scene veterans are back with their latest album. Thirteen songs, less than thirty minutes in total length, they toy with rap on “Post Armageddon Interlude”, but the rest of the time this is abrasive old school hardcore punk mixed with plenty of thrash tendencies. There is nothing pretty about this, this is all about turn it up and disappearing into a mosh full of violence and sweat. More than fifteen years in the scene and they show no signs at all of slowing down yet, if you want true original hardcore then look no further.

PIAH MATER The Wandering Daughter

Album · 2018 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 3.25 | 2 ratings
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Kev Rowland
Brazilian-based progressive death metal outfit Piah Mater was formed in 2010 by guitarists Luiz Felipe Netto and Igor Meira, as an outlet for their personal approach to sombre melodies, high-energy riffs and unconventional song structures. 2014 saw the release of their debut album ‘Memories of Inexistence’, since when they have brought drummer Kalki Avatara onboard, and they are now releasing their second album. These guys move between some progressive and melodic rock elements, as well as going full into death and even atmospheric black metal. There are times when the vocals are melodic and softly sung, others when they have been influenced more by Dio, and then others where they are incredibly gruff and unintelligible.

Now, I like my metal to be complex, and there is no doubt that these guys really know what they are doing, with some incredibly complex passages. The issue here is that they are so good at the multiple different styles on show, that it actually detracts from the music as a whole. They jump around from one style to another within the same song, multiple times, and it becomes quite hard to listen t. It is undoubtedly clever, and there is no doubting their skills, but there are times when “less is more” and I know I didn’t enjoy this album nearly as much as I would have done if there had been more focus on what they were doing.

Eclectic in many ways, I found this a really difficult album to get inside, and even playing it multiple times just got me more annoyed with it, and I just can’t warm to it at all which is a real shame as they certainly know what they are doing

TEN Illuminati

Album · 2018 · Hard Rock
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
2018 see the band back with their second consecutive album with Frontiers, the fourth with the same line-up, and their fourteenth overall. Straight away one is reminded of ‘Isla De Muerta’ as the album starts with cinematic sounds (this time of birds), before Darrel starts off with keyboards and piano to set the scene. As the refrain is repeated the acoustic guitars make an entrance, and the listener starts to settle down for what is surely going to be an interesting ride. The band are confident enough to let the music move and swell, there is no need to start with a massive roar, but instead to build the framework in readiness for what is to come. The introduction lasts for more than two minutes, before the arrival of the drums lets the listener know that the band is about to change attack and in come the three guitarists. They interweave, mix and move, again setting the stage for Gary. But, from the beginning of the first song on the album until the vocals make an entrance is more than three minutes, quite some time for any band.

When the guys turn it up and go for gold, then they really elevate the music to a new level. There are some blistering shreds on “Shield Wall” that Malmsteen would be proud of, yet there is still restraint within the piece as a whole, which makes it work far better than if it was just heads on and meet up at the end. Gary seems to be holding notes for longer, while musically there is a lot of complexity in what is being delivered. The band can go from hard rock onslaught to piano and keyboards and make the transition seamless, and aren’t afraid to bring in female vocals if that is what is required, or sound effects if that is what is required. Dennis Ward continues to provide superb production, as he has done so since 2011’s ‘Stormwarning’, while the arrangements left Ten far above many of their contemporaries. This is hard rock with substance and real melody, much more than just turning it up and blasting it out, and while they will appeal to fans of AOR, this has way more depth and contrast than one would expect from that genre. Ten continue to deliver melodic hard rock albums of the highest order, well worth investigation.

THE ORDER OF APOLLYON Moriah

Album · 2018 · Black Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
This album may start with strummed acoustic guitars, but there is a feeling of menace contained within it, and soon the guys are blasting off into the blackened death metal with which they have built their reputation. Originally formed in 2008 by then-Aborted members, guitarist/vocalist BST (ex-Aosoth, VI) and drummer Dan Wilding, the band built a strong reputation with their first two albums, but Wilding was asked to join Carcass in 2012 and later decided to leave The Order Of Apollyon to concentrate on that band. With the other members also having conflicting schedules it was left to BST to restart the band, and to do this he recruited veterans of his native black metal scene, including members of Temple Of Baal, Hell Militia and Merrimack.

So, some three years on from ‘The Sword and the Dagger’, the new band is back with the third album, and shows no sign at all of moving away from their roots. The main issue for me is that the mix means that it really is a solid wall of sound, which means that there just isn’t enough in the way of dynamics, and it comes through all very much at one level, which is a real shame, as there is actually quite a lot going on in here. If would have liked the lead guitar to have been higher, and for the band to come through with more contrast. As it is, it is an enjoyable example of the genre without being essential.

SIRENIA Arcane Astral Aeons

Album · 2018 · Gothic Metal
Cover art 5.00 | 1 rating
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DippoMagoo
It’s no secret, I’ve been a big fan of Sirenia mastermind Morten Veland for a very long time, probably well over a decade, at least. When I was first getting back into metal after a long break in the mid-2000’s, Tristania was one of the first bands to impress me, and they introduced me to the whole gothic metal scene. Obviously, Morten left the band shortly after their breakthrough album, Beyond the Veil, and has since gone on to create Sirenia. His current band has gone through many phases, including some ups and downs, but one thing that has always remained true is that Morten Veland has always been a master of his craft, and when it comes to knowing his genre in and out and being able to create some of the best songs possible, while being willing to push his sound further with each release, Morten has never disappointed. While the band had largely been just a female vocalist and Morten himself doing pretty much everything for a long time, they’ve become more of a full band in recent years, with other members being given a bit more room to work with. Obviously, Morten remains the main songwriter and leader of the band, but their previous release, Dim Days of Dolor, felt more like a team effort, and the same can definitely be said for the band’s ninth full-length release, Arcane Astral Aeons. Where its predecessor felt like a great beginning to a new era, Arcane Astral Aeons feels like a full leap forward, combining the best elements of previous releases, while continuing to push things further, especially when it comes to the epic symphonic elements, to create possibly the band’s absolute best release to date!

I mentioned before that Sirenia has gone through many phases, and while part of that was due to frequent changes in vocalist, a lot of it also has to do with the musical direction itself. The first two releases felt like a direct continuation of Morten’s work with Tristania, while The 13th Floor and The Enigma of Life felt much more accessible, even coming close to pop sensibilities, at times. More recently, he’s done a great job of blending aspects of different releases together, and that’s once again true for Arcane Astral Aeons, except this time it feels like he’s made a strong effort to push things even further, to create his most diverse, most epic and possibly best release yet. The previous two releases had already gone pretty far with incorporating epic symphonic elements, with strong orchestral sounds throughout, and at times this release goes even further with that, with choirs and orchestras being used to even greater effect than ever before, to give the music an epic feel, while still maintaining the dark, gothic atmosphere of the past. Keyboards are obviously still very prominent, used largely for atmosphere and to give the music a suitably dark tone, which is done very effectively, as always. At the same time, I notice the presence of guitars very strongly, perhaps even more so than on Dim Days of Dolor, as some of the solos are very melodic and absolutely terrific, and almost every track has some hard-hitting riffs, to help add to the already very full sound.

In fact, this release is quite perplexing at times, in that the songs initially seem straight-forward and are generally very easy to get into, but there’s actually a lot going on at all times, with many different layers to the music, as well as most songs having a ton of different passages, sometimes tempo changes, and quite a few explosive sections that switch between vocal styles. Basically, it’s Morten Veland working at his absolute best, using vocal and music dynamics to constantly surprise the listener, while still writing consistently engaging tracks with very catchy choruses, great riffs, and some outstanding melodies. The overall songwriting is fantastic, as usual, with many songs having some of the lighter, catchier choruses found on some of the more accessible Sirenia albums, except now they’re accompanied by some much more complex arrangement, more interesting verses, and a ton of extra layers and surprises that add up to make the songs more complex and dynamic, just like on all of Morten’s best albums.

As always, vocals are a very important part of why Arcane Astral Aeons works so well. After an impressive debut on the previous album, Emmanuelle Zoldan is even better here, sounding fully at home at this point, and she once again does an excellent job of utilizing her different vocal styles, fluidly switching between epic operatic vocals and lower clean vocals on many tracks. She mostly uses a lower register on this album, which works well and especially helps her clean vocals to stand out, as opposed to the mainly higher pitched vocals used by previous singers. A lot of the time, her vocals have a pop sensibility to them, being very smooth and carrying the melodies flawlessly, but she can get fierce at times and does powerful vocals very well. Her operatic vocals are again used in bursts and help bring a classic Sirenia feel to some tracks, along with Morten’s growls, which are again not used as much here as on older albums, but do show up from time to time, mostly in quick bursts, and they’re still just as powerful and intense as ever. I’d say he shows up slightly more than on the previous album, but perhaps still not as much as some would like. There’s also a ton of choir vocals here, as well as a couple of surprises, and everything is done very well while offering a ton of variety.

One area where I can always count on Morten to deliver is the songwriting, and if anything Arcane Astral Aeons is one of his absolute most consistent releases ever, with every song being nothing short of amazing, while still being quite varied, and each having their own amazing moments, as well as quite a few surprising moments. Opening track “In Styx Embrace” is exactly what one would expect from the band at this point, kicking off with some atmospheric keys and huge choral vocals, before the guitars kick in and it turns into a heavy, epic and upbeat track, enhanced by orchestral arrangements and some excellent operatic vocals from Emmanuelle, as well as quick flurries of growls from Morten, especially during an intense part in the middle of the track, which gives way to a beautiful softer passage, followed by an amazing, very melodic guitar solo. Overall, it’s an amazing track and the perfect way to start the album. Even better than that, though, is the stunning second single “Into the Night”, a full-on speedy symphonic power metal track, with some excellent atmospheric keys giving way to some very intense orchestral arrangements, more choirs, and some fun verses, where Emmanuelle sings more normally, but very smoothly. The chorus is the highlight, though, as it’s an excellent mix of choir vocals and Emmanuelle’s lead vocals, and it manages to be equal parts epic, beautiful and extremely catchy. The song honestly feels closer to classic Nightwish than it does to any Sirenia track, but it’s done so well and still manages to fit the album perfectly. It also has an absolutely stunning solo in the second half, that helps take it to an even higher level. My favorite on the album, and one of my personal favorites from the band, for sure.

Next is the lead single “Love Like Cyanide”, a seemingly simple track which manages to pack in a ton of ideas, all of which work surprisingly well together. The track opens with a brief tease at the very radio friendly, somewhat pop-infused chorus, before the guitars kick in and the track settles into a nice groove, with some great work from the rhythm section, while the biggest surprise of the track comes in the form of some aggressive, but non growled male vocals, performed by Beast in Black vocalist Yannis Papadopoulos, which help add an extra dimension to the track. The chorus is super catchy, and there’s an especially dark, intense growled section in the second half, leading to a complex instrumental section, and so the track manages to fulfill every criteria of what fans would expect from the band, while also throwing in a cool surprise, to help it make it another stellar track. Next is the slightly more typical “Desire”, a more classic sounding track, which has some very eerie, but cool keyboard effects leading the way, along with some very smooth, clean lead vocals. For the most part, it’s a fairly calm mid-paced track, with heavy riffs in bursts, but its biggest surprise comes in the second half, as the music suddenly becomes more theatrical, and the vocals change the style to follow suit. Eventually, Morten’s growls kick in, during a very heavy section, and so once again, the track manages to pack a lot in, while initially seeming simple and having a catchy chorus. This trend continues with “Asphysxia”, a track which starts out with an extended atmospheric softer section, before the guitars kick in and it settles into a nice groove, with heavy guitar work accompanying some creepy atmospheric keys, and some powerful lead vocals, which eventually gives way to an upbeat, super catchy chorus. It’s yet another track where the instrumental arrangements are rather complex and very eventful, filled with little tempo changes, but the vocals manage to be engaging and the chorus is super melodic and catchy, making it both challenging and accessible at the same time, in a kinda warped way.

A more classic Sirenia track follows next, with “Queen of Lies”, the most old school sounding track on the album. It still has some heavy orchestral work, but it’s a more guitar driven track overall, with some heavy riffs and a ton of atmosphere, as well as being the one track where Morten’s sinister growls lead the way, eventually paving the way for an epic, upbeat chorus where Emmanuelle uses some of her best operatic vocals. It’s a very fun and intense track, overall, and is sure to please fans of Morten’s older works. After that is the softest track on the album, “Nos Heures Sombres”, a more mid-paced, very melodic track, which has some bouncy keyboards and it very much would have fit in on The 13th Floor, is a much more accessible track, where Emmanuelle sings in French, her native language. It’s an excellent vocal showcase while being a fun and catchy track as well, with an excellent instrumental section in the second half. As expected, the band follows the softest track up with one of the heavier tracks, as “The Voyage” is a slow but hard-hitting track, filled with some crushing riffs throughout its verses, along with some very powerful, yet beautiful lead vocals, which give way to an excellent, very melodic chorus. This is one of the tracks where the instrumental work is the highlight for me, though, as the guitar work is amazing throughout, especially during the solo section in the second half, as it manages to be equal parts heavy, intense, technical and very beautiful at different points.

Moving towards the end, “Aerodyne” is another lighter track, which moves at a pretty nice pace, and the verses have a nice rhythm to them, as well as some very light, but fun vocals, while the chorus is upbeat and very catchy. It largely feels like a simpler, more accessible track, but it has some interesting passages in the second half, as first there’s a very nice acoustic section, featuring some low clean vocals from former Tristania vocalist Østen Bergøy, and then there’s a very heavy section, with some intense growls. Overall, it’s an excellent track, which again shows the many different sides of Sirenia, all in one go. Next are another fun and upbeat track in “Twilight Hours”, which has some excellent melodic lead guitar work, along with some very epic orchestral arrangements, and some excellent operatic lead vocals. The verses fly by quickly and are a lot of fun, while the chorus is epic and very catchy, again coming close to power metal territory, and the guitar solo in the second half is amazing, as expected. Closing out the album is “Growing Embers”, a slower paced track, which alternates between soft and heavy passages brilliantly. It starts off with a beautiful acoustic section before the choirs, orchestras, and guitars kick in, and it turns into a heavy, epic and very melodic track, where Emmanuelle especially shines during the chorus, with some of her most beautiful and highly emotional clean vocals on the entire album. There are a few surprises, first with a sudden fast-paced, heavy instrumental section coming towards the middle, and then with another slow, but also very heavy section later on, with some of the best riffs on the album, before the track closes off with another run through its amazing chorus. It’s an excellent track overall, and it closes out the album perfectly. There’s an edited version of “Love Like Cyanide” as a bonus track, which I personally never even listened to once, as I find the original is perfect as is, and I generally only listen to edits if I feel there’s any filler that could be cut from the original version, so I have no clue as to any differences between the two versions.

Overall, Arcane Astral Aeons is yet another excellent album from Morten Veland, and it very well may be the best Sirenia album to date! It’s certainly by far the best symphonic/gothic metal album I’ve heard in years, and it manages to deliver everything I could possibly ask for, with a perfect mix between the heavier, darker sound of older albums, along with the lighter, super catchier sound of some of the middle albums, the more complex arrangement of the previous three albums, and even a few surprises along the way. It’s certainly a very diverse and explosive album, with tons of memorable moments throughout, and it shows the band at their absolute best. Obviously, a must hear for longtime fans of Sirenia, as well as anyone looking to hear the absolute best albums in the genre, as this release certainly deserves to be mentioned alongside some of the all-time greats.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2018/11/04/sirenia-arcane-astral-aeons-review/

ALIEN WEAPONRY

Album · 2018 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 5.00 | 1 rating
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Vim Fuego
You know how thrash metal died in the early 90s, and it’s only produced rehashes of it’s glory days over and over again ever since? Yeah? Well, you don’t know shit.

In the past few years there have been a number of fresh, new, young bands revitalising the genre. Warbringer, Nervosa, Power Trip, and Vektor have done more than reanimate thrash’s mouldy corpse. Bands like these have taken the vital building blocks and constructed something new, keeping the foundations in the 80s, but the superstructure is something fresh and new. There is another name to add to that list of bands: Alien Weaponry.

Three lads of Maori descent from the Far North of New Zealand have been making a huge racket for a good few years now, and still aren’t out of their teens. For those unfamiliar with Alien Weaponry, the band is made up of brothers Lewis and Henry De Jong and their good mate Ethan Trembath, and formed in 2010. Henry was 10 and Lewis was 8. Ethan (the same age as Lewis) joined a little later, knowing Lewis from Primary school and then clown school. A former ukulele player, he got the job as bass player because he was the only one who’s arms were long enough to reach the end of a bass guitar. Yup. This is truly a 21st century band.

The martial spirit of Maori culture has been crying out for a full metal release for decades. Every Man For Himself came close with their 2010 EP “Te Pae Mahutonga”, but it was more a hardcore release steeped in self-help and wellbeing philosophy from a Maori spiritual perspective, and the lyrics were in English. “Tu” on the other hand is a bilingual tour de force.

So what’s the meaning behind “Tu”? Well, that’s open to interpretation. Maori is an expressive rather than strictly descriptive language, and meaning is often dependent on context. The album title is an example. The word tu can mean to stand, to stop, to be established, to be wounded, to remain, sort, or to take place. Which meaning is appropriate here? It’s up to the listener to decide. [Note: any translations from here on are my own interpretations and might be light years distant from what the band meant. I’m not a native Maori speaker, so any mistakes and limitations with the language are all mine. I also don’t have macrons on my keyboard, for the written language.]

Introductory first track “Whaikorero” (formal speech) opens with the eerie moan of the purerehua (bull roarer) and the otherworldly voice of the koauau (flute) accompanying the verse of the whaikorero. It is a short story about a nineteenth century encounter between the band’s ancestors and invading/colonising British forces. It was recorded in the Waipu caves, near the boys’ home, further enhancing the atmosphere. It is one of several tracks recorded by Tom Larkin, New Zealand metal royalty, better known for his role as drummer for Shihad.

And then into “Ru Ana Te Whenua” (Shaking my homeland). It starts with a chanted challenge, and then rips into an introductory riff, pounding drums, and suddenly it’s like Pantera reborn and singing in a different language. The guitars are fucking massive! The vocal melody and chanted breakdown are familiar to anyone who has experienced the Maori culture, with the call and response style chants, only it’s never been done before with chunky metal riffs and double kick bass drums.

“Holding My Breath” is written in English. It shows the maturity of songwriting of these young men. It could be considered a teen angst song, but that would be selling it well short. These lyrics apply to anyone suffering anxiety or depression at any age. This trio has already won song writing awards, competing against much older and more mature songwriters.

“Raupatu” (Conquest) goes fully political. To simplify a very complicated story, the Treaty of Waitangi is New Zealand’s founding constitutional document, a treaty signed between the British crown and Maori in 1840. There were problems right from the outset, as the treaty dealt with Maori as a united entity, when really it was a fractured, tribal society. Some tribes signed on behalf of others without their knowledge, giving away rights which weren’t theirs to give. What’s worse, there were problems in translation. The Maori word “rangatiratanga” and the English word “sovereignty” mean quite different things, but were used to mean the same thing in the treaty. The British settlers merrily confiscated huge tracts of prime land all over the country, while Maori thought of it as a loan, or thought they retained ownership. This led to armed conflict, and a number of wars between the Crown and Maori, including the massacre of unarmed civilians at Parihaka in the Taranaki region. The wars led to more confiscations by the crown, a shameless land-grab disguised as punishment. Much of the land confiscated came from tribes not even involved in the fighting. Right… Get all this straight in your head, and a lot of the songs here start to make more sense.

“Kai Tangata” (Human Food) sounds more disturbing than it really is. It’s not a Cannibal Corpse-style slasher cannibal story. It describes a pre-European war party, as they prepare for battle. Their goal is to take the enemy’s heads or liberty. Maori warriors defeated in battle expected their foes to eat their bodies, to incorporate their spirit, or to become passive slaves, who could also be killed and eaten at any time. It was a brutal, uncompromising custom, while the song veers between the brutal and the melodic.

And really, brutal but melodic is the prevailing theme for this entire album. “Rage – It Takes Over Again” could be about teen angst, online bullying, or just good old-fashioned rage-fuelled violence. “The Things That You Know” looks on the surface also like it could be another angst anthem, but a slightly deeper examination points at how some people have problems leaving behind preconceptions.

The whispers of “Whispers” are governmental promises made and broken. There is a sample of former conservative politician and reserve bank governor Don Brash (think Donald Trump minus the rampant ego and dead cat hairpiece), parroting anachronistic, patronisingly racist attitudes to Maori and their culture. Those attitudes almost brought Brash to political power in 2005. Almost… The lyrics pull no punches, in both English and Maori, and point out how the government of New Zealand does not look out for Maori interests, despite the Treaty of Waitangi.

The lyrical and musical maturity on show throughout this album belies the tender age of these three young men. For a debut album, “Tu” is highly impressive. It doesn’t go off the rails by the band trying too hard to impress. While there are a couple of missteps, these are minor issues. Thrash metal is far from dead, and has a bright future. The future has arrived already.

TERRORIZER Caustic Attack

Album · 2018 · Deathgrind
Cover art 4.62 | 3 ratings
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Vim Fuego
Back in 1989, Terrorizer showed the metal world that grindcore didn’t have to be mired in shoddy D.I.Y. hardcore production and sounds, and could have a metallic sharpness to it. The band has rightly been praised and idolized for their influence on grind and death metal. Lyrically, they straddled the line between the political early grindcore, like Napalm Death and Sore throat, and the gore and horror of early death metal, like Autopsy and Necrophagia. Terrorizer was also famed for the high levels of musicianship demonstrated too, with the Morbid Angel pairing of Pete Sandoval and David Vincent showed that simply abusing the hell out of the kick and snare drums, and distorted blown-out weren’t the only way to play grindcore. Jesse Pintado’s breakneck riffage saw him fit in perfectly to Napalm Death.

For many years, it seemed “World Downfall” would be a one-off, treasured by fans of extreme metal the world over. Until 2006 it was. And then something happened to change history. Terrorizer dared “reform” and record a second album! “Darker Days Ahead” was poorly received, and was somewhat overshadowed by Pintado dying only days after it’s release. Another album “Hordes of Zombies” was released in 2012, and a fourth album, “Caustic Attack”, arrived in 2018. The three 21st century albums have been criticised for ruining the legacy of the band, and are supposedly pale imitations of the ’89 original.

The observant reader out there might have noticed the word “reform” was in “quotation marks”. It was like that for a “reason”. The criticism levelled at the “reformed” Terrorizer, and the three subsequent “albums” really is moronic. It is proof that those voicing these criticisms are elitist fools of the highest level, and have no idea of the true legacy of Terrorizer. A bold claim? Perhaps. But then, consider this:

TERRORIZER BROKE UP IN 1988.

Yep. There was no such band as Terrorizer in 1989 when “World Downfall” was released. What’s more, some of the songs on “World Downfall” weren’t even Terrorizer songs. Explanation time.

After Terrorizer broke up, Sandoval joined Morbid Angel, and vocalist Oscar Garcia continued to work with his other band Nausea. Bass player Alfred Estrada ended up in jail. Enter one Shane Embury. Napalm Death’s four string grind maestro Embury loved Terrorizer’s demos and the split they had shared with the aforementioned Nausea. He pestered Earache Record’s main man Dig Pearson into funding a posthumous Terrorizer album. And the rest is history? Well, not quite. There was the matter of recording the album.

Sandoval was ensconced in Morrisound Studios in Florida, busy recording Morbid Angel’s incendiary debut “Altars of Madness”. Garcia and Pintado arrived at the studios to put the album together. Busting Estrada out of jail was a bit beyond the resources of the band, so Sandoval’s band mate Vincent was pulled in to cover bass and some vocal duties. Right so time to rip into it? Er, not quite… Garcia had also played guitar in the original Terrorizer, but realised he couldn’t remember how to play most of the songs. No matter, Pintado had that covered. And away we go… almost. There weren’t actually enough Terrorizer songs to fill an album. What to do? Well, why not borrow some Nausea songs. So they did. Eight hours in the studio, with Vincent and Scott Burns twiddling the knobs in the studio, and “World Downfall” and Terrorizer were done.

So, a band which no longer existed recorded a single album of songs that weren’t even all theirs in super quick time, and what happened? Well, basically everyone fucked off to their respective new gigs, “World Downfall” hit the shelves, and extreme metal fans went mad for it.

So, back to the present day. 29 years after the band’s debut, a fourth Terrorizer album has arrived. There will be the usual naysayers and elitists going on about how it won’t be as good as the original, and that present day Terrorizer isn’t Terrorizer, that it’s a cash-in, a rip-off, a fake, or whatever else. Let them fester in their smug elitist stink. Anyone who takes the time to actually listen to “Caustic Attack” will be rewarded with what Terrorizer has always produced – sharp, intelligent metallic grindcore which is both thought provoking and fun at the same time.

The biggest difference between “Caustic Attack” and “World Downfall” is the improvement in production and sound quality. While “World Downfall” set new standards for grindcore clarity, “Caustic Attack” is sharper still.

Sandoval’s performance in particular is stunning. He has more room to explore looser high speed rhythms than he did in Morbid Angel. Three decades have not dulled the man’s skills in the slightest. From the first moments of lead-off track “Turbulence” he’s straight into his trademark machinegun double kick drums and rattling the snare like a man possessed. What is also instantly obvious is that the trademark Terrorizer riffs are there in bucketloads, and that the new line-up of Sandoval, bassist/vocalist Sam Molina and guitarist Lee Harrison are a match of any previous line-up of the band.

In the past, Terrorizer has mainly produced on short songs, with only a few making it past the three minute mark. Hell, the legendary “Dead Shall Rise” only just clocked past that mark at 3:05. This time out, there are a few longer songs. Does it mean the band has slowed down at all? Nah, you definitely haven’t been paying attention. Five songs come in over four minutes long. This is not a bad thing at all. It just means there’s more Terrorizer to savour. “Crisis” is the first of the longer tracks, but it doesn’t seem like it.

That’s not to say that the hardcore blasts of the past have disappeared either. The title track and “Poison Gas Tsunami” are sharp and, well, caustic and leave the listener salivating for more.

There’s nothing groundbreaking or new on offer here. That is not why you listen to Terrorizer, because the band broke that ground already, in 1989. This is simply the fourth installment from a highly influential band which never managed to record an album in it’s original incarnation. Anyone unable to get past that is a fool to themselves. Extreme metal, grindcore, deathgrind, or whatever other label you want to slap on this band, simply doesn’t get much better than this.

ANAL TRUMP The First 100 Songs

Boxset / Compilation · 2018 · Grindcore
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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Vim Fuego
Grindcore has a reputation for covering some really sick shit sometimes. Shit is the preferred thematic matter for many bands, but there’s other subjects, like sexual perversion, necro-sadism, extreme violence, and all manner of gore, viscera, bodily functions and excretions, and general dark fucked-upped-ness which pervade the various grind subgenres. However, look back at grindcore’s roots, at bands like Napalm Death, Sore Throat, or Electro-Hippies, and what was a big chunk of the subject matter? It was politics.

Back in the day, it was raging against Thatcher and Reagan. Today, chaotic grind duo Anal Trump has realised that the sickest shit going now is the one man idiot show of the current American president.*

“The First 100 Songs” is unashamedly political. It was released on the day of the 2018 mid-term elections. It is a compilation of Anal Trump’s previous EPs, with 30 new songs added. All 100 are “songs” in the same way that namesake Anal Cunt’s “5643 Song EP” really has 5643 songs. These are short, chaotic, incoherent blasts of noise lasting anywhere from fractions of a second to a few seconds. If you sit and watch carefully, your media player might show you when one song ends and another begins, but you’re not going to hear it yourself. It’s all done in about 11 minutes. The song and EP titles are politically biting and highly offensive, but the most offensive thing about them is a lot of them came directly from Donald Trump’s own mouth. Just to remind you of how repulsive a human being Trump actually is, this is interspersed with samples of The Donald, in all his grammatically incorrect, politically illiterate, and morally reprehensible glory.

The duo of Travis Trump and Rob Trump are not doing this for money. Both have day jobs in real bands. Any profits from previous recordings have gone to various socially worthy charities.# “The First 100 Songs” is pure novelty and sick parody. Shit, even the cover has a picture of Trump’s face attached to a naked fat masturbating body. It can’t be taken seriously, but it’s making a serious statement. This is shit which needs saying, sadly, because it needs saying.

*Please note these are my own opinions of the person elected to lead the American people, and in no way reflect the attitudes, opinions, or editorial stance, of Metal Music Archives – V.F.

#As at time of writing it’s unclear if any profits are going to a charity this time, but personally I’d suspect so – V.F.

MAYAN Dhyana

Album · 2018 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.90 | 6 ratings
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Kev Rowland
It has taken four years for MaYaN to come back with their third album, and given I was such a major fan of ‘Antagonise’ I was intrigued to see what they were going to come up with. That album took symphinc death metal to a new level, but I don’t think anyone expected them to record the next album with a full orchestra (The City of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra) and five singers! Jack Driessen and Mark Jansen are still at the helm of the multi-headed beast they have created, and their vision really knows no bounds. This is over the top, epic, cinematic, majestic, and quite incredible.

The orchestra has taken on many of the roles originally provided by keyboards, which gives the music more power and depth, with real brass and strings striving to be heard, really driving the symphonic element. Then this is combined with metal which refuses to take prisoners, moving between commercial elements and death with ease. Add into the mix some incredible female vocals combining with both rock vocals and death vocals, and it creates something very special indeed. It isn’t possible to fathom where the music is going to lead as they switch it up so much, with a full on death attack suddenly being replaced by a very high female soprano with just piano for accompaniment. This is the likes of Dimmu Borgir being taken to a whole new level, and then just when it feels that it couldn’t become more bombastic we are treated to the title cut with stunning female vocals and picked acoustic guitar with a cello coming in for support. It builds and builds, and shows both restraint and total understanding for contrast and dynamics, light and shade.

In some ways this band was originally almost an offshoot of Epica and After Forever, but the child has superseded the parents, as yet again MaYaN have released an album of incredible complexity and power which is simply stunning.

KORPIKLAANI Kulkija

Album · 2018 · Folk Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 2 ratings
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Kev Rowland
Three years on from their last, Finnsih Folk Metallers Korpiklanni are back with their tenth album ‘Kulkija’, which means ‘Wanderer’. The band state that this album is the closest to their on stage sound, as for tracking they used their tour set up, so will be able to easily perform all of this live. As well as being their longest album to date, in many ways it is also a concept as the wanderer of the album title appears in every song, with each track representing one of his life experiences. For example, opening song “Neito” (which translates to “Maiden”) is about his woman. The road is a wanderer’s bride, a maiden who he misses and who he travels with. However, the real maiden is waiting for his return home. After a journey you may bury your carriage, but the wistful traveller’s songs and music will be carried where it lies. A traveller was born to wander.

It must be said that I am not always a great fan of the folk metal genre, as it often feels that both sides suffer, but this album is definitely one of those where it all works together incredibly well. Far more folk than “just” folk metal, the album has a musical continuity which allows it all to hang together, and although there are times when they allow themselves some metallic guitar, for the most part this feels far more about a logical progression of a musical form as opposed to two opposing styles being brought crashing together. There is a great deal here that pure folkies will find to enjoy, especially with the lyrical violin and the delicate accordion, and one has to wonder what metalheads will think of it. I can imagine this album getting far more play at Cropredy than Wacken, although for some reason I am sure there is more chance of them playing at the latter than the former. Of all their albums I own, this is the one to which I will most often be returning.

ORION'S REIGN Scores of War

Album · 2018 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.88 | 4 ratings
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DippoMagoo
There are some bands I will follow for a while before hearing anything substantial from them, just out of the sheer promise they show in bursts. The most recent case of this is Greek symphonic power metal band Orion’s Reign. The band has been around for over thirteen years, releasing their debut Nuclear Winter in 2008, but they had escaped my attention completely until a few years ago when I saw one of their many yearly Christmas music videos. These tracks have always been equal parts silly, epic and just plain entertaining, and so when I heard the band was working on a new album in their current form, I was excited to see what they would be capable when writing their own material. Now that Scores of War is here, it’s safe to say, the band has shattered all my expectations, and delivered one of the absolute best power metal albums of the year!

Fans of the genre should have a good idea of what kind of material to expect here, as this is very much fantasy themed symphonic power metal in its most epic form, with the main focus being on symphonic keys and orchestras, with guitars serving mostly as rhythm for any sections, though when they do come to the front of the sound, they can be quite strong, with some classic heavy metal leads at times, in the vein of classic Maiden, as well as some excellent shredding solos. For the most part, though, it’s the symphonic arrangements and drums that carry the songs, and both of these elements are very well done, with the drums doing an excellent job in setting the pace, while the orchestral elements and symphonic keys are grand, sweeping and epic in every possible way, at times creating the atmosphere of a film score. There’s occasionally the use of folk elements as well, such as fiddles and bagpipes. While there’s always a lot going on, with most tracks containing multiple layers of orchestral elements, everything works together perfectly, and the actual songs are fairly straight-forward and always engaging. There’s also quite a bit of variety in the songs here, with the expected speedy power metal tracks being balanced out by a couple slower tracks, including a ballad, as well as a couple more folk-influenced songs, and other surprises. The album always manages to stay fresh and consistently amazing from start to finish. Performances are excellent all around, and production was handled by Jens Bergen, who did an excellent job as always.

The band has gone through a few lineup changes over the years, with their latest addition being vocalist Daniel Vasconcelos, who joined in 2015. For a while, the band had no vocalist and was just using guests for their various singles, but now with Dan in the group, they are ready to forge ahead. Thankfully, Dan is an excellent vocalist, with a rather deep and powerful voice, which fits the music perfectly. His vocals are often theatrical, somewhat operatic, and fit in well with the overall epic feel of the album, adding an extra layer to everything. He can sometimes get a bit more intense and uses some falsetto every one in a while, to great effect. There’s also a ton of choir vocals throughout the album, which are used quite effectively, as well as a few guests, who I’ll mention in the song by song descriptions.

Having only heard the band performing covers coming into this album, I was interested in seeing what their songwriting skills were like. Needless to say, they do not disappoint, as every song on Scores of War is fantastic in its own way, as the album manages to be both varied and consistently amazing the whole way through. Things kick off with the super epic opener “Elder Blood”, which starts off with an epic orchestral section, accompanied by choral vocals, before the metal instruments and Dan eventually kick in, and then the song speeds up and turns into an epic speedy symphonic power metal track, with excellent verses, an even better chorus, and some excellent rhythm guitar work throughout, as well as an excellent solo. Next is “Together We March”, another speedy track, where the symphonic elements are very prevalent throughout, with guitars mostly serving as rhythm, though they do so effectively. The song has fun verses and another strong chorus, this time with some excellent guest vocals from Tim “Ripper Owns”, who uses his signature falsetto vocals throughout the verses and chorus. There’s also an extremely epic vocal section in the second half, giving way to a great guitar solo, and overall it’s an absolutely wonderful track.

The first slower track is “Gravewalker”, another very epic track, dominated by symphonic elements and choir vocals. The verses are slow but have some rather hard-hitting guitar work, as well as some excellent orchestral sounds, and the chorus is huge, with Dan accompanied by some very epic choir vocals, making for one of the catchiest and most engaging choruses on the album. The track gets intense in the middle for a while, with a great instrumental section, and overall it’s one of my personal favorites here. The highlights keep coming with lead single “The Undefeated Gaul”, one of the fastest, hardest hitting tracks on the album. The riffs are extra aggressive here, and Dan gets very intense during the verses, giving way to a catchy, but frantic and very heavy chorus, which eventually leads to the heaviest instrumental section on the album, with some great shredding guitars. It’s a wild and intense track but still manages to be very epic and fun at the same time. Speaking of fun, “Adventure Song” is a slightly lighter but still fast-paced track, with some excellent choir vocals throughout. It has the vibe of a tavern song and features various folk instruments throughout, that give it the feel of a classic folk song, except with heavy guitars. It’s a fast, melodic and very catchy song, and certainly one of the cheeriest metal songs you’ll ever hear, with an especially great instrumental section, where several different folk instruments are used. The band returns to a more familiar symphonic power metal territory with “Freedom is not Negotiable, which has slow verses, but a fast and intense chorus, filled with more epic choir vocals, and as well as another intense instrumental section with some very heavy guitar work.

Another change of pace comes with “Nostos”, a very melodic mid-paced track, with a slight folk feel to it. The symphonic elements are dominant once again, and it’s a very light, upbeat track with some amazing vocal melodies throughout. It serves as a duet between Dan and Youtube cover vocalist Minniva, who had previously worked with the band on their past few Christmas carols. She fits the track perfectly, with very light but powerful vocals, that capture the vibe of the music wonderfully, and her higher vocals serve as a perfect contrast to Dan’s deeper voice, making them a great duo. The chorus is probably the catchiest and most engaging on the album, and overall it’s simply a wonderful track, and probably my favorite on the album. Next is “Warrior’s Pride”, a faster, more classic power metal feeling track. Guitars lead the way through most of the track, with heavy, driving riffs, and the chorus is fun and catchy, without being quite as grand as usual. The symphonic elements are still there but feel a bit less prominent than usual, and overall it’s a very fast and heavy track, with the occasional growls thrown in for some extra flavor. The lone ballad here is “Withering Heart”, which starts out as a soft piano ballad, but gradually develops into something much more epic, with a great use of choirs and orchestral elements, as well as having by the best vocals from Dan on the entire album, as he really steals the show, especially during the final run-through of the chorus, where he goes all out and absolutely nails it. One last speedy track is “Last Stand”, which certainly feels like the kind of song Rhapsody of Fire would have released in their prime. It’s very fast, intense and makes great use of symphonic elements, while still having some pretty heavy rhythm guitar work, as well as an excellent keyboard solo in the second half, performed by Firewind’s Bob Katsionis. Most vocals on the track are performed by Mark Boals, who does a great job as always, especially during an epic vocal section right at the end, which feels like it could have been a perfect end to the album. Instead, the band chose to close the album out with “Ride Into War”, a slow but very epic track, with a very classic Maiden vibe to the guitar work. It starts out with some classical piano, and stays soft and theatrical for a while before the guitars kick in and that classic heavy metal feel takes over for a while. It’s another very epic track, with great guitar work and an excellent chorus, and it does a nice job of alternating between soft and heavy sections throughout, making it an appropriate ending track.

Overall, Scores of War is an incredible album, from a band I had been following for a while to see if their original material could live up to their cover work. It’s safe to say, Orion’s Reign has not only lived up to my expectations, but they have also completely shattered them, and have produced the best symphonic power metal album of the year, as well as one of the best in recent years. It’s a consistently excellent album, with nicely varied songwriting, a great use of symphonic elements, and excellent guest vocals on a few tracks. Highly recommended for any power metal fan looking for something especially epic, as well as symphonic power metal fans looking for something similar to Rhapsody of Fire at their best, while still doing more than enough to stand out.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2018/10/19/orions-reign-scores-of-war-review/

DIRE PERIL The Extraterrestrial Compendium

Album · 2018 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.75 | 4 ratings
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DippoMagoo
American power metal band Dire Peril is a group I have known of for over four years, first hearing their second EP Queen of the Galaxy back in 2014, but they had never made such an impression on me up until now. First off, a lot has changed since my initial experience with the band. For three EP’s, mastermind Jason Ashcraft had been working with a full band, including Imagika vocalist Norman Skinner. I only heard the one aforementioned release and found it to be solid, but unspectacular. However, in 2015, Jason took some time away from the band, before eventually regrouping and decided to work as a duo, bringing in Judicator vocalist John Yelland. I have experience with both current members of the band from other projects, discovering Jason’s other band, Helion Prime with their solid self-titled released in 2016, as well as hearing John in three different bands, with the most recent Judicator release, The Last Emperor, being one of my favorite power metal releases of 2018. With these two working together, along with some guest musicians, and two major guest vocalists, I was excited to see if Dire Peril could finally reach their full potential. Now that their full-length debut, The Extraterrestrial Compendium, has arrived, it’s safe to say I won’t be forgetting about this band again any time soon!

Based on the EP I had heard, the band had initially been more of an all-out aggressive power/thrash band, where The Extraterrestrial Compendium is a much more varied, more challenging and more dynamic release. There’s definitely still traces of thrash in many of the riffs, particularly on tracks like “Total Recall” and “Roughnecks”, but there’s also a surprising amount of softer sections, including two ballads, as well as a fair amount of classic heavy metal guitar work, which often brings to mind classic Iron Maiden. I can definitely see the aforementioned band, as well as Iced Earth, being two major influences on this release, but there’s certainly enough fresh ideas here for the album to stand on its own. For the most part, this is an album full of hard hitting, fast paced power metal, with the guitars being the main focus, and often being very aggressive as well as quite technical. Jason’s lead guitar work is excellent throughout the release, and there are also several solos from guest musicians, which are all very well done. This is a very heavy album overall, but it strikes a perfect balance between more intense passages and calmer passages, sometimes within the same track, or sometimes with some very wise track placements. Songwriting is excellent all around, sometimes being direct and instantly engaging, other times being a bit more subtle, and there’s a couple tracks with some slight prog leanings, particular the closing track “Journey Beyond the Stars”. The key, though, is that each song is amazing in its own right, and they all flow nicely together. There’s an overall concept, with each track featuring lyrics based on classic Sci-Fi films, such as Predator, E.T., Starship Troopers and 2001: A Space Odyssey.

One reason I wasn’t overly thrilled by Queen of the Galaxy back in 2014, was former vocalist Norman Skinner, whose voice and style just didn’t match my tastes at all, and so I struggled with most of the vocal parts. Thankfully, that is not an issue here, as I’ve been a fan of John Yelland since I first heard him with Disforia, back in 2011, and his vocals have only improved greatly ever since then. While I’ve enjoyed his vocals on the past few Judicator albums, I think his performance on this album is by far his best to date, as he gets to show more aspects of his voice than ever before, and he does an excellent job throughout. His usual, super smooth mid-range vocals are in full effect here, but he also gets to sing a lot deeper than normal on many of the thrashier sections, singing very powerfully and fitting the music perfectly, and he also throws in some epic falsettos from time to time. On the ballads, he sings softer than usual, and puts a lot of emotion into his performance, to help enhance the songs. Overall, this is easily the best, most dynamic performance I’ve ever heard from him.

While I wasn’t overly fond of the vocals on the one EP I heard in the past, I found the songwriting to be fairly enjoyable, and so I was hoping Jason could do a great job of writing songs for a full-length album, especially now that he was working with a singer I prefer. It’s safe to say, he succeeded big time, as the songwriting on this release is both consistently excellent and quite varied, managing to keep me fully engaging throughout, without ever feeling predictable. Opening track “Yuatja (Hunter Culture)” gets things off to a great start, opening with some nice classic heavy metal guitar leads, before picking up the pace and turning into a full throttle, hard-hitting power/thrash track, which definitely brings Iced Earth to mind, in the best way possible. It’s a fast-paced track, with some very good thrashy riffs, and John instantly gets to show off some deep and powerful vocals, which give way to an epic chorus, where some of those classic heavy metal leads return, and then they become a focus once again during a great solo section. It’s an awesome track overall, with a perfect blend of power/thrash and classic heavy metal. Speaking of heavy metal, the next track, “Planet Preservation” has quite a bit of that, especially during its epic, slow but very melodic chorus, where the guitars have a strong Maiden influence to them. Throughout the verses, it’s a slow paced, hard-hitting crusher of a track, but it opens up big time for an amazing chorus. Next is “Enemy Mine”, which starts off with some nice soft guitar work, before settling into a nice rhythm, moving at a somewhat fast pace, without ever fully going all out. It’s a more mid-paced track, with some hard-hitting riffs and powerful vocals throughout the verses, which lead into another very melodic and catchy chorus. In fact, it’s one of the more fun choruses on the album, for sure, and the extended guitar solo is also quite strong.

The first big change of pace comes next with “The Visitor”, the first of two ballads on the album. It’s a largely acoustic track, which moves along at a nice pace, with some very soft yet very emotional vocals from John, where he pushes for some higher notes during the chorus, and does a great job, as always. The song manages to stay engaging throughout and ends with some excellent guitar work and some very powerful vocals, which help bring the song to the next level. Following that track, the pace picks up considerably for the next while, starting with “Total Recall”, an all-out speedy power/thrash assault, based on the film of the same name. It’s one of the heaviest, most furious tracks on the album, with blistering lead guitar work and a great, super fun chorus. Next is “Queen of the Galaxy”, a song I had heard before, as it was the title track of that particular EP. It’s a mid-paced, slightly upbeat track with some nice melodic guitar leads, fun verses and a very melodic, super catchy chorus, which certainly works much better now, with John singing it. Throughout the verses and chorus, John is accompanied by Unleash the Archers vocalist Brittney Slayes (who was also on the original version) and the two sound great together, with the latter lending her powerful, yet super smooth vocals to the track. Next is another fast and furious track in “Roughnecks”, which if anything is even more intense than “Total Recall”, as John uses some crazy falsetto vocals during the verses, and the riffs are just as fast and as violent sounding as ever. It’s definitely an extremely fun, if brief, track, and it sure packs in a ton of energy and power within a short amount of time. From shortest to second longest we go, as “Blood in the Ice” is next, and it’s a sort of mini-epic, based on The Thing. It has a very thick atmosphere to it, starting off with some soft but slightly sinister acoustic guitar work, before picking up the pace and turning into an epic, hard-hitting progressive power metal track, with some more excellent guitar work. It largely moves at more of a mid-paced tempo, before going all out for another very fun, super catchy chorus. There’s a lot of tempo changes throughout, as well as some extended softer passages, which are very effective, and help make the heavier passages all the more effective, by providing a great contrast. Overall, it’s definitely one of the best tracks on the album, as well as one of the most epic, and the vocals are very dynamic and absolutely terrific throughout.

Moving towards the home stretch, lead single “Heart of the Furyan”, again starts off with some dark, soft guitar work, before quickly speeding up and turning into another all-out power/thrash assault. It’s another very hard hitting, blazing fast track, with aggressive verses and a very melodic, epic chorus, again doing an excellent job of mixing together thrashy riffs, epic solos, and some great melodic leads. The highlights keep coming with “Altair IV” The Forbidden Planet”, another fast-paced track, which again has some great melodic leads. It never quite gets as intense as some of the other faster songs, but it still has some great guitar work throughout, as well as bursts of aggressive riffs, and another strong chorus, as well as an outstanding guitar solo. The second ballad of the album is “Always Right Here”, where the guitar work has a very Metallica feel to it, starting out very soft, yet kinda cold, before slowing building up to an intense and epic chorus. John again does an excellent job, and it’s yet another excellent track, with an amazing guitar solo from Christian Münzner.

My most anticipated track going in was 9 minutes closer, “Journey Beyond the Stars”, not just because I tend to love epic length tracks, but also because it features Ayreon mastermind Arjen Lucassen, who provides some guitar work, as well as some lead vocals. It is indeed the most progressive track here, starting out with an extended instrumental section, before settling into a calm, slow pace. It’s a fairly slow paced song throughout, with some extended softer passages, and it has another very melodic, fantastic chorus early. Around the midway point, there’s a sequence with some intense guitar work, and from there the song changes a bit, becoming a bit heavier, while still maintaining a fairly slow pace. It’s a track filled will some great instrumental work as well as a great chorus, but I was most interested in Arjen’s contributions, and as a fan of his singing, who has been disappointed with how little he’s been using his voice in recent years, I must say this track had me absolutely thrilled from the first time I heard it! Arjen gets to sing quite a bit, using his soft, warm voice during the early parts, before getting a bit more intense in the second half, singing with more intensity than I’m used to hearing from him, and it works wonderfully. John is, of course, fantastic as always, and overall, it’s definitely an amazing track in its own right, as well as being a perfect way to end the album.

Sometimes, a band I expect very little from at one point in time will go all to produce something truly amazing in the future, and that is exactly what has happened with Dire Peril! When I first heard the band in 2014, I saw some potential for greatness, but I wasn’t sure if they could ever fully get there. With their full-length debut, The Extraterrestrial Compendium, they have gone above and beyond my expectations, producing one of the best power metal albums of the year, which manages to be both very dynamic and consistently engaging throughout. I especially recommend it for fans of the harder hitting, more guitar driven side of power metal, as there’s a ton of thrash influence here, as well as a fair bit of classic heavy metal and some slight prog leanings. Everything is done well, with vocalist John Yelland giving the best performance of his career, and overall, it’s an amazing album from start to finish.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2018/11/10/dire-peril-the-extraterrestrial-compendium-review/

MONSTER MAGNET Mindfucker

Album · 2018 · Stoner Rock
Cover art 2.50 | 1 rating
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Kingcrimsonprog
Mindfucker is the tenth proper full-length studio album (if you aren’t counting redux albums and compilations). It was released on Napalm Records and released in 2018, 5 years after Last Patrol, which was the longest gap the band have had between albums to date, but the line-up stayed the same as last time.

To my mind, Monster Magnet have never made a bad album. Even their least popular album, 4-Way Diablo has my favourite ever Monster Magnet song (‘Wall Of Fire’) on it. But I do have to say that this album has been out for over half a year now and try as I might, I just can’t get into it.

Now there’s nothing majorly wrong with it per sae. It is well produced. The songs are pleasant. Nothing overstays its welcome. Nothing is bad or stupid. Nothing sounds wrong or doesn’t fit the band’s style. Everything is functional. But that’s it.

Usually, there are major moments to write home about. There are usually lyrics that make me want to tell my friends about. There are usually riffs that I want to air guitar to. There are usually inventive things the band haven’t done before. There’s usually more joy in the performance. Generally, there’s usually…more.

That’s not to say the album is worthless, ‘Brainwashed’ for example is very fun, and sounds like its tapping into the same jangly ’60s influence that ‘Dreaming Of You’ by The Coral is, only faster. ‘Want Some’ has some energy to it and would be your typical Monster Magnet rocker that they have pumping out since the fifth album. The opener and the title track are passable too.

The thing is though, its not enough. Its just an ok album. Perfectly fine. If it was your first Monster Magnet album you’d probably like it. But then when you get the other records, and you hear ‘Kiss Of The Scorpion,’ or ‘See You In Hell’ or ‘Black Balloon’ afterwards, then you’d probably shit a brick! ”Wow, how did that ok band release such amazing material!?” you would find yourself asking.

If you love the band and have to have everything they put out. Sure get it. If you just want to support the band and keep them on the road, get it. If you have limited funds and can only afford to buy the best, then maybe skip this particular entry in the history of the bull god. This band have released some of the best material in the genre ever, and you should start with their better material first.

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