Metal Music Reviews (new releases)

QUIET RIOT One Night In Milan

Live album · 2019 · Glam Metal
Cover art 2.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
One night in 1981, I made my way to a hotel, to see the band who was playing there. When I got in I walked up to the incredibly small stage, looked at the complete backline of floor to ceiling Marshalls, looked at the size of the amps either side of the stage, then checked again just how high the ceiling was (not very), and knew it was going to be loud, very loud. At 11pm four ex-skinheads from Wolverhampton took to the tiny stage, and promptly tore it up. There will only ever be one Slade, a band that wrote hit after hit, and were metalheads through and through. Quiet Riot have made a career on trying to be Slade, and within the 15 songs on offer there are two Slade covers, but neither are as good as the original. To be honest, Quiet Riot aren’t as good as Quiet Riot used to be, and then with a sound engineer who has gone missing in action the result is a mess.

The line-up features both Frankie Banali on drums and bassist Chuck Wright, who both performed on ‘Metal Health’, guitarist Alex Grossi, who has been in the band for 14 years and new singer James Durbin, who was on 'American Idol' during the tenth season. This doesn’t feel like a live album, more like a good quality bootleg, and it is obvious there has been no “cleaning up” whatsoever. The drums are way too high in the mix, so much so that Banali is often more to the fore than Durbin. Durbin has a good rock voice, just needs to understand his stage patter was out of date in the Eighties, let alone now, and I could quite happily go without hearing him shouting to the crowd, saying how amazing Franke Banalie is etc.

There aren’t many highlight to be fair, as this is an album to be endured as opposed to enjoyed. “Thunderbird” is performed with a piano for the first time since it was recorded, but the Slade songs don’t hit home as they should, “Bang Your Head” doesn’t have the power it deserves (I still have the single I bought at the time!), and the rest are, well, not something to be proud of. The sound is not nearly as clear as it should be, the audience microphones are missing in action, as are the backing vocals, but the drums are always there. Pass.

FALLUJAH Undying Light

Album · 2019 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 2.79 | 3 ratings
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UMUR
"Undying Light" is the 4th full-length studio album by US, California based metal act Fallujah. The album was released through Nuclear Blast Records in March 2019. It´s the successor to "Dreamless" from 2016 and features two lineup changes since the predecessor as guitarist Brian James has left (and hasn´t been replaced making Fallujah a four-piece on this release), and lead vocalist Alex Hofmann who has been replaced by Antonio Palermo.

Fallujah have changed their style a lot over the years, starting out a technical deathcore act and later shifting to an atmospheric technical/progressive death metal style, and "Undying Light" sees Fallujah changing things again. With Palermo on board the vocal style is now fully fledged aggressive metalcore screaming, and there are no traces of the band´s deathcore/death metal past in the vocals anymore. While the music still features heavy riffs and rhythms, there is also very little in the instrumental department of the album which reveal Fallujah´s deathcore/death metal beginnings. The music is now best described as atmospheric metalcore with heavy angular riffs. The only trace of death metal is the melodic death metal riff featured on "Sanctuary".

The band are well playing and the sound production is clear, professional, and detailed, so on most parameters "Undying Light" is a quality release. The songwriting is very generic though. There´s nothing on this album you haven´t heard before, and unfortunately also heard better. Some of Fallujah´s past releases have been pretty intriguing combinations of atmosphere and heaviness, but this time around the band haven´t managed to produce enough memorable riffs and vocal hooks for the material to stick. Upon conclusion "Undying Light" isn´t a terrible release, but it´s not a particularly remarkable one either. A 3 star (60%) rating is warranted.

SAVAGE MESSIAH Demons

Album · 2019 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Nightfly
I’ve read a few things about Demons, the new Savage Messiah album and previous release Hands Of Fate, that make the point that after starting their career as thrash metal hopefuls and making a pretty good job of it, that they have in recent years adopted a more mainstream heavy metal stance. It has been seen as a somewhat backwards step and they are the worse for it. Firstly I find this idea total bollocks. Not that the above is not true but the view that heavy metal is somehow inferior to thrash metal. Now I like thrash as much as the next man but I equally have a fondness for well-played heavy metal and Demons is certainly that.

The album kicks off with Virtue Signal and after a power metal infused start retreats into more typical heavy metal. It packs considerable punch as well as plenty of melody. Next track What Dreams May Come is probably a contender as an example of what the naysayers are getting at. Nevertheless despite its mainstream leanings it’s a likeable enough song with a strong melody. The band occupies similar territory in other songs on the album such as Parachute, The Lights Are Going Out and Until The Shadows Fall, but they’re all played with conviction and not a weak one amongst them. There are still plenty of songs that kick ass and whilst this is primarily a heavy metal record thrash infused riffs are still evident at times even if they may not dominate whole songs. Pick of the bunch would be Heretic In The Modern World, Under No Illusions, Down And Out and Rise Then Fall, all with strong hooks and melodies without sacrificing power.

The band are all good players with a nod to drummer Charly Carreton who gives a fine performance with plenty of inventive fills and rhythmic shifts. Their ace up the sleeve comes in vocalist Dave Silver, a great metal/rock singer in the traditional sense. Kind of a Jon Bon Jovi for metal with more balls. Yes, good clean vocals are hard to beat.

While I’m not overly familiar with all Savage Messiah’s albums I’m enjoying Demons as much as any of them I’ve heard. If traditional heavy metal is your thing you really ought to check this out and I’m definitely going to go back and check out those albums I’ve missed in their back catalogue.

VENOM Storm the Gates

Album · 2018 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 1.75 | 2 ratings
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Kev Rowland
What were you doing in 1979? Me, I was 16 years old and desperate to discover more about the new metal movement which was literally sweeping the UK at the time, and at the forefront of that was the magazine Sounds. I and many others used to get it every week (grief, a weekly music newspaper, we were so lucky) and devour what Deaf Barton was discovering, and although I was sending off for records from bands, by far my favourite label was Neat Records in Newcastle. They had so many incredible bands, with my favourite probably being Raven, and then they had Venom. I can’t have been the only one wondering what on earth was going on with these guys, creating sounds an image which was like none other. Those first three albums are some of the most important ever release in the history of metal, spawning sub genres like no others, and it felt as if Cronos, Abaddon and Mantas could do no wrong.

Of course, since then there has been a rather convoluted band history, but for the most part Cronos has been there belting his bass and providing his vocals, while guitarist Rage and drummer Danté have been by his side for the last ten years. I wasn’t too sure of Venom the first time I heard their music, but over the years have become a firm fan and was relishing listening to this. However, when one realises that easily the best thing about the album is the cover art, then we’re in trouble. Let’s talk about the production, or rather let’s not – the reason bands used to sound bad was due to poor equipment and not enough money, surely no-one these days deliberately goes out of their way to record something that sounds like this? Songs. Yes, there are songs, but they are boring without and fire and are way too repetitive. It almost feels as if there was an album which had to be recorded, so let’s get it done and get back out onto the festival circuit before Venom Inc. (featuring Mantas, Demolition Man (Tony Dolan) and Kling (Abaddon left last year)) steal all the thunder and bookings. On the basis of this, it may be too late.

POSSESSED Revelations of Oblivion

Album · 2019 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.55 | 2 ratings
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Nightfly
Regarded by many to have spawned the death metal genre, Seven Churches, the debut album from Possessed released way back in 1985, whether you agree with that or not was certainly a brilliant and highly influential album. Whilst not bad by any means the follow up Beyond The Gates saw the band retreating into more standard thrash territory. Apart from an EP in 1987 that was pretty much it. Although active again as a live band since 2007 it’s taken some time but finally thirty three years later Possessed are back with a new album though vocalist Jeff Becerra is the sole remaining member of the original band.

The new Possessed remain largely true to the band’s sound of old but whilst Seven Churches despite being generally well played could be a bit sloppy in places. Not surprisingly, the new band come across as much tighter having the benefit of time and modern recording and production techniques at their disposal not to mention being great musicians. After a short intro the album kicks off proper with No More Room In Hell, a song I’d heard a while back being released as a pre-album taster. It comes in all guns blazing, fast with razor sharp and extremely busy guitar riffs. Equal parts death metal and thrash it’s a brilliant statement on intent. Becerra whose vocals are better than they ever were has assembled a fine band that does the Possessed name justice. Guitarists Daniel Gonalez and Claudeous Creamer’s riffs twist and turn with power and precision as well as playing some jaw dropping solos – these guys can shred with the best of them, drummer Emilio Marquez lets rip with a barrage of fast fills and rolling double kicks and bassist Robert Cardenas provides a solid but highly dextrous bottom end.

Hearing this a while back and being mightily impressed had led me to expect great things from the album to come. Fortunately I wasn’t to be disappointed as whilst there’s not really anything here that tops No More Room In Hell much of the rest of the album is as good or not far behind, following track Dominion being a case in point keeping things going at the same breakneck tempo and displaying equal precision. This is the case for most of the album with the tempo rarely slowing down and when it does like on Demon it’s never for a whole song. Faults? None really but at fifty four minutes it’s quite an exhausting listen with little variation in tempo so perhaps a couple of songs shorter might have worked better, but a minor issue.

Some may consider it sacrilege but I believe Possessed have not only equalled their debut, but actually bettered it. This is going to be up there with my albums of the year for sure come December. Hopefully it won’t be another thirty three years before we get another one.

METAL CHURCH Damned If You Do

Album · 2018 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 4.27 | 7 ratings
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Kev Rowland
With Mike Howe back in the band, there has been a renewed sense of purpose and vigour and following on from a live album in 2017 the band came back in 2018 with another studio release. There has been a change in the ranks, as the band parted ways with drummer Jeff Plate who felt he could no longer commit the time required, and after touring with Stet Howland (ex-WASP) behind the kit he is now a full-time member of the band. He has slotted right in and this is in many ways a straightforward continuation from ‘XI’. I still have problems coming to grips with the fact that Mike Howe wasn’t involved with the scene for so long, as he has a great voice and it really feels as if he has never been away.

This is a even more basic album than the previous one, just straightforward heavy metal designed to cure all dandruff, and they continually hit the bottom end as if they are the logical successor to Judas Priest. It is hard to imagine they didn’t grow up in the steel factory environment of Birmingham which had such an impact on the likes of Priest and Sabbath, and there is little American here in terms of sound, straightforward crank it up and hit it hard metal. There may be more polish than one would hear from a NWOBHM band, but there is no doubting these guys have a massive affinity with the genre. It really is like going back in time before the metal scene splintered in so many different directions, comforting and fun. Five guys doing what they do, turning it up and belting it out, and there is no doubt at all that Metal Church are well and truly back in the groove.

DEATHSPELL OMEGA The Furnaces of Palingenesia

Album · 2019 · Black Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
Palingenesis or PALINGENESIA is the concept of rebirth which is used in disparate subjects such as philosophy, theology, politics and biology but also appropriately applies to one of the metal universe’s most mysterious avant-garde blackened bands that lurks in the shadows somewhere in Poitiers, France, namely DEATHSPELL OMEGA. Having begun as a mere Darkthrone inspired clone, the first rebirth found this band taking the world by storm with the lauded trilogy of albums that not only created some of the most technical and adventurously progressive black metal workouts in the known universe but single-handedly advanced the Satanic metaphysical principles of the black metal paradigm to an advanced occult theology that relied heavily on the themes of French surrealist Georges Bataille and the German idealist Georg Wilhem Friedrich Hegel but nonetheless reanimated them in extreme metal grandeur. The results were simultaneously eerily frightening and deviously delicious.

Having released six albums, several EPs and splits that pretty much found DOS sticking to their established paradigm, the band returns for their seventh official full-length album THE FURNACES OF PALINGENESIA which finds the power trio of vocalist Mikko Aspa, bassist Khaos and guitarist Hasjari emerging from the scenes in order to provide yet another bantering boisterous assault of unadulterated evil. While no drummer is credited, this anonymous entity returns to the pummelation power throne for another round of jazzy progressive blastbeats as well as the standard laissez-faire percussive drive that finds THE FURNACES OF PALINGENESIA revisiting the DOS playbook as well as integrating new unexpected sources of inspiration into its ever expanding liturgy of the darkened metaphysical tomes of the esoteric underworld.

Opening with the by now familiarity of spidery jangled guitar dissonance on “Neither Meaning Nor Justice,” the album begins much like “Paracletus” as it gets right down to business with the raspy vocal utterances emerging from the post-metal cyclically looped riffs in a mid-tempo prowl. Right off the bat, the subtleties are apparent as to how this album slightly differs from the previous releases. While the shock and uniqueness of DOS has long worn off and the avant-garde bombast and stylistic idiosyncrasies have become inured to the hardened musical masochists, the band constantly seeks new methods to infuse clever new twists and turns into the overwrought orotundity which loses none of its frenetic and soul searing prowess. Heavier atmospheric murkiness lurks over the compositions in opposition to previous albums. While ambience and mood enhancing electronica have always served the dark side well, on this album they work in tandem to steer the pearlescent obliqueness into more dynamic chunks of the blackened expressionisms.

While 2016’s “The Synarchy of Molten Bones” sounded more like a summary of the most aggressive attributes of the DOS stylistic approach, THE FURNACES OF PALINGENESIA engages the post-rock and psychedelic softer aspects and the extremes of “Fas-Ite, Maledicti, in Ignem Aeternum.” Dare i even say that many of the compositions on PALINGENESIA are slightly less demanding at least in the frenetic display of zigzagging through various angularities and tend to focus on the post-rock / cyclical riffing loops that display variations through dynamics and instrumental interactions that ratchet up the tension to pyroclastic explosive bouts of bombastic bravado. While the standard DOS expectations are the status quo, “Standing on the Work of Slaves” comes off as distinct in that it has a nonchalant military march sort of percussive drive as well as a more standard tremolo display of black metal guitar fury.

With 11 songs that clock in near the 45 minute mark, DOS recorded this album live in the studio and mixed it all on analog gear which continues the band’s fascination with classic 70s progressive rock only expressed through the lens of the Satanic underbelly of the black metal exemplar that brings forth the demonic dementia of the philosophical underpinnings. For those well steeped in the sonic psychic attacks of the DEATHSPELL OMEGA idiosyncrasies, THE FURNACES OF PALINGENESIA will continue the journey into the belly of the beast for another well established display of black metal magic performed through the menacing skull-crushing antics of one of black metal’s most ambitious and consistently terrifying underground realities and while THE FURNACES OF PALINGENESIA may not usurp the majesty of the impacts made by the Satnaic trilogy albums, it certainly does not disappoint in keeping the DOS ferocity alive and well. This band is in no danger of selling out or becoming a parody of themselves and while i find this album less compelling than those that preceded, it certainly warrants the essential status within the band’s ever expanding continual canon.

MEATHOOK Crypts, Coffins, Corpses

Album · 2019 · Brutal Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
With a bandname, album title, album artwork, and even record label name providing a few clues, it was rather safe to say that this was an album of brutal death metal before it even hit the player. This is their third album, and with a band built around three brothers, it perhaps isn’t a surprise that they hit so hard. In some ways they remind me of Cryptopsy, but far blunter and raw. The production is also deliberately lo-tech, so there are times when it feels like the ears are being assaulted by a wall of sonic mud. There is a groove underpinning what they are doing, which makes this feel very much like an album from the early days of the genre as opposed to what is happening these days.

This is dark, as if the swamp thing has come to life and is going to take you in his fetid embrace, cutting off all light and hope, as you drown in a world of nightmares. The first time I played it I really wasn’t sure, nor the second, and then I realised the problem – I wasn’t playing it loud enough. This is an album which really appreciates volume, so why not share the “joy” of Meathook with your neighbours. It like being caressed by a sledgehammer…

OPPROBRIUM The Fallen Entities

Album · 2019 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.33 | 2 ratings
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UMUR
"The Fallen Entities" is the 3rd full-length studio album by US death/thrash metal act Opprobrium. The album was released through High Roller Records in February 2019. It´s the successor to "Mandatory Evac" from 2008. Opprobrium were originally called Incubus, and released two albums under that monicker in the late eighties/early nineties, but were forced to change their name because of trademark issues. If you count the two Incubus albums, the band have only released five albums in their 30 years of existence, so they can´t be accused of being particularly productive. All instruments and vocals on "The Fallen Entities" were recorded by the Howard brothers, Moyes M. Howard (drums) and Francis M. Howard (vocals, bass, guitars).

"Dark Days, Dark Times" opens the album with dark and heavy death/thrash riffs and rhythms and Francis M. Howard´s aggressive raw vocals on top, and the rest of the album pretty much sounds like that with some variation in pace and the occasional guitar solo to put a little spice to the music. Stylistically that´s more or less a continuation of the style on the two direct predecessors, and less like the style on the two Incubus albums, although there are hints of the early days here and there. Opprobrium are a well playing band, but if I have to mention a minor detail I would have done diffently it would be creating bass lines that don´t follow the guitar riffs one-to-one, and placing the bass in the mix so it can be heard. In that regard it´s a bit too audible that the focus has almost solely been on the drums, guitars, and vocals, and to my ears it sounds a bit like the bass is a necessary evil or an afterthought to Opprobrium. They aren´t alone in making this mistake as many extreme metal albums either feature no audible bass or a bass which just follows the guitar, but it needs to be adressed here, as I think "The Fallen Entities" could have been a more dynamic and quite frankly better album, had more focus been given to the bass lines.

That minor complaint aside, the material on "The Fallen Entities" is both relatively well written, powerful and aggressive death/thrash, and it´s performed with the right amount of passion and conviction. Other than the lack of bass in the mix (which doesn´t mean the production lacks bottom end heaviness), the sound production is actually also very well sounding. Raw, brutal, and powerful. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

HATE ETERNAL Upon Desolate Sands

Album · 2018 · Brutal Death Metal
Cover art 4.42 | 2 ratings
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Kev Rowland
Having cut his teeth with Ripping Corpse and Morbid Angel, Erik Rutan formed Hate Eternal in 1997, since when he has been pursuing his own brand of Florida-style death metal which is both technical and brutal. There may have been some line-up changes over the years, but bassist J.J. Hrubovcak has been there for a decade now, and new drummer Hannes Grossmann has fitted in really nicely. The first three tracks are setting the listener up for the rest of the album, allowing the ears to bed into the complexity and nuances, then when the fourth song “Nothingness of Being” kicks in, the band allow themselves to become even more brutal, as well as more diverse, complex and really kick it on.

From here the band play as if they are possessed, with “All Hope Destroyed” surely one of the fastest introductions they have ever attempted – it is no wonder they pause for breath before they dig into the main event! Erik Rutan has been driving this band for more than twenty years, and it feels like they are gaining ground as opposed to falling away like some of their peers. This is death metal at its finest, and the only thing to do is keep turning it up and feel the pain. Brilliant.

FLOTSAM AND JETSAM The End of Chaos

Album · 2019 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 3.58 | 4 ratings
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Kev Rowland
Like most metalheads, I’ve always had a warm spot for Flotsam and Jetsam, and I would expect most to have a copy of their debut ‘Doomsday For The Deceiver’ in their collection (grief, it is more than 30 years old now!). Destined both always to be remembered as the band Jason Newsted left to join Metallica, and to never gain the heights many expected of them, I came to this album not having heard any of their recent material. Singer Eric A.K. and guitarist Mike Gilbert where there for the debut, while bassist Michael Spencer was the original replacement for Newsted, while second guitarist has been in place for five years and it is only veteran drummer Ken Mary who is a newbie.

What strikes one immediately is the sheer force and power of the guitars, as the production is incredibly strong with real depth. Musically this is melodic power metal which is closely aligned to thrash, as the band happily straddle the genres and allow Eric to show he has lost none of his prowess over the years. This is an incredibly polished release, and to me that is the one aspect which I felt was wrong as it has been honed just too much, smoothed and crafted within an inch of its life and to my ears it would have been far better if it had been left raw and there wasn’t quite so much in the way of harmony vocals and saccharine. I am sure that onstage this will be quite a different beast and I would have much preferred to have heard it that way.

BUCKETHEAD SIGIL Soundtrack

Boxset / Compilation · 2019 · Alternative Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
BUCKETHEAD has been rather low key in the last couple of years as he’s probably kicking back in the Bucket-Cave after exhausting himself from the explosive frenzy of activity during the earlier part of the decade when he released something like 300 albums in a few short years. Or maybe he’s just recharging his batteries! Brian Patrick Carroll is of course not only a chicken loving eccentricity but is without a doubt an extremely versatile and talented musician who has inspired many far and wide with his mold of William Shatner’s Captain Kirk mask and signature KFC pale upon his head.

One of his biggest fans has been John Romero who created the classic 90s video game Doom which in the year 2019 is celebrating it’s 25th anniversary. In honor of this landmark occasion, Romero has decided to go all out and create a deluxe boxed set that adds on new levels to the Doom game in the form of SIGIL which will surely please fans with eight new regular levels, one new bonus level, an epic boss fight and the most difficult episode yet to emerge. Of course all of this needed a new soundtrack and as he has spent countless hours programming code to the music of BUCKETHEAD, which Romero deemed the perfect sort of sounds to exist side by side with his masterful classic video game extensions.

The SIGIL SOUNDTRACK isn’t exactly a custom made score for the Doom universe’s latest installment but rather is a compilation of tracks from the massive PIKE series with the sole exception of the opening track, “Romero One Mind Any Weapon” which is the only new track to be featured. Romero’s hope was to introduce BUCKETHEAD to a wider audience and although many have heard of this mysterious legend, many still probably have never been exposed to his music, therefore this SOUNDTRACK is more like an introductory compilation of sorts.

“Romero One Mind Any Weapon” (9:04) -The only new track displays the avant-garde metal intensity of BUCKETHEAD’s earliest albums when he emerged in the 90s on such albums as 1992’s “Bucketheadland.” This track conveys a standard classic metal approach with lightning fast metal guitar riffing that keeps a “normal” metal groove in place but with a BH track creeping past the 9 minute mark, you’re bound to get a pocketful of electronic weirdness, progressive off-kilter breakdowns and a mix of sizzling solos and ambient mood enhancers. And of course there’s a touch of funk! This track is sort of a tribute to BUCKETHEAD as it has a dash of this and a dash of that which makes up the chicken lover’s lengthy career. While the track isn’t unusual from anything from his past, i can understand why this makes a wickedly cool addition to the SIGIL experience.

“13th Floor (7:15) from PIKE 118 - Elevator - I can understand why this track was chosen. It’s a heavy rocker that has a marching into battle drive to it. The track goes through a series of nice emotionally charged passages with elegant soloing and an epic feel. A great choice for SIGIL.

“Buildor 2 (13:43) from PIKE 224 - Buildor - This track utilizes a Pink Floydian Gilmour type of space rock guitar lick before being joined by another distorted power chord guitar and then it totally mellows out back to a space guitar lick, ambient background and very slow drumbeat. This tracks basically goes on and repeats the riff, adds solos, takes breaks with ambient passages and follows the traditional PIKE playbook but has found its true calling on SIGIL.

“The Patrolman” (7:30) from PIKE 8 - Racks - This track starts out with a clean guitar lick and more energetic drum beat joining it. It lets the melody gently unfold but this is one of those tracks that doesn’t really go anywhere. It is predictable and by the books without any improper freakiness. It’s too much like something off of the “Electric Tears / Sea” albums and sounds like a leftover track or something. OK as an active listening experience but perfect for the multi-tasking of video game playing.

“Cold Frost Part 6” (5:10) from PIKE 205 - 2 Days Til Halloween: Cold Frost - This is a snippet of the dark ambient releases from 2015’s Halloween countdown. Now this is prime video game music as it has a Twilight Zone feel with icy darkened atmospheres and spooky chilling effects. While many didn’t like these ambient releases, i find the electronica of BUCKETHEAD to be some of the most refined and interesting of all.

“Melting Man Part 2” (6:38) from PIKE 10 - The Silent Picture Book - This track is one of those distorted and mellow ballads which also is not very engaging actively but is a nice chill pill for intense video game action.

“Far 5” (10:41) from PIKE 266 - Far - This track begins with an atmospheric ambience and begins immediately with heavier guitar riffs along with the space rock sounds. A guitar solo is finally allowed to erupt into a sped up bluesy frenzy. Although this one has more of rockin’ feel, it still is nothing more than a repetitive loop of a few chords that continue on with soloing over the main rhythm.

“Poseidon 4-6” (16:56) from PIKE 264 - Poseidon - Like the PIKE from which these three tracks are stitched together here, they seamlessly transition together. A nice mix of heavy rock with crunchy riffs, licks and solos with some downtime for ambient sections and other deviations from the norm.

“Fastpass” (7:03) from PIKE 231 - Drift - This track starts out slow and mellow with a synth, a slow guitar and it sounds like it’s gonna be one of those Pink Floyd slow tempo bluesy guitar tracks. Yep. Continues as the same style and doesn’t really go anywhere interesting. Nice tones and does have chord changes but BH has done this much better before. OK but not OMG

At a running time of 84 minutes, this one might be a little too long for many as an active listening experience but as a series of musical experiences in conjunct with the SIGIL playing it is perfect! I think many of the PIKEs were too simply constructed for active listening experiences but make perfect background music for a multi-media project such as this. BUCKETHEAD Pikes have found their calling at last and Romero has expressed interest in incorporating more of the chicken lover’s music into his future projects. All in all this is a decent introduction to anyone unfamiliar with the PIKE series but personally i enjoy the more adventurous and experimental sector. For those not so adventurous as i, this is a decent PIKE 101 stepping stone into the greater universe but for true fans this will be of little interest with only the first track providing new material.

MYRATH Shehili

Album · 2019 · Folk Metal
Cover art 3.67 | 2 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
MYRATH return from its North African hideaway with the fifth album SHEHILI thus proving that this Tunisian band that has made a career out of mixing Middle Eastern folk music with metal is in no danger of going away any time soon. In fact this quintet plus session musicians has only become more famous internationally since its 2006 formation however despite the band’s exotic flair that has caught the rest of the world’s attention, these guys still don’t resonate very much in their native lands. It’s been three years since MYRATH released “Legacy” which found the band taking a softer less progressive approach than on the preceding “Hope,” “Desert Call” and “Tales of the Sands.” SHEHILI emulates “Legacy” with lush symphonically embellished power metal inspired metal tracks that wrap themselves around the classic Arab sounds of the Sahara.

Unlike MYRATH’s earliest albums which focused on the metal aspects of the band’s idiosyncratic fusion, SHEHILI continues the thick atmospheric cloud covers of “Legacy” and crafts more accessible pop hooks that take a blatant dip into the mainstream with catchy sing-songy melodic hooks with simpler compositional constructs that add some power metal heft but focus a lot of attention on more AOR flavors that demonstrates that the band is clearly going for the mainstream breakthrough jugular which is what makes this album a little weak compared to the earliest powerful displays of metal music that has now been tamed into one trick camel races all the way to the top of the charts.

On the positive side of things, vocalist Zaher Zorgati still delivers a powerful vocal charm and is perfect for the type of music that MYRATH has conjured up. The other winner is the strong symphonic string section that includes the usual menagerie of instruments such as the violin, viola and the new which is a Persian flute that is prominent in most forms of traditional Middle Eastern music. Also included are traces of lute and elegant piano arrangements that add touches of Western classical teased into the Eastern sounds. The symphonic touches overall are what define SHEHILI much more than the rather subordinate heavy rock aspects that barely even qualify for metal any longer. The production is also perfect as it allows each little sound to find its own space without intruding on the others.

Ah, i loved early MYRATH. The five-piece metal band from the far flung non-metal lands of Tunisia who dared conjure up metal mirages with local flavors. The early albums were powerful and delivered all the goods while weaving it all together in highly progressive ways. Most of those complexities have been replaced at this point with easy on the ears flavorings that keep most of the tracks sounding rather similar in approach. The formula is rather simple. Recycle the same Eastern musical scales, add a bit of guitar heft with the only occasional solo along with a rather subordinate bass and drum rhythm section. While Zorgati is clearly the star of the show with his passionate and intricately designed vocal style, the rest of the music falls rather flat compared to the earliest offerings.

MYRATH have obviously fallen into the trap that many bands do as they flirt with commercial success and by that they lose the passion that was generated in the beginning when the music was intended as a statement rather than a means of economic opportunity. While many bands find a way to balance these two acts by having a few more commercial tracks and some more sophisticated experimental and progressive ones, MYRATH have chosen to create a rather monotonic album’s worth of 12 tracks where the overall feel of the individual songs doesn’t really advance. It all sounds like a series of reshuffling with a few minor bursts of bombast for a little contrast. It’s clear form the videos that this band is aiming for the mainstream and that involves healthy amounts of cheese to pull it off. While the sound of the band is clearly intact, there’s just not enough going on on this new album to get me really excited. Personally i want the old MYRATH back. This just feels shallow. Not bad but not great either.

ARCH / MATHEOS Winter Ethereal

Album · 2019 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
WINTER is coming. Oh, wait! It has already come! Emerging seemingly from nowhere in 2011, the early Fates Warning pioneers of prog metal, vocalist John ARCH and guitarist Jim MATHEOS took the world by storm after releasing the stunning collaborative effort in the form of “Sympathetic Resonance” under the moniker ARCH / MATHEOS which in many ways found resolution to the long lost continuation of what Fates Warning would have sounded like had they continued well into the 21st century with ARCH’s vocal prowess still in command. With a classic prog metal sound that was clearly crafted for the modern world, the duo constructed six stunning tracks that took the early prog metal attributes of operatic vocals, heavy zigzagging guitar riffs and compositional complexities and married it all with the darker down-tuned realities of the 21st century.

While the project was never to be intended to be a permanent one, the obvious chemistry that was presented begged prog metalheads far and wide to ponder the possibilities of whether there could be the remotest possibility of a second edition to what would provide the next chapter in this project of such technical wizardry coupled with emotional outpourings. Due to other commitments, particularly on the side of MATHEOS who to this day remains a vital member in Fates Warning’s modern prog metal excellence, no pressures were in play but lo and behold eight long years later and the duo has found themselves releasing the long awaited second coming with WINTER ETHEREAL which finds the dynamic duo in cahoots once again with bassist Joey Vera (Fates Warning, Chroma Key), drummer Bobby Jarzombek (Fates Warning, Spastic Ink) and guitarist Frank Aresti.

And this time around even more musicians came to the party which includes ex-Cynic bassist Sean Malone and two additional drummers, Matt Lynch (Trioscapes) and Thomas Lang (John Wetton, Stork, Paul Gilbert, Eric Gillette) as well as Steve Di Giorgio (Death, Testament, Charred Walls Of The Damned) and bassists Joe Dibiase and Mark Zonder. The guitar distortion is turned up to 11 and the musicians were chomping at the bit to unleash a new slab of highly technical metal that takes the ARCH / MATHEOS to the next level. While the Fates Warning comparisons are inevitable, once again this project finds a way to make the music its own despite the clear throwback to the long lost days when progressive metal existed as a mere collaboration between 70s prog rock and 80s classic heavy metal. And best of all, despite the decades that have elapsed, it’s utterly amazing how well Mr. ARCH’s glass shattering vox box has held up. Is this man fucking immortal or what?

WINTER ETHEREAL cranks out nine hard driving prog metal tracks rooted in the previous century but clearly designed for 21st century consumption. A bit longer than the previous one and clocking in at about 108 minutes, this album bursts into the scene with the crushing “Vermillion Moons” which delivers the expected labyrinthine guitar riffs while taking a few breathers with some slower passages. Clearly on display and man of the hour vocalist ARCH shows off his high capacity pipes in an ever daring feat of vocal majesty which never fails throughout the album’s lengthy parade through the progressively imbued compositions that seem to tackle the usual prog metal melodramatic lyrical esoterica in the fullest sonic regalia. Despite the plethora of musicians on board this time, the album comes off as a tightly woven musical experience with all eyes on the prize, that meaning the overall feel of consistency in this high quality musical sector of the prog metal universe.

Perhaps my only complaint of this dynamic powerhouse of unbridled prog metal passion is that despite the army of newbies in its midst, it doesn’t deviate significantly from the majesty of “Sympathetic Resonance,” as the tones, timbres, dynamics and songwriting techniques follow suit in much the same business as usual. Perhaps the creative aspects could’ve shined a bit more instead of making a second installment of album #1 however if a similar approach is what you’ve been salivating over then WINTER ETHEREAL will not disappoint one little bit as it tackles all the prog sophistication and ethereal nuances that the first ARCH / MATHEOS experience delivered so well. While overall i don’t find this to be the perfect prog metal specimen that came before, it is nevertheless a high quality release that finds these elder statesmen of the genre not losing one bit of their musical mojo, in other words - this is some outstanding modern day prog metal delivering ALL the goods.

HAMFERÐ Tamsins Likam

Album · 2018 · Funeral Doom Metal
Cover art 4.43 | 5 ratings
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Warthur
Hailing from the Faroe Islands and delivering all their lyrics in the local Faroese dialect, Hamferð deliver up a mournful style which really puts the "funeral" in "funeral doom metal". One can imagine a sparse smattering of mourners making their way out in a rainstorm to bury their dead, lashed by the winds of the far north, the bitterness of the Arctic cold sweeping down from the north, in a hilly country where no matter where you go, you're never quite that far from the chill, uncaring sea. Gloom hangs over all, and if that sounds like a good time, you may as well check the album out.

GLYPTOGLOSSIO YOTTAANNUMS in the BYSS

Album · 2019 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
Colin Marston (Behold… The Arctopus, Gorguts etc) debuted his avant-garde freakzoid project GLYPTOGLOSSIO in 2016 with a strange freeform style of metal that sounds like absolutely nothing else and while i thought it was so far out of the box that it would probably be a one off, turns out this is an ongoing project with more metal gibberish to be expressed! The new album YOTTAANNUMS in the BYSS continues the formless distorted guitar and bass riffs, spastic freeform drumming and the robotic narrations which put the avant-garde on steroids.

This one also consists of a mere two tracks but both tracks exceed are quite lengthy with the first track merely named “3” extending towards 19 minutes whereas the following “4” reaches over 15 minutes. The titles follow the titles “1” and “2” from the debut “GLYPTOGLO5510” which only had a running time of over 25 minutes. This one is a full-length of chaotic swirls of bass lines, non-musical guitar riffs and pummeling drums. The amount of effort to keep anything sounding like any established form of music is quite impressive.

Exercising the utter disregard of any sort of musical form, this project also lists the lyrics on the Bandcamp site which are as bizarrely surreal as the music(?) itself. While there is probably some cryptic themes expressed in all this madness, it’s not apparent reading the lyrics that there is any meaning at all. It is more likely that this project is to merely create a form of sonic bantering that is designed to be as surreal and detached from reality as possible and in that department it truly succeeds!

Despite the freeform gibberish that comes off as a bizarre musical Frankenstein with snippets of this and snippets of that, there are recognizable riffs, drum rolls, bass lines etc. There are also cowbells and other sound effects. The vocal style becomes somewhat tedious as the robotic monster voice remains monotonic and never deviates from its simple narrative role as swirls of chaos explode in the background.

If you thought Behold…The Arctopus was too much to handle then this will drive you insane. As someone hardened by weird concepts in the avant-garde and experimental sectors of the musical world, this is bizarre and alien even by my standards and can be questioned if this is music at all. There are no established patterns, no musical scales, no melodies and the whole thing comes off as a dissonant barrage of noisy guitar, bass and drums all striving to remain defiantly dissonant and ununified with almost hypnotic tortured monster vocals narrating Salvador Dali inspired poetry.

I’m not really sure if this is a band or just Marston flying his freak flag as high as possible. Whatever the case, this is weird for weird’s sake and will appeal to very few if anyone but for some reason i have an appetite for this kind of stuff now and again so i listen and imagine these sounds to be some sort of anthem for an alien robot A.I. army awaiting its attack on the galaxy and taking ultimate control. Since there is nothing tangible to latch onto, these sounds stimulate the imagination to construct some sort of explanation for its existence which is a psychological phenomenon that allows me to appreciate this. All i can say is that this is fucked up weirdo shit.

SURRA Virou Brasil

EP · 2019 · Crossover Thrash
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Tupan
Yep, another EP from the brazilian hardcore/crossover thrash band Surra. Despite its short length (not even four minutes), this release shows a much varied sound: the first track is a genuine samba (no bullshit!) with anti-fascist lyrics. The second song is a straightforward hardcore. The very short "Não Entendi" is pure grindcore, no more no less. And, finally, "Caso Isolado" is a fast crossover track.

"Virou Brasil" is another strong EP from these guys, with a hilarious cover art, and works as an appetizer for their next full length, named "Escorrendo Pelo Ralo" (which already have a single). Go on, check it out!

STEEL PROPHET The God Machine

Album · 2019 · US Power Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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DippoMagoo
Once in a while, a band might get a total makeover, where they change their sound to the point of becoming nearly unrecognisable. The latest band to have this happen is American heavy/power metal band Steel Prophet. I was introduced to them with their 2014 release, Omniscient, which left me with mixed impressions, as musically it was quite a dynamic, varied and complex US power metal album, but it was dragged down by some rather nonsensical lyrics (it seriously had a track called “Aliens, Spaceships and Richard M. Nixon”, for example) as well as a rather inconsistent performance by longtime vocalist Rick Mythiasin. Almost 5 years later, the band is back with a new vocalist, and while the lineup largely consists of longtime members, their sound has changed quite a bit on their ninth full length release, The God Machine, to the point where I can see some longtime fans of the band being disappointed, though for anyone approaching it with an open mind, it’s certainly a thoroughly entertaining album.

Steel Prophet has been around since the early 80’s, and their classic sound was rooted in US power metal, being very raw and hard hitting, while also being quite complex at times, with strong prog elements. The God Machine is a whole different monster, being a mix between a much more modernized power/thrash sound, as well as classic heavy metal. Obviously, the most immediately noticeable change is vocals, with Mystic Prophecy’s R.D. Liapakis taking over the mic, and delivering his usual mix of gritty, powerful vocals, with some more soulful moments on the couple of softer tracks, but even musically, things have changed quite a bit.

The approach to songwriting in particular has changed a lot, with a switch to some much shorter, more straight-forward songs, with less complex arrangements and a less dynamic sound overall. There’s still a decent amount of variety to the songs, of course, with the heavier, speedier tracks generally being the best, but there certainly aren’t any long or more challenging tracks like some of those on Omniscient. This approach works well, though, with all musicians doing a great job, as always, and there’s certainly some excellent thrashy riffs throughout the album, with nods to classic thrash at times, as well as some classic heavy metal galloping riffs and melodic guitar work on some tracks. Obviously, a lot of the changes to the sound were made to help Liapakis fit in, as some of the tracks certainly do remind me of Mystic Prophecy at times, and he sounds as great as always on the album, taking no time at all to settle in and deliver some excellent vocals. Production is top notch, and everything sounds a bit more modern and polished compared to previous releases, which is another big change.

The band wastes no time in demonstrating their switch to more modernized riffs and more simplified songwriting, with the title track kicking things off at a furious pace, instantly launching into some very thrashy power metal riffs, which instantly bring Mystic Prophecy to mind (it most likely is one of the songs written by Liapakis, who split songwriting duties with longtime guitarist/keyboardist Steve Kachinski.) The song has fun verses and a very catchy chorus, and it’s a very fun, hard hitting track overall. Next is another speedy track in “Crucify”, the lead single for the album. It still has a modernized sound to it, though the lead guitars are a bit more melodic during the verses, before getting thrashy again during the chorus. It’s another hard hitting, fast paced track, with its biggest highlight being an extended instrumental section with some thrashy leads and excellent solo work that brings classic Metallica to mind. Next is the slightly slower, though still decently fast paced, “Thrashed Relentlessly”, another track with some great, heavy guitar work. It’s another modern sounding track, with powerful riffs and a strong, melodic chorus, with excellent vocals.

On the slower side, “Dark Mask (Between Love and Hate)” is a very classic heavy metal sounding track, with some nice melodic leads during the verses, as well as a very melodic and catchy chorus. Despite having a classic sound to it, the song still feels more polished and more simplified than most other songs I’ve heard from Steel Prophet, though it’s definitely a great track. Next is “Damnation Calling”, the first of two power ballads on the album. This track at times feels like an Iron Maiden ballad, with how it alternates nicely between very soft passages, and some darker, heavier passages. It opens calmly, before some heavy guitar work kicks in, and from there the song switches seamlessly between heavy verses, and a nice, melodic and very powerful chorus, with a particularly speedy section in the second half being the biggest highlight. After that is “Soulhunter”, my favorite on the album. It has some classic Maiden style galloping riffs, and is a fast paced track, with a mix between heavy riffs and some great melodies, with the chorus in particular having some incredible vocal melodies, as well as being very fun and catchy. The track has a great instrumental section in the second half, as well as an excellent speedy section near the end, which takes it to new heights.

The second ballad on the album is “Buried and Broken”, which starts off with more Maiden style guitar work, before slowing down and turning into a very soft, vocal driven track, only getting heavier during the chorus, and an intense sequence towards the end. It serves as a nice vocal showcase, with Liapakis alternating nicely between soft and powerful vocals. Next is another slower track in “Lucifer – The Devil Inside”. It has some great heavy riffs, as well as a nice groove, and a strong chorus. It has a slight doom metal atmosphere to it, though it does get more upbeat in the second half, with a fast paced and intense instrumental section. It’s a very good track, overall. Next is “Fight, Kill”, which begins with some soft, very epic guitar work, before turning into an excellent melodic heavy metal track, with some fairly fast paced riffs, and another fun, catchy chorus. It has an excellent instrumental section in the second half, and it’s a great classic heavy metal track, overall. Closing out the album is the weirdly named “Love = Life = God Machine” which, despite it’s unwieldy name, is actually a very good track, with more classic heavy metal style guitar riffs. It has a slight hard rock feel to it, with a fairly laid back sound, while still having some great riffs during the verses, which give way to a very melodic and powerful chorus. The instrumental section in the second half especially has a strong 80’s feel to it, and overall the track is a lot of fun, and is a great way to close out the album.

I wasn’t too sure what to expect from The God Machine, as I wasn’t too thrilled by the previous Steel Prophet album I had heard, but the band has made quite a change on this release, switching to a more modernised sound, with some power/thrash elements, while still having strong influences of classic heavy metal, which takeover more and more as the album progresses. The songwriting is a lot more direct and satisfying, and R.D. Liapakis sounds as great as ever, so I think newcomers looking for some fun heavy/power metal are actually more likely to be pleased with this than longtime fans of the band, as I feel this album might be a bit too different to appeal to that crowd. Either way, though, it’s a strong album, and it certainly leaves me looking forward to seeing what the band does in the future.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2019/04/29/steel-prophet-the-god-machine-review/

AMON AMARTH Berserker

Album · 2019 · Melodic Death Metal
Cover art 4.92 | 2 ratings
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DippoMagoo
When talking about the best melodic death metal bands in the world, one band that should always be mentioned is Swedish Viking themed band Amon Amarth. They’ve been around since the early 90’s, and while other big names in the genre have gone through some ups and downs, as well as long periods of downtime, in some cases, these guys have been consistently putting out great albums their entire career, never going more than three years in between releases. Their previous release, Jomsviking, was particularly impressive, as it was an epic concept album, with a slight narrative angle to it, while still delivering their typical brand of melodic yet intense melodeath. Three years later, they’re back once again with their eleventh full length release, Berserker, and while few could blame them if they were to put out a less impressive effort, following such a strong release, the band has once again delivered and produced possibly their absolute best batch of songs to date!

Compared to Jomsviking, Berserker is a much more straight-forward, more in your face kind of album, with the focus put entirely on unleashing one killer song after another, which is exactly what the band has done. It definitely has all the signature elements of the band, with a ton of fast paced, headbanging melodeath fun, as well as some more epic mid paced stompers, a slower, almost power ballad like track, an epic closer, and of course there’s a ton of violent Viking imagery, as always. On the surface, the album may seem to be a “Greatest Hits” of sorts, and that isn’t entirely inaccurate, as there certainly is a feel that the band is combining all their best elements and throwing them onto one album, but there’s also some surprises to be found, including a nice acoustic section to open the album, as well as the aforementioned rather surprising track, and a few other little touches. Performances are obviously amazing all around, with duo guitarists Olavi Mikkonen and Johan Söderberg delivering some awesome riffs and melodies, while drummer Jocke Wallgreen is on point with some epic grooves, and of course, vocalist Johan Hegg unleashes his usual epic, deep death growls, which sound as impressive as ever. Sound production is also flawless and crystal clear, as always, with everything sounding perfect.

Songwriting has always been a strength for Amon Amarth, with all their albums having their share of killer tracks, though if anything, Berserker is even more impressive than usual, as none of its tracks are anything short of absolutely amazing! First up is the incredible opener, “Fafnir’s Gold”, which starts off with a nice acoustic intro for about 35 seconds, before some melodic guitar leads take over, and then after about a minute, the full band is in action, and the track charges ahead at a frantic pace, and turns into the kind of epic, speedy and hard hitting opener fans of the band have come to expect. It has a perfect mix of hard hitting riffs during the verses, and some great melodies to accompany Johan Hegg during the epic chorus. Next is second single “Crack the Sky”, a more mid paced track, with some nice grooves, as well as some excellent drumming. It gallops along at a decent pace, with some excellent lead guitar work, as well as Johan’s typically powerful growls, and then the chorus is insanely catchy and melodic, and is sure to become a fan favourite, while the melodic guitar solo in the second half is also amazing. After that is another fun, speedy track in “Mjölner, Hammer of Thor”, a heavy, guitar driven track, which moves at a frantic pace, alternating nicely between heavy and very melodic guitar work. Instrumentally, it’s one of those tracks that shows that the band could be an amazing power metal band, if not for the growls, but as is, it’s an amazing melodeath track, with a fun chorus, fun verses, and awesome instrumental work all around, as well as some cool hammer sound effects, for good measure.

The first real slower track on the album is “Shield Wall”, an absolutely brutal, yet epic and powerful track, with some very hard hitting riffs. It has a more modernised sound to it, with some very chunky yet awesome riffs, and Johan is at his absolute most intense, especially during the heavy and epic chorus. It’s definitely one of the band’s heavier tracks, yet it still has some nice melodies, as well, especially in the middle, and it’s an awesome track overall. On the lighter side, “Valkyria” is another more mid paced track, with some lighter, more melodic guitar work, while still being pretty epic and intense. It has some very nice melodic guitar leads throughout, as well as a nice chorus and fun verses, and it has a really cool atmospheric outro. Next is lead single “Raven’s Flight”, and it’s another standout, flawlessly alternating between speedy and slower passages, as well as some epic galloping riffs, excellent melodic guitar work, and some very heavy riffs. It has a very catchy and epic chorus, very fun verses, and awesome instrumental work, throughout, as well as a ton of tempo changes, all of which help make it an unforgettable track.

Following that absolute monster of a track, the album goes into slightly lighter territory for a while, starting with “Ironside”, another more mid paced track. It has some great riffs, but it’s the melodic guitar work, epic melodies and vocals that carry the track. It’s a very epic, very melodic track, with an amazing chorus, great lyrics and an incredible performance by Johan. Even softer than that is “The Berserker at Stamford Bridge”, an ultra-rare power ballad for the band, and it’s a bloody good one! It opens with some very epic melodic guitar work, and continues along with just that, vocals and some very light percussion for a while, before full drums appear during the chorus, and then the full sound kicks in shortly after that, for a heavy, yet melodic and very powerful track. It has an epic chorus, more epic lyrics and another incredible vocal performance, as well as some epic instrumental sections in the second half. It’s a pretty surprising track overall, and it may not win everyone over at first, but it’s a definite grower. On the slightly speedier, but still fairly light end of things is “When Once Again We Can Set Our Sails”, another track dominated by light, melodic guitar work, and epic vocals. It moves along at a nice pace, with some great riffs and beautiful melodies, and it’s another epic, and very melodic track, with an excellent chorus.

The heaviness gets kicked up several notches again for the remainder of the album, starting with “Skoll and Hati”, a fast and furious track, with some very hard hitting lead guitar work, frantic drums, and intense vocals. It’s the kind of speedy, aggressive track the band excels at, while still having some awesome melodies. In similar territory is “Wings of Eagles”, another ultra-fast, very heavy track with some excellent riffs, fast paced drumming, and a great melodic chorus. The chorus in particular is one of the band’s best, most epic in quite some time, and the track is amazing overall. Closing out the album is the mini epic “Into the Dark”, which starts out with some slight symphonic elements, before settling into a nice groove, with light, melodic guitar work, and then after a while some heavier riffs kick in, and the track turns into a mid-paced, very heavy track, more epic guitar work and amazing vocals. It’s yet another track which strikes a perfect balance between heavy and melodic passages, with Johan being softer at points, while being very intense at other points. It’s an epic track on its own, and an excellent closer.

Amon Amarth show no signs of letting up any time soon, and if anything, Berserker may be their best release yet, with a perfect mix of everything they’ve been known for in the past, as well as some small surprises here and there. It’s definitely one of their most energetic, most consistently entertaining releases, with an amazing flow, going from one killer track to another, and it has a perfect mix of fast, mid paced and slower tracks, while striking a perfect balance between heavy and melodic. It’s easily the best melodeath album I’ve heard in recent years, and it feels like the band is at the absolute top of their game right now. Long-time fans should be very pleased, while any melodeath fan who’s somehow never heard of the band before, could do no better than to check this album out right away, as it’s an absolute masterpiece!

originally written for myglobalmind.com:https://myglobalmind.com/2019/04/26/amon-amarth-berserker-review/

BEYOND CREATION Algorythm

Album · 2018 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 4.28 | 5 ratings
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Kev Rowland
This is the third album from Canadian technical death metal act Beyond Creation, but it isn’t hard to also why they are listed on PA as yet again we have a band pushing musical boundaries. While the band for the most part is similar in many ways to the likes of Nile, with complex intertwined blistering guitar passages combined with over the top drum fills, and vocals which are guttural and raw, what really makes this stand out for me is the bass. I guess that Hugo Doyon-Karout knows he is playing in an extreme metal act, but someone seems to have forgotten to have told him what his role is supposed to be, as not only is he playing a fretless bass, but he is all over the place. Sometimes he joins in with the guitars on the complex interchanges, leaving drummer Philippe Boucher to keep it all together by himself, while at others he has the temerity to play lead solos over the top of Simon Girard and Kévin Chartré. Doesn’t he know that the role of a bassist is to provide the platform for others, not be at the forefront of what is going on?

Needless to say, the result makes for an incredibly fascinating and interesting album, as one is never sure what is going to happen next, and the warmth of the fretless bass provides direct contrast to the often-staccato guitars. Due to his role in the band, the bass is also mixed higher than one would normally expect, so the gap is between the drums and everything else, as opposed to drums and bass being kept together. This gives the sound a lightness as the bass is often providing counterpoint as opposed to locking down the sound, this means that when he starts playing in a more normal manner the dynamic contrast is higher than would otherwise be the case. But, notes are still often being slid into as opposed to being punched in the manner one would expect from the fretted instrument. Although it may seem I am saying this is all about Hugo, nothing could be further from the truth as this feels like an incredibly complex structured album where everyone knows their part, it is just a different structure to the norm. Well worthy of investigation.

MALEVOLENT CREATION The 13th Beast

Album · 2019 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.83 | 2 ratings
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UMUR
"The 13th Beast" is as the title suggests the 13th full-length studio album by US death metal act Malevolent Creation. The album was released through Century Media Records in January 2019. It´s the successor to "Dead Man's Path" from 2015. There have been several lineup changes since the release of the predecessor, as bassist Jason Blachowicz has been replaced by Josh Gibbs, guitarist Gio Geraca and lead vocalist Brett Hoffmann have been replaced by Lee Wollenschlaeger (who handles both lead vocals and guitars on the album), and drummer Justin DiPinto has been replaced by Philip Cancilla, leaving guitarist and founding member Phil Fasciana the sole remaining member of the lineup who recorded "Dead Man's Path (2015)".

Malevolent Creation has always been Fasciana´s child, so lineup changes (and there have been a lot of lineup changes over the years) or not, "The 13th Beast" still sounds unmistakably like Malevolent Creation. Energetic and aggressive death metal with brutal thrash metal leanings. Uncompromising and featuring very few melodic elements and easily accessible hooks. The pace is predominantly fast, but there are both mid-paced and a few blasting sections featured on the album too. So far...so good...

...while Fasciana has been the driving force behind the band and has held the flag high since the formation of the band in 1987, which has ensured stylistic continuety and a relatively stabile quality level of the band´s output, there have been both excellent releases and less remarkable ones in the band´s discography. Most of the excellent ones feature Brett Hoffmann on vocals. Hoffmann was the lead vocalist in Malevolent Creation in the periods 1987-1993, 1998-2001, and 2006-2016 (he sadly died of colon cancer in July 2018) and his unique raw semi-growling vocal style provided the band´s music with something special, which made them stand out on the scene. Including Wollenschlaeger the band have at this point had three other lead vocalists than Hoffmann, and none of them have been able to lift the heavy heritage of the iconic frontman. Every time Hoffmann has been out of the band, they have lost that special thing which made them stand out, and unfortunately that´s also the case on "The 13th Beast".

Don´t get me wrong here though because Wollenschlaeger gets the job done and he is not a bad growler. His performance here is just pretty standard for the genre and after a couple of tracks feels a bit one-dimensional. It has the effect that not many tracks stand out or are particularly memorable beyond the album´s playing time. So it´s the kind of album which is enjoyable enough while it plays but soon forgotten after it ends. It´s a quality release on most other parameters as both the musicianship and the sound production are of good quality, but viewed along the other albums in the band´s discography, "The 13th Beast" is among their less remarkable ones. A 3 - 3.5 star (65%) rating is warranted.

MEMORIAM The Silent Vigil

Album · 2018 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"The Silent Vigil" is the 2nd full-length studio album by UK, Birmingham based death metal act Memoriam. The album was released through Nuclear Blast Records in March 2018. It´s the successor to "For The Fallen" from 2017 and features the exact same four-piece lineup who recorded the predecessor. Memoriam formed in 2016 and consists of former and present members of Bolt Thrower, Benediction, and Cerebral Fix. Memoriam released three demos before being signed to Nuclear Blast Records for the release of "For The Fallen (2017)".

Stylistically the material on "The Silent Vigil" continues the old school death metal style of "For The Fallen (2017)", with very few surprises and only a little development of sound. Memoriam are all seasoned veterans on the UK death/thrash metal scene and there is no doubt that they play exactly the style of music that they want to. There´s no intention here to invent the wheel or to incorporate adventurous songwriting ideas, but instead a burning passion to produce good old fashioned death metal like it sounded in the early 1990s. Of course there are variations on that type of death metal too, and Memoriam´s relatively simple heavy and predominantly mid-paced take on the genre isn´t miles away from the output of some of the acts the members are or have been involved with before.

Karl Willetts always had a distinct sounding hoarse but intelligible growling style, which he still has on "The Silent Vigil", although he sounds a little powerless here (I´m not sure if it´s age and wear on the voice or if it´s a conscious choice, but he is a paler shade of his younger self on this release). The riffs and rhythms are relatively simple and the same is true for the song structures. While it works most of the time, "The Silent Vigil" as an album does have a tendency to become a bit one-dimensional, and featuring 10 tracks and full playing time of 57:12 minutes, the album ends up overstaying its welcome by a couple of tracks. If you are going to release an album which is almost an hour long, a little more variation is needed to maintain the listeners attention.

"The Silent Vigil" features a decent sounding production. It´s nothing out of the ordinary for the genre, but it gets the job done and suits the material well. So upon conclusion it´s a solid old school death metal release by Memoriam, but it doesn´t quite hold the potential to be a classic in the genre (few contemporary releases do). Still a 3 star (60%) rating is warranted.

SIGH Heir to Despair

Album · 2018 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 3.98 | 5 ratings
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voila_la_scorie
Though I’ve lived in Japan for nearly 20 years, I don’t know many Japanese metal bands, and until recently, I didn’t know Sigh either. Then within the space of about a week, not only was Sigh mentioned in two metal album discussion videos I watched on YouTube, but their album “Heir to Despair” showed up in a recommended albums message from Amazon. Being a sucker for album art, I ordered the album right after checking out whose album cover this painting graced. Then I made a quick visit to YouTube to make sure I hadn’t ordered something that would leave me dubiously scratching my chin.

The artwork really intrigued me. It has a very 1950’s/60’s, Showa” Japanese look to it. The woman is smiling as beautifully as though she were a star actress posing for a movie poster. And yet the plant she waters has withered and the room behind her looks not only austere but items on the floor and torn images on the walls suggest that someone had a serious freak out session in there. Word is the image and the album are about insanity? (The Japanese text translates directly to “Inheritor of despair”, by the way)

I had no idea about what music to expect except for that it would be metal. That Sigh cover black metal, avant-garde metal, progressive metal and more was unknown to me; however, before the album was over I could have guessed most of that myself. The music is speedy, melodic, symphonic at times, suggestive of power metal in a spot or two, and holds a fudge ton of progressive and odd bits to make sure that the album never becomes repetitive. One thing I’m very glad to hear is the variety of additional instruments, particularly traditional instruments like koto and shamisen, but also a good variety of other sounds and affects. Flute also figures in prominently in some tracks. The “Heresy” trilogy is the most exceptional moment on the album with distorted vocoder vocals, electronic effects, sounds and voices, and a liberal amount of creative editing used to great effect.

Actually, the whole album very masterfully weaves together such an eclectic melange of metal styles so that crunchy guitars yield to Eastern music for a space, flute delightfully plays along to distortion-enriched power chords, symphonic elements add the extra “umph” to some parts, accordion lends a folk feeling, and traditional Japanese instruments expand the soundscape further. As another reviewer stated, one never can be sure of where the next track will go or what will follow.

I’m not especially a fan of Japanese vocals in any popular music genre because I find them usually too similar in a predictable way. But here, the vocal styles and sounds I would expect from a Japanese metal band don’t remain stuck in a trench. They are principally black metal croaks but joined at times by growls. There are also chanted vocals and rapid fire, staccato utterances. Most of the lyrics are in Japanese for which I’m grateful as I sometimes cringe the way some vocalists struggle with English phonetics. (To give an example from another band, “I cross my heart / I cross my eyes” when “cross” was supposed to be “close”). Yet, to give praise where it’s due, none of the English on “Heir to Despair” has stood out for being poorly pronounced to my ears. Then again, I’ve mostly been enjoying the sounds of the music and vocals and haven’t concentrated on the lyrics.

Having never heard any other Sigh albums, I have nothing to compare this to. But I’m very impressed with the package presented here. I love an album of creative and diverse musical approaches, and the recording quality captures all the band’s efforts really well. It’s a delight to listen to this album!

SIGH Heir to Despair

Album · 2018 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 3.98 | 5 ratings
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Kev Rowland
Sigh have been one of the most interesting Japanese bands for some time now, and here with their eleventh album they have taken another musical turn in their journey which may surprise some and will delight many. It is an album about insanity, and at first glance at the artwork that doesn’t make sense as surely the woman watering her flowers is smiling? Find a nice big version of the image and you will realise the plants are dying, it not already dead, and the room behind her is in chaos. Japanese band Sigh will release their eleventh studio album Heir to Despair on November 16 via Candlelight Records. The album is mostly sung in Japanese, which is very unusual for the band, while Mirai Kawashima used some Japanese traditional singing techniques and Kevin Kmetz, formerly of Estradasphere and master of the traditional Japanese instrument, the shamisen, is featured on several tracks. This definitely gives the band a very traditional feel.

While their last album, ‘Graveward’, contained some symphonic and orchestral elements, this has one has been inspired by progressive bands and contains plenty of vintage keyboards and flute as well as the riffing guitars we would normally expect. The band state they been paying attention to the likes Brainticket, Embryo, Agitation Free, Between, Gentle Giant, Os Mutantes, Modulo 1000 and Black Widow, which isn’t a list one can imagine ever seeing from a Japanese metal act. I love the sheer diversity of this album, one never knows what is coming next, either from the next song or even the next few bars of the song which is being played. One might imagine it to be incredibly challenging, but in fact it is actually a really easy album to listen to. I enjoyed it the first time I played it, and each time since then has allowed me to discover something else.

Sigh continue to move, change, and challenge both themselves and their fans, and this is an incredibly strong result on every level.

KRAANIUM Slamchosis

Album · 2018 · Brutal Death Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
Any album which starts with Cameron Britton (as Edmund Temper in the superb series ‘Mindhunter’) saying “it’s not easy butchering people, it’s hard work”, just has to be interesting and that is certainly the case here. That isn’t the only lift from that series, as various quotes make their way into the album, and it shows just how intense this is when these are the times when it lightens up a little. This is brutal death metal, their fifth album, and it is a full-on metallic onslaught from the first note to the very last. It grooves, it moves, and it hits the brain like a runaway express train. They do slow it down at times, and let the drums move to the centre while the guitarists have a rest, but all this is just a deliberate ploy so that when they come back it feels even more brutal than it was before.

It is a piledriver of an album, everyone in perfect sync to create riffs incredibly intense, and then over the top is singer Jack Papp Fahlberg Christensen, who is an incredible find. This is his first album with the band, taking over from founder Martin Funderdud who sadly took his own life in 2017, but Martin’s guitarist brother Mats is still there, driving the band onto new heights. I haven’t heard much from the band prior to this album, but this is one of the best examples of the genre I have come across in quite some time. If ever there was an album to lose the dandruff to then this must be it. Over the top in every area, the use of words from ‘Mindhunter’ adds additional polish and shows their thought processes at play. One of the songs, “Gratification Through Annihilation”, even takes its title from one of the lines. The line at the beginning of “Larva Infested Cum Sluts” (okay, so maybe it’s not all that polished – reminds me a little of Spinal Tap), is one of my favourites of the whole series, and I can still “see” the scene quite clearly.

This is quite some beast, and now it is out of its cage you can’t say you haven’t been warned. Intense, disturbing, superb.

ELUVEITIE Ategnatos

Album · 2019 · Folk Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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DippoMagoo
There have been a lot of metal bands making an impressive resurgence in recent years, following either long periods of inactivity, or a big lineup change that initially seemed like a major setback. One such band to enter a new era recently is Swiss folk/melodeath band Eluveitie, who had released six great to excellent albums during their first twelve years of existence, before announcing some huge lineup changes in 2016, the biggest of which being the departure of Anna Murphy (Vocals, Hurdy Gurdy) and the addition of Fabienne Erni (Vocals, Mandola, Harp.) One year later, the band would release Evocation II – Pantheon, the long-anticipated sequel to their first ever acoustic folk release. However, while I found that album is enjoyable enough, it left me desperately wanting to hear how their new lineup would sound on a heavier album, so when the band’s eighth full-length release, Ategnatos, was announced, I was excited to hear how it would turn out. Now that it is here, it has not only exceeded my expectations: it has become by far my favorite Eluveitie album to date, and one that represents all aspects of their music perfectly, while also showing small signs of evolution.

Eluveitie essentially has two main aspects to their music: The heavy, melodeath infused sections where frontman Chrigel Glanzmann leads the way with his epic, varied growls, and the softer, more epic and melodic folk passages. The two often intersect on many tracks, and I generally find these tracks to be the band’s best works, with the mix between harsh and clean vocals, along with the heavy guitar work and extensive folk melodies, coming from many different unique instruments, all coming together to create something special. Stylistically, Ategnatos delivers more of what any fan of the band would want, with many straight-forward, hard-hitting melodeath passages, a fair amount of softer passages where Fabienne steals the show with her light, yet very powerful and emotional vocals, and a ton of sections where the two styles come together for something truly amazing. There are also some sections where the guitar work goes a bit into metalcore territory, though this is handled very well, and adds an extra level of intensity, without taking things too far, and there are also a ton of nice softer sections, as well as a couple of more danceable, somewhat pop-ish tracks, where Fabienne really gets to shine. Performances are strong across the board, as always, with Chrigel and all musicians, both old and new, doing a great job, while Fabienne really gets to shine in her first full album (Evocation II was very light on vocals) and proves to be an excellent addition to the band. The production is also top-notch, with all the different elements coming together perfectly, and it all sounds wonderful together.

As great as everything sounds, the most impressive part of the album is how the songwriting manages to be both incredibly varied and extremely consistent, with some of Eluveitie’s most dynamic songwriting to date, as well as some of their catchiest, most satisfying songs in quite some time. The title track (which also serves as the lead single) kicks things off in typical fashion, with a brief narrative section, which introduces the album’s overarching theme of rebirth (a very fitting theme, considering the band’s circumstances) and then there’s an extended sequence of folk instrumentation and choral vocals, before the guitars eventually take over and the band charges ahead with their classic melodeath sound, as Chrigel mixes high and low growls together wonderfully during some fun verses, and Fabienne joins along during a fun, soft chorus. It’s a very nice track and does a great job of alternating between speedy, intense melodeath passages, and more melodic folk sections. It’s an excellent indication of what to expect from the album.

I’ll divide the rest of the album into three categories, starting with the heavier, more melodeath focused tracks. First up, we have “A Cry in the Wilderness”, which starts out with nice folk instrumentation and percussion, before speeding ahead during some intense, fast-paced verses. It has a nice combination of folk instrumentation and heavy guitar work, and is a very heavy and fun track, with Chrigel delivering some epic growls, especially during the chorus. The most intense track, though, is “Mine is the Fury”, a short but absolutely brutal track, which has the most frantic, hardest hitting verses, as well as an intense, somewhat groove infused middle section. It does make use of some great folk melodies, but it’s a very hard hitting track, overall, and quite the fun one as well. A couple of tracks later is “Worship”, a track which has some epic folk melodies as well as some narration and it’s probably the most melodic of the Chrigel dominated tracks, but it’s still fast and very heavy at points, especially during the verses, while the chorus is more melodic, though Chrigel still delivers some very powerful, lower pitched growls, which work great. Lastly, we have “Threefold Death”, which has some beautiful vocals from Fabienne during soft passages at the beginning and near the end, but for the rest of its duration it’s rapid-fire, pulverizing melodeath track, with more very heavy guitar work, and epic growls from Chrigel.

On the softer side, there are three nice interludes throughout the album, which are mostly pure Celtic folk, and transition nicely between full-length songs. The first softer full-length song is “The Raven Hill”, which is one of the purest folk metal tracks on the album, with some nice Celtic folk melodies laying the backdrops for a more relaxing, though still intense track. Chrigel growls during the verses, while Fabienne delivers some nice vocals during the chorus, as well as during the intro, and it’s a very melodic, very beautiful track overall, with some especially great folk instrumentation throughout the track. One particularly unique track is “Ambiramus”, a fun, more pop-ish track with some very danceable melodies, as the folk instruments have a catchy, almost electronic sound to them, that is only really noticeable on this track. it’s a soft track, with slow verses and a very upbeat, extremely catchy chorus where Fabienne delivers some of her most powerful and inspired vocals on the entire album. It was definitely a great choice for a single and is one of the best songs on the album. Near the end of the album, “Breathe”, is another very beautiful track with a heavy focus on folk melodies. It does have some heavy guitar work, especially during the instrumental section in the second half, but it’s a slower paced, very melodic track overall, where Fabienne really gets to showcase her smooth and beautiful, yet very powerful voice. It could end up being one of the less liked tracks on the album, but it’s actually one of my personal favorites, due to how relaxing and catchy it is, as well as how amazing the vocals are throughout. Lastly, the album closes off with Eclipse”, a soft outro type track, which takes the main melody and lyrics from the previous track, “Rebirth”, and allows Fabienne to run with it, resulting in another stunning vocal showcase.

While both the heavier and softer tracks are amazing, the tracks that strike a balance between the two tend to be among my favorites. First up, following the title track and an interlude, is “Deathwalker”, a track which has some very heavy, slightly metalcore infused guitar work during the verses, while still having some beautiful folk melodies, as well as a very fun, upbeat chorus where both vocalists work together wonderfully. Similarly, “Black Water Dawn”, does an excellent job of alternating between heavy and softer passages, especially during the chorus, while the verses move along a decent, but not an overly fast pace, and have some intense growls. The chorus, though, is very melodic and gives Fabienne some room to work with, while the instrumental section in the second half is heavy, intense and really cool. On the softer side, but still having some intense growled sections is “The Slumber”, which has some more excellent folk melodies throughout, and it’s a slower, very calm track overall, with some heavy growled parts during the verses, and some beautiful, soft melodies during the chorus, which is dominated by clean vocals. The last full-length song on the album is “Rebirth”, which is the first song releases from the track, but it came out about a year and a half ago, so it’s hard to really call it a lead single. If anything, it initially served more like a tease at what fans could expect to hear from the band in the future. Either way, it’s an absolute stunner of a track, and probably my favorite on the album, again alternating wonderfully between speedy melodeath sections, with a slight touch of metalcore during some slower, pounding sections, as well as a very melodic chorus, where Fabienne gets to shine. The instrumental section in the second half is absolutely epic and spectacular, while the ending is also perfect and serves as a great lead into the aforementioned closing track, which ends the album wonderfully.

When Eluveitie announced their major lineup changes a few years ago I was concerned, and wondered whether they would be able to retain their high quality, but now that I’ve heard Ategnatos, I’m very pleased to say the band has stormed back in a wonderful way, producing possibly their best, most dynamic release to date! It strikes a perfect balance between their classic melodeath elements, as well as their epic Celtic folk sound, and it serves as an excellent full debut for new vocalist Fabienne Enri, while still allowing frontman Chrigel Glanzmann to shine as much as ever before. Longtime fans of the band should be pleased with the album, while fans of either folk or melodeath are highly recommended to give it a listen, as it’s likely to be among the best albums from either genre released this year.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2019/04/06/eluveitie-ategnatos-review/

COHEED AND CAMBRIA Vaxis – Act I: The Unheavenly Creatures

Album · 2018 · Heavy Alternative Rock
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Kingcrimsonprog
2018’s Unheavenly Creatures, (or to give it its full title ‘Vaxis – Act I: The Unheavenly Creatures’) is modern prog masters Coheed And Cambria’s 9th full-length studio album. It follows up from their 2015 record The Color Before The Sun, which departed from their Amory Wars concept album series, and Unheavenly Creatures sees the band return once more to their sci-fi comic book concept.

Don’t worry if you haven’t been following the story, which is already out of order with various prequels and side stories, as the songs are that catchy anyway you don’t have to follow the story as closely as some other concept albums. It’s a nice touch if you are paying attention, but the band have always been more than just a story, they aren’t a gimmick band and the music, vocals and sound have always been just as noteworthy as the concept.

Musically; The Color Before The Sun was also a bit of an evolution which saw some new territories covered, with big stadium rock riffs and bubblegum melodies. Unheavenly Creatures incorporates parts of that, while also leaning more on the style the band were going for on the two Good Apollo albums from 2005 and 2007.

The vocals, the production and lead guitars are all superb and continue the long tradition of interesting and memorable songs that are easy on the ear, but come across as progressive when you look at them more closely. The band have all the hooks of the catchiest pop punk bands, all the solos of the catchiest NWOBHM guitar masters and an ear for production that always makes them sound humongous. This album is no exception. Just listen to the powerful opener ‘The Dark Sentencer,’ when Claudio sings ‘‘Kiss your lover with that filthy mouth you fucking monster’’ you just want to scream along with it like you’re on top of a cliff in the November Rain video.

That being said, its not an instant album, in fact it is 79 minutes long, so there is quite a lot to get through and it can take a lot of spins to really sink your teeth in to, but there is a lot to love if you are willing to give it the time.

For a band who, in my opinion, haven’t released a bad album yet, it can be quite hard to make a recommendation to an outsider. That being said, the general public would seem to suggest Year Of The Black Rainbow and The Afterman Descension from 2010 and 2013 respectively are the band’s least impactful works, whereas the public would advise In Keeping Secrets Of Silent Earth 3 and the lengthily titled Good Apollo, Tonight I’m Burning Star IV, Volume One: From Fear Through The Eyes Of Madness (commonly just called ‘4’ or ‘Good Apollo’ for ease) are the ones to check out first… at this point I can’t really imagine not loving a Coheed album, but just in case, I would say don’t pick this as your first one. Pick up 3, 4 and Afterman Ascension at a minimum before getting this one.

Once you are an established fan though; this is not an album you want to miss. Some of these choruses will bounce around your head for days. Some of the guitar lines are as memorable as the average band’s choruses. The first four songs alone have more memorable moments than most albums. In fact, take any four songs in a row, the first four, the last four, any four in between. Even the slower moments like ‘Queen Of The Dark’ pop on this. If you want to dip your toes in, some of the highlights include ‘True Ugly,’ ‘All On Fire,’ ‘Toys,’ and ‘Unheavenly Creatures.’

EVERGREY The Atlantic

Album · 2019 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.94 | 5 ratings
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Kev Rowland
I’m not sure, but I think the last Evergrey album I heard prior to this one was ‘Monday Morning Apocalypse’, which came out in 2006, but apart from bassist Johan Niemann the line-up is exactly the same as it was back then. Tom S. Englund provides vocals and guitars, and he is joined by Henrik Danhage (guitars), Rikard Zander (keyboards) and Jonas Ekdahl (drums). Back in 2004, when reviewing ‘The Inner Circle’ I said, “They are more to the metal end of the prog metal genre than their contemporaries, and the result is a type of music that is extremely loud and heavy while maintaining the melody and invention of the genre.” In very many ways that is still true today, except there are passages when they show they can hit into ballads when the time is right.

They are a very heavy band, with harmony vocals, loads of commercial hooks and a production which takes off the rough edges without ever losing the majesty of the performance. They have a huge sound, and one can imagine Devin Townsend being involved with production, as they convey images of Muse with Opeth yet still hitting mainstream hooks and sounds. Unlike certain bands from their hometown of Gothenburg, they continue to delight, and show no sign at all of moving away from their determined path. I do regret missing out on the last four studio albums, and if they are nearly as good as this, I see I have some investment to undertake. Twenty years on, Everygrey are still delivering the progtastic metallic goods.

SUICIDAL TENDENCIES Still Cyco Punk After All These Years

Album · 2018 · Hardcore Punk
Cover art 3.42 | 2 ratings
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UMUR
"Still Cyco Punk After All These Years" is the 11th full-length studio album by US, California based thrash/crossover/heavy metal act Suicidal Tendencies. The album was released through Suicidal Records in September 2018. It´s the successor to "World Gone Mad" from 2016, although the two full-length studio albums are bridged by the "Get Your Fight On!" EP from March 2018. Since the EP was recorded guitarist Jeff Pogan has left.

The title of the album is a pun on the band´s 1993 release "Still Cyco After All These Years" which in part is a re-recording of Suicidal Tendencies self-titled debut album from 1983. The reason for the pun is that "Still Cyco Punk After All These Years" is also a re-recording of a debut album. This time around it´s a re-recording of Suicidal Tendencies frontman Mike Muir´s solo debut full-length studio album "Lost My Brain! (Once Again)" from 1996. The tracklist is in a different order to the original and the band have opted to omit the two tracks "Cyco Miko Wants You" and "Ain't Mess'n Around", but have included "Sippin' from the Insanitea" instead, which wasn´t on the original release. To those who miss the brilliant "Ain't Mess'n Around", the re-recording of that song is available on the "Get Your Fight On! (2018)" EP.

Other than a different track order, a more contemporary sounding production job, and some minor rearrangements of the material, the tracks on "Still Cyco Punk After All These Years" are generally pretty true to the original material from 1996. These are good quality punk/hardcore songs, but it´s up for discussion how necessary it was to re-record them, when the originals were already well performed and well produced. Sure this is an almost completely different lineup recording the material to the lineup who recorded the material for "Lost My Brain! (Once Again) (1996)", but that´s really not enough to justify the recording and release of "Still Cyco Punk After All These Years". A 3 - 3.5 star (65%) rating is still deserved though, as this is some good quality material, but personally I´d much rather listen to the originals.

VLTIMAS Something Wicked Marches In

Album · 2019 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.55 | 2 ratings
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Nightfly
We’re already a quarter of the way through 2019 and although there’s plenty of time yet, apart from a small handful, I haven’t been overwhelmed by the quantity of great death metal on offer so far. Enter Vltimas then who have come along at just the right time to give a much needed injection of classic death metal. The members of this band, which hopefully won’t turn out to be a one off side-line, should need little introduction to fans of extreme metal. They are David Vincent - ex-Morbid Angel, Flo Mounier – Cryptopsy and Rune “Blasphemer” Eriksen – ex-Mayhem. Having not listened to a lot of Mayhem, or his other bands for that matter, it is Eriksen that is the unknown quantity here from my point of view but the other two have both featured on some of the most essential death metal albums ever released.

Whilst so called supergroups can often add up to less than the individuals taking part that is certainly not the case here. Something Wicked Marches In is an absolute blast from start to finish without a weak track on offer. The playing is phenomenal. Of course Flo Mounier’s credentials as one of the greatest death metal drummers is not in doubt and he turns in an incredible performance displaying his trademark speed and dexterity. David Vincent is one of the best and most recognisable growlers in the business, his work with Morbid Angel made him a legend but why’s he not also playing bass here? All guitar duties are handled by Rune Eriksen and it is he, no doubt partly through my lack of past experience that provides the biggest surprise and turns in a phenomenal performance.

The nine songs don’t really sound like any of the bands that they’re generally associated with though Vincent sounds like you’d expect so you can’t help thinking Morbid Angel. Not surprisingly Eriksen brings a blackened touch to his riffs with plenty of tremolo picking and a healthy dose of dissonance injected too. It’s really his guitar work that defines the songs as his riffs are never less than inventive and captivating. When he gets into serious tremelo picking he impresses with a blur of notes but then will shift into something simpler and heavier in a flash and then into atmospheric arpeggios. It’s this variety that really makes the album. Of course Mounier’s blur of blast beats, breakneck speed fills and double kick drums backs it all up to perfection so Eriksen can’t take all the credit. Vincent’s vocals too are also integral to the success of the album as his clear growl attests. Picking favourites is not easy as with all great albums overall consistency is essential and present here but if pushed I’d go for Last Ones Alive Wins Nothing, Everlasting and Praevalidus as pick of the bunch, between them perfectly encapsulating the scope of this great band.

I really hope this doesn’t turn out to be a one off project as this band is too good to leave us with only one album. As I said earlier I’m not familiar with most of Eriksen’s work so can’t comment but as far as Vincent and Mounier go, neither have been involved in anything as good as this for some time despite the last couple of Crpytopsy EP’s being rated very highly by me.

HEIR APPARENT The View from Below

Album · 2018 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"The View from Below" is the 3rd full-length studio album by US power/progressive metal act Heir Apparent. The album was released through No Remorse Records in October 2018. Heir Apparent formed as far back as 1983 and released their debut album "Graceful Inheritance" in 1986, to a generally positive reception and more than one raving review in the contemporary metal press. It took the band three years to release their sophomore album "One Small Voice (1989)", and unfortunately for the band their window of opportunity had closed, and they disbanded in 1990. They had a short reunitement in 1998, and reunited again in 2000 playing sporadic shows. They recorded a demo in 2003 but other than that and a couple of compilation releases, there has been no new output from Heir Apparent since the release of "One Small Voice (1989)", making "The View from Below" the band´s first studio release in 29 years.

Quite a few things have happened on the metal scene in those years and of course also within the Heir Apparent camp. Naturally and not surprisingly there have been a couple of lineup changes since the release of "One Small Voice (1989)". Lead vocalist Steve Benito has been replaced by Will Shaw and keyboard player Michael Jackson has been replaced by Op Sakiya. The remaining part of the lineup who recorded the predecessor are bassist Derek Peace, guitarist Terry Gorle, and drummer Ray Schwartz (who in the band´s original run went under the name Ray Black).

"Graceful Inheritance (1986)" was a decent quality US power/heavy metal release, while "One Small Voice (1989)" took the band´s music in a slightly more progressive direction. The material on "The View from Below" is a continuation of the US power/progressive metal sound of the predecessor, but it´s generally a far more intense, dark and heavy release than anything the band have released before. Shaw is a more than capable replacement for Benito, and he delivers a strong and passionate vocal performance throughout the album. He is able to hit the high notes, but also capable of singing more raw vocals (not extreme by any means of course).

Keyboards still have an atmosphere enhancing place in the soundscape (sometimes providing the music with an epic feel), but it´s not the type of album where any instrument stand out above the others. All instruments and vocals are well balanced in the mix. It´s a well sounding, professional, and powerful production job, which suits the material perfectly.

The material on the 8 track, 45:05 minutes long album are well written, featuring strong vocal melodies and catchy moments. It´s predominantly slow- to mid-paced music, but "Savior" is a slightly faster-paced track, which fully showcases that Heir Apparent also master that type of musical expression. In their 1980s heyday Heir Apparent were often mentioned along artists like Queensrÿche, Crimson Glory, and Fates Warning, but it´s especially the former mentioned and their mid- to late-1980s output, which is a valid reference. "The View from Below" features some of the same almost futuristic features as Queensrÿche´s 1986 "Rage for Order" album. Upon conclusion it´s a brilliant release on almost all parameters possible. Not genre defining nor pushing the boundaries of US power/progressive metal, but it´s a high quality release deserving a 4 star (80%) rating.

MAGNUM Live At The Symphony Hall

Album · 2019 · Hard Rock
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
Back in 1980, I was perusing the singles at my local branch of Woolworths, and saw a double live single by a band I had never heard of, but it was only 50p! Looking at the photo on the rear they appeared to be a rock band so thought I would give it a try. I took it home, played it, and was then straight back down the shops to purchase the latest album, ‘Marauder’. None of the four songs were contained on the live album, but I was immediately a fan of everything I heard. At the time I had no idea who they were, but on the basis of that album I ordered the first two, ‘Kingdom of Madness’ and ‘II’. From here on I was a fan, grabbing each album when it came out, but I don’t think even the fans were expecting the majestic might that was ‘On A Storyteller’s Night’ in 1985. During the Eighties/early Nineties I saw them in concert multiple times (the first time I ever saw IQ was when they supported Magnum!), but until the last studio album must confess to having heard nothing by the band since 2004’s ‘Brand New Morning’. Nothing to do with the band, but moving to the other side of the world meant I just lost touch with what they were doing.

But when I realised they had a new live album out, then of course I had to get it. Guitarist Tony Clarkin and singer Bob Catley are of course still there, without them both this could never be Magnum, and bassist Al Barrow was working with them when Magnum stopped with Tony and Bob forming Hard Rain and has been in the band ever since. I am sorry to see Mark Stanway left in 2016 after many years of service, as I always felt he was a much under-rated keyboard player, but here he has been replaced by Rick Benton while drummer Lee Morris joined in 2007 when Thunder’s ‘Arry felt he could no longer commit. By now surely everyone knows what they are going to get from a Magnum concert. They have cornered the market in British pomp rock, and the way the keyboards and guitar link are really like no other. Tony has never enjoyed playing solos, so these are few and far between and are far slower and more melodic than one would expect from a guitar hero, as instead he provides the crunching riffs everyone enjoys so much. Just listen to the crowd joining in during “How Far Jerusalem”, not letting even an extended bass solo slow them down too much. This was their first gig in Birmingham for a while and was at the end of a 42-date tour, so both they and the crowd were on fire.

The older numbers such as “Don’t Wake The Lion” are still my favourites to honest, just because I know them so very well indeed. Guest Tobias Sammet (Avantasia, Edguysounds like he also had a great time when he appeared for ‘Lost On The Road To Eternity’ to provide additional vocals, just like he did for the track’s studio recording. It is a wonderful album, with Bob showing that hitting 70 has had no impact whatsoever on his vocals – he is one singer I have always been impressed with as he is always in total control, and again proves it in spades. One problem of a band who have been going for so many years (formed in 1972, first album in 1978) is the amount of material they have available when it comes to a setlist, so there are always going to be favourites missing. But I never thought I would hear a Magnum concert without “Kingdom of Madness”, and it doesn’t appear to have been on the set list for when this was recorded on 19th April 2018. But that really is a small moan, Magnum have always been a great live band, and 40 years on from their debut they prove it yet again.

BURNING WITCHES Hexenhammer

Album · 2018 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 3.33 | 5 ratings
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Kev Rowland
Burning Witches are an all-female quintet from Switzerland, and I do wonder if they would have managed to get signed to label as powerful as the mighty Nuclear Blast if their gender hadn’t been a factor. Girlschool were/are a mighty metallic force to be reckoned with, and have released some stunning albums over the years, but Burning Witches have returned with their second release with something that, at best, can be said to be both pedestrian and boring. Here is a band destined only ever to be the support on tours, and not the headline, unless there is a significant change in their approach. They come across more like a modern-day German power metal outfit than anything else, but without the force and dynamics. The sound is really very good, but when that is the best thing on an album then one has to start to worry.

Get all the way through to the end and one comes across the only cover on the album, Dio’s mighty “Holy Diver”. At least in some ways this shows how important the performance is, as in terms of notes this is fairly similar to the original, but in terms of how it is played it really is chalk and cheese. I have nothing against female singers, or female bands in general, to me it is all about the music and in this case the album is sadly lacking. It may not be awful, but there is nothing here that makes me think they will ever make it out of the middle of the second division.

BLOODBOUND Rise of the Dragon Empire

Album · 2019 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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DippoMagoo
It’s very common for bands within similar genres to influence one another. In fact, many bands are often influenced by those from within completely different genres. Bands borrowing ideas from another is quite common and can work quite well, as long as the band in question is willing to put their own unique touches on the music, to make it stand out. However, there’s always a tight line one must walk in such a case, so as not to fall into outright impersonation, or worse, plagiarism.

One band who has been clearly wearing their influences on their sleeves in recent years is Swedish power metal band Bloodbound. They initially started out with their own sound, being one of the heavier power metal bands around, but they’ve evolved a lot over the years, with their sixth album, Stormborn, in particular marking the beginning of their current brand of symphonic infused power metal, clearly influenced by Sabaton. Where that album and its successor, War of Dragons, showed clear influences of the aforementioned band on many tracks, however, their upcoming eighth full length release, Rise of the Dragon Empire, comes dangerously close to total impersonation at times, with some tracks feeling unmistakably familiar. However, the band has managed to work their magic, and put in enough of their own unique qualities, as well as continued with their usual excellent songwriting, in order to craft yet another excellent album, even if it does feel like a slight step down from their last couple.

Stylistically, Rise of the Dragon Empire is very similar to War of Dragons, with the band softening their sound even further, giving way to a largely keyboard dominant sound, with a continued emphasis on huge vocal melodies and epic choruses. The biggest change to the sound is the inclusion of some minor folk elements, which appear here and there on some tracks, though they’re most noticeable on “The Warlock’s Trail” and the closing ballad “Reign of Fire”. Aside from the slight issues of musical plagiarism, which I’ll get into in a bit, the songwriting is consistently excellent once again, with a continued focus on fun, catchy and very melodic power metal, with some symphonic influences, just as one would expect from a follow up to the band’s most successful album to date. Performances are strong across the board, with dual guitarists Henrik and Tomas Olsson, keyboardist Fredrik Bergh and vocalist Patrik J. Selleby all being in top form, as always, with the latter occasionally sounding a bit softer than usual, to fit the tone of the music, though he can still carry an epic chorus just as well as ever.

I usually do my song by song breakdowns in order, but for this album I’ll start with the slightly problematic tracks and slowly work my way up to the highlights, to end the review on a more positive note. First up, while the track is excellent in its own right, being a very melodic, somewhat upbeat track with some slight folk influence in the guitars, it doesn’t have the energy or speed one would expect from an opening track by this band. It does have an amazing chorus, though, except that Patrik sounds slightly quieter than normal, and doesn’t seem fully engaged. Two tracks later is “Skyriders and Stormbringers”, where right from the start of my first listen, my plagiarism detector went off, with the opening bars of the chorus being oddly familiar, and then once the opening verse starts, the main drum beat kicks in and it feels so similar to “Carolus Rex” by Sabaton, it’s just really hard to shake it off and fully enjoy the track. However, the chorus itself is absolutely spectacular once it kicks in, and over time, once I was able to get over the obvious impersonation, the song has managed to grow on me a lot, with the highlight being an incredible sped up passage in the middle, and that’s by far the freshest sounding section on the track.

The Sabaton soundalike marathon continues on “Blackwater Bay”, a slow, largely keyboard driven track, which has some very epic choral vocal during the verses, as well as a very fun and catchy chorus, It’s a slower paced track, very much in line with what the aforementioned band has been doing a lot lately, though it does have enough memorable moments to help make it stand out, so it doesn’t suffer as much from the comparison as “Skyriders and Stormbringers”. The last song that feels extremely familiar is “Giants of Heaven”, a speedier track where the opening riff really feels like it could have been taken from the likes of “Solider of 3 Armies”, “Poltava” or “Counterstrike”, among others, though there are some strong, epic symphonic elements to help distinguish it a bit, and the verses are explosive, while the chorus is every bit as epic and catchy as always, so it still ends up being an amazing track. Honestly, all four of these tracks are excellent in their own right, but I felt I had to mention how familiar they feel, as fans of the band in question may be taken a bit off guard, and think they accidentally put on the wrong album, or something.

Moving into more positive territory, “Breaking the Beast” is a fun, hard hitting heavy metal infused track, with some surprisingly heavy riffs during the opening, as well as during the excellent chorus, while the verses are melodic, but keep the momentum going nicely. It’s not quite amazing, like many of the other tracks here, but it’s still a very satisfying track, overall. Closing ballad “Reign of Fire”, is one of two more folk infused tracks here, with folk melodies dominating the music throughout, and it’s a very beautiful track, with calm, slow building verses giving way to an epic chorus, where Patrik goes all out and sounds amazing, especially near the end of the track.

And now, it’s time to mention the true killers, starting with lead single “Slayer of Kings”, a fast paced track, which starts off with a calm, melodic intro section, before the band quickly speeds things up and keeps the momentum going with some blistering riffs, thundering drums and epic vocals during the verses, before giving a way to a slow, but super melodic and unbelievably fun and catchy chorus. This is the kind of track the band excels at, and they really knocked it out of the park on this one. Two tracks later, “Magical Eye” is a more symphonic influenced, but still fast paced track, which is a bit lighter, but still has some great riffs, as well as an incredibly addictive chorus, fun verses, and an excellent guitar solo in the second half.

The most folk infused track here is “The Warlock’s Trail”, a mid paced stomper of a track, which uses its folk melodies very nicely during the chorus, while having some epic, fun verses. The chorus in particular is one of the best here, though, with a very cheery tone, epic vocals and a strong folk influence, to help make it absolutely wonderful, with the last run through being especially amazing. Near the end of the album is “Balerion”, another very speedy, highly symphonic track, with a slight neoclassical feel in the guitar work. It’s one of the fastest tracks here, while still having some great keys, and the chorus is again outstanding, while the verses are fast, furious and a ton of fun, and the guitar solo near the end is very epic and well played. The highlight of the track is an amazing stop/start section right near the end, and the ensuing final run through the chorus is awe inspiring.

My favourite track on the album, though, is “A Blessing in Sorcery”, another very speedy track, which definitely has some of that Sabaton influence in the keys, but unlike the other tracks I mentioned earlier, it doesn’t remind me of any particular tracks, instead using those influences in a more subtle way to craft something even more epic and unbelievably addictive and catchy, with the chorus in particular being one of the best sing along choruses I’ve come across in quite some time, while the rest of the song moves at a great pace, and is very melodic and epic, as well, with the choral section in the middle being particularly unforgettable. It’s simply the band at their absolute best, and is definitely an early 2019 highlight, as well as one of my favourite Bloodbound songs to date.

I was initially a bit disappointed with Rise of the Dragon Empire, due to some of the tracks feeling dangerously familiar, but once I got over that and started digger a bit deeper into those tracks, as well as focusing more on the album’s highlights, it ended up growing on me, and has proven itself to be yet another excellent album from Bloodbound. It doesn’t quite match Stormborn or War of Dragons, but it’s still a highly addictive, very melodic album, with some amazing choruses, as well as being the band’s most varied album in quite a while, continuing with the symphonic elements of its predecessor, while adding in some subtle folk elements. Fans of the band should love it, and fans of the more melodic, keyboard driven side of the genre are highly recommended to check this album out, as Bloodbound continue to be one of the best in the business, even if their influences are starting to become a bit too obvious, at times.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2019/03/16/bloodbound-rise-of-the-dragon-empire-review/

WITHERFALL A Prelude To Sorrow

Album · 2018 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
When I first heard the second album from this American progressive/power metal act I was instantly reminded of Iced Earth, especially the period when Tim Owens joined forces with Jon Schaffer. It was only on reading the press release that I realised that main songwriter, guitarist Jake Dreyer, has been a member of that band for the last few years as well. Was he chosen for Iced Earth as he was already performing and writing in that style, or has his day job rubbed off on him? Either way, this is an album which fans of Schaffer are going to be very interested in indeed. Both he and singer Joseph Michael (Sanctuary, Midnight Reign) have been there since the beginning in 2013, and are showing no sign at all of slowing down.

The one thing that does let them down at times is the consistency and quality of the material, but there is no doubt at all that these guys can play, and drummer Steve Bolognese may have only joined in 2017 but his experience with the likes of Ross The Boss shines through. Michael has a great range, able to power up and hit high notes quite easily with no loss of force, and the guitars are huge both in the riffing and shredding stakes. But even after playing this album multiple times, all I can ever remember about it is when it finishes is that it reminds me of Iced Earth, but without the depth in quality when it comes to material. Good, but certainly not essential.

WARREL DANE Shadow Work

Album · 2018 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 3 ratings
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Kev Rowland
On December 13th, 2017, Warrel Dane passed away in São Paulo while recording the follow-up to 2008’s ‘Praises To The War Machine’. ‘Shadow Work’ was supposed to be an 80 minutes long opus and while all instruments had been recorded, Warrel passed away before completing all vocal tracks. But, enough had been tracked during pre-production and the actual recording for everyone to band together and release an album which is a little more than 40 minutes long. Is this what Warrel would have released if he had still been around? Probably not, but is it just a tribute to the ex-singer of Nevermore and Sanctuary? In many ways it is, but it is also far more than that. In reality this is a bloody enjoyable album, one where Warrel had travelled to Brazil to record with Brazilian session musicians, and created a piece of art which is superb.

There is a groove underlying this, combined with very heavy guitarwork and basslines, with the drums powering it all along. His emotional vocals show his years of operatic training, as he allows his natural baritone to provide warmth and depth, rarely moving up the register. His vocals are at the forefront, but never to the detriment of what is happening around him, and given this is an unfinished album in many ways one can only wonder how massive this would have been if he had been able to do everything he had wanted with it. A fitting bookend to his musical career, this is an album that lovers of atmospheric progressive metal should seek out as it is well worth hearing.

UNEARTH Extinction(s)

Album · 2018 · Metalcore
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
Can it really be 20 years since these guys started to make a name for themselves by playing anywhere and everywhere, either at their own gigs or supporting others (I seem to recall one tour when one aim was to amend their name on the dressing room at every gig, ‘Bunearth” was quite popular). Although the rhythm section may have changed over the years, singer Trevor Phipps and guitarists Ken Susi and Buz McGrath are still flying the flag for over the top metalcore as they have through all the years. It is one of my least favourite metal genres, as many of the bands lumped in here seem to forget the metal bit and concentrate on producing something which seems way too commercial. No-one can ever accuse Unearth of that, as their music is always incredibly heavy and producer Will Putney (Thy Art Is Murder, Body Count, Every Time I Die, Suicide Silence) has created something which deserves to be permanently played at 11.

Fans of Lamb of God, Meshuggah, Whitechapel and even Trivium are going to get a great deal from this. They are turning it up, tuning it down, and refusing to conform to anyone’s idea of what should be coming from this genre as this is brutal, uncompromising metal. Sure, they take breathers here and there, but all this does is emphasise just how intense they are when it all comes back in. Chris O’Toole keeps the bottom end nailed, but a very special mention must be made of drummer Nick Pierce who not only hits the drums incredibly hard, but also uses more bass driven sounds than many drummers which keeps everything in the low register. There are many wannabe’s out there who wish they could be half as tight and as heavy as this, 20 years on and Unearth are still knocking it out of the park. This is a very special album indeed.

SOILWORK Verkligheten

Album · 2019 · Melodic Death Metal
Cover art 4.17 | 5 ratings
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UMUR
"Verkligheten" (which is the Swedish word for "Reality") is the 11th full-length studio album by Swedish metal act Soilwork. The album was released through Nuclear Blast Records in January 2019. It´s the successor to "The Ride Majestic" from 2015, although the 2016 compilation album "Death Resonance" bridges the gap between the two album releases. There have been two lineup changes since "The Ride Majestic (2015)" as drummer Dirk Verbeuren has left to join Megadeth and has been replaced by Bastian Thusgaard and bassist Markus Wibom has been replaced by Taylor Nordberg.

Stylistically "Verkligheten" is the sound of Soilwork through and through. Melodic death metal in the most accessible and polished end of the scale. Labelling the music death metal is sometimes actually a bit misleading, although there definitely are some pretty hard edged and even semi-brutal moments on the album (but they are few and far between). Other parts are so catchy and accessible though that we are closer to pop/rock melodic territory than we are to metal and there are also several of the riffs and rhythms on the album which are hard rock and heavy metal influenced rather than death and thrash metal oriented. Soilwork are however incredibly skilled composers who are able to combine all the sounds and influences into a sound that is unmistakably their own.

If you´re familiar with any of the predecing releases (maybe except for the first two which are harder edged), it´ll take you two seconds after lead vocalist Björn "Speed" Strid sings his first words, to identify that it is Soilwork you are listening to. While remaining relatively consistent Soilwork have still managed to develop and refine their sound over the years and continue to do so on "Verkligheten".

There are several standout tracks on the album and only a couple of quality "fillers". Highlights to my ears are tracks like the powerful "Arrival", "Bleeder Despoiler" (the start/stop riffs throughout the song are really great), and the ultra melodic "Full Moon Shoals" (where Strid reaches a new level of melodic excellence), but "Stålfågel" (which features some very well delivered clean female vocals by Alissa White-Gluz from Arch Enemy), the hard edged "The Wolves Are Back in Town", and the closing "You Aquiver" are also tracks which stand out.

"Verkligheten" also features a top notch sound production, and upon conclusion it´s yet another high quality release by Soilwork. It´s quite frankly amazing they are able to continue releasing albums of this quality and what is even more amazing is that they are still capable of challenging themselves as songwriters while still maintaining a signature sound this far into their career. Soilwork are one of those artists where lineup changes haven´t always been a bad thing, as the lineup changes have often meant that the band have been able to take their music in different directions (in small steps). Always under the musical guidance of Strid though which has ensured continuety. A 4 - 4.5 star (85%) rating is deserved.

SOULFLY Ritual

Album · 2018 · Groove Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
Max and the gang are back with their eleventh album, the third to feature his eldest son Zyon on drums (the line-up is completed by Marc Rizzo on lead guitar, flamenco guitar and bassist Mike Leon, plus loads of guests). The last Sepultura album was their best for years, and here we see the ex-leader of that band pulling together what is probably their finest release since 2000’s ‘Primitive’. It is aggressive, powerful, pummelling, with the underlying groove taking nothing away from the ferocity of the attack, yet there are also some native sounds at the beginning of the title track which makes one think of the mighty, incredible, “Roots, Bloody Roots”. This is an album to get all sweaty and aggressive in the mosh pit, as the guitars crank it up, while percussion and drums combine to create something very special indeed.

But just when it is getting all too much for the head to take, and there is a need for some respite, we are treated to “Demonized” which starts life as an acoustic flamenco guitar track. “Fluff” anyone? On never really knows what is going to happen, with traditional flute leading into “Blood On The Street” while closer “Soulfly XI” simply doesn’t sound as if it belongs on any album which involves a Cavalera. Gentle, restrained, delicate yet passionate and emotional, this is not the style of music one would expect from someone who brought us ‘Chaos A.D.’. This is a superb album from Soulfly, and although I said it is their finest since ‘Primitive’, it may actually be superior to both that and the debut, quite a statement I know. I haven’t been this excited about an album from Max since the debut Cavalera Conspiracy album, he and the band are truly back to form. One not to miss.

SHINING Animal

Album · 2018 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
Jørgen Munkeby (saxophonist and guitarist, a graduate of the Norwegian Academy of Music) has long been the driving force between Norway’s jazz-metal collective, Shining. Over the years they have broken down musical barriers and have refused to be categorised into any particular style of music, as they mixed progressive, technical metal, jazz, avant-garde and experimental sounds. But now he is back with something different “I was tired of doing the same thing,” he explains. “I was done with ‘Blackjazz’ and wanted to create something new and exciting. I needed a change. I’m finally at the point where I have nothing to lose and everything to win. We had 360 degrees to play with so we could’ve gone in any direction. This new record is more Muse than Meshuggah, more Ghost than Gojira, and more Biffy Clyro than Burzum!”

It is all over the place as one might expect from the quote, and given Shining are known for having the sax as a key instrument it is somewhat surprising for one not to make any appearance anywhere on this! Devin Townsend has been an obvious influence, as have Linkin Park, and it is when the guys are really pushing the envelope with downtuned guitars and stacks of groove that they really make the listener stand up and take notice. It is mainstream for the most part, and it will be interesting to see how hardcore fans view this, as while it is an okay album, it is never really much more than that, and certainly not one which would be expected from him/them. It is almost a case of treating this as a brand-new band, and while the sound is very modern and powerful, for some reason it feels as if it as all been produced at the same level and consequently there just isn’t enough drama for it to be consistently interesting.

SUICIDAL TENDENCIES Get Your Fight On!

EP · 2018 · Crossover Thrash
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"Get Your Fight On!" is an EP release by US California based thrash/crossover/heavy metal act Suicidal Tendencies. The EP was released through Suicidal Records in March 2018. Although "Get Your Fight On!" is labelled an EP release by the band, it features 10 tracks and total playing time of 44:55 minutes.

The EP features two Cyco Miko covers (both re-recordings of tracks which originally appeared on Mike Muir´s 1996 solo album "Lost My Brain! (Once Again)", one The Stooges cover, three original Suicidal Tendencies tracks, and four different versions of the Suicidal Tendencies track "Get Your Fight On!". One version is the original studio version from the band´s 11th full-length studio album "World Gone Mad" from 2016, one is an acoustic version of the song, one is an instrumental version featuring a bass solo, and one is an instrumental version featuring a guitar solo.

Stylistically the material on the EP is Suicidal Tendencies as they´ve sounded on the last couple of releases. It´s quite the eclectic mix of crossover thrash, hardcore punk, and funky rhythms. Mike Muir´s vocals are as distinct sounding as ever and defines the band´s sound, but the instrumental part of their music is also very well performed by all involved.

The material is powerful and varied, and although I would normally not find four different versions of the same song on the same release very interesting, it actually works really well here. "Get Your Fight On!" may not be a groundbreaking release by Suicidal Tendencies, but it´s a good quality release well worth your time if you are a fan. A 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

IRON FIRE Beyond the Void

Album · 2019 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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DippoMagoo
There are some great power metal bands who seem to be going largely unnoticed, despite consistently making great albums, with one of my favorites being Danish band Iron Fire. I’ve been a fan of the band since their 2010 release Metalmorphosized, which marked the beginnings of a more modernized sound for the band after their past releases were all fairly traditional European power metal albums. They especially blew me away with the more progressive, symphonic and just plain epic Voyage of the Damned, though sadly that one wasn’t too well received, and the band took a bit of a break afterward. However, over four years later the band returned in 2016, with Among the dead, a hard-hitting collection of heavy/power metal tracks, that while being more straight-forward compared to its predecessor, was still intense and left me extremely satisfied.

Now, the band is set to release their ninth full-length album, Beyond the Void, and it is yet another killer! Fans of Among the Dead should know exactly what to expect, as the lineup remains unchanged, and musically this is a direct continuation of that album, with the same kind of raw, hard-hitting power metal, mixed with some classic heavy metal and some occasional thrashy riffs. While Among the Dead was a concept album revolving around a zombie apocalypse, Beyond the Void deals with many different lyrical themes, but otherwise, it’s pretty much more of the same, to the point where a couple of tracks feel eerily similar to tracks from the previous release, though the songwriting is consistently strong enough for that to not be a big problem.

Performances are as strong as always, with the guitar work being as heavy as before, though there are some more melodic passages compared to the previous album, and these are very well done, drums are mostly fast and furious and well done, and of course Martin Steene’s deep and raspy vocals are as strong as ever, with the faint hints of extreme metal vocals he showed on the previous album continuing to creep in from time to time. Production is also top notch and powerful sounding, as expected. Songwriting is generally fast-paced, intense and plain fun, with the occasional slower track and one ballad to offer up some variety. This is the kind of album, though, where you won’t be surprised very often, but it’ll keep you consistently entertained, with excellent riffs, some great melodies, powerful vocals and just some really fun, highly addictive songs.

Following a brief intro, the title track kicks in and is very similar to the title track of Among the Dead, with everything from the lead riff to the chorus feeling oddly familiar, to the point where I wasn’t enjoying it much at first, but over time it has grown on me. Anyone who hasn’t heard the previous album should be entertained immediately, as it’s a fast paced, hard hitting power metal track, with fun verses, thrashy riffs, and a strong, catchy chorus. On the more interesting side, “Final Warning” is a slower building track, featuring a pummeling main riff, heavy verses which march along at a decent pace, and a light, melodic chorus, which picks up the pace as it goes along. It has great, emotional lyrics about destroying the Earth, and is a very good song overall. My favorite song on the first half, and probably the whole album, is “Cold Chains of the North” a fast, hard-hitting track which has more of those thrashy riffs, as well as a frantic, but very melodic chorus, with some pretty cool gang vocals, and some excellent lead vocals from Martin. It’s a very fun, catchy and highly energetic track, which just gets everything right.

Keeping the momentum going, “Wrong Turn” has some of the thrashiest riffs on the album, along with hard-hitting verses, and a basic, but the very fun chorus. Two more speedy tracks are up next, with “Bones and Gasoline”, which has soft, melodic passages during the intro and verses, which remind me a bit of some classic Metallica songs, while the chorus is speedy and fun, and “Old Habits Die Hard”, a more melodic but very speedy track, where Martin uses some of his harsh vocals throughout, and does a great job, as always. Both songs are straight-forward, and pure fun, just like pretty much every song on the album. The lone ballad of the album is “Judgement Day”, which has some beautiful, melodic guitar work, calm verses where Martin uses some of his softest vocals ever and sounds great, and another powerful, epic chorus. It has a great solo in the second half, but the highlight comes a bit before that, with a more intense, yet still melodic section, with some of the best vocals on the album, along with the line “recreate a world without hate, and bring me back to 1998”, which cracks me up every time I hear it.

Moving into the final sequence of the album, “To Hell and Back” is another frantic, hard-hitting track, with some very heavy and intense verses, as well as one of the more traditional power metal choruses on the album. It’s yet another very energetic, highly addictive track, of the sort the band excels at in this stage of their career. My favorite of the final four tracks is “One More Bullet”, a slower, heavier metal based track, with heavy verses, and an intense, but very melodic and catchy chorus, with more nonsensical, but fun lyrics and the guitar solo near the end is really cool, as well. The track has a classic heavy metal feel to it, in an awesome way and is one of the catchiest and most addictive tracks on the album. The last full speedy track on the album is “The Devil’s Path”, another thrashy power metal track, with a great mix between clean and semi-harsh vocals, as well as more excellent thrashy riffs, and a fun chorus. The track sounds pretty similar to “Tornado of Sickness” from the previous album but still manages to be great in its own way. Closing out the album is “Out of Nowhere”, another classic heavy metal sounding track, with more laid back, but enjoyable verses, and an upbeat, very fun chorus, with some excellent vocal melodies. It speeds up towards the end and gets very epic during the final run through its chorus, before closing out softly and ending the album on a high note.

Iron Fire is one of those bands that will probably never get the attention they deserve, but they manage to consistently put out great, hard-hitting power metal albums at least once every few years, and Beyond the Void is no exception. It largely builds on the more modernized, somewhat thrashy sound they started on Among the Dead and offers up the kind of heavy, energetic and highly addictive power metal the band specializes in, while also mixing in a bit of classic heavy metal on some tracks. Fans of the band’s previous album should love this, while fans who prefer their earlier albums may again be disappointed, but anyone unfamiliar band and looking for some hard hitting, fun heavy/power metal with a slightly modern twist, should definitely give this one a shot, as it’s definitely one of Iron Fire’s finest works to date!

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2019/03/10/iron-fire-beyond-the-void-review/

TÝR Hel

Album · 2019 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.42 | 2 ratings
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DippoMagoo
Some bands are able to consistently deliver excellent albums every time they enter the studio, striking a perfect balance between being familiar enough to keep fans happy, while also adding in new elements and changing just enough to keep things fresh each time. One such band is Faroese power/folk metal band Týr, who are set to release their first album in about five and a half years. I was introduced to them on their fifth full-length album, By the Light of the Northern Star, which served as somewhat of a transitional release for the band, moving away from the progressive folk sound of their early releases and into more of a power/folk direction, with some fairly minor prog elements. The album instantly left me impressed, while the two follow up releases The Lay of Thrym and Valkyrja were both equally amazing, and so the band seemed to be on an unstoppable run. They’ve taken a long time to produce a follow up to Valkyrja, and have gone through some lineup changes, including the departure of longtime second guitarist Terji Skibenæs, who has been replaced by Attila Vörös, but their eighth full-length release, Hel, is finally ready to be unleashed, and unsurprisingly, it’s another fantastic release, with a perfect mix of old and new.

For the most part, Hel continues along the path of its three most recent predecessors, with the speedy power metal elements remaining a major focus, while the folk elements are largely found in the guitar melodies, and the prog elements are still there, but not as prominent as on their first four albums. However, this release is at times a bit more epic and adventurous than the band’s three previous releases, with a couple of lengthier tracks, as well as an increase in instrumental sections, some of which are on the more folk-infused side, while many tracks have a lot of tempo changes and other surprises, so it’s certainly a diverse and complex album, with a lot going on. Performances are strong across the board, with the guitar work being as melodic and epic as ever, while new drummer Tadeusz Rieckmann fits in perfectly, and of course vocalist, guitarist and main songwriter Heri Joensen is the start of the show, as always, being in top form with all of his duties.

Týr has always been great at writing consistently excellent songs, while still having enough variety to keep things fresh from track to track, and so it’s absolutely no surprise that Hel proves to be yet another highly varied album, with no less than amazing tracks. It starts off with the incredible opening track, “Gates of Hel”, which starts off with some nice acoustic folk guitar work, before the rest of the band kicks in and the music becomes heavier. The opening verse provides the first surprise of the album, with some pretty epic death growls, which have a slight folk feel to them, and then Heri switches to his ever smooth, yet epic clean vocals for a speedy, very fun and melodic chorus, which proves to be one of the best on the album. The track is mostly fast-paced, though it does have some slower sections during the verses, and while the vocal sections are the highlight, especially the chorus, the instrumental work is top notch as well, with the solo section in the middle being very melodic and well done. It’s easily my favorite track on the album, though that’s not to say things go downhill afterward.

Next is the more simple, but very fun “All Heroes Fall”, a more typical speedy power metal track, which would have fit perfectly on any of the previous three albums. It alternates between slow and speedy passages during the verses, before going full throttle during an epic chorus, and it has some nice melodic guitar work throughout, including a great guitar solo in the middle. It’s a fairly simple, yet very fun track, overall. Next is “Ragnars kvæði”, one of two songs sung in the band’s native Faroese tongue. Along with the closing track “Álvur longer”, it’s said to be based off of a traditional Faroese folk ballad, and that’s certainly easy to believe, as it’s a very beautiful, very melodic track, with some epic folk melodies and tribal drums during the verses, as well as an absolutely fantastic chorus, where Heri delivers some of his softest vocals. The band clearly put in their own flourishes to spice up the track, with an epic and absolutely incredible speedy passage in the second half being the main highlight, and it’s another stunner of a track, overall. Despite having a strange looking name, “Garmr” is sung fully in English, and is a speedier track, with more epic melodies, and a very fun chorus. It’s another track that would fall perfectly in line the past three albums, moving along nicely during the verses, before fully speeding up and become very epic during the chorus.

One of the early release singles is “Sunset Shore”, a nice ballad, which has had very light and melodic guitar work throughout, as well as some epic, powerful vocals from Heri during the chorus. It’s a calm, beautiful track, with some excellent melodies, and it has a strong folk feel throughout, so it definitely feels more in line with the band’s earlier work, while still being epic and fun in its own way. It has a very cool heavy section near the end, which leads to an excellent, but brief, solo, and a great final run through the chorus. Speeding things up again is “Downhill Drunk”, another fairly straight-forward song, which moves along at more of a gallop during its verses, with some pretty heavy guitar work, before opening up with some great melodies and more speedy tempos during its fun, very catchy chorus. One of the more complex and more eventful tracks on the album is “Empires of the North”, which has many tempo changes throughout, and it manages to pack a lot of memorable moments into just over five minutes. It has some mid-paced passages, a slow, but the epic chorus, some very speedy passages, with a strong folk feel to the guitar work, and it has an absolutely beautiful, and fairly lengthy guitar solo in the middle. It’s definitely one of the more progressive tracks on the album, and it manages to be consistently exciting throughout.

Moving into the second half, “Far From the Worries of the World” is pure fun, very upbeat track, as its name would imply. It moves at a slightly slower pace during its verses, with strong folk melodies, before speeding up with a very fun, epic chorus, which certainly lives up to its name by being incredibly happy and serving as a great escape from any frustrations the world may bring. It’s a fun track, overall, with an epic, long instrumental section in the second half, and it’s definitely one of my favorites here. Next is “King of Time”, a rather slow building track, which starts off soft, with some very folk-infused guitar work early on. It stays slow for a while, with some epic melodies, before speeding up and delivering an incredibly epic, melodic and super catchy chorus around two minutes in, and from there it remains a fun, highly engaging track, with some excellent guitar work. Of course, the first single released from the album is “Fire and Flame”, a highly energetic, fast-paced track, with slow, heavy verses, and a very fun, catchy chorus, It’s another track that would have in great on any of the previous three albums, though it has an epic guitar solo in the middle, with an equal amount influence from folk and classic heavy metal. It’s a very fun track, overall, so it serves as a great single.

Nearing the end of the album, “Against the Gods”, is another track that starts off a bit slowly, with a more subdued opening verse, with some powerful vocals, as well as a very melodic and epic chorus, before speeding up during the second verse, and not letting up from that point on. It proves to be a hard-hitting, intense and very energetic track once it gets going, with one of the best choruses on the album, as well as some excellent drum beats. Another one of my favorites is “Songs of War”, which starts off with really epic neoclassical shredding, which leads into a fast-paced, slightly folk-infused opening verse, and then into a slower, even more, folk-infused chorus.

It’s another track which alternates nicely between slow and speedy passages, with an equal amount of power metal folk, and it has more great melodies and guitar work, though those shredding parts are easily the highlights, with the solo section being particularly amazing. Closing out the album is “Álvur kongur”, the second of two tracks sung in Faroese. Its origins as a folk ballad are much less obvious compared to “Ragnars kvæði”, despite some nice acoustic work early on, and a soft opening section, as it speeds up considerably once it gets going, and actually stays fast paced for most of its duration. I’ve never heard the original, but suffice to say, the band obviously must have changed it a lot, as it’s a fun, upbeat track, with a very epic, catchy chorus, though it still has a very distinct Faroese folk feel to it, and it does have some softer passages, here and there. It’s a very epic track, overall, with some amazing guitar work, and it’s certainly a great way to close out the album!

Týr is one of those bands that just always seems to deliver, and they’re currently on a long winning streak, with Hel being equally as impressive as any of the band’s previous releases, largely sticking to the more power metal focused sound that began on By the Light of the Northern Star, while still retaining a ton of the bands traditional Faroese folk elements, as well as having some more progressive arrangements and more extensive instrumental sections compared to their past three albums. This has resulted in an epic, highly diverse album, which is sure to please longtime fans of the band, while anyone looking for some great power/folk metal, is also highly recommended to give the album a listen, as the band’s ever-distinctive sound is on full display here, and works just effectively as ever. It may have taken a long time to come out than previous releases, but it was certainly worth the wait!

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2019/03/03/tyr-hel-review/

SEVENTH WONDER Tiara

Album · 2018 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.42 | 5 ratings
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Kev Rowland
It has been eight years since the last album from Seventh Wonder, but they are finally back with their fifth studio album with just one line-up change from ‘The Great Escape’. I am not really sure why it has taken so long for them to release this, but I presume the blame should be placed squarely on the shoulders of singer Tommy Karevik who also joined Kamelot with whom he has released three albums. But they are back, and in many ways it is almost as if they have never been away. This is very polished melodic rock with symphonic overtones and great vocals (yes, I know they are often classed as prog metal, but while this is a great album, prog metal it isn’t).

Tommy Karevik is recognised as being one of the best frontmen around, and here he is being given the perfect playground. Given that bass player Andreas Blomqvist, guitarist Johan Liefvendahl and drummer keyboard player Andreas “Kyrt” Söderin have all been in the band since 2000 it should be no surprise they lock in well, while drummer Stefan Norgren (ex: Lion´s Share) drives the music along with a much more powerful and dynamic approach to many in this field. This is melodic and powerful, and far heavier than would often be expected from bands on the Frontiers label. Let’s hope it isn’t quite so long until the next one.

NECROPHOBIC Mark Of The Necrogram

Album · 2018 · Melodic Death Metal
Cover art 3.81 | 3 ratings
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UMUR
"Mark Of The Necrogram" is the 8th full-length studio album by Swedish melodic black metal/blackened death metal act Necrophobic. The album was released through Century Media Records in February 2018. It´s the successor to "Womb of Lilithu" from 2013, and as the case also was between the release of "Death to All (2009)" and "Womb of Lilithu (2013)", there have been quite a few lineup changes between the release of "Womb of Lilithu (2013)" and "Mark Of The Necrogram". Guitarists Sebastian Ramstedt and Johan Bergebäck, who left before the recording sessions for "Womb of Lilithu (2013)", have now returned and have replaced Fredrik Folkare and Tobias Sidegård. Sidegård also performed lead vocals on "Womb of Lilithu (2013)", and his lead vocalist spot is taken by Anders Strokirk on "Mark Of The Necrogram". The only two remaining members from the last album are drummer Joakim Sterner and bassist Alex Friberg.

Despite the many lineup shuffles in the band´s history, they have remained surprisingly consistent in sound and in the quality of their output. This is a band with a signature sound and they stick to it. Sure they´ve evolved slightly over the years, and their albums don´t sound exactly the same (although there are many similar features on all releases), but there is a strong musical vision which Necrophobic have remained true to throughout their career. Occult/anti-Christian themed melodic death/black metal. Contemporary artists like Dissection and Unanimated are valid references. So it´s especially the vocals which are a blackened snarl, while the instrumental part of the music is closer to melodic death metal (of the darker and most raw kind).

"Mark Of The Necrogram" pretty much continues down the same path Necrophobic have travelled for many years, and there aren´t any surprises to be found on the album. The material is well written melodic blackened death metal and you can pick any track from the album and call it a quality track in the style. Like most Necrophobic albums, "Mark Of The Necrogram" become a bit of a one-dimensional listen only a couple of tracks into the album though, which isn´t a major issue, but it´s still an issue that the band aren´t able to vary their songwriting and sound more than they do. The whole album more or less passes by without any particular standout moments to hold on to and mention afterwards. So consistency can both be a strength and a weakness, and if you crave album variation it´s definitely a weakness in this case.

"Mark Of The Necrogram" features a professional and well sounding production, which suits the material perfectly, and the musicianship is also on a high level on all posts, so upon conclusion it´s another quality melodic blackended death metal release by Necrophobic. The above mentioned lack of variation brings my rating down a little, but it´s still a strong release in the genre and a 3.5 star (70%) rating is deserved.

ARENA Double Vision

Album · 2018 · Metal Related
Cover art 4.12 | 4 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
The uncertainty of ARENA continuing after the departure of vocalist Rob Sowden left fans wondering if the band would ever return with new material but after a six year absence the band recruited Paul Manzi as the lead frontman and put all doubts to rest that ARENA was still in it for the long run. Three albums in after their comeback in 2011 with “The Seventh Degree Of Separation” the band returns in 2018 with the 9th studio album DOUBLE VISION and no this is not a collection of Foreigner covers! After the comeback, ARENA beefed up the heaviness and toned down the progressiveness becoming more of a crossover prog act than the bona fide powerhouse neo-prog outfit that they had evolved into leading up to “Contagion.” Unfortunately the following “The Unquiet Sky” continued to tamp down the progressiveness and focused more on tightly delivered melodic rockers that only added touches of atmospheric rivers of synthesizers and eschewed lengthy grandiosity and virtuosic outbursts.

DOUBLE VISION comes three years after “The Unquiet Sky” and after all the negative feedback regarding that album, the band wisely revived more of the progressive aspects however they also kept the heaviness churning and in fact create one of the most rockin’ albums of the band’s existence. While bassist John Jowitt rejoined the band for “The Seventh Degree Of Separation” he quickly departed and was replaced by Kylan Amos. DOUBLE VISION enjoys the same lineup as “The Unquiet Sky” which allowed the current lineup of Clive Nolan (keyboards, backing vocals), Paul Manzi (vocals), John Mitchell (guitars, backing vocals), Kylan Amos (bass) and Mick Pointer (drums) to conjure up the organic chemistry needed to perfect all the proper elements to make this third phase of ARENA’s career as vivacious and relevant as the first two. In that regard DOUBLE VISION definitely steps things up from the rather lazy predecessor that pretty much sounded like a “Seventh Degree Part 2”.

First noticeable difference between DOUBLE VISION and the other two Manzi led albums is that his vocals have improved remarkably. It almost sounds as if he’s been taking voice lessons in order to improve not only his dynamic delivery but he has expanded his vocal range and covers more diverse grounds. Same goes for the compositions themselves. While the band not only beefs up the prog factor, there was obviously more attention paid to crafting more addictive melodic hooks that develop into a larger frame of pleasantly unfolding prog fueled rock that wends and winds through six strong tracks that culminate in the grand finale, the whopping almost 23 minute long epic “The Legend Of Elijah Shade” which consists of six parts strung together to create one of those delicious slices of overweening pompous prog that true believers will eat up like kids in a candy store.

Now granted, ARENA are not interested in deviating from their established neo-prog style that they have been changing subtly throughout the band’s near quarter century career. The strength is in the almost impeccable consistency that sticks to the playbook and only tweaks it enough to create a few unexpected twists and turns but the real bravado is in the excellent melodic developments and how they are strewn together in a series of soft and revolving heavy passages that result in synth-laden, guitar heavy crescendoes. DOUBLE VISION, while not deviating from the established playbook, does however crank out seven stellar tracks that not only rock the house but implement the proper dosages of holy progginess with all that excellent delivery of piano runs, keyboard glides and atmospheric haziness that Nolan so judiciously generates.

Out of the three albums that have featured Manzi, DOUBLE VISION is the best one yet and finds the band effortlessly melding the many phases of ARENAS existence into one beautiful album that includes the more sophisticated compositional prowess of albums like “Contagion” but also some of the melodramatic Marillion inspired 90s sounds from “Immortal?” Add to that the heightened awareness of casting the proper metallic spell and the perfectly placed bombastic parts in conjunct with the synthesized streaming operatic moments amount to ARENA’s best album of the decade. True that nobody will find any surprises not already included int he ARENA playbook but when an album contains no weak tracks and each one is constructed so uniquely and placed in the proper sequence which amounts to such a glorious listening experience then who really cares if this is the most original album ever to hit the prog scene. Sometimes high quality over originality wins the day and DOUBLE VISION certainly made the quality a top priority. A triumphant return to form!

DREAM THEATER Distance Over Time

Album · 2019 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 3.87 | 7 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
DREAM THEATER sure has had an amazing run throughout their three decade career which began all the way back in 1989 with the debut “When Dream And Day Unite.” Lauded for the following “Images And Words,” this Boston turned NYC based band was one of the key players in reviving the slumbering progressive rock scene and ground zero for bringing progressive metal into the larger public consciousness. Lo and behold, despite all the turbulence of the ups and downs throughout their career and just as many misses as hits, the band returns 30 years after their debut with their 14th studio album DISTANCE OVER TIME which continues the stability of the 21st century lineup which includes many of the legends: James LaBrie (vocals), John Petrucci (guitars), John Myung (bass) and Jordan Rudess (keyboards). And continuing the DT ride since his debut in 2011 is Portnoy’s replacement Mike Mangini on drums.

As with many of the progressive metal bands that have come and gone since DT’s early 90s triumph on the music scene, this band too has had to find that delicate balance between crafting compositions that are accessible to a large dedicated fanbase with finding the room to experiment and expand into newer arenas. And much like many more progressively oriented bands DT has found that it strayed a little left field from what the fanbase expects of them and such is the case with the previous album “The Astonishing” which found the whole plethora of responses ranging from opinions as the band’s absolute worst album ever and should be hurled into the trash bins to the other extreme of those who absolutely adore extremely lengthy rock opera infused pompousness in their prog metal. Fortunately the band seems to have their fingers on the pulse of the situation and always seem to bounce back after dodging the career crashing bullet that plagues bands who have achieved such popularity.

And so it is. DISTANCE OVER TIME seems like an album that was designed to reel the fans back to some of the classic aspects of the band, namely progressively constructed compositions that are based on strong melodies, tight performances and technical wizardry to shock and awe, well at least for those who have not become inured to this now tried and true style of prog metal playing. DREAM THEATER also forged their new creation so that it could be performed in live settings in conjunct with the 20th anniversary of the 5th studio album “Metropolis Pt. 2: Scenes From A Memory,” which still remains one of the band’s most respected and popular albums of the entire DT canon and while DISTANCE OVER TIME certainly doesn’t outshine its 90s predecessor, it certainly does revive a sort of musical mojo of heavy no-nonsense metal delivery not heard since 2003’s “Train Of Thought.”

For all the bloated excess of “The Astonishing,” DISTANCE OVER TIME takes the opposite extreme. While the former was a behemoth double album that sprawled ten minutes past the two hour mark, the latter sits comfortably under the 57 minute run and is the shortest album since the band’s debut 30 years ago. Likewise the tracks are streamlined into more digestible chunks with none extending past the 10 minute mark and only “At Wit’s End” coming close at 9:20. From a business perspective, this was a very wise move as it allows prog metalheads the opportunity to reacquaint themselves with what attracted them to the band in the first place without having to dedicate excessive quantities of time and effort to pierce the impenetrable veil, not to mention the annoying fact that when DT releases an album of such overweening length, many tracks contain more padding than a tween’s first training bra. For complex music with a technical flare, shorter is always the answer, at least for an album that lacks epic transcendental qualities.

Admittedly, DREAM THEATER is a band i’ve had a love / hate relationship over the years and i suspect many share this sentiment given the high / low ratings of their albums that checker the canon as high ratings alternate with low ones. For me, DT still found their heyday in the 90s and peaked with 2002’s “Six Degrees Of Turbulence” and everything thereafter has pretty much been a somewhat stagnate retread, albeit a competent one of the former glory. In this regard DISTANCE OVER TIME firmly falls into that camp. The band members as brilliant as they are continuously fail to evolve past their classic “Awake” sound that implements the punishing guitar antics fortified with keyboard wizardry, operatic vocals and percussive bombast and although DT crafts a roster of pleasantries that tick off all the expects boxes on the checklist. The band seems to alternate between exploring new territories that don’t connect with the audience and then retreating to the status quo with no additional surprises.

In the end, DISTANCE OVER TIME successfully dishes out nine well crafted tracks that flow together fairly well without over-sappifying into wretch-inducing ballads and are displayed in rather well constructed vocal rhythmic passages augmented with blistering face melting technical wankery. This is what makes DT an interesting listen time and time again when they focus on these more intense aspects of their sound. However, DISTANCE OVER TIME will offer no surprises, no deviations from anything that has come before and the touched by the gods magical mojo of earlier albums like “Images And Words” is still a fading memory of the past. So once again, DT delivers a competent album that stands up well amongst the less talented contemporaries but in comparison to the band’s own majesty of their history, doesn’t really muster up enough goods to really get overexcited about. Generic to the hilt but generic performed in fully fueled DT excellence of course. While the album may make some waves in the here and now of 2019, i very much doubt that DT will be celebrating THIS album 20 years from now.

DARKWATER Human

Album · 2019 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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DippoMagoo
Sweden has produced a lot of great melodic prog over the years, with some of my favorite Swedish prog bands being Seventh Wonder, Evergrey and Wolverine. One really unique and special band that had gone under my radar until recently is Darkwater, a band who’s been around since the early 2000s, but they’ve only released two albums up to this point. I gave their second release, Where Stories End, a listen recently and was immediately impressed by the band’s unique brand of melodic prog, which has some of the atmosphere of a band like Evergrey, as well as some of the technical musicianship and more complex songwriting of Dream Theater, while also putting in some of their own special touches, to help create their own fresh sound. Their third full-length release, Human, is due for release this coming week, and it continues where the band left off over 8 years ago, building on their unique sound while pushing it further with some new elements to help create their best album yet

One thing the band specializes in is managing to balance perfectly between heavy riffs, big melodic choruses, and some more subtle atmospheric sections. All of these elements are in place in some way or another on all of their tracks, and they’re always blended together in very effective ways, with Markus Sigfridsson providing some excellent guitar work, both on the heavier side and with some excellent melodic solos, and with keyboardist Magnus Holmberg setting the tone wonderfully with his symphonic keys, which generally have a dark tone to them, but still manage to sound beautiful at times, and they certainly do a great job of creating atmosphere. Another important element is vocalist Henrik Båth, who has a warm, deep voice, which fits in with the music perfectly. He sings with a lot of emotion and provides a powerful, yet very smooth performance throughout the album.

The band at times remind me of Evergrey at their best, with their ability to mix some very heavy riffs with some dark and foreboding keys, but they tend to have more extended instrumental sections, as well as some more complex arrangements. At the same time, their music is certainly more accessible and more melodic than the likes of Dream Theater, and so the band manages to create their own sound that fits them perfectly, drawing some influence from other bands, while still managing to stand out. Human expands on their sound in a big way, offering up more variety and more intensity than their previous album did, while still continuing to provide listeners with everything they’ve come to expect from the band.

Everything is expertly performed and produced, but of course, the most important area is the songwriting, and that is where the band has really come through on this release. One of the best tracks is the opener, and second single, “A New Beginning”, and it actually lives up to its name, as it manages to feel equal parts fresh and familiar, in that it maintains the general sound of the band’s previous work, while being faster paced and a bit heavier than usual. It introduces some light power metal elements, which appear on and off throughout the album, and help add an extra layer to the music, to go along with the increased symphonic elements, which were already there on Where Stories End, yet feel a bit more prominent this time around. This track opens up with some nice piano before the symphonic keys take over, and then the heavy guitars kick in and the track takes off at a pretty fast pace, with some very heavy riffs. This keeps up throughout the opening verse, which charges ahead with some of the band’s heaviest, speediest material ever, though this eventually gives way to a slow, soft and very melodic chorus, where Henrik’s excellent vocals and the more atmospheric elements of their music began to take over. The track alternates very fluidly between these two styles, with some more softer portions later in the track, while also delivering some more heavy guitar work and speedy tempos during a great instrumental section. It’s an excellent track overall, and a great indication of what to expect from the album on the whole.

The band goes back to more familiar territory with third single “In Front of You”, a slow but very hard hitting track, which opens up with some heavy, chugging guitar work, before claiming down for some atmospheric verses. The chunky guitar work returns for the chorus, which is intense, but very well sung and very memorable, and while the song is definitely one of the heaviest and darkest here, it still sneaks in some great melodies, especially during an excellent solo in the second half. Next is a brief interlude, “Alive (Part I)”, which has some soft guitar work, ambient keys and very soft and beautiful vocals from Henrik. Unsurprisingly, it gives way to the lead single, “Alive {Part II}”, which is one of the best on the album, as well as being very clearly a Darkwater song through and through. It has some nice lead guitar work, some excellent melodies, and some very nice atmospheric keys, as well as slight symphonic elements to help add some extra flavor. It isn’t overly fast, but it moves at a nice pace during the verses and instrumental sections, but the highlight is the chorus, where Henrik delivers a very powerful and extremely emotional performance, while the lyrics are also inspirational and very well written. It’s an excellent track overall, and a perfect indication of what to expect from the album.

Following one of the more accessible tracks, we have the longest on the album in “Reflection of a Mind”, a much slower moving, more melodic track. It has some excellent ambient keys and symphonic elements throughout, with some excellent, softer verses that help build up the tension, while the chorus is rather subdued, but very melodic and well sung, as always. The track stays soft throughout, aside from a brief burst of heaviness in the second half, but it’s another very emotional track, with very good lyrics and excellent vocals from Henrik, and slightly sped up last run through the chorus is amazing. Next is one of the shorter tracks, “Insomnia”, and it’s another one that has some minor power metal influence, moving at a pretty fast pace during its chorus. It starts off slow, with some dark and heavy riffs during the verses, before picking up the tempo a bit before the chorus, and then the chorus itself is fast, heavy and very fun, while still having some nice atmospheric keys. It’s another track which strikes a nice balance between being heavy, melodic, atmospheric and emotional, and it manages to blend everything together perfectly, while also including some cool, folk-influenced melodies in the second half, which is pretty interesting. It’s probably my favorite on the album, due to how addictive it is, though there are no less than great tracks on the album…

Next is “The Journey”, which is a slower, more introspective track, and one which makes great use of symphonic keys and more ambient keys. It has an epic feel to it, but in more of a dark and sinister way during the verses, before opening up for a lighter, very melodic chorus, with some very powerful and emotional vocals. It’s yet another track which seamlessly blends heavy, melodic and atmospheric passages, with the verses being very intense, the instrumental sections being complex and a bit foreboding, while the chorus is very accessible and melodic. Another one of my favorites on the album is “Burdens”, which starts off with some soft, yet very atmospheric acoustic guitar work, before eventually picking up the pace a bit and allowing for some more heavy guitar work. It’s another fairly mid-paced track, with some great guitar work and excellent keys throughout, but the highlight is the chorus, which is very melodic and has some of the most emotional vocals on the album, before giving way to some very heavy and sinister guitar work. The band’s tone blending is on perfect display, yet again, with the heavier sections serving as a perfect contrast to the very melodic chorus, while the ambiance is strong throughout, to help make it another addictive, yet very well crafted track.

Nearing the end, “Turning Pages” is another very atmospheric track, which reminds me of a lot of Evergrey in places. It opens up with some very soft keys, before picking up the pace and becoming one of the heavier tracks on the album, with some pretty epic symphonic keys in the background. It moves at a pretty good pace for a while, before slowing down again, and it’s another track that alternates fluidly between heavy, faster passages, and slower, more melodic passages while being pretty creepy and atmospheric throughout. It’s some of the chunkier guitar work that reminds of Evergrey, but in a good way, as it’s very well done and very intense, while still fitting in with the dark tone of the track. Closing out the album is “Light of Dawn”, which is unsurprisingly a more calm and melodic track, while still having some heavy guitar work in brief bursts. It’s another track where the atmospheric keys are a highlight, along with some soft and very emotional vocals from Henrik. The chorus is light but very powerful, and the lyrics are excellent once again. It’s a track which has some great vocal melodies, while also being fairly complex and having some excellent instrumental work, with an absolutely beautiful solo in the middle. It’s an excellent track overall, and it closes out the album very nicely.

While Darkwater may not be as well known as some of the other great prog bands in their country, they are certainly every bit as worthy of attention, and Human shows them stepping up their game, with some more atmospheric, melodic and at times very heavy songs, which are enhanced by strong vocals, and some very emotional, well-written lyrics. It’s an album that does have its share of fun and flashy moments but also manages to be very subtle at points, and it’s clearly a lovingly crafted album, with a ton of little details in each track. All fans of the the band’s previous work should love this album, as it’s clearly their best yet, while many fans of melodic prog looking for something with good atmosphere, heavy riffs, and a strong, emotional vocal performance, are also highly recommended to give this a listen, as it’ll almost certainly be one of the best albums of its kind released this year. This band likes to take their time making music, but as long as they can keep producing music of this caliber, the wait will always be worth it!

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2019/02/24/darkwater-human-review/

ANCIENT BARDS Originne - The Black Crystal Sword Saga Part 2

Album · 2019 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.75 | 2 ratings
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DippoMagoo
I don’t know what the reason is for it, but it seems like Italian metal bands have some kind of special knack for writing amazing melodies. Some of my favorite albums over the past few years have come from the likes of Rhapsody of Fire, Elvenking, Temperance and Derdian, with all those bands standing out for their unbelievable ability to write catchy choruses with insane melodies pretty much at will. One other band, I’ve been following for a long time that has a similar ability is Ancient Bards, who instantly impressed me with their debut The Alliance of the Kings, which marked the beginning of their ongoing concept, The Black Crystal Sword Saga. It was a very fun album, filled with speedy, energetic power metal with some symphonic elements, which were greatly enhanced on the next album, Soulless Child, which saw the band push their sound much further and become really epic, in the same vein as later Rhapsody albums, while still retaining the fun aspects of their debut, to help make it a truly special album.

Sadly, I was a bit let down by their next release, A New Dawn Ending, which both failed in delivering the kind of climax its name would suggest, while also going perhaps a bit too far with more ambitious songwriting, resulting in the band’s first album that felt a bit uneven, with some great moments and some forgettable moments. I was hoping the band would rebound with their next release, and so when Origine – The Black Crystal Sword Saga Part 2 was announced, I was ready to give the band another shot, with hopes that they could recapture their former glory. Now that Origine is here, it has not only won back my fandom for the band, it has proven itself to be their best work to date, bringing back a lot of the fun, catchiness and huge melodies of their first two albums, while still being a bit bolder at times, and certainly being one of their most varied releases.

Newcomers to the band can expect something fairly similar to Rhapsody, except with the warm but powerful voice of Sara Squadrani in the lead role, as opposed to a male vocalist. Musically, the band plays the same kind of speedy, epic and very melodic symphonic power metal, though they push quite a bit further with the symphonic elements than the aforementioned band has done recently, especially with the ever-present choir vocals, which are extremely epic and help give a cinematic feel, along with the orchestral elements. However, while their previous release favored longer tracks and more progressive arrangements which sometimes pushed the power metal elements into the background, Origine is back to being a more straightforward release, with most of the tracks being very upbeat and heavy, while still having varied songwriting and a ton of surprises. Like their counterparts, they’ve managed to have perfect sound production, with the symphonic elements, choirs, lead vocals, and the metal instruments all being given a ton of space and everything sounds powerful and crystal clear, which is obviously required for an album with so much going on.

The biggest area that disappointed me on A New Dawn Ending was the songwriting, as the performances were all amazing across the board, as usual, but the actual songs were uncharacteristically hit and miss. Thankfully, that isn’t the case here, as every song on this album is absolutely perfect from start to finish. The album certainly gets off to a strong start, with even the opening narrative track having a memorable first line, and the music and narration go together nicely. However, the first true song is lead single “Impious Dystopia”, which is the kind of fast paced, hard hitting track the band excels at. It moves at a frantic pace during the verses, forcing Sara to sing while barely having a chance to catch her breath, but she sounds as smooth, melodic and powerful as always. During the first verse, fans are treated to some pretty cool growls from new guitarist Simone Bertozzi, who has brought some new elements to the band, both with his growls as well as adding some slightly heavier guitar work than normal, with the first example of this coming during a section after the first chorus, where it almost sounds like a metalcore breakdown, except in a much more epic way that somehow suits the band perfectly fine. These little bursts of inspiration took time for me to get used to, but over time I’ve come to love them, and I find they help add a new element to what would already be an amazing album. Both Simone and longtime guitarist Claudio Pietronik do an excellent job throughout the album, striking the right balance between fresh and familiar. The track also has an excellent solo section, with some amazing melodic guitar work, though the highlight of the track is Sara’s vocals, with the main chorus being amazing, very catchy and extremely melodic, and then the final run through is absolutely awe-inspiring, with some very powerful and emotional vocals, that help turn an already amazing song into one of the band’s absolute best to date.

Following up such a strong opening is tough, but second single “Fantasy’s Wings” does a great job of it. This track is a bit more relaxed, and it has a slight folk influence to some of the melodies, making great use of the orchestral elements throughout. It moves at a nice pace, without ever fully speeding up, and it does a nice job alternating between soft and louder sections, though it never gets particularly heavy. It’s another track which showcases Sara’s amazing vocals, which are paired up with some cool backing growls during the chorus. It has an excellent instrumental section, with the orchestral elements taking over for a while, before giving way to a big, epic solo, but the highlight is again the final chorus, with the choir vocals starting things off in an epic way, before Sara comes in and kills it once again. In a somewhat similar vein is “Aureum Legacy”, a track which starts off softly, before the orchestral elements take over for a while, and then it settles down into near ballad territory, with some soft, but excellent vocals during the verses. It’s another track which alternates nicely between soft and heavy passages, and it has yet another amazing chorus, with some very emotional, yet powerful vocals, which of course only gets better during the final run once again. The song speeds up near the end, with an epic instrumental section, followed by choirs and then the track finally closes with a speedier, even more, epic final run through the chorus, which is absolutely stunning.

One thing Ancient Bards have excelled at from day one is their ballads, with tracks such as” “Lode al Padre” and “All That is True” being among my favorites by the band, as well as being among the best ballads I’ve ever heard on any kind of metal album. This time around, they’ve offered up “Light”, the third single for the album. It’s a more simple track compared to some of their other ballads, but it’s still absolutely beautiful, with some nice symphonic arrangements and some great piano melodies from keyboardist and main songwriter Daniele Mazza, giving way for Sara’s ever-enchanting voice to steal the show. As always, she sings very softly and beautifully during the verses, before opening up in a big way during the chorus, and then in the second half of the track comes a very emotional and beautiful guitar solo, followed by some very powerful vocals to close out the track.

After a couple of soft and relatively slower tracks, the band brings the energy level back up to the max on “Oscurità”, It starts out quietly again, with some epic symphonic arrangements accompanying Sara’s vocals, but then things get dialed up to the max in a hurry, with the full band kicking in, and the tempo quickly picks up. Once the songs get going, it’s the kind of speedy power metal track the band has been great at since their debut, except with a slightly harder edge to it, and the second half has some crazy instrumental work from both guitarists, as well as some growls thrown in here and there, to help make it more epic. It feels like a perfect blend between old and new, overall. Two tracks later is a cinematic interlude track, “The Hollow”, which is dominated by epic symphonic arrangements and choirs and is a pretty cool track, which comes in between the two tracks on this album that feel the most like the band’s debut. First is “Titanism”, a very speedy track where the main melody sounds very similar to some of the band’s past work, while even the verses and chorus feel familiar, while still being fresh enough to work on their own. It’s an extremely fun and catchy track, of the kind the band has always excelled at. On the other side of the interlude is “Home of the Rejects”, which is similar in tone, though it sounds a bit more fresh, due to some slightly heavier guitar work. Both tracks are excellent, though, and both have amazing choruses and instrumental work, as always.

Closing out the album is the near 15-minute epic “The Great Divide”. I’ll admit I was nervous going into it the first time, because while the band had been pretty good at longer tracks in the past, I found the two longest songs on A New Dawn Ending to be a bit disjointed and somewhat ruined by excessive narration, but thankfully this time around, they managed to put together their best epic length track yet, and one which has several huge moments throughout, and has several tempo changes and surprises, including some guitar work early on that sounds very similar to DGM guitarist Simone Mularoni’s style, a huge, cinematic chorus with a great use of choirs, an epic growled section, a really epic cinematic interlude, and of course a ton of great instrumental work throughout. However, the most important is, the song stays coherent throughout, managing to pack in a ton of big moments without ever losing focus, or getting bogged down by anything excessive. It effectively ends up feeling like a track that actually earns its epic length, as opposed to being either a normal track stretched way past its limits, or a mish-mash of ideas haphazardly thrown together. Similar to the recent Rhapsody album, the only bit of narration on this track comes right at the very end, and while it is hilariously cheesy, it at least isn’t distracting, due to its placement at the end, and so it doesn’t take away from what is easily one of the band’s best songs to date.

After A New Dawn Ending, I was a bit worried about the future of Ancient Bards, and whether or not they would potentially drift further away, trying so hard to outdo themselves that they lost the fun and magic of their first two releases. Thankfully, that hasn’t happened at all, as instead the band has managed to strike the perfect balance between bringing back a lot of the fun, energetic power metal and huge melodies of their first two releases, while still throwing in some surprises, as well as producing easily their best epic length track to date. Fans of the band are sure to love Origine, while symphonic power metal fans, in general, are highly recommended to check this release out, as it manages to slightly edge out Soulless Child to be their very best release to date. In a time where Ancient Bards and Rhapsody of Fire, two bands with similar sounds, have released two albums so close to each other, one may wonder who the winner is. The answer for that one is very easy: All fans of symphonic power metal, in general, are the winners, as getting to hear such masterful albums of this type so close together is the kind of huge treat that doesn’t come along very often. Hopefully, the band continues to do what they do best on future releases, so all remaining installments of The Black Crystal Sword Saga can be as epic as this one is!

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2019/02/23/ancient-bards-origine-the-black-crystal-sword-saga-part-2/

QUEENSRŸCHE The Verdict

Album · 2019 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 4.42 | 2 ratings
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Kingcrimsonprog
Queensrÿche have been on a hell of a hot streak since they got former Crimson Glory frontman Todd La Torre in and started a band called Rising West, playing material from Queensrÿche’s first EP and first 4 albums, following the departure of their long time legendary singer Geoff Tate.

When they changed their name from Rising West back to Queensrÿche, and released their self-titled album in 2013, (with great tracks like ‘Where Dreams Go To Die,’ ‘Redemption’ and ‘Vindication’), it was an utterly excellent batch of material and the ensuing live shows saw the band energised and revitalised in one of the best late-career renaissances in the history of Metal (up there with the likes of Kreator and Accept for later-year triumphs). The following album Condition Human was a strong follow-up that kept up the quality.

As you can imagine, their third album since this revitalisation, 2019’s The Verdict, is my most anticipated album of this year. When they dropped the pre-release tracks, such as ‘Man The Machine,’ ‘Dark Revierie’ and ‘Blood Of The Levant’ it was every bit as good, if not better, than Condition Human’s pre-release tracks like the excellent ‘Arrow Of Time’ and ‘Hellfire.’

With all these expectations I had built up in my head, I was fearful I had built it up too much and set myself up for disappointment.

After having listened to it both via streaming while I waited for the postman, and on CD repeatedly after delivery, I am happy to inform you that not only is it not a disappointment, but rather it is the best Toddryche album to date. Arguably the band’s best album in a very long time at all, Todd or no Todd.

Even from myself, who doesn’t dislike any Queensrÿche album, (even the controversial ones), this ranks easily in the top half of their discography, top quarter even! I hate statements like “it’s the band’s best album since…’’ but in this case, it really feels true.

The production, (once again by ‘Zeuss’) is brilliant. All instruments are clear and distinct, you can hear the bass at all times, you can separate each guitar from each-other and the drums sound fat and powerful. Speaking of drums; Now that singer Todd La Torre is also playing drums this time around as well as his singing duties while classic drummer Scott Rockenfield is on paternity leave, you also get some drum styles you don’t usually hear on a Queensrÿche album. (Have a quick listen to ‘Launder The Conscience’ and ‘Light Years’ and listen to the beats to see what I mean).

The press prior to this saw Whip telling everyone that this was their heaviest and most progressive album in a while. Usually statements like that are always wrong. Strangely though, again, in this case, it really feels true.

There are some nice heavy moments on here; such as the aforementioned pre-released tracks, ‘Man The Machine and ‘Blood Of The Levant’ as well the very crunchy ‘Inner Unrest’ amonst others, and furthermore, there are some great proggy moments; such as ‘Bent,’ ‘Portrait’ and ‘Inside Out.’ There’s moments that recall the middle-eastern vibes of their American Soldier and Tribe albums, there’s some of the bass-driven textured stuff like their underrated Operation Mindcrime 2 album, and there’s some of the trippy expansive stuff reminiscent of their Promised Land album.

As well as the heavy and proggy stuff, there is just loads of great, catchy, accessible Hard Rock meets Heavy Metal material that has been the core thing tying all of the band’s albums together to date. You can hear bits that sound like the last two albums, like calssic material such as Rage For Order and all sorts of new things as well.

There’s so much great bass guitar parts and lots of space for Todd to show off his impressive vocal range. Album upon album he pushes it further, showing off more and more styles and becoming more of his own thing and moving away from the Geoff Tate style, but still staying close enough that it always sounds quintessentially Queensrÿche. (Take that vocal style and mix it with those really distinctive guitar leads, and you’ve got Queensrÿche in a bottle.)

Overall; its yet another strong Queensrÿche album, but more than that, it is an interesting album, with a strong production, a great range of material, and some of their honestly best material in years, even if they have already been on a very strong run.

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