Metal Music Reviews (new releases)

REVOCATION The Outer Ones

Album · 2018 · Technical Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Nightfly
Let’s face it, Revocation don’t make bad albums. So it is with album number seven, once again they impress with another dose of highly technical death tinged thrash.

They come in from the start with blast beats blazing on “Of Unwordly Origin” but in typical Revocation fashion they never sit on the same riff/drum part for long before changing to something else, usually equally complex and jaw dropping. Each song is full of time/tempo changes and musical twists and turns with each band member excelling at their individual instrument, never content to keep it simple. All this wouldn’t count for much if they didn’t have the songs to back it up but fortunately as always they deliver with compelling riff after riff and blistering yet melodic guitar solos. There always seems to be an instrumental on their albums and here we get “Fathomless Catacombs”, five and half minutes of stunning musical virtuosity. To be honest such is the complexity throughout that any song on here could work as an instrumental. With each song delivering the goods on all levels picking favourites is futile but if pushed I might just go for “Vanitas” where if at all possible, they manage just to just squeeze out a bit more ferocity.

While there’s no great leaps or growth since 2016’s “Great Is Our Sin” with music this good it’s irrelevant. In fact it would be hard to see where Revocation could take their music anywhere else without having a complete genre change as they’ve already at the top of their game and have been for at least four albums now. If you enjoy them then “The Outer Ones” is essential listening for you.

DEICIDE Overtures of Blasphemy

Album · 2018 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
Formed in 1989, Deicide are responsible for shaping death metal at every level. When I first came across them I really wasn’t sure what to think of them, as I felt that metal was being taken into an area I personally wasn’t interested in, and slammed their 1997 album ‘Serpents of the Light’. But, over the years my musical tastes have broadened considerably, and in my fifties I now listen to music that may would consider too extreme for their tastes. Over the last decade I have revisited Deicide, and have discovered that I was a little hasty some 20 years ago, and that the band have consistently produced very good albums indeed. Glen Benton is still there of course, as is drummer Steve Asheim, as they have been ever since they formed Amon all those years ago. Guitarist Kevin Quirion has been joined by newcomer Mark English, and the band have yet again produced an album which is a solid example of the genre.

Interestingly, Benton has returned to songwriting, something that hasn’t happened since 1992’s ‘Legion’, with opening track “One with Satan,” “Compliments of Christ,” and “Consumed by Hatred,” the rest of the guys fleshed out the remaining nine tracks. “When we started the writing process,” says Benton, “I said to the guys, ‘This record doesn’t have to be boring, going-nowhere grind-all-the-time death metal. Let’s really focus on the quality of the songs, I wanted them to write tasty licks and catchy hooks this time. And let the vocals give it its definition.” No-one could ever imagine that this was anything but Deicide, Benton makes sure of that, but this is an album that actually contains a great deal of variety and styles. They never really slow it down of course, but there are times when it is more power metal than death, and these changes allow the music to breath and give the listener the opportunity to recover from the attack. If ever an album was meant to be played at 11 then this was it, and Asheim shows that he has lost none of his power and attack over the last 30 years, still pummelling the skins like an album. This may not make them any new fans, but all those who already enjoy Deicide will find that this album is one of their most disparate for a while, and all the better for it.



DYNAZTY Firesign

Album · 2018 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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DippoMagoo
Sometimes a band will make an album that’s so game-changing, it can earn the band a ton of new fans who would have otherwise not been interested in their music. For me, one such album is Renatus, the fourth full-length album from Swedish melodic metal band Dynazty. The band had started out as a melodic hard rock band, which isn’t a genre I follow too much, but when Renatus came around I heard people talking about it being a change to a much more modernized power metal sound, mixed with some prog, which of course is right up my alley. I gave it a few listens, and the rest is history. The band immediately became one of my favorites, so much so that I went back to hear some of their previous releases and was surprisingly impressed by them, as well, with vocalist Nils Molin, in particular, proving to be equally amazing singing both power metal and hard rock. When their fifth release, Titanic Mass, came around, I was excited to see how the band would progress, and while that release wasn’t the revelation its predecessor was, it was instead a very fun album that kept the momentum going, simplifying their sound just a bit, while still keeping everything that had worked previously. More importantly, it proved the previous release wasn’t a fluke, and so it left me excited to hear any future releases from the band. The band is now set to release their sixth album, Firesign, later this month, and while at this point it feels like they’ve settled into following an established formula, they’re doing such a good job of it, I can’t help but enjoy every second of the new album, just like with the two previous releases.

The biggest difference between Renatus and Titanic Mass, was that the former felt a bit more complex, with one particular track being much longer and more advanced than anything else they’ve done in their career, while the latter felt more simplified, relying on super catchy choruses and pretty much following the same formula for every track, just with varied sounds and tempos. Firesign is somewhere in the middle, in that the songs are still very straight-forward and extremely catchy, but there are a couple of longer ones, and there are times where the band gets more epic than they’ve ever been before, with an increased use of symphonic elements. At the same time, this is very much a formulaic album in the same way its predecessor was, with the verses being simple and fun and the choruses having huge vocal melodies, with the last run through always being especially epic, giving Nils a chance to steal the show right at the end. Every song on the album does this to great effect, just like on the last album, and while on the one hand, I can see it getting a bit repetitive, the band does it so well, I really can’t help but enjoy it every time. One slight difference I’ve noticed going from album to album is that the previous two were a bit heavier than this one, with the guitars having a more dominant presence, especially on Renatus. There’s still some good riffs and nice melodic solos here, but none of the tracks are quite as rocking as the likes of “Starlight”, or “Divine Comedy”. Instead, there’s an increased use of keyboards, with the light trance elements of Renatus feeling much more prominent on this album, especially on the title track, which almost feels like it could have come from Amaranthe, who of course now have Nils Molin in their ranks. One last change I notice is while Titanic Mass, in particular, leaned heavily towards faster-paced tracks, Firesign goes completely the other way, with the majority of the tracks being more mid-paced. This combined with the reduced guitar work makes for a very relaxing, very melodic kind of metal album, where the melodies truly shine, and so anyone looking for a hard-hitting kind of power metal may be disappointed. Personally, I took some time to adjust to this album, but once I did, I found myself loving it about as much as its predecessor, and almost as much as Renatus. Obviously, the performances are amazing across the board, and the production is quite good, as expected.

The best thing about Dynazty through the years has always been vocalist Nils Molin. Whether he’s singing an aggressive, modern power metal track or a softer melodic hard rock track, his voice is absolutely amazing, striking a perfect balance between being intense and powerful, and soft and melodic. He sings very smoothly when needed, and can deliver a chorus as well as anyone, but at the same time, when the intensity picks up, he absolutely kills it with some extremely powerful vocals, and he puts an incredible amount of emotion into his performances, especially in the later parts of tracks, where he gets to go all out. All of this is as true as ever on Firesign, and he once again delivers an incredible performance, that helps make some already great songs even better. He may very well be my favorite singer in all of metal, right now. He’s certainly high up there.

Another area where the band tends to excel is in the songwriting. I was initially a bit disappointed by Firesign, as the band seemed to be losing a bit of their intensity, but over time the album has grown on me a lot, as I’ve realized it still hits hard in place, but it’s definitely more focused on being an extremely, fun catchy and melodic metal album. It’s almost relaxing, in a weird sort of way. The album gets off to a strong start, with lead single “Breathe With Me”, an energetic, up-tempo track which does a great job of indicating what to expect from the album on the whole. It has the speed of the previous album, as well as some good riffs, though it instantly shows a greater focus on keyboards and symphonic elements, which are especially prominent during the chorus, while Nils shines as always, getting particularly intense during the final run of the chorus. It’s not quite as intense as some of the faster songs on the two previous songs, but it’s definitely just as catchy and even more epic, so it makes for a great start to the album.

Next is one of the tracks that took some time to warm up to me, that being “The Grey”, the second single from the album. It’s a slower paced track, and is very heavily reliant on keyboards, especially during the verses. It’s a very melodic track, with some rather unique vocal lines during the verses, before opening up for the unsurprisingly epic chorus. There’s some nice guitar work hidden in there, especially during the guitar solo in the second half, but it’s definitely a softer track overall, and a great indicator of what the overall album sounds like. The pace picks up again with “In the Arms of a Devil”, one of my personal favorites. It’s a hard-hitting, super fast track, which still shows off some flashy keyboards in spots, while overall being one of the heavier and more explosive tracks on the album, with fun verses and a very powerful chorus, especially the last time through, where Nils delivers some of his best vocals I’ve ever heard. It’s a super addictive track overall, and one of my personal favorites from the band.

Once again, the pace drops off immediately afterward, and this time it doesn’t really pick up again for a while. Next is “My Darkest Hour”, a very slow paced and heavily keyboard driven track, with some nice beats to it. I initially wasn’t too thrilled with it, but the vocal melodies eventually won me over, and Nils is amazing as always, while the guitar solo is also very nice. The first longer track is next in the form of “Ascension”, a track I already liked on first listen, though it has grown on me quite a bit over time, as well. It’s faster than the previous track, moving at a nice gallop, without fully speeding up, and it is perhaps the most epic track on the album, with the symphonic elements being especially noticeable throughout, and it has one of the strongest choruses on the album, which of course only gets even better at the end. It’s a fairly straightforward track but has some complex symphonic arrangements, as well as an excellent solo in the middle. It manages to be one of the heavier tracks here, while still showcasing the more melodic and epic and slightly calmer sound the band has gone for on this album. Next is a track which took several listens to impress me, which is the title track. It opens up with some very bouncy keyboards, and it’s definitely a more playful, very accessible track where the keyboards are extremely dominant. It’s by far the most trance infused track here, and has a chorus and vocal melodies that would not feel out of place on an Amaranthe album at all. I initially thought it seemed out of place here, but over time the stupidly catchy chorus and fun keyboard leads have grown on me, and I now find it to be extremely fun and addictive.

There aren’t a ton of surprises in the back half of the album, though everything is excellent. One of my favorites is next in “Closing Doors”, a speedier track, which still stays fairly calm and melodic through, aside from an intense and powerful chorus, which stands out as the highlight of the song, along with the excellent guitar solo. The next three songs are all more mid-paced, with “Follow Me” being particularly heavy and having some great leads, as well as a fun and upbeat chorus, “Let Me Dream Forever” is one of the most melodic tracks on the album, with an extremely strong chorus, and “Starfall” is one of the more modern sounding tracks, having some very chunky guitar work in quick bursts, while having a nice melodic chorus and overall striking a nice balance between the band’s two extremes of super heavy and super melodic. I initially wasn’t impressed by the last of these, especially the very chunky instrumental section later on, but it has grown on me a lot over time. Closing out the album is “The Light Inside the Tunnel”, one track which certainly did not need to grow on me much. It opens up with some beautiful keyboards and symphonic elements, before settling into a nice groove. It strikes a nice balance between some heavy guitar work and very melodic keyboards while moving at a pretty nice pace, without fully speeding up. It has one of the most addictive choruses on the album and is certainly one of the most epic, as well as the longest by a couple of seconds. It was one of my favorites right away, and it’s certainly an excellent way to close out the album.

Overall, Firesign is another excellent album from Dynazty, which once again continues with the sound they began back in 2014 with their breakthrough release, Renatus. The pace is a bit slower than I expected, and many of the tracks don’t hit quite as hard as I expected, but it’s yet another very fun and catchy album, full of huge vocal melodies, excellent keyboards and one of the best vocal performances of the year, as expected from Nils Molin. Fans of the previous two releases are sure to enjoy this as well, while any fan of modern melodic metal or power metal is highly recommended to give this and its two predecessors a listen, as Dynazty has become one of the best in the game over the past half decade.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2018/09/08/dynazty-firesign-review/

GRAVE DIGGER The Living Dead

Album · 2018 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 2 ratings
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DippoMagoo
Few bands can claim to be either as prolific or as consistent as German heavy/power metal band Grave Digger. They’re up there with Rage as two of the most active and consistently great power metal bands, over an extremely long career. Celebrating their 38th anniversary earlier this year, Grave Digger has released 18 albums to date, managing to fit in at least once every two years since 1993’s The Reaper. They technically missed one in between 2014 and 2017 but did release a re-recordings compilation at that time, so one can hardly accuse the band of slacking off. Less than two years after the release of Healed By Metal, the band is back with their nineteenth full-length release, The Living Dead, set for release this week. Their past few releases have been very strong, with the band seemingly turning back the clock to produce music every bit on par with some of their best work in the 90’s and early 2000’s, so I was excited to hear what this new release would bring, and it’s safe to say: Grave Digger isn’t just surviving, they’re thriving, in a big way!

The band has developed their own signature sound over the past 38 years, playing one of the heaviest, most hard-hitting brands of power metal out there, with all their albums having some excellent guitar work and the ever rough and powerful vocals of Chris Boltendahl. Their past few releases, in particular, felt very similar to some of their classics from the 90’s, bringing back a lot of the raw intensity of those releases while adding in a bit more melody to make it just a bit more accessible and more modern sounding. All of this continues with The Living Dead, which once again contains a seamless blend between the band’s speedy power metal and slower heavy metal tracks, striking a perfect balance between the two, while also balancing nicely between heavy and melodic passages. I found Healed by Metal, in particular, had some huge choruses, and it generally felt like the band was making an effort to make their music just a bit more melodic, without sacrificing any of the riffs, and if anything The Living Dead has gone even further in that direction, featuring some of their biggest, most epic choruses ever, while still being as heavy and intense and fans of the band would expect. There’s certainly a ton of tracks here that will instantly remind fans of the band’s classic works while being just a bit more epic and catchy than usual. There are a few passages throughout the album that feel particularly fresh, and then there’s one specific track at the end that really takes things to a whole new level when it comes to surprising listeners, and I’ll get to that one in a while. Suffice to say, it surprised me in a great way. Performances are obviously strong across the board, and though longtime drummer Stefan Arnold parted ways with the band before the release of the album, he delivered one last great performance before doing so.

Obviously, one element of Grave Digger that will never change, because it just wouldn’t be Grave Digger without it at this point, is the voice of Chris Boltendahl. He has a very raw, raspy voice that sounds rather unique within power metal, and he brings a level of aggression and intensity not often found within the genre, yet he manages to make it work equally well on the faster, more power metal focused tracks, as well as the slower, more heavy metal tracks. His voice sounds as strong as ever on Fear of the Living Dead, and he does an amazing job on some of the bigger choruses, proving he still has what it takes to carry a band as well as anyone in the genre.

For a band that’s been around so long, you’d expect Grave Digger to struggle with songwriting at least a little bit, and yet that really isn’t the case. They had a bit of a rough stretch from 2005-2009 with a couple of slightly weaker albums, but they returned to form nicely in 2010 with The Clans Will Rise Again, and have been on another great run ever since. The streak continues with The Living Dead, which is consistently excellent from top to bottom, while still having a few particularly strong tracks that rank among my favorites by the band. First up is one such highlight, that being the title track. The track opens with a baby’s lullaby gone wrong before the riffs kick in and it turns into the kind of hard-hitting, speedy opener the band excels at. It slows down during the verses but still keeps the energy up with some great riffs, before speeding up again, for a huge, extremely epic chorus, which certainly stands among the band’s best in that department in quite some time. It manages to be equal parts, intense, epic, melodic and super catchy, and definitely gets the album off to an amazing start.

Next is “Blade of the Immortal”, a slower but equally hard-hitting track, with some very punishing riffs right off the bat, as well as another super epic and fun chorus, and an excellent instrumental section which has some rather unique melodies coming from Grave Digger. Overall, it’s an excellent track which blends classic Grave Digger with some fresh sounds in a great way. After that, the pace picks up again with “When Death Passes By”, another heavy track which stays pretty fast-paced throughout, delivering another fast and super fun chorus, as well as some excellent lead riffs and very fun verses. It’s certainly one of the more classic feeling songs on the album, in a great way. Some surprises come on “Shadow of the Warrior”, an epic track which starts out with a soft acoustic section, featuring some surprisingly calm vocals from Chris, before the riffs kick in and it starts moving at a nice pace, without going full speed. It has another very melodic, super catchy chorus, which ranks as one of the best on the album, and it has some more rather unique and awesome melodies during its solo section. Another excellent track.

There’s a couple tracks here will silly lyrics, as expected. The first of these is “The Power of Metal”, a fairly fast and hard-hitting track, which again mixes classic Grave Digger riffs with a big chorus. The lyrics get in the way slightly during the verses but are funnier than anything, and the chorus is amazing, so it’s still a great track overall. The other track with kinda silly lyrics is “Fist in Your Face”, which stays silly throughout, but thankfully it’s an excellent track musically, with some extremely powerful riffs and is an example of the band playing slow paced but energetic classic heavy metal at its best. In between those two are two more excellent tracks in “Hymn of the Damned”, another very classic sounding speedy power metal track with raw sounding riffs and a huge, epic chorus, and “What War Left Behind”, a very thrashy power metal track, which may be the most classic sounding track on the whole album It’s certainly very raw fast and energetic, in an awesome way.

Moving to the final stretch of the album, “Insane Pain” is another very raw and heavy track, which stays fairly fast during the verses, but slows down for a fun chorus. It’s not one of my favorite tracks here, but it’s still excellent and has some great riffs. There’s a very good bonus track called “Glory or Grave”, which is very speedy, hard-hitting and has an extremely epic and catchy chorus, so it definitely fits in perfectly with the rest of the album. One song that doesn’t quite fit in, but is a pleasant surprise, is the closing track “Zombie Dance”, released as the second single, after the title track. It’s a mid-paced, slightly upbeat heavy metal track with some heavy riffs during the verses, and a stupidly catchy chorus, but what really makes it stand out is the fact that the band called in Austrian Russkaja to provide some folk influences to the music, delivering some epic chants as well as some backing music that strikes a balance between folk and polka, giving the song its aforementioned “Dance”, which also factors into the lyrics during the chorus. It gets even weirder during the middle section, and overall it’s a very bizarre experiment, which somehow works out perfectly and is probably the most unique and surprising thing the band has done in at least 15 years.

Overall, The Living Dead is an amazing album from heavy/power metal veterans Grave Digger, which continues a big resurgence they started eight years ago, and if anything, takes things even further, thanks to a delightful mix of the kind of classic, hard-hitting power metal and heavy metal the band excels at with some of the more melodic tendencies the band has picked up on more recent albums, as well as one hell of an epic surprise in the closing track. Obviously, it’s a must buy for any existing fans of the band and in case there’s anyone looking for an aggressive mix heavy/power metal who hasn’t heard of Grave Digger yet, this would certainly be a great album to start with.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2018/09/22/grave-digger-the-living-dead-review/

THE UNITY Rise

Album · 2018 · Heavy Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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DippoMagoo
It can be interesting to see what happens when members of big-name bands are given a chance to spread out and try something else for a while, either because the band is on hiatus or taking an extended break between albums. One recent example of this is German melodic metal band The Unity, formed in 2016, with Gamma Ray leader Kai Hansen busy reuniting with his former band Helloween, allowing for relatively new drummer Michael Ehré and longtime guitarist Henjo Richter to join a new band. The rest of the lineup features four members from the long-defunct hard rock/melodic metal band Love.Might.Kill, who was a pretty solid band in their own right. With such a strong pedigree, The Unity showed promise right out of the gate, and their self-titled debut impressed many when it released in 2017. Personally, I missed out on it at the time, but I have since checked out some songs from it and found it to be quite enjoyable, so I was interested to see if the band could keep the momentum going for the follow-up. Well, almost a year and a half later, their sophomore effort, Rise, is set for release, and it is another killer, containing 12 excellent songs, which offer up a ton of variety, while each being consistently entertaining in their own way.

The first thing that has to be addressed, for new listeners, is the musical direction on Rise. Anyone expecting a pure, classic power metal sound in the style of Gamma Ray is probably better off looking elsewhere, as while that does show up in bursts, it’s certainly not the main focus on this release, or for the band in general. In fact, for the most part, the music here can be described as a logical follow up to what Love.Might.Kill had been doing on their two full-length albums, and many of the songs on this album sound more comparable to modern hard rock like the past few Kissin’ Dynamite releases, than to any kind of power metal. Everything is executed wonderfully, though, with some hard hitting, classic sounding guitar riffs, mixed with some more modernized keyboard melodies and some strong vocal melodies. There’s definitely a classic feel to the guitar sound at times, but many of the tracks have a more modern hard rock/melodic metal vibe to them, with a few even being rather radio-friendly, while others hit a bit harder, without losing the melodies or catchy choruses. This is a very vocal driven album overall, though every musician in the band has given a great performance, as expected, with both guitarists keyboardist Sascha Onnen, in particular, being given plenty of chances to shine. Songwriting is quite varied, with a couple of speedy tracks that come close to power metal, while having some slight modern hard rock twists to them, some tracks that almost come close to radio rock territory, one ballad, and a bunch of nicely paced, heavy but suitably catchy and relaxing melodic metal numbers. It’s the latter that dominates the album, and the band excels at them, for sure.

It had been a while since I had last heard anything by Love.Might.Kill, and I didn’t check the full lineup before playing the album for the first time, so initially, I felt vocalist Gianbattista Manenti would be a perfect fit for a melodic rock band, so when I looked up the full band info and discovered his identity, I wasn’t surprised in the least. He has a very smooth voice, which excels during the melodic portions, but he can also sing with a ton of grit and power, with a very deep voice that works perfectly for a hard rock or heavy metal sound. He especially excels during the slower tracks, though he still sounds great on the few power metal portions as well, and simply does a great job throughout the album, being one of the band’s biggest assets.

One of the biggest strengths of Rise is in its songwriting, as it manages to be varied enough to constantly keep the listener guessing as to what will come next, as well as being consistently entertaining throughout, no matter what style the band is playing at the time. Following a brief intro track, the album kicks off with “Betrayal”, an up-tempo, high energy track that combines the speed and vocal melodies of a power metal track, with some decidedly classic hard rock sounding guitar riffs, which makes for a nice combination. It’s a fast-paced, very fun track with energetic verses and a huge, melodic and very catchy chorus, where Gianbattista gets to shine. It gets the album off to an excellent start and is a great track on its own. Next is “You Got Me Wrong”, a slightly upbeat, though more restrained track, which has more of those classic hard rock riffs, while being more melodic overall. It moves at a nice pace, without really speeding up, and definitely falls into more of a typical melodic metal sound, with another excellent chorus. Perhaps the most accessible track on the album is next, that being the second single “The Storm”. It’s a slower, very relaxed track, driven largely by keyboards and vocals. It’s a very melodic track, with an excellent chorus and some great vocal melodies throughout. There’s a slight hard rock edge to it, but it’s definitely a very accessible track, which I could easily imagine being played on the radio.

The longest track on the album is “Road to Nowhere”, which has a pretty cool voiceover intro, before the band kicks in and it turns into a hard-hitting, mid-paced melodic metal track, which moves at a nice tempo, without quite going full throttle. The riffs hit harder than on most tracks here, and it’s definitely a darker feeling track compared to most, while still having an excellent chorus. It’s definitely one of the tracks where the two guitarists get a chance to shine and are one of my favorites on the album. Next is the fast-paced, rather playful track “Welcome Home”, which has a slight power metal feel to it, while also still having some hard rock in its guitars sound. It’s another fairly accessible and fun track, with fun verses, a great chorus, and a sense of disrespecting the listeners’ intelligence, in a sort of tongue and cheek way, having to remind them when the second verse is about to come in. Aside from that oddity, the track is actually great overall, and of my favorites on the album. As expected, after a couple heavier tracks the pace slows down once again, with the very melodic, slow paced “All That is Real”, a largely keyboard-driven track, with a great guitar solo in the second half, though overall it’s another very accessible and radio-friendly track.

Moving towards the end, lead single “No Hero” is a hard-hitting, classic heavy metal track, with some slight modern touches. It moves a nice pace, features some very heavy riffs and a fun, catchy chorus, and is definitely one of the most instantly engaging, classic metal feeling tracks on this album, sure to please fans looking for something a bit heavier compared to most of the album. Following that, the band once again changes direction completely, offering up the lone ballad of the album, “The Willow Tree”. It’s a fairly simple track, with soft guitar work accompanying the vocals most of the way through, though it has an excellent solo in the middle, and overall it’s a very nice track which serves as a great showcase for Gianbattista, with the chorus, in particular, being amazing. Next is “Above Everything”, which is another nice mid-paced melodic metal track, with some great keyboards and a great chorus, and then comes the last speedy track of the album, “Children of the Light”, a very heavy guitar driven track, which is the closest the album comes to sounding like classic power metal, especially during the chorus. The band brings a harder rock infused sound back for “Better Days”, an upbeat track which moves at a decent pace, and it has a lot of energy to it, with some very smooth and fun verses, and one of the best choruses on the album, helping to make it one of my favorites. Lastly, we have the closing track “L.I.F.E.”, a slow-paced melodic metal track, with some excellent vocals, especially during the chorus. It’s a fairly soft and melodic track, relying heavily on the vocals, and Gianbattista delivers a great performance as always, helping to end the album on a high note.

Overall, Rise is an excellent sophomore release, which proves The Unity is here to stay, and that they’re capable of standing on their own and releasing some excellent music. In fact, while I enjoy classic Gamma Ray as much as anyone, I’d go as far as to say I enjoy this more than anything that band has done is well over a decade, maybe even going as far back as 1999’s Powerplant, as I find the songwriting here to be far more consistent and engaging, and the performances are just as strong all around. There’s a bit of something for everyone here, with some nice hard rock infused power metal, some mid-paced heavy metal crunchers, some slow paced melodic metal, a ballad and one track which I’d describe as classic power metal. Fans of melodic metal and hard rock with a slight power metal touches are sure to enjoy this, and overall I find it to be a very pleasant surprise. With Kai Hansen seemingly busy for a while yet, I hope The Unity can continue to produce more great albums in the future.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2018/09/23/the-unity-rise-review/

FIVE FINGER DEATH PUNCH And Justice for None

Album · 2018 · Groove Metal
Cover art 2.00 | 2 ratings
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Kingcrimsonprog
Five Finger Death Punch albums are often fairly similar in terms of quality, musical direction and performance. Most of them feature bouncy groove-metal riffs balanced with melodic modern-metalcore loud/quiet dynamics and easy on the ear radio friendly production jobs. Maybe a ballad or two for variety.

Not all their albums are absolutely identical, and for example their debut is faster and rawer than their fifth album, but there is a general similarity between a lot of them and the basic rule of thumb is that if you like one of them, you’ll probably like them all. They do have a distinct formula if we’re being honest here.

For me, their first two albums and also Got Your Six are the strongest, and up until this point, The Wrong Side Of Heaven’ 2 and American Capitalist are the weaker ones in the catalouge, as there are possibly too many ballads and light tracks on them and not enough fast songs for my own personal tastes, but to be honest that’s all if you are getting nit picky and there’s not too much difference between them unless you sit there and analyse them.

In 2018; two years after it was actually recorded due to some record company shenanigans and legal wranglings and after a gap filling greatest-hits compilation, the band released their seventh full-length studio album, And Justice For None. You can get it in a standard edition, or one with the new songs they added to that aforementioned greatest-hits albums, the catchy single ‘Trouble’ and the cover song ‘Gone Away’ which is a reworking of a The Offspring song (which to be fair they put on the standard edition anyway in the end), as well as two further bonus tracks from the same era, ‘Bad Seed’ and ‘Save Your Breath.’

Now; remember when I said there’s too many ballads and lighter moments on the albums I’d rate as being not their best? Well, this one has two lighter songs that are both covers. It also has the ballad single ‘When The Seasons Change’ preceded by the very good but still ballady ‘I Refuse.’ It even ends on a power ballad with ‘Will The Sun Ever Rise?’ It also has the strange lighter electronic tracks ‘Stuck In My Ways’ & ‘Bloody’ which feel like a play to get on TV advertisements and are a lot lighter and less powerful than my favourite songs by the band.

Hey; I am no ballad-phobic caveman. I love power metal for goodness sake, where you can’t move for ballads. Its just, when there’s one very good ballad on an album, it is a nice piece of variety. When its like two thirds of the whole record it sort of weighs it down and they loose their efficacy. If it had only been say, ‘I Refuse’ for example, that would be fine. If there was only one cover it might’ve been aright. If they only had one song experimenting with electronics, it would have stood out. As it stands, its all a bit too much and it feels like overkill.

There are some groovier, heavier and faster tracks here. ‘Rock Bottom,’ has a rumbling menace to it, ‘It Doesn’t Matter,’ ‘Fire In The Hole’ and ‘Top Of The World’ are the traditional Five Finger Death Punch sound and the opener ‘Fake’ is pretty strong. There’s stuff to like here for sure, don’t let me make you think its a complete departure. I guess the album is a bit overlong though, and a bit unfocused. It also hits the strange ‘make-your-mind-up’ sweet spot between staying too close to the old formula at times and experimenting with new stuff too much, without really committing to either. The problem is that they don’t really suit the new stuff. Again, ‘Bloody’ is an excellent example of what I did not expect from this band. Another song that doesn’t sound like the band is the controversial lead single ‘Sham Pain’ with its lyrics basically complaining about being on tour and sounding ungrateful.

When I first got this album, it really felt like a let down after Got Your Six, and I will admit that it has grown on me a lot more with each repeat listen. If I hadn’t bought it and felt guilty about the money, I might not have listened to it quite so often and allowed it to grow on me. Even with this appreciation-raising slow burn, this is easily my least favourite album from the group. It may be due to the circumstances in which it was written and recorded, burned out and before getting clean and with the record label woes, it may have all impacted upon the quality of the record. Maybe the next one will be great. Or again, maybe its just a natural dip from a band working that hard pumping albums out and touring so often. They dipped a little on the fifth album and rose higher again on the sixth. Maybe it is just a natural fluctuation. Either way, while I am still going to be listening to this album in full over and over again to try and feel like I got my money’s worth, I feel like I won’t ever like it as much as Way Of The Fist or Wrong Side Of Heaven part 1. If you aren’t an obsessive fan, don’t feel bad if you want to skip this one, and if you are a new fan or aren’t a fan yet, I’d advise you leave this one until last, and try something like War Is The Answer first.

ABORTED TerrorVision

Album · 2018 · Brutal Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
Formed more than 20 years ago, Belgian brutal death metal act Aborted are back with their tenth full-length release, following on from 2016’s ‘Retrogore’. One always knows what Aborted are about, and with this album they deliver, they really deliver. From the gentle introduction through the chaos and hellstorm they unleash, this is quite some album. It is easily the best album I have heard from them, and I have seen others also asking if it is better than their 2003 monster ‘Goremageddon: The Saw and the Carnage Done’, but everyone agrees it is the best album they have released in years.

The drums are being driven by a demented human octopus, the blast beats are everywhere, and there are many times when this album is moving into grind territory, such is its ferocity and unparalleled violence. The guitars crunch, the vocals come from the gut, but just when one thinks it can’t get any heavier they slow it down, or lighten it up, all so that when they come back and put the hammer down everyone gets punched with the change in pace and attack. They remind me somewhat of Cryptopsy in the way they understand dynamics and vary the pace, of Nile in the way they can bring the technical element to bear when they need to, and Carcass and Napalm Death in terms of unrelenting attack when it is required. Luckily, the production is up to the job, and the result is a brutal death metal album that any fan of the genre definitely needs to get.

IMMORTAL Northern Chaos Gods

Album · 2018 · Black Metal
Cover art 4.38 | 4 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
IMMORTAL was one of the early pioneers of the second wave of black metal that found the brutal gut wrenching fledgling subgenre spawning from the deathened thrash leanings of the early bird evil ones such as Venom, Bathory, Mercyful Fate and Hellhammer. After all this time though, bands like Mayhem, Darkthrone, Burzum, Emperor, Satyricon and Gorgoroth who launched Norway onto the world’s stage as the most aggressively fearful bands that the music world has ever been subjected to, have pretty much strayed from their roots of the early black metal orthodoxies and either disbanded in search of other musical endeavors (such as Ihsahn spawning a solo career out of Emperor) or have completely jumped into the world of the avant-garde or experimental alternate realities. While a few bands of that era such as Gorgoroth and Sweden’s Marduk have kept a relatively pure form of second wave black metal as their primary focus, none have done it so gracefully and elegantly as Bergen’s IMMORTAL.

As is well known in this sector of the extreme metal universe, all has not been well between founders Abbath and Demonaz who were founders of this darkened nightmare inducing dinfest and parted ways in 2003 after the release of “Sons Of Darkness” but found common grounds long enough to pump out yet one more release in the form of 2007’s “All Shall Fall.” Despite trying to bite the bullet and get along for the sake of the music, the collaborative efforts of Abbath and Demonaz hit a low point and resulted in the ugly legal battles as to who owned the coveted trademark band name. After years of “legalistic battles in the north”, Abbath finally jumped ship permanently and embarked in his own self-penned career move whereas Demonaz continued the legacy of the original band moniker. After nine years of fans’ nail biting and dismay, a new IMMORTAL album has finally hit the market. The band’s ninth studio album NORTHERN CHAOS GODS not only continues their love of a certain direction of geography (uh, “Battles In The North,” “Sons Of Northern Darkness” and this one) but shows a newly energized IMMORTAL on top of their game. Did you really think they went away forever? What exactly does their name mean anyway?!!!

Demonaz stated that this album was to be as grim, dark and cold as possible and that wish has been granted in full black metal grimy regalia. Right from the very first bombastic blast of the opening title track, NORTHERN CHAOS GODS evokes the pure essence of a 90s black metal band catapulted into the modern era. By retaining a sense of the lo-fi bombastic melding of guitar, bass and drums with that classic “shrieking from the depths” vocal outrage, IMMORTAL emerges from the underworld of uncertainty and back into the Earthly plane of existence to reclaim their throne as the most enduring and authentic examples of classic second wave Norwegian black metal. With recognizable and almost downright familiar compositional bombast that evokes their earliest post-death metal years with classics such as “Pure Holocaust” coming to mind, Demonaz unleashes a ferocious fury of guitar riffing, deranged hellfire vocal torture alongside Horgh’s percussive orotundity and the bass bombast of newbie Peter Tägtgren who has played with many extreme metal bands including Hypocrisy, PAIN, Exodus, Therion, Sabaton and Edge Of Sanity, JUST to name a few. He also serves on this one at the helm of the production and mixing room.

I honestly can’t say that IMMORTAL has been anything but consistent. While many claim one album or another is superior to the next, i personally find them all to be compelling and NORTHERN CHAOS GODS, while not deviating significantly from their standard formula of head banging earache inducing black metal from the 90s, still fucking crushes the soul like a ton of bricks. On this release, Demonaz, Horgh and Tägtgren deliver a collection of eight of the most crushingly heavy tracks that the band has unleashed on an unsuspecting world in a long, long time. I, for one, never expected to experience such a fine and quality laden product as this one. This is indeed classic no nonsense black metal that eschews all the frills. No atmospheric touches, no ventures into avant-garde weirdness, no Satanic gimmicks, no none of that.

In fact, this album seems like the perfect recalibration to a more simple return to the roots of the black metal early years. Much like the grunge did to glam metal of the 90s. This is a balls to the wall return to the basics that emphasizes what made second wave black metal so utterly addictive in the first place. With a production that is perfectly balanced between lo-fi middle fingers raised and modern stereophonic bliss dowsed in pyroclastic musical outbursts of black metal fury, NORTHERN CHAOS GODS not only unleashes the frigid wintery ice cold temperatures translated into sonic form but proves that IMMORTAL are the current CHAOS GODS that are living up to their name and are here for eternity. A surprisingly consistent and fiery comeback from one of Norway’s most enduring and constantly kickass black metal bands. Will they return you may wonder? What is their name? Tell me now, WHAT…. IS ….. THEIR…. NAME? I just hope it’s not another nine years.

ESOCTRILIHUM Pandaemorthium (Forbidden Formulas To Awaken The Blind Sovereigns Of Nothingness)

Album · 2018 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 4.74 | 5 ratings
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Warthur
Whereas Esoctrilihum's debut album was a more or less straight down the line atmospheric black metal number (though a rather pleasing example of that style), this compendium of forbidden formulas is a different matter. They might be working with forbidden formulas (formulas fatal to the flesh, perhaps?), but this is hardly formulaic - instead Esoctrilihum add a fat dose of death metal, embellishing their solid atmospheric black metal foundation with sickly, bestial grunting vocals and brutal guitar.

Death metal and black metal aren't miles apart to begin with, after all - how many bands have drifted from one to the other? - but few have managed a fusion of the styles quite as startlingly malevolent-sounding as this album. The quest to make extreme metal sound ever more evil is a difficult one, but Esoctrilihum here might have hit upon a stratum of darkness which we never before suspected.

MORNE To The Night Unknown

Album · 2018 · Doom Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
Formed in 2005, Morne is a heavy, atmospheric band based in Boston, Massachusetts. Their style blends doom metal and classic British crust but stretches beyond those boundaries, combining a bleak lyrical style with driving riffs. They have obviously been influenced by early Neurosis, and there is a frostiness to the music which is more often associated with raw black metal. This isn’t friendly doom by any stretch of the imagination, with riffs that hammer into the brain, and solos that are sometimes so quiet that they can hardly be heard, adding tinges of funeral-like melody to proceedings.

It is some five years since their last album, but they are well and truly back with a bang. There are times when they allow the music to swell and extend, but this isn’t a dirge that seems to last forever, but instead is music with a purpose. The drums are hard and heavy, yet also have a lightness that moves the music away from the bass and guitar which dominate the lower registers. There is always the feeling of the guys being in total control of what they are undertaking, with a purpose and direction, as opposed to some of the more meandering funereal doom bands around. This is dramatic stuff, and there is no doubt that it is one of the most exciting releases from a band within the doom genre for quite some time. Miss this at your peril.

THE GROTESQUERY The Lupine Anathema

Album · 2018 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"The Lupine Anathema" is the 4th full-length studio album by multi-national death metal act The Grotesquery. The album was released through Xtreem Music in April 2018. It´s the successor to "Curse of the Skinless Bride" from 2015 and features the same lineup who recorded the predecessor. Rogga Johansson (guitars), Johan Berglund (bass), and Brynjar Helgetun (drums), and Kam Lee (vocals). The latter is known for his involvement in several acts, but probably mostly for being the lead vocalist in the legendary US death metal act Massacre. The other three are quite prolific on the Swedish death metal scene. Especially Rogga Johansson who are involved in multible acts like Down Among the Dead Men, Ribspreader, Paganizer, Putrevore, and Johansson & Speckmann, just to mention a few of his projects.

Just like the case has been on the three preceding album releases by The Grotesquery, "The Lupine Anathema" is a horror-themed concept death metal album, this time featuring a werewolf horror story, which song titles like "Under the Curse of the Full Moon", "Advent of the Werewolves", and "Dark Cry of the Wolf" are also a testimony to. The Grotesquery are a well playing band and Kam Lee is a strong growling vocalist, but that´s not a surprise if you´re familiar with the preceding releases by the band. The music is generally pretty basic old school Swedish oriented death metal and compared to the predecessors very little has actually changed. It´s high quality death metal songwriting, but nothing revolutionizing, although the concept story of course provides something a little more special than usual for the genre.

"The Lupine Anathema" features a powerful, raw, and detailed sound production, which suits the material well, so upon conclusion it´s another strong release by The Grotesquery. A 3.5 - 4 star (75%) rating is deserved.

MAD MAX 35

Album · 2018 · Hard Rock
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
Formed back in 1981, Mad Max released their debut album in 1982, with guitarist Jürgen Breforth having been there from the beginning. Singer Michael Voss joined the year afterwards, with drummer Axel Kruse taking over the hot seat in 1984. Only bassist Thomas "Hutch" Bauer is a newbie, having only joined in 2015, so the album title is a nod to their more than 35 years in the industry. This is hard rock/power metal with more than a nod to the likes of classic Dokken, and it is hard not to smile and get with the groove. Okay, so Voss’s voice cracks and breaks sometimes, but it just adds some emotion to what is an incredibly solid album.

It has the passion and energy that one would expect from guys half their age, and there is stacks of melody. The only thing that really lets it down is the quality of the songs, which while good are never anything more than that. The result is an album that is solid, enjoyable and dependable without ever being essential. But, for all that, it’s better than quite a lot of what I have been listening to recently.

INTO ETERNITY The Sirens

Album · 2018 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
Canadian act Into Eternity released their debut album through DVS back in 1999, with another four coming in quick succession on Century Media, the last two of which two featured Stu Block (Iced Earth) on vocals. The band then decided to put recording on hold, so that they could concentrate on touring internationally. Amanda Keirnan joined on vocals to replace Block, giving the band more depth and breadth with her ability to growl with the best of them as well as providing strong soprano when the need arises. The band decided that after ten years away from the recording scene it was time to return with their sixth album, and they are back with ‘The Sirens’.

Spending many years on the road has obviously paid dividends as the guys are incredibly tight, with melodic guitar runs as sharp as one could wish for, while the rhythm section move between providing a foundation and moving more into the secondary melody. Amanda is a real find, the perfect conduit for the style of music they are performing, which is a mix between Arch Enemy, Death, Opeth and King’s X. It is deep, it is pummelling, it has hints of Judas Priest yet somehow stays more melodic while losing none of the brutality. Some of the guitar solos, such as on the killer song “Sandstorm”, are breathtakingly quick and somehow the band manages to groove and move while at the same time rocking like absolute and total bastards.

They have discovered that fine line between melodic metal and out and out brutality and speed, and have then trampled all over it. This is incredibly clever and solid metal that has much in homage to the death and thrash scene as it does to the prog, and then somehow mixes it all together to create something that fans of all three genres will do well to discover. Let’s just hope that we don’t have to wait another ten years for the next one, surely not.



DEVIL ELECTRIC Devil Electric

Album · 2017 · Traditional Doom Metal
Cover art 3.97 | 8 ratings
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Warthur
Devil Electric's debut album finds the Australian unit offering up yet another entry in the pantheon of doomy occult rock outfits. You know the sort - witchy lady on vocals, riffs borrowed from Sabbath and Led Zep, bigger dose of Satanism than the original 1970s bands they're riffing on ever actually indulged in themselves.

It's a short affair at only 36 minutes, but thankfully I think we've moved beyond that phase when people felt they'd been cheated unless an album filled the entire length of a CD (or at least broke the 1 hour mark); I'd always rather hear half an hour of an artist's best stuff than an hour padded out with filler. That said, I'm not wholly sold on Devil Electric. Maybe it's because they regularly lean closer to Zep than Sabbath in their riffage, and I never quite embraced Zeppelin to the same extent that others have, or maybe it's just because I've heard a lot of stuff like this and it takes a bit more than the basic occult doom formula to impress me these days, but I found my mind wandering well before the 36 minutes were up - and that's a bad sign.

DECLINE OF THE I Escape

Album · 2018 · Black Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
Decline Of The I is a French post-black metal band. Their third studio album, ‘Escape’, is the final part of a concept trilogy inspired by French surgeon and philosopher Henri Laborit, whose works included brain studies. The lyrics and their hidden message play an important factor in the band's music, which has its roots in black metal, but although it always contains the atmosphere and emotion one expects from that genre, it is also bringing in influences not normally expected including electronic and industrial as well as orchestral elements. The band is led by a multi-instrumentalist, A, who has played in bands such as Vorkreist, Merrimack, Neo Inferno 262, Malhkebre and Diapsiquir. Decline Of The I is his personal approach on dark music and his spectrum of roles in the band ranges from vocalist, to guitarist, bassist, keyboard player and programmer. A is accompanied by musicians of Merrimack, Anus Mundi, Temple of Baal, Eibon and Drowning fame, all of whom are identified by a single letter.

The band commented: "After a heavy and neurasthenic first chapter, and an epileptic, dirty and violent second one, here's the last part of the Decline of the I’s trilogy: Escape. It’s now time to leave, to avoid this perpetual aggression of the outside world. All the other reactions leaded to a dead end. Running away is the only possible move for the subject to preserve its entity. There are many forms of escape: madness, suicide, technology, spirituality. This third album explores all of them. Musically, it’s the synthesis of all the previews works; it's contemplative and slow but also very fast, dark and brutal".

This is album that needs to be played repeatedly, as on first hearing there is a jarring nature as it doesn’t easily fit within the normal boundaries, and it is only be giving it the attention it deserves that one realises that there is something out of the ordinary going on here. Strange treated voices, black metal guitars, loops and weird sounds create something that sits on a knife edge, bringing together harmony and discord in a way that is both uncomfortable and compelling. This is not an easy thing to listen to, yet it is something which ultimately rewards those who are willing to make the effort. Sometimes music needs to be pulling at the leash, knocking down the doors, and this does that repeatedly. If black metal was being performed by the inmates of an asylum then this is how it would sound.

CAST THE STONE Empyrean Atrophy

EP · 2018 · Death Metal
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
Cast The Stone is Mark Kloeppel (Misery Index, Scour with Phil Anselmo), Derek Engemann (ex-Cattle Decapitation, Scour), Jesse Schobel (Legend, ex-Scour) and vocalist Andrew Huskey. First formations of the band began in 2002, long before its protagonists departed for their better known metal-scene mainstays, and as a trio they released their debut album as long ago as 2005 (when Kloeppel also acted as lead singer). So although they may seem to be something of a supergroup in some ways, this is an example of a band getting back together some years after the members have had success elsewhere. This is a six-song 27-minute-long EP

In many ways, this is an album which has far more in common with the Swedish death metal than Florida, which is somewhat surprising given that they hail from Missouri. An obvious influence is Opeth, especially on the delicate acoustic “Standing In The Shadows”, which site nicely towards the middle of the album to provide a break and contrast to what is happening in the other five songs. Guitarist Mark Kloeppel commented, "The band's sound is a testament to an enduring spirit that’s driven us to return to our most organic influences, merge them together, incorporate disparate elements, and forge our own sound. Each person has a distinct sound unto themselves, so it's really cool how smooth and cohesive this stuff comes across. You can immediately hear how different this is from the other things we've been involved in, yet it's still very true to our individual styles. Our bassist Derek progressively weaves my guitars and Jesse's uber-creative drumming style together in a way that only he can. This is all crowned off by Andy Huskey's crazy death metal vocals which are... well, just listen".

Dan Swanö (Katatonia, Merciless, Edge Of Sanity) has undertaken his normal flawless job on production, and the result is an EP which fans of the genre would do well to investigate. It has taken them 13 years to come up with this, let’s hope it isn’t so long until a full album.

CLUTCH Book Of Bad Decision

Album · 2018 · Stoner Rock
Cover art 3.50 | 1 rating
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Kingcrimsonprog
Clutch at this point can unarguably be seen as something of an ‘old reliable’ at this point. It can be argued that the band just do not release bad albums these days and pretty much if you’ve liked any of the band’s recent albums, you are probably going to like this one.

That being said, they aren’t too repetitive and they do evolve over time and each album has its own identity and each cluster of albums has a certain flavour.

The last two albums; Earth Rocker and Psychic Warfare have been two of the bands hardest, most streamlined, direct albums to date and this time the band seem aware that this may not have been what fans of the older albums like Elephant Riders and the self-titled wanted, so this time around instead of battering you over the head with the hardest songs straight away, they open up with some more laid back Stoner Rock song. Its a bit more armchair than thrill-ride for the first three tracks, for those of you who were missing the band being more hazy. Combined with the less polished, looser production style (that hi-hat sound and muddier guitar tone has something in common with their Jam Room album to my ears).

That’s not to say it is a full return to the old days; its more of a balancing act between that, the recent material and also pushing new ground. There are a few tunes on here which retain the breakneck rocking and clear focus of Earthrocker; ‘Weird Times,’ ‘Paper & Strife’ and the Tony Iommi wetdream of ‘A Good Fire’ keep things direct and punchy.

In terms of newer ideas, ‘In Walks Barbarella’ sounds exactly like its most memorable lyric ”weaponised funk” – it is full of full on 1970s Starskey & Hutch sounding funk overtones.

Lyrically, the record is just as fun and interesting as ever, with some brilliant lines, such as in the pre-released ‘How To Shake Hands’ where Neil tells us that when he becomes president, ”First thing I’m gonna do is go for a ride on a UFO, put Jimmi Hendrix on the $20 bill and Bill Hicks on a 5-note,” as well as ‘Hot Bottom Feeder’ which is basically a recipe and when the Neighbours in ‘Paper & Strife’ are reportedly ”clearly raging communists.”

The last few albums have had man-of-the-match awards for drummer JP Gaster and Frontman Neil Fallon, but the real hero of this album is guitarist Tim Sult, who seems to on a mission to display as wide a range of styles of guitar solo as possible. There’s so many different vibes to his leads and solos on the record, from melodic to flashy to effects-laiden and everything in between.

Because Clutch are so consistent, it is really just a matter of personal taste which albums are your favourites. This album is no disappointment. For my tastes, its somewhere in the middle, better than for example Jam Room but not quite as transcendent as say, the last two albums, or the fan favourites like Blast Tyrant, but fairly close and absolutely worth checking out. There are many songs on here I really can’t wait to see live and wouldn’t ever want to make a Clutch playlist or compilation without ever again. If you aren’t sure if the album is for you, check out ‘Ghoul Wrangler’ – the music, production, eccentricity and lyrics should give you a good idea what you are in for.

TAPHOS Come Ethereal Somberness

Album · 2018 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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Nightfly
Taphos created quite a buzz with their 2016 demo MMXVI and even more so with their MMXVII EP in 2017. The EP was particularly good retaining that old school death metal vibe evident on the demo but with added clout with a more bottom end production.

With their debut album, Come Ethereal Somberness they’ve just got even better. These Danes know that raw organic heaviness is far preferable to processed precision, especially if you’re going for that old school sound. In fact it’s essential. Not counting three instrumentals including a short intro and outro we get six raw and ferocious songs of atmospheric blackened death metal . Nothing original for sure but what they lack in originality they more than make up for in conviction. These riffs are truly crushing, often tremolo picked. There’s no shortage of blastbeats but they’re not overdone with plenty of rhythmic shifts to keep things interesting aided by a crushing production. Not as doomy and dirty as Incantation can be but I hear an influence in here. The standard of musicianship is also impressive with drummer U – yes they all use initials, driving the compelling riffs of M and D on with ferocious precision. H’s vocals, who also supplies bass, are also impressive being suitably dark and dirty sitting between a death growl and a blackened rasp.

For a debut album in particular this is very impressive and I can only see this band going from strength to strength. Definitely one to keep an eye on.

BLACK MAJESTY Children of the Abyss

Album · 2018 · Power Metal
Cover art 2.75 | 2 ratings
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Kev Rowland
I must say that the album cover looks better the smaller it is, as when it is a reasonable size it looks like a very poor cut and paste affair – just as well that the music more than makes up for it. Black Majesty have long been seen as one of Australia’s top power metal bands, and here on their seventh studio album they show exactly why they are regarded in that fashion. They have obviously been heavily influenced by the likes of Angra and Helloween, never a bad thing in my book, and musically the guys are hitting it out of the park. The rhythm section powers it along, which allows the twin guitarists to duet, solo or crunch as the need arises. Where it suffers for me is with the vocals. John "Gio" Cavaliere has been there since the very beginning, and has quite some reputation, but there is the impression that he is struggling here. There are times when he seems to be somewhat out of sync with the rest of the guys, and this isn’t helped by a production that has kept him towards the rear of the sound, which I don’t understand at all. That he can still hit the notes is never in doubt, it’s just that at times the band just doesn’t sound like a complete unit.

That isn’t always the case however, and songs such as “Hideaway” shows a band that is firing on all cylinders (although the vocals are still too low in the mix). All in all, this is a real hit and miss album, which isn’t what one would expect from a band that have been strutting their stuff on the world stage for as long as they have. This just isn’t consistent enough for me, although pure power metal fans may well disagree.

MICHAEL ROMEO War of the Worlds / Pt. 1

Album · 2018 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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DippoMagoo
Whenever I listen to a metal album, the one instrument I tend to pay the most attention to is the guitar, as I’ll always love a good, crunchy riff, a killer solo or some awesome melodic leads whenever I hear them. One of my favorite guitarists of all time is Symphony X guitarist Michael Romeo, who has established his own signature sound over the past two and a half decades, and while his style has certainly evolved quite a bit over time, becoming a bit meaner and crunchier and a bit less neoclassical, whenever I hear anything with him performing on it, I can notice his distinct sound immediately. So obviously, I was beyond excited when I heard he was working on a new solo album, with his main band being on a bit of a break at the moment. He did previously make a solo record titled The Dark Chapter, back in 1995, but that was right at the start of his days with SX, and so his sound has changed a lot since then, making a new solo album all the more appealing. He has brought together a talented supporting band to create his new release, War of the Worlds / Pt. 1, an amazing release which promises more to come, based on that title.

Anyone who’s heard a Symphony X album before should have a good idea of what to expect here, as Michael hasn’t strayed too far from his normal style here, offering up the kind of aggressive, epic and at times melodic and relaxing progressive metal his band has become known for. There’s a bit of something for everyone here, with some crunchier, fast-paced tracks with power metal influences, which could have easily come from any of the past few SX albums, while other tracks in the second half of the album are a bit softer, some of them being more complex and having more layers to them, as expected. There’s a couple of tracks in particular that probably comes the closest to Michael’s classic sound than anything else he has done in recent years, which is pretty awesome. At the same time, there’s definitely some new elements here as well, with the album being surprisingly a bit more symphonic than anything he’s done in the past, even getting a bit cinematic at times. There are quite a few softer instrumental portions that have very little to do with metal, instead of being dominated by keyboards, orchestral sounds, and even some electronic effects, so those sections offer up a nice change of pace from the usual material. While Michael is clearly the star here, the other two musicians do a great job as well, with the drums especially sounding excellent, and everything is performed flawlessly, and of course, the production is perfect. Songwriting is quite varied and offers up a nice mix of more straight-forward material with strong vocal melodies, as well as some more complex tracks and a few tracks that are mostly instrumental, including two full instrumentals (one of which is the expected intro track, of course.)

Perhaps the most surprising and impressive thing about this release, though, is the vocals. It’s not like the vocals here are anything radically different from what fans would expect with this sound or anything. In fact, vocalist Rick Castellano manages to channel all aspects of Russell Allen’s vocal style so well, it almost feels like Michael specifically told him to listen exclusively to SX for several hours, focusing mostly on the vocals, so he could perform the vocal melodies on this album exactly how Russell would have. I’m not sure if that actually happened, but either way, Rick certainly pulls it off perfectly, with everything from the gruff, aggressive vocals on heavier sections, to the softer, more emotional vocals during more melodic portions, as well as even the huge backing vocals towards the end of tracks, all being performed to perfection, and certainly sounding familiar but in an amazing way. If I hadn’t been told this was a solo album, I probably would have mistaken it for a new album from Mike’s main band, that’s how similar the vocals sound at times, which is highly impressive, considering Russell Allen is one of my all-time favorite singers.

Of course, the quality of the performances wouldn’t matter a whole lot if the actual songs were no good, but thankfully that isn’t the case here, not in the least. Michael has produced an excellent batch of songs here, which flow together perfectly and certainly feel like they belong together, as expected from the first part of a multi-part concept album. The intro track is pretty impressive, opening up with epic orchestral pieces that certainly have a very cinematic feel to them before the full band kicks in and unleashes a couple minutes of epic instrumental metal. After that, the first full track comes in the form of “Fear the Unknown”, the shortest but also the most explosive of the full-length tracks on this album. It comes firing out of the gates with some epic shredding from Michael before Rick quickly steals the show with some excellent soaring vocals, which carry over into the chorus. There are some excellent riffs and shredding throughout the track, and it’s a very fast-paced, energetic track with a perfect mix of heaviness and great melodies, as well as an excellent instrumental section, as expected. Next is “Black”, the first single of the album, which starts off slowly with some heavy guitars and epic orchestral elements in the background, before the guitars take over after a bit and the music speeds up, becoming another hard-hitting and speedy track. This track is a bit more complex than the opener, mixing in some slower sections to go along with the frantic verses, as well as having some excellent rhythm guitar work at points, but it’s still a pretty speedy track with an excellent chorus, while having several sections where Michael gets to steal the show with some awesome guitar work, as expected. It’s probably the most aggressive track on the album, as well as my personal favorite.

The first surprise of the album comes in the form of “Fucking Robots”, a hilariously named track, which isn’t at all what I would have expected based on its name. Instead of being overly heavy or filled with profanity, it’s actually a fairly light, largely instrumental track with a very cinematic feel to it, as well as having some futuristic sounding keyboard effects and quite a bit of electronic elements. There’s a couple of very melodic vocal sections in the middle, but for the most part, it’s largely instrumental track which doesn’t feel particularly metal, though it’s definitely nicely done and serves as an interesting change of pace. Next is “Djinn”, the most complex and most progressive track on the album. It starts out pretty heavy, with some aggressive riffs, and it stays rather mid-tempo for a bit, before opening up with some huge vocal melodies, and then shifting gears with an extended instrumental section in the middle, which alternates nicely between soft and heavy sections. The track goes through different moods throughout and certainly brings to mind some classics from around the middle period of SX’s career. Speaking of which, “Believe” is a very classic SX feeling track, except with a slightly more cinematic feel to it than normal. It opens up with some nice piano work, which stays there throughout the track, and it’s easily the softest and more emotional track on the album, with some very powerful vocals from Rick. It stays mostly soft throughout, without feeling like a full ballad, instead of being a relaxing track with just a slight metal edge to it, while being very vocal driven, with the guitars mostly playing a secondary role, aside from an epic solo towards the end. Basically, the track reminds me a lot of the two “Accolade” tracks, which have always been among my favorites, and this one is definitely worthy of being mentioned alongside those masterpieces.

The heaviness picks up again with “Differences”, a slightly speedy track with some pretty heavy riffs, which alternates between speedy, energetic verses, and a softer but very powerful chorus where Rick really shines, once again. Next is the full instrumental track “War Machine”, which has some epic guitar work early on, though it’s mostly a very symphonic track, where the orchestral elements dominate and it again has a very cinematic, almost film score like feel to it, particularly reminding of Star Wars at a couple points, except with some heavy guitars added in to make it feel even more epic. The last heavy track is “Oblivion”, a slow but hard-hitting track which feels along the lines of “The Serpent’s Kiss”, with a dark atmosphere as well as some very crunchy riffs and aggressive vocals, mixed in with an excellent chorus, and of course an excellent solo section in the second half. The speedy part in the middle is my favorite moment, but the entire track is excellent. Closing out the album is “Constellations”, a soft and largely instrumental track, which brings back some melodies from the intro, and while Rick doesn’t sing a lot on this track, when he does he sounds incredible and gives perhaps his best performance on the entire album. It’s a very epic and beautiful track, which closes out the album on a definite high note.

Overall, War of the Worlds / Pt. 1 is an excellent solo album from Michael Romeo, which delivers plenty of great riffs and plenty of great moments that will remind listeners of his main band, while times stretching out a bit and going for a more cinematic sound than expected. While Michael is clearly the star, the album also represents a major breakthrough for Rick Castellano, who really excels throughout, and I’d certainly love to hear more from him in the future. The album is obviously recommended for all fans of Symphony X, as well as for anyone looking for some aggressive and fun prog, with some nice melodies to go along with the expected huge instrumental sections. I certainly look forward to hearing Pt. 2, whenever it comes, and hope for it to be on par with this one.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2018/07/20/michael-romeo-war-of-the-worlds-pt-1-review/

REDEMPTION Long Night's Journey Into Day

Album · 2018 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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DippoMagoo
Sometimes, I’ll be excited for a new album not because of the name of the band releasing it, but because of something particular about the album itself. Either an interesting concept, a guest appearance or the inclusion of someone I’m a fan of, or it could just be that a hear an early single and it gets me excited. In the case of Long Night’s Journey Into Night, the seventh full length release from American prog band Redemption, I was excited as soon as I heard it would be the band’s first release with new lead singer Tom S. Englund, the mastermind behind Evergrey, one of my all-time favorite bands in the genre. I previously heard the band’s previous two releases, In This Mortal Coil and The Art of Loss, and while I found them both enjoyable, neither of them really blew me away initially nor stuck with me much over time. I was hoping the addition of Tom would help the band to finally realize their potential and produce an album that would hook me, and thankfully that’s exactly what happened, as Long Night’s Journey Into Day isn’t just by far my favorite Redemption album I’ve heard: It’s one of my favorite prog albums of the last few years!

Redemption has always been on the heavier side of the genre, with In This Mortal Coil in particular feeling like a very raw sounding prog album, so it’s no surprise there are some hard-hitting riffs on this new release. Alongside being notably heavy, the band is also known for having some outstanding musicianship, with guitarist Nik van Dyk in particularly being very technically proficient, and of course the keyboards and drums are excellent as well, with the former in particular being very prominent in this album, and adding some extra flavor to the music. Their music is known to be equal parts complex, emotional, introspective and accessible, and all of those definitely apply to Long Night’s Journey Into Day. Obviously, considering who the new singer is, it’s no surprise to know this album deals with some fairly dark lyrical themes at times, and the music itself is very atmospheric as well, with the guitar tone at times coming fairly close to Evergrey, but one of the biggest differences between the two bands is actually something both the name of the band and album would suggest. Where the former is very dark, with any hints of light being very short lived and outweighed by darkness, Redemption do heave their dark themes, but they often offer up some hope and optimism as well, and tracks like “Indulge in Color” and the title track of this album are a perfect example of that, with the mood changing subtly throughout the tracks, in a very effective way. While the tracks are often fairly lengthy, the majority of the tracks here are fairly direct and simple, with a few big instrumental moments to give them an extra edge. Obviously, the title track is much more complex, but it too has plenty of memorable melodies and hooks to grab onto, while at the same offering up plenty of details to look for on subsequent listens. Production is absolutely perfect as expected from Jacob Hansen, and this is definitely the most polished sounding Redemption album to date.

The one element of this album I was most excited for, was, of course, the vocals. While I enjoyed the two previous albums I’ve heard from the band, I found that Ray Alder’s vocals didn’t quite have the same spark there as they usually do with Fate’s Warning, and that was one of the reasons I was hopeful the change in singer would help me appreciate this band more. While I was initially concerned after hearing the lead single “Little Men”, as soon as I heard the full release I knew without a doubt Tom was given plenty of room to work with, and he excels just as much here as he does with Evergrey. He’s especially great at singing with emotion, and so the tracks where he has to alternate from themes of fear and doubt to themes of hope and optimism are where he especially shines, and he sings with as much power and emotion as ever. There are times where his voice gets a bit deeper than usual, and while it took some time for me to used to, these deeper vocals also sound quite good and definitely fit the rougher sound found on some of the heavier sections of this album.

One area where I was especially interested to see if the band would deliver was in the songwriting, as I found their previous two albums to consistently enjoyable, but they lacked anything truly memorable. Thankfully, that is not the case here, as there’s a nice mix between heavier, more instantly engaging tracks, as well as some more complex tracks and some subtler, more emotional tracks that take some time to open up. Everything is very well done, though, and the album, on the whole, is excellent. Opening track “Eyes You Dare Not Meet in Dreams” pulls a nice trick at the beginning, starting with some electronic effects that give the feeling it will be a rather slow and melodic track, but then the guitars quickly kick in and the music speeds up, turning into a fast, hard-hitting track with some power metal elements. It has fun verses, where Tom really excels, as well as a great melodic chorus, and the riffs and drums are energetic throughout, making it easily the most immediately engaging track I’ve ever heard from the band. At the same time, it has some really nice melodies mixed in as well, and it does still have signs of the band’s prog tendencies. It’s an excellent opening track, and one of my personal favorites on the album.

Next is: Someone Else’s Problem”, which again kicks off with an extended electronic intro, before the guitars kick in, though this track is a bit more relaxed. It still has some heavy riffs, but the keyboards are a bit more prominent here and there are some slight symphonic elements as well. It’s a more laid back track, moving at a mid-paced tempo, and it has a soft and very strong chorus as well as an excellent instrumental section in the second half. In similar territory is “The Echo Chamber”, which has an extended intro once again, though this time the guitars are out right at the start, and the track settles into a nice groove, moving at a slightly slower pace than the previous track. Again, it has a really big and melodic chorus, where Tom sings with a ton of emotion, and this is definitely one of the tracks where he shines the most. The track overall does a great job of alternating between heavy and melodic sections and is complex while still begin engaging and fairly accessible. Next is the heavier track “Impermanent”, a faster pace track where the guitar tone is especially dark and reminds me quite a bit of Evergrey at times, and while the verses are fast and fun, the chorus also feels familiar, in a good way, and Tom clearly excels again throughout the track. The instrumental section is quite intense, frequently shifting between guitars and keyboards, and overall it’s a fun and very engaging track, while still having excellent musicianship throughout.

The first two singles of the album are next and placed together, with the second single “Indulge in Color” coming first. This track absolutely blew me away the first time I heard it and is certainly one of the most complex and most beautiful songs on the album. It starts out softly, with some rather ominous sounding acoustic guitars and the soft voice of Tom, but after a while, it gets heavy, and turns into one of the most complicated tracks on the album, with a lot of layers to it as well as plenty of shifts in mood. Tom executes these shifts brilliantly, with the first half of the track being fairly dark, but by the end of the track the tone has become much more hopeful, and Tom sings the lyrics absolutely perfectly, helping to make it one of the most beautiful tracks I’ve heard from a prog band. Everything is perfect, from the vocals to the shifts in guitar tone and keyboard sound throughout, and once the music gets more upbeat later on, it just sounds incredible. On the opposite end of the spectrum, “Little Men” is a much darker, heavier track throughout, moving at a fairly fast paced. It’s a very impressive track musically and is very hard hitting, but I find Tom’s vocals don’t quite work as well as usual here, in large part because the vocal melodies feel a little bit lazy compared to on the rest of the album, but it’s still a fun track overall, if not one that sets a very favorable first impression for people who listen to the singles first.

Moving towards the end, the lone ballad of the album is “And Yet”, another track which shifts between moods very nicely, and it has some more very powerful vocals from Tom, as well as a nice guitar solo in the second half. It’s a more subtle track but still manages to hit quite hard in its own way. Next is “The Last of Me”, another faster-paced track with heavy riffs, a great chorus and excellent instrumental work throughout. It’s another fun and more instantly engaging track, which alternates nicely between being heavy and melodic. The next track, “New Year’s Day” is a bit more surprising, being a fairly light track with a strong emphasis on the keyboards. It almost feels like a pop/rock track at times, aside from the riffs and dark guitar tone. It’s certainly a more melodic track and one of the more accessible songs here, with a great chorus, as usual. Lastly, we have the epic 10-minute title track, which is definitely not one of the more accessible tracks here. It starts off softly, with an extended intro largely focused on vocals and soft guitar work, before the music fakes a sinister turn and gets much heavier. The track alternates between heavy and soft several times throughout, and goes through several mood swings, pretty much feeling like a perfect summary of the album on the whole. It’s a very complex track, which manages to throw in a ton of epic, technically impressive instrumental sections while still leaving tons of room for big vocal melodies, and memorable moments. It’s another very emotional track, and stands alongside the opener and “Indulge in Color” as one of my three favorites on the album.

I was cautiously optimistic before hearing Long Night’s Journey Into Day, and thankfully it managed to exceed my best expectations and has become both my favorite album from Redemption, as well as my favorite album involving Tom S. Englund in quite some time. It retains the complex musicianship and heavy riffs of past albums, while at times being very melodic and having some very powerful lyrics and amazing vocal melodies. It manages to be equal parts complex and accessible and is definitely one of the best prog albums I’ve heard in recent years. A must hear for any fan of Redemption or Evergrey and highly recommend for all prog fans in general.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2018/07/29/redemption-long-nights-journey-into-day-review/

VAN CANTO Trust in Rust

Album · 2018 · Power Metal
Cover art 2.50 | 1 rating
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DippoMagoo
There are quite a few unique novelty bands playing various styles of metal, but perhaps no other band is more out there than Van Canto. Many bands focus on specific lyrical themes or use weird costumes or face paint and the like to distinguish themselves, but where Van Canto separates themselves from everyone else is purely with their sound. Their music is based around Acapella, a specific style of choral singing where the voice is used to create a full sound, often being used to make up for the lack of any physical instruments. Needless to say, pulling this off in the realms of metal is quite the challenge, and, at least to my knowledge, no one else has yet to attempt it, yet somehow Van Canto not only manages to make it work, they’ve had great success in doing so, releasing six albums through twelve years of existence, up to this point.

The band first exploded onto the scene in 2006, with their debut A Storm to Come, which was quite the impressive debut, containing a mix of original tracks as well as a cover of Metallica’s classic “Battery”, with the latter in particular catching the attention of many folks for being a unique and quite amazing version of the song. Over the next eight years, the band would release four more albums which followed roughly the same formula, featuring some original tracks, which were mostly based around a fantasy power metal style, along with the occasional ballad or more heavy metal influenced track, or even a track with slight symphonic elements through the use of vocal effects, as well covers of more classics such as “Wishmaster”, “Fear of the Dark” and “Master of Puppets”. My favourite work of theirs to date is their third album, Tribe of Force, which struck a perfect balance between originals and covers, as well as simply being an incredibly energetic and well-performed album. However, they changed things up a bit in 2016 with their sixth release, Voices of Fire, ditching covers completely and going for more of a conceptual approach, while also increasing the symphonic elements. It was a surprisingly cohesive and epic fantasy power metal album full of great tracks, and quickly became my second favourite by the band, as well as being their most adventurous and most epic. I was anticipating a follow up in the near future, but sadly longtime lead vocalist Sly left the band in 2017, which led to the band shifting gears. They recruited new vocalist Hagen Hirschmann and soon went to work on their next release. Now, in the second half of 2018, that new release, Trust in Rust, is here, and it marks a return to a more traditional format for the band, containing a couple of cover tracks, as well as being less focused and more silly, like past releases. Unfortunately, while it still contains some fun tracks and traces of their epic sound, less energetic and rougher performances, as well as inconsistent songwriting, prevent it from living up their past works, instead of ending up as easily their weakest release to date.

For those who’ve never heard the band before, Van Canto has a truly unique sound, with drums being the only physical instrument in place, while everything else is performed through vocals. They have members making different sounds to imitate the guitars and bass, as well as occasionally having co-lead vocalist Inga Scharf add in some effects to give more of a symphonic feel, and the way they make random sounds to perform “guitar” solos is quite comical yet also pretty impressive, in a weird way. Their style has stayed largely the same over the years, though their sound has become more polished, and their songwriting has gotten a bit more epic as well as more diverse over time, most notably on Voices of Fire. With that being said, Trust in Rust is quite surprising, as it feels like all the evolution found on the aforementioned album has been completely reversed, as the songs are back to being very simple, the symphonic elements are completely gone, and the songwriting is as straight-forward as ever. There’s a mix of speedier tracks, mid-paced tracks and one ballad, as expected, and some tracks bring back the classic “rakka takka” and “riddly diddly” sounds used on some of their most popular tracks, but overall I find the performances to be a little less inspired here than on past albums. Obviously it’s still a fun album, and the backing vocalists, drummer Bastian and Inga all give solid performances, but the energy of past albums isn’t quite there this time, and while Sly being out of the picture may be a part of that, it also could just be that the band has finally lost some of their magic. Either way, there’s still some great tracks here, as well as some fairly decent tracks, and unfortunately some major duds. The faster paced original tracks are generally the best and come the closest to recapturing past glories, while some of the slower tracks are more flawed and help expose one particular problem this album has introduced.

That, of course, would be a new lead vocalist, Hagen. Obviously, Inga Scharf is solid as always, mostly sticking to a higher register and sometimes singing somewhat operatically, giving the tracks a nice melodic touch, but she doesn’t seem quite as energetic here as on past albums. At the same time, most highlights of the album tend to come when she is singing. Which brings me to her new co-lead, Hagen. When the band first introduced him through a mini song they composed, with him performing some vocals in it, while the band sang about him being “Voice Number Seven”, I was quite intrigued to see what he could bring to the table. I instantly noticed a deep and rather aggressive voice, that could potentially open up new possibilities for the band, as well as the potential for some death growls and other rough kinds of vocals, but I also noticed a bit of weakness in his voice, that I was hoping the band could work around. Unfortunately, it’s the weaknesses that stand out the most when Hagen sings on Trust in Rust, as while his softer, deeper vocals are decent, they feel just a tad off at times, and every time he tries adding in some power, the results are far from pretty. His voice breaks often, with very little pressure put on it, and he has a tendency to get way over the top. When you put the two together, the results have the potential to be absolutely disastrous, which is exactly what happens a few times on this album, as there are actually some tracks here I can’t listen to in full most of the time, just because I can’t take his vocals anymore. I really don’t like to harp on anyone or single one individual out in a bad way, but when your band is as heavily reliant on vocals as Van Canto, if one performer is off, especially one of the leads, it’s going to stand out in a horrible way.

Another area where Trust in Rust doesn’t fully deliver is in the songwriting. I’ll be honest: When I initially saw this album would contain cover tracks again, I was a bit disappointed, because while the band has done some great covers in the past, I found they were getting to be less and less impressive with each album, and their absence on Voices of Fire actually allowed for a more cohesive, more focused album, which I greatly appreciated. This time around, lyrical themes are all over the place, with some of the epic and fun fantasy lyrics fans would expect, as well as some tracks where things get a bit silly, but in a bad way. One example of this that could instantly leave fans with a bad first impression is the opening track “Back in the Lead”. The backing vocalists do their best work to sell it, with some nice rhythms, but the song itself is very slow paced and not as energetic as I’d expect from an opener. Worse, the lyrics are obnoxious and unbearable, with the band talking about how great they are in a way that comes off as comical and even downright childish. To make things even more unbearable, Hagen sounds just a bit off throughout the track, especially falling flat towards the end where he starts going over the top and his voice breaks in a rather embarrassing way. I’d honestly go as far as to call this the single worst track the band has ever made, so for the album to recover from this, would be a tough task.

Thankfully, things pick up quite a bit with the next track, “Javelin”. This one has some nice harmonies at the beginning and quickly picks up the pace, bringing back the classic “rakkatakka” vocals and going full force with some epic vocal melodies. It’s a high speed, a very melodic track where Inga leads the way and delivers a strong chorus. It doesn’t quite reach the heights of classics like “Lost Forever” or “My Voice”, but it’s certainly a welcome return to form after that hideous opening track. Another highlight soon follows in the form of second single “Melody”, which I think would have been a better lead single, as while “Hagen” still struggles a bit during the verses, he sounds perfectly fine on the chorus, which is huge and epic, exactly how the band sounds at their best. It’s a track that mixes speedy verses with a slow but epic chorus, and it’s definitely one of the best on the album. The highlight of the track is the epic “Rakka takka/riddly diddly” filled section in the middle, where things get crazy in an awesome way. Not quite as good as that one, but still enjoyable, are the title track and “Darkest Days”, two more mid-paced tracks. The latter has some more fairly decent vocals from Hagen, as well as some nice melodies, while the former gets a bit silly like the opening track but thankfully it’s a more energetic track overall, and the lyrics don’t stand out in a bad way like they do on “Back in the Lead”. It’s simply a solid and fun track. Closing track “Heading Home” is the one ballad on the album, and along with some pretty awesome backing vocals, it has the best performance by Hagen on the album, as he’s much more relaxed and sings softer than normal, allowing the melodies of the track to come through. It’s a surprisingly nice way to end the album. One last highlight is “Infinity”, another fun track, with a super speedy chorus, and again Hagen actually sounds pretty good here, while Inga is great as always.

Moving back to the not so positive, “Neverland” is a slower track with a pretty decent chorus, though I find it a bit cheap that the band actually says the name repeatedly as part of the backing vocals, which clearly kills the immersion, as the backing vocals are supposed to represent instruments, so that just takes me out of it a bit. The song itself is decent, but a bit uninspired and clearly one of the weaker tracks here. On the disastrous side is “Desert Snake”, a mid-paced and heavier metal influenced track, which would be decent enough, except Hagen throws in some harsh vocals every once in a while and these get on my nerves every time, making it one of the tracks I can barely get through.

Lastly, we have the two covers. First up is “Ride the Sky”, a classic Helloween song, of course. This is a pretty fun cover, with the backing members and Bastian doing a great job of converting the song to the band’s style, but while Inga does a solid enough job, I find her vocals lack a bit of energy, especially during the chorus. Speaking of which, Kai Hansen himself shows up during the chorus, but he practically sounds like he’s falling asleep, which again takes me out of the song a bit. It’s a solid cover as is, but it could have been amazing if the lead vocals were a touch stronger and more fierce, I think. The other cover is of the AC/DC classic “Hell’s Bells” and to say I was expecting it to fail hard, would be a massive understatement. The band cheats a bit again by using an actual bell at the beginning, but that’s an iconic part of the original, so I’m fine with that. The backing members again do an excellent job, managing to recreate the classic riffs and rhythms perfectly, and this actually had a chance to prove me wrong and be a great cover. Sadly, though, Hagen shows up to spoil the fun and he is at his absolute worst on this track. Trying to channel Brian Johnson is a difficult task, as he manages to pull off an epic falsetto that has a ton of grit to it, while just barely straddling the edge between being too over the top and just perfect. Sadly, Hagen is way over the top right from the very start, and he only gets worse as the track goes on, with his vocals feeling very forced and strained, and he gets so irritating by the end, I almost always have to switch the song off. Some bands are best left uncovered, and AC/DC are one of them, as both Bon Scott and Brian Johnson are near impossible to emulate, and Hagen doesn’t even come close to the latter on this track.

This has probably been my harshest review in years, perhaps ever on this site, but let’s be clear here: I’m only being so critical because I know Van Canto can and have released far better releases than this, so it just saddens me to see them fall so hard, especially after Voices of Fire was such an amazing album. Trust in Rust is a disappointing mixed bag of an album, which still has traces of the band’s epic A capella power metal in fine form, but it also has some of their weakest songwriting to date, some embarrassing lyrics and it also happens to be hamstrung by easily the worst lead vocals the band has ever had. A tough recommendation for existing fans, though they should still find a few tracks to appreciate here, while anyone else is recommended to give “Melody” a listen, and if that impresses, the rest of the album may be worth a shot, but otherwise it’s a pretty tough one to recommend. It’s still a decent release, overall, but far from what I’ve come to expect from the band, and I badly hope they can find out a way to make a better album next time out because they’re much better than this album shows.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2018/08/11/van-canto-trust-in-rust-review/

AUGURY Illusive Golden Age

Album · 2018 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 4 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
The tech death metal march has been incessant since the floodgates opened with such bands as Gorguts reaching such milestones as 1998’s now classic “Obscura” which paved the way for bands to genetically splice the DNA of death metal and modify it with disparate strains of progressive rock ranging from the vast fields of jazz-fusion to the unearthly vaults of avant-prog. While Tampa may have had its heyday as the spawning ground for the morbid fecundity of old school death metal, the frigid French speaking lands of Quebec have proven to have an equal pull for a new strain of the more abstract realms of technically infused death metal not only beginning with Cryptospy and Gorguts but branching out into the bizarre metal multiverses of Quo Vadis, Martyr, Beyond Creation and most weirdly of all Unexpect, JUST to name a few ;)

Also catching the tech death metal army that rampaged throughout the naughts came the Montreal based AUGURY who successfully awed and bedazzled an increasingly finicky metal audience whose standards had been raised significantly since the 90s. “Concealed” displayed a modern mature form of tech death infusion with elements of jazzy black and folk metal with heavy doses of acoustic spaced out ambience alongside the pacifying effect of Arianne Fleury’s feminine diva charming beauty that tamed the rampaging brutality of the beast. Come 2009, a full five years of perfecting their craft and AUGURY had attained a technical prowess rarely matched in the big boyz club of such technical wizardry. “Fragmentary Evidence” cemented the band as one of tech death’s major players and despite the loss of Fleury managed to wield their jazzified battle axe for an unprecedented second coming.

As the years slithered by with one passage around the sun after another yielding an ever increasing supply of technically gifted musical maestros battening down the hatches and conjuring up their own sonic storms of dissonant din, AUGURY was nowhere to be found and with the exit of half the band, namely bassist Dominic Lapointe and drummer Antoine Baril, it would’ve been a no brainer that AUGURY were a two strike assault team and then down for the count. In the metal universe modernity, nine years seems like a lifetime and as new bands like Ulcerate, Portal, Obscura, Gigan and Gorod gaining tech death god status, every passing year AUGURY was becoming more of a distant memory rather than a glimmering hope of resurrection. Lo and behold and nearly a decade later, not only have the two departed members rejoined this caustic cast but the long anticipated third album has finally arisen from seemingly nowhere.

Despite the nine year gap, ILLUSIVE GOLDEN AGE surprisingly picks up exactly where “Fragmentary Evidence” left off which is both its boon and bane depending on what one’s expectations were set on. The boon is that AUGURY crank out eight incredibly complex distorted and dissonant demons of death metal like they never left the scene. Each member has retained his respective maestrohood prowess with Patrick Loisel’s vocal shapeshifting skills losing none of the intensity heard all the way back in 2004. Likewise Marcotte, Lapointe and Baril haven’t lost their technical chops in the slightest with the production and mixing job completely up to snuff with the highest of AUGURY standards that set the bar so high from the getgo. The bane is that after nearly a decade these guys have lost a lot of their compositional magic making mojo as the majority of the tracks lack those distinguishing features so creatively laid out on the first two albums. Add to the fact that this album seems a little stuck in the 2010 timeline and hasn’t taken into account the modern realities that surround the bubble that it seems to have been created in. Could it be this was indeed created back then and only recently finished?

All that being said, ILLUSIVE GOLDEN AGE still cranks out some mighty fine tech death although at this point in the game feels a little stagnant. Woefully missing are those beautiful non-metal passages that ceded into the blistering brutal chops that allowed the band to craft an inkling of a melody that the musicians could tightrope walk upon throughout a track’s running time. After nine long years it would seem like these guys could’ve upped their game and continued their role as the compass of creativity in a sub-genera that can easily grow stale when the musicians get too much into their heads and sever the sonic thread that binds them to their audience. While it’s hard to give such a decently performed album a bad rating, at the same time the lack of the aforementioned elements only make me want to revisit the first two albums that have that extra magic layer of attraction as intangible as it may seem. While not a complete waste of time ILLUSIVE GOLDEN AGE seems to have missed its target and remains, well… ILLUSIVE.

MOB RULES Beast Reborn

Album · 2018 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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DippoMagoo
I find some of the best bands in metal are those who are able to take strong influences from the genre staples, but instead of just imitating them straight up, they find ways to incorporate their own unique touches to help stand out from the pack, mixing together modern and classic elements to create something truly special. One of the best bands in that respect is German heavy/power metal band Mob Rules, who are set to celebrate their 25th anniversary next year. Their sound has gone through a very steady evolution over the years, starting out as a fairly typical German power metal band, before picking up elements of other genres such as classic heavy metal and symphonic metal. Their own signature sound remains fully intact, but over the years they’ve developed a sound that makes me think of what Iron Maiden would have been like if they had been a modern German power metal band, as that’s basically the kind of Sound Mob Rules delivers: A mix of speedy power metal and classic, heavily Maiden infused heavy metal, along with some symphonic elements and some small modern touches to bring the whole thing together. Their last album, Tales From Beyond did an especially great job of showing off each layer of their sound beautifully, and that has continued with their new release Beast Reborn, set for release this coming week. I was a bit nervous at first, because I find the band tends to take big steps forward every second album, and then slowing down with a slightly lesser album in between, but that trend has stopped with Beast Reborn, as it’s another excellent album that fully demonstrates every aspect of the band’s sound perfectly, while also containing some of their best and most direct songwriting quite some time, without sacrificing any of the layers or complexities of their later albums. In fact, it may end up overtaking Among the Gods to become their absolute best album to date!

For those unfamiliar with Mob Rules, their sound is rooted in German power metal, as they play a fairly heavy, guitar-driven brand of the genre featuring some heavy riffs, speedy drum patterns, and some very epic melodies and choruses. One of their biggest strengths, though, is their ability to channel that classic Maiden guitar sound, but incorporate it into their power metal sound, to give the tracks a mix of the speed and energy fans would expect from the genre, while also having a very classic heavy metal feeling to them. Out of all bands that try to emulate the legends, Mob Rules are perhaps the best at being able to give their music the sort of epic feeling that makes some of the aforementioned band’s longer songs work so well, as they’re excellent at using soft passages to slowly build up to bigger moments, and while their songs are usually fairly straight-forward, there’s usually a lot of layers to the music, including some symphonic elements and keyboards to add some extra flavor. The band strikes a perfect balance between having a lot going on to keep listeners engaged, while also having some of the catchiest and most melodic choruses out of any power metal band, which sure is saying a lot!

Well, long introduction aside, Beast Reborn takes all those things and pushes them into overdrive, just like Tales From Beyond did. Fans of that album and the band, in general, should have a good idea of what to expect here, as it demonstrates everything the band is great at and then some. There’s a little something for everyone here, with a few direct, very speedy and intense power metal based tracks, some slower heavy metal tracks, one ballad, some mid-paced tracks that have a nice rhythm to them as well as an epic feel, and two mini-epics that are rather slow building but both develop into amazing tracks. As usual, the guitar leads are the band’s biggest strength, as well as their seemingly infinite supply of incredible choruses, which are in full effect once again. At the same time, the symphonic elements are as present as ever, giving even the less immediately engaging tracks an epic feel that helps make them easier to get into, and for sure the album is as epic as the band has ever been. Songwriting is excellent across the board, and obviously, all musicians are fantastic as always and the production is absolutely perfect, as expected from the band.

One of the best aspects of the band is the vocals, so it’ll be no surprise for longtime fans to hear Klaus Dirks is still in amazing form, as always. He’s quite varied in his approach, being able to sing with a rather deep and soft voice during some of the quiet moments, while being excellent at adding some intensity at heavier parts, and he can certainly do some classic heavy metal vocals as well as anyone, as well as being excellent at soaring power metal vocals. All aspects of his voice are on full display once again on this album, and he takes some already great choruses and makes them even better, as usual.

I tend to be a bit nervous with the band in regards to songwriting, as that’s the one area where it feels like some of their albums are a bit more inspired than others, and after their previous album was one of my favorites, I expected a slight drop off this time around. Thankfully though, that didn’t happen at all, as if anything Beast Reborn may contain an even better batch of songs than Tales From Beyond. After a nice but fairly typical orchestral intro, the explosive opener and lead single “Ghost of a Chance” kicks in, and it certainly reminds me of a particularly Maiden track, but in an awesome way! It’s a speedy power metal track, with some excellent guitar leads, fun verses and a huge, extremely epic and catchy chorus which instantly shows off the band’s amazing songwriting skills. The solo section is energetic and fun as usual, and overall it’s simply an addictive track, which shows off the band’s speed and energy, as well as their amazing vocal melodies and their ability to blend together elements of power metal and classic heavy metal in the best way possible. Next is “Shores Ahead”, a slightly more restrained track, though it still moves along at a decent pace. It’s the first track where the symphonic elements are more noticeable and help give the song an epic feel. This track effectively has the epic feel and huge melodies of power metal, while being a bit slower than usual and having slight traces of classic metal and some symphonic elements. Its chorus is absolutely incredible and stands out as the highlight of the track, though the verses are also fun, the guitar solo in the second half is melodic and very well done, and overall it’s simply a wonderful track.

The pace briefly drops off with second single “Sinister Light”, which starts off with a nice, very Maiden inspired acoustic intro, before settling into a nice groove. It’s a mid-paced track with some more excellent melodic guitar tracks, and it’s definitely one of the tracks where that classic heavy metal feel is most prominent, with some heavy riffs and excellent melodies that drive the verses, while the chorus is as huge, melodic and catchy as usual. Things only get even more epic next with “Traveller in Time”, which starts off with a soft, orchestral opening featuring some great vocals from Klaus, before the pace picks up and it turns into a perfect example of everything the band is capable of. This one track perfectly shows the heavy metal sounding guitars, the power metal tempos and melodies, the epic symphonic metal elements and once again has a phenomenal chorus. The instrumental section is also incredible, and perhaps the best on the entire album, with some absolutely outstanding guitar work. Overall, it’s definitely one of the best on the album. And the highlights only continue with “Children’s Crusade, the third single released. This is one of the most straightforward tracks on the album, being very speedy and having a classic power metal chorus, while having some slight heavy metal touches in the guitars as usual, and being another very energetic and fun track, with fun verses and a great chorus.

The first long track on the album comes in the form of “War of Currents”, a very slow building track, which uses some soft acoustic passages early on to set the tone, before slowing developing into an epic heavy metal track with some extra symphonic flavoring to it. The song gets heavier as it goes along while maintaining an epic feel throughout and having some great melodies, as well as a pretty strong chorus, as usual. It’s the longest on the album and one of the most epic, with another great instrumental section, but it still manages to be pretty fun as well, once it gets going, and it shows the band’s ability to use softer passages effectively to set up for something much more epic and intense. In between the two mini-epics is “The Explorer”, one of the more modern sounding tracks on this album. It’s another fast paced track, but the guitars have an extra edge to them and feel a bit more intense than usual, helping to make the verses even faster and more furious than usual. The music slows down for a soft but very epic and catchy chorus, and overall it’s a great, more straight-forward track which still shows the band’s masterful genre-blending skills while serving as a nice break in between two longer tracks.

Which brings us to “Revenant of the Sea”, the second of the two mini-epics. This track again starts off with some nice acoustic sections, which appear frequently throughout the track. It’s a slow paced, but very epic track, which fluidly alternates between calm and heavy sections, with the heavier sections, in particular, coming close to doom metal territory with a very dark and sinister tone. The chorus is melodic and epic as always, and while both tracks are excellent, I’d say this one is the slightly better of the two mini-epics on the album. Next is “Way Back Home”, a slightly faster but still fairly restrained track, with a nice chorus, energetic verses, and some classic heavy metal riffs, as usual. It’s another fun track with a heavy use of symphonic elements and does a great job of giving listeners one more energetic track before the finale. To close out the album, we have “My Sobriety Mind (For Those Who Left)” which is the lone ballad on the album. It’s a very beautiful piano ballad, with some nice symphonic touches in the background. It’s a duet between Klaus and a guest female vocalist, and both of them sound great together, singing with a ton of emotion and helping to make for an amazing chorus. It’s a soft, but excellent way to end the album.

I was preparing myself for Beast Reborn to be a slight step back after the amazing Tales From Beyond, but if anything Mob Rules has given listeners an even better album this time around, once again demonstrating their excellent mix of German power metal and classic heavy metal, while including some epic symphonic elements as usual. The songwriting is amazing across the board, with a mix of catchy choruses, some faster heavy tracks, some more melodic tracks, and everything is very epic as always, while mostly being straight-forward and immediately engaging. This band seems to be at a creative peak as they approach 25 years of existence, so hopefully, they can keep making great music for many more years to come!

Originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2018/08/19/mob-rules-beast-reborn-review/

ESOCTRILIHUM Mystic Echo From A Funeral Dimension

Album · 2017 · Atmospheric Black Metal
Cover art 4.44 | 6 ratings
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Warthur
The rather hard-to-pronounce Esoctrilihum is the solo project of one Asthâghul. Bedroom black metal projects run a wide gamut from lo-fi howling to more sophisticated symphonic or atmospheric black metal efforts, and Esoctrilihum firmly leans towards the latter here. It's not going to offer a whole lot you haven't heard before if you're into atmospheric black metal - particularly the cutting-edge material of the sort put out by I, Voidhanger labelmates Mare Cognitum - but it's certainly a competently put-together album with plenty of synthesiser, buzzsaw guitar, and all that sweet atmosphere you come to projects like this for. On the whole, a solid basis from which I hope Esoctrilihum are able to build on.

OBSCURA Diluvium

Album · 2018 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 3.59 | 3 ratings
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Kev Rowland
According to MMA, Obscura are a Technical Death Metal Band, while according to PA they are Tech/Extreme Prog Metal, and needless to say the truth probably falls somewhere between the two. I can understand why they are classified as Tech Death as that is definitely the majority of their sound, but they are also bringing in many other elements, although whether I would classify it as progressive is another matter altogether. I know that there are many people out there who feel that Obscura are one of the most important bands around, but I’m definitely not in that camp. I recognise that Linus Klausenitzer is an amazing bassist, and his use of a fretless in this style of music should be admired, but to my ears it just doesn’t work. It has also been mixed in a way that is often above the twin guitars, and it all becomes quite disconcerting. The guitars are being rough, ferocious and incredibly staccato with lots of palm muting, and then there is a warm fat fretless which provides a totally different sound and feel. When the band slows down then of course it makes sense, but with their style of attack I would much prefer a fretted bass with a pick, to drive that hard edge.

Consequently I find myself becoming incredibly distracted, and instead of admiring what is undoubtedly a masterclass in musicianship, I find it grating. Of course, that means that I soon have issues with the rest of the album, with the touches, nuances and sojourns into different styles becoming something of distraction. I soon started wishing that the guys had just kept it simpler in some ways, got solidly behind, and put all of their energies into that. This isn’t a poor album, far from it, but it is not for me.

BUCKETHEAD Pike 275 - Dreamthread

Album · 2018 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 3.42 | 2 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
.

B U C K E T H E A D ~ Pike 275 - Dreamthread

2nd album of 2018

EIGHT tracks that clock in at 29:41

All instruments played by the chicken lover himself

After several years of a seemingly endless output of material with the years 2014-15 having found 178 Pikes alone, 2018 has been quite the surprise as we enter in the month of August and B U C K E T H E A D is only releasing his 2nd PIKE of the year titled DREAMTHREAD.

The main reason for this absence of new music has been due to a heavy touring schedule finding BH at a coop near you which i found myself viewing the chicken lover in a live setting for the very first time in lovely Berkeley, CA.

I was beginning to wonder if the folks at KFC tired of the blasphemous use of their greasy grub packaging donning BH’s head for so long and put a lock on the coop and stealing his guitar. Lo and behold the eclectic one is back just in case you missed a new album every day :o

The opener “Hypnagogia” by definition is the experience of the transitional state from wakefulness to sleep such as in the phrase “hypnagogic state of consciousness” and BH gently lulls out the perfect sleepytime nightie night night music. Much like the mellow PIKEs of the past, this one somnambulistically meanders on placidly with a gentle rhythm, background ambience and delicately strummed guitar strings.

And then the true surprise! Just when i thought this was going to be one of those mellow only PIKEs, “Thread 1” becomes one of those shapeshifters starting out with a heavy metal thunder and then alternating between weird electronica and free form rock that mixes it up with energetic metal outbursts. Yeah, this is the BUCKETHEAD that i was waiting for! Nice Jedi mind trick with the opener! This track is pretty much all over the place and i love it!

“Thread 2” changes the mood to a slower metal piece but then erupts into a guitar solo and electronica frenzy. Another shapeshifter as it ventures into funk and then thrash metal and there’s really no need to continue track by track since the “Thread” series jumps all over the place ranging from the hypnagogic dreaminess of the opener to funk metal to thrash metal to hyperactive jittery electronic freakiness. Guitar riffs are aplenty as are solos. Rhythms, timbres, dynamics and tempos shapeshift with no rhyme or reason.

This is my favorite type of BUCKETHEAD album but i have to admit it’s not adding anything new to his overall collective of styles on his PIKE series. He’s simply recycling all his tricks and trinkets that he’s always relied on. The tracks are all performed brilliantly and the production is totally cool. I love listening to this even if it’s not breaking any new ground and great to finally see a second BH PIKE emerge from the egg factory.

ARCHSPIRE Relentless Mutation

Album · 2017 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 3.81 | 5 ratings
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voila_la_scorie
A few months back, I watched a video review of this album on Banger TV on YouTube. I was intrigued first because the band is from Vancouver (my old stomping grounds) and second because of what the reviewer had to say about the music (I believe the rating was four and a half skulls out of five). I finally ordered it only a few weeks ago and only recently have I been able to lend some valuable ear time to this album.

I can’t believe how short it is! Barely 30 minutes! But then, there are only seven songs. Nevertheless, those seven songs make for one very complete album. By the time it’s all over, you might feel as though you just stepped of a rollercoaster ride, the kind that sends you careering through machinegun crossfire in an ashen landscape of smoke and fire before at times lifting you abruptly into peaceful, lulling and lush pastures, and then dropping you back down into bombast and mayhem.

But this is no ordinary mayhem. It’s super tight and quite remarkable that these lads can play at such speeds with so many stops and abrupt tempo changes. While tech/extreme metal is something I’ve only become acquainted with in the last year or so, I am truly amazed at the dexterity and timing skill bands like Between the Buried and Me, Protest the Hero, Decrepit Birth, and Obscura exhibit. Archspire easily fit into this kind of highly technical playing and composing.

One thing I really notice when listening to this album is that I can pick out each track from the others. Some death metal albums have an overall sound which is awesome but each track blends into the others with little variation. Archspire add some standard heavy riffing in breaks between the rapid-fire, single-note picking and just as easily they can slow down, ease off and go clean (those are the lush, pastoral parts).

Three things to point out specifically. Jared Smith’s bass playing is stunning. Dude can easily keep up with the guitarists in notes per second but with, what’s that?, tapping and hammering? Chords? Awesome! Spencer Prewett’s drumming is intense and pummeling and, to my ears, sounds really well recorded and mixed. It must be quite a feat to get the four musicians playing that fast and that tight live. Finally, Oli Peters vocals stand out because at times they sound like a percussive instrument or fill the role of percussion. Oh, yes, there’s the usual death metal growl and the modern obligatory reverse screaming that sounds like pig squeals. But he fires off the lyrics in ultra-quick staccato: chu-ku-ta, chu-ku-ta, chu-ta-ga. This is punctuated by blast beats, and it’s something I haven’t heard done quite like this. In fact, this very vocal style was highlighted during the Banger TV review of the album.

I get such a rush while listening to this CD. I think the band was very wise to make it so brief. Seven distinct songs of extremely fast, tight, technical playing with a number of surprises. I am so very pleased to hear a Vancouver band performing this challenging music at such a high level of ability. Stay tech!

OBSCURA Diluvium

Album · 2018 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 3.59 | 3 ratings
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siLLy puPPy
OBSCURA in a way carried on the interesting cross-pollinating potentials of Necrophagist after guitarist Christian Muenzner jumped ships and brought forth his virtuosic neoclassical shredding skills infused within the sensibilities in a death metal context. While Muenzner would move on to crank out some solo releases as well as hook up with various bands such as Spawn Of Possession, Paradox, Alkaloid and Eternity’s End, OBSCURA retained a great deal of the his influence, that being the delicate balance of tech death metal bombast with the reverie of classic progressive rock. Throughout OBSCURA’s history only founder Steffen Kummerer has remained the glue that keeps the band together but somehow through thick and thin he has proved to be quite the director of the ever rotating cast of stunningly brilliant musicians who cross paths with him. On OBSCURA’s fifth studio album DILUVIUM, a new lineup is in play with Tom Gelschläger taking up guitar duties following Rafael Trujillo’s departure after “Akróasis.”

Tech death metal in the 21st century is an increasingly complex beast with bands spiraling out in all kinds of directions and often fizzle out into unrecognizable territory and alienating the extreme metal fanbase before latching onto something tangible to grasp onto. OBSCURA has been the exception to this rule with each following album getting more focused and tighter than the last. While the band started out more as a simple brutal death metal band, their progressive tendencies ratcheted up to the point where “Akróasis” seemed like the band could go full-on prog but on DILUVIUM, they dial back the prog aspects a bit and instead hammer out some extremely heavy and tight death metal delivery with more direct riffing, more recognizable song structures that remind a bit of Necrophagist with easier to follow compositions that only judicially exercise the meandering tendencies into more complex departures. DILIVIUM is the final album of the four album concept series following “Cosmogenesis” (2009), “Omnivium” (2011) and “Akróasis” (2016).

As “Clandestine Stars” abruptly begins DILUVIUM, it’s clear that OBSCURA aren’t wimping out as they mature but rather place their wisdom in better musical constructs rather than less intensity however this album isn’t afraid to experiment or continue bold and daring bouts into the progressive metal world in the least. The opening track announces the bombastic return of Germany’s premier tech death metal band with a vengeance but soon begins the welcome contrasting sounds by incorporating some cool coded vocals that i personally haven’t really heard since Cynic’s debut “Focus” all the way back in 93, well at least not as well incorporated into a heavier metal sound and not just for one track but the coded vocal effects find their way scattered throughout the entire album. Unique for the band and the album for that matter is the track “Ethereal Skies” which utilizes some symphonic effects in the from of cello, violin and other string arrangements but don’t worry - this track is still a brutal beast with the full death metal bravado, neoclassical guitar wankery with the string arrangements simply adding a bit of ambience and a few moments in the spotlight.

DILUVIUM simplifies the compositional constructs a bit and there are less meanderings into the arcane prog world which the previous two albums dived into, however simplicity is not in OBSCURA’s vocabulary and new forms of complexity emerge with the riff changes, Sebastian Lanser’s technical drumming craziness as well as Linus Klausenitzer’s excellent fretless bass workouts. The return of V. Santura’s excellent production skills guarantee a continuation of the beautifully mixed subtleties that marry the sensuality and aggressiveness fitting for a 21st century extreme metal album. All of this is great news for those who dislike long drawn out bouts of spaced out sonic surfing into the sonicsphere and eschew the heavyhead banging bombast that fans of this stuff are utterly addicted to. Being both a proghead as well as a metalhead, i do not prefer one or the other finding both styles compelling but something about DILUVIUM screams seasoned metal band reaching new heights of glory.

After five albums, OBSCURA shows no signs of slowing down or toning down the ferocious intensity. Instead the band is more focused by cranking out precisely cut progressively tinged tech death metal candy like there is a bottomless wellspring of creative energy to be tapped. As i see it, OBSCURA is playing the cards exactly right. There is always the tendency for a techie band to go for the jugular and continue the journey into the inaccessible for the average fan but on the other extreme the temptation to tame the music down so much for greater exposure can mean that it becomes tediously inane. OBSCURA on the other hand simply changed the equation around a bit by not jettisoning any of their signature traits but merely rationed them in more intelligent proportions. The result is perhaps the most balanced album of their career, one that walks the tightrope between the tech death and progressive metal that they have juggled throughout their career. While some may like this more or less than the previous albums, i simply find this to be yet another satisfying edition to a solid canon of intelligently designed sci-fi fueled tech metal that satisfies from beginning to end. Well done, guys.

CRYONIC TEMPLE Deliverance

Album · 2018 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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DippoMagoo
Before 2017, Cryonic Temple was a band I had enjoyed in the past, but I had never even come close to considering them a favorite. I was introduced to them with their third album, In Thy Power, which is generally considered their best and that one and its predecessor, Blood, Guts & Glory definitely impressed me, but they never quite blew me away. Obviously, their fourth album, Immortal, was a total disaster, which led to the band going away for quite some time, but even those more acclaimed albums, while being consistently entertaining, never quite hit me in the way any of my favorite power metal albums do. Everything changed in 2017 with Into the Glorious Battle, which saw the band returning from their long hiatus with a renewed focus, as well as changing to a more melodic but still epic and intense sound. I was instantly blown away by the melodies throughout the album as well as the more dynamic and versatile songwriting compared to their past albums. Now with their latest album, Deliverance, the band has only taken things further, producing by far their most varied, yet also their consistently engaging album to date, making it a slight step above even its amazing predecessor.

Unsurprisingly, some folks were a bit disappointed with Into the Glorious Battle, as while it was an unarguably better effort than Immortal, some missed the more epic, heavier sound of their first three albums. At this point, I think it’s safe to say those days are over and they aren’t ever coming back, though, as the band has clearly moved towards a more modernized and more melodic sound, as well as breaking new lyrical ground with a multi-part Sci-Fi concept, which started on the previous album and continues with Deliverance. For those like me who loved the previous album, this one is sure to be an absolute treat, as it continues with the same melodic, guitar-driven sound, while at times getting slightly heavier and more intense, as well as occasionally being a bit more fun and pop-ish, with a couple tracks, in particular, having some pop melodies to them, as well as being more driven by keyboards and orchestras. In fact, the orchestral elements are in full force throughout this album, showing up on many tracks, and especially being noticeable during the two ballads, as well as on some of the lighter tracks. The best thing about the previous album was how it had a perfect balance between speedier tracks, slower, more melodic tracks, ballads and some nice, melodic mic paced tracks, and if anything this album is even more varied, never falling into predictable patterns and instead constantly finding ways to surprise, all while being consistently excellent the whole way through. There’s definitely a few excellent speedy tracks that should please classic power metal fans, as well as a couple ballads and a ton of surprises.

The area where I’m most pleased with this new era of Cryonic Temple is the vocals. While I enjoyed their first three albums and thought Glen Metal did a great job, I always found his vocals to be just a bit too over the top for my taste, while current singer Mattius Lilja has a softer and much more restrained voice, which puts extra emphasis on the melodies and really allows the choruses to soar, the way a great power metal vocalist should. At the same time, he does get a bit more intense at points on this album and does a great job of that as well, so it’s safe to say he fits the band’s current sound perfectly. I also notice some rather different sounding vocals at a few points on the album, which I’ll go into detail about below, but these are generally done quite well and I assume they’re done by other members of the band, as they certainly don’t sound like Mattias. Either way, though, the album has some amazing vocal melodies throughout, and they’re all performed perfectly.

After Into the Glorious Battle managed to be such a strong album in the songwriting department, I was excited to see what the band would do with a follow up, especially one that came so shortly after Thankfully, while the band has clearly continued with the sound they established on the previous album, they have managed to take things to the next level here, coming up with some even better songs than before including a few that stand out as sounding rather surprising and very different from anything they’ve done in the past.

The album gets off to an unsurprisingly strong start, with a nice intro track making way for “Rise Eternally Beyond”, which starts off with some soft guitar work before the rest of the band kicks in, along with the orchestra, and the track quickly turns into the kind of fast and fun power metal anthem fans would expect from the band. It’s a very fun and energetic track, which would have fit in perfectly on the last album, complete with verses that feel quite similar, though once the chorus hits it proves itself to be best and most melodic part of the track, with huge, soaring vocal melodies, to help kick the album off in an amazing way. The instrumental section is strong as expected and shows off the kind of excellent, very melodic guitar leads that have become an important part of the band’s sound in their current form, with some excellent leads and solos throughout the album, and this track is a great example of that. Next is “Through the Storm”, a more surprising track, with a slight cinematic feel to it. The intro to the song is quite interesting, with heavy keyboard effects as well as some rather eerie sounding voiceovers, and the song itself is much more relaxed than the opener, moving at a more laid-back pace, while still having some heavy riffs, but it feels more driven by keyboards and orchestras, especially during the chorus where we enter into pop territory but in an amazing way, with some truly epic vocal melodies. The track is quite surprising, being somewhat heavy but also fairly laid back and extremely catchy and melodic. It’s definitely one of my favorites on the album.

A more typical track follows in “Knights of the Sky”, a fast-paced guitar driven power metal track, where the excellent melodic leads are on full display. It’s another very energetic track with a strong and very catchy chorus while having more power to it than the previous track. It’s probably the most traditional power metal track on the album, and it has another great series of solos in the second half. Next is the slightly unconventional title track, which moves along at a fairly upbeat tempo, but it has more of a classic heavy metal feel to it, with some of the heaviest guitar work on the album. It’s the chorus where the song really gets weird, though, as the smooth vocals of Mattias are replaced by some wild falsetto vocals, which I initially found off-putting, but over time they’ve grown on me quite a bit, and I find the track to be quite fun overall. One of the biggest strengths of the previous album was how well written the ballads were, as it had three of them and yet all of them were excellent and served as a change of pace, without stalling the momentum at all. This holds true for both ballads on this album, the first of which is “The Loneliest Man in Space”, a nice piano-driven ballad with some added orchestral elements and soft guitars. It moves along nicely during the verses, with some strong vocals, but it’s the chorus where Mattias really shines, delivering a powerful and emotional performance, which really brings the lyrics to life. The solo in the middle is very emotional and well done as well, and overall it’s simply a very well written track, which can’t always be said about ballads on a power metal album. And yet, this is actually the slightly lesser of two on this album, which I’ll get into a bit later.

Next up is “Pain and Pleasure”, perhaps the heaviest and most intense track on the album. It’s another very fast paced track, but the riffs have a slight thrash edge to them and the vocals throughout the track are more animated and slightly wild, especially during the epic and super catchy chorus. The vocals are quite surprising compared to the rest of the album, but they’re very well done and fit the more aggressive tone of the song perfectly, which helps to make the track another instant highlight. A softer track is next in “Temple of Cryonics”, which of course comes close to being a self-titled track. Either way, it’s the most epic and cinematic feeling track on the album, with a heavy use of orchestral elements. It’s a rather soft and slow-paced track, but I wouldn’t quite call it a ballad as it has some slight heaviness to it at points, and it’s also a bit more epic and eventful than what you’d expect from a ballad. It has another strong chorus, as well as an excellent guitar solo in the middle, and while it’s not one of my personal favorites on the album, it’s an excellent track and shows how dynamic the band has become in their current form. My favorite track on the album is next in “Starchild”, an extremely fast-paced, incredibly melodic track which blazes through its verses at a frantic pace, setting the tables one of the catchiest and most melodic power metal choruses I’ve heard in quite some time. It’s seriously so damn fun and energetic, it brings a smile to my face every time, and is definitely a perfect example of the genre at its finest. The guitar solo is very melodic and well done as expected, and overall the track is simply pure power metal perfection from start to finish.

Speaking of songs with insanely fun and catchy choruses, next is “End of Days”, which has an almost dance-like beat from the keyboards at the start, and is a very upbeat track, with a slight metal edge to it. It’s a fairly fast-paced and very melodic track, with a huge chorus that has a slight pop feel to it, but it’s so damn fun and catchy I certainly can’t complain about it! Another instant highlight and one of my favorites on the album, though it certainly sounds a bit light and more modern than anything the band has done before, so some folks may hate it. The second ballad on the album is next in the form of “Swansong of the Last Emperor”. It’s mostly led by soft guitars and pianos again, though its vocal melodies and lyrics are the most inspiring elements, for sure, as it’s a very emotional track with an insanely good chorus and an excellent performance by Mattias, which takes it to the next level. Both ballads on the album are great, but this one feels just a bit more epic and more inspired. Shifting gears once again, we have “Under Attack”, a fast-paced and aggressive track, with some of the roughest riffs on the album, as well as another fun and catchy chorus. It has a great use of the orchestras in the second half and is certainly a very fun track overall. The last main track on the album is also my least favorite, that being “Blood and Shame”, a slower paced and very hard hitting the track. It has a heavy metal edge to it, for sure, and while the verses are energetic and fun enough, the chorus gets a bit rough for my tastes and lack a real melody or hook, making it the weakest on the album. It’s still a good track overall, but it’s certainly not on the level of any of the other tracks here. Lastly, there’s a bonus track called “Insomnia”, which starts off with a very Iron Maiden influenced acoustic guitar intro, before picking up speed and turning into a fun, speedy power metal track with slight traces of classic heavy metal. It’s definitely a better note to end the album on than the previous track, so I’m glad the band included it as a bonus.

Overall, Deliverance is an amazing power metal album, which shows Cryonic Temple picking up where they left off on Into the Glorious Battle, and continuing their resurgence as one of the best current bands in their genre. It has a mix of everything fans of the previous album would expect, with some of the most varied and dynamic songwriting in the band’s career, while still delivering tons of great speedy and melodic power metal. It slightly edges out its predecessor to become my favorite Cryonic Temple album to date and is definitely one of my favorite power metal albums of 2018 so far.

Originally written for Myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2018/07/15/cryonic-temple-deliverance-review/

THERESIA An Invitation To Darkness

Album · 2018 · Depressive Black Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
After making their debut on the Wisteria Records Various Artists Compilation METAL MADNESS: VOLUME ONE, the Japanese turned Canadian depressive black metal band THERESIA make their true debut with their first EP release AN INVITATION TO DARKNESS. While the band formed in Japan in 2016 they moved to both the UK and Canada and somehow ended up in the unlikely setting of Regina, Saskatchewan.

All along the band was more into noise rock than metal but their influences also include Gothic rock like Christian Death as well as the Japanese band Sodom And Silencer. Somehow the trio found themselves more in black metal mode with hints of the noise, punk and Goth in the mix, however with pummeling distorted guitar riffs, angry shouted vocals and a muted bass that fuses with the murky guitar parts, there is no mistaking this for anything other than black metal with lyrics screamed out in both English and Japanese.

The band is led by vocalist Ikiryō with Misaki on both drums and guitar and Okiku on bass. This EP is way too short while although it has four tracks, the first and last are simply an ambient intro and a short crust punk outro. The short opener “Dear Kayo… An Invitation For Darkness” begins like the first Black Sabbath album with thunder and church bells chiming with some Japanese poetry being read.

The only two real songs are “Funeral Games” which nicely continues the bell chimes and breaks in true depressive black metal riffing along with pummeling percussion that isn’t exactly blastbeat style but certainly has energetic bursts of pummelation that equal the intensity. The vocals offer glimpses of bleak hopelessness and unhappiness perhaps obtained through all that moving from country to country and ending up in one of the coldest nations on Earth!

“The Graves Of Passion” has an even more disturbed sound with insanely crazy distorted guitars, a frenetic percussive pattern and even more unhinged vocals angrily vociferating through the din. The flow is very much of second wave black metal with a straight forward delivery and not overly unlike many other bands of the 90s and early 2000s. The final closer “Deathmask” sounds more crust punk but with a blackened veneer followed by a short snippet of spoken words at the end.

THERESIA shows promise with a strong drive and excellent delivery of black metal however the EP is way too short. I believe a debut should at least be 20 minutes long and offer a variety of tracks even if set in the same genre mode. While performed quite well THERESIA needs to work on some sort of way of differentiating themselves from the legions of other black metal bands out there. Definitely one to look out for but just getting their feet wet in the morbid metal games of the 21st century. Definitely worth checking out but it seems like it’s just getting started and then ends!

POWERWOLF The Sacrament of Sin

Album · 2018 · Power Metal
Cover art 5.00 | 1 rating
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DippoMagoo
One question that frequently comes up among metal fans, is how long can a band go sticking to a familiar formula? Over the years, different bands have offered different answers to this question, even among power metal bands, with the likes of Iron Savior and Primal Fear mostly sticking to an established formula from album to album, while bands like Edguy and Sonata Arctica have branched out and tried many different experiments in their later years. One of my favorite bands that have up to this point managed to stick to an established formula is German band Powerwolf, who I discovered in 2009 with their breakthrough release, Bible of the Beast. Many of their fans may not know this, but their debut, Return in Bloodred, actually had a much different sound than what they are known for, going for more of a classic heavy metal sound, with their second release, Lupus Dei, marking the beginnings of their now famous anthem-like, super catchy power metal sound, featuring lyrics about werewolves, vampires and other nocturnal, otherworldly creatures, blended in with religious themes. With Bible of the Beast, they achieved perfection, and every release since has stuck to the same formula, with minor differences between albums, as the band continued to stick with what brought them success. Now with their upcoming seventh full-length release, The Sacrament of Sin, scheduled for release in the second half of July, can fans expect more of the same, or will the band finally change things up and try something different? Well, this time around, the answer isn’t so obvious, as it feels like the band has indeed changed things up quite a bit on some tracks, while still delivering their classic sound fans have come to expect on other songs. As a result, this is their most varied, most engaging and perhaps altogether best release to date. I think some fans may be a bit disappointed, if they’re expecting a certain sound to dominate the album, as usual, but most folks should be very pleased with it overall.

One thing I never expect to change when it comes to Powerwolf is their overall sound, in particular, the way they use keyboards in a unique way to create a church organ sound, which immediately gives their music its own atmosphere you won’t hear from any other metal band. This element is of course as present as ever on The Sacrament of Sin, with the organ being a driving force throughout many of the songs. In the past, I’ve seen some people mistake the band as being symphonic, due to affect the organs have on the music, but for the most part, the band has never really had many orchestral elements before, outside of intros or in quick bursts. That is one thing that has changed, as on this album the orchestras are out in full force, appearing throughout the album and giving the songs a strong symphonic element that was never there in the past. The orchestras blend in wonderfully with the organ, to create an epic, at times cinematic sound that takes the music to new heights, and if anything this album is even more epic than sounding than anything the band has done before, which is certainly saying a lot.

With all this talk about the organ and symphonic elements, though, I will say that fans of the band have nothing to worry about when it comes to anything else being removed or reduced, as the guitar work is still as present and as melodic as ever, and while the album isn’t especially heavy, there’s definitely some great riffs here as well as some nice melodic leads and solos. Songwriting has always been a strong point of Powerwolf, with their albums having some extremely catchy choruses, while managing to be addictive for their entire duration, and this is once again the case with this album, as tracks are shorter than ever before, but they flow wonderfully and breeze by at a pace that makes it very easy to get hooked and want to keep playing the album over and over and over again, something that’s always been the case with this band. As usual, there’s a mix between classic speedy power metal, as well as some slower, more melodic tracks, but fans expecting the former style to dominate may be in for a rude awakening, as unlike past albums, this one is actually quite a bit more restrained when it comes to the overall tempo on many tracks. Obviously, there are still a few tracks here where the band goes full speed ahead, and those songs are as energetic and fun as ever, but there’s actually a surprising amount of slow to mid-paced tracks on this album, including the band’s first attempt at a full ballad, which is something I certainly wasn’t expecting. I’ve always thought of Powerwolf as having some similarities to Sabaton and on this album that comparison is stronger than in the past, as while the organ helps assure the band’s sound is still recognizable, some of the beats and melodies in the middle section of this album remind me a lot of the Swedes, and it’s certainly a very melodic album, even by Powerwolf standards, while still being as epic and catchy as ever.

Of course, yet another standout feature of the band is the vocals of Attila Dorn, and that’s another aspect I never expect the band to change. As always, he’s in top form on The Sacrament of Sin, flawlessly mixing together his classical training with his rougher, more metallic vocals, and carrying already great vocal melodies and choruses to greater heights than just about any other power metal vocalist would be able to take them. I’ve always loved his deep voice and his unique singing style, and as much as I love the band overall, his vocals have always been my absolute favorite thing about their music, so it’s no surprise that on an album that leans more towards slower and more melodic songs, he has managed to reach new heights, and has delivered an absolutely incredible performance.

Songwriting has always been a big strength for Powerwolf, so every time I hear a new album from them I expect nothing but perfection. Unsurprisingly, they have once again delivered 11 songs that are absolutely phenomenal on their own, while flowing together perfectly. However, as I mentioned before, the pace is slightly different this time around, which may throw some folks off, though I certainly took no time to warm up to it. One thing’s for sure: If you don’t enjoy the opening track “Fire & Forgive”, you probably aren’t nor ever will be a Powerwolf fan, because if you are a fan, this is the exact kind of song that will knock your socks off! The track opens with some orchestral backing, before the organs kick in and Attila delivers some of his epic classical vocals, delivering the customary intro to a Powerwolf album, before the guitars and drums kick in, and the track starts moving at a blistering pace, delivering the kind of upbeat, hard-hitting but fun and epic power metal fans have come to expect from the band, highlighted by one hell of a catchy chorus, that I actually had stuck in my head for hours straight, after hearing it just once, that’s how catchy it is! That track seemed like an obvious pick for a single, and indeed it was the second single for the album, but the lead single is the much less obvious pick “Demon’s Are a Girl’s Best Friend”. This is a much lighter track than usual for a Powerwolf single, and it has a slight pop/rock feel to it, except that the organ and some epic keyboard effects are on hand to help give it a unique, somewhat creepy atmosphere. The track moves along at a nice pace, with the verses being fun and breezy, while the chorus is ridiculously catchy as fans would expect. While it’s not a hard-hitting track by any means, I really like the overall feel of it, plus that chorus is absolutely amazing, so I’m definitely glad they made it a single, even if it’s not the kind of song that will please all fans of the band.

Speaking of songs which may not please fans hoping for the usual Powerwolf sound, that brings us toward the middle section of the album, where the pace drops off quite a bit, giving room to a group of more restrained and melodic tracks, which still nonetheless manage to be as catchy and fun as usual. I mentioned earlier that I hear a fair bit of Sabaton influence on this album, and one needs to look no further than “Killers of the Cross” to instantly pick up on that, as it’s a mid-paced, very light track, where the drum patterns and overall rhythm of the music sound like they easily could have come from the Swedish band. Of course, it’s the organs and Attila’s voice that help make the track stand out, and it’s definitely as fun and epic as anything else on this album, with some absolutely terrific vocal melodies, and a great guitar solo. Next is “Incense and Iron”, another slower track, though this is one where the symphonic elements are in full effect to help give it more of an epic, cinematic feel, especially during the verses, where some cool chanting vocals are added in the background. It’s one of those tracks that isn’t fast at all but still manages to breeze by and have a ton of energy to it, with yet another spectacular and super melodic chorus, as well as another great guitar solo.

The biggest surprise of all is next in the form of “Where the Wild Wolves Have Gone”, the first real ballad the band has ever attempted. The symphonic elements are again out in full force, being one of the main elements along with some piano and of course the vocals. It’s a very epic, slow-building track where the verses help set the tone, and then the chorus absolutely knocks it out of the park, being one of the best and most epic choruses I’ve heard all year. In fact, I’ll just go ahead and say this may be the best metal ballad I’ve ever heard, and if not, its certainly the best one I’ve heard in many years, with the piano and orchestra setting the mood perfectly, and Attila absolutely kills it on vocals, putting his classical training on full display and showing why he remains the band’s MVP, despite the rest of the music already being amazing. The solo in the second half is just icing on the cake. Surprisingly, it’s my favorite track on the entire album. Another surprise is next with “Stossgebet”, another slower paced track, which starts off almost like a ballad, driven by vocals and the organ, before the track gets a bit heavier in time for the chorus. It’s a very moody and atmospheric track, while still having some wonderful melodies, as always, while once again using some symphonic elements. What makes it stand out, though, is the fact that it’s sung entirely in German, which is a nice touch, and allows Attila to excel, singing in his native language. Rounding out the middle section is “Nightside of Siberia”, the most typical sounding track of the bunch, which moves at a pretty nice pace without going full throttle, and it’s probably the track where the symphonic elements are most notable, really blending well with the organ to create some unique and epic melodies. It definitely has the fun and energy of a typical Powerwolf track, speeding up at some points without going overly speedy, and it has the kind of fun and addictive chorus fans would expect, as well as a pretty amazing guitar solo towards the end.

As we reach the final stretch, we enter the portion of the album where the band most relies on their usual formula, starting with the epic title track. Aside from some choral chants at the start, this is a very typical Powerwolf song, moving along at a frantic pace during the verses, with double bass drums going all out, and it’s a fast-paced, hard-hitting track with some great guitar work throughout, as well as yet another super addictive and catchy chorus. The song never relents and is definitely one of the fastest and most pure fun tracks on the album. Next is “Venom of Venus”, which follows suit, starting out with some epic classical flavored vocals from Attila, before slowing down a bit during its verses, but then speeding back up again for a super fun chorus, which sure to get stuck In the heads of many fans. It’s yet another super catchy and addictive track that is sure to please fans of the band. The slowest song during this part of the album is “Nighttime Rebel”, a track where the organ dominated early on, before giving way to guitars orchestra later on. It’s a fairly calm and slower track, but still has some excellent vocal melodies and a fantastic chorus, as well as an excellent and very melodic guitar solo. For the last few albums, Powerwolf has followed a predictable formula for the closing track, with a slow paced, slow-building yet super epic track that ends with a long fade out. Well, this time around they’ve changed things up with “Fist by Fist (Sacralize or Strike)” a track which comes firing out of the gates, only slowing down a bit during its extremely epic first verse where the orchestra is again on full display, with some inspiring melodies building up to a chorus that picks up the pace and again shows the band speeding along, with super catchy vocals and melodies, as usual. Once the song gets going it’s the exact kind of super speedy, super epic and just incredibly addictive power metal track fans have come to love from the band, complete with an excellent guitar solo in the second half. It’s a very high energy track which ends the album on a very high note and is certainly a welcome change of pace compared to how they ended their past few albums.

I always have high expectations whenever I hear Powerwolf is coming out with a new album, and they never disappoint me. With The Sacrament of Sin, the band has not only kept their winning streak going, they’ve produced possibly their best album to date, striking a perfect balance between giving fans what they want, and experimenting just a bit, creating some songs that aren’t quite what folks may be expecting from the band. I suspect fans hoping for a mostly fast-paced album may be a bit disappointed, though hopefully the high-quality songwriting will be able to win them over, but everyone else, whether they’re already a Powerwolf fan or just a fan of power metal, symphonic metal or melodic metal in general, should absolutely love this, and I’d definitely consider it a must hear for fans of the genre. Easily my favorite album through the first half of 2018, and I really don’t see anyone being able to top it any time soon.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2018/06/26/powerwolf-the-sacrament-of-sin-review/

SKYGLOW Thousand Years Of Terror

Album · 2018 · Technical Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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In recent years there has been a prolific output of technically gifted musicians from behind the former Iron Curtain with Russia leading the way. Metal vocalist Alexander Mokin, having been raised in the city of Saratov found a connection with myriad extreme metal bands ranging from the classic era of In Flames, Be’Lakor and Metallica along with the more technically gifted wizardry on display with bands like Death, Dissection, Dark Tranquility, Necrophagist and The Chasm.

Mokin started to write his own music in 2012 and four years later was joined by long time friend and guitarist Vlad Kudryavtsev to form the band “Eyes Of Skyglow,” later shortened to SKYGLOW. Once Sergey Stepenenko from Excruciation By Silence replaced Kudryavtsey and handled both guitar and bass duties, the lineup was almost complete with drummer Dmitriy Kim filling the last spot.

In 2017 the band released a short two track demo called “Curse Of The Butterfly” and in 2018 they see their debut THOUSAND YEARS OF TERROR cast its shadow over an unsuspecting world. After a brief virtuosic performance of acoustic classical guitar leading the way, the music bursts into the full pyrogenic fury of technical thrash metal. These guys are riff monsters with a clear Vektor type of fury on display with a youthful energetic bombast, yet with a seasoned flare for dynamic shifts, alternating tempos and dramatic displays of neoclassical virtuosity strewn about.

The inspiration behind the theme of the album lies in Mokin’s analysis of government corruption that tells the tale of a millennium of the horrors of Russian history. While the music is firmly based in unrelenting tech thrash metal, there are health doses of Western classical music in the form of guitar and keyboards that crank out pleasant melodies that develop into fully formed thrash fury. While fitting well into the technical thrash crowds, this is melodic thrash metal that utilizes the lush compositional structures of classical music.

While the world is saturated with a gazillion metal bands as we approach the third decade of the 21st century, very few stand out amongst the ever increasing crowds. SKYGLOW is quite a different story altogether. This is a band that means business and pulls of the chops to accomplish their goal of the tech thrash metal soundtrack of Russian history in all its ugly regalia.

While a mere fledgling in the metal universe, SKYGLOW sounds like a seasoned band around for decades as THOUSAND YEARS OF TERROR not only exceeds in lyrical continuity but bedazzles with virtuosic prowess of the highest degree. The production is also noteworthy as it sounds like a bona fide professional release.

Fueled by shapeshifting time signature rich thrash metal riffs, choppy blastbeats meet jazzified percussive pummelation and brilliant classically rich intermissions accompanied by top notch thrash vocals, SKYGLOW is a band to look out for. On this debut album they display a maturity few bands muster up in a whole career. While the band claims The Chasm as their closest metal relative in stylistic terms, i hear a whole lot of Vektor inspired technicalities that show off their chops in perfect unison.

This is no clone band here. These guys really deliver one brutally satisfying track after another. So far, one of my favorite metal releases of 2018. Perhaps not quite to the level of finding a totally unique sound of their own, but they nailed the traditional classically infused thrash metal sound perfectly. Recommended.

INGESTED The Level Above Human

Album · 2018 · Brutal Death Metal
Cover art 3.00 | 1 rating
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Nightfly
Things have been a bit quiet lately on the new release front from my death metal favourites. Whilst I’m always looking to check out bands I’ve never heard before this current dearth has encouraged me to look a bit wider. One such album I’ve recently come across in my search is The Level Above Human by Ingested. It’s the fourth from this brutal Manchester bunch but the first I’ve heard by them.

Whether there’s any musical growth from their earlier releases I couldn’t say and maybe I should have done my homework and found out. What I can say though is while it doesn’t offer anything original, something that’s not necessary anyway if you’ve got the songs to back it up, if brutal/slam death metal and deathcore is your thing then you probably will find much to enjoy here. The playing is tight and pretty complex at times with tempos ranging from the expected breakneck blasts to slower breakdowns and slam death parts. There are plenty of strong riffs throughout though the opening riff of Invidious sounds like a rip off of Iron Strengthens Iron from the last Dyscarnate album, With All Their Might. Individually each song sounds fine but nothing jumps out particularly to distinguish it from the rest despite the bands efforts to inject plenty of changes into individual tracks. After a while one song tends to blend into another and after the full 44 minutes I was feeling like I’d had enough. The more melodic instrumental Obsolescent offers some welcome respite from the overall bludgeon and alternating growl/shriek vocals making a good choice for closing the album.

Overall then, The Level Above Human whilst certainly no classic is a pretty good album. I’m sure plenty of people will love it but my own preference for my death metal being served straight up makes it more an album I admire rather than love. One that I’ll be happy to give a spin from time to time though for sure.

AMORPHIS Queen Of Time

Album · 2018 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.62 | 4 ratings
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Kev Rowland
After twelve albums, world tours, countless gold records, Amorphis are back with their mix of metal, folklore and rock. After their last tour they decided to take a break before going into the studio to rehearse the new album, so had a single day off, before starting the next chapter. This means that all the tightness and understanding that develops from being on the road and gigging were still very much there. In many ways it goes back to the early Seventies when bands were expect to either be on the road or in the studio, preferably releasing an album every 6-8 months. I remember reading an interview with Ian Anderson saying that all his downtime while on tour in the States was spent writing songs for the next Jethro Tull album as they had to be ready for the band to record before they headed back out on the next tour.

I have long been a fan of Amorphis, who somehow manage to bring together many different styles and influences yet make the music so complete and seamless that it always makes total sense. It doesn’t matter if there is a saxophone, or guitar solo, or choir, it is always exactly the right thing to move the music onwards. After their last album, ‘Under The Red Cloud’, some fans may have expected them to get even heavier, but here they have moved sideways and have brought in the likes Chrigel Glanzmann (Eluveitie) on pipes, laryngeal singer Albert Kuvezin and saxophonist Jørgen Munkeby, plus an orchestra and a choir, while also maintaining an incredibly heavy intensity. These elements deliver a dramatic and cinematic depth to the sound, making everything even more epic, even deeper, and even more meaningful than ever before.

As always, borne by Pekka Kainulainen's poetic lyrics, AMORPHIS penetrate deeper than ever into the thicket of folklore and cosmic contexts. "This time, Pekka tells about the cosmic powers that people believed in long ago in a very universal way: the rise and fall of cultures." This is also symbolized by the image of the bee on the album cover - the queen of time, as Holopainen explains the title of the album. "It represents the microcosm that can nevertheless trigger cataclysmic changes. The fall of world empires ushered in by a small sprouting seed. The butterfly that causes a hurricane." And as “Daughter Of Hate” needed a spoken part, lyricist Kainulainen also appears for the first time as a narrator. An excellent choice: His wise and venerable shaman-like voice is a perfect match to the music. Original bassist Olli-Pekka Laine, has also returned to the fold, following the departure of Niclas Etelävuori after 17 years, as the band look both back over what has gone before, and to the future with yet another stunning piece of work. From the production through to the quality and style of the songs, this is essential.

SKELETAL REMAINS Devouring Mortality

Album · 2018 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 3 ratings
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Kev Rowland
Taking their name from a song by cult NY thrash band Demolition Hammer, covering a song by Carcass on the album, along with it being mixed and mastered by Dan Swanö (Opeth, Bloodbath) and featuring cover art by Dan Seagrave (Entombed, Suffocation, Dismember), it is safe to say that with their third full-length album American death metal band Skeletal Remains are not showing any signs at all of slowing down. These guys have obviously been heavily influenced by Death, with a technical old school sound that is reminiscent of Schuldiner. One of the delighst of this album is the way that they mix tempos,. Not afraid to slow it right down almost to doom speed when the time is right, this allows them to hit back with real impact when they ramp it up, but also shows on songs such as “Catastrophc Retribution” that solos don’t have to be at the speed of light to have the corrcet impact.

There is a lightness within this, with the bottom end not always a sprevalent as it might be, but with Chris Monroy’s vocals not also being a guttural and brutal as one might expect, it actually works together really well. This is a really easy album to listen to, which isn’t something that one can always say of the genre, yet contains plenty of dynamic shifts which are always in keeping with the tone and allows the band to create a distinct sound within the genre. More melodic than many, and certainly not as abrasive, this is an album which is essential for any fan of the genre.

FABULAE DRAMATIS Solar Time's Fables

Album · 2017 · Avant-garde Metal
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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voila_la_scorie
Fabulae Dramatis are a multi-national, Belgium-based avant-garde/progressive metal band formed in 2011. Their theme is story-telling through lyrics the myths and and beliefs of world cultures. Fabulae Dramatis was founded by Colombian-born Isabel Restropo when she recruited Hamlet of Transport Aerian and Colombian-born guitarist Daniel Dias to work on some material she had originally written while performing in a metal band in Honduras. Along with a host of guests, they released their debut album "Om" in 2012. Five years later, with a six-piece band in place, the sophomore album "Solar Time's Fables" was released.

With a bigger budget and two producers, the sound of the new album was seen as improved over the first. In my opinion, the album's sound quality is terrific. In fact, such quality is necessary to capture the charm of Fabulae Dramatis' music. Metal at heart, the band explore well beyond the traditional confines of a metal album by incorporating various instruments such as sitar, harmonium, saxophone, and djembe. But that's only part of what makes the band's songs and music special. On this album, there are four lead vocalists: Wesley Beernaert (growls and clean vocals), Isabel Restropo (classical/operatic vocals), Isadora Cortina (classical/operatic vocals and harsh vocals), and Hamlet (clean and harsh vocals). With each vocalist providing two different vocal styles, the songs benefit with a variety of voices and vocal expression. So, with a triad of diverse vocals, diverse instrumentation, and heavy metal, Fabulae Dramatis have established themselves as a band doing things differently. One could also point out some hints of Hamlet's prog noir style emerging here and there.

The first four tracks, showcase the band's metal side but with their other two talents strongly represented, particularly in the vocals. "Agni's Dynasty (Fire I)" was the first single and has a video on YouTube. For me, these first four tracks are an excellent welcome to the band and brings me back to the growled vocal style that I really got into the previous year. From "Sirius Wind" we take the first of many steps outside of metal. Clean guitar and saxophone are joined by bass and drums and then Isabel's vocals. There's almost a Renaissance (the band) feel to the song yet in an eerie and mysterious tone.

"Coatlicue Serpent Skirt (Earth)" opens with a suggestion of something different yet again but after 55 seconds the guitar leads us into another metal rocker with soaring vocals. Then there's "Nok Terracottas (Mud)", a short but once again haunting track with Isabel's beautiful voice and her whispers, "Sculptured figures talk". The song is a second diversion and although it is short, it is welcomed.

"Forest" is an instrumental track which is soothing and interesting. We get to hear Isabel's sitar playing on here. This is followed by "Roble Para El Corazon (Wood)" with an accordion intro and a kind of southern European serenade that becomes a bit more metal as the song progresses but still the melody of that accordion keeps its place. "Smoke for the Clouds (Anhuiran's Water)" reminds us that the band is very capable of being a melodic death metal band when they are up for it.

The final track "Barren (Gravel)" features some excellent vocals by Hamlet plus a duet by both classically trained women. It is slow, mournful, and powerful.

"Solar Time's Fables" has a terrific balance of metal and exotic sounds. Each song is created with some connection to an old myth or story, and as I mentioned above, having the variety of vocals on this album really adds to the freshness and intrigue. Unfortunately, "Om" is not easy to find on CD, but the download is available. I've been enjoying "Solar Time's Fables" for the last few weeks now and the album continues to captivate me.

GIGAN Undulating Waves of Rainbiotic Iridescense

Album · 2017 · Technical Death Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
GIGAN (ガイガン) took a five year hiatus from the studios but after fan speculation as to whether or not Godzilla finally won the final battle, the mystery is solved as the Tampa, FL tech death metal champs release their fourth album UNDULATING WAVES OF RAINBIOTIC IRIDESCENSE, which once again finds founder and main creative director Eric Hersemann ushering in yet another new lineup of the band. While drum abuser in chief Nathan Cotton joins the cast for a reprise following 2013’s “Multi-Dimensional Fractal-Sorcery And Super Science,” vocalist Ethan Browne is out and newbie Jerry Kavouriaris is in. However, to be honest despite the rotating cast of vocalists and musicians since the band’s inception, all manage to fit their respective roles perfectly and therefore one would be hard pressed to differentiate one vocalist’s ghoulish growls from another.

While tech death metal bands in the 21st century are aplenty and many fade into the generic backdrop of this boisterous and noisy nook of the musical universe, GIGAN (ガイガン) have proved themselves as rising above the din drudgery and taking the extreme metal by storm with their utterly unique mix of tech death chops, jittery angularities of mathcore style guitar riffage all packaged with dissonant Gorguts styled progressive freeform compositions laced with exuberant brumes of psychedelic haziness glistening over the bombastic aggressiveness that will somewhat bring other avant-garde noisemakers Pyrrhon, Portal or Cephalic Carnage to mind but only in a “nearest family tree” sorta way.

GIGAN (ガイガン) had been ramping up both their progressive and aggressive metal assaults on each subsequent album and IMHO peaked with their approach on their previous album “Multi-Dimensional Fractal-Sorcery And Super Science” with their hyperdrive relentless speed, churning angularities and psychedelic infusions that created the perfect speed metal mediation session. Hersemann steers his plangent progified beast into somewhat new directions with UNDULATING WAVES OF RAINBIOTIC IRIDESCENSE. One of the most noticeable differences is the abstaining of speed of light tech antics for the entirely of the space metal roller coaster ride.

While Cotton has proved himself to be one of those unbelievably blitzkrieg fast types of drummers who can navigate the percussive constructs like a caffeinated squirrel with an adrenaline rush, on this one he is much more selective in how he unleashes his fury. In fact, much of the time the drumming is more akin to sludge metal bands like EyeHateGod or post-metal bands like Isis. Same goes for the down-tuned guitars and overall feel of the album. It seems that there were no new limits to breach and the only place to go was to retreat to some sort of more familiar grounds and therefore the tempos have been tamed with speedy outbursts only occurring for periods of contrast. “Ocular Wavelength’s Floral Obstructions” is the perfect example of this. A down-tuned distortion-fest that runs the gamut of chilled out distorted heavy sludge metal that jumps into tech death overdrive and back.

While poising themselves more into an accessible arena that allow certain segments to breath, GIGAN (ガイガン) perhaps are trying to widen their appeal for only a small sliver of us freaks thoroughly enjoy music that pushes the triumvirate aspects of tech metal, progressive constructs and psychedelic detachment to break orbit into freeform destruction, but personally i find that is exactly what GIGAN (ガイガン) achieved with resounding success. For me UNDULATING WAVES OF RAINBIOTIC IRIDESCENSE is somewhat of a step down as far as exploration of taking the aforementioned elements to their extremes. Having disconnected from the world’s consciousness being achieved, it seems GIGAN (ガイガン) is more susceptible to finding that happy medium between freeform freedom and audience connection.

As with all GIGAN (ガイガン) albums, UNDULATING WAVES OF RAINBIOTIC IRIDESCENSE requires a number of listens to really sink in for even hardcore and jaded prog saturated metalheads such as myself can barely grasp this on a single spin. There are simply too many elements to keep track of and only patience can yield the proper results even if the process is equivalent to taking a census of hostile asteroids hurling through space in myriad directions. My first impression was of disappointment with the new stylistic approach but subsequent listens have me more impressed with the diversity that has blossomed from the new developments. Jazz infused tech drum rolls still grace the angular sonicscape, the expected guitar squeals still there but simply surrounded by less frenetic Gorguts-ish avant-garde sludgery. Yes, it grew on me. Another winner.

AT THE GATES To Drink From The Night Itself

Album · 2018 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.53 | 5 ratings
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Nightfly
AT War With Reality, 2014’s comeback album from At The Gates was criticized by some for being too safe and clinical sounding. Personally, I had no problem with it at all and welcomed the bands return to the upper echelons of melodic death metal. In fact I thought it so good I voted it my album of the year on this site and felt that many songs such as The Night Eternal and Eater Of Gods, to name just two, were showing the band at the top of their game.

No such criticism is likely to levelled at To Drink From The Night Itself. It’s a heavier, darker and murkier sounding album. In fact my eyebrows were initially raised over the production where the vocals and drums sound like they’re coming from the opposite end of a very long room to the rest of the band which took a bit of getting used to. I must admit that initially I was a little disappointed but after spending quite a bit of time with it my opinion has changed a hell of a lot. The biggest concern prior to the album’s release was how much of difference it was going to make to the band’s sound minus original guitarist Anders Björler who left in 2017. Fortunately, none at all. This is clearly the sound of At The Gates – the melancholic and melodic riffs, tremolo picked guitars and of course Tomas Lindberg’s distinctive high register growl. New guitarist Jonas Stålhammar has fit seamlessly in, no doubt an advantage having already played in The Lurking Fear with Lindberg and drummer Adrian Erlandsson.

As I said earlier this album did take a few plays to fully reveal itself, in part down to the production. The title track was the first song I heard when the band released it 2 or 3 months back. I must admit that despite being good I wasn’t blown away by it, it being pretty much At The Gates by numbers. It has since grown on me more but there’s much better on offer here, the second half of the album being particularly impressive where they barely put a foot wrong, with songs like In Nameless Sleep and The Mirror Black, after a slow start, having a vibe similar to The Night Eternal, my favourite song from At War With Reality with their use of guitar arpeggios and Erlandsson’s triplet double kick pattern. The latter closing the album in a similar fashion until the strings kick in at the very end. The first half still has some impressive moments though with A Stare Bound In Stone and Palace Of Lepers being particularly good.

To Drink From The Night Itself may bring nothing new to the table, it may not be better than At War With Reality overall, but that’s more to do with my love of that album than any weaknesses here and the production was certainly better last time around. It does however prove to be a consistently excellent album and contains some of the bands finest moments. I keep getting drawn back to it and I can’t give it a better recommendation than to say it’s my most played album since it was released.

DIMMU BORGIR Eonian

Album · 2018 · Symphonic Black Metal
Cover art 4.31 | 4 ratings
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Kev Rowland
It has been way too long since Dimmu Borgir last released a studio album, and I felt the only way to be able to understand how this fits in the canon was by playing a few tracks from this and then dip into ‘Death Cult Armageddon’. This was an interesting exercise, not least because I always felt that a major part of their sound (at least for me) was the clean vocals of ICS Vortex, but of course he departed long ago. Vocalist Shagrath, as well as guitarists Silenoz and Galder are still there providing the material, while drummer Daray has been there for a decade, keyboard player Gerlioz has been there since 2010, so there is only one new boy, bassist Victor Brandt. Deciding to take their time on the songs has obviously been worthwhile, as there is far more breadth and depth to this than anything that have released previously. They have moved far more into the orchestral and symphonic arena, while still playing black metal like no-one else.

A special mention must be made of Gaute Storås and his work on the choral arrangements for the Schola Cantrum Choir, as it isn’t possible to overstate the impact they have had on the album as a whole. This is very much a metal band, but one that is attempting to create a genre of their own making, taking black metal and forcing into something that is far deeper, heavier and orchestral than anything they have managed up to this. The production is simply superb, incredibly clear while also very heavy indeed, allowing the band to spread their wings and show that when it comes to this style of music there are very few in the world who can even approach the majesty and dark beauty of what they are producing. It has been way too long since these guys have provided us with a new album, let’s just hope that the world tour to follow is just that, and that they make their way down here, as that would be a show not to miss.

CIRCLE OF SILENCE The Crimson Throne

Album · 2018 · Power Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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DippoMagoo
Power metal is often known to be a very melodic and lighter genre compared to most types of metal, but there are some bands out there who like to play a more aggressive, thrashier version of the genre, most notably coming out of Germany. One of the better bands to emerge from this side of the genre in recent years is Circle of Silence, who impressed me a lot with their previous release The Rise of Resistance, a very in your face kind of album, loaded with tons of punishing thrash riffs, speedy power metal rhythms, and great choruses. After taking a long break in between albums, the band is finally back almost five years later with their third full-length album, The Crimson Throne. With this album, the band has picked up where they left off, giving listeners some of the most brutal and intense power metal possible, while still managing to mix in a ton of great melodies and vocal sections.

For those who’ve never heard Circle of Silence before, they play a very rough brand of power metal, with a ton of thrash elements in their music, as well as some very aggressive vocals at times. They do a good job of varying the tempos, with a nice mix of faster tracks and more mid-paced tracks, as well as occasionally changing things up partway through a song. For the most part, The Crimson Throne feels very similar to their previous album, though a couple tracks felt surprisingly lighter to me at times, with some heavy metal style melodic guitar leads at points, which add a bit of extra flavor, and these are quite effective. At the same time, this is definitely a very hard hitting album overall, and the heavier, speedier passages are definitely when the album is at its best. For the most part, it’s a consistently engaging album, with no weaker tracks to be found, though it doesn’t quite have anything that matches the masterpiece “The Architect of Immortality” from their previous album.

One element that took time for me to get used to the first time I heard a Circle of Silence album was the voice of vocalist Nick Keim. He fits the band quite well, to be sure, but he has a very deep voice and rough voice that’s a bit atypical for the genre, and he can at times be very in your face with his vocal delivery. He certainly delivers some fiery vocals that match the intense thrashier portions, though, while being able to rein himself in a bit and deliver some big vocal melodies during the chorus. While his vocals took some time for me to get used to, I now think he’s a great singer and he fits the band’s sound -perfectly, with this album especially doing a good job of letting him showcase both his more aggressive vocals and his smoother, more melodic vocals.

Another area where I’ve sometimes struggled with the band is in the songwriting, though thankfully that has proven to be an area where they’ve improved a lot over the years, with their debut The Blackened Halo being very inconsistent, while The Rise of Resistance was a mostly consistent album with one huge highlight, and now The Crimson Throne is their most consistent album to date, to the point where it’s hard to pick a favorite, not because there aren’t any great tracks, but because every single track is in very good to great territory, with nothing quite on the level of the best track from its predecessor, but the majority of the tracks here are slightly better than most other tracks on that album.

The band does a great job of letting listeners know exactly what to expect within the first few tracks, as following a brief but nice intro, the first three full songs all cover different elements of the band’s music quite nicely. The first of these is “Race to the Sky”, the most classic power metal sounding track here, though with a slight edge to the riffs. Still, compared to most tracks on this album, it’s both speedy and melodic in ways fans of the genre would expect, with some great riffs, nice melodic leads and an excellent chorus. The extended solo section in the middle is amazing, and overall it’s an excellent track. Next is “Destroyers of the Earth”, one of the hardest hitting songs out of the bunch. It immediately charges out of the gate with some pummeling riffs, and this keeps up throughout the verses, where Nick delivers some of his most fiery vocals. There are some great melodies during the pre-chorus section, but then the thrash edge kicks in again and the chorus is short but intense, and the most melodic section of the track is during the solo section, which is quite good. After those two faster tracks, the pace slows done a bit for the first time with “The Chosen One”, a slightly heavier metal influenced track, which moves along at a decent pace, with some great melodic leads and some of Nick’s smoother, lighter vocals. It has one of the most epic choruses on the album and is definitely another great track.

While I enjoy all elements of this album, I especially prefer the thrashier tracks, as these are more unique for a power metal band and Circle of Silence has always excelled at them. After the first group of songs, the next real hard hitter is the title track, a slightly more mid-paced affair, which nonetheless brings back some of the powerful thrash riffs from “Destroyers of the Earth”, and it again has a nice melodic vocal section leading into an intense chorus, though this time around even the instrumental section is quite vicious, and overall it’s a very hard hitting and satisfying track. Right after that is “Into the Fire”, a more upbeat song with an epic and more melodic chorus, though it too has some excellent thrashy riffs, and is quite a heavy track overall. In the same vein as the title track is “A Kingdom Divine”, another more mid-paced track with some very hard hitting riffs, though it has a slightly more modern sound to it, and well as occasional points where the vocals come very close to death growls. It has an insanely epic and catchy chorus, as well as a great solo section, and it’s definitely one of my favorites on the album. The last real heavy track here is “Possessed By Fire”, where the verses start off a bit slow but pick up speed as they go along, all while being heavy and intense throughout, while the chorus is frantic and intense right from the start, with some great gang vocals. It’s definitely another great thrash infused power metal track, which delivers exactly the kind of sound I want from the band.

On the more melodic side, we have “Lionheart”, which starts off with a great melodic guitar section, before speeding up quickly, and it actually starts off feeling like it’ll be another power/thrash hybrid track, but it actually get much lighter and more melodic as it goes on, with the second half being almost entirely instrumental and having some classic heavy influences. The chorus is a bit weak, but otherwise, it’s a great track overall. A few tracks after that is “Endgame”, which starts off with some beautiful guitar melodies, before picking up the pace and turning into a more mid-paced power metal track, with an excellent chorus, featuring some of Nick’s best vocals on the album. The closing track is “Wild Eyes”, a mostly mid-paced track, with another excellent chorus, though its highlight comes in the second half, during a speedy instrumental section which gives way an epic final run through the chorus, to the end the album in an extremely epic way.

Overall, The Crimson Throne is another great album from Circle of Silence, which delivers more of their hard-hitting brand of thrash infused power metal while mixing in a few more melodic sections every once in a while. I’d say it’s slightly better than their previous album overall, and I’d definitely recommend it to fans of the band, as well as any power metal fan who prefers the heavier, more guitar-driven side of the genre, with no presence of keyboards whatsoever.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2018/03/31/circle-of-silence-the-crimson-throne-review/

TESSERACT Sonder

Album · 2018 · Progressive Metal
Cover art 4.44 | 8 ratings
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DippoMagoo
Out of all types of metal, one genre I’ve long struggled with and only managed to enjoy in quick bursts over the years is djent, a particularly rhythmic, repetitive and at times overly harsh sounding offshoot of progressive metal, which of course is one of my favorite genres. The band many consider to be the pioneers of the genre, Messhugah, have certainly never impressed me, while other famous bands like Periphery and Textures have managed to hook me in on occasion, but never entirely. So far, the one band in this style that has managed to keep me interested over the course of multiple albums is British band TesseracT, who I first discovered with their excellent second full-length release, Altered State, in 2013. Their next release, Polaris mostly eluded me, though I did eventually give it a listen and quite enjoyed it as well, so while their upcoming fourth full-length album, Sonder, wasn’t one of my most anticipated releases the year or anything, I was interested to see how it would turn out. In the end, if their previous albums hadn’t already won me over and convinced me that djent can work on a consistent basis when done correctly, then Sonder surely would have been the one to do it, as it manages to be equal parts accessible, hard-hitting and atmospheric, and it’s easily the most engaging and consistently impressive release I’ve heard from TesseracT to date.

One aspect of djent I tend to not be too fond of is the constant use of repetitive chugging guitars, which can grate on my ears badly if done the wrong way, with even a band such as Periphery sometimes falling into that trap. Thankfully, TesseracT have always been good at knowing just how far to take their heaviness, without pushing it to the point where it gets irritating, and they also do a great job of letting the guitars and drums settle into a nice groove, that allows the atmosphere and vocals to take and over and really push the songs to the next level. Which brings me to one aspect of the genre I do enjoy, and another thing TesseracT does amazingly, and that is the contrasts between the rough, aggressive sections, and the dark but rather calm and atmospheric, sometimes even ambient, sections. On Sonder, TesseracT have really perfected that side of their music, with almost every track seamlessly switching from loud and violent to calm and more introspective seemingly out of nowhere, and they handle these transitions perfectly. There are many extended softer portions on this album, where the electronic elements are used nicely along with more melodic guitars to add atmosphere to the music, and this goes along nicely with the lyrics, which deal with themes of insignificance, and it is definitely a very emotional album, with very strong performances all around. At the same time, fans looking for the more aggressive side of the band’s music still have a lot to look forward to, especially on tracks like “King”, “Juno” and “Smile”.

Another aspect I often struggle with is the vocals, as djent is a genre often known to use a ton of screaming, metalcore style vocals, and those are the kind of thing that can often grate on my nerves if done poorly, which I sadly find to be the case a lot of the time. Thankfully, that is yet another trap TesseracT manages to avoid, as vocalist Daniel Tompkins only uses screams in quick bursts, often during some particularly intense and powerful sequences where that kind of approach is necessary. When he does use them, he sounds fittingly intense, but certainly never grating or irritating. For the most part, he uses clean vocals and he is certainly one excellent singer, seamlessly going from high notes to low notes within the same sentence, with his lower range especially sounding very smooth and really fits the atmosphere of the music, though his high notes are also very nice, of course. He sings very calmly during the soft parts but can get his voice to sound rough and intense without screaming during some of the heavier parts, and this is used to great effect throughout the album. Overall, he simply does an excellent job and puts a ton of emotion into his performance, which helps to enhance an already great album even further.

One last area where djent can often be hit or miss is in the songwriting, as I find there isn’t really that many bands can do while sticking to their overall sound, so often times the songs will blend together, with few standouts. This is again an area in which TesseracT delivers, as while there is a consistent feel to the whole album and everything flows together perfectly, each track can definitely stand on its own, and it certainly never gets boring. Opening track “Luminary” does an excellent job of setting the tone, opening with some brief atmospheric electronic effects, before the dissonant guitars kick in, and then the music calms down again and Daniel enters in on vocals. It’s a great track which does a great job of briefly showcasing the heavier side of the band, while overall being a very melodic and surprisingly accessible track, with a very strong chorus, and a great use of atmospheric sounds throughout.

The first big standout is “King”, the longest track on the album at just under 7 minutes, and it’s a mammoth track, entering in with some very overpowering riffs that set a dark and ominous tone right out of the gate, and this is one of the tracks where Daniel showcases his screams, seamlessly mixing them in with his various types of clean vocals, with everything sounding perfect, of course. The track is definitely one of the heaviest on the album, getting especially intense during a screaming section in the second half, though it still manages to throw in a ton of calmer and more atmospheric moments both in the middle and ending of the track, and it has another strong chorus. After that is the interlude track “Orbital”, a brief but very nice ambient track, which uses some nice electronic sounds in the background, while Daniel sings very softly. It manages to be an emotional track, while also being very quiet, and despite being only 2 minutes, it is quite memorable. The next full song is “Juno”, which starts out heavy before settling into a nice groove, with some pretty nice guitar work as well as some cool electronic beats, that add a nice rhythm to the track throughout. This is one of the grooviest tracks on the album, for sure, and it moves along at a nice pace and manages to represent somewhat of a middle ground between the heavier tracks and the calmer tracks, and it does so quite wonderfully.

The second half begins with “Beneath the Skin”, a very dark and mostly soft track, which has an extended atmospheric section early on that uses minimal sounds very effectively, creating a thick atmosphere with very few sounds used, and it is quite the interesting track overall. It does get heavier as it goes on, with the typical djent chugs and grooves kicking in later on, though it’s still one of the slower and more melodic tracks on the album, with some wonderfully smooth clean vocals from Daniel, as well as an excellent chorus, once it shows up in the second half. Another soft track is next in “Mirror Image”, which is the closest this album comes to having a full ballad. It’s another track which uses some nice electronic effects and vocals to create a dark atmosphere, and it’s certainly one of the most vocal driven and melodic tracks on the album, with another very emotional and powerful performance from Daniel. It gets slightly heavier in the second half, and the guitar work towards the end is amazing, but it’s definitely a surprisingly calm and beautiful track overall. The last real heavy track on the album is “Smile”, which again starts with some dark and heavy riffs before settling into a nice groove, with a nice use of electronic effects to set the tone for the music. It’s somewhat similar to “Juno”, except a bit darker and more intense, with a very sinister feel to it, and the guitars have a very aggressive, alternative metal feel to them throughout the track, which is somewhat on the rest of the album, but it’s especially noticeable here. The screamed section towards the end is extremely intense and epic, and overall it’s definitely one of the highlights of the album. After such an intense track, closing number “The Arrow” is a suitably mellow and atmospheric track, with haunting vocals and very dark lyrics, as well as some beautiful but twisted sounding melodies. It has a slight heaviness to it but is another surprisingly soft and calm track for this style of metal. While it’s one of the shortest tracks on the album, it’s also one of my favorites, due to the vocals and lyrics working together so effectively with the music.

Overall, Sonder may be the best djent album I’ve heard to date, and while that’s not saying a whole lot, it definitely is an excellent album in its own right, with an excellent mix of heavy, punishing guitar work, a great use of atmosphere, and some very powerful vocals. Fans of the band are sure to be pleased, and anyone like me who has previously found this genre to be a bit too rough on the ears to handle may be pleasantly surprised, this is a very nicely balanced album that certainly has some excellent melodic and calm portions, to go along with the expected intense bursts. I was expecting to enjoy this album, but it greatly exceeded my expectations and become one of my favorites of the year so far, and I’ll definitely be looking forward to hearing anything else TesseracT does in the future.

originally written for myglobalmind.com: https://myglobalmind.com/2018/04/21/tesseract-sonder-review/

CALIBAN Elements

Album · 2018 · Metalcore
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Kev Rowland
Caliban have been creating quite a noise in the metalcore scene since their inception in the late Nineties, and with the quintet managing to keep the same line-up together for fifteen years now is quite an achievement. Here they are back with the follow-up to 2016’s ‘Gravity’, and they seem to have increased the intensity in all areas. “’Elements’ is a logical progression from the last album,” says guitarist Marc Görtz. “But we definitely expanded the range of music we wanted to incorporate on ‘Elements’. It’s going in extremely different directions. It’s heavier, but also more melodic. Also, Andy is doing all the vocals—harsh and clean—on the new album.” This last is a change, as those duties are normally shared between Andreas Dörner and guitarist Denis Schmidt with competing styles, but here Dörner provides both melodic and gruff. Görtz says that when he started putting together the initial riffs for the album he was trying really hard not to listen to any other music so that he wasn’t influenced, but bands such as Meshuggah, Whitechapel and Trivium all seem to have made their way into his psyche.

It is the intensity that really blast out of the speakers and pins the listener against the far wall – if ever the States want to militarise music then they should look to this album to start with. That the band go between incredibly light and tremendously heavy only emphasises the difference between the two styles. They can keep it low and groove-ridden, suddenly knocking down the guitar tuning, or keep it riff-laden as if they are a new Cannibal Corpse before becoming a next generation Linkin Park. This is all over the place, so much so that one never knows quite where the musical journey is going to lead, except that it will be a fractured and enjoyable road to get there. Caliban are showing no sign at all of slowing down, and this may just be their finest release yet.

AT THE GATES To Drink From The Night Itself

Album · 2018 · Death Metal
Cover art 4.53 | 5 ratings
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Kev Rowland
Although there have been some substantial gaps in their career, the line-up of At The Gates has been incredibly stable, having been the same since 1993. So, it was quite a blow when guitarist Anders Björler decided that it was time to move on. But, the band knew that they still had a great deal to offer, and called in old friend Jonas Stålhammar who they had known for almost thirty years. One rehearsal later and he had the job. It was important for the band to bring in someone who knew what they had been going through, had followed a similar musical journey, and also came from the same musical influences. Russ Russell was brought in as producer, and the result is one of the standout metal albums of the year.

By now most people would think that At The Gates would have nothing left to prove, having been at the forefront of the Swedish Death Metal scene for so many years, but while other bands have moved on and often changed their musical path ATG have double down and are bringing forth melodic death metal that is as heavy, violent and so damned enjoyable as anything they have released in the past. The band formed back in1990, yet here they are in 2018 showing all the young guns how to do it. The groove, they move, they mix incredibly light and delicate aspects into the thunderous sound, yet when the time is right they all lock in and bring it home. Tomas "Tompa" Lindberg still sounds like the angry young man he used to be, but now with more presence and command. He is at the forefront of what truly is a metallic monster casting all before it. Whatever anyone may want from a metal album, I can pretty much guarantee that this one has it. From the first note to the very last all I wanted to do was to keep turning it up time and again. It has been four years since the last album, let’s just hope that it isn’t so long until the next one.

TRAUN Deleted Scenes

EP · 2017 · Metal Related
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
Ex-Estradasphere drummer Dave Murray’s TRAUN project only has three EPs that tell this tale:

“The world of Traun is in peril after a flying health spa arrives at the outer rim of their star system. At the helm, a despotic tycoon named Voss ignites a trade war with the neighboring planets to acquire the water he needs to fill his baths. The capitol of Traun—the Fruitless Kingdom—has launched an offensive against Spa 9, but they have not been able to evict the illicit resort, nor regain control of their water supply. At this rate, life on Traun may be on the brink of extinction. But there may be hope brewing from within the sinister relaxation empire. The daughter of Voss—the Black Metal Princess—has been devising an elaborate ruse that will hopefully save the world of Traun, restore balance, and rescue her father from his own destruction.”

There are, however, four EPs that were released and the fourth one is titled DELETED SCENES which is exactly what the name says, a bunch of leftover tracks and various different drafts of tracks from the TRAUN trilogy.

The four EPs are to be heard in this order:

The Lilac Moon The Black Metal Princess Escape From Spa 9 DELETED SCENES (bonus tracks)

Musically DELETED SCENES runs the same gamut as the other EPs with frenetic shapeshifting of genres that are classical music one second, jazz the next and maybe even some downtempo or heavy metal thrown in. They not only take the expected genre blending into extreme arenas but they also often incorporate extreme avant-prog avenues with crazy time signature changes as well as sudden start / stop tempo changes. Everything from dynamics, genres, tempos and moods mix it all up and often.

Seriously unless you really adhere to the story on TRAUN MUSIC dot com then this is really just a fourth album because i can’t figure out from the music alone that any storyline exists behind it all. It’s one of those series where you can just enjoy the music or actually add more intrigue by delving into the actual meanings behind the accompanying sounds. While the other EPs hover around the 20 minute mark, this one actually extends past the 31 minute mark making it the longest of the four. This one is just as good as the others and if you want to check these out, you really need to go for the whole shebang. Very cool stuff obviously catering to the Mr Bungle, Secret Chiefs 3, Estradasphere and Atomic Ape crowds.

TRAUN Escape From Spa 9

EP · 2017 · Metal Related
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
This Dave Murray is not the guitarist from Iron Maiden but a drummer who has been involved in a number of interesting musical acts including Estradasphere, Tholus and Sculptured however before he was getting all wild and crazy in the avant-garde rock and metal universe he started out with a grander vision of what would become a project under the name The Deserts of Träun which began all the way back in the 90s. It was designed to be a conceptual sci-fi journey through several albums about the world of TRAUN which according to the website TRAUN MUSIC dot com:

“The world of Traun is in peril after a flying health spa arrives at the outer rim of their star system. At the helm, a despotic tycoon named Voss ignites a trade war with the neighboring planets to acquire the water he needs to fill his baths. The capitol of Traun—the Fruitless Kingdom—has launched an offensive against Spa 9, but they have not been able to evict the illicit resort, nor regain control of their water supply. At this rate, life on Traun may be on the brink of extinction. But there may be hope brewing from within the sinister relaxation empire. The daughter of Voss—the Black Metal Princess—has been devising an elaborate ruse that will hopefully save the world of Traun, restore balance, and rescue her father from his own destruction.”

After working with Tholus, Murray decided to bring his fantasy universe to life in musical form and recorded a rather out of sync sequel as his debut release titled “Part III: The Lilac Moon” under the moniker The Deserts Of Traun but was never happy with the weak production and video-gamish outcome therefore decided to reboot the whole series which brings us up to the modern day where he simultaneously released four EPs in 2017. Three of them are part of the series and the fourth is the leftover bonus tracks. Since the project took more than 20 years to complete, this is quite the ambitious effort and the fact that each EP hovers around the 20 minute mark make them quite accessible and the painstaking process of recording the wealth of sounds and styles with modern day technology makes these EPs substantially better than the 2003 album. Because this is a reboot, much material from that album was recycled and incorporated into the new releases.

The four EPs are to be heard in this order:

The Lilac Moon

The Black Metal Princess

ESCAPE FROM SPA 9

Deleted Scenes (bonus tracks)

``````````````````````````````````````````````````````

EP #3 - ESCAPE FROM SPA 9

This one doesn’t quite hit the 20 minute mark and most tracks are barely over a minute long but pack in an album’s worth of ideas at times. “The Deserts of Traun” begins the genre jumping journey with a sombre violin and classical piano in avant-garde fashion. “Making Haste” goes into frenetically paced jazz-fusion that alternates between slow and fast tempo. “Mayor Of Ghost Town” starts with a storm and a suspenseful mystery crime show theme style. This one has vocals and what sounds like a theremin. Police sirens and other noises jump in and out. “The Lone Coachman” spends a while in electronica land only to burst into heavy metal guitar riffing with an atmospheric backdrop droning away. “Pirate Stronghold” begins as a mellow classical string piece but turns into a cartoonish sounding form of accordion rock reminding me of Mr. Bungle.

“Lizardback” begins as a mellow acoustic guitar sequence that has a country vibe with slide guitar with some unexpected Tuvan throat singing. The title track is the longest and exceeds three minutes. It begins with some ambient noise and then bursts into crazy brutal prog with heavy guitars, electronic noises and ridiculously challenging time signatures. It goes through bursts of excitement and then calms down to nothing. The heaviest track on board and the most complex. “Vampire Invasion” is another classical / lounge jazz piano with violin in a tango type form. Some operatic vocals pop in from time to time with some death metal growls making an appearance at the end. “Flight Of The Water Baron” is a symphonic metal piece with heavy guitars, piano and then becomes a violin led classical piece and then they join forces. “The Fruitless Kingdom” is all over the place as well. Bouncy electronica cedes to mellow classical and then symphonic metal. “Mel’s Home” ends the short album with jazz funk keyboard riffs.

At this point i still find no sings of an overall theme that connects to the music but it really doesn’t matter. This music is like taking a long journey abridged into a short time span. This album is only 19 minutes plus of music but has a ridiculous amount of elements and complexity in its playing time. Very cool stuff obviously catering to the Mr Bungle, Secret Chiefs 3, Estradasphere and Atomic Ape crowds.

WITCHERY I Am Legion

Album · 2017 · Thrash Metal
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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UMUR
"I Am Legion" is the 7th full-length studio album by Swedish heavy metal act Witchery. The album was released through Century Media Records in November 2017. That´s almost exactly one year after the release of "In His Infernal Majesty's Service (2016)", and after a couple of years of relative inactivity before that, the band have indeed said in interviews that they would pick up the pace and record and tour more the next couple of years. With "I Am Legion" they keep that promise. "I Am Legion" was recorded by the same five-piece lineup who recorded "In His Infernal Majesty's Service (2016)", so no changes there.

Stylistically "I Am Legion" is slightly different from it´s predecessor though, and a little less formulaic than what we´re used to from Witchery. Witchery were always a band who were hard to define as their heavy metal basis sound features quite a few influences from genres like black metal, thrash metal, speed metal, and a little death metal too. Some of the previous releases featured an almost traditional heavy metal sound (although in the harder end of the spectrum) but with blackened snarling vocals, but on "I Am Legion" the scale tips a bit more to the extreme metal side of the band´s sound. The structure of the songs and the songwriting are also a bit less anthemic and a little more loose and intentionally chaotic, which is both a strength and a weakness.

It´s a strength because it´s always great to hear when an established act with a signature sound try something different. It shows a band which haven´t stagnated and who are still hungry to prove themselves and who still have the boldness to evolve. I applaud that...but it´s also a weakness in terms of "I Am Legion", because the infectiously catchy sing-along (well...shout-along) choruses from the previous releases are few and far between on this release, and those choruses were always a big part of what made Witchery such a charming act.

I´ll put on the positive glasses here though, as I think Witchery make their less formulaic and more adventurous approach to songwriting work really well, and it´s not like there aren´t any catchy moments on the album. In fact there are plenty of memorable tracks and catchy moments featured on the album, so it´s not a major change of the band´s sound, but more an adjustment towards a more creative songwriting direction. Witchery are as always a very well playing band and lead vocalist Angus Norder shows again, that the band made the right decision to add him to the lineup on the predecessor. "I Am Legion" features a dark and fairly organic sounding production, which suits the new musical direction perfectly, and upon conclusion "I Am Legion" is yet another high quality release by Witchery. A 4 star (80%) rating is deserved.

TRAUN The Black Metal Princess

EP · 2017 · Metal Related
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
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siLLy puPPy
This Dave Murray is not the guitarist from Iron Maiden but a drummer who has been involved in a number of interesting musical acts including Estradasphere, Tholus and Sculptured however before he was getting all wild and crazy in the avant-garde rock and metal universe he started out with a grander vision of what would become a project under the name The Deserts of Träun which began all the way back in the 90s. It was designed to be a conceptual sci-fi journey through several albums about the world of TRAUN which according to the website TRAUN dot com:

“The world of Traun is in peril after a flying health spa arrives at the outer rim of their star system. At the helm, a despotic tycoon named Voss ignites a trade war with the neighboring planets to acquire the water he needs to fill his baths. The capitol of Traun—the Fruitless Kingdom—has launched an offensive against Spa 9, but they have not been able to evict the illicit resort, nor regain control of their water supply. At this rate, life on Traun may be on the brink of extinction. But there may be hope brewing from within the sinister relaxation empire. The daughter of Voss—the Black Metal Princess—has been devising an elaborate ruse that will hopefully save the world of Traun, restore balance, and rescue her father from his own destruction.”

After working with Tholus, Murray decided to bring his fantasy universe to life in musical form and recorded a rather out of sync sequel as his debut release titled “Part III: The Lilac Moon” under the moniker The Deserts Of Traun but was never happy with the weak production and video-gamish outcome therefore decided to reboot the whole series which brings us up to the modern day where he simultaneously released four EPs in 2017. Three of them are part of the series and the fourth is the leftover bonus tracks. Since the project took more than 20 years to complete, this is quite the ambitious effort and the fact that each EP hovers around the 20 minute mark make them quite accessible and the painstaking process of recording the wealth of sounds and styles with modern day technology makes these EPs substantially better than the 2003 album. Because this is a reboot, much material from that album was recycled and incorporated into the new releases.

The four EPs are to be heard in this order:

The Lilac Moon

THE BLACK METAL PRINCESS

Escape From Spa 9

Deleted Scenes (bonus tracks)

``````````````````````````````````````````````````````

EP #2 - THE BLACK METAL PRINCESS

Each track has a storyline about how it relates to the concept. This is detailed in great artistic form on the TRAUN dot com website. This album, much like the Estradasphere albums Murray played on, runs the gamut of dreamy psychedelic ambience, electronic wizardry and heavy metal to bursts of jazz, folk and classical plus lots of ethnic influences as well. “The Voyage Home” begins with a mopey disoriented beat with guitars that sound like they’re going in and out of tune. Very soundtrack feeling as with “The Lilac Moon.” Ends with surf guitar incorporated. “Preparing The Pit” begins with sounds of an ominous storm but becomes echoey guitar with reverb. Piano and weirdness ensue with evil sounding vocalizations joining in and then metal guitar, bass and drums. These short tracks really are all over the place and nothing hangs around for too long.

“A Stranger In The Landing” jumps into avant-garde hard bop with a Latin flare. It quickly becomes symphonic prog and then adds heavy guitar and flutters around in freeform style. This second installment is much more surreal than the first and that’s saying something! Once again it’s amazing to realize that this is a huge project with thirteen musicians delivering rock (guitar, drums, bass, keys), classical (violin, viola, bassoon, cello, upright bass), folk (accordion, acoustic guitar, flute, mandolin) and jazz (baritone and tenor sax). “An Undisclosed Location” alternates between speakeasy lounge jazz, avant-prog and 60s psychedelic pop with a few spoken words to convey storyline details. “Looking For Clues” provides a marching band feel with military drums but becomes quirky and well, very weird! It goes all over the place with dreamy pianos, rock guitar, classical. Ideas last about five seconds on this one but it all strings together. This one actually lasts more than three minutes and goes through jazz, downtempo etc. “The Terrace Computer” begins as creepy ambience and then becomes angelic harp-like ambience. This one stays fairly consistent but still has outbursts of energy but remains fairly electronic oriented with guitar coming in.

“Miriaun Crossing” is a classical piano riff with violin and remains that way for the entire near two minute run! Very tranquil and a lull in the sonic storm that is this album! “Mel Function” jumps into a loungy jazz mode with a sultry sax and a rather normal sounding generic delivery and stays that way. “Passage Through The Mire” begins with crickets chirping and arpeggiated guitars creeping in with jittery electronica. It becomes ominous soundtrack type music with a sombre cello and raspy ghoulish vocals in the horizon but morphs again into rather Middle Eastern sounding rhythms but remains somewhat on a leash although rock beats. This is rather unique but conjures up a hellish overall feel that finally unleashes the black metal aspects although they only peek in before disappearing into the classical symphonic backdrop. Excellent orchestration here with even some surf guitar coming in at the end. The title track ends with a mellow folky vibe orchestrated with piano and harp that picks up with black metal elements and freaky ghoulish vocals. This album is only 22 minutes plus of music but has a ridiculous amount of elements and complexity in its playing time. Very cool stuff obviously catering to the Mr Bungle, Secret Chiefs 3, Estradasphere and Atomic Ape crowds.

TRAUN The Lilac Moon

EP · 2017 · Metal Related
Cover art 4.00 | 1 rating
Buy this album from MMA partners
siLLy puPPy
This Dave Murray is not the guitarist from Iron Maiden but a drummer who has been involved in a number of interesting musical acts including Estradasphere, Tholus and Sculptured however before he was getting all wild and crazy in the avant-garde rock and metal universe he started out with a grander vision of what would become a project under the name The Deserts of Träun which began all the way back in the 90s. It was designed to be a conceptual sci-fi journey through several albums about the world of TRAUN which according to the website TRAUN dot com:

“The world of Traun is in peril after a flying health spa arrives at the outer rim of their star system. At the helm, a despotic tycoon named Voss ignites a trade war with the neighboring planets to acquire the water he needs to fill his baths. The capitol of Traun—the Fruitless Kingdom—has launched an offensive against Spa 9, but they have not been able to evict the illicit resort, nor regain control of their water supply. At this rate, life on Traun may be on the brink of extinction. But there may be hope brewing from within the sinister relaxation empire. The daughter of Voss—the Black Metal Princess—has been devising an elaborate ruse that will hopefully save the world of Traun, restore balance, and rescue her father from his own destruction.”

After working with Tholus, Murray decided to bring his fantasy universe to life in musical form and recorded a rather out of sync sequel as his debut release titled “Part III: The Lilac Moon” under the moniker The Deserts Of Traun but was never happy with the weak production and video-gamish outcome therefore decided to reboot the whole series which brings us up to the modern day where he simultaneously released four EPs in 2017. Three of them are part of the series and the fourth is the leftover bonus tracks. Since the project took more than 20 years to complete, this is quite the ambitious effort and the fact that each EP hovers around the 20 minute mark make them quite accessible and the painstaking process of recording the wealth of sounds and styles with modern day technology makes these EPs substantially better than the 2003 album. Because this is a reboot, much material from that album was recycled and incorporated into the new releases.

The four EPs are to be heard in this order:

THE LILAC MOON

The Black Metal Princess

Escape From Spa 9

Deleted Scenes (bonus tracks)

``````````````````````````````````````````````````````

EP #1 - THE LILAC MOON

Each track has a storyline about how it relates to the concept. This is detailed in great artistic form on the TRAUN dot com website. This album, much like the Estradasphere albums Murray played on, runs the gamut of dreamy psychedelic ambience, electronic wizardry and heavy metal to bursts of jazz, folk and classical plus lots of ethnic influences as well. Just within the first track “The Crystal Caverns” many of these genres are present. However while the first track is more on the aggressive side, the second in line “Aervallis” is more of an airy Celtic folk song with busy Disney-esque classical leanings that leap into heavy progressive rock and back to dreamy folk. It takes no time at all to realize this is a huge project with thirteen musicians delivering rock (guitar, drums, bass, keys), classical (violin, viola, bassoon, cello, upright bass), folk (accordion, acoustic guitar, flute, mandolin) and jazz (baritone and tenor sax).

“The Broken Barge” continues with a speakeasy jazz lounge feel while “Inn Of The Dreaded Hippy” is right out of the Mr Bungle playbook with crazy keyboard workouts and time signature rich prog jumping in and out of metal with every other crazy idea thrown in for good measure. “The Thieving Wall” only continues the eclectic output with crazy heavy prog rhythms angularly darting out all over the place at breakneck speed with a slight surf rock vibe. Sort of like Secret Chiefs 3 on steroids. “Greywater Hideaway” is sombre and piano rich as well as slow and sumptuous and short like all the track which all hover around the two minute mark with the exception of the opener which hits three. The title track is flute rich prog folk rock track with more Celtic feels while “Errands Of Captain Yargh” is an explosive death metal explosion with industrial overtones.

“The Old Road” is back to prog folk only in a love affair downtempo electronica. “Valeriana” begins with mandolin and sounds like Renaissance music but quickly incorporates heavy rock guitar stomping and then morphs into classical soundtrack music. Damn, it’s hard to keep up with this ever-changing sonic feast! “Brig To Nowhere” begins with a pulsating electronic noise with a guitar playing in mono in the background but it becomes extreme metal guitar chugging with steady riffing but morphs into more progressive technicalities. Occasional breaks reveal a symphonic backdrop. “Embers In Snowfall” is a slow ambient folk outro. This album is only 21 minutes plus of music but has a ridiculous amount of elements and complexity in its playing time. Very cool stuff obviously catering to the Mr Bungle, Secret Chiefs 3, Estradasphere and Atomic Ape crowds.

PARKWAY DRIVE Reverence

Album · 2018 · Metalcore
Cover art 4.50 | 1 rating
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Kingcrimsonprog
For their sixth studio album, Parkway Drive had a hell of a lot to live up to. After absolutely perfecting their formula with the popular Horizons and Deep Blue albums, and utterly reinventing themselves on the astounding Ire album, the Australians would have a hard time releasing anything that good. What should they do? Return to the old formula? Try and repeat the triumph of Ire?

What they decided to do was a bit different. On Atlas, the great but less-popular follow up to Deep Blue they decided to try and balance their formula with new ideas like choirs, strings and DJ scratching with more variety of fasts and slows. The band weren’t going to limit themselves or stay in their own little box, they already did the perfect version, so its time to try some new ideas.

Reverence, to me, feels to Ire as Atlas did to Deep Blue. Its not a rehash of the past formula but a pushing of the envelope. Its taking that general idea but broadening it. There’s some pretty inventive and new sounds for Parkway on this album, from quiet spoken word bits, no almost Ghost-eque latin sounding chants (‘I Hope You Rot’), and film-score sounding orchestration. And while Atlas all sounded cataclysmic like a disaster movie, Reverence sounds epic and biblical.

Musical direction is one thing, but of course its all for nothing if the quality isn’t there. Fortunately Revereance is not only interesting, but it is also excellent. There are some absoltuely fantastic songs, amazingly catchy choruses and damn enjoyable guitar lines. There’s parts that’ll stick in your head for days (‘I’ve got the whole world swinging from the end of a chain,’ gets me every time). Some of those drum fills and leads are demading of a good air-instrumenting. Some of these songs will utterly crush live!

If you only want Parkway at their absolute heaviest and don’t want any clean singing, or any atypical instrumentation, then maybe chose a different album as your first. If you like the band, especially the shift in direction that started with Ire, then you don’t want to be missing out on Reverance. It is one hell of a record, strong all the way through, creative, interesting and thoroughly entertaining.

Highlights include the single ‘Wishing Wells’ as well as ‘Shadow Boxing’ and the dark ‘The Colour Of Leaving’

Its too early yet to rank it in their discography, but I can tell you right away from first impressions it certainly aint in trouble of being in the bottom half. I got this on release day (for some reason it was signed, which didn’t cost any extra, hooray!) and have absolutely pasted it every since. I can listen to this five times in a row and not be sick of it. It is a truly joyous album. If you are a fan don’t hesitate, get in on this ASAP.

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