lukretion

Daniele
MMA Special Collaborator · Prog Metal Team
Registered 1 year ago · Last visit 1 day ago

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All Reviews/Ratings

156 reviews/ratings
SOEN - Imperial Progressive Metal | review permalink
EVERGREY - In Search of Truth Progressive Metal | review permalink
CRADLE OF FILTH - Dusk and Her Embrace Symphonic Black Metal | review permalink
OCEANS OF SLUMBER - Starlight and Ash Progressive Metal | review permalink
THEATRE OF TRAGEDY - Velvet Darkness They Fear Gothic Metal | review permalink
SUBTERRANEAN MASQUERADE - Mountain Fever Progressive Metal | review permalink
DOLD VORDE ENS NAVN - Mørkere Black Metal | review permalink
MY DYING BRIDE - The Dreadful Hours Death-Doom Metal | review permalink
STAR ONE - Revel In Time Progressive Metal | review permalink
GREEN CARNATION - Light of Day, Day of Darkness Progressive Metal | review permalink
MOTORPSYCHO - The All is One Non-Metal | review permalink
TRANSATLANTIC - The Absolute Universe - The Breath of Life Metal Related | review permalink
IOTUNN - Access All Worlds Progressive Metal | review permalink
BALANCE OF POWER - Perfect Balance Heavy Metal | review permalink
SILENTIUM - Infinita Plango Vulnera Gothic Metal | review permalink
TRISTANIA - World of Glass Gothic Metal | review permalink
THE SINS OF THY BELOVED - Lake of Sorrow Gothic Metal | review permalink
THEATRE OF TRAGEDY - Last Curtain Call Gothic Metal | review permalink
THEATRE OF TRAGEDY - Assembly Non-Metal | review permalink
THEATRE OF TRAGEDY - Aégis Gothic Metal | review permalink

See all reviews/ratings

Metal Genre Nb. Rated Avg. rating
1 Progressive Metal 42 3.21
2 Gothic Metal 33 3.15
3 Power Metal 20 2.95
4 Metal Related 9 3.50
5 Non-Metal 8 3.00
6 Symphonic Metal 6 3.25
7 Neoclassical metal 5 3.00
8 Doom Metal 5 3.00
9 Hard Rock 5 2.80
10 Black Metal 4 3.38
11 Heavy Metal 3 3.17
12 Death-Doom Metal 3 3.67
13 Symphonic Black Metal 3 3.50
14 Melodic Black Metal 2 2.50
15 Melodic Death Metal 1 3.00
16 Glam Metal 1 2.00
17 Heavy Psych 1 3.50
18 Death 'n' Roll 1 2.50
19 Alternative Metal 1 3.50
20 Atmospheric Black Metal 1 3.00
21 Technical Thrash Metal 1 4.00
22 Viking Metal 1 4.00

Latest Albums Reviews

OCEANS OF SLUMBER Starlight and Ash

Album · 2022 · Progressive Metal
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I’ll start this review with a confession: this is the album that I always hoped Oceans of Slumber would make. Don’t get me wrong: I did enjoy the Texan band’s take on the progressive death/doom genre that they have been perfecting over their previous albums. But especially after their 2020’s self-titled LP, I had the strong feeling that the band had reached the limits of what they could do with that sound. It had started to grow stale and did not seem to do full justice to the band’s immense talent, especially to that of their lead singer Cammie Gilbert. Unexpressed potential is probably a way to put it – there was tons of that on their last album. A change was inevitable if Oceans of Slumber wanted to move to the next level. And what a change they delivered with Starlight and Ash!

The new album wipes away most of the tenets that had guided the band’s sound up to this point. Gone are the cavernous death growls. Gone the blistering double-bass runs and most of the other extreme metal aesthetics. Comparing the new LP’s tracklist with that of previous records, you’ll also realize that even the band’s idea of what a song is has radically changed– gone are the long-winding, multi-part 7-minute epics, leaving room for more concise, 4-minute tunes centered around Cammie Gilbert’s extraordinary vocal talent. You get the gist: Oceans of Slumber have taken the road that several other metal bands took before them, moving away from the heavy shores of extreme metal towards softer, more melodic expanses.

To be frank, this much I had expected after listening to Oceans of Slumber’s last LP. That record already contained a handful of more melodic, gothic ballads that were catered to Gilbert’s clean voice. My bet at the time was that the band would continue to dig deeper into this balladry sound, perhaps landing somewhere not far from modern-day Anathema. And here is where I was spectacularly wrong. Because, you see, Starlight and Ash does much more than simply mellowing down the band’s original sound. That’s only part of it. Oceans of Slumber take this softer songwriting approach and let it grow into a whole new aesthetic, which they dubbed “Southern Gothic”.

If you are like me, the term Southern Gothic will tell you little about the actual sonic identity of the album, but it may give you a good idea of the type of vibes it emanates: dark, gloomy, dramatic, but also charged with a deeper spiritual intensity that speaks of trauma and catharsis. Then there is of course the adjective “Southern”, which is testament to the band’s geographical roots and evokes rhythm and blues, gospel, and country music. And here is probably where the biggest surprise of the album lies: those Southern musical traditions are subtly weaved into the songs to form a new, hybrid sound where twangy blues guitars and gospel choirs are juxtaposed to art rock sensibilities, dashes of electronica and, of course, a lingering sense of sluggish heaviness that is inherited straight from the band’s death/doom origins.

This genre bending is done masterfully and ever-so-subtly. The blues and gospel influences are not as in-your-face as, say, in a Zeal & Ardor album, but surface gently from the groovy rhythms and soulful melodies of “The Lighthouse” and “Salvation”, probably the two songs with the strongest Southern accents on the album. These tracks also illustrate another characteristic of the album’s sound that emerges consistently through its 11 songs: drum grooves and vocal melodies take absolutely center stage in Starlight and Ash, to the point that at times they constitute a song’s whole texture. Guitars and keyboards are instead used with restraint, to inject bursts of color into the sound and to shift the songs’ dynamics to dramatic effects (“The Waters Rising”; “Hearts of Stone”; “Red Forest Roads”). Elsewhere, Oceans of Slumber flirt with dreamy art pop (“The Hanging Tree”), while “Star Altar” is the song that most reminds me of the band’s metal heritage – a gorgeous, doomy affair that twists and turns across its different parts before exploding into a spellbinding, down-tuned finale that is bound to trigger some serious headbanging.

These first seven songs are absolutely stunning and showcase the tremendous potential of the band’s newfound style. The flow from song to song is also exceptional: each new track builds on the previous one, but introduces new nuances to the sound, subtly pushing it into a slightly distinct direction to explore a different sonic niche. The magic breaks down somewhat as the album moves to the next set of songs (“The Spring of ‘21”, “Just a Day” and “House of the Rising Sun” - the latter a cover of a 1960s song by UK rhythm-and-blues act The Animals). I cannot quite put my finger on what it is, but these three tracks do not chime in with the rest of the record. Taken separately, there is nothing particularly wrong with each of them. Granted, “The Spring of ‘21” could do with some trimming in its second half, and the mood shifts in “Just a Day” are just a tad too jarring, but this is nothing that one does not get used to after a few listens. My reservation mostly comes from the way these three songs diverge – quite abruptly – from the rest of the album, both sonically and in terms of atmosphere. While the sound progression up to here had been gentle and subtle, suddenly we are confronted with a stark narrative jump, as we plunge into moody piano music (“The Spring of ‘21”, the first part of “Just a Day”) that suddenly turns into the heaviest wall-of-sound bit you will find in the whole album (the second part and the finale of “Just a Day”). Meanwhile, “House of the Rising Sun” veers into chamber rock, with its lush string arrangements and violin solo, marking yet another sudden change of direction in terms of sound. Starlight and Ash eventually returns to the sonic identity of its initial songs with “The Shipbuilder's Son” – a very good song in itself, although it’s somehow too late to restore the continuity and the magic that the first seven tracks were able to create.

Despite my misgivings about the album’s second-half, Starlight and Ash remains a mighty strong record. I have no doubt this is Oceans of Slumber’s best album to date and I am quite sure it will top my album of the year list too. But I am also prepared to go out on a limb and say this record will end up among my favourite 10/15 albums of all times, simply because it excels in absolutely everything that I love in music. It has a sound that innovates without losing sight of the band’s own heritage (both musical and cultural), and, as a consequence, it feels fresh and interesting but at the same familiar. It is exquisitely produced, feeling organic and nuanced, but retaining bite and power when needed. It contains fantastic melodies and arrangements, and superb performances from all musicians involved, especially from Cammie Gilbert – probably the best female singer in metal right now. Most importantly, Starlight and Ash delivers music with soul, capable of connecting with the listener at a profound emotional level, thanks to its themes of trauma and redemption and to its deep musicality and transporting impetus. As I said at the beginning of this review, I have been waiting for Oceans of Slumber to write this album since I first heard their music back in 2016, as I felt the band had the potential to express themselves at a whole new level. Even so, Starlight and Ash vastly surpasses my expectations. If there is only one album you can listen to this year, make sure it is this one.

[Originally written for The Metal Observer]

GAMMA RAY No World Order

Album · 2001 · Power Metal
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Gamma Ray’s 7th full-length caught me by surprise. Knowing the band mostly for their classic mid-90s albums Land of the Free and Somewhere in Time, I was expecting another solid slab of anthemic, if predictable, power/speed metal. No World Order! served me instead with a kaleidoscopic compendium of everything metal, where the sound of classic UK/US bands from the 1980s (Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, Manowar) is reinterpreted with gusto by the German band, finding new life as it is filtered through the Gamma Ray musical rulebook. The end result is an exciting voyage through vast metal landscapes, which might feel familiar but are nonetheless exciting.

The references to the classic HM sound are mostly apparent in the record’s mid-section. “The Heart of the Unicorn” and “Solid” are obvious tributes to Judas Priest (with “Solid” even blatantly borrowing the main riff from “Rapid Fire”). “Heaven or Hell” is a battle hymn whose epic overtones will excite more than one Manowar’s fan, while “New World Order” sports a fun, pure hard rock riff that wouldn’t have been out of place on an AC/DC album. The remaining tracks bear stronger resemblance to the German power/speed metal sound that Gamma Ray, together with Helloween, have contributed to immortalize. Even in these songs, however, Kai Hansen and co. do not refrain from laying down a couple of Easter eggs for their fans, like the Maidenesque solos in “Eagle” or the Manowar-tinged ballad “Lake of Tears”.

Remarkably, almost every song feels truly inspired, regardless of the style that the band decides to push to the fore. “Dethrone Tyranny”, “New World Order”, “Damn the Machine” and “Eagle” are particularly exciting, sporting strong riffs, memorable melodies and fun, explosive solos. “Fire Below” is perhaps the only episode that is below average and could be regarded as a filler, while “Solid” may be a bit too close for comfort to the source of its inspiration.

Overall, No World Order! Provides a smooth listening experience that keeps the listener second-guessing which particular artist inspired each song, while at the same time never sounding completely derivative but maintaining a strong Gamma Ray identity throughout. The album’s main strength lies in the way its 11 tracks explore each a different sonic niche. This variation helps balancing the otherwise rigid songwriting that rarely departs from the usual cycle of verse/chorus repetition. It’s a fun album to sit through, one that truly captures the spirit of heavy metal in the same way as the best records from the HM greats once did. And now, this is no mean feat, is it?

NARNIA Desert Land

Album · 2001 · Power Metal
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After two albums firmly rooted in the melodic neoclassical metal / hard rock camp, on their third full-length Narnia tried to mix things up a little, injecting a healthy dose of 1980s metal into their sound. As a consequence, Desert Land sounds heavier than the band’s previous two efforts, which were instead highly melodic hard rock affairs. This may or may not have been a reaction to the criticism the band received for the mellowness and lack of grit of their previous two records, or it could have been an attempt to ride the success of European power metal, a genre that enjoyed a significant commercial success at the turn of the century. Either way, it is a welcome turn of events for the band’s sound, which injects some freshness into a subgenre (that of neoclassical metal) that can easily grow stale and formulaic.

In this sense, the album’s most striking aspect, which is also its main strength, is the smooth variation of the songs in its tracklist. Fast, neoclassical tracks that evoke the spirit of Yngwie Malmsteen are alternated with beefier affairs, where the baroque guitar runs and harpsichord accompaniment are substituted with slow, twisty riffs that nod in doomy directions, halfway between Rainbow and Black Sabbath. Meanwhile, “Trapped in This Age” timidly ventures outside the rigid stylistic requirements of the power metal subgenre, with hints of progressive metal in the slightly more complex texture and multi-part structure. “Revolution of Mother Earth” is instead a more standard, piano-driven ballad, which nevertheless pleasantly surprises with its powerful melodies.

For the rest, Desert Land shows the same strengths and weaknesses as Narnia’s previous two albums. Carl Johan Grimmark is a great guitarist, whose playing is not a mere display of technical ability, but is rooted in a stronger idea of melody. Aside from the guitar, the spotlight also shines on Christian Liljegren’s beautiful vocals. He has a trained tenor voice with a rich vibrato that fits perfectly the songs’ majestic and poignant mood. His delivery on Desert Land is perhaps slightly grittier compared to Narnia’s previous records, reflecting the generally more aggressive and metallic style of the new album. The rest of the band is equally proficient, albeit the other instruments are mostly used in an accompanying role, letting Grimmark’s guitar take centre stage, as per the genre’s stylistic requirements. Especially Martin Claesson’s keyboards play a far less prominent role in the arrangements than they had in Narnia’s previous album, Long Live the King. This is a pity since his keyboard parts had been one of the highlights of that record. The emphasis on the guitar makes the arrangements a bit skimpy and predictable, an impression that is reinforced by the album’s limited dynamic range and the fairly formulaic songwriting, trapped in an endless cycle of verse, prechorus and chorus in nearly all songs. However, part of these shortcomings come with the genre and are not specific to Narnia.

Overall, Desert Land is a good album that consolidates Narnia’s position as one of the most solid and proficient acts in the neoclassical metal genre. On this album the Swedes have tried to inject some variation in their usual neoclassical fare, adding more heaviness and aggression to their sound. The experiment is by and large successful, although it does not completely alter the fairly predictable and to a certain degree derivative essence of the band’s musical ideas.

SEVENTH WONDER The Testament

Album · 2022 · Progressive Metal
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After Tommy Karevik joined Kamelot in 2012, many feared that Seventh Wonder’s days would be numbered. However, the Swedes showed remarkable resilience and, following a long eight-year gap, came back in 2018 with their fifth full-length, the acclaimed Tiara, with Karevik still behind the mic. This time it took Seventh Wonder only four years to record their new album The Testament, which once again finds the melodic prog metal band with an unchanged line-up and in fine form.

Delving into an intriguing concept about human emotions, the new record takes inspiration from the complex technical musicianship of band like Dream Theater, the instant catchiness of melodic hard rock and AOR, as well as the rhythmic immediacy of modern metal, weaving together this wide range of influences into a distinctive and personal sound that has characterized Seventh Wonder’s discography since the very beginning. Compared to previous albums, the new record packs perhaps more immediate and uplifting tunes, although there is always a dark vein of melancholy running through the music, making this LP a must-listen for fans of brooding modern progressive metal such as Evergrey, Kamelot, and Darkwater.

The album’s main strength lies in the ability to combine contagious melodies with cleverly articulated arrangements, striking a great balance between immediacy and depth. The songs have instant impact on the listener thanks to their formidable hooks, but at the same time it takes several listens to fully unpack their complexity. Take, for instance, the songs’ form. Despite structures that rarely depart from the regular repetition of verse, pre-chorus and chorus, the ever-changing arrangements ensure there is a constant sense of moving forward in the compositions, thus avoiding the chief pitfall of many chorus-centred tunes that often come across as over-simplistic and repetitive. Johan Liefvendahl’s guitar plays a remarkable role in keeping the arrangements fresh and varied, constantly shifting between simple rhythmical accompaniment and more intricate countermelodies. His guitarwork is often doubled up by Andreas Blomqvist’s extraordinary bass lines, which have always been a distinctive aspect of Seventh Wonder’s sound. The songs’ texture is further enhanced by Andreas Söderin’s tasteful keyboard interjections, well-balanced between futuristic and retro sounds, while drummer Stefan Norgren provides a solid backbone to the music, with good grooves that never grow too busy or overbearing. With a singer of the calibre of Tommy Karevik, it’s inevitable that the spotlight is constantly shown on the vocal melodies. And Karevik of course never fails to deliver. Songs like “Warriors”, “I Carry the Blame” and “The Red River” contain great vocal hooks that are guaranteed to remain seared into your mind after the first time you hear them.

These songs, together with the instrumental, vaguely neoclassical metal-sounding “Reflections”, are hands down the record’s best tunes. The album’s second half is instead more subdued and unyielding. “Invincible”, “Mindkiller” and “Under a Clear Blue Sky” thread similar paths as the tracks from the album’s first half, but are dogged by less inspired melodies and, in the case of “Under a Clear Blue Sky”, an overstretched structure that does little beyond adding to the record’s minutage. Even the pleasant ballad “Elegy” that closes the album does not manage to make a very strong last impression, despite the Karevik’s passionate performance.

Alas, the unbalanced tracklist is not the only problem of The Testament. I was also taken aback by the overall lack of variation across its nine songs, which seem to have all been cut from a similar cloth. This is particularly unsettling given that, conceptually, the album set out to explore a diverse range of human emotions, from joy to anger to despair. This diversity does not really come across in the music which instead seems to explore the same mood – halfway between upbeat hopefulness and plaintive yearning – throughout the album’s 53 minutes. The fairly limited dynamic range of many tracks and the strongly chorus-driven song structures add to the feeling of sameness, to the point that one may compare The Testament to one of those mono-ingredient foods that are only digestible if taken in small doses and at the right intervals.

Overall, The Testament leaves me with mixed feelings. It is undoubtedly a high-quality release by one of the best bands in the melodic prog metal genre. It is full of hooks and subtle, technical passages that will appeal to both casual and in-depth listening. It is slickly produced and contains a handful of great tunes that I have been humming to myself countless times in the past week. At the same time, the album does not quite match up with Seventh Wonder’s best output (Mercy Falls, The Great Escape) as it lacks the breadth, vision and variation of those records. It is also heavily front-loaded, with a second half that drags and veers dangerously close to the filler zone. On balance, despite its positive qualities, I doubt that The Testament will stand the test of time as one of Seventh Wonder’s landmark releases, but will instead go down in the history books as a pleasant, but average production by the Swedish combo.

[Originally written for The Metal Observer]

NARNIA Long Live the King

Album · 1999 · Power Metal
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After receiving encouraging feedback for their debut LP Awakening, guitarist CJ Grimmark and vocalist Christian Liljegren went back to the studio to record Narnia’s sophomore album. This time, however, the duo enlisted a fully-fledged line-up to realize their artistic vision, instead of relying on Grimmark to play all instruments by himself. Joining Grimmark and Liljegren on this album are bassist Jakob Persson, drummer Andreas Johansson and keyboard player Martin Claesson. The new line-up makes a huge difference in shaping Narnia’s music, as it confers a more powerful and well-rounded sound to the band that was missing on the debut album.

Long Live the King is otherwise cut from the same cloth as Awakening, finding inspiration in the neoclassical metal music of Rainbow and Malmsteen’s Rising Force and mixing influences from hard rock, power metal, and baroque music. The album is dominated by majestic mid-tempo songs that exalt Grimmark’s skilled but melodic playing and Liljegren’s trained tenor voice, one of the cleanest and most controlled one can find in this branch of metal. The guitar takes inevitably centre-stage as in much of neoclassical metal music, with lots of excellent hard rock riffs, melodic leads and solos. I particularly appreciate Grimmark’s playing here, as he never loses sight of melody when he constructs his solos and leads, in contrast to other neoclassical guitar heroes (including Malmsteen himself) who often seem to privilege fast and technical playing over anything else. The keyboards also feature prominently on this album to provide texture to the song with a wide range of sounds from harpsichord to organ to sampled choirs. This is a nice difference compared to the debut album, which highlights the importance of having included Martin Claesson in the line-up. The same goes for the inclusion of Persson and Johansson: having a real, flesh-and-blood rhythmic session instead of programmed drums makes a huge difference in the overall album’s sound.

The other main area of improvement compared to the debut record lies in the quality of the melodies. Awakening was a bit hit-and-miss when it came to providing memorable hooks that could transform a good song into a classic. In contrast, Long Live the King contains 3 or 4 tracks (“Living Water”, “Shelter Through the Pain”, the title-track) that are proper masterpieces, and the fact that such songs have been regularly included in the band’s live performances decades after their initial release is testament to that. More generally, it is hard to find weak songs in this album. Each one provides interesting moments, be it a catchy vocal hook, an exciting solo, or just a good riff. In addition to the tracks mentioned earlier, I am particularly fond of “Dangerous Game”, the only fast piece on the album that sounds like a cross between Malmsteen and Royal Hunt, and the closing track “Star Over Bethlehem”, a dark mammothian affair that finds inspiration in the doomy hard rock of Black Sabbath and Dio and provides a perfect conclusion to this epic but overall mellow and melancholic album.

If I were to nit-pick, I’d have to say that the album lacks a bit of variation across its 10 tracks. They all have the same structure (verse/prechorus/chorus/solo), explore similar moods and atmospheres (with the exception perhaps of the more upbeat “Dangerous Game”), and even rely on melodies that are constructed and delivered in a way that is not terribly different from song to song. While on the one hand this ensures that Long Live the King feels very cohesive as an album (something that Awakening was lacking), there is an inherent risk of having the listener lose interest and excitement as the clock ticks on. Fortunately, this risk is by and large avoided thanks to the excellent quality of the songwriting that ensures that things do remain interesting and exciting throughout, despite the nagging sense of sameness one may experience as the album progresses.

Overall, Long Live the King is probably the strongest album released by Narnia throughout their career. It is fuelled by excellent songs with memorable melodies, strong performances and a good production sound. It is the record I reach for whenever I feel in the mood for some Narnia and sits up there with the best albums in the neoclassical metal genre.

Latest Forum Topic Posts

  • Posted 7 months ago in MMA Best of Year 2021 Voting Thread
    Soen - ImperialDold Vorde Ens Navn - MørkereSubterranean Masquerade - Mountain FeverSwallow the Sun - MoonflowersMoonspell - Hermitage Cradle of Filth - Existence Is Futile Transatlantic - The Absolute Universe (The Breath of Life)Therion - LeviathanIron Maiden - SenjutsuSeven Spires - Gods of DebaucheryLeprous - AphelionAt the Gates - The Nightmare of BeingHanging Garden - Skeleton LakeCynic - Ascension CodesEastern High - Halo Motorpsycho - Kingdom of Oblivion Evergrey - Escape of the Phoenix Iotunn - Access All Worlds Vola - WitnessKhemmis - DeceiverGaahls Wyrd - The Humming MountainHelloween - Helloween lukretion2022-01-17 14:58:48
  • Posted 1 year ago in MMA Best of Year 2020 Voting Thread
    Pain of Salvation - PantherAyreon - TransitusEnslaved - UtgardConception - State of DeceptionGreen Carnation - Leaves of Yesteryear Haken - VirusKatatonia - City BurialsIhsahn - TelemarkCaligula’s Horse - Rise RadiantDismal - Quinta EssentiaOceans of Slumber - Oceans of SlumberDool – SummerlandPsychotic Waltz - The God-Shaped VoidPyramaze - EpitaphOsyron - FoundationsSólstafir - Endless Twilight Of Codependent LoveDark Tranquillity - MomentThe Ocean - Phanerozoic II: Mesozoic / CenozoicHail Spirit Noir - Eden in ReverseGrayceon - Mothers Weavers VulturesJudicator - Let There Be NothingAdmin edit: the following have been removed due in ineligibility. Ihsahn - Pharos (Non-Metal)Acacia - Resurrection (2019) adg2112882021-01-27 06:50:38

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lukretion wrote:
1 year ago
Thank you! :-)
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1 year ago
Welcome!
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1 year ago
Great review and nice to see a new reviewer here :-)

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