Heavy Metal is not just shouty music

I have just about had enough of people indiscriminately pre-judging and discarding heavy metal as ‘shouty’ or ‘just noise’. I admit that some of it is exactly both of these things and I love it. I mean, you’d have to be a brave person to argue that the noise subgenre is not noise. And you’d also be brave to claim that much of the black and death metal subgenres do not feature harsh, often indecipherable lyrics. But there is beauty and sophistication in both if you listen hard enough.

But to arbitrarily dismiss it all in this manner is just wrong. And I’m fed up with people’s uneducated prejudices. This may seem a bit harsh, vitriolic in fact. But when those that spout these opinions often do so without even having heard a note, I’d say that this was definitely an uneducated opinion.

Therefore, for those of you who are guilty of such comment, I am putting together a couple of blogs. One will look at the subtle beauty within some extreme metal. This post however, will focus on those vocalists that are most definitely not shouty.

Frankly, if this is your view of heavy metal, prepare to be proved wrong. Very wrong.

Here goes, with a whistle-stop selection of some of the very best male vocalists that heavy metal has to offer:

Tom Englund – Evergrey

Tom & I at Bang Your Head Festival 2007

Tom & I at Bang Your Head Festival 2007

Tom Englund possesses one of the best voices I have ever heard, let alone for a metal band. His delivery is unique and unmistakeable. It is powerful and raw when it needs to be, but it can also floor you with its sincerity, to the point where you believe every word and you feel every emotional note. The mark of a true great is when he improves everything with which he is involved – this is certainly true of Tom Englund.

Jonas Renkse – Katatonia

Jonas (right) and I, 2013

Jonas (right) and I, 2013

Katatonia’s Jonas Renkse began his music career as a drummer and it was with a certain amount of reluctance that he stepped up to the Mic. Thank the gods he did because the guy has become a world class vocalist. Completely original, fragile and vulnerable but with a caustic edge when required, it is the unmistakeable melodic nuances and phrasings which make his delivery so special and so ‘one-of-a-kind’.

Tommy Karevik – Seventh Wonder/Kamelot

Tommy second from the right), Seventh Wonder & I, Progpower Europe 2011

Tommy second from the right), Seventh Wonder & I, Progpower Europe 2011

Another singer who has everything, Tommy Karevik makes his performances for Kamelot and Seventh Wonder seem so effortless. Possessing the full range, Karevik is able to belt it out with power or switch to a more introspective, delicate delivery in a heartbeat. Some might suggest that he has a pop-like delivery and to some extent, that’s true because Tommy can turn even the most technical of prog metal into a memorable anthem with ease.

Silvio Massaro – Vanishing Point

I've not met Silvio yet, damnit!

I’ve not met Silvio yet, damnit!

I just love the tone to this guy’s voice. It is so rich, so warm and so powerful. When you have music behind you which is fast-paced and melodic, you need the right front-man. In Silvio Massaro, Vanishing Point are truly blessed; he can do no wrong in my eyes and you can hear the passion in every note.

Warrell Dane – Nevermore/Sanctuary

Warrel (right), Jeff Loomis and I, Bloodstock Open Air Festival 2007

Warrel (right), Jeff Loomis and I, Bloodstock Open Air Festival 2007

It’s not often you can include a thrash metal vocalist in a list like this. However, Warrell Dane simply cannot be ignored. Another of those unique talents, Dane’s vocal approach is unlike anyone else, going to places others fear to tread. He can snarl with the best of them but his choice of lead melodies, coupled with an ability to execute some genuine vocal gymnastics means that his performances are never dull and ever-engaging.

Russell Allen – Symphony X

Russell & I enjoying a candlelit chat for two, 2011

Russell & I enjoying a candlelit chat for two, 2011

The word I think of when I hear Russell Allen sing is, ‘monsterous’. Huge lungs and an impressive range means that Allen can do no wrong, be it snarling with rage and conviction alongside his Symphony X colleagues, or soaring effortlessly over catchy and melodic hard rock numbers in the Allen & Lande project.

Damian Wilson – Threshold

Damian & I, Fused Festival 2011

Damian & I, Fused Festival 2011

Wilson is one of those singers who gets better with age. I don’t mean that with disrespect, it is just that until a couple of years ago, I wouldn’t perhaps have considered him in this list. But based on the last two Threshold discs and the debut from Headspace, there is no doubt in my mind. Damian is note-perfect and manages to blend power with precision and then add in lashings of emotion when required. One of the most versatile singers in the business.

Atle Pettersen – Above Symmetry

Neither have I met Atle!

Neither have I met Atle!

Little has been heard of from the Above symmetry camp in recent years and one hopes that they were not a one hit wonder, although I fear the band has now disbanded. Regardless, anyone who can finish runner-up on the Norwegian X-Factor having auditioned with his own band’s prog metal material, cannot be bad. It’s the genuine gravel in his voice that I like about Pettersen, who’s also not afraid to hit the high notes whenever the mood takes him.

Two Years of the Blog Of Much Metal

1923741_9629451197_8928_n

It has now been two years since I began this heavy metal blog following intense pressure from some circles. What started as an exercise in quieting the mob has blossomed into a labour of love and something I am very passionate about. Over the two years, I have been able to write material based on music that is very personal to me and it has also allowed me to support subjects, bands and events that I believe are worth shouting about.

Writing for Powerplay magazine is great, but I’m constricted to writing what the Editor requires of me. With this blog, there are no such constraints. No word limits, no subject is off-limits and no deadlines loom over my head. However, it also means that with a small family and a full-time job to pay the bills, I’m not as prolific as I would like to be. Sure, I could regurgitate news from the Internet here or I could post links to other sites. But I think it is more important for me to write posts that are 100% unique and exclusive to this site. As such, if you want to read my rambling posts, you have to come to the Blog Of Much Metal. Simple as that.

I must be doing something right, too. The viewing figures are not going to worry the more established on-line presences but I’m proud of the fact that I have had over 62,000 hits from readers across 125 countries. It means that my 128 posts to date average over 480 views each. It’s not bad, but I want to do better and that’s part of my motivation to continue – to engage with more and more people and to therefore better support the bands in the world of rock and heavy metal that need that support.

In due course, I hope to redesign the blog and make it ever-more inviting. However, for the time being and until time allows, I thought I would offer a round-up of my posts over the past couple of years. An easy, one-stop-shop where the majority of my articles can be accessed should you be new to my blog or an existing visitor that may have missed an article or two here and there.

The Man Of Much Metal

I began the blog with a few articles to give readers an insight into me, personally. How I got into the world of heavy metal in the beginning and the journey that I took to get to where I am today. Following on from a brief intro piece, I split my music listening life into three, exploring my early years, the University years and the post-university years. AS far as live music goes, I offer a post about my gig-going experiences, linked to which is an article about my obsession with heavy metal t-shirts, particularly those with tour-dates on the back.

In something of a brave move, I admit to a few skeletons that lurk in my musical cupboard. Plus, I also commit myself to my Top 5 Albums of all-time as well as my favourite gig of all time. I also discuss my obsession with collecting CDs, the excitement I still feel leading up to an anticipated new release and I admit to a few bands that I should like, but don’t really ‘get’. We all have them, and these are mine.

The most personal of all of my posts deals with my late brother. He was the reason I got into writing about music in the first place and six years after his tragic passing at the age of 26, he still remains a big inspiration to me. Click here if you’d be interested in reading more.

On the subject of writing, I have also written a couple of posts on this topic, outlining how I got into amateur journalism in the first place via Powerplay, a ‘behind the scenes’ look at life as a writer, a look at some of the ‘heroes’ that I have met and interviewed over the years and also a discussion over the pro’s and con’s of this hobby.

Social commentary or ranting?

I have also indulged in a few ‘social commentary’-type articles, or perhaps they can be more accurately referred to as ranting posts. Within this section, you may wish to check out my thoughts on the decline of the independent record store, the increase of heavy metal attire within modern fashion trends, dealing with living in the middle of nowhere in terms of live music and my take on that most heavy metal of things, the album intros, outros and instrumental interludes.

If you’re feeling a little feisty, you may wish to check out my thoughts on album reissues, where the same disc is re-hashed time and time again. Or, how about a full-on rant at a rare few within the music industry?

On a lighter note, I have also written about those bands that support the headline act but which have impressed me to the point that I am now a fan of their music. It is quite rare these days, but it still happens. And, to finish this section off, I also comment on the fans of this wonderful genre of music, the ‘heavy metal family’.

Exposing the important stuff that needs exposure

One of the most rewarding parts of my blog has been with regard to giving exposure to bands that I personally love but that, for one reason or another, have not had the success that they deserve. Of course, success can be measured in a number of ways and I’m not suggesting that album sales are the only marker of a band’s popularity. But there are bands that toil away, release great albums full of wonderful music and yet fail to get the same level of recognition as others. If I can, via a blog post, increase the awareness of these artists just a little bit, then the effort is worthwhile.

Top of the pile here are two in-depth, detailed appraisals of two very special bands, namely Evergrey and Haken. If you want to know more about either, hear some of their music and wonder why they are favourites of mine, check them out!

In this section under the banner of my ‘Unknown & Underrated’ series, you can read in-depth overviews of some important bands to me including Omnium Gatherum, Shadow Gallery, Redemption, Wolverine, Darkwater, Subsignal and Agalloch.

In addition, there are some smaller articles looking at other bands, which can be accessed here, but may be expanded upon in the future. Featured bands include: Bal Sagoth, Darkane, Everon and Hecate Enthroned among many others.

Away from the band specific posts, I have also offered my thoughts on the best festivals that the UK has to offer as well as throwing the spotlight on my favourite festival of all, Progpower Europe.

Then there are the posts that I have recently embarked upon, which look at some of the countries that are worthy of much kudos for the quality of music that they manage to produce. Consequently, there’s a focus on Australia as well as a whole series around the Scandinavian countries. This is currently a work in progress, although the overall introduction is complete, as is my in-depth look at the magnificent country of Iceland.

Album reviews

More recently, I have begun to write a few reviews for albums that I am not asked to cover at Powerplay. Again, word limits are not an issue and so I find that I’m able to offer more detailed analyses on the music. A list of published reviews is as follows:

James LaBrie – Impermanent Resonance
Mercenary – Through Our Darkest Days
A.C.T. – Circus Pandemonium
Xerath – III
Big Big Train – English Electric (Part 1)
Thought Chamber – Psykerion
Marcus Jidell – Pictures From A Time Traveller
H.E.A.T – Tearing Down The Walls
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld

Plus, there’s also a live review of a brilliant Haken gig to enjoy too!

Interviews

Interviews are a relatively recent addition to the blog and, given the current size of this site, have occasionally been hard to come by. Nevertheless, not one to be deterred, I have hunted a few interviews out and have had the pleasure to chat with UK prog rockers Maschine and Jonas Renkse and Bruce Soord about their project, Wisdom Of Crowds.

Most recently however, I have also interviewed Evergrey in what has turned out to be one of the best pieces that I have ever put my name to. I’m very proud of this piece and if there’s only one link you click via this article, I suggest humbly that it’s this one!

The ‘best of’ lists

Over the past two years, I have been very fond of putting together lists. It appeals to my inner geek and also helps to recommend bands, albums and genres of music to people that may be unfamiliar to them.

The biggest and most comprehensive of these lists are my ‘end of year best of’ round-ups. So far, there’s my ‘Top 20 of 2012′ and my ‘Album Of The Year 2013′ top 20, both of which feature one band per post and count down from 20, offering an album review, artwork and sample tracks. Therefore, if you want to know which albums I considered to be the best over the past two years, check them out!

2013 also saw me commenting on a few of the best live albums released during the year.

And, finally, there are those series of posts that round up the best albums that failed to make my Top 20 lists, both from 2012 and 2013.

Putting this post together makes me realise just how much I’ve managed to cram in over the past couple of years. I hope that there’s something within all this that is of interest to you. Please feel free to comment or criticise too and, if you have a topic you’d like covered, shout. I can only say no! Thanks to you all for supporting this venture of mine & here’s to the next two years. Cheers!

Evergrey – Hymns For The Broken – Interview: “It Has Surpassed All Our Expectations”

The Electronic Press Kit for ‘Hymns For The Broken':

It is not often that I get personally invited by an artist to interview them for this little blog of mine. However, that was exactly the reality with which I was faced recently when I was contacted directly by none other than Mr Tom S Englund of Evergrey. Or, in my world, where Evergrey are the pinnacle of my musical enjoyment, a person I consider something of a hero but also a friend.

“Matt.. I’ll be in London for press next month.. so we should do an interview – right?”

Outwardly, my reply was “I think it would be rude not to wouldn’t it?”. Inwardly, I was jumping around like a mad thing.

Having organised the requisite day off work, I headed to central London from my back-end-of-nowhere home. Informed that I was first up on the day, I made sure that I was on time. So much so that I reached Russell Square just a little too early. Nevertheless, after a lazy few minutes sitting on a park bench with a coffee, I headed to the hotel whereupon I met up with Tom and bassist Johan Niemann. With warm greetings all round, and with the guys’ check-in sorted, we headed to the bar to chat about all things Evergrey and all things related to album number nine, the magnificent opus ‘Hymns For The Broken’.

The calm before the storm - sitting in Russell Square awaiting an audience with Tom & Johan of Evergrey

The calm before the storm – sitting in Russell Square awaiting an audience with Tom & Johan of Evergrey

Lounging in a couple of large leather sofas and with the much-needed real ale flowing, I begin the interview by asking how on Earth the band had considered going about breaking the news that Evergrey were no more. I hadn’t even known that it was a possibility and the fact that this option was the most likely outcome up until a few months ago really surprised me.

“There is no nice way of saying that this is it. You just have to say ‘this is it’, Tom chuckles with a lop-sided grin on his face. “But on the other hand, we basically played on the ‘Glorious Collision’ album until up to two weeks ago. It is fucking insane, being able to maintain our standards for so long. We maybe could have carried it on longer too, but it has to be fun though. And if it is not fun, you have to do something else, just like anyone else in any other job.”

Much criticism has come the way of Evergrey over the years for the apparent revolving door syndrome that has plagued them. Everybody has their own theory as to the reasons behind it, but a stoical Tom just admits that these things happen, explaining that sometimes, it is better for the band if members come and go. During the last year or so, both Hannes Van Dahl (drums) and Marcus Jidell (guitars) have headed for the exit, a factor that apparently triggered the potential folding of the band. However, out of adversity and when you least expect it, a near-disaster can turn into a blessing. That’s exactly what happened for Evergrey, as Marcus’ and Hannes’ departures effectively signalled the return of two familiar faces to the fold. Re-enter guitarist Henrik Danhage and drummer Jonas Ekdahl.

Before asking for the low-down on their return, I invite Tom to recount the reason for the departure of this duo back in 2010.

“It was actually Jari’s (Kainulainen, ex bassist) idea that we should tell the other guys to leave because they were not having fun anymore. We were staying in a five star hotel in Sao Paolo with pools, drinks and everything. They were not smiling and weren’t smiling at the shows either. That’s when we realised that they weren’t having fun anymore. Me, Rikard (Zander – keys) and Jari discussed it and Rikard said that it is not an obligation to be in Evergrey; if you’re not into it, you can leave. Jari was like ‘yeah, let’s kick them out’. We were frustrated with them not paying respect to Evergrey and so I called them when we got home and said that we needed to talk. I said that I think that it is best for you to leave so that we can stay friends because it is more important to stay friends than be musicians together. We valued that more.”

Evergrey-1 (1024x769)

Ironically, Jari departed around the same time as well and judging by his facial expression, the irony is not lost on Tom. But now, four years later, Henrik and Jonas have re-joined. As the guys explain though, it was not a quick or easy decision for any of them.

“We didn’t have a drummer or a guitar player”, Johan begins, “so Tom decided to call Henrik and Jonas to see if they are into it, to see if they have the time or were interested. And they were, so I was like ‘yaye!’ he exclaims throwing both thumbs up into the air.

“But that was just for those two shows”, Tom quickly clarifies. “First off, we didn’t have any such ideas at all ourselves. I didn’t even think it was in the pipeline for them because they’ve just finished their album (for DeathDestruction)

How did it come about?” he muses rhetorically for a moment as the detail briefly escapes him. “Actually, that’s right, I was working out with Jonas at the same gym and I was talking with him. I told him that we had this deal with AFM and I asked him if he was interested in being a session drummer for the album. He wasn’t jumping at the offer to be honest. So I called Henrik to see if he thought I should ask him again. But at that point, what I didn’t know was that Henrik and Jonas had already spoken about being back in Evergrey. To make a very long story much shorter, I asked Jonas again and he said he would think about it. He was worried that things would clash between us again and so were we to be honest. We were extremely careful to not get back into the same position that we were in before, to not have shit happen again. Things moved on very slowly and after serious consideration, I asked whether we should do this, for real. And if we do this, I was clear that we must be fantastic and do everything at 100%. I can’t believe that we are here today, because that’s exactly how I feel about everything.”

evergrey hftbIt’s not hard to see why to be perfectly honest. I consider ‘In Search Of Truth’ to be my favourite album of all time, but the Jacob Hansen-mixed ‘Hymns For The Broken’ pushes that record very close indeed and I was right to get excited about it’s release. This is an album that contains some of the very best material of the Swedes’ career, from full-on melodic metal anthems to sensitive, introspective ballads and everything in between, all wrapped up in Evergrey’s trademark cloak of rich, dark and moody atmospherics. One minute you’ll be banging your head furiously, the next you’ll be throwing your head back and singing at the top of your lungs. Put simply, ‘Hymns For The Broken’ is a masterpiece, a bona-fide classic in waiting that hits every button and raw nerve within me, every single time I listen.

“For me, personally”, Johan agrees with Tom’s previous statement, “I haven’t been in the band that long, but this feels much more positive than before. I was worried when Hannes and Marcus left, thinking that we’d have to find new members and ‘woah, that’ll be fun.’

“That would never have happened”, Tom interjects, tellingly.

“Yeah, and then this all happened and this record came out. I can’t believe it because it has surpassed all of our expectations.”

That’s quite a comment when you bear in mind how experienced Johan is in the metal world. To the band’s credit, the news of Jonas’ and Henrik’s return has been kept impressively quiet. Mind you, as Tom confirms, this was always the plan once the decision had been made.

“The fans didn’t even know two weeks back, when we did the last show. Our plan has always been to reveal them in the video (‘King Of Errors’). So we did this show and at the end, we thanked them for helping and wished them luck for the future. The reaction to the video has been amazing, people saying that they were lying on the floor crying.”


‘King Of Errors’

This excitement is not confined to the fans either. Chatting to Tom and Johan, it is clear that there’s a tangible magic back within the band, something that they can’t wait to reignite on stage with the new material.

“We have played together, yes”, Johan affirms. “But we’ve not played this material together yet. We played a lot before we recorded it of course, but we haven’t played one song with all of the members yet. When we rehearsed, someone was always missing. So it is still very new and exciting for us.”

“The nice thing”, Tom adds “is that ‘King Of Errors’, the first single, is quite a non-complex song to play, so we will be able to make that sound really cool and I can’t wait to play it live.”

“These songs, they aren’t that difficult to play”, Johan reveals, slightly surprisingly. “There are a couple of sections here and there that need focus but a lot of it is fairly straightforward, whatever that means in Evergrey terms. The emphasis will be on playing it greatly, not so much of the fancy twiddling about. It will sound really good when we get to play it live.”

For a band that has always had the ‘prog’ tag applied to it, I’m more than a little interested by these latter comments and it leads to an interesting discussion about how the band themselves view their music and the perennial issue of labelling and pigeon-holing bands into specific genres.

“I finally understood the other day what it is with genres”, Tom responds as if he has had an earth shattering epiphany. “It is necessary for us in order to comprehend a little about the music. I mean, I wouldn’t go into the fucking woods, pick a mushroom and eat it if someone hadn’t told me that it was, I don’t know, a classic Chanterelle. Or that it might kill you.” Cue laughter all round, mainly at the posh accent that Tom affects towards the end of his sentence.

“I never call us prog metal”, Tom continues vehemently as the levity subsides. “But I’m fine with people calling it whatever they want. Because as I said, I understand that it is necessary for people to get a grasp of what the music is. What do you call it?” he glances at Johan, who pauses, thinking “…shit?” Cue even more laughter.

“I don’t know, it is difficult”, Johan finally ventures, composing himself admirably. “I wouldn’t call Evergrey a prog metal band but those influences are there sometimes. In that case”, he reconsiders, “it is prog in the same way that Queensryche are prog. But not in the way Opeth, Dream Theater, Yes or Rush are prog.”

“Don’t get us wrong”, Tom is quick to add, “these are all bands that we listen to and appreciate highly. But every time we say something like this, it is taken as offence to these bands. It’s not it at all; we just don’t know really where we belong and I think that this has worked against us for all these years. But, to be honest, I would say that Evergrey could record anything and it would sound like Evergrey.”

I can’t leave this thread without raising the track, ‘The Grand Collapse’. For my tiny, non-musical brain, it contains a thunderous riff that messes with my head every time I hear it. It’s infectious and heavy-as-hell but ruins me every time I attempt to air guitar along with it. Surely, I ask the guys wide-eyed and naively, this is performed in an odd prog time signature? The answer I get is the verbal equivalent of a brutal slap-down.

“That riff is all Jonas. But it’s four by four”, Tom retorts, looking at me oddly before turning to Johan. “Isn’t it?” he asks.

“Yeah, it’s four-four”, agrees Johan immediately, before doubt creeps in. “Or is it?…”

At this point, both Tom and Johan are tapping their knees, singing the riff to themselves, hoping to save themselves from ignominy and embarrassment. Suddenly, but only briefly as it turns out, I feel a little less foolish.

“It is four-four, but it is the notes in between that fuck you”, Tom finally confirms. “But they fuck with me too”, he smiles warmly.

“That’s the thing, again”, Johan concludes, “it might sound complicated or tricky but if you break it down, it is pretty simple.”

In an vain effort to maintain my diminishing dignity, I swiftly move the conversation on. With a brand new line-up and a strong desire to give everything in the name of a new album, I delve into the song writing regime for ‘Hymns For The Broken’. What I find is a new approach for a band that, historically, has relied on Tom himself for the vast majority of the creative input. This time around, everyone was involved and the results speak for themselves.

“That has never been the case before. It is so evident that it has had an impact on the way that we look at this album and at each other. If we had been doing albums like this from the beginning we might have been bigger than Metallica. I’m serious because in the beginning, you’re younger and you don’t have the know-how about how to tackle people and comprehend situations as well as writing music in a more mature way.”

It turns out that upon his return, Jonas brought with him around twenty songs, all complete except for vocals. Given the guy wasn’t even in the band at the time he wrote the material, it’s a staggering body of work and arguably speaks volumes for his desire to re-join Evergrey. I cheekily ask Tom how many of the songs were not up to his exacting standards. The reply is emphatic.

“I think we could write a new album next week”, he asserts immediately. “We have that much material to work with. I couldn’t and didn’t say that any of it was bad at all. There were bits and pieces here and there that we weren’t super excited about and so we exchanged them with new parts.”

“It was the matter of finding the right songs to make a coherent record”, Johan also offers, further emphasising that the material was of a high standard. “We could have taken other songs and it would have been a good album but it had to flow a certain way.”

Evergrey-14 (1024x683)

At this point, I decide to turn our attention to the concept story behind ‘Hymns For The Broken’. Throughout their history, Evergrey seem to hit a home run whenever they release a concept album. It is no different here. What I wasn’t expecting however, was the revelation that Tom unleashes upon me. Very quietly, articulately and honestly, I am informed that he suffered from exhaustion depression, beginning on the very day that ‘Glorious Collision’ was released. Having personally battled with depression and known others in my family similarly affected, Tom’s words affect me deeply, more so because I am the first person outside of the band and his close circle of family and friends to be told this.

“It went so far that I ended up in the corner of my sofa and that was the only place that I felt safe. Every time the phone rang, I almost had a heart attack. It was the same when I had to open my computer and look at my emails where people wanted something from me. Then there are other more personal matters that I won’t go into. This is super-personal of course, but there are other things that I won’t go into. It led me to start questioning who I am. What is it that I want to do? Is this who I really am? Am I a musician? Is this really my life? What’s going on inside? Why am I feeling like this? Why am I doubting myself when I am on top of the world? Why can’t I feel appreciation for what I have accomplished? Why can’t I just be content with being whatever, wherever, whenever? That’s what ‘King Of Errors’ is all about, portraying yourself as a majestic King when maybe you’re not underneath.”

“And I guess that’s maybe why it hit 2000 times harder, because I hid it from them. My wife didn’t know. I’m considered a confident, strong, high-performing person and all of a sudden, I am not. I was this shell. I sing about this in Archaic Rage. I was this shell not wanting to do anything. Not to sleep, not to breathe, not to feel hope, nothing. It’s not important anymore. The only thing that was important was that I could pay my bills and that I could be in one room at home. As long as I had Carina and Serena with me, I didn’t care about anything else in the world. The analogy in the concept of the battlefields and the war, it is here. The barricades that I had to tear down are in here” points to head.

The strength and courage that Tom demonstrates is a credit to him and I feel an even greater respect for the guy than ever before. I joined Evergrey for a couple of days during their ‘Glorious Collision’ European tour and didn’t have the faintest idea how much Tom was suffering internally. As it turns out, neither did his bandmates at that time, as Johan admits simply.

“He hid it very well and I never knew. It was just ‘good old Tom’ as far as I was concerned.”

“I had to deal with the rise and fall, the constant battle of being confident and insecure; one second you feel like the king of the world, the next you’re drowning in the river like in the video.”

“I have only told you so far and I only decided just now to tell you. We did a Metal Hammer show before this and I wasn’t even sure at that point what I was actually going to say, if asked. I can put it in fancy words but I don’t think it would help me or anyone else. It is just a problem with having psychological problems that nobody talks about. I think we all have them. I think I will be comfortable talking about the concept and my answer will depend on the questions I am asked. This story is also coloured by everything around me; Johan’s life, Henrik’s life, Rikards like and Jonas’s life. I don’t want to paint a picture that nobody can change or alter. However, if you want to know exactly what the album is about, I will tell you exactly what it is about. But if you want to know what the concept is more roughly, I can summarise it quite easily too without answering like I have done with you.”

Happily however, this topic ends on a positive note, once again demonstrating the admirable strength of Tom’s character.

“I’m in a good way now”, he smiles broadly. “I think it will be a lifelong…I don’t want to say fight because I’m not fighting it. But I am overly cautious now and I know the signs. I have told everyone around me what I need help with.”

Any other topic of conversation feels just a little redundant after such a revelation. However, I cannot end our interview without enquiring about the future for Evergrey. Is there one? If so, what do Johan and Tom foresee?

“We’re not expecting anything”, is the initially blunt reply from Tom.” At least, I’m not expecting anything. I am super happy for each and happy comment on Facebook that compliments us for a great song or anything. I have been in this business for too long to think anything else. However, we have discussed things and we want to be prepared in case this goes close to the roof, even if it doesn’t quite go through the roof. Whatever happens, I have realised through this album something that I’ve never truly understood – what Evergrey means to people, for real. That’s cool and that’s what I’m proud of.”

evergrey 2014 me

Xerath – III – Album Review

Xerath cover big

Artist: Xerath

Album Title: III

Label: Candlelight Records

Year of Release: 2014

UK extreme metallers Xerath return with their third album, ‘III’ and in keeping with ‘I’ and ‘II’ before it, have not wasted any precious time in thinking of a new approach to album titles. Simply titled it may be but instead, once again, the talented quartet have expended every ounce of effort on the compositions themselves, thereby taking the listener on another ambitious and enormously gratifying voyage into the world of heavy and technical cinematic modern extreme metal. Indeed the band, comprised of new boy Conor McGouran (guitars) alongside long-term members Michael Pitman (drums), Richard Thomson (vocals) and Christopher Clark (bass) should be very proud of their accomplishments here. Why exactly? Read on.

Xerath Promo 2013

The album opens up with the seven-minute ‘I Hold Dominion’, a track that sets the tone for what is to follow beautifully. The first minute is pure blockbuster film score territory where the symphonic influences take the lead. You can tell the track is building to something though and so it proves as a gargantuan riff joins the party, leaving you in no doubt about Xerath’s extreme metal tendencies. From then on, complex polyrhythmic riffs twist and turn, the rhythm section pounds with relentless precision and occasional guitar solos add their own breezy embellishments. Thomson’s vocals sit atop the music, alternating between a growled bark and a soaring clean delivery. The latter adds to the not-inconsiderable melodic aspect of the composition and compliments wonderfully the ever-present orchestration that sits at the heart of Xerath’s music.

Follow-up track ‘2053’ is more of a straight-up extreme metal track, if such a thing can be said about a Xerath composition. The symphonic elements still dominate but are complimented by furious double-pedal drumming and savagely incisive riffs that, thanks to the chosen tones and the precision with which they are executed, are a joy to behold. ‘I Hunt For The Weak’ on the other hand has, at its heart, a fantastic chorus which is genuinely anthemic and, thanks to the return of Thomson’s clean vocals, adds a brilliantly epic quality to the track.

I may have picked on the first three songs up until now, but rest assured the quality exhibited by these tracks is replicated time and time again throughout ‘III’. What I particularly like about this album is the way in which every different idea has been incorporated into the music in such a seamless and smooth fashion. The orchestral aspect for example which includes a live string quartet does not feel clunky, nor does it come across as if it has been bolted on to some death metal tracks as an afterthought. Instead, the classical element is the lifeblood of the music, the ingredient that is integral and without which, the music wouldn’t live and breathe.

Speaking of death metal, this is something of a disingenuous simplification on my part. Death metal may be the biggest influence at play, but there are also elements of thrash, black, prog and modern tech metal to be heard if you are prepared to listen carefully enough and give ‘III’ the time and attention that it deserves. Again, nothing feels out of place and the ability to segue from one apparently disparate idea to another so fluently is very impressive indeed.

One criticism that can be levelled of music of this nature is that it can get a little much after a while and can lose the attention of the listener. This is especially true when an album consists of 14 tracks and lasts for well over an hour. And whilst I’d argue, albeit tamely, that this album wouldn’t suffer unduly from a slight trim here and there, the sheer amount of music on offer here is not a problem. The consistent quality of both the songwriting and the execution, coupled with the willingness to experiment with different ideas, textures and aural landscapes means that the listener is held rapt from start to finish. Each listen yields something new and the sheer grandiosity of the whole thing cannot fail but to excite even the most jaded and cynical of music lovers.

Honestly, the scale of the whole album is just mind blowing, delighting and pulverising at each and every turn. Several bands over the years have attempted something similar but if it was ever in any doubt, ‘III’ simply blows away any thought that there is a band out there that can do this better right now. Xerath are at the top of their game and if there’s any justice in this world, ‘III’ can only cement their place amongst the extreme metal elite.

The Score of Much Metal: 9

Essential Metal Releases Still To Come In 2014 – Part 3

As with many of my blog posts, I hadn’t intended on adding a third part to my series of posts looking at those albums still to come in the latter half of 2014 that I’m really looking forward to. However, with a few announcements and confirmations in the past couple of weeks, I again felt compelled to add a few more albums to the already-impressive list.

If you missed parts 1 & 2, they can be read here:

Essential Metal Releases Still To Come in 2014 – Part 1
Essential Metal Releases Still To Come in 2014 – Part 2

This third installment contains a wide variety of music within the rock and metal genres, so hopefully there’s something of interest again here. In no particular order, here goes:

Knight Area – Hyperdrive

Knight_Area_-_Hyperdrive_450x450Dutch rockers Knight Area are simply one of the best bands within the modern neo-progressive rock scene. Every album that they release is of the highest quality and offers everything you could want in a band of this genre. The music is certainly grandiose in the manner of many of their predecessors, the keyboards dominate as they should and the guitar work is satisfying, containing plenty of interesting riffs and glorious melodic solos. And yet, Knight Area are also keen to avoid sounding overly pretentious, instead favouring strong compositions full of powerful melodic intent over self-indulgence. The result on the band’s last album, ‘Nine Paths’ was fantastic and I’m expecting nothing less from the forthcoming ‘Hyperdrive’

Scar Symmetry – The Singularity (Phase I – Neohumanity)

ssI have loved Scar Symmetry ever since they burst onto the scene in the early Noughties with ‘Symmetric In Design’, an album that simply blew me away. Their blend of brutality, razor-sharp precision, groove, hook-laden choruses and the clean/gruff dual vocal approach instantly hit the mark and, for me, they quickly became one of the most exciting melodic death metal bands to come out of Sweden in many years. Well over a decade later and, albeit with a few line-up changes since then, we’re about to be offered album number six. As the name suggests, it is the first album within a trilogy, an intriguing concept and one that just makes me even more curious and excited to hear it.

Freak Kitchen – Cooking With Pagans

fkHow do you sum up Freak Kitchen in a few short words? It’s a challenge, but I’d say ‘quirky, progressive, fun and very catchy’. The Swedish trio of Mattias IA Eklundh, Bjorn Fryklund and Christer Ortefors are not your usual band but it’s exactly for this reason that they remain a well-loved cult band. The music is referred to as prog rock, art-rock and experimental rock but with Freak Kitchen, genres don’t mean much as they are truly unique. The core of the band’s music is technical and challenging but they manage to almost disguise the complexity by keeping the songs on the shorter side and lacing them with a surprisingly heavy and groovy guitar tone, huge melodies and humorous lyrics that often have me laughing or singing loudly as if I’m listening to a stadium rock band. A very impressive feat, one that very few could pull off with such stunning results. It’s been five years since the last album so I’m ready for this.

Flying Colors – Second Nature

flyingcolorssecondnaturecd-500x500In spite of the fact that their name is spelt incorrectly (, I am still greatly looking forward to a new release from the ‘supergroup’ that goes by the name of Flying Colors. Comprised of Neal Morse, Mike Portnoy, Steve Morse, Casey McPherson and Dave LaRue, the quintet offer the listening public a blend of progressive rock and pop music. Naturally, when musicians of this calibre are involved, you tend to expect music of the highest calibre and that’s exactly what you get. The self-titled debut album is a delight of beautifully-crafted organic-sounding progressive rock with huge hooks, giant choruses and a care-free, breezy attitude. As such, I cannot be the only one looking forward to the follow-up?

Australia – A New Powerhouse For Heavy Music?

I hadn’t planned on writing this post but all of a sudden, I felt compelled to do so. In recent months, I have been completely blown away by the quality of music being produced by some Australian artists and I wanted to bring this to people’s attention more.

As a brief aside from an English perspective, we have an interesting relationship with our Antipodean cousins. When it comes to sport, we love to ‘hate’ each other, sworn enemies on whatever pitch or court we find ourselves on. There are also those on both sides that would welcome an Australian split from the Commonwealth. But (and it’s a big but), I firmly believe that there’s great affection between us. How else could you explain the large numbers of Brits that emigrate ‘down under’ (apart from the weather of course) and the large number of Australians that have found themselves here in Blighty, many of whom have stayed and never left? Moreover, I have had the pleasure of meeting and speaking with many Aussies and almost to a person, the experience has been extremely positive.

And for those of you wondering, I’m not for one second suggesting that Australia has always been a wilderness of heavy metal. I’m aware that several very notable bands have surfaced over the years and achieved varying levels of success. AC/DC are clearly high on the list, but over the years, the list includes the likes of Airbourne, Psycroptic and Sadistik Exekution and many more, all very worthy in their own right. It is just that in recent months, every Australian release that I have spent time with has been good enough to make me consider rewarding it with full marks upon review. In my world, Australia is now a by-word for damn great heavy music.

By now, I’m sure you’re asking me to cut the waffle and get down to business. Well, in no particular order, here goes:

Vanishing Point – ‘Distant Is The Sun’

Vanishing-Point_Distant-is-the-SunAs previous blogs have explored, my love affair with Vanishing Point stretches back nearly a decade and a half. And their brand new album ‘Distant Is The Sun’, is the best this quintet have sounded since 2000’s ‘Tangled In Dream’ and has really impressed me. To the point that the band have regained their mantle as my ‘go-to’ band when I want to listen to melodic heavy metal.

There is still an element of prog about the compositions on what is arguably Vanishing Point’s most consistent body of work since the turn of the millennium. There’s the odd interesting time signature or quirky riff but it’s not overdone and it doesn’t ever rob the music of it’s immediacy. And whilst ‘Distant Is The Sun’ is immediate thanks to some cracking huge choruses and memorable hooks, it is a heavier, darker affair with a true metal vibe that permeates through the huge riffs and the overall tempo of the music. This is melodic metal with proper bite.

Voyager – ‘V’

voyager‘V’ is rapidly turning into one of my favourite discs of 2014. I cannot for the life of me remove it from my playlists at the moment. The album is too damn catchy, too much fun and too well produced not to be a massive hit with me and so it has proved.

Those familiar with my blog will be sick of hearing it, but in terms of production, heavy metal doesn’t get much better – ‘V’ sounds fantastic thanks to a wonderful clarity of sound that is married nicely with enough punch to give the metal element real strength.

From a musical standpoint, the compositions are a really addictive blend of quirky, progressive metal and 80s pop. Vocalist Daniel Estrin has a tone that really invites the 80s references and does divide opinion somewhat. Personally, I love his delivery and find that his singing really compliments both the heavy riffing of the verses as well as those garagantuan choruses. If you want music that’s going to make you grin from ear to ear, this is the album for you.

Aeon Of Horus – Existence

AEONOFHORUS_EXISTENCE_COVERAs I stated previously, Aeon Of Horus play the kind of extreme metal that I want to listen to. On the one hand, you’re handed an aural beating at the hands of a relentlessly uncompromising rhythm section, savage riffs and vocals that sound like they have been ripped straight out of hell. On the other, there’s a sensitive and nicely understated use of melody that helps to break up the brutality and offer something to entice listeners in for repeated spins. There’s even an occasional foray into more atmospheric, ambient territory which juxtaposes the extremity really nicely indeed.

And, if that wasn’t enough, the whole thing is held together by an impressive level of technicality that, in the hands of those less well-skilled and dextrous, would end up sounding messy to say the least. Not so here, as every passage of music is crisp, clear and surgically precise. Put simply, this is a killer extreme metal record.

Karnivool – Asymmetry

20130715-0240-0-asymmetryThis album was one big surprise for me when it was released. I have it’s predecessor in my collection and I enjoy listening to it from time to time. However, Karnivool threw a bit of a curveball with ‘Asymmetry. And after an initial period of disorientation, I cannot tell you what a great curveball it has turned out to be.

The reliance on the band’s highly talented rhythm section remains on ‘Asymmetry’ and, if anything, it has been enhanced even further. This time around, there’s a demonstrable Tool vibe to much of the material in terms of the way that Karnivool seem to enjoy toying with the listener. Tracks build to the point where they threaten to open up into a giant crescendo or spiral out of control. But, at the last minute, the brakes are applied and the explosion never happens. And yet, for all the teasing and overt technicality, the compositions remain compelling and rewarding.

‘Asymmetry’ is a dark beast, full of emotion and ominous intent. Yet, it is also one hell of a groovy collection of songs and thanks to some subtle melodic sensibilities, the more you listen, the more you find yourself immersed in the music and drawn in for repeated listens.

Caligula’s Horse – The Tide, The Thief & Rivers End

caligulas-horseIf progressive music is your thing, then prepare to be very impressed with Caligula’s Horse. This album contains just about everything that I love about what I’d refer to as ‘proper’ progressive metal. On a first listen, the sheer amount of music on offer can be daunting but that’s part of the charm to be perfectly honest. Give it time though, and the fruits of your labours begin to grow.

The music may be technical, varied and quirky on occasion, but there’s no denying the honesty and warmth that accompanies the apparent complexity. Hints of classic rock and more straight-edged metal elements lurk close to the surface, to the extent that the more familiar you become with the music, the simpler and more memorable it becomes. The melodies are strong, the compositions don’t feel overworked and the entire album works as a cohesive whole. Without question, this is one of the best prog albums that 2014 has delivered.

Ne Obliviscaris – Portal Of I

NE OBLIVISCARIS - [2012] Portal Of IThis is the oldest of the albums here having been released in 2012. However, it is so good that I had to fit it into this blog post.

The first word that springs to mind when I listen to this album is ‘epic’. What Ne Obliviscaris have created is something so huge, you can’t help but get completely swept up in it. The band’s output is rooted in death metal at the more melodic end of the spectrum but they add elements of black metal, progressive technicality, a sprinkling of more modern ‘core and djent and then somehow manage to incorporate a lone violin to top it all off, thereby providing an almost folk feel to passages within the compositions.

If I could sum up this massive album in just a few words, I would say ‘epic and atmospheric; a tour de force of beautiful extreme metal’.