Haken – Restoration – Album Review


Artist: Haken

Album Title: Restoration

Label: Inside Out Music

Year Of Release: 2014

It has been an eventful year or so in the world of Haken. In September 2013, the sextet released what can only be described as a masterpiece of progressive music in the form of their third album, the magnificent ‘The Mountain’. This album received almost universal critical acclaim upon its release and even led to interest from the likes of Mike Portnoy (Flying Colors, Transatlantic) and Dream Theater’s Jordan Rudess. In the case of the former, it led to an invitation to play the inaugural ‘Progressive Nation At Sea’, but thanks to both ringing endorsements, the door to the American market has opened more widely of late. And if that wasn’t enough, Haken recently received no less than three nominations in the Progressive Music Awards, quite an achievement for a band so relatively young.

However, with the smooth, also comes the rough and almost immediately following the release of this ‘breakthrough’ album, bassist Tom MacLean announced his departure from Haken. An apparently amicable split, it was nevertheless a hurdle that had to be overcome at a point when the largest wave of the band’s career was about to be crested. An international audition invitation was extended and, following an extensive search, a young American by the name of Conner Green was assimilated into the Haken collective. Welcome sir!

Courtesy of Sevcan Yuksel Henshall

Courtesy of Sevcan Yuksel Henshall

In many ways, ‘Restoration’ a three-track EP is as much a bedding-in of their new colleague as it is an opportunity to maintain the momentum created by ‘The Mountain’ whilst a new full-length album is brought to life. That said, to consider ‘Restoration’ a stop-gap is disingenuous in the extreme. It may only contain three tracks, but when the three tracks last well over half an hour and sound this good, who cares?

The three compositions that make up this EP are very loosely based on tracks from the bands 2007/08 demo days, thoroughly re-envisioned, re-worked and re-produced in order to reflect the changing personnel and the experience gained since the demos were originally written. The result is, frankly, stunning.

Whilst it took me a good many spins and many hours of effort to get fully submerged into the world of ‘The Mountain’, the music on ‘Restoration’ is much more immediate to these ears. No less complex and challenging of course, but for some reason, the music has ‘clicked’ much more quickly here.

The EP opens up with ‘Darkest Light’, (Official video below) an energetic track that ably demonstrates the up-tempo and powerful side of Haken well. It’s an agile composition too that alters pace and timing signatures seemingly at will and pulls in influences from everyone from Dream Theater to Meshuggah. The latter is primarily due to the impressive combination of Ray Hearne’s powerful drumming, the chunky guitar tones courtesy of Charlie Griffiths and Richard Henshall and Green’s intricate bass work. Importantly however, the song is never derivative and contains everything you now expect from a band at the height of their powers. It’s a piece of music that oozes class but also offers that touch of playful cheekiness that has become synonymous with the Haken sound.

‘Earthlings’ is a completely different proposition entirely. For my money, its closest reference point would be ‘Deathless’ from ‘Visions’ in so far as it is a much more introspective track with real atmosphere and a quiet, brooding intensity that is utterly beguiling. The melodies are much more immediate, much more pronounced and the whole thing builds beautifully and stubbornly towards a fulfilling climax that pushes all the right buttons.

Courtesy of spiegelwelten.com

Courtesy of spiegelwelten.com

The undisputed star of the show however, is ‘Crystallised’. At over 19 minutes, it offers a return of the Haken ‘epic’, joining the likes of ‘Visions’ and ‘Celestial Elixir’ in an already formidable armoury. If anything, ‘Crystallised’ may be even better than the aforementioned, thereby easily taking its place among the very best that Haken has ever created.

First and foremost, the sheer ambition is staggering. The composition begins unassumingly enough but quickly reveals a more grandiose underbelly thanks to some lush orchestral arrangements. From then on, the gloves well and truly come off and Haken take us on a wondrous journey full of twists and turns, light and shade, lengthy and dextrous instrumental segments and gorgeous melodies that stay with you long after the music has ended.

There are echoes of those Gentle Giant influences and nods towards ‘Cockroach King’ et al in some of the a capella segments as well as hints of ‘Pareidolia’ at other times, thanks to that by now familiar delivery of vocalist Ross Jennings. Never once do the extended instrumental passages, led by the flamboyant keys of Diego Tejeida feel contrived or out of place; they are full of those classic progressive overindulgences, further reinforcing the importance of the likes of Yes, early Genesis and many others, but crucially, they fit in with the core of the composition and seamlessly segue from one to another perfectly.

And then, everything comes together in what I can only describe as a stunningly epic finale, the kind where the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end and you find yourself grinning from ear to ear, enveloped in a musical utopia. The melodies are so uplifting and gorgeous that, coupled with the grandiose return of the orchestral embellishments, mere words find it hard to adequately express just how good it makes you feel.

The bones of these songs may have been written many years ago in the band’s infancy. However, they have been brought back to life in the most brilliant way possible; taking everything that’s been good about the band in recent years and applying them to their early past to create something truly special. I only wish that ‘Restoration’ was six, seven or eight songs long. Mind you, if it were, I think I might have fainted from bliss before reaching the conclusion.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.5

Check out more reviews from the Blog Of Much Metal:

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

Distorted Harmony – Interview – “I hope that people will care more about the music than where we’re from”

Copyright: Ofir Abe

Copyright: Ofir Abe

I was so blown away by ‘Chain Reaction’, the sophomore release by Israel’s Distorted Harmony that I felt compelled to undertake an interview with the band to supplement the album review that was recently featured in Powerplay Magazine. The conversation that I undertook with keyboardist and founding member, Yoav Efron was a real pleasure and, thanks to some blunt honesty, rather illuminating.

“It first began when I was playing around with a few tunes back in 2006”, Yoav begins when I kick things off gently by asking for a bit of the history behind Distorted Harmony. “I thought about maybe making it into a project, but not a band at that point. After going through a bunch of musicians and friends, I met Yogev (Gabay – drums). We started working together and we even did a few demos in 2008-2009. That’s probably the main difference between “Utopia” and “Chain Reaction”. Most of the material was written in 2006-07 so when the band officially formed in 2010, most of the songs were already complete. So there was no input and no new material to be created to make it more album-ready. When we started working together as a band, it was for the recording of that music for ‘Utopia’.



“Since then”, Yoav continues, “the main focus has been the live show and improving our performances for live shows. When the time came to record new material, we held a band meeting and we began working on ‘Chain Reaction’. The whole thing was written in, I think, six months. Everyone had matured and our repertoire of music had grown in time, that’s why I think ‘Chain Reaction’ is very different and why I think it represents us a lot more right now. When I wrote the sketches for the songs, I left a lot of room for interpretation and for the band to give their input on the music.”

The result is a magnificent album that draws inspiration from a number of different sources but blends everything into an ambitious, yet cohesive and immensely enjoyable whole. You have to hear it to believe it, but trust me, hear it you must. Interestingly, despite the relatively short writing time, the process was very painstaking, as Yoav explains.

Chain Reaction

Chain Reaction

“I didn’t let the music flow because it was a very meticulous, specific, process. I wrote most of the material and I didn’t plan on any kind of concept because I don’t like concept albums. I just wrote about my notions of how I see the world, how I see humankind, how I see our history and what I wish we could change. It was hard but also quite easy to think of the topics that I wanted to write about. By the time I was done, I wanted to write more but I didn’t have enough songs!”

But, whilst the lyrics are important for Distorted Harmony, Yoav is adamant that the music will always remain top-dog.

“For me, the music always comes first; the musical arrangements always come first. The lyrics should have a point and a focus to them and should give you some kind of message. That’s why I like music so much because it is the greatest tool to spread ideologies and try to make changes. But no, the music itself is always the top priority.”
It seems only natural for us metal heads to try to pigeon-hole every band we hear into a neat, conformist box. Distorted Harmony is therefore best described loosely as progressive metal, thanks to intelligent compositions, clever time signatures and technical dexterity. When I put this to Yoav though, his response is interesting and ever-so slightly surprising.

“I don’t think that we’re that progressive anymore”, Yoav considers. “It has been a while since I have listened to prog metal I have to admit. I mostly listen to heavy metal, a little djent and we’ve all driven apart from progressive metal actually. You know, the Dream Theater and Symphony X style bands.”

“For instance some of the biggest influences for this album are Tool and Devin Townsend. But then again”, he qualifies, back-tracking slightly, “these are also kinds of progressive metal and this is the beauty of this genre because prog metal can be anything. The problem is that when most people hear the term ‘progressive metal’, they immediately think about Dream Theater and bands like that. So we’ve kind of grown apart from this definition of prog metal.”

“To be honest”, Yoav replies without hesitation when I ask why he has grown apart from traditional prog metal, “I can’t stand it anymore. I am bored by the general construction of that kind of music and after ten years, it was time to move on I think.”

One of the bigger influences to be heard on ‘Chain Reaction’ is that of the djent movement. I ask Yoav to enlighten me about this, something he is keen to do.

“We love periphery and TesseracT but, like just about every other metal fan, Yegev and I adore Meshuggah. We adore the playing, the sound of the riffs and we had to put it in to our music a little. But in general, I’m not sure we followed the general djent path, more the mathematical strutures of Meshuggah.”

As good as progressive and technical music can be, I must declare my love for a good old-fashioned melody as well. This is one area where Distorted Harmony seem to excel, lacing their challenging compositions with both memorable and delicate melodies, be they in the instrumentation or via Misha Soukhinin’s vocals.

“I don’t know if they are a direct influence”, Yoav initially struggles to respond clearly thinking hard, “but my favourite band is Muse. Therefore no doubt I am influenced by them – and Radiohead of course. But yes, for us, melody is important. But the other thing is that we have Misha as a vocalist. He is a great singer but he is not a growler. Sometimes I wish we had a growler because I love this. But growling is not very Distorted Harmony to be honest. That’s another difference between ‘Utopia’ and ‘Chain Reaction’ – because most of the music was written before the band was formed, the vocal range was harder for Misha. Now that I know Misha and his vocal range, it was much easier to write specifically for him; that’s why he sounds so much better on this new album.”

As previously mentioned, the musicianship is of a massively high standard. The band, rounded out by guitarist Guy Landau and bassist Iggy Cohen have an impressive relationship with their chosen instruments and it really shines through in the compositions on ‘Chain Reaction’. Naturally, as he explains, Yoav couldn’t be happier with the collective he has assembled.

“I am really grateful. It is not easy to find four guys to join a metal band. In Israel, metal is almost non-existent and progressive metal is the sideways of the sideways of mainstream music. So finding four amazing musicians to make Distorted Harmony our band, not my band, is wonderful. We are all dedicated and the other guys are amazing musicians with their instruments. I write the music but we all arrange it together and that was an amazing experience. It can be very frustrating sometimes and very hard to execute the polyrhythmic parts but at the end of the day, when we finished working on the arrangement of the songs, at least I felt that everybody filled the places that I left for them when I first wrote the sketches of the songs.”

dh band 2

Having referred to that elephant in the room, I feel it’s about time to confront it head-on. I therefore ask Yoav whether it is difficult being a metal band from Israel.

“It is nearly impossible”, he replied instantaneously. “But not entirely because when we did the ‘Chain Reaction’ album release concert, 250 fans came to see us. For Israeli standards, that’s a lot, particularly for a local progressive metal band.”

The Blog Of Much Metal is not a political blog in any shape or form, but given the way in which Israel is never far from the headlines, I have to ask Yoav whether the situation in the Middle East has an effect on the band.

“I’m very much afraid that this might be the case”, Yoav responds in an understandably subdued tone. “I am afraid that it might hurt us along the way. As a side note, if you listen to the lyrics, you can get a pretty good idea of my political or ideological notions.”

As it turns out though, the ideological notions of Yoav are not as simple as ‘we want peace’, although this forms the underlying bedrock to them.

“Yes, of course I want peace”, Yoav begins vehemently. “But I’m not that keen on both sides. It’s not like ‘I love you and I love you, so let’s get together and make peace’. It’s more like ‘you suck and you suck; stop this bullshit nonsense, this half-ideology, half religion. Stop it and just fucking live’. That’s a stupid Israeli way of saying this in English”, he laughs to lift the heavy mood. “Seriously, it’s actually much more complex than this and I have a lot more to say on this. But it’s my view, not the band’s necessarily, although a lot of the guys may agree with me.”

“My personal view is that there is no end to this conflict, it will never end and I can’t stand staying here where every year there are more parades of rockets on both sides. But I realised that pro-Israeli worldwide media portray it as a constant bombardment of rockets, that we’re living under stress and duress. No. In Tel Aviv there were a few sirens, which was annoying, but that’s it.”

“As a band”, Yoav continues as if a pressure release valve has been released, “we never really talked about it, but I think we’ve decided that we’re not going to get involved directly. We’re not going to give any statements or address any situation. At the release of the album, we had some responses, people asking for support or whatever. We replied ‘no thank you’. We’re not getting involved. We have our music; you can listen to the lyrics. You can hear very well that we don’t like violence.”

“That’s another topic”, Yoav chuckles when I ask him whether the band would every consider moving away from Israel. “It’s very hard because each member of the band has their own life, their own jobs. But just as an example Yegev has recently moved to the US, to study at Berkley. So, in the meantime, we will get a replacement here and Yegev will join us when we travel abroad. Given the chance, I would gladly move away and I think many of the band would too. Compared to many European countries, you make a less and it costs a lot more to live. It’s very hard to make a living and to exist here in Israel. Not to mention the fact that I hate Israeli weather. It’s always hot and I like the cold”, he laughs.

So, what of the future? Will Distorted Harmony continue? The response is very encouraging from Yoav and will no doubt please many, myself included.

“We have a plan for the future and we know what we are going to do. But the most important thing for Distorted Harmony is to get out of the country and perform outside of our comfort zone. We want to increase our fan base, create more content and to do more press. We’re doijg some of this already by recording all of our shows in Israel to be able to give people more content. Plus, in November, we’re off to the Netherlands to play three shows. We want to book a mini-tour to include Belgium and Germany as well, but this isn’t sorted yet. We’re talking with a few record labels in the US and Europe and we’re negotiating with a few companies regarding PR, booking and management. We hope to sign a contract on that very soon.”

And the final word of an entertaining chat, I leave to Yoav.

“People really like ‘Chain Reaction’ and so I’m toying with the idea of an off or mid-season EP and with it, actually book a tour, maybe around May 2015. I like to stay optimistic and so we shall see what happens. I try to stay positive and hope that people will care more about the music than where we’re from.”
Well said, Yoav.

‘Chain Reaction’ is out now: http://www.distortedharmony.com

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


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 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?