Arcade Messiah – Arcade Messiah – Album Review

arcade messiah

Artist: Arcade Messiah

Album Title: Arcade Messiah

Label: Stereohead Records

Year of Release: 2014

Instrumental metal is not generally a subgenre of music that I particularly enjoy. I find that, more often than not, the music tends to be lacking a vital ingredient, one which renders the output rather one-dimensional and, well, boring. Of course there are exceptions to every rule and last year, Marcus Jidell (ex-Evergrey) showed us just how it could be done. Fast forward to the present and here we have the latest instrumental album to try to convince me that the exception could actually become the rule.

And, whilst I’m not for one minute suggesting that the worm has turned entirely or that I’m a converted fan of instrumental rock/metal, it is a bit like London buses – you wait years for a decent instrumental album to be released and then two come along in successive years.

Arcade Messiah is the name given to the latest project masterminded by the prolific John Bassett. Best known for his work under the KingBathmat moniker, 2014 has instead been the preserve of other musical creations. Earlier in the year we were treated to a solo John Bassett album (‘Unearth’) where the focus was on acoustic guitars and emotive vocals. With Arcade Messiah, the approach is markedly different.

The focus for Bassett with this project is on something entirely darker, heavier and, in many ways, more challenging. And I must say that, for my tastes, this is a very good thing indeed. In fact, if your personal penchant is for big riffs, lots of big riffs, this self-titled album will be right up your street too.

Comprised of seven tracks, ‘Arcade Messiah’ doesn’t try to overdo the content at all, leaving the listener sated but not exhausted, meaning that repeated listens are encouraged. That said, aside from the shorter, quieter and rather haunting ‘Aftermath’, this album is a dense, multi-layered and subtly progressive heavy metal album with plenty to keep you fully entertained.

John bassett

The album kicks off with the title track which can be best described as an up-tempo slap in the face of a metal track. The central riff is instantly memorable, supported by some powerful drumming and great rhythm section in general. There’s a hint of doom/stoner to the tone of the six-string instrument but it is definitely not a doom metal track. The melodic refrains and introspective passages help to create atmosphere and an intensity that pulls in influences from classic metal, prog and post rock.

It’s a great start to the record but crucially, the quality doesn’t diminish during the remainder of the album. Heck, the opener isn’t even my favourite track on the album. This accolade is reserved for the fantastic ‘Your Best Line of Defence is Obscurity’ (link below), which builds from quiet and humble beginnings into a wonderfully uplifting, almost euphoric piece of music. The post-metal influences are right at the forefront of the composition but it’s again the strong riff and the guitar harmonies that strike a chord with me, if you’ll be good enough to pardon the pun.

John Bassett Promo 4

Elsewhere, ‘Traumascope’ follows a similar pattern in that it builds stubbornly throughout its length, culminating in a big conclusion that hints at the likes Mastodon at various points. ‘Everybody Eating Everyone Else’ is altogether more antagonistic and confrontational but given time weaves its progressive magic amidst an apparent tumult of sound. ‘The Most Popular Form of Escape’ reintroduces the aforementioned stoner and doom references to nice effect whilst ‘Roman Resolution’ offers a fittingly epic and majestic conclusion to the album, once again dominated by an instantly memorable lead melody that sticks in the mind long after the track has ended. Not for the first time during the album I’m gently reminded of artists like Devin Townsend and a slightly calmer Isis both of which are strong positives for yours truly.

Overall, I’m very impressed with this release. Given my normal misgivings with instrumental ventures, the highest praise I can give Mr Bassett and Arcade Messiah is to say that the strength of the music means that I don’t find myself bemoaning the lack of vocals at any stage. Without doubt, ‘Arcade Messiah’ is the strongest instrumental metal record of the year.

The Score of Much Metal: 8.0

Check out my other album reviews here:

Triosphere – The Heart Of The Matter
Neonfly – Strangers In Paradise
Knight Area – Hyperdrive
Haken – Restoration
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

Triosphere – The Heart Of The Matter – Album Review

triosphere cover

Artist: Triosphere

Album Title: The Heart Of The Matter

Label: AFM Records

Year of Release: 2014

Isn’t it nice to discover new bands? Blimey, that’s what I enjoy most, what I do the most and why this blog exists in the first place. What’s particularly nice about my latest discovery, Triosphere, is the way in which my discovery has happened so quickly and the amount that I like this band. I wasn’t expecting such a high quality band to emerge from my latest search but it’s a pleasant surprise nonetheless.

Norwegian quartet Triosphere have released two albums to date (‘Onwards’ (2006) and ‘A Road Less Travelled’ (2010)) and yet, had it not been for a few acquaintances on social media professing a ‘like’ for them, I’d probably not have thought about trying them out. In fact, despite plowing a personal favourite melodic power metal furrow with hints of prog and hard rock, I may never have even heard of them in the first place. Shame on me.

But it’s all water under the bridge now I’m sure and here I am, reviewing album number three, ‘The Heart Of The Matter’. And a happy and enjoyable exploit it is too.

Hailing from Trondheim in the very heart of Norway, Triosphere are comprised of vocalist/bassist Ida Haukland, guitarists Marius Silver Bergesen and Tor Ole Byberg as well as drummer Orjan Jorgensen (who has since been replaced by Kenneth Tarneby)

TR_THOTM-P03

What I particularly like about this album is the way that the music is catchy and memorable without ever veering into cheese territory or sounding derivative. The choruses are strong without being too overly saccharine and the vast majority of the compositions tend to grow on the listener rather subtly. That said, tracks like the opener ‘My Fortress’ or the fast-paced galloping power metal work-out ‘As I Call’ are instant hits of gratification and are immediate favourites. The latter features one of the strongest choruses on the entire disc, battling with the likes of ‘The Sphere’ for that particular honour.

However, others, like the more multi-layered and altogether more intense ‘Departure’ or ‘Breathless’ with it’s really interesting and unexpected soft bluesy guitar lead, take their time to deliver the goods, creeping up on you by stealth. I personally really like it when this happens because it’s a sign that the album won’t just deliver a big bang that will fade quickly; I’m confident that here we have an album that will provide longevity for the listener and will keep on giving way beyond its initial release. In fact, the more I listen the more I like it.

Fundamentally though, throughout this album there are some very welcome constants that, thanks to their stubborn presence really enhance this album, transforming it from being a good disc into a great disc. The guitar riffs are satisfyingly heavy, suitably urgent and edgy and deliver more than enough by way of chops and moments of strong headbanging material. The rhythm section is one of the strongest within the melodic metal genre too. Never overstated, the drums and bass refuse to miss a beat and provide a very solid foundation upon which the rest of the music sits proudly. Then there are the vocals courtesy of Ida Haukland. Reminiscent of Krissie Kirby from Triaxis or occasionally even Doro in terms of her timbre,delivery and no-nonsense attitude, Ida has an impressive set of lungs and belts out the lyrics with confidence and conviction. Haukland’s vocals are also a big and relatively unique selling point for those who are searching for something just a little bit different.

Photo courtesy of Charlotte Stole

Photo courtesy of Charlotte Stole

To add the icing on the cake, the production is very strong and the artwork is particularly striking. Whilst the music itself will always, naturally, be the most fundamental and important ingredient, really striking artwork demonstrates attention to detail and a sense of pride in the final product. And, if you’re anything like me, it will often sway you into giving a band a chance ahead of another who may not have made the same effort.

Overall, I would have to say that this is one of the best pure melodic metal albums released this year. The fact that Triosphere are also a brand new discovery for me, makes it all the more exciting and gratifying to be able to say this. Bravo Triosphere, but now that I’ve finally discovered you, let’s not make it another four years before your next album eh?!

The Score Of Much Metal: 8.0

If you’ve enjoyed this review, please feel free to check out my other album reviews here:

Neonfly – Strangers In Paradise
Knight Area – Hyperdrive
Haken – Restoration
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

Heavy Metal is Not Just ‘Noise’

A while back, I wrote a blog post entitled ‘heavy metal is not just shouty music’ wherein I discussed the fact that metal vocalists don’t just growl, shout and swear. This was underlined by focusing on a handful of vocalists within the genre who can really sing. And when I say that they can sing, I really mean it. Don’t believe me? Check out my post here and tell me I’m wrong.

Today, I try to confront that other annoying and completely inaccurate dismissive phrase that hear all too often: ‘heavy metal is just noise’. As I admit in my previous post, there are many bands and a whole subgenre dedicated specifically to creating noise. But this doesn’t mean that all heavy metal can be discarded as such. Far from it. And whilst it’s not the most original of topics, this is the post, via several bands and songs that I love, where I try to prove exactly why that is.

To begin gently, lets take a look at the melodic metal subgenre as a whole. If ever there was a section of the metal community that disproves the ‘noise’ argument, it’s this. With a focus on melody and big memorable choruses, melodic metal can really scratch that itch for something more accessible and, if I can say it, good solid fun. That’s not to say that the music can’t be heavy; indeed there is still plenty of bite and crunch within the compositions, setting it apart from it’s more mainstream cousin, the melodic rock scene.

A few of my personal favourites and good examples include Vanishing Point and Serenity. Vanishing Point have been a favourite since the turn of the millennium and feature one of my favourite vocalists in metal, Silvio Massaro. They also know how to blend melody with proper heaviness, creating a wonderfully rewarding sonic experience.

serenity warThe latter, Serenity, are another brilliant example of the sub genre, juxtaposing memorable songwriting with anthemic choruses and an over-the-top grandiose bombast that is a pure joy to listen to. Their dual male/female vocal approach is just the icing on the cake.

Black metal is another subgenre that’s often dismissed as an evil noise. The truth of this statement however depends upon your viewpoint and attitude towards this style of music. There are those who subscribe to the view that black metal only refers to those bands that shun modern production and anything resembling accessibility, instead favouring lo-fi productions and a rawness that can be a little hard to get into. It’s all about the ‘feel’ of the record and an authentically malignant sound rather than anything else. This, I grant you, can be rather impenetrable and it’s not always to my personal taste either.

However, there’s another school of thought within black metal circles. It doesn’t shun modernity, grandiosity and big production values. Sure, the music is still heavy as hell and not for everyone. But, if you give it time and listen properly, theres more to the music than a noisy mess.

cof duskTo illustrate the point, take this track for example. It is by Cradle Of Filth and was the very first track to get me into the realm of extreme metal in the first place. I’d heard and liked other songs by the band but ‘Funeral In Carpathia’ represented that eureka moment where my whole body became covered in goosebumps. The opening is brutal, fast and relentless, topped off by some of the most extreme vocals imaginable. But listen more carefully. There’s a subtle beauty to the keyboards that softens the music ever so slightly and gives it a more majestic feel than might be apparent on a first, cursory listen. Then there’s the mid-track melodic breakdown. It is stunning, beautiful, elegant and very memorable. It was this section of the song that drew me in for repeated listens and the more I listened, the better the entire song became.

For all its evil and savage intent, the genre of black metal is littered with other similar examples. Naturally, Dimmu Borgir provide many, as do the sadly defunct Dissection for another good example. Check out these samples to see what I mean.

And now onto the genre and band that was the catalyst for this whole post: death metal and more specifically, Nile. My partner has pretty broad tastes and enjoys some metal. ‘But Nile is just noise’ she said to me one afternoon. I’m sorry, say what?!

I will accede to the argument that this US death metal band is something of an acquired taste. It is brutal, intense and extreme of course. But if you’re prepared to listen, I’m willing to bet you’ll admit to being wrong about the ‘noise’ comment. But first, let me ease you in more gently.

As with the black metal subgenre, death metal can be split into several further sub-subgenres if one can use that terminology. Melodic death metal sits at the fringes and would be the easiest way in to what can be a pretty unforgiving style of music. It was my way in to the scene and remains of great interest to me. Perhaps, if you think of it as melodic metal with heavier guitars and growled vocals, it might seem a bit more accessible. Try this track from In Flames as a starter for ten and focus on the guitar harmonies rather than the more extreme elements for example.

Then there are those bands that fall into a group that are perhaps best described as less technical but more intent on straight forward bludgeoning intensity. Take a band like Obituary for example. The heaviness may be as subtle as a brick wall, but check out this track and tell me that the groove contained within it is not infectious. If you get through the entire track without nodding your head or tapping your foot, I think you might be a lost cause!

nileSo, Nile. Where do I start? What song do I pick? Well, after much consideration, I’ve chosen the title track from the band’s turn of the millennium release, ‘Black Seeds Of Vengeance’. The opening minute or two is pretty intense and on first listen may appear to be an impenetrable wall of noise. However, take a deep breath and listen again. The vocals are, arguably not meant to be understood, at least not in their entirety. Instead, think of them as another instrument in the band’s considerable armoury. An extra bass guitar perhaps, whatever works for you, but one that creates much of the deliberately ominous intent.

Listen to the drumming too. It is amazingly powerful and intense, creating a sonic battery, the sheer technicality of which is mind-blowing. The guitar riffs are fast, technical and demonstrate an impressive fretboard dexterity, particularly when the solos kick in. This is not just noise, it is a finely-honed and expertly executed piece of musicianship. At this point, little pleasure may be derived, but you cannot argue against the musicianship.

Then, as the song reaches its climax, it explodes into a more quasi-melodic conclusion, where atmosphere takes over and instead of an unrelenting tumult, you’re greeted with a much more groovy and accessible section of music. The drums are insane, the menacing intent remains but with the inclusion of the mantra-like groove and the foreboding keyboards, it all adds up to one hell of a piece of music. And it’s only about three-and-a-half minutes long.

For this post to work, it requires an open mind. If you’re prepared to give me this and suspend your prejudices for a few minutes, you might admit that maybe, just maybe, you were wrong to dismiss this music as ‘noise’.

Neonfly – Strangers In Paradise – Album Review

neonfly cover

Artist: Neonfly

Album Title: Strangers In Paradise

Label: Inner Wound Records

Year Of Release: 2014

Neonfly are a band that have not been on the scene for too long and yet have already managed to make quite a few waves within the burgeoning UK hard rock/heavy metal scene. Debut album ‘Outshine The Sun’ drew critical acclaim but it has been their live performances to date that have garnered the most praise. Sharing the stage with an impressive array of high-profile talent including the likes of Alice Cooper, H.E.A.T, Sonata Arctica and Pagan’s Mind, their energy and enthusiasm is seemingly what attracts the plaudits wherever they go.

Happily, this energy and enthusiasm translates onto disc and so sophomore album, ‘Strangers In Paradise’ is, I can report, a very strong and enjoyable record.

Neonfly have clearly put a lot of effort into this album over the past three years and ‘Strangers In Paradise’ ups the ante considerably on previous output. The quintet are one of those bands that, I believe, are still searching for their own personal trademark sound, ‘Strangers In Paradise’ is certainly more honed and altogether more slick and professional than the debut but that being said, there are a whole host of influences and reference points littered throughout the ten compositions. It all means that ‘Strangers In The Dark’ is somewhat hard to define and pigeon-hole in a generic fashion. It is this to some extent that makes the album so interesting as, from one song to another, you’re not quite sure what you’re going to get.

The album opens with ‘Whispered Dreams’ which bursts from the speakers with the panache and pace of pure European power metal, reminiscent of bands like Sonata Arctica and a more retrained Dragonforce whilst managing to blend this with a hard rock swagger that’s really rather infectious. As with the vast majority of the record, the guitar riffs are properly meaty and the chorus is blunt, to the point and downright catchy.

The follow-up, ‘Highways To Nowhere’ is an entirely different beast. Stylistically sitting somewhere between Primal Fear and recent Rob Halford solo material, it is a darker and moody riff-dominated monster that nods its head towards a more classic metal sound, meaning that refraining from a good old head bang is nigh-on impossible. The versatile vocals of Willy Norton, one of the biggest strengths on the album, switch from a higher soaring approach to a gruffer, more edgy bark that suits the mood of the track perfectly.

Lead single ‘Better Angels’ begins in a heavy vein before taking things down a notch and then exploding into my personal favourite chorus on the entire record. Ridiculously catchy, it creates an AOR-meets-melodic rock delight of a song with a demonstrably contemporary sheen.

Courtesy of: Kjanowski Photography

Courtesy of: Kjanowski Photography

Elsewhere, ‘Rose In Bloom’ is a big power ballad that toys with the mainstream but despite a faint whiff of cheese, it works, mainly thanks to a genuinely passionate vocal performance from Norton, once again demonstrating a strong set of pipes with an impressive range. ‘Heart Of The Sun’ is pure Nightwish worship, circa ‘Once’, full of grandiose bombast as is the shorter cinematic instrumental ‘Aztec Gold’ which features a great guitar solo trade-off between axemen Frederick Thunder and Patrick Harrington. ‘Fierce Battalions’ is a frenetic-paced track dominated by drummer Boris Le Gal and reintroduces those all-out European power metal influences with very nice results.

The album then ends very nicely indeed thanks to the duo of ‘Chasing The Night’ and ‘Falling Star’. The former is the longest track on the record and, because it ebbs and flows nicely, steering away from a chorus in the conventional sense, it has a more progressive rock feel to it. It’s also dominated by a great lead guitar solo at the mid-point and plenty of welcome excess throughout. The latter meanwhile, is a massive ballad which is catchy as hell and which once again flirts with AOR influences to great effect, thus closing the album in style.

‘Strangers In Paradise’ is then topped off by a fantastic production courtesy of Dennis Ward (Pink Cream 69, Angra) which is full of both power and clarity but which also retains the warmth necessary for music of this type to sparkle and shine.

All in all, I really like this record and can see it doing very well indeed. The song writing is extremely solid, the melodies are memorable and a sense of fun and enjoyment permeates this release to the point where a big grin is never far away from my lips. Personally, I’d like to see Neonfly really nail their colours to the mast on album number three and perhaps make a few of their influences a touch more subtle within the compositions. However, this is me being picky because ‘Strangers In Paradise’ more than ably demonstrates that this quintet have the raw talent, the ability and the hunger to make it to the big time.

The Score Of Much Metal: 8.0

Check out my other album reviews here:

Knight Area – Hyperdrive
Haken – Restoration
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

Kingcrow – Interview – ‘The new album will be a sonic adventure’

Courtesy of: Devilnax Photoart, Christian Nastas Photo

Courtesy of: Devilnax Photoart, Christian Nastas Photo

Those familiar with the Blog Of Much Metal will know that I enjoy championing those bands that don’t tend to get the exposure that they deserve for one reason or another. That’s why today I bring you a full, in-depth interview with another band worthy of more attention: Kingcrow.

Originally hailing from Rome, Italy, Kingcrow are comprised of Diego Cafolla (guitars), Thundra Cafolla (drums), Ivan Nastasi (guitars), Diego Marchesi (lead vocals), Christian Della Polla (keyboards) and Francesco D’Errico (bass). Broadly speaking, the talented sextet are a progressive metal band but they manage to encompass many other influences within their sound. I reviewed their fourth album ‘Phlegethon’ for Powerplay Magazine and although it took some time for the magic to take full effect, perseverance paid off and it’s one of my most-played albums of recent years. Last year’s follow-up, ‘In Crescendo’ then took the number 6 spot in my 2013 Top 20 such was its overall quality and the enjoyment I derived from it.

After being teased via email for being one minute late for the interview, I turn on Skype and am greeted by the warm, friendly voice of Diego Cafolla, the co-founder, guitarist and principle song writer for Kingcrow. I begin the interview by asking Diego for some history behind Kingcrow and am rewarded by one of the longest and most detailed summaries of my career.

“I started the band with my brother Thundra in 1996. It was a long time ago and we were very young. We just started playing together, playing other band’s stuff. We were a kind of schizophrenic band because we were playing everything from the Beach Boys to Sepultura, because I was a big fan of them. We also played all the classics from the 70s and the 80s; Iron Maiden, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, everyone really. It was weird”, he laughs warmly.

“I started to write my own songs almost immediately. I guess it was sucky stuff”, he continues self-deprecatingly, “but I just started writing. As the time passed, we began to play more of this stuff. I suppose it was weird metal stuff; kind of a mix of British heavy metal and progressive rock. This is because I discovered rock music through my Dad’s vinyl collection. ‘Made In Japan’ was a milestone in my musical growth. But the first record that I can remember that I really loved was ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’ by Pink Floyd. I still love it and I love Pink Floyd – they have had a big impact on my song-writing. I would say that this is quite recognisable in Kingcrow.”

After a brief interlude where the aforementioned Pink Floyd album, as well as a number of other ‘classics’ are discussed, Diego continues with his account.

“Over time, we had thousands of line-up changes. I consider the first three records, (‘Something Unknown’ (2001), ‘Insider’ (2004) and ‘Timetropia’ (2006)) to be long demos because I was just experimenting with really different stuff as a song writer. Even if I am the main songwriter, I want the other members in the band to like the material that I write. The lead singer at that time, Mauro Gelsomini, was much more into hard rock and classic heavy metal. I was more into progressive music but I forced myself to write more in a style that pleased the singer. But at the same time, I did try to experiment a bit.”

Kingcrow Phlegethon“We then had a hiatus, a pause and I wrote ‘Phlegethon’ just for myself because I thought that the band was gone basically. We opened for Iron Maiden in Italy but after that gig, the band stopped playing. It was like the band felt that they had reached the highest point that could be hit. I kept writing though because I can’t stop; I write about one song per day.”

“I contacted the guys and told them that I have an album ready and that we should record it because I thought it was very good. We recorded the album over about 12 months. It was a very relaxed process with no deadlines. We recorded the album in our spare time, just for fun basically. At the same time, the Mauro was not sure about the material. He tried to record one song and I wasn’t happy with the result because I felt that the album needed a really good singer. A friend of mine passed me a recording of Diego Marchesi who is our singer now. The recording was of him singing in a musical because at the time, he had no background of hard rock, metal or progressive music. I loved his voice and so I called him. I told him that I had this record that was nearly finished and if he came to the studio, we could try a few songs. I immediately loved his voice and asked him if he was interested in joining the band. He was excited because he liked the music, even though it was a new style for him.”

“I sent out some extracts to management companies and record labels. I received a response almost immediately from Intromental and a deal was signed with them. After a few days with them, we signed for Scarlet Records. Right after the record was released, it was really well received from the press. We got an offer for a European tour with Redemption and then we went to America for Progpower USA. So it went from the band almost splitting, to touring and playing on an international level.”

kingcrow“Two years later, we wrote and recorded ‘In Crescendo’. This was a bit of a struggle to write”, Diego offers a little surprisingly, “because for the first time, we had a kind of fan base waiting for something. This was new for me. I didn’t want to repeat ‘Phlegethon’ but at the same time, I felt the pressure of the great response to that record. I was searching for something fresh but that still sounded like us.”

“When I approach writing a new record, I write really weird stuff. It won’t go on the record, but it’s me trying to find something new and fresh. It worked out well I think because I love ‘In Crescendo’. I love the production because it is very detailed but powerful at the same time. Sometimes, if you try to create a powerful production, you lose some of the details in a wall of sound. But I like the mix between the power and the clarity. I also love the melancholic vibe of some of the songs. Following on from this record, we did our first headline European tour and toured the USA with Pain Of Salvation. It has been a busy period.”

My attempts to discuss the differences between ‘Phlegethon’ and ‘In Crescendo’ come across as a little hopeless. Fortunately, Diego is more than happy to step in and prevent further floundering on my part.

“Phlegethon’ is more classic-metal sounding than ‘In Crescendo’. Probably the heaviest stuff on ‘In Crescendo’ is heavier than on ‘Phlegethon’ but there is also more atmosphere and more space within the music on ‘In Crescendo’. On ‘In Crescendo’, the arrangements are better I think and they are more layered, more atmospheric. ‘Phlegethon’ maintains a bit of our classic metal past but ‘In Crescendo’ is the natural progression from that, I believe.”

And with that, we reach the present. I’m dying to find out more about the upcoming album that’s in the pipeline for a 2015 release on Sensory Records and waste no time in asking about the as-yet unnamed work.

“We are actually finishing our recording so I have a good idea of how it will sound”, Diego begins mischievously before qualifying this tantalising statement. “I think it is darker, but it has a bit of both ‘Phlegethon’ and ‘In Crescendo’ in it, plus a lot more. Honestly, I think it’s a big record and there’s a lot going on within the songs. Every song has a unique sonic word and it has something different about it. A friend described it as ‘new Kingcrow’ – you can recognise the band immediately, but there is something new going on.”

“Probably because I wrote most of the record at night”, Diego playfully responds when I question him in more detail about the darker vibe to the upcoming record. “But seriously, it wasn’t a struggle to write; it was a very natural process. You’ll find everything that people think is our trademark sound; the Spanish guitars, the crunchy riffs, the atmospheres. These things will always be there I think.”

Courtesy of: Devilnax Photoart, Christian Nastas Photo

Courtesy of: Devilnax Photoart, Christian Nastas Photo

“It’s a bit more proggy than ‘In Crescendo’, Diego continues. “The focus on ‘In Crescendo’ was the search for beauty. I avoided weirdness or quirkiness in the search for pure beauty as my reference point was ‘Dark Side Of The Moon’. This time, we have some of the quirkiness back and to me, the new album will be a sonic adventure. You remember these words and you can tell me whether I am right or wrong. Don’t expect something impossible to listen to or really complicated because we try to make complex things sound simple to the listener and to make complexity subtle.”

On that note, I return to the topic of the song writing, asking Diego to expand upon his creative process with Kingcrow.”

“I can play a bit of every instrument and because I have a studio, I have all the instruments there. I usually write at night and it’s like you have a certain mood then. I tend to write when I feel moody and try to capture music that fits the mood that I’m feeling in the moment. I have no rules about song writing; it just has to be in tune with what I am feeling.”

On a final note, I ask Diego about the band’s plans for touring in the New Year. Whilst it’s unlikely that UK fans such as myself will see Kingcrow on these shores, many fans across mainland Europe will be treated to a live show.

“There are plans right now to go on tour in March. I don’t know exactly when we will finish the recording, so I’m not sure how much time we will get to rehearse. But we will hope to play four or five new songs in the set, including the single, ‘The Moth’.”

Trust me dear readers – if you like quality melodic progressive metal, then Kingcrow are a name with which you need to familiarise yourselves as soon as is humanly possible.

Check out my other interviews here:

Evergrey
Jonas Renkse & Bruce Soord – Wisdom Of Crowds
Maschine
Distorted Harmony

Knight Area – Hyperdrive – Album Review

Knight_Area_-_Hyperdrive_450x450

Artist: Knight Area

Album Title: Hyperdrive

Label: The Laser’s Edge

Year Of Release: 2014

Around 2008/09, I developed a real love for ‘neo-prog’ music. At the time, I had that rarest of commodities known as a disposable income, so I eagerly bought up as much music from this genre as I could. In amongst my purchases, was ‘Under A New Sign’ by a hitherto unknown Dutch band called Knight Area. The album impressed me and thus I have followed the band ever since.

In 2011, they released the fabulous ‘Nine Paths’ which in particular, remains on heavy rotation at the ‘Mansion of Much Metal’ even today. Then, last year, fans were treated to an EP, entitled ‘Between Two Steps’, showcasing a couple of songs from this very album, whetting the appetite nicely for its release.

The first thing to say is that the quintet, comprised of vocalist Mark Smit, keyboardist Gerben Klazinga, drummer Pieter van Hoorn, bassist Peter Vink and guitarist Mark Bogart, exude professionalism. This is not a band that seemingly cuts corners or does anything half-arsed. What you get each and every time, is a quality product where every small detail has been considered. ‘Hyperdrive’ is no different.

Courtesy of Frank Diemel

Courtesy of Frank Diemel

On a first spin, I was initially struck by the heaviness of ‘Hyperdrive’. With the best will in the world, neo-prog is generally not the edgiest or angriest of guitar-based music although it has its fair share of dark and challenging moments for sure. Here though, from the get-go, there’s a demonstrable crunch to the guitars and the rhythm section is properly powerful. This is a theme that continues right through the album and, although there is plenty in the way of variation amongst the compositions, satisfying crunch remains a big and welcome element of Knight Area’s approach this time around.

On the subject of variation, this is another big string to the ‘Hyperdrive’ bow. In neo-prog terms, the album is not the longest, with several of the songs weighing in at the three-to-four-minute mark but there’s an impressive amount of music packed into the 11 tracks, plenty enough to keep fans entertained and fully sated.

To offer more detail, the album kicks off with ‘Afraid Of The Dark’, arguably one of the heaviest and most striking compositions within the band’s entire catalogue. The central riff is aggressive and powerful, the rhythm section is muscular and the chorus is a belter. As with any neo-prog album, there are lashings of keyboards layered throughout as well as indulgent yet engaging guitar solos. One of the best compositions of Knight Area’s career? You bet it is.

‘The Lost World’ has the feel of a power ballad about it but it is also very moody. The pace of the opener may be reduced, but the conviction certainly isn’t. It’s a bold track that features more sumptuous melodies that sit around a stomping tempo. It includes a great synth solo but it is Smit’s stellar vocal performance which sets this track apart, full of passion and honesty.

‘Bubble’ will be familiar to those who have already heard the preceding EP. Heavily influenced from the UK prog rock scene, it constantly reminds me of early Marillion. The catchy chorus full of layered vocals took time to grow on me but is now a firm favourite and is a track that could easily enjoy plenty of commercial radio airplay.

I could mention something positive and worthwhile about every single track. However, to avoid the review becoming a monster, I’ll instead pick out a few further specific highlights including the power metal-meets-hard rock vibe of ‘Crimson Skies’, the AOR-reminiscent ‘Avenue Of Broken Dreams’, the 80s melodic rock leanings of ‘Running Away’ and ‘Songs From The Past’ that offers overtones of Queen with its overt West End or Broadway feel.

The impressive album closes with ‘Hypnotised’, a longer more sprawling composition that closes in epic fashion thanks to an uplifting yet bitter-sweet melody overlaid by a genuinely spine-tingling guitar solo. It’s the fitting and dramatic way to end such a great record.

The whole album is then wrapped up in a fantastic production that offers the clarity required from this type of music but doesn’t rob any of the power from the compositions. Each instrument is given the room it needs to shine, nothing is lost in the mix and yet there’s a lushness about the whole thing that shines through and enhances the entire listening experience.

‘Hyperdrive’ is not necessarily the album for those looking for the ultimate progressive workout, but then this genre and Knight Area in particular have never been about that. Instead you are treated to excellent musicianship, great melodies, sing-along choruses and above all, a collection of songs that are a joy to listen to time and again. Why Knight Area are still so relatively unknown is beyond me; trust this review and give ‘Hyperdrive’ a listen because you honestly won’t regret it.

The Score Of Much Metal: 8.5

Check out my other reviews via the following links:

Haken – Restoration
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

Haken – Restoration – Album Review

Press_Cover_01

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