Scandinavia: A Giant of Heavy Music – Iceland

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In a slight deviation to what I promised in my introduction, I want to start my more in-depth analysis of the musical strength of the Scandinavian countries with a country that I didn’t initially mention and that, strictly-speaking, is not part of Scandinavia.

Let me explain…

It may not be part of Scandinavia as such, but the country’s history is closely interwoven with their Scandinavian cousins, having been inhabited by the Norsemen well over 1000 years ago. As such, is referred to as one of the ‘Nordic countries’ and therefore, I’m including it in my series. I am, of course, referring to Iceland.

This decision has been brought about thanks to a couple of trips to this magnificent and intriguing country, the last of which was just a few weeks ago. What struck me during both visits, apart from the rugged beauty, the isolation and the tranquillity, was the influence of music on this country. And whilst my focus is naturally music of a heavier bent, Iceland has also produced some non-metal music that I hold dear to my heart.

With a population of less than 400,000, it is the most sparsely populated country in Europe. Nevertheless, here is a country that well and truly punches above its weight on the world music stage.

To begin with, there were the factoids on the aeroplane TV screens during my flight to the country. They talked of glaciers, volcanoes, hot springs…and the fact that 10 rock bands are formed every year and look to take on the world. Ten. Supposing that each of those bands has four members, that’s 40 Icelanders every year that try to find their way onto the rock/metal world stage. It may only be approximately 0.01%, but it’s 0.01% of the entire population. Madness when you think about it. It is even more bonkers to think that this is one of the facts that Iceland is so proud of. I love it and it smacks of a country obsessed with music and proud of their contribution internationally.

Then there’s the film, about heavy metal, for which actress Ϸorbjörg Helga Dýrfjörð won the Best Actress award at the Eddas (the Icelandic Film and Television awards). Entitled ‘Málmhaus’ (‘Metalhead’), it was directed by Ragnar Bragason and tells the story of a girl in her twenties who retreats to heavy metal music to cope with the loss of her elder brother in a tragic accident. I have yet to see this film but that is something that I would hope to rectify very soon.

Speaking of metalheads, having arrived in Iceland, I bump into a group of them within seconds of leaving the hotel for the first time, all adorned in the black uniform that’s so instantly recognisable. I spy a Bloodbath beanie amongst the logos and there’s a knowing look that passes as my Dimmu Borgir hat is noticed. Wherever in the world you are, the language of metal is the same.

A few moments later, the sound of rock comes blasting out of a bar as I walk along the central Rejkjavik streets. I feel very at home here all of a sudden.

The following day, whilst on a walk along the main high street of Rejkjavik, I hit the mother load – an old-fashioned record shop. You know the kind I’m referring to – where you go in and can actually speak to the people who work there, where you can ask their opinion and where they’ll put an album on the stereo for you to listen to before purchasing. The name of this great shop is Smekkleysa, the Bad Taste Record Store and is run by Kristjàn, a great guy who knows his music and is proud to promote local acts, spending time to talk, advise and enlighten fellow music lovers. I could have spent a long time in the store given half the chance.

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And what of the local acts? Who are they exactly?

First of all, there’s the international superstar that is Björk. Everyone, whether or not you enjoy her eclectic musical output, has heard of Björk. Personally, I’m not a big fan and so I shall move on swiftly to some music I know more about.

Sigur Rós is another internationally-recognised name, a post-rock band that have made it big from very humble beginnings. They are a band that hold a very special place in my heart. My parents and I first visited Iceland in 2009, on the first anniversary of the passing of my brother. He was always fascinated by nature and had a particular fondness for mountains and isolation. He never went to Iceland, but had always wanted to. The decision was made to travel there and scatter some of his ashes in the beautiful country.

Nick was also a big Sigur Rós fan, more so than I to be perfectly honest. Prior to travelling, I sent a few emails and was kindly invited to the Sigur Ros studio just outside Rejkjavik. There, we met Kjartan Sveinsson (the then keyboardist) and studio engineer Birgir Jón ‘Biggi’ Birgisson. It was a very special experience and one that I treasure to this day. The humble attitude of the chaps and the understated feel of the surroundings really hit home to me how down to earth Icelanders really are, regardless of international fame and fortune. Truly, there are no VIPs in Iceland.

Oh, and the beautiful simple and atmospheric compositions of Sigur Rós make for a fittingly epic soundtrack whilst watching the Aurora Borealia, the Northern Lights. That’s an experience I shall also never forget.

Sigur Ros - Kjartan  Sveinsson & producer 1

Turning my attention to more metallic acts, there are approximately 50 active Icelandic bands at the current time, a quite unbelievable number. However, there are three who I believe are worthy of particular mention: Dimma, Skalmold and Sólstafir.

dimmaDimma are a rock/metal band in the more traditional mould that really caught my ear whilst in the aforementioned record store. Big riffs, nice melodies and strong vocals all add up to a rather positive listening experience for fans of classic hard rock and metal with an ever-so-slightly melancholic feel. Maybe this blog will be the catalyst for that extra bit of recognition that they deserve? I certainly hope so.

skalmoldSkálmöld, on the other hand, have already found themselves on the Napalm Records roster and is a name that is more familiar with the worldwide metal fraternity, having released two studio albums to date during their five-year existence. Skálmöld occupy the folk/Viking metal genre but their style harks back to older bands rather than being ultra modern. There’s a great blend of heaviness and melody to their compositions and the latest album, ‘Börn Loka’, in particular is worth having a listen to.

solstafirThe most well-known of the three though, is Sólstafir. The band have come a long way from their crust and punk-infused black metal beginnings and now offer a very unique and fabulous post rock/metal aural experience. The music on their most recent recordings is epic in the truest sense of the word and evokes those barren and bleak mental images that are completely in keeping with their homeland. They’re a fabulous band and if you’ve yet to check them out, I suggest you rectify that oversight immediately.

And with that, my whistle-stop tour of Iceland and it’s musical footprint comes to a close. I hope you enjoyed it. Thanks for reading.

Unknown & Underrated – Shadow Gallery

Today sees another band take the spotlight in my ‘Unknown & Underrated’ series, in the hope that it brings with it a few more fans and a little more well-deserved success.

If you are interested in reading previous entries in this series, they can be found via the following links:

Redemption
Wolverine
Subsignal
Omnium Gatherum
Agalloch
Darkwater

My choice on this occasion happens to be one of my all-time favourite bands and so I’m going to do all I can to persuade you to give them a listen if you’ve not done so already.

My choice is: Shadow Gallery

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A quick look at certain social media sites and my choice would seem to be justified. I’m not saying for one second that ‘likes’ on Facebook and ‘followers’ on Twitter are an accurate barometer of a band’s success but I have to admit that I was slightly surprised by what I found. Just over 18,000 ‘likes’ and 1800 followers does seem a low return for a band that has been releasing top quality music for around a quarter of a century. But then again, one has to consider that maybe the traditional demographic of the fans does not lend itself to the world of social media. Either way, these figures seem low to me, so it’s about time the spotlight was shone on this tremendous band.

carvedFormed in the mid-90s in Pennsylvania under an original moniker of Sorcerer, it wasn’t until 1992 that the world was introduced to Shadow Gallery via their self-titled debut album. Since then, over the intervening 22 years, a further five albums have been released, ‘Carved In Stone’ (1995), ‘Tyranny’ (1998), ‘Legacy’ (2001), ‘Room V’ (2005) and ‘Digital Ghosts’ (2009). digital ghosts

It isn’t the best back catalogue in terms of volume and frequency. However, this can be seen as something of a double-edged sword: infrequent album output can dent momentum but it does tend to guarantee that the music is given the time it needs to ensure that each album is the very best that it can be. Based on the Shadow Gallery output, I’m firmly seated in the latter camp.

sg picEach of these albums holds a very special place in my heart but special mention has to go to ‘Tyranny’ and ‘Room V’. The former was my introduction to this great band and remains in my top 5 albums of all time. The latter is the reason behind my most lavish music-related purchase, as the original artwork for the album, created by the highly talented Rainer Kalwitz, sits proudly in the study area of my house.

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The question remains though: why do I love this band so much?

The reasons are several to be honest and include sophisticated song-writing, fantastic melodic sensibilities, a relatively unique vocal approach, the variety on offer and the fact that the band are not afraid or ashamed of taking the listener on massively long and often self-indulgent instrumental tangents. I love it all and I suspect that most progressive rock fans would too if they’ve not checked them out before.

Dealing with the biggest and saddest part of the story next, the band suffered a great tragedy on October 31st 2008 when lead vocalist Mike Baker suffered a fatal heart attack. Having had the pleasure of talking with guitarist/keyboardist Gary Wehrkamp on a few occasions, I know that it was a big decision for the band whether or not to continue. However, spurred on by the memory of Mike and by the touching messages from fans across the globe, Shadow Gallery soldiered on, in the process discovering a new lead vocalist, Brian Ashland.

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Whilst on the subject of vocals, this is actually one of the big strengths of the band. Whether it was with Mike Baker or Brian Ashland at the helm, the rest of the band have always contributed backing vocals. The amount has increased in latter years but what I really like is that each member of the band can sing and they enjoy contributing vocals to the music. And, whilst there are bands out there who have bigger name vocalists standing front and centre, Shadow Gallery offer some of the very best vocal performances in rock and heavy metal circles. Some of the occasional a capella work is simply stunning, but regardless of whether it stands atop a heavy section or a lighter, more introspective segment, the vocals stand out every time, often giving me goosebumps in the process.

I mentioned earlier about the song writing and the variety of the music. Let me elaborate. Just about every album has a concept story or a theme that runs through it. To bring these concepts to life, the music runs the gamut from quiet to heavy, fast to slow, up-tempo to quietly brooding, symphonic to simple aggression and back again. There are quick-fire instrumentals and interludes which segue from one part of a story to another as well as larger, more epic pieces that last for half an hour or so, telling a story in its own right. This symphonic element is a very important to the Shadow Gallery armoury, one that creates a very dramatic, theatrical and occasionally cinematic veneer.

Music like this would not be successful however without the talent to back it up. And in Shadow Gallery, you don’t have one decent musician, you have several. Gary Wehrkamp (guitars/keys), Brendt Allman (guitars), Carl Cadden-James (bass), Joe Nevolo (drums), Brian Ashland (lead vocals/guitar) and Eric Deigert (vocals/Keys) are all masters of their chosen arts and come together time after time to produce some of the most striking and beautiful progressive music that I have ever heard.

And, whilst some tend to shy away from the perceived excesses of progressive music, Shadow Gallery proudly embrace them. This, above all, is why I love this band. Extended guitar solos, keyboard solos, duels, instrumental passages that last for the length of entire songs, they all feature heavily for this band. For the most part, the dexterity and musicianship just boggles the mind and I just love listening to the band sweeping me off on another tangent within a tangent. It is the precious antidote to those bands these days that think that guitar solos are not cool. In my world they are and when done this well, they sound magnificent.

The instrumental parts never sound out of place either – they always fit and are a natural inclusion into the music. For many years, the band did not tour and so one always wondered whether they could pull it off in a live setting. In 2010, I finally got my chance to find out, at ProgPower Europe. Aside from a few sound gremlins and technical issues, their headline show (only their second ever show) was a thing of beauty, with the band’s overt enthusiasm the main thing that sticks in my mind to this day.

The Shadow Gallery boys and I at PPEU 2010

The Shadow Gallery boys and I at PPEU 2010

In a nutshell, if indulgent, dramatic and technical progressive music with big melodies is your thing, I strongly believe that you need this band in your life as soon as possible. You will not regret it, trust me.

Scandinavia: A Giant Of Heavy Music – An Introduction

I have often jokingly said that, when it comes to heavy metal and rock music, there is an area of the world that seems to punch above it’s weight and provide the metal community with an extraordinary amount of high quality music. Indeed, every time I mention it, my family roll their eyes, a non-verbal ‘yes, I know, you mention this all the time’. But actually, it is not a joke, far from it in fact.

I’m not talking about the USA or even the UK, even though both have undeniable importance within the scene as a whole. I’m not even referring to South America or continental Europe, encompassing the likes of Germany, Italy and France. Again, there is much to be said about these countries and their contribution to the metal cause but that’s not the focus of this post.

I am, of course, referring to Scandinavia.

Depending on what literature you read, the term Scandinavia can mean many things. It is also a term that confusingly and inaccurately seems to be used interchangeably with the term ‘Nordic countries’. However, to be clear (if not factually correct), for the purposes of this blog, when I refer to Scandinavia, I am talking about Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark.

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The collection, dominated by Scandinavian bands

The collection, dominated by Scandinavian bands

Just take a moment and think about all those bands that you have in your collection that hail from one of these countries. And then, contemplate the fact that combined, the population of these four countries stands at around 25.5 million. To put this into context, this is less than half the population of the UK alone and accounts for approximately 0.36% of the world’s population.

In terms of inhabitants then, Scandinavia is tiny. However, in terms of music of a heavy nature, these four countries are gargantuan, giants of the scene. From my experience, they’re all lovely people too!

Speaking personally now for a moment, I honestly cannot think of another region that has had such a profound effect upon me from a musical perspective. To be honest, I haven’t counted, but I suspect that nearly half of the bands and artists in my collection hail from Scandinavia. Two of my top 5 bands of all time are Scandinavian and so too are three of my Top 5 albums of all time, with several others narrowly missing out.

To prove the point: Norway, Sweden & Finland all represented in a random  selection from my collection.

To prove the point: Norway, Sweden & Finland all represented in a random selection from my collection.

Then you have to take a wider look at the Scandinavian impact. Had it not been for Sweden, would melodic death metal have been created? The answer is yes, probably. However, it might have sounded nothing like it does today having been guided by the influence of a handful of bands that created the ‘Gothenburg Sound’ in the early-to-mid 90s. Then there’s the whole black metal genre which would, undoubtedly look a lot different if it was not for the influence of a whole host of Norwegian bands. And whilst Finland and Denmark may not be so synonymous with a particular single genre or movement, their contributions have been just as valuable in a number of ways.

Therefore, I thought it was high time to take a moment and look in a bit more detail about these special countries and the not-inconsiderable impact they have had on the heavy music world over the years. Over the course of the following few posts then, I intend to look at these four countries separately, explaining from a very personal perspective why I love the music from this region so dearly. In so doing, I intend to place an emphasis on those bands that have had the greatest impact upon me and, importantly, I will try to communicate why.

I hope you’ll join me and enjoy reading what I come up with!

Unknown & Underrated – Agalloch

My ‘Unknown & Underrated’ series continues apace with another very worthy band attracting the spotlight. If you’re interested in reading the other entries in this series, they can be accessed via the following links:

Darkwater
Subsignal
Redemption
Omnium Gatherum
Wolverine

But enough of that, on to today’s main event:

There are those of you who are already fans of this band undoubtedly thinking ‘these guys are neither underrated or unknown’. And, to a certain extent, you’d be correct. However, based on the quality of the output, I’m of the opinion that today’s choice should be several times more successful than they are.

Today’s choice is…Agalloch

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Agalloch are a band that enjoy a level of cult status in the metal underground but are far from well-known across the metal community at large. The reasons why elude me, as this American band are absolutely fantastic and should definitely enjoy much more success than they do currently. Personally-speaking, I think I have just about everything Agalloch have done, including two copies of the ‘Ashes Against The Grain’ boxset, one with the ashes and one with the bones. It just had to be done! But I digress…

At a time when metal bands are consistently trying to push the boundaries and come up with new and exciting sounds, you’d think Agalloch would find a lot of favour with listeners. Post black metal, post rock, post progressive black doom sludge, you name it, it seems to exist these days.

And in the case of Agalloch, they themselves are relatively unique. With a base firmly rooted in black metal, their sound then tends to extend in all sorts of different directions. And, somewhat unusually, the musical approach of their full-length albums differs somewhat to their shorter EPs.

agalloch 3Taking their longer albums first, the black metal is not, lyrically-speaking, of the more usual satanic or occult type. Instead, there’s a strong ‘earthy’, almost Pagan approach to the songs and the accompanying lyrics, creating a completely different vibe focusing on themes of death and the natural world. This is borne out from some of the song titles, such as ‘Ashes Against the Grain’ or ‘Not Unlike The Waves’. The compositions are often long, drawn-out affairs that allow epic vistas to be painted in the mind’s eye of the listener. Hailing from the Pacific West Coast of America, those vistas are ruggedly beautiful and conjure up images of vast sweeping landscapes. A feeling of wilderness is communicated so eloquently that I listen to albums like ‘The Mantle’ and I’m transported thousands of miles away, although I strangely feel warm and comforted in spite of the musical direction. I know, it sounds odd, but sometimes it is really hard to put feelings into some kind of coherent and eloquent prose.agalloch 2

And musically, whilst the productions tend to favour the lo-fi and organic black metal approach, the scything, cold riffs and intense blast-beats that typify the genre are used sparingly, in favour of a markedly different approach. The metal remains aggressive with the ubiquitous harsh vocals present and correct (albeit not exclusively), particularly on the band’s most recent full-length effort, ‘Marrow Of The Spirit’ but overall, there’s much more to the Agalloch sound than just aggression. So very much more.agalloch 4

Clean-sounding electric guitars introduce certain tracks with an air of understated beauty, acoustic guitars strum gently in the background to others in order to create a more organic sound to the music. And then there are the mournful and evocative lead guitar melodies that build gently and then weave in and out of the compositions, tugging at the heartstrings all the while. All this is then supplemented by some rich piano and synth work that provides a further richness and elegance to the compositions.

It is this sense of depth and the willingness to experiment that I love so much about Agalloch. They’re not afraid to play around with emotive atmospherics and melodies to mix things up and soften the extremity. It speaks volumes about their song writing skills as well, because the music just ebbs and flows beautifully, where light and shade merge seamlessly, keeping the listener completely engrossed and captivated from beginning to end.

In contrast, their EPs tend to be much more experimental in nature, encompassing ambient and even folk music amongst a myriad of other ideas. Their ‘White EP’ for example features acoustic, post-rock and ambient tracks that really hit a nerve with me, each and every time I listen. For example ‘Hollow Stone’ brings me to tears. Agalloch even incorporate spoken word passages from the film ‘The Wicker Man’ into the music to great effect. And yet, despite all this, the music sounds typically Agalloch and beautifully crafted as a result.

I have tried to do the music justice and communicate to you just how much I love this band, but they make it exquisitely difficult. My hope now though is that I have piqued your interest enough to give Agalloch a try. I’m sure that if you do, you’ll really enjoy them too. And now, with a new album just around the corner entitled ‘The Serpent & The Sphere’, the timing couldn’t be more perfect.

Unknown & Underrated – Subsignal

Today sees a return of my ‘Unknown & Underrated’ series, where I try to throw the spotlight on a band that’s important to me but that maybe has not had the exposure or the success that I believe their music warrants. This is not to say that the featured bands are not successful, just that I want more people to discover these artists and enjoy them as much as I do. After all, that’s why I started writing about music in the first place, to share my passion for great music.

Today, I bring you SUBSIGNAL.

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Out of the ashes of the German progressive metal band Sieges Even, comes Subsignal. Originally planned as a side project, they became a fully-fledged act once Sieges Even ceased to be. Sieges Even offered a more progressive rock/metal approach than Subsignal. In fact, it was a song on the very final Sieges Even album, ‘Paramount’ that laid the blueprint for the Subsignal sound. ‘Eyes Wide Open’, originally known by another name, was a much more instant and slightly simpler track in many ways to what went before.

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Subsignal are comprised of vocalist Arno Menses, guitarist Markus Steffe, David Bertok on keyboards, bassist Ralf Schwager and Danilo Batdorf behind the drum kit.

sub2They have released three albums in their relatively short career to date, 2009′s ‘Beautiful & Monstrous’, ‘Touchstones’ in 2011 and most recently, 2013′s wonderful ‘Paraiso’.

Subsignal-Paraiso-1200x1200And to be honest, they are all as equally brilliant as each other. To me, to be able to demonstrate such a high level of consistency, this shows that the band are highly skilled musicians who have an innate understanding of what it is that they do.

Describing themselves as emotional and highly melodic progressive rock, the German quintet are happy to veer into more metal territory on the one hand, but also into AOR or more neo-prog realms on the other when the mood requires.

There is much to love about Subsignal’s approach. Firstly, there are the understated but very maturely constructed compositions. All at once, you feel engaged and challenged in equal amounts, which is a tough thing to master. The melodies are immediate in most cases, although these are far from reserved for the choruses; even the verses are memorable and beautifully put together. Acoustic guitars and a reserved use of keyboards create subtle atmosphere to an already impressive package.

In many cases, the melodies hit me from the very first listen. You know the feeling when you’re listening to a song or piece of music for the first time and you get a chill down your spine, goosebumps appear or you find a smile spreading across your face almost without realising it? Normally, for me, one or more of these reactions will occur, accompanied by a spontaneous ‘ooh, I like this’. The feeling of elation and excitement is such that the rest of day is a really good one. I have had this reaction more than once on each and every one of Subsignal’s albums.

For me though, none of this would have the same impact without the vocal talents of Arno Menses. I love his approach and his tone – full of emotion but so melodically intuitive, he enhances the songs massively, bringing a tear to me eye on more than one occasion when the pace is slowed – check out the beautiful ‘Embers Part 1 – Your Secret Is Safe With Me’ to see exactly what I mean.

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I was lucky enough to see the band play a set at Progpower Europe in 2011 and the band are just as good live as on disc, I kid you not. Like the vast majority of progressive bands, they are not the most visually stimulating of acts, but the music is recreated flawlessly and the often dense compositions come alive on stage, transporting the crowd to places far beyond the venue in which they are playing.

Check out tracks like ‘The Size Of Light On Earth’ or ‘The Sea’ and you’ll be totally hooked, trust me. This is one of those rare bands that manages to both entertain on a superficial level and challenge the listener both technically and emotionally. Subsignal are a class act, deserving of so much more love and attention. It’s my duty to try to spread the word!

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H.E.A.T – Tearing Down The Walls – Album Review

Tearing down the walls

Artist: H.E.A.T

Album Title: Tearing Down The Walls

Label: earMUSIC

Year of Release: 2014

One of the hardest things for any band to do, regardless of the longevity of their career or their popularity is to follow up a great album. In the case of Swedish melodic hard rockers H.E.A.T, that great album in my opinion was 2012′s ‘Address The Nation’. It remains a regular on my playlist and, if I was forced to choose, I’d say it was in my top 3 of melodic hard rock albums. So it is the highest accolade that I can bestow on it’s follow-up and the band’s fourth full-length release, to say that ‘Tearing Down The Walls’, matches it and maybe even beats it.

Naturally, I had high hopes for ‘Tearing Down The Walls’, but then it seems that anyone who knows anything about H.E.A.T also had high hopes. Moreover, there was a certain expectation amongst many that this album would, or should, be very good indeed. The great news is that it is very good indeed and has been glued to my stereo for several days now, with no sign of being ejected. Suffice to say that Messrs Grönwall (vocals), Tee (keyboards), Rivers (guitars), Jay (bass) and Crash (drums) should be very proud of their efforts on this album.

Photo by: Gustaf Sandholm Andersson

Photo by: Gustaf Sandholm Andersson

Up first on ‘Tearing Down The Walls’ is actually my current favourite track on the album. Entitled ‘Point Of No Return’, is begins quietly with a keyboard and acoustic guitar intro for around a minute before exploding into the main body of the track. And when I say, it explodes, I mean it. Pounding drums, and wailing guitars join forces with a driving rhythm to great effect, laying the foundations before a chorus to end all choruses kicks in and blows my mind. The first time I heard this track, I found myself smiling and nodding my head in appreciation almost immediately.

Lead single, ‘A Shot At Redemption’ takes things down a notch and is, for me at least,a bit of a slow burner. It maintains a great mid-tempo stomp throughout but at first, the slightly country-tinged and early Bon Jovi-esque composition didn’t click with me. Give it time though, and the chorus begins to work it’s magic and this is now the track that I find myself singing the most when the album finishes.

‘Inferno’ cranks things up a notch again, with a groove and swagger that is unmistakeably H.E.A.T. It is heavy on the melodic rock cliches, and with lyrics that include ‘I like to drink and masturbate’, it is also heavy on the sleaze. However, thanks with a chorus to die for, a cock-sure attitude a great vocal performance from the former Swedish Idol winner Erik Gronwall, the song somehow manages to become an absolute classic. If this is really how things sounded in the 80s, I want to go back.

‘The Wreckoning’ is that most rare of melodic rock beasts; a minute-long ominous and cinematic instrumental which segues nicely into the title track and first of two ballads of the album. It is a wonderfully-crafted power ballad, the sort of musical saccharine that would normally have me diving for cover but when executed this well, compels me to listen and, dare I say it, throw my head back and sing along, albeit dangerously out of key.

The melody line to ‘Mannequin Show’ is immediately reminiscent of Britney Spears’ ‘Oops…I did it Again’. There’s no hiding from this, but then, there’s no hiding from the fact that in spite of this, it is not a track that feels out of place or of a lesser quality in any shape or form. The keys are more prominent on this piece but once again, a strong rhythm section delivers us to a chorus that can’t help but get under your skin. To be honest, most other bands might have struggled to pull off a track like this, but H.E.A.T somehow succeed.

‘We Will Never Die’ offers another killer chorus, making it another personal favourite, whilst ‘Emergency’ delivers more in the way of solid groove and yet again showcases H.E.A.T’s ability to write properly engaging melodic hard rock that will last longer than just a few cursory listens.

‘All The Nights’ is a beautifully fragile and beguiling piano-and-vocal ballad that really impresses me and in many ways, rather than being a throw-away track, is one of show-stealers of the album’s second half. Not only does it effectively alter the pace of the album, allow listeners a breather from the high-octane rock assault, it is a brilliant vehicle for Grönwall’s powerful and emotive voice.

At this point, nine tracks in, the quintet may have been excused for delivering a couple of average songs to close out the album. Not a chance though, as the remaining three tracks all manage to maintain the extremely high standards that precede them. ‘Eye For An Eye’ thrusts another catchy-as-help chorus upon us, ‘Enemy In Me’ reminds me at times of Def Leppard in their pomp and ‘Laughing At Tomorrow’ closes out the whole thing in almost euphoric fashion thanks to a big stadium-friendly sing-a-long core.

To be quite honest, I hadn’t intended on giving a song by song breakdown in this review. However, that’s the effect that this album has on me – I get swept up in it. The heady mix of powerful driving rock, hook-laden choruses and abundant attitude of ‘Tearing Down The Walls’ is infectious and impossible to ignore.

Put as simply as I can, ‘Tearing Down The Walls’ is easily one of the best melodic hard rock albums I have heard in a very long time.

‘Tearing Down The Walls’ is out on April 9th on earMUSIC

The Score of Much Metal: 9

Upcoming New Releases In 2014 (Part 3)

Just when you thought I’d finished exploring some of the new releases coming througout 2014, I have come across another selection.

If you missed them first time around, Part 1 can be read here and Part 2 can be seen here.

So, what albums have I come across that have got me excited?

HEAT TDTWH.E.A.T.
‘Tearing Down The Walls’

Melodic hard rock has become a more and more interesting genre for me and alongside W.E.T., H.E.A.T. are the best that the scene has to offer, no question. I still listen to the previous album from these Swedes on a frighteningly frequent basis, getting thoroughly caught up in the big hook-laden choruses each and every time. I simply can’t wait for this album to be released. I think it must be something about melodic hard rock and acronyms!

bls catacombsBlack Label Society
‘Catacombs Of The Black Vatican’

A year of so ago, I wouldn’t have considered this release as something to overly look forward to. However, as previous posts have explored, I have had something of an epiphany where Black Label Society are concerned over the past few months. I now love the mix of big riffs, big attitude and explosive guitar solos and am busy fully digesting Zakk Wylde and Co’s back catalogue. The fact that we have a brand new album to get our teeth stuck into during 2014 is just a massive bonus.

knight areaKnight Area
‘TBC’

I remain a fan of the neo-prog movement and one of the names that has impressed me most in recent years is Knight Area. The Dutch quintet always release high quality material, with 2011′s ‘Nine Paths’ impressing me immensely, thanks to a blend of quality song writing, lush melodies and plenty of synth-laden atmosphere, everything that the genre has become known for. And, if the recent EP, ‘Between Two Steps’ is anything to go by, the upcoming fifth album is sure to be of the highest calibre again.

aeon of horus existenceAeon of Horus
‘Existence’

If brutality, technicality, complexity, melody, beauty and experimentation are important factors in the music you listen to, I suspect that Aeon Of Horus are a name with which you are already familiar. The Australians blew me away around five years ago with their debut full-length, ‘The Embodiment Of Darkness And Light’ and I’ve been waiting and hoping for a follow-up ever since. And now, in 2014, the wait is over with ‘Existence’ the title of the much anticipated sophomore release. Of this, I am expecting big things indeed.

headspaceHeadspace
‘TBC’

The debut album from Headspace really blew me away. But then, when the group includes the talents of vocalist Damian Wilson, guitarist Pete Rinaldi and Adam Wakeman on keyboards, it is hardly surprising that their debut turned many heads within progressive metal circles. A blend of epic technicality, melody and poignancy meant that it struck a nerve with me immediately and compositions such as the nattily-titled ‘Daddy Fucking Loves You’ and ‘Fall of America’ remain firm favourites to this day.

pagans mindPagan’s Mind
‘TBC’

Over the years, Norway’s melodic progressive metallers Pagan’s Mind have delivered some of the best music that this genre has to offer. I even lavished a 10/10 score for 2007′s ‘God’s Equation’. And whilst it is true that their albums have become more melodic and slightly less progressive over the years, the end results have always been fantastic. Heavy metal anthems in the true sense of the word.