Agent Fresco – Destrier – Album Review

af cover

Artist: Agent Fresco

Album Title: Destrier

Label: Long Branch Records / SPV

Year Of Release: 2015

My thoughts and feelings towards the musical talent emanating from Iceland are well documented on the Blog Of Much Metal. Indeed, I even wrote an entire commentary on the music from one of my most favourite places on Earth. In that post, which you can access here, I didn’t mention Agent Fresco but that was purely because I was unaware of them at the time. When I wrote the article, Agent Fresco had only released the one album and, despite being very well received, had not registered on my personal radar. However, if I were to re-write the post now, Agent Fresco would feature heavily.

Formed in Reykjavik in 2008, Agent Fresco are a quartet that is comprised of vocalist and composer Arnór Dan Arnarson, drummer Hrafnkell Örn Guðjónsson, bassist Vignir Rafn Hilmarsson and guitarist/pianist Þórarinn Guðnason. Their debut album, ‘A Long Time Listening’ was released in 2010 to much critical acclaim but it has taken the better part of five years for their sophomore effort to see the light of day. In the intervening period, live shows and festivals have played an important part for the talented quartet but the long wait for new material continued.

Credit: Birta Ra'n Photography

Credit: Birta Ra’n Photography

Reading the extensive and intriguing biography that accompanied this release, it appears that the inspiration and driving force behind the debut was the rather tragic passing of Arnarson’s father. And, with inspiration for the follow-up hard to come by, it took another significantly negative event to act as the necessary catalyst, namely a brutal attack late at night that saw Arnarson suffer a broken eye socket, cuts and concussion, as well as mental scars that, for some time, ran far deeper than the physical injuries. As you might imagine therefore, the tone and subject matters explored on ‘Destrier’ are not always warm and fuzzy. Indeed, the title of the album, ‘Destrier’ is the name given to a medieval warhorse and serves as the focal point of sorts for the album’s concept, a concept that explores mainly dark themes but in a positive and constructive way if that makes sense.

Onto the music itself and, as engaging as the lyrical content is, it is with the music that Agent Fresco play their trump card; for a reviewer, the content is the stuff of nightmares because it is such a varied affair with seemingly a thousand things going on all at once, including but not limited to math rock, prog, alternative rock, ambient, post-rock, pop and electronica.

For the listener however, the experience is simply wondrous.

I will allow myself to delve into some of the songs in more detail in a moment but suffice to say that the biggest thing that strikes me with Agent Fresco and ‘Destrier’ is the way that the album flows from start to finish really beautifully, taking the listener on a journey throughout. That journey is comforting, scary, beautiful, sad, thought-provoking and often quite sombre. However, it is a journey that is never dull, always captivating and calls you inexorably back for more. Every time I listen, I hear something new and despite its overt technicality in terms of the beats, rhythms and song structures, I can see this album being loved by both the underground and the mainstream alike. It’s an impressive feat, but Agent Fresco might just have pulled it off and pulled it off with consummate professionalism.

This sophomore release kicks off with ‘Let Them See Us’ which begins in strange fashion thanks to an increasing monotone noise that gives way just as it begins to become uncomfortable. In its place is a deeply atmospheric, almost cinematic composition dominated by a rich, moody simplicity that immediately showcases Agent Fresco’s melodic sensibilities and Arnarson’s sensitive vocal ability which manages to sound delicate and fragile whilst frequently displaying a raw, untamed and wild edge. As such and coupled with the expansive nature of the musical backdrop, the wild, rugged nature of the band’s homeland comes unbidden into my mind. I feel like I’m being transported to a cold, desolate environment which is as beautiful and welcoming as it is bleak and dangerous.

The impressive start is then built upon by ‘Dark Water’, an equally powerful track but in an entirely different manner. Heavier yet more upbeat in tone, ‘Dark Water’ is more of a straight-up alternative rock/metal track that delights thanks to an addictive central melody enhanced by a tinkling piano and a rousing, spiky guitar riff, but all the while allowing plenty of room for experimentation with off-kilter beats, incongruous sounds and lashings of atmosphere.

Elsewhere, the title track seems to be able to blend a mind-boggling but understated technicality with more sublime almost pop-like melodies and even manages to inject a dose of the unexpected in the form of highly sampled guitars, bass and drums that borders on syncopated rhythmic noise. And yet it works, seamlessly.

‘Howls’ is another of those big, hook-laden alternative art rock tracks that is bordering on genius. The feeling of euphoria that courses through my veins as the track develops is the kind of unquantifiable tonic that only great music can provide. The initial simplicity of the track is also an illusion as the composition deploys enough subtle technicalities that to study it closer will addle the mind, at least for a failed musician like me.

Credit: Marino Thorlacius

Credit: Marino Thorlacius

‘Pyre’ experiments with syncopated rhythms and a touch of electronica whereas ‘Wait For Me’ offers an industrial feel before opening into a delicate piano-led piece with another huge chorus melody with pop sympathies. ‘Citadel’ has a jangly, almost indie-rock vibe to it and ‘Bemoan’ is sensitive, emotional and absolutely stunning thanks to the layers of synths that sparingly enter the fray and build with spine-tingling majesty. By now, it almost goes without saying that Arnarson’s vocals are also, once again, another masterclass of emotional authenticity. ‘Angst’, by stark contrast, is a short, intense and furious blast of Meshuggah-like djent aggression that descends into a wall of noise as it concludes.

‘Destrier’ then concludes with ‘Death Rattle’ and ‘Mono No Aware’. The former is an ambient, post-rock masterpiece that acts with minimalist precision to devastating effect and once again evokes images in the mind of Agent Fresco’s stunning homeland. To a certain extent, the latter is cut from a similar cloth. Swathes of synths are then accented by a wonderful drum beat and the track builds into the kind of euphoric crescendo that seeks to cast aside the darkness, bitterness and raw fragility of the preceding thirteen tracks in order to leave the listener with a feeling of hope and the sense that there is an end to the apparent darkness and despondency.

I’m not sure that even this lengthy review has done the material on ‘Destrier’ full justice. However, if it has convinced you to give the Agent Fresco a try, then it will have done its job. Be warned though; if you don’t allow ‘Destrier’ into your life, you will miss out on a very special and magical aural experience that gloriously defies simple genre classification. Ultimately, it’s as simple as that.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.5

If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others right here:

Cattle Decapitation – The Anthropocene Extinction
Between The Buried And Me – Coma Ecliptic
Cradle Of Filth – Hammer Of The Witches
Disarmonia Mundi – Cold Inferno
District 97 – In Vaults
Progoctopus – Transcendence
Big Big Train – Wassail
NightMare World – In The Fullness Of Time
Helloween – My God-Given Right
Triaxis – Zero Hour
Isurus – Logocharya
Arcturus – Arcturian
Kamelot – Haven
Native Construct – Quiet World
Sigh – Graveward
Pantommind – Searching For Eternity
Subterranean Masquerade – The Great Bazaar
Klone – Here Comes The Sun
The Gentle Storm – The Diary
Melechesh – Enki
Enslaved – In Times
Keep Of Kalessin – Epistemology
Lonely Robot – Please Come Home
The Neal Morse Band – The Grand Experiment
Zero Stroke – As The Colours Seep
AudioPlastik – In The Head Of A Maniac
Revolution Saints – Revolution Saints
Mors Principium Est – Dawn of The 5th Era
Arcade Messiah – Arcade Messiah
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

Cattle Decapitation – The Anthropocene Extinction – Album Review

CD coverArtist: Cattle Decapitation

Album Title: The Anthropocene Extinction

Label: Metal Blade

Year Of Release: 2015

If you’re looking for a way to make an impact with your music, I suggest you take a listen to Cattle Decapitiation. In a world where extreme music seems intent on getting ever more extreme, many of the protagonists would also do well to take a listen to Cattle Decapitation. Why?

Because here is a band that make brutal and extreme music into something of an art form. Where others may up the complexity in an effort to become more extreme or even add strings to guitars for more bottom-end rumble, Cattle Decapitation just effortlessly blend everything together to create a genuinely unsettling aural experience that’s just about as good as anything I’ve heard for a long time in this particular scene. It’s not extreme for extreme’s sake; it is music that uses it’s extremity as a tool or a potent weapon to make a statement.

You want technicality? You want groove? You want aggression? You want heaviness capable of shaking the very ground you walk on? Then you need ‘The Anthropocene Extinction’ in your life.

On a first listen, I was, I must admit, a little thrown by this, the seventh record from the San Diego-based quartet. I’m not the biggest out-and-out extreme metal fan and my only real exposure to Cattle Decapitation was via their debut ‘Homovore’ and, to a lesser extent, the follow-up ‘To Serve Man’. Both of these were all-out unmitigated grindcore, albums chock full of quick-fire extremity in bite-sized chunks of around one-to-two minutes in length. As a newbie to the grindcore scene, I rather liked the output because within each frenzied assault was a snippet of real groove, something to latch onto. It was enough for me when what I was yearning for was some unmitigated savagery to cleanse my mind and rid me of pent-up frustrations. The fact that I kept coming back to the debut meant that there was definitely something special about it.

Pic: Zach Coroner

Pic: Zach Coroner

Having missed the intervening four albums however, I was initially surprised to discover a slightly different approach on ‘The Anthropocene Extinction’. Cattle Decapitation circa 2015 is undoubtedly a more refined, more structured and, dare I say it, more accessible proposition. They’re still brutal as all hell of course, but with a modicum of added subtlety, which I personally welcome with open arms. Theirs is now best described as an extreme metal hybrid where death metal influences for example, are apparently as much a factor as those of grindcore. It’s also an album that sees the band focusing on the ‘less is more’ principle and, as such, the songs seem to take precedence over the individual performances; another example of the increasing maturity of the band.

Opening track ‘Manufactured Extinct’ begins very quietly and ominously before launching into a slow-paced and measured riff at the hands of Josh Elmore. The vocals of Travis Ryan are almost indistinguishable from Derek Engemann’s bass rumble but, as the track suddenly picks up pace launching the track into a brief tumult of ferocity, so does the voice into a more discernible growl. What I wasn’t necessarily expecting was the ‘clean’ vocal delivery that emerges to compliment the chorus of the song. To call it clean is wrong though; when I first heard the almost demented but contained shriek I wondered what on earth I was listening to. It’s genuinely harsh, disturbing, uncomfortable and I love it.

If the opener was surprisingly melodic and mid-paced at times, follow-up ‘The Prophets of Loss’ goes on all-out attack from the off. Bringing in a Behemoth-esque quasi black metal feel to the track is a master stroke that works to great effect. The pace is significant, as it the utterly ridiculous drumming courtesy of Dave McGraw which absolutely pummels with relentless power and precision.

To pick out all of the good bits on this album would be a futile exercise given that there are so many. Instead I’ll mention the irresistible stomp and majesty of ‘Plagueborne’, the shifting tempos of ‘Clandestine Ways (Krocodil Rot), the out-and-out grindcore-meets-mid-tempo-groove workout that’s ‘Mammals In Babylon’ and the contemptuous snarling within ‘Not Suitable For Life’. The latter is venomous and it has that aura to it – no messing, just genuine revulsion and disgust put to music.

cd band 2

Referring back to the ‘relentless’ adjective I used earlier, that’s the overwhelming feeing I get when listening to this album – it may display a surprising amount of variety given its brutal nature but the content of ‘The Anthropocene Extinction’ is exhausting. But then that’s exactly how it should be. For all the groove, all the melodic flourishes and the brief moments of relative quiet, there’s no possibility at any moment to forget that you’re listening to a properly extreme metal record that is designed to pummel and test the listener’s endurance as much as it is intended to entertain.

The one thing I’ve yet to mention thus far is the lyrical content. Cattle Decapitation are an angry band, that’s for sure. Whether it be animal cruelty, politics, the general state of the world, Cattle Decapitation are open to explore it; they’re not what you could class as an ‘activist’ band but it is refreshing to hear a band that has such strong views, airing them without fear of the repercussions. It all adds yet another layer of authenticity to what is, unquestionably one of the best extreme metal records that I have heard for a long time. It has everything that I could ever ask for and more besides.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.0

If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others right here:

Between The Buried And Me – Coma Ecliptic
Cradle Of Filth – Hammer Of The Witches
Disarmonia Mundi – Cold Inferno
District 97 – In Vaults
Progoctopus – Transcendence
Big Big Train – Wassail
NightMare World – In The Fullness Of Time
Helloween – My God-Given Right
Triaxis – Zero Hour
Isurus – Logocharya
Arcturus – Arcturian
Kamelot – Haven
Native Construct – Quiet World
Sigh – Graveward
Pantommind – Searching For Eternity
Subterranean Masquerade – The Great Bazaar
Klone – Here Comes The Sun
The Gentle Storm – The Diary
Melechesh – Enki
Enslaved – In Times
Keep Of Kalessin – Epistemology
Lonely Robot – Please Come Home
The Neal Morse Band – The Grand Experiment
Zero Stroke – As The Colours Seep
AudioPlastik – In The Head Of A Maniac
Revolution Saints – Revolution Saints
Mors Principium Est – Dawn of The 5th Era
Arcade Messiah – Arcade Messiah
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

Essential Metal Releases Still To Come in 2015 – Part 3

Isn’t it always the way? You think you’ve finished a series or a project, only to be proved wrong almost immediately! In my case, I’d gone through all of the albums that I was still looking forward to during 2015 and thought I’d exhausted every avenue. It turns out that I missed a few. Therefore, here’s Part 3 in my ‘Essential Metal Releases Still To Come in 2015′ series.

If you missed Parts 1 and 2, they can be accessed via the following links:
Essential Metal Releases Still To Come in 2015 – Part 1
Essential Metal Releases Still To Come in 2015 – Part 2

So, who do I have to apologise to for missing out in the previous two blog posts? Read on to find out…

Redemption – TBC

In my defence, news only came of a new Redemption album a couple of days ago. With guitarist Bernie Versailles recovering from serious illness, I hadn’t even considered a new Redemption album this year but, fresh from inking a new record deal with Metal Blade Records, the US progressive metal band have informed the world that a new album is currently being mixed. This is great news because the quality of this band’s music is sensational, full of complexity, emotion and melody. If you’re unfamiliar with Redemption, check out this more detailed article I wrote about them a couple of years ago: Unknown & Underrated – Redemption.

Borknagar – TBC

Norwegian folk-tinged progressive black metal band Borknagar have always been a favourite of mine due to the fact that they always manage to write and record quality music that genuinely sounds like no-one else. With a unique vocal delivery, a penchant for intriguing melodies that shun the norm and with a flair for the epic, Borknagar delight with each and every release. It seems an age since the magnificent ‘Urd’ was released and with the band announcing that the master recordings are with Century Media Records, it’s entirely likely that the new album will be upon us before the year is out.

TesseracT – Polaris

tesseract coverTessaracT are one of those bands that were always on the periphery of my consciousness despite being one of the biggest names to emerge within the increasingly popular djent scene. However, the UK based metallers well and truly grabbed my attention with their last album, the sensational sophomore release ‘Altered State’. It blended the aggression of djent with more subtle progressive and ambient influences. The result was an album of huge proportions that challenged and delighted in equal measure. Scheduled for a September release, ‘Polaris’ is one of the most hotly-anticipated releases of 2015. I’m certainly looking forward to hearing it.

Draconian – Sovran

draconian coverIf melodic and Gothic doom is something you’re interested in, you’re bound to be aware of the name Draconian. The Swedish gloomsters cite everyone from Anathema to My Dying Bride and from Porcupine Tree to Katatonia as influences and these bands do indeed crop up from time to time within the compositions of Draconian. Theirs is a heavy yet relatively accessible style of music that’s as lush and lavish as it is extreme and confrontational. Huge atmospheres are created as well, which makes the music all the more engrossing. Listening to Draconian can be a melancholy affair but it can also be hugely rewarding at the same time.

The Dear Hunter – Act IV – Rebirth In Reprise

dear hunter coverA few weeks ago, I had no idea that this band even existed. Thanks to the members of Haken waxing lyrical about the band on their social media pages, I felt it only right and proper to investigate further. What I have subsequently discovered is that US prog rock band The Dear Hunter is an incredibly talented band that manage to bring together a vast array of different and apparently opposing musical styles and influences only to segue them together into a cohesive whole. I’m not sure how they do it, but they certainly succeed. Folk, prog, jazz, indie…you name it, it’s in there. Just have a listen to this track and tell me you’re not impressed.

Swallow The Sun – TBC

I’m not entirely convinced that we’ll see a new Swallow The Sun release in 2015. However, their social media pages would suggest that the band have been recording new material and, having announced that they have signed to Century Media Records, there have been a few cryptic comments about something being on the horizon, something different. The masters of ‘gloom, beauty and despair’ are a firm favourite with me and many others as they create some of most crushingly heavy yet stunningly beautiful and fragile atmospheric doom metal I’ve ever heard. If a new album is forthcoming before the end of 2015, trust me, it’ll be a reason to rejoice.

Into Eternity – Sirens

Into Eternity have been a band I’ve always enjoyed. Admittedly, I’ve lost touch with the Canadian metallers since they parted ways with vocalist Stu Block, who has since joined US thrash titans Iced Earth. However, their 2004 album ‘Buried In Oblivion’ remains a firm favourite thanks to a winning combination of heavy, aggressive death metal, great song writing and some of the most addictive melodies heard from an extreme metal band. With a new vocalist at the helm in the form of Amanda Kiernan, a newly-inked deal with Kolony Records and a renewed fire in their collective bellies, it has been announced that we should see a new album in the autumn. I’ll be very interested to hear how it sounds and whether it matches up to their past output.

Hecate Enthroned – TBC

When I was discovering the delights of black metal in my late teens, Hecate Enthroned were one of my favourites. They were heavily inspired by Cradle of Filth in that their compositions were full of Gothic theatrics, symphonics and more melody than you’d think on a first listen. The band turned all death metal on us in the late 90’s and since then, the output from the UK band has not been prolific. However, they are a band that always piques my interest when I hear their name mentioned and I remain hopeful for a new album sometime in 2015.

Pathosray – TBC

Italian prog metallers Pathosray are a slightly different proposition to many of their peers in that they are certainly prog but not in the classic, conventional sense. Their compositions are full of the requisite complexity but they’re also full of snarl and bite and more chops than you’d find at a butcher shop. Their melodies are also interesting in that they’re not always what you’d expect. This makes their releases a challenge at times but ultimately very rewarding. It has gone quiet in recent months but the comments coming out of the Pathosray camp ahead of their third album and first for some six years have seriously captured my imagination.

Madder Mortem – Red In Tooth And Claw

Alternative metal? Progressive metal? Avant-garde? Extreme metal? Whatever label you wish to place on Madder Mortem, they will still remain one of the most unique-sounding bands within the metal world. The band do not conform to the norm and this is to be celebrated. Their output can be challenging, quirky and occasionally downright odd. However, give the Norwegians time and your full attention and everything begins to make sense in a glorious way. Fronted by the irrepressible vocalist Agnete M. Kirkevaag, the first new album in around seven years, ‘Red In Tooth And Claw’, threatens to be a very interesting and exciting proposition.

And the big ones…

Yup, there are also new albums due from Iron Maiden, Def Leppard, Slayer and a number of other rather huge bands. I’m certainly excited about these too, but you can read about them in numerous places elsewhere. Instead, I wanted to focus on the bands that perhaps are in need of a bit more exposure than the big boys.

Between The Buried And Me – Coma Ecliptic – Album Review

BTBAM cover

Artist: Between The Buried And Me

Album Title: Coma Ecliptic

Label: Metal Blade

Year Of Release: 2015

I may just be the only progressive music fan that has come to this band so late and via a complete fluke. Had it not been for Haken scoring the support slot for an upcoming Between The Buried And Me tour, I probably would still be none the wiser about the American band. So many people wax lyrical about Between The Buried And Me and the influence that they have had on their career and yet, for someone so entrenched in the pro scene, I’d never given them a listen. I’d never even given them a second thought if I’m honest; something about the band moniker had foolishly led me to think that they were more of a metalcore band or some such and I’d dismissed them, never to explore further. Never let it be said that I’m not 100% honest.

But when the likes of Haken, Abnormal Thought Patterns and Native Construct have all name-dropped Between The Buried And Me in one way or another recently, I felt compelled to find out more. And what better way than with a brand new album? Having had ‘Coma Ecliptic’, their seventh release, in my life for a few weeks, I will admit to a certain amount of embarrassment and a sense that I could kick myself for not exploring this band sooner. 2015 must be the year for it, as this is not the first time I’ve delved into the world of a band with whom I’ve never previously been interested only to be very pleasantly surprised.

At this early point in proceedings, I must apologise to all concerned that this review has taken so long to see the light of day. It had been my intention to publish it prior to the release. However, such is the sheer breadth and ambitious scope of ‘Coma Ecliptic’ that it has taken me this long to finally get to grips with the record to the point that I felt I could write something worthwhile and meaningful about it.

Having never really listened to Between The Buried And Me before, I’m unable to really contextualise the content in terms of how it fits with previous recordings. However, from what I can gather from the comments of others, it would appear to be unmistakeably Between The Buried And Me and yet just a little different, mainly in terms of it’s overall extremity. Does that help? No? Ok, let me continue…

Pic: Justin Reich

Pic: Justin Reich

Firstly, ‘Coma Ecliptic’ is a concept album. Put as succinctly as I can, it centres on a man who finds himself in a coma, with each track acting as a chapter of his journey through his past lives. Needless to say that such an ambitious concept story requires the music to match and that’s where Tommy Rogers (vocals), Paul Waggoner (guitars), Dustie Waring (guitars), Blake Richardson (drums) and Dan Briggs (bass, keyboards) have undoubtedly succeeded. There’s nothing simple or straight-forward about this record and yet, for all its complexity, it feels strangely engaging and relatively accessible. Of course, the accessibility will depend on how much time and attention you give it, but even a cursory listen can be rewarding should that be your approach.

The album opens with ‘Node’, a quiet and understated introduction into an hour-long album that is anything but understated or quiet. A simple keyboard melody is surruptisiosly built upon until it explodes with the pomp and circumstance of a full-on heavy metal opera. Indeed, follow-up ‘Coma Machine’ continues the theme, reminding me of the art-rock stylings of A.C.T. et al as it comes racing out of the speakers on the crest of a wave. The piano and heavy, chunky guitar riffs work in tandem with aplomb before the track sets out to cover as many different musical influences as possible. There’s a demonstrable 70s prog influence for sure but it is blended very expertly with a myriad of more modern stylings, from straight-up progressive metal, through to a touch of metalcore and alt rock, meaning that it pays homage to the past but remains current and relevant in today’s ever-demanding music world.

However, for me, there are two main ingredients that are worthy of further extrapolation; the vocals and the drums. The vocals of Tommy Rogers are nothing short of brilliant and catch the ears immediately flitting as he does from a clean melodious approach to all-out death metal scream. The drums courtesy of Blake Richardson are also sensational. I love the sound of them within the mix as they’re nothing short of thunderous but its the technique and ambition of the playing that’s impressive in the extreme.

Returning to the compositions themselves and ‘Dim Ignition’ is another example of the experimentation on display on ‘Coma Ecliptic’. It is oddly compelling in spite of its electronica, synth-pop veneer. ‘King Redeem – Queen Serene’ on the other hand is a behemoth of a track that, to my ears, acts as a seven-minute microcosm of what this album and what Between The Buried And Me circa 2015 are all about. It is heavy and complex but is underpinned by genuine subtlety and some really nice, immediate melodies that have become lodged in my head. The million-and-one ideas and influences may threaten to test the listeners’ open-mindedness but in actuality, such is the utter conviction and song-writing skill of this group of musicians, the song feels smooth and a joy to listen to throughout.

The remainder of the album continues in a similarly ambitious vein and in so doing, continues to ensnare me with its abundant charms. ‘Turn On The Darkness’ has more of a hard rock feel to it, benefitting from yet more great hooks and a wonderfully melodic instrumental section at the midway point. ‘The Ectopic Stroll’ is a quirky and schizophrenic beast that I liken to Haken’s ‘Cockroach King’ that takes time to reveal its full charms, ‘Rapid Calm’ is a sprawling epic that generally dials down the speed but which is big on intensity and ‘Memory Palace’, which delights from beginning to end. Within its near ten minute length, it covers everything from classic rock to jazz, prog, death metal and even acoustic rock with a few more curveballs thrown in for good measure.

BTBAM band 2

The album then closes with ‘Life In Velvet’ an uplifting and utterly glorious composition that reintroduces the rock opera influences, ties everything together and ends on a genuinely spinetingling and euphoric crescendo dominated by those thunderous drums as well as some really expressive and emotive lead guitar work. What a way to end.

‘Coma Ecliptic’ is one of those albums that simply has to be heard to be believed. Full of drama, intelligent song writing and a willingness to experiment and take risks, Between The Buried And Me have gone from being a band I know nothing about to a band that I must have in my life. And all because of the strength of this one album. Yes, ‘Coma Ecliptic’ is that good.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.0

If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others right here:

Cradle Of Filth – Hammer Of The Witches
Disarmonia Mundi – Cold InfernoDistrict 97 – In Vaults
Progoctopus – Transcendence
Big Big Train – Wassail
NightMare World – In The Fullness Of Time
Helloween – My God-Given Right
Triaxis – Zero Hour
Isurus – Logocharya
Arcturus – Arcturian
Kamelot – Haven
Native Construct – Quiet World
Sigh – Graveward
Pantommind – Searching For Eternity
Subterranean Masquerade – The Great Bazaar
Klone – Here Comes The Sun
The Gentle Storm – The Diary
Melechesh – Enki
Enslaved – In Times
Keep Of Kalessin – Epistemology
Lonely Robot – Please Come Home
The Neal Morse Band – The Grand Experiment
Zero Stroke – As The Colours Seep
AudioPlastik – In The Head Of A Maniac
Revolution Saints – Revolution Saints
Mors Principium Est – Dawn of The 5th Era
Arcade Messiah – Arcade Messiah
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

Essential Metal Releases Still To Come in 2015 – Part 2

Welcome to Part 2 of my series of posts taking a look at some of my most anticipated album releases that are scheduled or rumoured to see the light of day before 2015 is over. Already a strong year, it seems incomprehensible that there are just so many great albums still to come.

If you missed Part 1, you can access it here:
Essential Metal Releases Still To Come in 2015 – Part 1

Amorphis – Under The Red Cloud

amorphis coverFor many years, Amorphis have held a special place in my heart. Since the release of ‘Tuonela’, I have followed the Finn’s career very closely enjoying the vast majority of their output very much. Blending traditional Finnish folk themes and melodies into a heavy metal framework is what Amorphis are all about. The result is music that’s catchy, memorable and surprisingly extreme at times. A great combination.

Maschine – TBC

According to their social media output, it would appear that Maschine, the young prog rock/metal band that impressed the hell out of me with their debut album, ‘Rubidium’, are in the advanced stages of writing their sophomore release. Again, no release date has been set as far as I can tell, but a late 2015 appearance is probably a pretty decent bet.

Dimmu Borgir – TBC

As early as March 2015, photos emerged on social media of pre-production of new material from Norwegian extreme symphonic black metallers Dimmu Borgir. I adore this band; their blend of black metal with pompous, bombastic symphonic atmosphere is a real winner for me and although I still hail ‘Enthrone, Darkness, Triumphant’ from 1997 as their finest hour, I’ve enjoyed just about everything they’ve ever done. No release date yet, but here’s hoping for a 2015 release.

Headspace – TBC

As far back as August 2014, Headspace were telling the world that they were nearly at the mixing stage for their sophomore album. However, since then, things have gone worryingly quiet. Are the band still together, are they ever going to release the eagerly anticipated follow-up to the sensational ‘I Am Anonymous’? I’m still hoping for a 2015 release from the prog rock/metal supergroup and will keep hoping right up until December 31st.

Subsignal – The Beacons Of Somewhere, Sometime

subsignal coverThe band that rose from the ashes of Sieges Even, Subsignal, are scheduled to release the enigmatically-titled ‘The Beacons Of Somewhere, Sometime’, on 30th October 2015. As the snippet below tantalisingly suggests, Expect expertly crafted, highly memorable and powerful melodic rock/metal with a nice splash of prog. This is one of the big excitements for me this year.

Myrath – TBC

It has taken me a long time to fully appreciate Myrath. However, the epiphany came with their latest release entitled ‘Tales Of The Sands’. The Tunisian band, who prove that not all is doom and gloom in the north African country right now, really impressed me with their clever blend of progressive metal, strong melodies and traditional African instrumentation. I am genuinely excited about their new album – you should be too.

Vanden Plas – TBC

The ever-more theatrical and colourful Vanden Plas are mooted to be releasing the second album of their ‘Chronicles Of The Immortals’ double-header later this year, just a year or so after the release of the amazing ‘Netherworld’. Progressive metal rarely sounds this rich, bombastic and flamboyant. However, Vanden Plas know exactly what they are doing and I fully expect this to be one of the melodic progressive metal albums of the year.

Textures – TBC

Dutch metallers Textures are important to me as they were the first real djent/tech metal band to make a positive impact upon me. Most recent album ‘Dualism’ was the catalyst for this enthusiasm thanks to some very technical, complex extremity that they mixed with breathtaking melody, seemingly with consummate ease. That album remains as the genre benchmark to these ears and as such, I’m highly anticipating a follow-up to further cement my love for this band, although it’s touch and go whether it will come in 2015 as recording remains on-going as I type.

Fear Factory – Genexus

fear factory coverAnother slight cheat this one because again, I’ve heard the album already and submitted a review elsewhere. However, without saying too much, it’s fair to say that Fear Factory, the self-styled cyber-metal maestros have created a strong album, once again exploring the topics of man vs machine, that will bring a smile to many faces. It will no doubt also prove beyond doubt that the band have still very much got what it takes to compete at the highest level.

Queensryche – TBC

I don’t think I’m the only one to have cringed at the debacle that began to surround and envelope one of the best and well-loved progressive metal bands over the past few years. That’s finally the end of the legend, I thought. Wrong. The band ditched vocalist Geoff Tate and enlisted Todd LaTorre. They released the self-titled comeback album in 2013 and the signs were very positive. Lets hope 2015 sees another leap in the right direction…

Caligula’s Horse – TBC

Another long shot but fresh from signing to one of my personal favourite record labels, Inside Out, it makes sense to think that one of Australia’s finest properly progressive metal bands might drop new material later this year. Content online from the band suggests that new material is being/has been written, so it’s possible.

Pagan’s Mind – TBC

I’m not entirely convinced that we’ll get a new album in 2015 given the band are working on a live DVD called ‘Full Circle’. However, new material was being composed by the Norwegian melodic progressive metal band as far back as March, so who knows? Stranger things have happened that’s for sure and, given that a previous album of theirs received a full 10/10 from yours truly, I know that they can deliver the goods. So I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

My Dying Bride – Feel The Misery

MDB coverIs there a better doom metal band? Others will argue that there are bigger or better names within the genre but, for me, My Dying Bride are the true masters of melancholy and despair. Few bands are able to marry the kinds of crushing riffs and solemn atmosphere that they create, with heartbreakingly fragile melodies. And yet My Dying Bride manage it with seeming ease. I’ve so far heard snippets of the new album out in mid-September, so I can’t wait to hear more.

Essential Metal Releases Still To Come in 2015 – Part 1

Given the abundance of quality music already released during 2015, it is hard to believe that we are only halfway through the year. It has been that good, I already have a quality top 20 albums that could easily populate my end of year list. But for those who broadly share my tastes in music, strap yourselves in because there’s a ton of new material coming our way. Here’s a quick guide to the albums that I am looking forward to hearing – not all are guaranteed to see the light of day during 2015, but many are and the rest are best guesses/dreaming on my part. Nevertheless, here goes:

Symphony X – Underworld

Sym X coverFirst up is a bit of a cheat seeing as I’ve already heard it and submitted a review elsewhere. However, for many, this is one of the most highly anticipated releases of the year. American progressive metallers Symphony X are not the most prolific of bands when it comes to new material, so every album is greeted with huge excitement and massive expectation. All I will say, rather cryptically, is that if you’re an existing fan of any era of Symphony X, you’re very unlikely to be disappointed. Trust me.

Spock’s Beard – The Oblivion Particle

spocks coverA band that I’ve got into in more recent times, I’m extremely excited to hear this new album from progressive rock band Spock’s Beard. Never ones to release music that is in any way substandard, the band are consummate professionals with an attention to detail within their warm, welcoming and complex compositions. Those who have heard the first track to be released off the album will no doubt share my well-placed optimism.

https://soundcloud.com/officialinsideoutmusic/spocks-beard-tides-of-time/s-80IYe

Soilwork – The Ride Majestic

soilwork coverSwedish melodic metal stalwarts Soilwork rarely disappoint and, regardless of the numerous line-up issues that they have experienced of late, their output has remained of the highest standard. Again, I’ve been lucky enough to hear this album ahead of it’s release and, as with Symphony X above, the results are impressive. I can say no more ahead of my official review elsewhere except to say that I’m enjoying the listening experience.

Wolverine – TBC

There are few acts out there that manage to offer progressive rock/metal that is so complex, rich, grandiose and full of gritty melancholy. Their last album, ‘Communication Lost’ is a marvellous album that is dark, sombre and very poignant, to the point that it can sometimes be a difficult listen depending on your mood. However, the music itself is fantastic, managing to be heavy and complicated yet subtle and very beautiful. No official word of a 2015 release, but I remain ever hopeful.

Swallow The Sun – TBC

Upon releasing the news that they have joined the Century Media label, Finnish purveyors of gloom, beauty and despair, Swallow The Sun confirmed that a new album would be released before the end of the year. And within the announcement came the quote: “We are currently working our hearts out in the studio recording an album that will come out later this year. All we can tell you at this point is that this is something that has not been done many times before, and maybe for a good reason.” Cryptic indeed, but very exciting also.

Riverside – Love, Fear And The Time Machine

riverside coverAfter a couple of albums that failed to grab my attention, release number five, ‘Shrine of New Generation Slaves’ blew me away. Chock full of brilliantly crafted, emotional and atmospheric progressive rock, it thoroughly reignited my enthusiasm for the Polish quartet. Can album number six, entitled ‘Love, Fear and the Time Machine’ match or exceed its predecessor? I certainly hope so, but we’ll have to wait until September 4th to find out.

Earthside – A Dream In Static

I have had the distinct pleasure to interview Earthside and listen to a couple of tracks from this rookie band’s upcoming debut album, scheduled for release before the close of 2015. Everyone I have given the heads-up to has listened to the tracks and had the same reaction as me: ‘wow’! If the entire album, entitled ‘A Dream In Static’ matches up to the quality of what’s been released thus far, we have a contender for album of the year. I kid you not. These guys are special.

Omnium Gatherum – TBC

“Melancholic Finns laying down some last melancholic notes for the new album. Heads down, we’re almost there at the end of the road.” It’s an announcement from the band that would suggest a new album will be with us very soon. My second favourite album of 2013, the new disc will have to go some to beat the melodic death metal perfection that was ‘Beyond’. However, in Omnium Gatherum, I trust and expect nothing but magnificence. No pressure then guys.

Katatonia – TBC

Is it foolish hope or fanboy enthusiasm to hope for a new Katatonia record during the latter stages of 2015? Whatever definition you give it, my fingers remain firmly crossed that the Swedish masters of dark and melancholic metal return with another collection of original music before the year is out. There’s been nothing official, but I have a hunch that something is in the offing.

Haken – TBC

Is it too much to ask? Probably. I know that album number 4 is in the writing stage, but I think even the magicians within Haken will find it tough to release another monster album in 2015. Still, I mention them because they’re brilliant and a chap can dream, surely?!

My Soliloquy – TBC

Created from the mind of Threshold guitarist Pete Morten, it comes as no surprise that My Soliloquy is a band that can write sophisticated and properly engaging progressive metal that’s satisfyingly intricate but that has more than enough earworms to reel listeners in time and again for repeated listens. As well as a great guitarist and songwriter, it turns out that Pete can sing well too. You can go off some people sometimes. Nevertheless, I can’t wait to hear what My Soliloquy offer up on their second album.

Sound of Contact – TBC

Sound of Contact offer some of the richest, most memorable and indulgent progressive rock of recent times, meaning that a new album in 2015 has to be a highly anticipated event to pencil onto my calendar. I still really enjoy their debut album ‘Dimensionaut’ and I’m hoping for another record of equal or superior quality; given the protagonists involved in the band and a return to their original line-up, this certainly isn’t a futile hope either.

Darkane – TBC

If you’re after a band that can combine melodic death metal, thrash and a healthy dose of prog-laced technicality, then Darkane are the no-brainer choice. Savage, brutal, majestic and subtly melodic, the Swedish extreme metallers have delivered quality music time and time again over their six album career. The more I listen to this band, the more I like them and realise what an impossibly brilliant band they are. Darkane’s new album has become one of my most eagerly anticipated.

Cloudscape – TBC

For those in the know, the name Cloudscape has become synonymous with extremely solid and enjoyable melodic hard rock/ metal with a slightly progressive edge. Vocalist Mike Andersson has taken to social media over the past few months to confirm a 2015 release and it has made me realise how interested I am about hearing some new material – I’m certain that it’ll be of a high standard, as each album up to now has been.

Darkwater – TBC

The follow-up to the thoroughly excellent ‘Where Stories End’ from Swedish metallers Darkwater was scheduled for a 2014 release but has slipped into 2015 and there’s still no official release date as far as I can see. Oh well, I’m sure it’ll be worth the wait though and we’ll be treated to another excellent album full of synth-heavy epic, memorable and darkly-tinged melodic progressive metal.

Cradle Of Filth – Hammer Of The Witches – Album Review

cradle of filth cover

Artist: Cradle Of Filth

Album Title: Hammer Of The Witches

Label: Nuclear Blast

Year Of Release: 2015

Let’s get it out in the open immediately – Cradle Of Filth hold an important and cherished place in my heart. They have had their share of both positive and negative press over the course of their twenty year career but in spite of being the darlings of metal one minute and then seemingly the most hated band the next, my admiration has remained steadfast.

And why are Cradle of Filth so important to me? There are two main reasons.

Firstly, they were the first properly extreme metal band that I got into. And when I say I ‘got into’ them, I really mean it. I was in the fan club, I owned every album and I bought a vast proportion of their merchandise. However, whilst the imagery and the notoriety was appealing, it was the music that was most important for me. Tracks like ‘Funeral In Carpathia’ and ‘A Gothic Romance (Red Roses For The Devil’s Whore)’ were awe-inspiring to me as a teenager finding his feet in anything heavier than Iron Maiden and Def Leppard. It was those middle sections of the aforementioned songs that drew me in; initially, I would listen to the extreme sections just to get to the melodic breakdowns, those segments that would stop me in my tracks and give me chills and goosebumps every time without fail. They still do, truth be told. But little by little, I’d appreciate the faster, more extreme elements and come to love them equally as much as the more immediate moments.

Secondly, the band hailed from Suffolk, my home county. In fact band leader, the larger-than-life Dani Filth lived in Ipswich, my home town. He still lives there, about 500 yards from my childhood home as it happens. The idea that a world-renowned band could be based so close to my home was intoxicating as a youngster. As I have aged, I realise that this isn’t all it’s cracked up to be but back then, when the Internet was just starting in earnest, it was a major factor towards their appeal.

Having set the scene, I must now add further context and in so doing, admit to the inconceivable. I have not really wholeheartedly enjoyed a Cradle of Filth album since around 1998. The 1994 debut, ‘The Principle Of Evil Made Flesh’, 1996’s ‘Dusk…And Her Embrace’ and the 1998 release ‘Cruelty And The Beast’, not to mention the 1996 EP ‘Vempire/Dark Faerytales In Phallustein’ are all peerless in my eyes, just about perfect. In fact, ‘Dusk…’ remains one of my all-time favourite records. Since then, the quality has diminished in my opinion. There are songs here and there that appeal but no album has reached the dizzy heights of the holy trinity of full length albums released at the beginning of the band’s career. Until now, that is.

Beset by line-up changes that would rival the comings and goings of some of the worlds’ most famous soap operas, it would appear that, based on this output, Cradle of Filth version 2015 is the strongest in the last decade and a half. With ‘Hammer Of The Witches’, Messrs Dani Filth (vocals), Richard Shaw (guitars), Ashok (guitars), Lindsay Schoolcraft (vocals/keyboards), Daniel Firth (bass) and Martin Skaroupka (drums) have finally rediscovered the magic and recorded an album that returns Cradle Of Filth to the upper echelons of heavy metal once more.

cof band

‘Hammer Of The Witches’ opens in classic Cradle of Filth style, with an instrumental, ‘Walpurgis Eve’. It is dark and foreboding but grandly cinematic, setting the tone nicely for what is to follow. First track proper, ‘Yours Eternally’ wastes absolutely no time in grabbing my attention and within seconds that trademark scream of Dani’s that reeks of barely controlled malevolence pierces through the full-on majestic tumult of double pedal drumming, scything dual guitars as well as atmospheric keys and orchestration, which provides that recognisably rich Gothic sheen. The ‘Dusk…’ overtones are there to be heard and enjoyed immediately and the track emphasises, if emphasis was needed that black metal remains at the heart of the Cradle Of Filth sound. It may have taken on new influences and directions over the years but black metal is definitely at the dark core of the band.

‘Enshrined In Crematoria’ follows and opens in a manner that immediately calls to mind the track ‘Nocturnal Supremacy’ before going in a direction that apparently borrows as much from the 1990’s Gothenburg school of melodic death metal as it does from classic black metal. But the most compelling aspect of the track is the simple but wonderfully brutal and groovy riff that is injected at points throughout its length; it is impossible not to nod your head and grin from ear to ear every time it makes an appearance, brilliantly juxtaposing the more technical and fast-paced material that surrounds it.

Next up is a personal favourite, ‘Deflowering the Maidenhead’. It spews forth with an absolute ton of lush orchestration, creating a savage and dynamic listening experience. And then, in true Cradle Of Filth style, a melody hits from almost nowhere that is stunning and beautiful. In a flash, it is gone to be replaced by frenetic guitar solos and relentless drumming. But then it returns, bigger, better and more grandiose than before, opening the door to a galloping closing sequence that calls to mind the best moments of ‘Cruelty And The Beast’ thanks to the strong riffs, the groovy tempo and the subtle cheekiness that pervades.

And then, as if that wasn’t enough, it is immediately backed up by ‘Blackest Magick In Practice’. At the centre of this composition lies the most impossibly catchy guitar-led melody. It reminds me a little of ‘The Bathory Aria’ in terms of its immediacy, hummability (if such a word exists) and its slower tempo. That said, the track soon reveals a grittier, more extreme side that works nicely atop a backdrop of tinkling keys and dark atmospherics before returning to that riff to close out another cracking piece of music.

There is simply no let-up in the quality either as the title track breaks open the harpsichord to compliment more wonderfully wrought staccato riffing and a mass of symphonic and cinematic theatrics that underline the fact that Cradle Of Filth are at their best when they are churning out pompous, grandiose and downright over-the-top music that revels in its own decadence and malevolent extravagance. Elsewhere, the lead ‘single’ ‘Right Wing Of The Garden Triptych’ offers bombast, plenty of melody and heaviness whilst also bringing the male/female vocal jousting to the fore. Lindsay Schoolcraft has a great voice that’s the perfect fit for Cradle Of Filth thanks to a demonstrable flair for the dramatic.

Importantly, ‘Hammer of the Witches’ is no out-and-out homage to the band’s past. Whilst fans of Cradle Of Filth’s early days may well rejoice, this record does not exclude or ignore the grittier and more impenetrably heavy output of more recent albums ‘The Manticore And Other Horrors’ (2012), ‘Darkly, Darkly Venus Aversa’ (2010) and ‘Godspeed On The Devil’s Thunder’ (2008). If anything, it is the mixture of all eras of the band that makes this record the utter triumph that it is.

The intensity and outright enjoyment is, after nearly an hour, finally brought to close by the ‘Twisted Nails Of Faith’-esque mid-tempo ‘Onward Christian Soldiers’ which then segues seamlessly into the closing instrumental piece ‘Blooding The Hounds Of Hell’. And with that, ‘Hammer Of The Witches’ is over.

The music itself is then strengthened by the poetic, sinister and occasionally darkly humorous lyrical content that has become a staple of the Cradle Of Filth armoury as well as the first-rate production job. Praise must go to the band and to Scott Atkins of Grindstone Studios, also based in darkest Suffolk, because the entire behemoth of an album has been afforded an impressive and powerful clarity that only enhances the enjoyment of it. Put all this together and we’re inexorably heading towards an overall package that simply cannot be ignored. As I said earlier, this is the most excited and enamoured I have been with Cradle Of Filth since the late nineties and there’s a reason for that; ‘Hammer Of The Witches’ is an exceptional album, one of the band’s very best.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.5

If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others right here:

Disarmonia Mundi – Cold InfernoDistrict 97 – In Vaults
Progoctopus – Transcendence
Big Big Train – Wassail
NightMare World – In The Fullness Of Time
Helloween – My God-Given Right
Triaxis – Zero Hour
Isurus – Logocharya
Arcturus – Arcturian
Kamelot – Haven
Native Construct – Quiet World
Sigh – Graveward
Pantommind – Searching For Eternity
Subterranean Masquerade – The Great Bazaar
Klone – Here Comes The Sun
The Gentle Storm – The Diary
Melechesh – Enki
Enslaved – In Times
Keep Of Kalessin – Epistemology
Lonely Robot – Please Come Home
The Neal Morse Band – The Grand Experiment
Zero Stroke – As The Colours Seep
AudioPlastik – In The Head Of A Maniac
Revolution Saints – Revolution Saints
Mors Principium Est – Dawn of The 5th Era
Arcade Messiah – Arcade Messiah
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