Triaxis – An Interview with ‘the metalhead’s metal band’

triaxis photo

It’s not often a band is afforded a strapline as bold and grand as ‘the metalhead’s metal band’ but that’s exactly how South Wales-based heavy metal band Triaxis are described in certain quarters. With two albums under their belt to date, with a steadily-growing reputation and a loyal fan base, things are looking rather splendid for Triaxis. However, with album number three, ‘Zero Hour’ officially upon us as I write, I predict that things will only get better for the talented and hard-working quintet.

If you’ve yet to read my review of ‘Zero Hour’, be sure to check it out here. To briefly quote the review though, I am on record as saying that ‘Zero Hour’ is the very best that Triaxis have ever sounded and puts the Welsh band into the upper echelons of the British metal scene’. I think I might like the new album then.

In light of this, I felt it was my duty to offer the band the chance to tell the world a little more about themselves; after all, that’s what this blog is all about. I contacted lead vocalist Krissie Kirby and, happily, a few days later we got together over Skype to have a chat. It went something like this…

After a minor mix-up over the time of the interview and profuse, yet unnecessary, apologies from Krissie, I open the conversation by asking for a brief history of Triaxis for the benefit of those coming to this article blind.

“Ok”, begins a very bubbly, warm and friendly Krissie with a deep breath as if she’s about to launch into a rendition of ‘War And Peace’, “CJ (rhythm guitar) and Giles (Wilson – drums) formed Triaxis originally in around 2006 I believe. Like every band that has ever been in existence, they started by playing covers. They had a guy singer to start with, so I wasn’t the original singer. He left for family reasons and they got another girl in for about a year. They were toying with the idea of recording originals but then she went to university up Sheffield way. So an opening came up for a vocalist in Triaxis and by that time I’d known CJ for about a year and a half. I worked at the university that she studied at; she was always in my office gassing away”, Krissie laughs heartily, the first of many throughout the conversation, as it turns out.

“Everyone as they went past my office, would hear Megadeth, Skid Row, Whitesnake or Iron Maiden, I was so down with the kids.” Cue a naughty, self-deprecating chuckle from the vocalist.

“So we got talking and CJ realised that I was a singer. They asked me originally to audition for the band some time before but I was doing my masters at the time. CJ eventually wound me down and I went and auditioned. I joined and we started writing a lot more original material. ‘Key To The Kingdom’ came out in 2009, Gio (Gavin ‘Gio’ Owen – lead guitar) left, Glyn (Williams) joined, ‘Rage And Retribution’ appeared. Owen (Crawford – bass) left, Becky (Baldwin) joined and ‘Zero Hour’ is upon us. There you go, the history of Triaxis.”

Having filled in some of the blanks surrounding the creation of the band, I bring things more to the present by asking Krissie’s opinion of the ‘the metalheads’ metal band’ tag-line that has developed more recently. You can almost hear the awe and pride in her voice as Krissie replies.

“I love it, I think it’s awesome. We were chatting to someone the other day and they asked us to define ourselves. We’ve always defined ourselves as a heavy metal band. We have so many elements from so many different subgenres that we are difficult to pigeonhole. The only time that people have tried to pigeonhole us is because there’s a female at the front of the band. It doesn’t matter what your favourite style of metal is, there is something in the Triaxis sound, I hope, for everybody.”

triaxis band

If ever there was a truer statement, I’ve yet to find it. Given the fact that ‘Zero Hour’ is so chock full of great music with a wonderful diversity to it, it would be remiss of me not to enquire about its origins and how it all came together in the first place. Krissie happily explains.

“Glyn did the bulk of the music for the album and he really pulled on a hell of a lot of other influences that maybe we overlooked in the past or didn’t feel comfortable bringing them up. I mean we’re still growing as a band and it was one of those moments when we let Glyn loose with his imagination. A lot of the music he came up with is just so varied and different but we were hard-pressed to find anything that we thought did not fit in with the Triaxis sound.”

“You can still hear CJ and Giles’ riff element in there with the more thrashy sounds”, continues Krissie apace. “Those two are the thrash children of the band, they really are and CJ is ‘Miss Thrash’. And so, when I read your piece, I actually agreed with it because we do have a lot of thrash elements in this band. When you put us amongst other female-fronted bands, we are a lot more thrashy.”

Having been questioned by more than one person over my ‘thrash’ definition of Triaxis in a previous blog post, I’m naturally pleased to hear this from Krissie. However, rather than indulge in a smug ‘I told you so’, I instead let Krissie continue uninterrupted.

“That’s what we always try to say, that we just happen to have a female singer. I can’t do pretty, I can’t. As much as I love listening to Tarja, Within Temptation or NIghtwish, I’m too much of a tomboy and I can’t do pretty”, she chuckles. “However, I’m not saying that Floor is a symphonic singer – she can do opera stuff but her rock voice is phenomenal.”

At the risk of sounding a tad fawning, I suggest to Krissie that I personally consider her to be the female equivalent to Bruce Dickinson, principally due to the power that they both display by the bucket load.

“Woah, thank you”, Krissie replies genuinely. “We’ve had a few ways of being described and my favourite is ‘Iron Maiden fronted by Ann Wilson. I’ll take that, thank you because Bruce Dickinson is one of my absolute idols.”

“He’s not the principal song writer”, Krissie corrects me when I use this description of Glyn, “he’s the principal music writer. When we write, it’s a collaborative process in Triaxis. Because of the various things that have happened in our personal lives over the past year or so with Giles and CJ getting married, me starting my own business and things like that, Glyn started writing and we let him run wild with the music side of things.”

“Glyn would therefore share snippets of riffs with us and maybe CJ would come up with an idea off the back of it. She’d maybe write a bridge too and everything would go into a giant pot. One of us would then suggest a lyric idea, it would then be developed. Then someone else would agree with the theme but suggest a different perspective. It would basically be a huge melting pot and we’d all add to it.”

That being said, Krissie is again quick to correct me when I suggest that ‘Zero Hour’ has the feel of a album that came together thanks to a lot of jamming around with ideas in a rehearsal room.

“That’s sort of true but it’s a virtual room though. This is because we all live so far from each other and plus, with the way my work is, it is difficult for us to all get together into a room and jam. We find it a lot easier to put our ideas down electronically and throw them up into a dropbox and then work on them from there. In the old days, you’d have a band in a garage and they’d jam and create a song in maybe a day or whatever. It can take us anywhere up to five or six weeks to come up with a completely-crafted song.”

Unlike a lot of albums these days, ‘Zero Hour’ is not short of music, with a full twelve songs featuring. I ask Krissie to explain the reasoning behind creating such a big ‘value for money’ record.

“The decision”, she responds with characteristic honestly, “was very much down to ‘damn it, let’s just throw it on there’. It was a case of whether to put all twelve songs on the album or hold some back, maybe put out an EP later in the year or something like that. But then we just thought that all twelve songs were too good and they all work so well together. We just had to put them all on the record.”

“No, I don’t think so”, muses Krissie after a short pause when I ask whether she thought it was a risk to put the epic title track at the end of the disc, when those with a shorter attention span may miss out on it altogether. “We realised that we’d got a bit of a theme going on where the longest song appears as the last track. And the way it was written with the reversed intro as the outro, it was always in our minds to be the last song on the album regardless of what other songs came in between.”

The aforementioned outro was one of those genuinely eyebrow-raising moments as it sounds so different from Triaxis. So different in fact that I’m reminded of neo-prog giants Marillion as it plays. Fortunately, as Krissie reveals, I’m not the only one.

“A friend of mine commented on that and said the same thing”, she laughs. “It was just that we knew we wanted to put an outro on the song and CJ, because of the lyrical content, suggested that it might be good to do something new with the intro as the outro. Glyn suggested we just reverse it and see what happens. It sounded so cool, so we decided to go with it.”

There’s no doubting the quality of ‘Zero Hour’ in its entirety. However, I’m keen to identify what specifically Krissie is most proud of with this new album. As is her way, she tries to deflect the attention from herself initially.

“I think as a band, we’re proud of how the album has come together and we’re proud of Glyn because he headed up the entire recording process. He really worked his arse off and has infinite patience. In Triaxis, there are three girls who are all perfectionists and we get very frustrated with ourselves when we don’t get things absolutely right. He lets us get our frustrations out before saying ‘deep breath, let’s start again’. He’s wonderful and we’re proud of him for that. We’re very proud of the way our fans responded to our pledge campaign, we couldn’t believe that we hit the target within nine hours. You never know where to set the target; have we set it too low or too high, is our fanbase as big as we think it is? But it turned out that our fan base is even more huge than we thought.”

“Personally”, Krissie finally admits, “I am most proud of the ‘Lest We Forget’ track. It is inspired by an ancestor of mine and when I heard the rough copy, I had an emotional moment shall we say.”

triaxis band 1

One of the things that makes Triaxis so interesting is, arguably, the fact that more than half the band are female. In terms of the band’s output, this shouldn’t, and doesn’t, matter one iota. However, I’m interested to find out what this is like from the band’s perspective given that there are many people out there who apparently do care about such things. Krissie understands the rather ham-fisted way in which I word the question and once again chuckles before offering her considered view.

“We always get people who call us ‘femme metal’ or ‘female fronted’ but people will always try to pigeonhole you”, she states matter-of-factly. “The human species is terrible about wanting everything put into compartments. So people will do it whether I get uppity or not. So it’s a case of taking a breath, smiling and saying ‘thank you’. As long as people enjoy our music and come to our gigs, I really don’t mind.”

“It was an eye-opener a year last January”, Krissie continues, “when I decided to cut off all my hair. I had in the region of 250 comments asking why and if I’d lost my vocal powers. I was like ‘really?’ It’s just hair, it will grow back. But up until that point, it hadn’t registered with me how much people focus on the appearance of a band. I was quite shocked because I didn’t expect it in the metal world. I’d expect it in the pop and dance worlds where image is absolutely paramount, way above the music. I was disappointed to be honest but, to be fair, they got over it. And, to be honest, I think it works to our advantage having three girls in the band, but the boys are just as pretty.” Insert more raucous and friendly laughter here.

At this point, I decide to wind down the interview. Not because I want to, but because I can hear my toddler and baby instigating World War 3 downstairs. The closing topic focuses upon Triaxis’ touring plans in support of the new record.

“We were in Europe in March for a few dates that we viewed as a warm-up”, Krissie replies. “We played a couple of new songs from the album because we didn’t know when we’d get out there again after the album launch. We wanted to treat the Belgian and Holland crowds because they’ve been very good to us over the last few years. We’re hoping to get out again in the autumn and hopefully go into Germany and some of the Scandinavian countries. I think it depends where things start to go from with the album launch. But having Metal Hammer stream the album this week has helped somewhat.”

I saw that. That must have been a great moment for you as a band?

“I had the notice that it was happening from our PR lady one night when I was coming away from teaching a client. I was in the middle of Tesco when this notice came through and I may have been loud and done a happy dance down the aisle at that point”, Krissie laughs underlining the point that Triaxis are still very much ‘normal people just like you and me – they just happen to be very talented musicians as well, damn them!

“If it takes us further afield and increases our fan base, then we’ve done our job”, Krissie continues more seriously. “It is a helpful tool but you should never pin your fanbase on how many likes you get on that god-awful social media. However we’ve gone up over 300-400 likes in the last week alone which is phenomenal for us. And then there’s the pledge stuff – we’ve sent things out to Japan, Australia and America, so the Triaxis tentacles are starting to spread across the globe.”

And rightly so too. However, as a final plea from someone with two very small children who finds it tough to get out to gigs currently, I ask Krissie to bring Triaxis to East Anglia, preferably Ipswich. The reply is not a flat-out ‘no’ either. Result.

“In the UK, we’re constantly looking at getting gigs in all sorts of places. We recorded the drums up near Ipswich so we should be able to play a show up there sometime I would think. And a friend of mine owns a gym in Colchester, so I will nag him as well.”

And with that, we say our goodbyes along with a few more laughs and a bit of friendly banter. Have I ever enjoyed an interview more? If I have, I’m hard-pressed to remember it. Triaxis really are the real deal; lovely people, highly talented and very driven to succeed. And, on the strength of ‘Zero Hour’, they deserve all the success that they can get. So do yourselves a favour and acquaint yourselves with Triaxis; you’ll not be disappointed, trust me.

‘Zero Hour’ is out now on Rocksector Records.

If you’ve enjoyed this interview, please check out some others that I have conducted:

Native Construct
Distorted Harmony
Kingcrow
Wisdom Of Crowds – Bruce Soord & Jonas Renkse

Maschine

Helloween – My God-Given Right – Album Review

Helloween - My God-Given Right - Artwork

Artist: Helloween

Album Title: My God-Given Right

Label: Nuclear Blast

Year Of Release: 2015

There’s always an exception to the rule. In the case of Helloween, they are the exception to the rule that Germans have no sense of humour. That’s utter nonsense of course, it’s just a silly stereotype and the five musicians that go by the name of Helloween are the proof if proof were needed. Helloween Throughout their career, theirs is an output that has always been laced with more than the occasional joke and self-deprecating good humour. In fact it is their general bonhomie that has endeared them to metal fans the world over who don’t always want their listening experiences to be serious and po-faced. Of a high quality, yes, but ingrained with a sense of the light-hearted and fun. The fact that crowds at their live shows chant ‘happy, happy Helloween’ serves to underline the manner in which they are regarded by the band’s faithful.

My perspective on the self-monikered pumpkinheads is arguably a little different from many others. There are those who go all the way back to the band’s earliest incarnation with Michael Kiske on vocals and consider ‘Keeper Of The Seven Keys Part 1′ and ‘Part 2′ as near God-like classics of the power metal genre. They are indeed very fine albums but I myself came to Helloween a little later and I fail to have such a powerfully-held affinity with these releases from 1987 and 1988 respectively. Instead, I discovered Helloween via their 1994 album ‘The Master Of The Rings’ and promptly took the record and the band to my heart. The choruses were so damn catchy, the songs so memorable and, with tracks like ‘Perfect Gentleman’, ‘Where The Rain Grows’ and the absurdly fun ‘The Game Is On’ that sang the praises of the Nintendo Game Boy and even sampled some of the device’s most famous sound effects, Helloween’s sense of playfulness was underlined.

By discovering Helloween at this stage, I was also unconcerned by the band’s change of singer; indeed I rather enjoyed Andi Deris’ heavily accented, unique approach and still do. For me, he is as much a part of Helloween as his predecessor Kiske; more so if you consider their relative involvement over the years.

Personally, I prefer Helloween when they deliver music that is fast, melodic, catchy and here’s that word again: fun. Over the course of their fourteen previous albums, original members Michael Weikath, Marcus Grosskopf and Co. have toyed with a number of incarnations including more epic and dark themes (‘The Dark Ride’), a more grandiose and symphonic approach (‘Keeper Of The Seven Keys: The Legacy’) and the downright odd (‘Pink Bubbles Go Ape’). With ‘My God-Given Right’, they have chosen to return to their more straight-up power metal anthem territory and as such, I can’t help but enjoy the results.

I’m not meaning to sound disingenuous when I say that album number fifteen, ‘My God-Given Right’ is what I’d refer to as ‘minimal effort enjoyment’, it’s more a statement of fact and one that I believe works in the band’s favour. I refer to my opening paragraph – not everyone wants serious and challenging music all of the time. There are times when I want a blast of classic melodic power metal that offers the kind of music when I can throw back my head and sing along with manly gusto. ‘My God-Given Right’ provides just this kind of tonic and, for the most part it is fantastic.

The album opens strongly with a trio of tracks that are simply brilliant. ‘Heroes’ offers a nicely-crafted melodic and almost soothing verse with a punchy chorus, ‘Battle’s Won’ is a fast-paced double-pedal driven power metal anthem with an overblown, hook-laden chorus and the title track is, if anything, even better. The verse has an understated feel to it that is reminiscent of ‘Master Of The Rings’ era material but it’s the chorus that transcends the song into Godly anthemic realms. Deris belts it out as powerfully as I’ve ever heard him and, coupled with a gorgeously memorable melody and more double-pedal drumming, it is devastatingly infectious. There’s even a moment in the middle where everything quietens down before building inexorably to another rendition of the chorus. Magnificent.

helloween-2015-group-1280

The good news is that even after such a great opening, there are plenty of high points remaining within the album. ‘Stay Crazy’ features some utterly ridiculous lyrics but thanks to a classic 80s metal-meets-melodic hard rock sheen and another breezy carefree chorus, the silliness is easily overlooked. To be honest, silly lyrics are part of the charm of Helloween and would be missed if absent. To underline this point and the humorous element of the band, look no further than the preposterous ‘If God Loves Rock ‘n’ Roll’ and the spoken word segment that suggests that ‘even in heaven you need a bass guitar, a guitar and a second guitar’. The track is not meant to be taken seriously and is saved by another chorus that’s relatively strong and worthy of attention.

As evidenced within ‘A Swing Of A Fallen World’ and closer ‘You, Still Of War’, however, Helloween demonstrate that they have not entirely abandoned their more symphonic and epic attributes. That said, these moments are definitely the exception rather than the rule on this record.

The slightly disappointing news though is that the aforementioned quality is not always maintained throughout the thirteen tracks on the album. Tracks like ‘Claws’ and ‘Russian Roule’ fail to make the same kind of impact and if I wasn’t reviewing the album, I could have been tempted to press the skip button on my stereo. They aren’t necessarily bad tracks but they have a slightly flat feel to them; they strike me as filler fodder, threatening to undermine all the good work elsewhere.

That said, and bearing in mind the awful quality of the mp3 files that were offered for promo purposes, I have to say that ‘My God-Given Right’ is, in my opinion, the most enjoyable album that Helloween have released for quite some time. The good far outweighs the not so good and when all is said and done, when Helloween get it right on this album, they get it very, very right indeed. You want melody, fun and a care-free classic metal listening experience? Then I suggest you unpack your air guitar, warm up the vocal chords and get your ears around ‘My God-Given Right’.

The Score Of Much Metal: 8.0

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

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

Native Construct – Interview – “if this music was not considered odd, I have no idea if I’d be interested in making it”

Photo: Sam Harchik

Photo: Sam Harchik

It is rare these days that I find myself so daunted by an album or by a band. However, that’s probably the best adjective I can use to describe how I felt upon listening to Native Construct and their progressive metal debut, ‘Quiet World’ for the first time. It’s not an album that can be referred to as easy listening as there are a million-and-one things going on, seemingly all at once. It not really surprising though, given that the trio that make up Native Construct are all students of the world-renowned Berklee College of Music in Boston, USA. You have to be a seriously good musician to get into this establishment initially and, bearing in mind the likes of Dream Theater who originated from the same College, it’s likely that you come out of the other end even better and more highly skilled.

Nevertheless, having given ‘Quiet World’ plenty of time and attention, it all began to click and I eventually took the album to my heart. If you’re interested in my full and detailed review, you can check it out here.

From the moment that the music clicked, I felt compelled to find out more about this incredibly talented band and so, via the miracle of Skype, I found myself engaging in a transatlantic conversation with guitarist Myles Yang with a clarity that made it feel like we were in the same room. I begin the interview by asking Myles why he and his two partners in crime, vocalist Robert Edens and bassist Max Harchik chose progressive metal to be their musical vehicle of choice as opposed to anything else.

“To be honest”, begins a quietly spoken and incredibly articulate Myles with a very distinct, almost musical accent, “the reasons why we are partial to metal and progressive music are not consciously driven; we’re victims of circumstance just like everyone in the world is. I’m into metal because my older brother growing up was into metal and I was influenced greatly by him. I followed in his footsteps and found myself stumbling into the metal world without ever consciously deciding to enter into it. The vocalist Robert was my best friend growing up so naturally he got into it because I was into it. And then Max I think had similar experiences in driving him towards this kind of music. We’ve all been into the metal and progressive music world since we were much younger so it was the natural kind of thing for us to do for this project once we started to get more serious with things. But of course we’ve been able to add in a lot of other influences as well and moved in a slightly different direction as a result, as opposed to sticking with more traditional metal music.”

“But early on there were a lot of straight up metal influences. I got into the metal world through hardcore and emo music actually. So I started with things like My Chemical Romance and then it got progressively heavier to bands like As I Lay Dying and Killswitch Engage. The big turning point was when I discovered Between The Buried and Me because they bridged the gap between traditional metal and progressive music. I heard them and was blown away; I didn’t even realise that you were allowed to do things they were doing. Specifically the record ‘Colours’ –that was the first one that I heard and that opened my eyes to the progressive world. From there I got into more prog rock and progressive metal bands. Eventually, I wound up as a prog enthusiast. I believe that it was similar for the rest of the band too.”

“Later on, I got into classic prog bands like The Beatles, Queen, Pink Floyd, that kind of stuff. And then of course there’s another side of me which belongs to the classical music world, so I draw a lot of influences from composers such as Igor Stravinsky, Bela Bartok, Maurice Ravel, that sort of stuff.”

In the press release that accompanied ‘Quiet World’, the descriptive prose proudly declares that Native Construct set out to breathe new life into the metal world. Whilst I’d agree with this to a certain extent, Myles is not so sure, as he explains with good humour.

“To be honest”, he laughs, “the idea that we specifically set out to breathe new life into metal is a bit of a romanticisation. It sounds great in press releases but the honest truth is that we came to Berklee, we were all excited students so we played around and jammed with friends; this is the music that naturally resulted from that. It started as a “for fun” passion project on the side but escalated from there. All we ever set out to do was make music that we were having fun with. If somehow that ends up being something that people perceive as breathing new life into anything then so be it but that wasn’t really our goal to begin with.”

Given the Berklee connection, I have to ask Myles about Dream Theater and whether being compared to them or referred to as ‘the next Dream Theater’ is more of a help or a hindrance.

“I wouldn’t say it’s a hindrance”, Myles considers, “but I also wouldn’t say that we’re comparable to Dream Theater at all yet. But I understand the comparison and to be honest, I think it does nothing but help us. The name Dream Theater has a lot of weight behind it and when people hear things like ‘the next Dream Theater’, it gets people’s attention and makes them want to check us out. So I’m fine with it.”

“In the very beginning”, Myles begins when I enquire as to how this extremely complex and challenging music came into being, “it was a few kids new to Berklee just jamming. We started to come up with some weird stuff that we decided was fun and wanted to continue pursuing. Shortly after that, once we decided we wanted to focus on it more seriously, we quickly did away with the casual jam process and began a more focussed process where we sat down and started thoroughly composing. The initial direction was very natural but the bulk of the music was created in a very specific, meticulous manner with usually one or two people sitting down, working out all the parts and then having us all learn the parts afterwards. The kind of music we’re making doesn’t really lend itself to the jam setting because the parts are very specific. There’s a lot going on, it’s very dense and it needed to be fit together very carefully like a puzzle.”

Native Cover

Based on the preceding answer, I make the mistake of assuming that Native Construct is just a studio band, something that Myles corrects with a certain amount of excitement.

“Oh no, we’re definitely going to be playing on stage very soon; we’re actually in the middle of rehearsals right now so we’re going on the road as soon as possible.”

This then begs an obvious question. If Native Construct are just a trio, formed of a vocalist, bassist and guitarist, how will the music be replicated on stage?

“We take care of all that stuff ourselves on this album”, Myles states almost dismissively as if he’s referring to the act of breathing. “For live performances though, we’re working with a drummer and an additional guitarist who are not actually in the band.”

In that case, who exactly handles the other instruments on the album, particularly the drums?

“The drums are programmed, which I did.”

The incredulity in my voice makes Myles chuckle, as I struggle to believe that the drums are not organically produced. Fake drums have always been a big bugbear of mine and so to realise that I have been duped leaves me feeling rather red-faced.

“Thank you”, Myles responds warmly with another chuckle, “I worked very hard to make them sound as real as possible. There are a number of ways that programmed drums can go but if you work carefully and pay attention to dynamics and the nuances of human drumming as far as timing goes, you can make them sound pretty real these days.”

“I can’t remember ever specifically thinking that”, Myles answers honestly when I enquire as to whether there was any time when the whole thing felt like too much and the trio felt like giving up. “Although I wouldn’t consider it out of the question; it might have happened. We started working on this stuff since 2011 and we finally finished in 2013 I think. It was definitely tough, as you say, to balance school with it. So there might be times when I regretted getting into this but it turned out well in the end.”

Based on the feedback to this record on various forums, it’s probably fair to say that the reception towards ‘Quiet World’ is mixed. There are those who think it’s the best thing they’ve ever heard, whilst others simply cannot get on with it, citing it as too complex or too weird. The accusation has also been thrown about that maybe this is an album that has been created because it could, instead of because it should. I tentatively put this to Myles and to my surprise, he completely understands.

Photo: Sam Harchik

Photo: Sam Harchik

“I’m surprised that more people don’t say that to be honest. I was definitely aware of that as something that people might potentially think before we released the album. I’ve been surprised at how positive the reception has been. That’s not something we care too much about though. We made this music because we wanted to and if people think we shouldn’t have, then whatever. It’s pretty cool though that the vast majority of people so far have enjoyed it.”

“Maybe subconsciously”, Myles replies when I cheekily ask whether some of the elements on the album are there simply to show off their collective talents. “But that was never our intention; we’re just making music that we want to hear and that’s about it.”

As is the relative norm with progressive music, ‘Quiet World’ is a concept disc with a strong story running through it from start to finish. I’m keen to discover whether it was the music or the concept that emerged from the trio first.

“At the onset”, Myles states quite vehemently, “it was just music first. But very quickly the concept came into focus and so most of the music was written with the concept in mind. The music really follows the concept and the story.”

And are there any parts of the story that have been influenced by any of the band’s personal experiences?

“It was never directly intended to be representative of our lives although the process of creating music is very intimate and so it’s impossible to keep ourselves out of it. I’m sure therefore that some of our experiences seeped in, in a number of ways. But the idea itself is intended to be a work of fiction and not really directly related to us.”

There is, in my opinion, much for the chaps in Native Construct to be proud of on their debut recording. However, I enquire as to whether there are any specific aspects of the album about which Myles is especially proud.

“I’ll preface this answer”, Myles answers in his typically considered fashion, “by saying that I have been working on new material for subsequent albums recently and it’s going to be very different. But the one thing that I do really enjoy about this current album and the thing that I think will always stay with us no matter how the rest of the elements of the music end up, is our strict commitment to thematics. So, on this album, absolutely everything you hear is derived from just a handful of basic themes that make up the core of the album. There’s an infinite number of ways one can develop a single theme or motif and we really enjoy exploring that idea. And we especially enjoy exploring crazy, interesting and extreme paths of development. It’s a really enjoyable way to compose music for us and allows us to get away with some wild out-there stuff whilst still remaining coherent and focused. This is one of the most important elements of our sound and will stick with us.”

Photo: Sam Harchik

Photo: Sam Harchik

One thing that made me raise an eyebrow from the beginning was the choice of record label that the band made. Metal Blade have a reputation for signing the heavier, more uncompromising end of the metal spectrum and, with respect, I would have thought that labels like InsideOut or KScope would have been more natural homes for an out-and-out prog metal band like Native Construct. The reason, it turns out, is very simple however.

“Another oddball band on the Metal Blade roster is Between The Buried and Me. The vocalist of BTBAM, Tommy, heard our music whilst we were in the process of shopping the record out to labels. He liked the music enough that he offered to help us with that process. He actually was able to get us in contact with a few labels including Metal Blade and we started talking from there. So one oddball band helped out another oddball and now we’re both oddballs on the same label. Other labels might have been more obvious choices but Metal Blade gave us a deal we were happy with and I think it is beneficial to be an oddball band on a label like this because it helps us to stand out within the remainder of the roster.”

Myles has used the word ‘oddball’ a lot in his recent answers, so I ask him whether he wishes that the music he created was not considered to be niche or underground.

“To be honest, I have no idea what I would think if music like this was the norm; that’s an interesting question. I will say that given that progressive metal is not the norm, it is probably in our favour to be considered to be an oddball band. There’s so much noise out there these days that anything you can have to differentiate yourself and make people more interested is useful. But if this music was not odd, I have no idea if I’d be interested in making it or not.”

On a similar train of thought, I ask Myles if he worries about the fact that the music world in general appears to have a diminishing attention span and is not always open or willing to give complex music like prog a chance.

“Yes, I do worry”, Myles immediately affirms without hesitation. “It is definitely tough and this is something that we kept in mind a little bit while we were composing too. As hard as this may be to believe”, he pauses and chuckles wryly to himself, “we actually had to limit ourselves a little bit in terms of how long we could go on with certain things and how far out we could go. People are simply not swilling to listen to certain things these days; you have to keep things a little more concise. This being our first album, we were conscious of the first track on the first album being something that grabs your attention immediately because to be honest, people will listen to maybe 10-15 seconds of the first track of a new band and if they don’t like it, you’re done. There are no second chances; it’s a hard world out there.”

“That said”, Myles continues, “there’s a very strong niche market out there for this sort of stuff. It may be a very small market but these are amongst the most passionate of fans in my experience. And there’s a lot of interesting stuff out there. It’s a nice time and it’s cool to be living in this year, given that the forerunners of prog have already paved the way for us and opened up many doors. It gives us a lot more freedom as a result.”

As a closing question to what has been a thoroughly engaging and enjoyable chat, I ask Myles whether he sees Native Construct as a long-term band given that he has used the word ‘project’ throughout. The answer is exactly what I was hoping for.

“Native Construct is definitely a band for the long term. We have plans to do quite a few more albums. But right now we’re focussing on getting touring started. After we’ve supported this record on the road, we’ll be starting the cycle all over again. We would love to come to the UK and all over in the future too.”

Technical, ambitious, complex and just ever so slightly bonkers, ‘Quiet World’ is truly progressive in just about every term of the word. If this sounds like your kind of thing, be sure to check out Native Construct.

‘Quiet World’ is out now on Metal Blade Records.

If you’ve enjoyed this interview, please check out some others that I have conducted:

Distorted Harmony
Kingcrow
Wisdom Of Crowds – Bruce Soord & Jonas Renkse

Maschine

Triaxis – Zero Hour – Album Review

triaxis zero hour cover

Artist: Triaxis

Album Title: Zero Hour

Label: Rocksector Records

Year Of Release: 2015

From my vantage point, Triaxis are a band that seem to do everything the right way. Hailing from South Wales, Triaxis have a clear mission: to launch an attack to take over the heavy metal world. With a massively strong work ethic that sees the quintet playing gigs up and down the UK and further afield whenever the opportunity arises, their name is becoming more and more well-known as time goes by. Moreover, thanks to a friendly and balanced presence on social media where not every little thing is posted ad nauseum, they are a band that has already been taken to the hearts of many metal fans. At the current time, their following is slowly but surely growing and gathering momentum with something of a cult fan base developing. With a bit of luck and more hard work, album number three, entitled ‘Zero Hour’ has every chance to push Triaxis to another level entirely. Actually, I’m not sure luck is required because, put simply, this is a fabulous album, deserving of all the critical acclaim and plaudits that it will no doubt receive.

For those unfamiliar, Triaxis were formed in 2006 and the best part of a decade later are comprised of founding members Giles (drums) and CJ (guitars) alongside vocalist Krissie, lead guitarist Glyn and relative newcomer, Becky, who joined the band in 2014 to fill the vacant bass slot. In 2009, Triaxis released their debut, self-produced album, ‘Key To The Kingdom’ and then, in 2012, recorded the follow-up, ‘Rage And Retribution’.

I always considered Triaxis to be a band influenced most strongly by the thrash scene but over time and with ‘Zero Hour’ blasting in my ears as I type, I have come to realise that this observation might not be as accurate as it could be. Yes there are many nods to the thrash genre thanks to the aggressive and powerful drumming, the barrage of tight, incisive, fast-paced riffs and the overt attitude that vocalist Krissie conveys with her singing. However, in addition, there’s a demonstrable NWOBHM and classic metal vibe to much of the material. The likes of Iron Maiden and Judas Priest to name a couple are referenced thanks to Triaxis’ love of galloping tempos, harmonies and choruses that contain enough hooks to catch a blue whale. And then, there are also a few more modern twists for good measure, including a smattering of metalcore- tinged growls to compliment the clean voice as well as the occasional use of synths and sampled sounds away in the background. These latter elements are not overplayed; they’re merely there to subtly accentuate when required and its a nice touch as far as I’m concerned.

triaxis photo

In the accompanying press release, Triaxis are quoted as saying that ‘Zero Hour’ returns a little more to their roots but is the heaviest album that they have recorded. I would tend to agree with this statement, but perhaps go one stage further. From my humble perspective, I’d go so far as to suggest that not only is it their heaviest recording to date but that it’s also their strongest material to date full stop. The playing is more honed, the song writing is even more focused and the blend between the aggression and the melodies are fantastic, a real joy to behold.

‘Liberty’ opens the album in truly majestic style. A simple lone riff kicks things off before sparingly-used drums and the sound of a ghostly choir enter the fray. The lead guitar joins the steady and atmospheric build-up before the track explodes into a thunderous heavy metal anthem. Krissie’s voice soars above a mid-tempo verse that gives way to an instantly memorable chorus that ups the pace very nicely. From then on, the tone has been set and what follows is a further eleven cracking metal tracks.

‘Death Machine’ is a frantic track that contains some superb riffs, thunderous blast beats and an introduction of those aforementioned growled vocals. But yet, for all its savage and uncompromising approach, it’s groovy and features another killer chorus that’s almost power metal in its execution. ‘Ministry Of Truth’ features some dark, dystopian lyrics whilst delivering more thrash-inspired incisive riffing subtly reminiscent of mid-era Megadeth, as well as some of the best lead guitar work on the record.

‘Terraform’ is classic stadium-friendly NWOBHM fodder with a stunning chorus, ‘Victorous’ is a furious and energetic battle-hungry call to arms whilst ‘Stand Your Ground’ flies from the speakers with a wonderfully breezy melodic hard rock vibe. The album closes with the title track and in my opinion, they’ve saved the best for last. ‘Zero Hour’ is a ten-minute behemoth that dials up the synths and the atmospherics within a stunning, elongated intro. From there, it pulls everything together from the preceding eleven tracks and wraps it up in a generally stomping mid-tempo epic piece of music that sends shivers down my spine each and every time I hear it.

I’ve mentioned vocalist Krissie in previous blog posts, suggesting that she’s one of my favourite female vocalists in heavy metal. Her performance on ‘Zero Hour’ does nothing to dissuade me and if anything, puts her even higher in my estimations. Note perfect, full of attitude and blessed with a huge set of lungs, Krissie has pulled out all the stops and majestically fronts an already impressive album.

The icing on the cake is a really excellent production that blesses each element of the music with a clarity that allows all the Triaxis ingredients to be heard and enjoyed to their full. Kudos should therefore go to the band themselves and to Scott Atkins who assisted with a particularly brutal drum sound and James Stephenson (Stymphalian Productions) for a top quality mix and mastering job.

Put as succinctly as possible, ‘Zero Hour’ is the very best that Triaxis have ever sounded and put the Welsh band into the upper echelons of the British metal scene. The confidence flows, the album oozes attitude and every track offers something positive to the listener. If you’re after a dose of uncompromising straight-up heavy metal, you need to hear this record. I predict big things for Triaxis and deservedly so.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.0

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

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

Isurus – Logocharya – Album Review

Isurus cover

Artist: Isurus

Album Title: Logocharya

Label: Independent Release

Year Of Release: 2015

One of the biggest buzzes I get through writing this blog and writing about music in general is from the discovery of new music. I’m not one to sit still and rest on my laurels; I’m always on the look-out for the next band or artist to impress me and offer another fresh and exciting listening experience. The fact that I get bands coming to me on a daily basis asking for me to take a listen to this or that, is a bonus that I welcome. Some of it is not to my taste at all or is not of a great standard but occasionally, just occasionally, one artist will rise out of the flood of mediocrity and make a big impact upon me. One such band is Isurus.

Isurus are a London-based band that has been in existence since 2007 and are comprised of vocalist Braun Amore, guitarist David Bonney, drummer Thomas Drew and bassist Daniele Gravina. I believe I’m right in saying that the band began their existence as an all-out thrash metal band but, over time, have developed and morphed into an entirely different beast. Whilst I’m loathe to ever pigeon-hole bands into any one definitive genre, for the sake of brevity and to give an initial idea to readers, I’d refer to Isurus as progressive metal. However, other influences and ideas are at play within the band’s sound that make the music of Isurus as strong as it is.

Courtesy of Isurus

Courtesy of Isurus

‘Logocharya’ represents Isarus’ sophomore album release, which sees the light of day some four full years since their debut, ‘Telos’. At the time of writing, I remain unfamiliar with the content of the debut and so am unable to comment upon it. Suffice to say that based on the strength of its successor, I intend to rectify this in the very near future. For the time being though, it allows me to focus on this new material without being coloured or distracted by what went before, something which can be as helpful as being familiar with every note and nuance of a band’s career. I am free of any bias and unhindered by any emotional attachment to the artist.

The question then begs itself: what do I think about ‘Logocharya’ then? In short, I think it is rather great. But allow me to elaborate.

I’m not a fan of Tool. I have tried on many occasions to fall under the spell of this cult US band, whose compositional nous and playing skills are without question, superlative. They are just not for me somehow. The relevance of this becomes clear within the first minute or two of opening track ‘Logos’, which wastes little time in hitting the listener with a groovy, heavy and powerful riff courtesy of Bonney that delights with its power and the clever time signature that it employs, transcending from the ordinary to the special in my opinion. It is further enhanced thanks to some really brilliant drumming from Drew and Gravina’s clever bass lines that together are much more than just a metronomic backbone of the music. The track eventually opens up into a killer melodic crescendo and I’m reminded fairly quickly of tracks like ‘Schism’ by Tool, one of the few tracks by them that resonates with me.

Initially flummoxed by my enjoyment of Isurus in spite of the overt Tool references, I listened again and again until it dawned on me that the Isurus sound is much more multi-dimensional than that. They might be subtle or not immediately apparent, but there are other ingredients within the Isurus sound that offer demonstrable originality and prevent the dreaded ‘clone’ description. Elements of both classic-era and more modern progressive rock, Bay Area thrash (particularly within some of the heavier, more straight-up riffs), alt-rock and tech/math metal are fused into the overall sound making for a very ambitious final product. Crucially, it all comes together to enhance the compositions rather than detract from them; the songs remain at the forefront of the quartet’s collective minds and so, however technical things become and however many polyrhythms are experimented with, there’s something for the listener to latch on to, thereby creating a certain addictive quality to the music.

‘Orbis’ has a big thrash feel initially but then moves back and forth into more modern metal territory that nods its head in the direction of Slipknot and others of their ilk, albeit toned down and not as brutal. There’s plenty more by way of instrumental dexterity but equally, there’s enough mid-tempo groove to get the head nodding. ‘Gaea’ offers more in the way of the modern alt-prog movement, bands like Karnivool for example. The bass rumbles under a subtle clean guitar line and the vocals of Braun Amore echo the aforementioned’s Ian Kenny when delivering a more restrained lead vocal. ‘Hospes’ introduces some lovely double-pedal drumming within a more extreme metal framework that also features some big synth embellishments and plenty of dramatic light and shade. ‘Arca’ takes the foot off the pedal and introduces a strong, simple melody that sticks in the mind nicely but which then morphs cleverly into a chugging thrash-influenced track. And then there’s the instrumental track, ‘Yama (part 1)’, which is quite beautiful.

Courtesy of Isurus

Courtesy of Isurus

The most pleasing thing is that ‘Logocharya’ is a very consistent beast and so I could reference something positive within most of the tracks for one reason or another if I’m honest. That said, there’s a nagging feeling that, just occasionally within this 11-track album, it would be nice if Isurus opened up and let rip as witnessed in the final minute or two of the opening track. However, that’s arguably just me being very picky indeed.

In a previous paragraph, I made reference, amongst other things, to the vocals; this is definitely one of the big strengths of Isurus. Too often I find that technically gifted musicians are let down by their choice of lead singer; it irks me more frequently than it should. That’s not the case with Isurus because in Braun Amore, they are blessed with a vocalist who not only has a great range but has a kind of effortless power which actually conveys quite a bit of emotion. And whilst I wish that he’d mix things up a little more than he does and deviate more from the higher-pitched full-power approach that sounds somehow Australian (I can’t quite put my finger on why this is), you can’t really fault the end product.

If all this wasn’t enough, the album has been self-produced but mixed by the heavyweight Daniel Bergstrand (Meshuggah, In Flames) at Dugout Productions, meaning that ‘Logocharya’ is blessed with a really punchy sound that does the music real justice.

If you’re looking for an album that’s big on technicality and complexity but that doesn’t forget the importance of real songs that groove and properly rock out, you could do an awful lot worse than check out Isusus’ ‘Logocharya’. This is most definitely one of the finds of 2015 so far for me, that’s for sure.

The Score Of Much Metal: 8.0

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

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

Arcturus – Arcturian – Album Review

desen tush

Artist: Arcturus

Album Title: Arcturian

Label: Prophecy Productions

Year Of Release: 2015

‘Idiosynchratically beautiful’. These are two words that have stuck with me for nearly 20 years and which I recall almost every time I hear or read the name Arcturus. These words were quoted on an advert for the Norwegian band’s 1997 release, ‘La Masquerade Infernale’ within an issue of either Terrorizer or Metal Hammer magazine; I can’t remember which. What I do remember was that I was deeply into a stage of black metal discovery at the time and this quote resonated with me for some reason. I took the punt and received the album as a Christmas present. It wasn’t love at first listen; instead it was a slow and steady slog that has ended in a lasting and deep love affair. It was the track ‘Ad Astra’ that was the catalyst for repeat listens. Full of drama, avant-garde vaudevillian oddness and a compelling crescendo, it impressed me and forced me to listen to the remainder of the album more than perhaps I might otherwise have done.

It is arguable that in the intervening years, Arcturus have never managed to hit the heights of ‘La Masquerade Infernale’. Neither 2002’s ‘The Sham Mirrors’ nor ‘Sideshow Symphonies’ spoke to me in the same way and despite containing some outstanding moments, I came away both times with feelings of slight disappointment. And that, as they say was that. In terms of original studio albums, nothing has been released since; indeed after the release of ‘Shipwrecked in Oslo’ in 2006, the band called it quits with the individual members going on to do different things. And so it has remained until now.

Rumours were rife from around 2011 when various members made comments that alluded to a resurrection of the band and later that year the rumours were confirmed. However, for one reason or another it has taken until 2015 for a new original recording to see the light of day, a development that has been greeted with great euphoria amongst the loyal Arcturus following.

Arcturus version 2015 is comprised of Steinar Sverd Johnsen (keys), Hellhammer (drums), Knut Magne Valle (guitar), Hugh ‘Skoll’ Mingay (bass) and ICS Vortex (vocals). Together, they have created an album very much worthy of their lofty status and one that I would argue just about manages to match the quality of ‘La Masquerade Infernale’. The only reason I hedge my bets and say ‘just about’ is because I’ve only had about three days with ‘Arcturian’ as opposed to the 18 years I’ve had to enjoy ‘La Masquerade Infernale’. That said, I’ve listened to ‘Arcturian’ more times than I care to mention in recent days and it gives me chills on each and every listen. It is complex, quirky, brilliantly composed and professionally executed. I have no doubt that with even more time and attention, it’ll delight and captivate me even more than it does already.

Arcturus_2015_D_

The one thing that perhaps I wasn’t expecting was the sheer amount of melody and accessibility that ‘Arcturian’ displays. It’s no exaggeration to say that for all of the complexity and raw heaviness, almost every track on the album contains a melody, lead vocal or some kind of hook that makes me sit up and take real notice. When I listen to new music, I have a tendency to make an ‘oooh’ noise and smile broadly if something excites me. I suspect that there will be some of you out there who do something similar. On ‘Arcturian’, I admit to ‘ooh’-ing all over the place.

One of main reasons why this album feels so melodic and accessible is, I believe down to vocalist ICS Vortex. Yes he is an acquired taste but so unique is his delivery and so impressive is his range that seemingly very little is off-limits. He complements the music beautifully, managing sound both majestic but also a little unstable, as if he could spiral out of control at any moment. I mean, at times, he sounds like he’s yodelling for heaven’s sake; it’s superb.

Onto the compositions themselves, they are all dense, multi-layered affairs that contain an abundance of richness. There are no songs that tend to extend over six minute mark and yet, such is the ambition of Arcturus that it feels like a million different ideas are injected into each composition, testing the listener and toying with them at every turn. I strongly suspect that this has been done with a certain playful, yet mischievous intent. Those strong Vaudervillian overtones of the band’s past make a welcome return, as do a number of various influences that pull Arcturus away from being simply discarded as a black metal band. As they demonstrate on ‘Arcturian’, there are elements of black metal to their underlying sound but they deliver so much more that to pigeonhole them in such a way would be inaccurate and disingenuous.

Opening track, ‘The Arcturian Sign’, starts off somewhat disconcertingly with weird electronic noises and sounds. It’s a typically eccentric beginning which soon gives way to those unmistakable vocals of ICS Vortex and, at its core, a black metal meets prog composition. Dominated by powerful synths and relentless double pedal drumming, those odd sounds like laser guns nevertheless re-surface throughout. But within the tumult and idiosyncrasies is a really catchy, hook-laden chorus.

‘Crashland’ has a light and breezy feel to it, taking in influences from space rock, folk music and more extreme climes. The sweeping synths are immediately reminiscent of the ‘La Masquerade Infernale’ era, as they are during my personal standout track, ‘Game Over’ with its addictive melodies and the way it builds and morphs so elegantly from one guise to another almost imperceptibly, ending in a crescendo of sorts that elicits another ‘ooh’ from my lips.

‘Angst’ is a powerful and more extreme slab of metal, dominated by a blistering tempo, tortured screams atop another strong synth melody and the threat of a descent into chaos on more than one occasion. ‘Warp’ on the other hand introduces more electronic influences but has such an imposing and catchy melody that it’s impossible to ignore. ‘Demon’ has demonstrable Gothic synth pop overtones whereas ‘Pale’ delights with a marvellous driving central riff, a great chorus of sorts and some of the most varied and brilliant vocals on the entire record. The album ends with ‘Bane’, a track that further backs up the gorgeous ‘The Journey’ by providing amongst other things, some truly beautiful and subtle acoustic guitar playing which is a real joy.

For all that, I have to say that ‘Arcturian’ is an album that’s best enjoyed in its entirety rather than picking and choosing individual songs. The album has a distinct flow and overall feel that helps to make it as special as it is, something that could be lost if listened to in a piecemeal manner.

For the sake of balance, my only small gripe relates to the production which I think is a little on the weak side and robs some of the aforementioned richness from the music. Occasionally, the layers of music come together is a slightly messy muddle of impenetrable white noise which is a bit disappointing. But then again, there’s a certain ‘old-school’ charm to the mix too, reminding me of their heyday more than once. Maybe therefore, the production is entirely deliberate, those naughty scamps.

It’s almost impossible sum up ‘Arcturian’ in a concise manner and do it the justice it deserves, except to say that if you’re a fan of Arcturus at their most original, challenging, audacious and quirky, prepare to take ‘Arcturian’ straight to your heart.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.0

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

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

Kamelot – Haven – Album Review

kamelot cover

Artist: Kamelot

Album Title: Haven

Label: Napalm Records

Year Of Release: 2015

If I look back around 10-15 years, I had one go-to band for melodic metal: Kamelot. Their albums ‘Karma’ (2001) and ‘Epica’ (2003) remain firm favourites in my collection. The former was actually discovered via a trip to my favourite record store many years ago – it was playing in the background and before the completion of ‘Forever’, the second track, I was sold. There began a love affair with the American-based metallers, led by the charismatic vocalist Roy Khan and the compositional strength of guitarist Thomas Youngblood.

However, over the years, my interest has gradually waned. One reason for this has been, in my eyes at least, a run of albums that have not fully fired my enthusiasm. The departure of Khan a few years ago naturally didn’t help, particularly given the fact that his voice became such an integral ingredient of Kamelot’s success. But more than that, I felt, as a somewhat biased fan that wanted to love everything, that they were in danger of just going through the motions. Fair or unfair, it was my perception.

This perception has not been helped over the last few years either by the actions of their more direct competitors. Suddenly, albums like ‘War Of Ages’ from Austria’s Serenity or ‘Distant Is the Sun’ from Australia’s Vanishing Point really upped the ante and delivered stormingly strong material. To be perfectly honest, Kamelot were no longer my ‘go-to’ melodic metal band.

Even the introduction of one of my favourite metal vocalists, the supremely talented Tommy Karevik of Seventh Wonder didn’t initially help. Previous album, 2012’s ‘Silverthorn’, once again fell flat in my opinion, with Karevik sounding far too much like a Khan clone for my liking. Nevertheless, the name Kamelot still gets me interested and so when ‘Haven’ was announced, I was keen to hear it.

The really great and thoroughly welcome news is that ‘Haven’ is definitely a quality album and much more of a return to form. It follows the tried and trusted Kamelot blueprint but in many ways it feels like a lot of the fire is back in the collective belly, meaning the material is stronger as a result. There are very few genuine surprises throughout but instead there’s a feeling that the band are once again playing to their strengths that were more present around the turn of the millennium.

There’s never been a question over Youngblood’s song writing prowess. Let’s be honest, anyone who can pen a track like ‘Forever’ or ‘Center Of The Universe’ knows what they are doing. With ‘Haven’, he picks up where he left off in the early noughties and once again delivers a set of songs that are big on melody, contain hooks galore, are full-blooded in terms of their tempo and intent and contain a lot of head-bang-worthy riffs. Youngblood is seemingly a master at writing memorable lead guitar lines and soaring lead solos and there are plenty of these to be heard throughout, as well as a punchier and dirtier guitar tone that adds a really nice crunch to the music. The oft-maligned Casey Grillo once again displays his undeniable professionalism, laying down a generally mid-tempo but powerful pounding beat, ably assisted by bassist Sean Tibbetts. Together they are the unsung workhorses of the band. Keyboardist Oliver Palotai adds a richness and depth to the compositions, flitting between the unobtrusive and the downright pompous as and when the music demands.

Picture courtesy of: Tim Kronckoe

Picture courtesy of: Tim Kronckoe

Pleasingly on this album, the peerless Tommy Karevik has apparently broken out of Khan’s shackles and more often than ever before, he actually sounds like himself. From the moment he was unveiled as the new vocalist, I wondered how Karevik would fit into a Kamelot-type band that has very defined perameters. With Seventh Wonder, he could arguably use his impressive and effortless range to greater effect and, based on ‘Silverthorn’, my scepticism was partially vindicated. With ‘Haven’ however, there are many more occasions where he sounds like himself, such as on ‘Veil Of Elysium’. Once again, Karevik laces his performance with plenty of emotion and its a real boon for Kamelot having him on board.

In terms of the lyrical content, ‘Haven’ is the first time that Kamelot have all but abandoned their concept approach, this time favouring an album comprised of stand-alone tracks that don’t necessarily follow a particular thread. There’s still a great deal of the usual Gothic-tinged imagery on display, as is the Kamelot way, but each song stands on its own feet lyrically.

Other album highlights are rather plentiful. The album kicks off in full overblown theatrical style where Palotai lets his symphonics lend a lush and dramatic backdrop to a track that is both heavy and truly epic in scope despite only lasting around the five-minute mark. ‘Insomnia’ features a hook-laden chorus that’s genuinely addictive. Then there’s the full-on ballad ‘Under Grey Skies’ which begins slowly but which explodes into a stunning crescendo, complete with guest vocals from Delain’s Charlotte Wessels. I was underwhelmed on a first listen but with time it has blossomed into one of the best tracks on the record. ‘My Therapy’ offers a monster sing-along chorus whereas ‘Beautiful Apocalypse’ features an interesting and compelling central melody, surrounded by some really great riffs and lead embellishments, along with a hint of the Middle East. ‘Liar Liar (Wasteland Monarchy)’ is classic Kamelot, full of power, intensity and a gargantuan chorus that’s both massively melodic and heavy, thanks in part to some impressive double-pedal drumming. But in a twist, the track also features the savage deathly growls of Alissa White-Gluz (Arch Enemy), something that further enhances an already great track in my opinion.

But, a word of caution: it’s not all positive. There are a few moments on this record where the quality, in my opinion, dips and I lose a bit of interest. The dreaded ‘going through the motions’ description hovers very close to my lips, something that’s so frustrating given the overall positive nature of this record. I also believe that there is the odd occasion where Karevik reverts to ‘Khan’ mode such as within the slightly sub-par ‘Citizen Zero’.

If it sounds like I’m being picky, it’ because I am. A band like Kamelot should be a genre leader and untouchable; they’ve done it in the past, so there’s no reason why they cannot reclaim their crown. In short, ‘Haven’ is a thoroughly positive album and definitely my favourite for some time. Big strides have been made in terms of the quality, consistency and hunger on display. As such, I really enjoy listening to it. However, does ‘Haven’ once again make Kamelot my go-to melodic metal band? I’m not sure. I guess only time will tell. All I can say is that the more I listen, the more I like ‘Haven’ and the more I gradually take it to my heart.

The Score Of Much Metal: 8.0

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

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