Insomnium – Winter’s Gate – Album Review

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Artist: Insomnium

Album Title: Winter’s Gate

Label: Century Media Records

Date Of Release: 23 September 2016

I am a big fan of melodic death metal, a genre normally considered to be the preserve of the Swedes who helped to create the very movement. However, over the past few years, Finland have muscled onto the scene and produced some melodeath big hitters of their own. The likes of Omnium Gatherum, Mors Principium Est and Before The Dawn spring to mind to name just a few alongside the subject of this review, Insomnium.

In the case of Insomnium, I have always felt that their own brand of melodic death metal was a little different to others in that it is not afraid to incorporate different influences into the mix, including a slight black metal feel, strong melodic metal overtones and more epic, doom influences, occasionally drawing fleeting comparisons to the likes of their compatriots Swallow The Sun.

I, for one, was not surprised then when I heard that the new Insomnium album, ‘Winter’s Gate’ would be a 40-minute one-track concept piece, based around a short story composed by the vocalist & bassist Niilo Sevänen and inspired, in part, by Edge Of Sanity’s ‘Crimson’ record. I wasn’t sure in all honesty how it might end up sounding, but I was certainly intrigued and knew that if anyone could attempt such a feat and pull it off, Insomnium were, in theory, one of the bands capable of succeeding. Their flair for the dramatic and their ability to imbue their previous albums with rich atmospheres, bold aural soundscapes and a sense of the epic meant that they had a solid base from which to build.

As it turns out though, ‘Winter’s Gate’ is better than I ever really dared to imagine. It contains everything that I like in my extreme metal, namely strong melodic sensibilities, drama, intensity, frequent changes in tempo, texture and mood and an overall feeling that the band believe 100% in this work, that it is as honest as it is undeniably pretentious. And I don’t mean this last comment negatively either, because damn it, I love pretentious music if it has the substance to back it up.

If it isn’t executed in the right manner, longer pieces of music can easily become boring and akin to wading through treacle. With ‘Winter’s Gate’, the 2400 seconds just fly by. I have listened to the song several times now, each time approaching it with excitement rather than trepidation and not once have I found my mind wandering or descending into clock-watching for any other purpose than referencing the sections and movements that make up this composition.

In suitably fitting fashion, ‘Winters Gate’ opens to the cold and strangely melancholy sound of a buffeting wind out in the unforgiving wilds immediately communicating a sense of isolation and desolation. Before long, a quiet, haunting melody drifts in on the lonely stiff breeze. A sense of what is to come is crafted beautifully and then, after around 90 seconds, the composition explodes with serious intent. A blast beat from drummer Markus Hirvonen, imposing rhythm section rounded out by bassist Niilo Sevänen and frenetic black metal-esque picked riffing courtesy of Ville Friman and Markus Vanhala sit at the centre of the proceedings before things calm to a more measured tempo. All the while however, the melodic sensibilities are never far away, adding a layer of immediacy and accessibility to the music, albeit with undeniably harsh and sombre overtones. As opens go, this is genuinely epic-sounding, portraying a sense of drama and huge scope on which to build and develop.

A more groove-oriented melodic death metal vibe is evident in spades at around the five-minute mark, before ploughing back into frenetic territory, complete with enormous keys from Swallow The Sun’s very own Aleksi Munter that layer the music with a multitude of textures as well as lashings of atmosphere. It even sounds like there is a choir buried deep in the background, as the grandiosity builds to new heights.

As we near seven minutes, a heavily-affected spoken word vocal can be heard above a momentary lull in the aggression where acoustic guitars are audible for the first time. The acoustic guitars make a return a couple of minutes later after another blast of groove-laden and melodic riffing.

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The vocals take a different turn as we near the 10-minute mark, being clean-sung and emotive. However, the song quickly reverts back to that central riff, those choral sounds and the explosive blastbeats that continue to weave in and out of the composition with devastating effect.

After the preceding tumult, the song falls away into minimalist, almost ambient territory at the 12 minute mark. It creates a welcome juxtaposition and a nice respite before slowly rebuilding, led by some bold bass and drum work slightly Tool-esque in delivery. The keys are once again central, as the drama is slowly and deliberately increased, via delicate spoken word vocals as well as a soulful and melodic lead guitar embellishment.

The ensuing riff is ponderous but full of sinister intent, joined by gruff vocals full of malevolence. The Dissection-like lead guitar melody is brilliant, as the darkness is lifted marginally by more of those epic and rich synths that bathe this section in a grand cinematic glow.

Another acoustic section at the 19-minute mark, really reminds me of Swallow The Sun. The clean vocals offer a folk feel which then segues into a beautiful lead guitar-led melody, with a strangely upbeat feel, underpinned by yet more of those almost choral-sounding effects.

More superb clean vocals make an appearance and there’s another flamboyant and expressive lead guitar solo to usher in another heavy and melodic riff atop more of the hugely symphonic sounds and textures.

As good as ‘Winter’s Gate’ is up until now, at the 24-minute point, all I can say is ‘wow!’ Everything falls away to be replaced by a lone piano that plays a desperately sombre melody, the aural soundtrack to misery, despair and loneliness. Synths gently increase around the piano as there’s the palpable feeling that something is about to happen. And it does. Ushered in by a rumble of thunder, a crushing doom-like riff enters the fray along with some of the harshest vocals anywhere on the record. Swallow The Sun parallels are again drawn whilst I pick my jaw off the floor, set my face in some kind of hideous grin and allow goosebumps to appear everywhere. And yet, for all this, the music remains melodic and grandiose in scope, gently easing into a melody that shifts almost insidiously into something a little more positive, almost hopeful in tone.

We’re nearing the three-quarter mark at this point, but I’ve almost lost track of the twists and turns already offered from this gargantuan piece of music. It doesn’t end there either, and the band certainly don’t rest on their laurels. More aggressive riffs underpinned by bludgeoning and incessant blastbeats feature heavily as the composition nears its conclusion.

Earlier strong melodic refrains are reprised in the latter stages of the song, as well as an increase in the speed and intensity, with the keys coming back prominently. It’s hard to imagine such an epic track offering anything more epic to conclude but it very briefly delivers, as everything in the band’s armoury comes to the fore one glorious, final time. After that, it is up to the acoustic guitars, piano and calming synths to see the album out, leaving the final moments of the story to be told by the sounds of nature and those buffeting winds on the shores of a bleak and unforgiving expanse.

‘Epic’ is a word used far too often in music reviews. However, ‘Winter’s Gate’ deserves this adjective. With it, Insomnium have arguably created their masterpiece, their tour-de-force. People will be talking about this record for years to come and rightly so. ‘Winter’s Gate’ has been created by a band at the top of their game and thus stands at the pinnacle of melodic death metal and what this terrific genre can produce.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.5

If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others via my reviews pages or by clicking the links right here:

Seven Impale – Contrapasso
DGM – The Passage
Pressure Points – False Lights
In The Woods – Pure
Devin Townsend – Transcendence
The Pineapple Thief – Your Wilderness
Evergrey – The Storm Within
Dream The Electric Sleep – Beneath The Dark Wide Sky
Periphery – ‘Periphery III: Select Difficulty’
Karmakanic – Dot
Novena – Secondary Genesis
Witherscape – The Northern Sanctuary
Eric Gillette – The Great Unknown
Tilt – Hinterland
Cosmograf – The Unreasonable Silence
Fates Warning – Theories Of Flight
Wolverine – Machina Viva
Be’lakor – Vessels
Lacuna Coil – Delirium
Big Big Train – Folklore
Airbag – Disconnected
Katatonia – The Fall Of Hearts
Frost* – Falling Satellites
Glorior Belli – Sundown (The Flock That Welcomes)
Habu – Infinite
Grand Magus ‘Sword Songs’
Messenger – Threnodies
Svoid – Storming Voices Of Inner Devotion
Fallujah – Dreamless
In Mourning – Afterglow
Haken – Affinity
Long Distance Calling – Trips
October Tide – Winged Waltz
Odd Logic – Penny For Your Thoughts
Iron Mountain – Unum
Knifeworld – Bottled Out Of Eden
Novembre – Ursa
Beholder – Reflections
Neverworld – Dreamsnatcher
Universal Mind Project – The Jaguar Priest
Thunderstone – Apocalypse Again
InnerWish – Innerwish
Mob Rules – Tales From Beyond
Ghost Bath – Moonlover
Spiritual Beggars – Sunrise To Sundown
Oceans Of Slumber – Winter
Rikard Zander – I Can Do Without Love
Redemption – The Art Of Loss
Headspace – All That You Fear Is Gone
Chris Quirarte – Mending Broken Bridges
Sunburst – Fragments Of Creation
Inglorious – Inglorious
Omnium Gatherum – Grey Heavens
Structural Disorder – Distance
Votum – Ktonik
Fleshgod Apocalypse – King
Rikard Sjoblom – The Unbendable Sleep
Textures – Phenotype
Serenity – Codex Atlanticus
Borknagar – Winter Thrice
The Mute Gods – Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me
Brainstorm – Scary Creatures
Arcade Messiah – II
Phantasma – The Deviant Hearts
Rendezvous Point – Solar Storm
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld II
Antimatter – The Judas Table
Bauda – Sporelights
Waken Eyes – Exodus
Earthside – A Dream In Static
Caligula’s Horse – Bloom
Teramaze – Her Halo
Amorphis – Under The Red Cloud
Spock’s Beard – The Oblivion Particle
Agent Fresco – Destrier
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

Seven Impale – Contrapasso – Album Review

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Artist: Seven Impale

Album Title: Contrapasso

Label: Karisma Records

Date Of Release: 16 September 2016

I’ve been writing reviews about rock and metal of all types for over ten years now and over that time, I’ve learned a lot. One of the more powerful lessons I’ve learned is that often, you can admire an album objectively but not love it. Of course, you can experience both at the same time but as it turns out, there’s a big difference between the two. Loving an album would infer some kind of emotional connection with the music, whereas this is not essential to allow admiration. And that’s very much the case here.

‘Contrapasso’ is the second album from Seven Impale, a Norwegian sextet that have previously escaped my attention. Comprised of bassist/cellist Tormod Fosso, guitarist Erlend Vottvik Olsen, saxophonist/midiflute player Benjamin Mekki Widerøe, vocalist/guitarist Stian Økland, keyboardist Håkon Vinje and drummer Fredrik Mekki Widerøe, this is a band for whom I have developed a great deal of admiration but I fall short of really liking this record, or indeed loving it.

Now, I love progressive music. I love the challenge it often creates, the provocation of thought and the unquestionable instrumental proficiency that it usually displays. And the latter is definitely in evidence here. However, there are times when I have to hold up my hands and say ‘this just isn’t entirely for me’. By and large, I’m afraid that’s the case with Seven Impale and ‘Contrapasso’.

‘Utterly bonkers’, ‘quirky’ and ‘downright odd’ are just some of the adjectives that I could throw at this record. In fact, on occasions, I’ve even uttered something along the lines of ‘what the actual **** is this?’

There’s no denying the fact that Seven Impale are a band that have lofty ambitions and are not afraid to try anything and everything as a result. Prog rock, progressive metal, doom, jazz, ska, avant-garde and a whole host of other musical genres and sub-genres are thrown into a blender and ‘Contrapasso’ is what has come out the other end. However, whilst a first impression might consider ‘Contrapasso’ as a completely disjointed mess, a little more time and effort leads to the conclusion that there is a perverse logic to the album and that there is a definite method behind the madness. This in turn leads to a certain amount of well-earned respect, even if it is occasionally grudging.

Why grudging? Aside from a very few select exceptions to the rule, I’m not a fan of brass in my music, nor do I enjoy much jazz and these are the aspect that sets me on edge the most during this record. Unfortunately, Seven Impale do nothing to alleviate the brass prejudice, particularly given the fact that the saxophone either screeches with properly odd jazz-like abandon or engages in a ska-like approach that I simply can’t get on board with.

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For all that though, there are parts of ‘Contrapasso’ that I genuinely do enjoy and, interestingly, are even more enjoyable when juxtaposed with the bizarre and jarring sounds that surround them. They are best described as moments of clarity within a near-impenetrable fog of otherwise incomprehensible compositions.

Take the opener, ‘Lemma’ as a prime example. The track is littered with a plethora of strange sound effects, bizarre spoken-word segments, and a saxophone that sounds like a duck getting murdered. It’s the only way I can come close to describing this jarring noise. And yet I like the opening churning riff, the bruising doom vibe in the middle of the track and the epic, unexpectedly melodic and epic closing segment is really rather sublime and majestic. That guitar tone juxtaposed with such a light, carefree melody is rather inspired.

There’s something about the oddly commercial and accessible ska-pop of ‘Heresy’ that I find intriguing also, despite it being, on paper, my worst aural nightmare, particularly given the deliberately uncomfortable and discordant mid-song breakdown. I’m actually reminded a little of another band with whom I also have a strange relationship – Knifeworld, before it closes with an eerie, minimalist soundscape out of kilter with the remainder of the track.

‘Inertia’ on the other hand, is possibly my ‘favourite’ track on ‘Contrapasso’. The fuzzy and vaguely psychedelic extended guitar solo is equal parts excellent and clunky and despite the claustrophobic nature of the first half of the song, there are hints of something yet to come. And when it hits, it’s like the clouds part and the beauty of the sun and sky is revealed. More accurately, the sounds of a beautifully-distorted heavy guitar and epic ambient atmospheres break through to reveal a brief melodic respite that is nectar to my ears. I’d love this part to have been longer, but the fact that it appeared at all is enough in the context of this record.

I quite like the more laid back vibe of ‘Languor’, although I really dislike the brass embellishments – by this point in proceedings, they are beginning to seriously grate. And I’m definitely unconvinced by the new aural textures created by yet more bizarre electronic sounds and samples.

‘Helix’ begins with a bold and unusual 8-bit-esque computer jingle from the days of the dawn of the computer. It creates the foundation of the song and in so doing, injects yet another different texture to the music. Again, after an initial ‘what the…?’ moment, I can kind of appreciate the song a little more now. The slow pace is accentuated by a heavy riff that builds in intensity beneath that odd melody before a controlled explosion sees that intensity increased massively along with a heightened sense of urgency. But then the track just falls off a cliff into a minimalist environment which offers a welcome chilled respite.

Maybe over time I might learn to like ‘Contrapasso’ more, maybe even love it. But right now, I’m just not sure. I truly admire what Seven Impale are trying to do and I highly commend their sense of experimentation not to mention the way that they are seemingly unafraid to take their music in whatever direction their hearts desire. The biggest compliment I can bestow on Seven Impale is that, as much as I struggle with their personal musical vision, I won’t give up. In fact, I somehow can’t give up – I’m drawn back for repeated listens via a strange compulsion akin to a morbid fascination. As such, I just know that I will keep going back to ‘Contrapasso’. And in so doing, I live in hope that one day I can fully connect with the music. If you give this record a go, bring an open mind with you – it’s essential.

The Score Of Much Metal: 7.0

If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others via my reviews pages or by clicking the links right here:

DGM – The Passage
Pressure Points – False Lights
In The Woods – Pure
Devin Townsend – Transcendence
The Pineapple Thief – Your Wilderness
Evergrey – The Storm Within
Dream The Electric Sleep – Beneath The Dark Wide Sky
Periphery – ‘Periphery III: Select Difficulty’
Karmakanic – Dot
Novena – Secondary Genesis
Witherscape – The Northern Sanctuary
Eric Gillette – The Great Unknown
Tilt – Hinterland
Cosmograf – The Unreasonable Silence
Fates Warning – Theories Of Flight
Wolverine – Machina Viva
Be’lakor – Vessels
Lacuna Coil – Delirium
Big Big Train – Folklore
Airbag – Disconnected
Katatonia – The Fall Of Hearts
Frost* – Falling Satellites
Glorior Belli – Sundown (The Flock That Welcomes)
Habu – Infinite
Grand Magus ‘Sword Songs’
Messenger – Threnodies
Svoid – Storming Voices Of Inner Devotion
Fallujah – Dreamless
In Mourning – Afterglow
Haken – Affinity
Long Distance Calling – Trips
October Tide – Winged Waltz
Odd Logic – Penny For Your Thoughts
Iron Mountain – Unum
Knifeworld – Bottled Out Of Eden
Novembre – Ursa
Beholder – Reflections
Neverworld – Dreamsnatcher
Universal Mind Project – The Jaguar Priest
Thunderstone – Apocalypse Again
InnerWish – Innerwish
Mob Rules – Tales From Beyond
Ghost Bath – Moonlover
Spiritual Beggars – Sunrise To Sundown
Oceans Of Slumber – Winter
Rikard Zander – I Can Do Without Love
Redemption – The Art Of Loss
Headspace – All That You Fear Is Gone
Chris Quirarte – Mending Broken Bridges
Sunburst – Fragments Of Creation
Inglorious – Inglorious
Omnium Gatherum – Grey Heavens
Structural Disorder – Distance
Votum – Ktonik
Fleshgod Apocalypse – King
Rikard Sjoblom – The Unbendable Sleep
Textures – Phenotype
Serenity – Codex Atlanticus
Borknagar – Winter Thrice
The Mute Gods – Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me
Brainstorm – Scary Creatures
Arcade Messiah – II
Phantasma – The Deviant Hearts
Rendezvous Point – Solar Storm
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld II
Antimatter – The Judas Table
Bauda – Sporelights
Waken Eyes – Exodus
Earthside – A Dream In Static
Caligula’s Horse – Bloom
Teramaze – Her Halo
Amorphis – Under The Red Cloud
Spock’s Beard – The Oblivion Particle
Agent Fresco – Destrier
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

DGM – The Passage – Album Review

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Artist: DGM

Album Title: The Passage

Label: Frontiers Records

Date Of Release: 26 August 2016

This review comes a little after the release date but under the circumstances, I make no apologies for this. The reason for my tardiness is that I was not initially very struck by this, the ninth album from Italian melodic prog band DGM. This may have been down to the fact that it was vying for my attention alongside some other big hitting releases but actually, I just think it needed a touch more time in my ears to create the biggest impact upon me.

I’m still not saying it is blowing me away in the same manner as other records this year but I am enjoying the record a lot more than I did in the beginning and I feel better able to offer my considered and objective thoughts on it.

By way of background, it’s worth noting that the band has changed significantly over the years. No original members now remain with the founding trio of guitarist Diego Reali, keyboardist Maurizio Pariotti and drummer Gianfranco Tassella, after whom the band was named, all having departed. Regardless of this though, speaking as someone who somehow owns the entire back catalogue without ever calling myself much of a fan, I have to say that this is arguably DGM’s best recording to date. The fact that I didn’t realise I had the entire catalogue maybe speaks volumes as to how I generally regard the DGM discography to date.

‘The Passage’ is undeniably very slick and very professional, topped off with a muscular, clear production. The album contains some good performances all-round but for me, even now, there either needs to be a bit more of an overt prog feel throughout or alternatively, it needs to go all-out and provide melodies that more frequently give me the chills. As it is, my mind does wander occasionally as the disc develops.

But enough Of The criticism, let’s focus on the positives, of which there are a decent number to be fair.

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To begin with, there’s ‘The Secret Part 1’. Unquestionably, it is one of the best tracks on the album, bursting into life with a groove heavy riff after a brief quiet intro. The riffs, courtesy of Simone Mularoni are great; fast and heavy, with plenty of chops as well, reminiscent a little bit of Symphony X. The chorus bridge is glorious with a melodic hard rock feel before a hook laden chorus kicks in to great effect. The composition also features a lovely quieter segment before the crunching riffs and melodies return powerfully. The keyboards of Emanuele Casali play a prominent part throughout, and the overall vibe of this track is instant and accessible prog metal meets AOR.

Coupled with ‘Part 2’, this opening salvo extends beyond 15 minutes in length, delivering the longer more epic composition that many fans have been wanting for some time. ‘The Secret Part 2’ takes up where ‘Part 1’ left off but with slightly more emphasis on atmospheres and the more progressive side of the band’s songwriting. As such, the keys are more overt, there are more pronounced dynamics and there’s a slightly darker vibe all round.

‘Animal’ is a wonderfully upbeat track that benefits from an unashamed swaggering hard rock vibe, complete with hook-laden chorus. Those flamboyant guitars are all over the song and it’s hard not to succumb to the feel-good flavour of this track.

With a guest appearance from one of my all-time favourite metal vocalists, Evergrey’s Tom Englund, ‘Ghost Of Insanity’ is an inspired track that pushes the opener all the way in terms of quality and enjoyment. The duo of regular vocalist Mark Basile with Englund works really well, both complimenting each other and adding different ingredients to the composition. However, with a dark prog feel, properly chunky riffs and a bruising menance, not to mention a cracking chorus, it was always going to be a winner regardless of who was behind the mic.

‘Daydreamer’ is slower-paced but soars thanks to a huge performance from Basile in the chorus. ‘Dogma’ on the other hand, is heavy and fast. It is perhaps the most aggressive song on the album, albeit not without the ubiquitous instrumental flamboyance and a great rhythmic spine thanks to drummer Fabio Costantino and bassist Andrea Arcangeli.

In direct contrast are ‘Disguise’ and ‘In Sorrow’. The former is a gorgeous 90 second interlude that features a rich piano melody and emotive vocals from Basile. The latter begins with a guitar tome that vaguely recalls Metallica’s ‘Fade To Black’, but is a closing ballad that once again showcases the talents of the vocalist, pushing his softer side to the fore.

In between these tracks are a few that still fail to raise much interest and don’t quite match the quality elsewhere. It’s a shame because ‘The Passage’ demonstrates that when they get it right, DGM are a force to be reckoned with. And, with a little more consistency, this could have been vying for a place in my end of year ‘best of’ list. As it is, I’m afraid it just misses out. Worth checking out nonetheless though, as I seem to be in the minority that’s not smitten…

The Score Of Much Metal: 7.75

If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others via my reviews pages or by clicking the links right here:

Pressure Points – False Lights
In The Woods – Pure
Devin Townsend – Transcendence
The Pineapple Thief – Your Wilderness
Evergrey – The Storm Within
Dream The Electric Sleep – Beneath The Dark Wide Sky
Periphery – ‘Periphery III: Select Difficulty’
Karmakanic – Dot
Novena – Secondary Genesis
Witherscape – The Northern Sanctuary
Eric Gillette – The Great Unknown
Tilt – Hinterland
Cosmograf – The Unreasonable Silence
Fates Warning – Theories Of Flight
Wolverine – Machina Viva
Be’lakor – Vessels
Lacuna Coil – Delirium
Big Big Train – Folklore
Airbag – Disconnected
Katatonia – The Fall Of Hearts
Frost* – Falling Satellites
Glorior Belli – Sundown (The Flock That Welcomes)
Habu – Infinite
Grand Magus ‘Sword Songs’
Messenger – Threnodies
Svoid – Storming Voices Of Inner Devotion
Fallujah – Dreamless
In Mourning – Afterglow
Haken – Affinity
Long Distance Calling – Trips
October Tide – Winged Waltz
Odd Logic – Penny For Your Thoughts
Iron Mountain – Unum
Knifeworld – Bottled Out Of Eden
Novembre – Ursa
Beholder – Reflections
Neverworld – Dreamsnatcher
Universal Mind Project – The Jaguar Priest
Thunderstone – Apocalypse Again
InnerWish – Innerwish
Mob Rules – Tales From Beyond
Ghost Bath – Moonlover
Spiritual Beggars – Sunrise To Sundown
Oceans Of Slumber – Winter
Rikard Zander – I Can Do Without Love
Redemption – The Art Of Loss
Headspace – All That You Fear Is Gone
Chris Quirarte – Mending Broken Bridges
Sunburst – Fragments Of Creation
Inglorious – Inglorious
Omnium Gatherum – Grey Heavens
Structural Disorder – Distance
Votum – Ktonik
Fleshgod Apocalypse – King
Rikard Sjoblom – The Unbendable Sleep
Textures – Phenotype
Serenity – Codex Atlanticus
Borknagar – Winter Thrice
The Mute Gods – Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me
Brainstorm – Scary Creatures
Arcade Messiah – II
Phantasma – The Deviant Hearts
Rendezvous Point – Solar Storm
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld II
Antimatter – The Judas Table
Bauda – Sporelights
Waken Eyes – Exodus
Earthside – A Dream In Static
Caligula’s Horse – Bloom
Teramaze – Her Halo
Amorphis – Under The Red Cloud
Spock’s Beard – The Oblivion Particle
Agent Fresco – Destrier
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

Pressure Points – False Lights – Album Review

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Artist: Pressure Points

Album Title: False Lights

Label: 7hard Records

Date Of Release: 14 August 2015

So far this year, I’ve tried to keep my reviews current and up-to-date wherever possible. However, for one reason or another, this review is way overdue. For this, I can only apologise; both to the band and to the many people out there who I hope will become belated fans of the band after reading this.

The band in question is Pressure Points, a quintet from Heinola, Finland who have produced something rather tasty indeed in the form of their sophomore album, ‘False Lights’. Anyone who knows me will know that I am a sucker for great artwork and, on that score alone, Pressure Points get a gold star. And, if I still had the money to burn like when I was in my early 20s, I’d have bought this record blind after one look at the cover.

There have been occasions in the past where I’ve done this and been wholly disappointed by the music contained within. With ‘False Lights’ however, that is far from the case, as the aural content is every bit as alluring as the visuals. Citing the names of Porcupine Tree, Rush and Dream Theater as influences, you’d be forgiven for thinking that Pressure Points would be a blend of classic, traditional and modern progressive rock at the lighter end of the scale. In parts, this is actually an accurate summation of the music, where strong melodies merge with clean, soothing vocals, layers of keyboards and an almost laid-back vibe. At times, the output calls to mind the purveyors of the genre back in the 70s, whereas at others, the music is bang up-to-date and in keeping with more modern prog trends.

Indeed, the album kicks off in a manner that underlines these initial thoughts as a bold bass line from Janne Parikka ushers ‘Wreckage’ into life, followed closely by a soulful lead guitar atop swathes of lush keys courtesy of Veli-Matti Kyllönen that create a deep and welcoming atmosphere.

But then, just as you’re settling into the song, in comes something far heavier, far more aggressive and unexpected. The keys change to a more 70’s inspired sound but remain prominent in the mix. However, all of a sudden, they are competing with a melodic death metal riff and growled vocals from guitarist Kari Olli as the more extreme metal influences also cited by Pressure Points come forcefully to the fore. Interestingly, the sense of melody never dissipates and even when the more extreme elements are in full swing, the track is accessible and it maintains that progressive feel. Acoustic guitars, clean vocals courtesy of Olli and fellow guitarist Jaakko Lehtinen as well as passages of calm introspection that verge on ambience, all form part of this epic composition.

At ten minutes in length, ‘Wreckage’ is a brilliant opener. It has the time and space to flit from idea to idea as well as the instrumental prowess and songwriting nous to back up the ambition. It fizzes past with incredible panache and by the end, I’m left in a bit of a daze, equal parts impressed and stunned.

The thing is, ‘Wreckage’ is just the beginning. What follows is a further 45 minutes of music straddled over another five lengthy and equally ambitious tracks.

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‘Between The Lies’ continues where ‘Wreckage’ leaves off in terms of blending the melodies and hooks with more extreme elements as well as a complex yet engaging song structure. I absolutely adore the mid-section where the foot is taken off the pedal and rich vocals come to the fore atop a more subtle and moving melody which segues into a ‘classic’ prog piano melody and then into more growls and harsh riffing.

‘Electric Shadows’ begins powerfully and more aggressively, pushing their death metal influences further than at any stage previously. Indeed, it takes well over a minute for the elegant melodies to enter the fray alongside more accessible vocals, this time courtesy of keyboardist Veli-Matti Kyllönen, whose delivery adds yet another welcome addition to the album. Some of the lead guitar work on this track happily contains echoes of Omnium Gatherum, a band with whom I have a pre-existing love affair.

The second-half of ‘False Lights’ continues in a similarly impressive vein as the first, with each of ‘Sleepwalk’, ‘Dance Of Coincidence’ and ‘In Desolation’, all offering something to impress me.

‘Sleepwalk’ manages to transform itself from an understated beginning to something far more urgent and charged by the mid-way point, dominated by an incessant riff that eventually opens up, under the constant nagging of more lead guitar wailing. ‘Dance Of Coincidence’ begins with a stunning piano melody that immediately catches my ear before diving into a frenetic black metal-esque work-out underpinned by strong drumming from Vili Auvinen but all the while retaining that striking piano melody at the core. After the ubiquitous quiet mid-section, the song then builds to a memorable finale, full of emotion and more great lead guitar work.

And then it’s down to ‘In Desolation’ to close out this album. Naturally, it does so in style and I particularly like the driving tempo of the song, the controlled aggression and the smattering of unabashed, euphoric melody that intersperses what is arguably the consistently heaviest track on the record.

What a find. I’d heard whispers from those that I trust, but I wasn’t truly prepared for ‘False Lights’. This is an album that will, if there’s any justice in the world, propel this Finnish band into the conscious of a much wider audience and force one of the big labels to take notice. If Pressure Points are not signed for their third album, I will personally lead the mutiny. Check this album out – I guarantee you’ll not be left disappointed.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.5

If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others via my reviews pages or by clicking the links right here:

In The Woods – Pure
Devin Townsend – Transcendence
The Pineapple Thief – Your Wilderness
Evergrey – The Storm Within
Dream The Electric Sleep – Beneath The Dark Wide Sky
Periphery – ‘Periphery III: Select Difficulty’
Karmakanic – Dot
Novena – Secondary Genesis
Witherscape – The Northern Sanctuary
Eric Gillette – The Great Unknown
Tilt – Hinterland
Cosmograf – The Unreasonable Silence
Fates Warning – Theories Of Flight
Wolverine – Machina Viva
Be’lakor – Vessels
Lacuna Coil – Delirium
Big Big Train – Folklore
Airbag – Disconnected
Katatonia – The Fall Of Hearts
Frost* – Falling Satellites
Glorior Belli – Sundown (The Flock That Welcomes)
Habu – Infinite
Grand Magus ‘Sword Songs’
Messenger – Threnodies
Svoid – Storming Voices Of Inner Devotion
Fallujah – Dreamless
In Mourning – Afterglow
Haken – Affinity
Long Distance Calling – Trips
October Tide – Winged Waltz
Odd Logic – Penny For Your Thoughts
Iron Mountain – Unum
Knifeworld – Bottled Out Of Eden
Novembre – Ursa
Beholder – Reflections
Neverworld – Dreamsnatcher
Universal Mind Project – The Jaguar Priest
Thunderstone – Apocalypse Again
InnerWish – Innerwish
Mob Rules – Tales From Beyond
Ghost Bath – Moonlover
Spiritual Beggars – Sunrise To Sundown
Oceans Of Slumber – Winter
Rikard Zander – I Can Do Without Love
Redemption – The Art Of Loss
Headspace – All That You Fear Is Gone
Chris Quirarte – Mending Broken Bridges
Sunburst – Fragments Of Creation
Inglorious – Inglorious
Omnium Gatherum – Grey Heavens
Structural Disorder – Distance
Votum – Ktonik
Fleshgod Apocalypse – King
Rikard Sjoblom – The Unbendable Sleep
Textures – Phenotype
Serenity – Codex Atlanticus
Borknagar – Winter Thrice
The Mute Gods – Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me
Brainstorm – Scary Creatures
Arcade Messiah – II
Phantasma – The Deviant Hearts
Rendezvous Point – Solar Storm
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld II
Antimatter – The Judas Table
Bauda – Sporelights
Waken Eyes – Exodus
Earthside – A Dream In Static
Caligula’s Horse – Bloom
Teramaze – Her Halo
Amorphis – Under The Red Cloud
Spock’s Beard – The Oblivion Particle
Agent Fresco – Destrier
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

In The Woods – Pure – Album Review

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Artist: In The Woods

Album Title: Pure

Label: Debemur Morti Productions

Date Of Release: 16th September 2016

A mere 17 years since their last studio effort, ‘Strange In Stereo’, enigmatic Norwegian band In The Woods have emerged from their slumber and, to the great delight of aficionados and fans of extreme metal in general, have served up their fourth full-length studio album, ‘Pure’. Ever since it was revealed that In The Woods were back and were recording new material, a sense of barely controlled excitement and anticipation has been evident in many quarters. As someone who discovered In The Woods many moons ago on a black metal compilation entitled ‘Blackened Volume II’ and who owns all three previous efforts, I was one of the excited horde.

For many reasons, ‘Pure’ is a very apt title for this record, not least because it is an album that offers pure escapism and pure entertainment from start to finish, across ten compositions and an hour’s playing time. But moreover, there is a definite pureness to the musical output, a palpable sense that ‘Pure’ represents the completely honest vision and distilled essence of an older, wiser and more experienced In The Woods.

Since the release of ‘Strange In Stereo’ back in 1999, guitarist Oddvar A.M has sadly passed away and vocalist Jan Kenneth Transeth no longer stands behind the microphone. It means that In the Woods is now comprised of bassist C:M. Botteri, guitarists X. Botteri and Kåre “Corey” Sletteberg, drummer Anders Kobro with James ‘Mr Fog’ Fogarty (Meads Of Asphodel, Ewigkeit) now handling both the vocals, guitars and keys. In addition, ‘Pure’ no longer features some of the other aspects for which they were renowned, namely additional string instruments and female vocals. It is almost as if the band wanted to make a clean split with the past and reflect more purely where they are as a group of musicians the better part of two decades later. Further justification and explanation of the simple album title perhaps?

By now, you’ll hopefully realise that I really hate pigeon-holing bands into arbitrary genres or sub-genres. Unfortunately, as a music reviewer, such exercises can be a necessary evil to help define the music that I am listening to. However, it can also lead to inaccuracies as one person’s ‘black metal’ is another person’s ‘dark’, ‘doom’ or ‘avant-garde’.

Gratifyingly, In the Woods have made the job of classification pretty damn difficult and pointless thanks to their output here. I have used the aforementioned genres deliberately because these are some of the descriptions that could be hurled in the direction of ‘Pure’. Equally however, I could also legitimately mention ‘progressive metal’, ‘classic metal’ or even ‘ambient’ because these influences also crop up to a greater or lesser extent as the album develops.

Whilst on the subject of descriptions, let me throw out the names of Arcturus, Green Carnation and latter day Enslaved in order to give some kind of vague reference points about what to expect from ‘Pure’. However, aside from the occasional stylistic nod here and there, In The Woods don’t really sound like anyone else and they certainly don’t stick to one loose style of music, blinkered against everything else around them. And that, above all else, is the strength of this record and of In The Woods in general.

And whilst there’s an undeniable distillation of the band’s core sound, there’s no shortage of experimentation along the way. Each and every track is a multi-layered and multi-faceted affair which takes the listener on a journey through light and shade, changes in tempo and a myriad of different sounds and aural textures all the while remaining thought-provoking and enthralling.

What I particularly like about ‘Pure’ is indeed that depth within the music. With a free reign over the keyboards and synths, Fogarty has gone to town and made this record a genuinely atmospheric and deep-sounding affair, more keyboard-heavy and symphonic than arguably ever before. And whilst the song titles might suggest a lyrical content based around more earthly topics, there is a rich vein of celestial atmosphere within much of the material that drew my vague Arcturus comparison.

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Those ‘otherworldly’ overtones are also enhanced by Fogarty’s vocals which are melodious but delivered with a beautiful simplicity. There are moments within the album when more extreme gruff vocals make an appearance but for the most part, the voice that accompanies the music is clean and full of melodic nuance. Take the opener ‘Pure’ for example, which ends by repeating a subtle melody, gradually deconstructed to the point where it is delivered by just a piano. That melody is gorgeous but is enhanced by the smooth, haunting delivery of the central lyric:

“A shining future waiting,
A promise of the pure”

‘Transmission KRS’ is both an instrumental piece and interestingly, the longest track on the album. It also happens to be one of my favourites. I love the way that it builds throughout from humble and serene beginnings carried by a simple yet effective melody, to something altogether more flamboyant and emotive, dominated by an extended guitar solo that weaves itself in and out of the composition with superb results. It’s a contender for one of the stand-out tracks of the year.

Then again, I also find the wonderfully-monikered ‘The Recalcitrant Protagonist’ is a complete joy thanks to its elegance and deceivingly complex nature. And ‘Towards The Black Surreal’ contains faint echoes of the very early days of the band whilst also delivering one of the most anthemic sections on the record which, to my mind at least, harks back to those melodic breakdowns that so littered much of the symphonic black metal of the 90s.

By contrast, ‘Blue Oceans Wake (Like A War)’ begins in synth-drenched brooding fashion full of beauty but also dripping with menace before unfolding into a heavy stomping finale, whereas ‘Cult Of Shining Stars’ represents In The Woods at perhaps their most instantly catchy thanks to the blend of excellent vocals and striking melodic intent.

I have tried to find it, believe me, but there is absolutely no filler on ‘Pure’. I don’t dislike any of the compositions and the consistent quality is very impressive indeed. It is an album that begins at a very high level and continues until the bitter end. As comeback albums go, this is very definitely one of the best I have heard. Highly recommended.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.0

If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others via my reviews pages or by clicking the links right here:

Devin Townsend – Transcendence
The Pineapple Thief – Your Wilderness
Evergrey – The Storm Within
Dream The Electric Sleep – Beneath The Dark Wide Sky
Periphery – ‘Periphery III: Select Difficulty’
Karmakanic – Dot
Novena – Secondary Genesis
Witherscape – The Northern Sanctuary
Eric Gillette – The Great Unknown
Tilt – Hinterland
Cosmograf – The Unreasonable Silence
Fates Warning – Theories Of Flight
Wolverine – Machina Viva
Be’lakor – Vessels
Lacuna Coil – Delirium
Big Big Train – Folklore
Airbag – Disconnected
Katatonia – The Fall Of Hearts
Frost* – Falling Satellites
Glorior Belli – Sundown (The Flock That Welcomes)
Habu – Infinite
Grand Magus ‘Sword Songs’
Messenger – Threnodies
Svoid – Storming Voices Of Inner Devotion
Fallujah – Dreamless
In Mourning – Afterglow
Haken – Affinity
Long Distance Calling – Trips
October Tide – Winged Waltz
Odd Logic – Penny For Your Thoughts
Iron Mountain – Unum
Knifeworld – Bottled Out Of Eden
Novembre – Ursa
Beholder – Reflections
Neverworld – Dreamsnatcher
Universal Mind Project – The Jaguar Priest
Thunderstone – Apocalypse Again
InnerWish – Innerwish
Mob Rules – Tales From Beyond
Ghost Bath – Moonlover
Spiritual Beggars – Sunrise To Sundown
Oceans Of Slumber – Winter
Rikard Zander – I Can Do Without Love
Redemption – The Art Of Loss
Headspace – All That You Fear Is Gone
Chris Quirarte – Mending Broken Bridges
Sunburst – Fragments Of Creation
Inglorious – Inglorious
Omnium Gatherum – Grey Heavens
Structural Disorder – Distance
Votum – Ktonik
Fleshgod Apocalypse – King
Rikard Sjoblom – The Unbendable Sleep
Textures – Phenotype
Serenity – Codex Atlanticus
Borknagar – Winter Thrice
The Mute Gods – Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me
Brainstorm – Scary Creatures
Arcade Messiah – II
Phantasma – The Deviant Hearts
Rendezvous Point – Solar Storm
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld II
Antimatter – The Judas Table
Bauda – Sporelights
Waken Eyes – Exodus
Earthside – A Dream In Static
Caligula’s Horse – Bloom
Teramaze – Her Halo
Amorphis – Under The Red Cloud
Spock’s Beard – The Oblivion Particle
Agent Fresco – Destrier
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

Devin Townsend Project – Transcendence – Album Review

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Artist: Devin Townsend Project

Album Title: Transcendence

Label: InsideOut Music

Date of Release: 9 September 2016

Like many I’m sure, Mr Devin Townsend came into my life around 1997. It was a subtle introduction via the laid back and soothing sounds created under the moniker of Strapping Young Lad and their opus ‘City’. I found myself blown away both metaphorically and literally by an album that demonstrated the brutality and aggression of a hungry bear that had just been poked with a stick. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that, at the time, this was the heaviest thing I’d ever heard. It’s still up there now, nearly 20 years later.

In the intervening period, Devin has worked as hard as anyone in the music industry, if not harder. The discography is huge with albums appearing left, right and centre over the years. Prolific therefore he may be, but crucially, the quality has always remained of the highest standard. Never settling for second best, Devin would appear to be his own worst critic and some might utter the word ‘genius’ too. I could never profess to like everything Devin has released equally, but that’s just down to personal taste rather than calling into question the quality. Bad music and Devin Townsend are two entities that never meet.

One of the most interesting factors around Devin Townsend above all else, is his willingness to experiment and go in directions where his inspiration takes him. Beginning as an out-and-out metal head with Strapping Young Lad, he has gone on record to say that his tastes have changed over time, even suggesting that the metal genre had an effect of him personally that he wasn’t happy with. The upshot was a sequence of releases that were far removed from the early heavy days, instead exploring more ambient and chilled sounds. In my opinion, ‘Ghost’ is one of the best recordings of his career.

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So what of ‘Transcendence’ then? It is certainly heavier than much of Devin’s more recent work, that’s for sure, but heaviness is only part of the story. You see, Devin has been gradually morphing his music in a certain direction and I believe that ‘Transcendence’ is the strongest and most engaging culmination of his personal vision to date.

With this record, Devin has managed to blend the metal elements with his more relaxed style of output almost seamlessly. What it means is that ‘Transcendence’ is one of the smoothest, uplifting and oft-times euphoric-sounding heavy metal albums I’ve ever heard. Very few other artists are able to create music that immediately sounds so epic, all-encompassing and downright serene. It’s crazy.

As before, the Devin Townsend Project is ostensibly a solo project but is ably assisted by a cast of talented musicians. The ‘project’ is comprised of drummer Ryan Van Poederooyen, guitarist Dave Young, bassist Brian ‘Beav’ Waddell and keyboardist/programmer Mike St-Jean. And then there are the guest musicians, namely vocalists Anneke van Giersbergen, Che Aimee Dorval (Casualties Of Cool), Katrina Natale as well as Mattias Eklund (ambience) and Niels Bye Neilsen (orchestration). If that wasn’t enough, there’s also a five-piece choir by the name of Tigers In A Tank. However, at no time to these guests dominate proceedings; instead, they simply enhance the material and add extra colour to the already vibrant pallet by doing what they each do best.

Those already familiar with Devin’s work will instantly recognise the unmistakeable reverb-heavy guitar tones that are used to open up the album via ‘Truth’. That highly melodious and welcoming sound segues into a monster riff backed up by a thunderous rhythm section before choral vocals and huge synth effects add that epic and grandiose sheen to the composition. It is also suitably quirky and catchy whilst offering echoes to the SYL days via the uncompromising guitars and wonderfully powerful vocals that verge on those famous screams from Devin. The ending then has a kind of gospel church feeling as the foot is taken off the pedal.

‘Stormbending’ follows and is one of my favourite tracks on the album. It is a bona-fide anthem, full of power before exploding into a chorus that is truly beautiful. Led by choral vocals, a slow-paced drum blastbeat and an understated melody, it frequently stops me in my tracks. There are moments within of quieter contemplation before that chorus returns to carry the listener off to a place of almost spiritual utopia. I can only suggest that the song offers something close to an aural religious experience.

There’s a djent-like edge to the overall slower-paced ‘Failure’ within the stop-start verse riffs and the surprising inclusion of an almost operatic voice at points. To my mind, this is one of the most progressive sounding tracks on ‘Transcendence’ by virtue of the shifting ideas and the expert use of light and shade. In addition, some of the lead guitar work is gorgeously emotive and soulful, to compliment the melodic intent of the entire song.

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Moving deeper into the album and for the first time (but not the last), the soothing and calm strains of an acoustic guitar can be heard within the opening segment of ‘Secret Sciences’, complementing Devin’s distinctive softer vocal delivery that I personally love. ‘Higher’ again begins in more ambient acoustic territory before blasting into something altogether heavier. Frenetic, blast-beat fuelled extremes are juxtaposed with more restrained and chilled passages to great effect, and I just adore the groove-tastic breakdowns that begin at just over the half-way mark, not to mention the anthemic closing passage that raises goosebumps on my skin.

‘Stars’ is a delightful track that is shorter and a little more straightforward in terms of construction. It is equally as captivating however with more superb melodies. Indeed, much the same can be said of ‘Offer Your Light’, the shortest and the most modern-sounding track on the album thanks to a bold keyboard sound reminiscent of Amaranthe, a no-nonsense attitude and hooky chorus. The title track on the other hand, takes that whole soundtrack approach to a completely new level with the choir working overtime to devastating effect, interspersed by quieter, more contemplative passages. The guitars are an utter joy on this particular track, although the same could be said elsewhere.

The album then ends with an impressive duo of songs, both of which clock in at over eight minutes apiece. Up first is ‘From The Heart’, a sumptuous track that has the feel of a ballad thanks to the lyrical content, the slower, more measured pace and the tangible warmth that it exudes. It’s a bittersweet composition that conveys a sense of wistfulness and contentment, enhanced by the injection of a protracted ambient section from the midway point to the close of the song that beguiles and soothes in equal measure.

The clue is most definitely in the title for ‘Transdermal Celebration’ because it’s a gloriously upbeat piece of music that comes across as a celebration of what Devin is all about in 2016, eventually unravelling into more chilled territory before it gives way to an ending that explores subtle ambient soundscapes, allowing the listener time and space to ponder life and process everything that has gone before.

I’m a fan of Devin Townsend and have been for some considerable time. However, I’m having a hard time remembering when an album by the great man has had quite such an effect on me. The depth, the sophistication and the power that ‘Transcendence’ displays means that this is right up there with the very best that Devin has ever put his name to. And to think that there was a time when this album may never have been created. I shudder at the very thought and thank the Gods that I have ‘Transcendence’ in my life.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.25

If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others via my reviews pages or by clicking the links right here:

The Pineapple Thief – Your Wilderness
Evergrey – The Storm Within
Dream The Electric Sleep – Beneath The Dark Wide Sky
Periphery – ‘Periphery III: Select Difficulty’
Karmakanic – Dot
Novena – Secondary Genesis
Witherscape – The Northern Sanctuary
Eric Gillette – The Great Unknown
Tilt – Hinterland
Cosmograf – The Unreasonable Silence
Fates Warning – Theories Of Flight
Wolverine – Machina Viva
Be’lakor – Vessels
Lacuna Coil – Delirium
Big Big Train – Folklore
Airbag – Disconnected
Katatonia – The Fall Of Hearts
Frost* – Falling Satellites
Glorior Belli – Sundown (The Flock That Welcomes)
Habu – Infinite
Grand Magus ‘Sword Songs’
Messenger – Threnodies
Svoid – Storming Voices Of Inner Devotion
Fallujah – Dreamless
In Mourning – Afterglow
Haken – Affinity
Long Distance Calling – Trips
October Tide – Winged Waltz
Odd Logic – Penny For Your Thoughts
Iron Mountain – Unum
Knifeworld – Bottled Out Of Eden
Novembre – Ursa
Beholder – Reflections
Neverworld – Dreamsnatcher
Universal Mind Project – The Jaguar Priest
Thunderstone – Apocalypse Again
InnerWish – Innerwish
Mob Rules – Tales From Beyond
Ghost Bath – Moonlover
Spiritual Beggars – Sunrise To Sundown
Oceans Of Slumber – Winter
Rikard Zander – I Can Do Without Love
Redemption – The Art Of Loss
Headspace – All That You Fear Is Gone
Chris Quirarte – Mending Broken Bridges
Sunburst – Fragments Of Creation
Inglorious – Inglorious
Omnium Gatherum – Grey Heavens
Structural Disorder – Distance
Votum – Ktonik
Fleshgod Apocalypse – King
Rikard Sjoblom – The Unbendable Sleep
Textures – Phenotype
Serenity – Codex Atlanticus
Borknagar – Winter Thrice
The Mute Gods – Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me
Brainstorm – Scary Creatures
Arcade Messiah – II
Phantasma – The Deviant Hearts
Rendezvous Point – Solar Storm
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld II
Antimatter – The Judas Table
Bauda – Sporelights
Waken Eyes – Exodus
Earthside – A Dream In Static
Caligula’s Horse – Bloom
Teramaze – Her Halo
Amorphis – Under The Red Cloud
Spock’s Beard – The Oblivion Particle
Agent Fresco – Destrier
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

The Pineapple Thief – Your Wilderness – Album Review

Pineapple cover

Artist: The Pineapple Thief

Album Title: Your Wilderness

Label: Kscope

Date Of Release: 12 August 2016

If I’m being honest, I knew very little about The Pineapple Thief until a couple of years ago, when the mastermind behind the band, Bruce Soord, teamed up with Katatonia vocalist Jonas Renkse to deliver the delicious Wisdom Of Crowds record. I interviewed both Soord and Renkse about this release, getting to know a bit more about The Pineapple Thief in the process.

This duly led to a voyage of discovery and the realisation that, in Pineapple Thief, here was another great band, entirely worthy of my attention. Taking their cue these days from the end of the prog spectrum that also plays host to the likes of Radiohead, Porcupine Tree and their ilk, The Pineapple Thief’s more recent output tends towards heavily atmospheric, moody and more subtle progressive music as opposed to the ‘let’s play as many notes and scales as we can’ school of prog.

‘Your Wilderness’ is The Pinapple Thief’s eleventh album and prior to getting my own ears around it, I had heard some very positive noises from other reviewers. I was therefore expecting to hear something good. And I haven’t been left disappointed either.

I’m still not perhaps sufficiently versed in The Pineapple Thief’s back catalogue to be able to make a worthwhile comment about where it stands against previous albums, particularly when, as a latecomer, the progression of the band is so marked. However, it is fair to say that ‘Your Wilderness’ is one of the smoothest and ‘softest’ of the band’s 17-year career but within which unquestionably sits some of my very favourite moments from the Somerset-based band.

The Pineapple Thief is today comprised of Soord himself who handles the guitar and vocal duties alongside longstanding bassist Jon Sykes and keyboardist Steve Kitch as well as Porcupine Tree’s Gavin Harrison perched on the drum stool.

Credit: Unknown

Credit: Unknown

It takes precisely 10 seconds of opener ‘In Exile’ to understand the flavour and direction of ‘Your Wilderness’. A lone drum beat opens the song before the swathes of haunting and moody yet understated keyboards offer plenty of depth and atmosphere. Nicely nuanced bass work enhances the rhythmic output, whilst the unmistakeably smooth tones of Soord breeze in and out of track, adding much in terms of melody and sophistication.

‘No Man’s Land’ is an instant favourite of mine. It is built around a picked acoustic guitar melody that is then joined by a solemn piano and quietly-delivered introspective vocals. At least that’s where it begins, because as the song develops, so does a sense of urgency and menace which finally explodes in the latter stages. The drumming from Harrison is really great, injecting a sense of increasing tension before heavier guitars enter the fray, underlining Soord’s more metallic credentials.

In contrast, ‘Tear You Up’ begins in much more overtly heavy territory, more in keeping with other records. I hear a touch of Muse or even Coheed And Cambria in the song but more so, I hear a great individual instrumental performances and super dynamics created by an intelligent variation in tempo and heaviness. It’s then topped off by a chorus melody that lingers long in the memory.

Another high point on ‘Your Wilderness’ comes in the shape of ‘That Shore’, an utterly gorgeous and sensitive track that, on paper, I might have skipped or at least had little interest in. And yet, the more modern-sounding electronic stylings of this composition are utterly beguiling, leading to a powerfully emotive and insidiously compelling piece of music with echoes of latter-day Katatonia within it.

Speaking of music which has an insidious quality, look no further than ‘Take Your Shot’ which may be more mainstream-sounding in many ways thanks to a demonstrable indie/alternative swagger but is another example of the power of a strong chorus, atmosphere and lead guitar embellishments that get right under my skin.

And I have to mention ‘The Final Thing On My Mind’ which, at nearly ten minutes in length, is the longest composition on the record by a long way. However, it is a track that fully justifies the extended life in that it manages to move beautifully from section to section with an incredible smoothness within an overall framework that allows a pronounced ebb and flow, not to mention further noteworthy performances from all concerned.

The more I listen to ‘Your Wilderness’, the more I like it and the more I want to listen to it. There is so much to discover within the entire album and I’m finding new, subtle moments of interest and intrigue every time I press play. With ‘Your Wilderness’, The Pineapple Thief are at the top of their collective game and eloquently demonstrate that you don’t have to go at one hundred miles an hour or play every note in the book to create sophisticated and intelligent music.

The Score Of Much Metal: 8.5

If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others via my reviews pages or by clicking the links right here:

Evergrey – The Storm Within
Dream The Electric Sleep – Beneath The Dark Wide Sky
Periphery – ‘Periphery III: Select Difficulty’
Karmakanic – Dot
Novena – Secondary Genesis
Witherscape – The Northern Sanctuary
Eric Gillette – The Great Unknown
Tilt – Hinterland
Cosmograf – The Unreasonable Silence
Fates Warning – Theories Of Flight
Wolverine – Machina Viva
Be’lakor – Vessels
Lacuna Coil – Delirium
Big Big Train – Folklore
Airbag – Disconnected
Katatonia – The Fall Of Hearts
Frost* – Falling Satellites
Glorior Belli – Sundown (The Flock That Welcomes)
Habu – Infinite
Grand Magus ‘Sword Songs’
Messenger – Threnodies
Svoid – Storming Voices Of Inner Devotion
Fallujah – Dreamless
In Mourning – Afterglow
Haken – Affinity
Long Distance Calling – Trips
October Tide – Winged Waltz
Odd Logic – Penny For Your Thoughts
Iron Mountain – Unum
Knifeworld – Bottled Out Of Eden
Novembre – Ursa
Beholder – Reflections
Neverworld – Dreamsnatcher
Universal Mind Project – The Jaguar Priest
Thunderstone – Apocalypse Again
InnerWish – Innerwish
Mob Rules – Tales From Beyond
Ghost Bath – Moonlover
Spiritual Beggars – Sunrise To Sundown
Oceans Of Slumber – Winter
Rikard Zander – I Can Do Without Love
Redemption – The Art Of Loss
Headspace – All That You Fear Is Gone
Chris Quirarte – Mending Broken Bridges
Sunburst – Fragments Of Creation
Inglorious – Inglorious
Omnium Gatherum – Grey Heavens
Structural Disorder – Distance
Votum – Ktonik
Fleshgod Apocalypse – King
Rikard Sjoblom – The Unbendable Sleep
Textures – Phenotype
Serenity – Codex Atlanticus
Borknagar – Winter Thrice
The Mute Gods – Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me
Brainstorm – Scary Creatures
Arcade Messiah – II
Phantasma – The Deviant Hearts
Rendezvous Point – Solar Storm
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld II
Antimatter – The Judas Table
Bauda – Sporelights
Waken Eyes – Exodus
Earthside – A Dream In Static
Caligula’s Horse – Bloom
Teramaze – Her Halo
Amorphis – Under The Red Cloud
Spock’s Beard – The Oblivion Particle
Agent Fresco – Destrier
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