Amorphis – Under The Red Cloud – Album Review

amorphis cover

Artist: Amorphis

Album Title: Under The Red Cloud

Label: Nuclear Blast

Year Of Release: 2015

Throughout their career, Amorphis have been one of those bands that have achieved something rather special. Theirs is an approach and a sound that has evolved over the years from more of a dark/death metal blueprint, to the self-titled ‘melancholic rock’ that dominates their more current output. And yet, the evolution of the sextet has been entirely natural, extremely smooth and, in spite of a few surprises here and there along the way, the Finns have always created instantly recognisable music; there’s never any doubt when you listen to an Amorphis record, be it ‘Tales From A Thousand Lakes’ or ‘Am Universam’, that you’re listening to Amorphis.

Personally-speaking, I’ve been a fan ever since I discovered their 1999 release, ‘Tuonela’. It wasn’t love at first listen but it has become a firm favourite within my collection. From the simple and effective artwork, right through to the dark, brooding and immensely powerful, folk-tinged musical output, it ticks almost all of the boxes for me. If truth be told, ‘Tuonela’ remains my favourite within the entire 11-disc back catalogue despite some real gems of songs found littered throughout their extensive discography.

As an aside, I had the pleasure of meeting the band during my first ever press trip to the Nuclear Blast headquarters around the release of ‘Silent Waters’ in 2007. It was a weekend I’ll never forget, largely because the guys were so damn nice and also, in direct opposition to their generally dark musical output, very funny and light-hearted. But I digress…

I’m now presented with album number 12, the ominously-titled ‘Under The Red Cloud’ with its striking stylised front-cover artwork. And, in a year that has been dominated by bands releasing the strongest material of their careers, the trend arguably continues here. I mean, if this record isn’t their best, it’s very very close.

As is the Amorphis way, the record is a little deceiving. Listen superficially and you’re confronted with ten tracks of well-crafted heavy rock/metal with big choruses, the gruff-meets-clean vocal approach of Tomi Joutsen and those archetypal folk-inspired embellishments. It’s a powerful set of melodic and instantly engaging heavy songs that delivers plenty of head-nodding fodder to get the blood really pumping. And, frankly, what’s not to like about that?

However, if you’re prepared to listen more carefully, ‘Under The Red Cloud’ can be even more rewarding. Do so, and that initial simplicity and apparent economy of song writing within the compositions give way to something entirely different. Amorphis, comprised of vocalist Tomi Joutsen, guitarists Tomi Koivusaari and Esa Holopainen, keyboardist Santeri Kallio, bassist Niclas Etalövuori and drummer Jan Rechberger are a more complex band than many give them credit for and this record demonstrates this comprehensively.

Pic: Ville Juurikkala

Pic: Ville Juurikkala

The title track opens the record in relatively quiet fashion with a piano melody that’s overlaid with some subtle and expressive guitar work. However, the track builds and it’s not long before it blasts into life and blossoms into a bona fide anthem. The chorus is huge and there’s a smattering of Joutsen’s gruff vocals in and amongst an otherwise clean, vibrant and soulful delivery which is full of dynamism fitting the sonic landscapes perfectly.

The follow-up ‘The Four Wise Ones’, on the other hand, is a full-on metal behemoth. The vocals are exclusively gruff and the chunky riffing and dark overtones are a joy to listen to. In fact, the intensity of it sends shivers down my spine frequently, particularly the opening staccato riff and deep, almost inaudible growls that gives way to a chugging, stomping tempo. It’s during this track that the first big hints at Amorphis’ folk influences emerge too, acting as a lovely counterpoint to the metal onslaught elsewhere in the song.

With an album as strong as this, it’s impossible to mention every composition individually. Suffice to say that every song has something within it to delight the listener.

‘Bad Blood’ features another immense chorus and some of Joutsen’s most passionate and expansive vocals on the record as well as some interesting guitar and keyboard effects that provide something a little different. ‘The Skull’ benefits from a simple but effective melody influenced by the Middle East, a chorus that has a waltz-like tempo and a quiet mid-section where the guitars sing and a beautifully-played piano adds further depth and sophistication.

The aforementioned Middle Eastern inspired melodies are taken up a level on one of the most prominent tracks, namely ‘Death Of A King’. A sitar adds authenticity and is a striking addition to the more standard metal instrumentation that accompanies it. This track also has more of a progressive feel to it by virtue of the way in which it flows from one idea to another, culminating in a sprawling chorus that is currently my favourite on the record, stopping me dead every time I hear it.

Elsewhere, ‘Sacrifice’ is an up-tempo blood-pumping, catchy anthem that’s ubiquitous latter-day Amorphis. The moody ‘Dark Path’ displays more of an old-school Amorphis feel to it, toying as it does with hints of black metal in the verses. And ‘Enemy At The Gates’ pulls together the progressive elements, the folk influences and the hook-laden choruses, wrapping it up in a track that feels epic despite it’s relatively short five-minute length.

Amorphis - Tomi Joutsen

‘Tree Of Ages’ really goes to town with the folk melodies and authentic instrumentation and, in something of a twist, the album is closed by ‘White Night’ which features soft and breathy female vocals to great effect alongside another catchy uplifting chorus to send us on our way.

Well, what do you know? As it turns out, mentioning every track wasn’t impossible! In fact, I found it more impossible to miss any out in this review, thereby further underlining the strength and consistency of the record.

A review of an Amorphis record wouldn’t be complete without touching on the lyrics. I’m not in possession of them so I can’t comment with certainty, but it’s a safe bet that, in keeping with every record up until now, the lyrical content focuses upon the traditional Finnish epic story of Kalevala. If that’s indeed the case, then the folk embellishments fit the subject matter perfectly.

So, in summary, what is there left to say that hasn’t been said about ‘Under The Red Cloud’ already? It’s a near flawless record that does what great music should do – it transports me to another place away from the humdrum and the mundane, it envelops me in its warm embrace and it makes me smile, enriching my life every time I immerse myself in it.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.5

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

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

Earthside – Interview Part 2 – “we will be a band that people won’t get totally on a first listen”

Credit: Travis Smith - Seempieces ( http://www.seempieces.com/ )

Credit: Travis Smith – Seempieces ( http://www.seempieces.com/ )

A while back, I had the pleasure of an in-depth conversation with Ben Shanbrom, drummer with Earthside, a new band on the block that threatens to become the hottest new prospect in the progressive music world. You think I’m being overly hyperbolic? Listen to this for starters:

Now I have your attention, you may like to check out Part 1 of this interview, which can be accessed via the following Link: Earthside – Interview Part 1 – “it will defy a lot of expectations in a good way”

However, without further ado, here’s Part 2, where Ben and I delve further into the intriguing world of Earthside…

A thought occurs to me at this point and not for the first time when I find myself chatting with musicians more within the progressive mould. I often worry that, in a world where the human attention span is shortening by the day it seems, music that requires effort from the audience is in real danger. Of course it is never going to be mainstream by its very nature but in playing devil’s advocate, I hypothesise aloud to Ben that maybe bands like Earthside are not so suited to the modern era.

“I think it depends on who the audience is”, Ben counters after a considerable pause before effectively and gratifyingly shooting my hypothesis down in flames .“There’s a lot of passive listening going on in this day and age. I think that a lot of these passive listeners will not really dig us or get what we are trying to do. In other areas though, I think people are more tuned in and more active in their music listening, sharing and conversing than at any other time in history. People we’ve never met chat to us and send us messages, people in India for example and I think we have a couple of die-hard fans in the republic of Georgia. I think this is really cool, we’re happy to interact with these people for sure. We want to invite these people back after the show to hang out with us and talk about music. I don’t think this happens enough.”

When I then suggest that Earthside are likely, from what we’ve heard so far, to be a band that requires effort from the listener, Ben agrees and admits to a certain extent that this was deliberate on their part.

“Yeah, I think that we will be a band that people won’t get totally on a first listen. It will take recurring listens to get all the different nuances and intricacies out of it. For me, those are my favourite albums and are the records that I come back to frequently, sometimes even noticing something new several years later. There’s a lot of that here I think and that’s good for the people who really want to dig in to our music. It might be a challenge, like you said earlier, with the mile-a-minute music consumption that takes place these days. I guess we’re hoping that with what we’ve put into this and the way we’ve gone about it all, we’ll manage to push people into digging a little deeper and actively listening and getting into the music. But not just to us only; to music in general.”

By now, most of you will have heard the track, ‘Mob Mentality’ and will know that Earthside are joined by Sevendust’s Lajon Witherspoon. It’s an absolute behemoth of a track that also features the Moscow Studio Symphony Orchestra. It’s epic in scope and the depth of atmosphere, emotion and drama is breath-taking. A few eyebrows may have been raised when the name of Lajon Witherspoon was announced but personally, I think the voice fits the composition like a glove. I put this to Ben before inviting him to put flesh on bone and explain how and why this particular collaboration came together.

http://www.allmusic.com/blog/post/video-premiere-earthside-mob-mentality

“We had a couple of singers in mind but he wasn’t the first on the list. Not because we didn’t think he could do it but because he was such a huge guy in our minds that the idea of getting him involved maybe didn’t seem possible at the start. We love music where there’s an orchestral element to it, so long as it’s not done in a hackneyed manner where it’s just a wash of fake strings or something. With a lot of these bands who do it, there seems to be a typical assumption about the kind of singer they’re supposed to have, like a power metal vocalist or a Lacuna Coil-type female singer. It works well for those bands but if you’re going to add something meaningful to the conversation, so to speak, bands today need to come at things from a different angle and break the rules.”

“For us, Sevendust is a band that we listened to in those transformative years. It’s funny because some people didn’t think they were metal enough but if you listen to djent now half their grooves and riffs are Sevendust; they did this fifteen years ago and no-one gave them credit. But as well as Sevendust being an important band in heavy music, Lajon is such an unbelievable singer. He straddles the ground between rock music and more of a soulful dimension. He is very versatile so having him on this song which is more dramatic and very dynamic, was perfect. He really adds a cool dimension to the song that’s unexpected.”

“I think that’s another one of our things too”, Ben offers on a slight tangent brought about seemingly by a sudden thought on his part. “We try to use unusual instruments in songs that you wouldn’t normally expect and which kinda throw you off balance and force you to hear something from a different perspective. We take the same approach to the vocalists that we work with. To whatever degree we can, we try to put them into a different context to challenge them and challenge ourselves. In many ways, it has come together beautifully with Lajon and we couldn’t be happier.”

And the inclusion of the full-on orchestra?

“It was definitely challenging logistically and in many other ways”, Ben responds. “They’re a great orchestra but the reason why we went with the Moscow Studio Symphony Orchestra was because we were already in Sweden. I didn’t personally go on that sojourn though; it was our guitarist who composed and arranged the whole thing that travelled over there with the keyboardist. As far as the song is concerned, it wouldn’t be the same thing if we didn’t have that real human element everywhere. It would be a knock-off of what it truly is. The orchestra breathes and ebbs and flows really nicely with the Lajon emoting over it all and me as the drummer struggling to play these crazy parts that Jamie wrote. We’re really pleased with how it all worked out.”

Having alluded to it in the preceding answer and fleetingly elsewhere during the conversation, I tackle the issue of song writing within Earthside head on. In light of the variety that we’re told to expect, I’m intrigued to find out whether it’s the work of one, a couple or the whole band collectively. As you might expect by now, Earthside do things a little differently.

“I’m glad you brought that up”, Ben answers kindly, “because I think in this regard, we’re different from many other bands. I think this reinforces what I was saying earlier about albums sounding like the same song reinforced ten times over; in a lot of bands today it’s commonplace for there to be a dominant songwriter. It doesn’t work that way with us. We’ve always operated as an absolute democracy and there’s no ‘Mr 51%’ or anything. Every member of the band has capabilities that go beyond their immediate instrument and every member hears music, has ideas and contributes. So there are two ways that we write. One is in practice and these tend to be the instrumental tracks that we do, the kind of thing that’ll begin with me playing a weird beat or Jamie or Frank experimenting with an unusual sound or something. The others will then come in and 25 practices later, we’ll have a song. All the parts for ‘The Closest I’ve Come’ were written in one practice but the song was finished after several more practices of us arguing about where things go and how many times ideas needed to come back within the song.”

“We’re not”, Ben ploughs on with barely a breath, “one of those bands that say ‘we wrote like 50 songs for this record and we arbitrarily think these are the best ten songs; enjoy’. We worked with very few ideas; we probably had ten or eleven songs on the table, some of which weren’t even finished. We kinda knew that if we had an idea that was worth working on, we’d play around with it and make it happen because we want it on the record and we’ll do what we have to do to make it great.”

“The other way we write is as individuals, as with ‘Mob Mentality’ for example, which was Jamie’s main contribution on the album. I think the individuality of some of the tracks really contributes to the diversity of the sound on the record. On that song, Jamie had me play some ridiculous drum beats, stuff that I’d not necessarily come up with but it works and when things don’t, we’re free to offer suggestions and open it up more democratically. So as I said before, there’s no ‘Mr 51%’ with Earthside and that’s definitely a strength.”

Credit: Ian Christmann Photography ( http://catalystphotography.com/ )

Credit: Ian Christmann Photography ( http://catalystphotography.com/ )

Not content with incorporating several notable guest singers, multiple musical ideas and a full blown orchestra, Earthside decided to enlist the help of highly regarded producer David Castillo (Katatonia, Opeth) to twiddle those knobs and make the album sound as good as possible. Living in a world where Katatonia occupy almost God-like status, I feel compelled to find out more about this eye-catching collaboration.

“He probably said yes because he’s a masochist”, laughs Ben heartily. “But seriously, we had a small handful of producers that we really admired and respected. It wasn’t that we wanted to deliberately go crazy and throw Sweden on the map because we had several American producers in the frame as well. It was like a dating process where we talked to a bunch of them to feel them out. There were hundreds of emails and skype chats, but there was a kind of comfort in talking to David, this kind of quiet admiration and dedication that we could sense from him talking with us. He’s mostly associated with Katatonia, Opeth and Bloodbath but, like us, he has very diverse music tastes. We still message each other very frequently and he’ll be like ‘you gotta listen to this band’ and vice versa. Like us, he was very open minded and isn’t concerned about something sounding sissy or not metal enough. He’s very tuned in to the balance of beauty, heaviness and atmosphere. He commands a mastery over those dynamics and that diversity of sound that we were going for. We were very excited to work with him.”

“His willingness to work with us to overcome what could have been a logistical nightmare and make it work was very telling”, Ben continues. “We knew that he was the right guy for the job. He’s insane as far as the work that he does and his dedication to it. We showed the album to a handful of close friends who are in production or mixing and they’re like ‘man, there’s no way you could pay me enough to do this project’. The sheer number of hours that he put into this project was humungous. We couldn’t be happier with the job he’s done and, more than that, he has become a close friend and we’re thankful to have him on the team.”

In closing, I have to ask Ben to look a little further into the future and perhaps unfairly ask him to consider what Earthside may sound like on discs two, three and maybe even four. The response is pretty much as I expected too.

“It’ll sound like Earthside as far as the sonic imprint that we make with the first record but it will probably explore totally different areas because that’s the whole goal of this, to not limit ourselves. The whole reason why we did this crazy and insane record was to enable us to have no ceiling to what we do next.”

And, with that, the best part of 45 minutes of interesting, intense and thoroughly enjoyable chat comes to an end. I may have only heard two songs, just like all of you who are reading this article. However, I cannot stress just how excited I am to hear more of Earthside’s material. More so having got an insight into the way the band operates and the way the band thinks. One thing’s for sure; the Blog Of Much Metal will be keeping a beady eye on every twist and turn in the Earthside evolution and I’m just pleased to have been there from the beginning to maybe help in a small way.

Keep an eye open for ‘A Dream In Static’ when it’s released later in 2015.

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

Kingcrow – ‘Eidos’ Track-by-Track Part 2
Kingcrow – ‘Eidos’ Track-by-Track Part 1
Triaxis
Native Construct
Distorted Harmony
Kingcrow
Wisdom Of Crowds – Bruce Soord & Jonas Renkse

<a href="https://manofmuchmetal.wordpress.com/2013/07/24/maschine-an-interview-with-the-uk-prog-rockers/&quot;

Spock’s Beard – The Oblivion Particle – Album Review

spocks cover

Artist: Spock’s Beard

Album Title: The Oblivion Particle

Label: InsideOut Music

Year Of Release: 2015

If 2015 was already a strong year for progressive rock music, it is just about to get even stronger, thanks to this little beauty of an album. I am of course referring to Spock’s Beard’s latest offering, ‘The Oblivion Particle’. Over the years, despite one or two alterations to the line-up, Spock’s Beard have consistently released progressive rock music of the highest calibre. Rightly so, this has ultimately led to theirs becoming a name synonymous with ‘quality’ within the genre.

Spock’s Beard 2015 is comprised of Alan Morse (vocals, guitar), Dave Meros (bass, vocals), Ryo Okumoto (keyboards, vocals), Jimmy Keegan (drums, vocals) and Ted Leonard (vocals, guitar). And, with ‘The Oblivion Particle’, the quintet may just have delivered their best album yet.

Photo taken  in Altadena on 03/11/15.

Photo taken in Altadena on 03/11/15.

It is rare if an album of the prog variety manages to immediately impress me, as they tend to take their time to work their way into my affections. However, with ‘The Oblivion Particle’, whilst it was not love at first listen, I knew that this would be a record that would provide a great deal of enjoyment. And so it has proved. Moreover, I have now really taken this album to my heart and I’m finding it hard to extract it from my playlist.

My overriding first impression of album number twelve was of a collection of songs that, whilst new, felt strangely familiar and welcoming. Within moments, it was obvious who I was listening to. I don’t mean this to sound derogatory, quite the opposite in fact but ‘The Oblivion Particle’ instantly felt warm and comforting, as if being greeted by one of your oldest and well-loved friends after a lengthy absence. However, having delved into it in much more detail, I’m also pleased to report that, as familiar as much of the content is, there are plenty of differences to explore within the nine compositions.

‘The Oblivion Particle’ opens with arguably the most ‘normal’ and traditional of Spock’s Beard compositions, ‘Tides Of Time’. The track is full of complexity but never at the expense of the song. It is a song that contains a really nice tempo and flow, strong melodies and some rich keyboard tones that give the whole thing an almost theatrical pomp as it develops, ebbing and flowing dextrously from one idea to the next. In addition, the vocals of newish recruit Ted Leonard (Enchant, Thought Chamber), who joined on the previous record, ‘Brief Nocturnes And Dreamless Sleep’, fit the music like a glove. Note perfect, emotive, strong and with an impressive range, Mr Leonard and Spock’s Beard are a match made in heaven.

Aside from all this, the track also immediately flags up one of the principle tweaks in the Spock’s Beard sound this time around, namely a slightly heavier veneer. This might set alarm bells ringing with those who prefer their prog on the softer side but you needn’t be worried because I’m not talking thrash metal riffs, screamed vocals or relentless machine-gun drumming. Instead, the increase in heaviness can be heard within the occasional guitar riff which might utilise a dirtier or grittier tone, an increase in the controlled bombast and decadence of the occasional crescendo or the overall urgency of the odd segment within a larger composition.

As you might expect from Spock’s Beard, every piece of music contains within it a myriad of sounds, styles and influences from across the musical spectrum, but it is the way in which all the ideas are fused together into a cohesive and digestible whole which sets this group of musicians apart from others. The entire record feels well thought-out, smooth and sufficiently accessible despite their willingness to play around with everything from pop to hard rock, from jazz to classical. It should sound messy and disjointed but it never does.

The increased heaviness is once again in evidence within the opening riff to ‘Minion’ that takes over from an a capella melody and which is accompanied by a prominent and rumbling bass. The excellently expressive bass work is a key component of a track that contains a hugely addictive chorus and which works the full gamut between creating some of the most powerful material and also some of the most subtle and beautiful sections where there’s little else other than a tinkling piano melody and emotive vocals. As if that wasn’t enough, the song also introduces the first of many intriguing and ‘new’ keyboard sounds courtesy of Ryo Okumoto that litter ‘The Oblivion Particle’. It is clear that a certain amount of caution has been thrown to the wind and there’s been a demonstrable embracing of experimentation in this area, something which only enhances the listening experience as far as I’m concerned.

Speaking of experimentation, it doesn’t cease with the keyboards. Not content with being masters of their own instruments, ‘The Oblivion Particle’ sees Alan Morse introduce the autoharp, banjolele, electric sitar and mandolin to his repertoire and drummer Jimmy Keegan takes up lead vocal duties for the first time on ‘Bennett Builds A Time Machine’ meaning that every member of the quintet now contributes vocals to the music, another huge string to the Spock’s Beard metaphorical bow.

The highlight of ‘Hell’s Not Enough’ is the decadent and flamboyant drumming from Jimmy Keegan that drives the closing crescendo with real power thus completing the transformation within the composition, which steadily builds from a quiet, understated acoustic opening to an entirely different beast altogether.

Photo taken  in Altadena on 03/11/15.

Photo taken in Altadena on 03/11/15.

One of my personal highlights on ‘The Oblivion Particle’ is the aforementioned ‘Bennett Builds A Time Machine’. It can only be described as a bright and breezy composition with an extended, slightly darker instrumental work-out in the mid-section. The whole song is fantastic and strikes me as the song that perhaps the Beach Boys might have written if they played progressive rock; the melodic intent is wonderful and the debut lead vocals courtesy of Jimmy Keegan have a lovely 60s pop feel to them. It really is a delightful song from beginning to end, with a properly uplifting, feel-good factor to it.

More highlights can be found within each and every one of the tracks on ‘The Oblivion Particle’ but to name a few, there’s the more straight-up hard rock attitude of ‘Get Out While You Can’, the utterly stunning and majestic ‘The Centre Line’ which is driven by a galloping tempo and which contains yet more delicious melodic hooks as well as some peerless musicianship. The fact that it is book-ended by a classical piano work-out is the icing on the cake. ‘To Be Free Again’ is arguably the most epic track on the record. It offers a groovy, chunky riff that’s simply brilliant before changing styles almost entirely, straying into territory that’s the most cinematic and atmospheric anywhere on the record.

‘The Oblivion Particle’ is then closed out by ‘Disappear’. I feel like I’m turning into a broken record but there’s no getting away from the fact that the chorus is sublime, containing possibly the most immediate hooks on the album as well as interesting violin embellishments from David Ragsdale. It conveys more in the way of positivity too, ending the album on a note of genuine hope and I’m left feeling happy, content and somehow enriched by the whole experience. I’m not sure that the lyrics are in keeping with these feelings, but that’s its effect the music has on me, without doubt.

So, to conclude, what else can I say but reiterate that ‘The Oblivion Particle’ is the sound of Spock’s Beard at the very top of their game. Frankly, I’m not entirely sure that ‘classic’ melodic progressive rock can get much better than this. I shall wait to be proven wrong of course but in the meantime, as far as I’m concerned, this will sit at the very pinnacle of the genre.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.5

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

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

Agent Fresco – Destrier – Album Review

af cover

Artist: Agent Fresco

Album Title: Destrier

Label: Long Branch Records / SPV

Year Of Release: 2015

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

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

Credit: Birta Ra'n Photography

Credit: Birta Ra’n Photography

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

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

For the listener however, the experience is simply wondrous.

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

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

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

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

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

Credit: Marino Thorlacius

Credit: Marino Thorlacius

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

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

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

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.5

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

Cattle Decapitation – The Anthropocene Extinction
Between The Buried And Me – Coma Ecliptic
Cradle Of Filth – Hammer Of The Witches
Disarmonia Mundi – Cold Inferno
District 97 – In Vaults
Progoctopus – Transcendence
Big Big Train – Wassail
NightMare World – In The Fullness Of Time
Helloween – My God-Given Right
Triaxis – Zero Hour
Isurus – Logocharya
Arcturus – Arcturian
Kamelot – Haven
Native Construct – Quiet World
Sigh – Graveward
Pantommind – Searching For Eternity
Subterranean Masquerade – The Great Bazaar
Klone – Here Comes The Sun
The Gentle Storm – The Diary
Melechesh – Enki
Enslaved – In Times
Keep Of Kalessin – Epistemology
Lonely Robot – Please Come Home
The Neal Morse Band – The Grand Experiment
Zero Stroke – As The Colours Seep
AudioPlastik – In The Head Of A Maniac
Revolution Saints – Revolution Saints
Mors Principium Est – Dawn of The 5th Era
Arcade Messiah – Arcade Messiah
Triosphere – The Heart Of The Matter
Neonfly – Strangers In Paradise
Knight Area – Hyperdrive
Haken – Restoration
James LaBrie – Impermanent Resonance
Mercenary – Through Our Darkest Days
A.C.T. – Circus Pandemonium
Xerath – III
Big Big Train – English Electric (Part 1)
Thought Chamber – Psykerion
Marcus Jidell – Pictures From A Time Traveller
H.E.A.T – Tearing Down The Walls
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld

Cattle Decapitation – The Anthropocene Extinction – Album Review

CD coverArtist: Cattle Decapitation

Album Title: The Anthropocene Extinction

Label: Metal Blade

Year Of Release: 2015

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

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

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

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

Pic: Zach Coroner

Pic: Zach Coroner

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

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

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

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

cd band 2

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

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

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.0

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

Between The Buried And Me – Coma Ecliptic
Cradle Of Filth – Hammer Of The Witches
Disarmonia Mundi – Cold Inferno
District 97 – In Vaults
Progoctopus – Transcendence
Big Big Train – Wassail
NightMare World – In The Fullness Of Time
Helloween – My God-Given Right
Triaxis – Zero Hour
Isurus – Logocharya
Arcturus – Arcturian
Kamelot – Haven
Native Construct – Quiet World
Sigh – Graveward
Pantommind – Searching For Eternity
Subterranean Masquerade – The Great Bazaar
Klone – Here Comes The Sun
The Gentle Storm – The Diary
Melechesh – Enki
Enslaved – In Times
Keep Of Kalessin – Epistemology
Lonely Robot – Please Come Home
The Neal Morse Band – The Grand Experiment
Zero Stroke – As The Colours Seep
AudioPlastik – In The Head Of A Maniac
Revolution Saints – Revolution Saints
Mors Principium Est – Dawn of The 5th Era
Arcade Messiah – Arcade Messiah
Triosphere – The Heart Of The Matter
Neonfly – Strangers In Paradise
Knight Area – Hyperdrive
Haken – Restoration
James LaBrie – Impermanent Resonance
Mercenary – Through Our Darkest Days
A.C.T. – Circus Pandemonium
Xerath – III
Big Big Train – English Electric (Part 1)
Thought Chamber – Psykerion
Marcus Jidell – Pictures From A Time Traveller
H.E.A.T – Tearing Down The Walls
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld

Essential Metal Releases Still To Come in 2015 – Part 3

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

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

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

Redemption – TBC

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

Borknagar – TBC

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

TesseracT – Polaris

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

Draconian – Sovran

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

The Dear Hunter – Act IV – Rebirth In Reprise

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

Swallow The Sun – TBC

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

Into Eternity – Sirens

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

Hecate Enthroned – TBC

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

Pathosray – TBC

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

Madder Mortem – Red In Tooth And Claw

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

And the big ones…

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

Between The Buried And Me – Coma Ecliptic – Album Review

BTBAM cover

Artist: Between The Buried And Me

Album Title: Coma Ecliptic

Label: Metal Blade

Year Of Release: 2015

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

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

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

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

Pic: Justin Reich

Pic: Justin Reich

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

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

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

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

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

BTBAM band 2

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

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

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.0

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

Cradle Of Filth – Hammer Of The Witches
Disarmonia Mundi – Cold InfernoDistrict 97 – In Vaults
Progoctopus – Transcendence
Big Big Train – Wassail
NightMare World – In The Fullness Of Time
Helloween – My God-Given Right
Triaxis – Zero Hour
Isurus – Logocharya
Arcturus – Arcturian
Kamelot – Haven
Native Construct – Quiet World
Sigh – Graveward
Pantommind – Searching For Eternity
Subterranean Masquerade – The Great Bazaar
Klone – Here Comes The Sun
The Gentle Storm – The Diary
Melechesh – Enki
Enslaved – In Times
Keep Of Kalessin – Epistemology
Lonely Robot – Please Come Home
The Neal Morse Band – The Grand Experiment
Zero Stroke – As The Colours Seep
AudioPlastik – In The Head Of A Maniac
Revolution Saints – Revolution Saints
Mors Principium Est – Dawn of The 5th Era
Arcade Messiah – Arcade Messiah
Triosphere – The Heart Of The Matter
Neonfly – Strangers In Paradise
Knight Area – Hyperdrive
Haken – Restoration
James LaBrie – Impermanent Resonance
Mercenary – Through Our Darkest Days
A.C.T. – Circus Pandemonium
Xerath – III
Big Big Train – English Electric (Part 1)
Thought Chamber – Psykerion
Marcus Jidell – Pictures From A Time Traveller
H.E.A.T – Tearing Down The Walls
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld