Half-Way Through 2015 – The Best So Far – Part 3

Welcome to the third and final part (unless I realise I’ve missed someone off my list) of my round-up of the best albums released in 2015 at the half-way mark of the year. As I have said before, 2015 has been exceptionally strong so far and, as such, my list is quite extensive; more so than in previous years. I have therefore tried to be a little more brief in my overview reviews in order to give every album their deserved moment in the spotlight.

If you missed the previous two parts, they can be accessed here:
Half-Way Through 2015 – The Best So Far – Part 1
Half-Way Through 2015 – The Best So Far – Part 2

As always, the albums are varied across genres and range from household names to those more familiar with the heavy metal underground. So, here goes, I hope you enjoy:

Subversion ‘Animi’
Rogue Records America

subversion coverThose who know me or know my Blog will know that I’m not the biggest fan of tech/djent metal. It might surprise you to read therefore, that such a record is one of my favourites of 2015 at the half-way mark. The thing with UK band Subversion is that they do it so well and in my opinion, so much better than some of their contemporaries. Self-billed as ‘symphonic tech metal’, Subversion have hugely impressed me thanks to their winning combination of complexity, subtlety, brutality and melodiousness. ‘Animi’ is a huge album in every respect and, above all, is hugely enjoyable.

Iris Divine ‘Karma Sown’
Sensory Records

Iris Divine coverLike a few albums in this article, ‘Karma Sown’ is a slightly surprising inclusion in my list. I’d not have expected an album that merges Tool and Kings X prog with the more modern metal of Lamb Of God and even grunge, to feature among my favourites at the half-way mark of 2015. And yet, Iris Divine have managed it. The reason? It’s because the trio manage to create quality music with a modern metal attitude, atmospheric keys and huge melodic choruses. Whatever the influences may be, that’s a cocktail that can be very hard to argue with.

District 97 ‘In Vaults’
Laser’s Edge

district 97 coverIt took me a lot of time, attention and effort but my patience and stubbornness was ultimately rewarded. District 97 do not sound like anyone else thanks to their own particular brand of progressive rock/metal, which blends a myriad of styles into a cohesive whole, including rock, pop, jazz, fusion, even a smattering of classical and more extreme metal. Given time though, the subtle melodies and hooks come to the fore, meaning it is ultimately a rich and rewarding listen. As such, ‘In Vaults’ comes with a huge recommendation for open-minded fans of original and professionally-executed progressive music.

Read my full review here.

Revolution Saints ‘Revolution Saints’
Frontiers Records

Grunge rust metal surface with vignette.There had to be a melodic hard rock album featured somewhere in this series and the ‘honour’, such as it is, is bestowed to the ‘supergroup’ otherwise known as Revolution Saints. Messrs Aldritch, Castronovo and Blades have created a debut album that lit up those dark and cold January mornings with their own take on the melodic rock genre. As you’d expect, ‘Revolution Saints’ is a professionally put together melodic rock album with big AOR overtones. It has heart, integrity and, above all, a cracking bunch of memorable tunes that you’ll be humming for weeks.

Read my full review here.

Rise Of Avernus ‘Dramatis Personæ’

RoA coverYet another EP to feature within this round-up, Rise Of Avernus continue the trend of Australian extreme metal bands that have recently blown me to smithereens. Despite only offering five tracks, ‘Dramatis Personæ’ clocks in at around the half-hour mark and, within that time, batter and bruise the listener with brutality, complexity, subtle progressive elements and huge, bombastic cinematic compositions that are grand in scope and brilliantly executed. I just wish it was more than an EP because Rise Of Avernus may soon become a force to be reckoned with in extreme metal circles.

Sigh ‘Graveward’
Candlelight Records

sigh coverI have never truly liked Japanese avant-garde metallers Sigh; I have always found their eclectic and often bonkers output to simply be too much. However, at a loose end, I tried out their latest recording ‘Graveward’ and I’m so pleased I did. Sigh are still mad as hell, but the end result on this album is highly enjoyable and deeply fascinating. Hammer Horror and zombie films are the inspiration for a schizophrenic soundtrack that’s black metal at its core but which is then interspersed with bizarre moments from just about every genre of music on Earth. Yet it works and, in my opinion, is Sigh’s most cohesive and enjoyable record to date.

Read my full review here.

The Neal Morse Band ‘The Grand Experiment’
InsideOut Music

Neal Morse coverWhen progressive rock is done well, it can be one of the most enjoyable and rewarding styles of music out there. If you’re looking for evidence of this, you’d be hard-pressed to find better than ‘The Grand Experiment’ from The Neal Morse Band. Don’t let the occasionally overt religious lyrical content put you off because if you can get past that, the music itself is of the highest quality. Classic progressive rock epics feature heavily as you’d expect, but this record is more than that thanks to a couple of tracks that veer into modern rock or even pop territory. I’ve yet to hear better from this sub-genre in 2015 so far.

Read my full review here.

Pantommind ‘Searching For Eternity’
Spectastral Records

BuPantommind coverlgarian progressive metallers Pantommind have always been a band that have floated around the periphery of my consciousness. However, album number three, ‘Searching For Eternity’ has put them slap bang in the centre of my attention and threatens to break them into the prog metal big time. Technical musicianship, principally massive guitar solos, and huge swathes of keyboards make up the bulk of the Pantommind sound. And, fashions be damned, this excellently executed, slightly ‘old school’ approach sounds superb thanks to an impressive technical ability and really strong compositional awareness.

Read my full review here.

Half-Way Through 2015 – The Best So Far – Part 2

Welcome to part 2 of my round-up of the very best music that was released during the first six months of 2015.

If you missed it, you can find Part 1 right here:
Half-Way Through 2015 – The Best So Far – Part 1

As I mentioned before, this year has seen some extraordinarily strong albums hit the shelves and so it has been extremely difficult to truncate my list of artists that deserve a place in this round-up. To be honest, if the year stopped here, I’d still have difficulty picking a full-year Top 20 because of the quality on offer. But that’s a headache to be faced at a later date. In the meantime, here’s the next batch of albums that have made a big impression on me so far in 2015:

Lonely Robot ‘Please Come Home’
InsideOut Music

Press_Cover_01It is a fairly accurate statement to say that if John Mitchell is involved in a band, album or project, it is almost always of the highest quality. The Frost*, Kino and It Bites guitarist’s latest venture goes under the moniker of ‘Lonely Robot’ and the results are nothing short of spectacular. Blending progressive rock with movie soundtrack music, ‘Please Come Home’ is a deeply atmospheric and wonderfully rich body of work that has to be heard to be believed. This is, quite simply, Mitchell’s tour-de-force and further emphasises his mastery of both the guitar and memorable song writing.

Read my full review here.

Subterranean Masquerade ‘The Great Bazaar’
Taklit Music

submasq coverWhen the band refer to themselves as “the carnival of the dysfunctional and the disturbed”, you know you’re in for an interesting ride and so it transpires. The sextet that comprises Subterranean Masquerade could be argued to be something of an underground super group but what’s not arguable is the music that makes up only the band’s second release in 18 years. It is complex and diverse but manages to blend jazz, folk, extreme metal and world music into a cohesive whole that doesn’t sound contrived or incoherent; if anything, the whole thing comes together very smoothly and entertains from start to finish.

Read my full review here.

Native Construct ‘Quiet World’
Metal Blade Records

Native CoverThe Berkley College of Music boasts some impressive alumni and the theme continues thanks to new kids of the block, Native Construct. Seemingly unafraid to experiment, jazz, rock, metal, prog, folk, classical, funk and a whole lot more collide in a smorgasbord of musical ideas that masterfully manages to dodge the bullet of being messy, incoherent and lacking in structure. Debut album ‘Quiet World’ is initially daunting but, given time, it blossoms into a massively rewarding listening experience quite unlike any other. If this talented trio can maintain this standard, the future for them is very bright indeed.

Read my full review here.

Paradise Lost ‘The Plague Within’
Century Media Records

PL coverIt doesn’t matter what era of Paradise Lost you prefer because on ‘The Plague Within’, there is quite literally something for everyone. ‘The Plague Within’ is the sound of a band reborn, of a band that has supreme confidence and of a band unwilling to compromise in any shape or form. The results are varied, challenging, confrontational and above all, stunning. There are nods to the band’s earliest incarnation as well as injections of Paradise Lost’s more recent stylistic directions. It all comes together to create a masterpiece of mournful and brooding extreme metal that’s 100% Paradise Lost.

Abnormal Thought Patterns ‘Altered States Of Consciousness’
Lifeforce Records

ATP coverWow! That was my reaction when I first heard ‘Altered States Of Consciousness’, the sophomore release from technical prog metallers Abnormal Thought Patterns. Lightning fast and dextrous guitar and bass solos/duets joust with groovy djent-esque riffing and moments of sublime atmospheric melody to create one of the very best albums of 2015 thus far. And when the solos slow down and embellish the quieter moments, ATP prove once again that when a guitar really sings, there are no better sounds to be heard on this planet. This, my friends, is goosebump and spine-tingling territory every single time.

Arcturus ‘Arcturian’
Prophecy Productions

desen tush‘Arcturian’ is the first album by Arcturus in the better part of a decade and, after disbanding in 2006, was something that many of us feared we’d never experience. Therefore, when I can also say that it is the best Arcturus record since the seminal ‘La Masquerade Infernale’ from 1997, it’s a doubly special and pleasing release. In keeping with the band’s core values, ‘Arcturian’ is an idiosyncratic beast rooted loosely in black metal but which flits from one idea to another almost schizophrenically. And yet, it is also a deceptively melodic and accessible album that delights me on each and every listen.

Read my full review here.

Triaxis ‘Zero Hour’
Rocksector Records

triaxis zero hour coverThe ‘metalhead’s metal band’ returned during the first half of 2015 with album number x in the shape of ‘Zero Hour’, a storming album of uncompromising heavy metal. Elements of thrash metal, classic metal and New Wave of British Heavy Metal combine beautifully to create an album that is heavy, powerful and thoroughly addictive. The compositions are stronger than ever before, the choruses are more memorable and the riffs, backed up by an impressive rhythm section are sharper and more incisive than ever. Oh and vocalist Krissie delivers the performance of her career. What more could you possibly want?

Read my full review here.

Half-Way Through 2015 – The Best So Far – Part 1

So far, 2015 has been absolutely huge in terms of the sheer amount of great music that has been released. In fact, the first six months have been ridiculously strong. As such, it is very difficult to bring you my half-way round-up in the normal way – there’s just too much to fit in. And also, I have reviewed a fair number of the albums as well, so I didn’t want to repeat myself too much.

Therefore, I thought I’d celebrate by creating a more punchy couple of posts that offer a whistle-stop overview of my favourite music released between January and June 2015. In no particular order, here goes:

Audioplastik – ‘In The Head Of A Maniac’
Bad Elephant Music

00 audioplastik coverFrom the minds of members of Frost*, Threshold and Darkwater, this was never going to be anything other than brilliant and so it has proved. ‘In The Head Of A Maniac’ is best described, albeit loosely and simplistically as a combination of melodic progressive rock, metal and pop with rich cinematic overtones. If your tastes dictate that you enjoy music that is rich and varied, deep and thoughtful, beautiful and genuinely unique, look no further than ‘In The Mind Of A Maniac’ by AudioPlastik.

Read my full review here.

Keep Of Kalessin – ‘Epistemology’
Indie Recordings

Keep-of-Kalessin-EpistemologyThis is one of the albums that came out of nowhere and knocked me sideways. I had never been enamoured with Keep Of Kalessin and only gave ‘Epistemology’ a listen out of politeness and curiosity. Within a few hours, I was hooked by the really clever blend of extreme black metal, power metal and progressive undertones. The final product is an epic album of huge and majestic proportions; the combination of extremity, technicality and overblown grandiose melody and atmosphere is truly a thing of beauty and something special to behold.

Read my full review here.

The Gentle Storm ‘The Diary’
InsideOut Music

gs coverThe Gentle Storm is the moniker given to the collaboration between Arjen Lucassen (Ayreon) and Anneke van Giersbergen (ex-The Gathering). A double album, the compositions on ‘The Diary’ are repeated twice, with the first disc featuring the ‘calm’, folkier versions and disc two featuring more metallic interpretations of the songs. Both versions of the songs have their charms but the melodies scream out in both guises beautifully as do the thoroughly angelic vocals of Anneke. Another hugely ambitious undertaking involving Mr Lucassen has succeeded and with real style too.

Read my full review here.

Klone ‘Here Comes The Sun’
Pelagic Records

klone cover bigDark, gloomy and melancholy are just a few of the adjectives reserved for the ironivally-titled ‘Here Comes The Sun’ from French modern progressive rock/metal band Klone. There are similarities with bands like Katatonia within the Klone sound but nevertheless, they have their on distinct style and they’ve impressed me with their songwriting, unfaltering execution and a willingness to experiment both musically and lyrically. The result is a collection of diverse, challenging and evocative soundscapes for the modern world. And in ‘Nebulous’, they have a contender for song of the year.

Read my full review here.

Big Big Train ‘Wassail’
English Electric Recordings

bbt wassail cover‘Wassail’ may only be a four-track EP but when the quality of the music is this high, who’s going to argue? With this EP, Big Big Train prove once again that they are one of the very best progressive rock bands out there. Nobody recreates that quintessentially English pastoral prog rock sound quite like Big Big Train whilst being willing and able to experiment with folk and slightly harder-edged rock influences at the same time.

Read my full review here.

Leprous ‘The Congregation’
InsideOut Music

leprous con coverIn a six months that has been ridiculously strong for progressive music of all styles, Leprous are one of the stand-out bands, thanks to album number four, ‘The Congregation’. The sickeningly talented Norwegians have never released a substandard album but this is, without doubt, their finest work to date. It is arguably more immediate and accessible, but it remains wonderfully dark, quirky and complex. At the end of the day, no-one else sounds like Leprous and that’s what makes them such an important and intriguing band.

Moonspell ‘Extinct’
Napalm Records

moonspell coverCutting to the chase quickly, this is the best Moonspell album in my opinion since they released ‘Irreligious’ back in 1996. ‘Extinct’ contains everything that you’d want from a band like Moonspell. It is heavy, melodic and full of Gothic-influenced dark and foreboding atmosphere. Many of the compositions are monstrous anthems but there’s an immediacy and sense of playfulness about the material too. It all adds up to being a rather splendid and addictive album.

And that’s it for Part 1 – watch out for more instalments in the coming days…

Evergrey – Interview – “It’s a completely different band now”

Pic: Patric Ullaeus

Pic: Patric Ullaeus

Seeing as the very excellent Evergrey were making the effort to travel to the UK in support of the magnificent new album, ‘Hymns For The Broken’, I felt it would be rude not to make an appearance to support my favourite band and hopefully say ‘hi’ to my Swedish buddies.

I arrive in Camden and, within a few minutes, I’m spotted by vocalist/guitarist Tom Englund and greeted with hugs from the big man as well as keyboardist Rikard Zander and bassist Johan Niemann. ‘What are you doing here?’ Tom smirks, ‘come with us, we’re going to soundcheck’. Almost immediately, my decision to make the 150 mile round trip is thoroughly vindicated.

A little later, once the band are happy with their sound in the underground den of iniquity that’s The Underworld, I’m running through the pouring rain towards the tour bus upon which I sit with Johan, Rikard and returning drummer Jonas Ekdahl. I’m interested in getting Jonas’ perspective on his return as well as finding out how the new album, ‘Hymns For The Broken’ has gone down since its release.

My first question is directed at Jonas, who sits diagonally opposite me around the bus table. I ask him why he chose to return to the Evergrey fold after several years and two albums away.

“We realised”, he responds with a surprisingly deep and resonating voice referring to himself and guitarist Henrik Danhage, “that we missed playing music together, it’s as simple as that. But it took time because we needed time apart. If we had kept going with the vibe that was in the band at the time when we left, I don’t think that Evergrey would exist today. It was a very necessary thing to do.”

“We talked about it an hour ago actually”, Jonas continues. “It is so cool to see that it’s a completely different band now. The chemistry is like 180 degrees flipped. It’s so great and I could never imagine being back again in Evergrey and then to have this great vibe. It is great.”

I turn to Rikard and smile. It must be good to have your buddies back, I suggest.

“Yeah”, Rikard responds before Jonas cheekily interjects.

“No”, he says completely deadpan for a second before hearty laughter emanates from all corners of the table.

Composure regained, Rikard returns to his answer.

“At first of course we didn’t know how it would work because it wasn’t great before we split up”, he offers very honestly in his relaxed tone. “But its”, he pauses searching for the right words, “it’s just great. I can’t find another word for it – it’s going really well both musically and personally. Touring is fun all the time…almost.” Cue more laughter. “It’s hard work at times, we get tired of drinking. But everything is really good”.

“It couldn’t be better”, Jonas agrees.

The amount of smiles and laughter on such a grey afternoon in London leads me to believe all the positivity is one hundred percent genuine. The great thing for us fans is that the chemistry has led to the creation of a fantastic album in the form of ‘Hymns For The Broken’. After several months of steady rotation, I can safely say that it remains right up there with ‘In Search Of Truth’ and I cannot see that changing any time soon. Given that I consider the 2000 album as my favourite album of all-time, it gives you an idea just how special I consider this latest effort to be.

Pic: Patric Ullaeus

Pic: Patric Ullaeus

When I last spoke with Johan and Tom prior to the release, they were suggesting it was a special album. Now that the world has heard it, I ask Johan whether he is pleased with the almost universally positive reaction to ‘Hymns For The Broken’.

“Oh yeah, for sure, it’s amazing”, Johan replies in his typically soft and quiet voice. “I had hoped that this would happen but you can’t take anything for granted. Just because we like it and we have a good vibe, that doesn’t really mean anything.”

Everyone that I have spoken to loves the record and, in many ways, it feels like Evergrey have stepped up to the next level. The fact that the venue is awash with journalists speaks volumes in favour of this bold assertion.

“It’s amazing and we’re very thankful”, Johan replies with a genuinely happy smile before Jonas and Rikard both add to the answer.

“And we actually managed to be smart for once and build some hype with the return thing with Henrik and me”, Jonas offers.

“Exactly”, Rikard agrees. “But we also had the pressure that since they have come back, we felt that this new album would have to be really really good. If we’d have put out an album that wasn’t good, none of this would matter. But I’m surprised that we managed to do such a great album. I’m really, really surprised about it actually.”

The complete honesty from Rikard descends everyone into more raucous laughter. It really feels as if I’m in the presence of a completely new band. It’s almost as if they’re a group of best mates that just happen to be in a band together. I love it and I’m loving being in the middle of it, even for a short while.

Based on Rikard’s honest appraisal, the next question is obvious but a little thorny. With caution, I ask Rikard in particular whether he felt that perhaps, with hindsight, previous albums were not so good, or at least a little sub-par for Evergrey’s high standards.

“I don’t know”, he muses for a short while before Jonas deftly comes to his rescue.

“I know that you and Tom talked about it, that you weren’t even sure if you wanted to make another album before we joined.” Rikard nods in agreement before Jonas continues. “But then we heard we’d got a record deal and because the chemistry was completely different from several years ago we decided to continue.”

“But as you said”, Rikard re-enters the fray after a moment of contemplation, “this album brings it to a new level. We’ve done a lot of albums and we’re totally satisfied after every one when it’s made. I think ‘Glorious Collision’ is a great album and I was really surprised that we were able to make such an album after these guys left. So I’m super proud of that record. But it has been at quite an even level for Evergrey since the start so what’s so cool about this new one is that you can feel that we have gone up a level perhaps. That surprised me because after doing that many albums, you accept being at that level, I think. So we’re really thankful to be able to still do this and do it in a better way than before.”

“No, not really, I didn’t expect that”, Johan responds when I ask the guys whether they were ready for the increased level of interest. Everyone wants a piece of Evergrey these days it seems. “As I said, I hoped for it but you never know, particularly when you’ve been doing albums for quite a while and old members are back.”

Moving things on slightly, I ask about the latest video that has only just been released for the track ‘Black Undertow’. It follows the epic video for ‘King Of Errors’ that made everyone sit up and take notice but it’s equally impressive and has received a great reaction so far. Am I right in that assertion?

“The response has been awesome”, affirms Jonas, “but it should be because it’s an amazing video. We shot it in December, I think, and we’ve just been waiting for a good opportunity to put it out since then. We figured it was a good time now because it’s festival season and then we’re doing the North American tour.”

Seeing as the touring issue has been raised, I ask for more details about the North American tour. Rikard takes up the mantle.

“It’s our second headlining tour. We only did one headline tour before for ‘Glorious Collision’ and that was with Sabaton. They opened for us”, he laughs knowingly, referring to the fact that Sabaton poached Evergrey’s previous drummer, Hannes Van Dahl and appear to be the current darlings of the metal scene in certain quarters. “Before that, we only did support. They were bigger tours but they were with Iced Earth and In Flames, so you can’t really compare them. But now we’re headlining again, which is big.”

Continuing with the live theme, I enquire as to the reaction of fans at the shows to the new Evergrey material. Unsurprisingly, the theme of positivity continues, as Johan explains.

“People are saying to us that this is the best record that they’ve ever heard, which is very nice to hear. And people are honestly saying that.”

“I remember when it was official that me and Henrik were back”, Jonas recounts, “I got so many emails and messages from people. When they saw the ‘King Of Errors” video and saw us, people were crying because they were so happy.”
Of course, as a diehard Evergrey fan, I wasn’t one of them obviously. Judging by the smirks around the table, I don’t think the guys believe me and, to be honest, I’m not sure I believe myself either. There were certainly goosbumps galore and a strange feeling of elation, so I can empathise with the feelings of utter joy and excitement.

“There were so many positive reactions and comments about us returning and about the album”, Jonas continues.” I went to the restaurant where Henrik works on the same day that the video was released because I couldn’t grasp it. It was too much and too overwhelming that guys were sitting at home crying because we were back and because the album is so good. It was weird to take in but it’s also one of the nicest things I’ve ever heard as a musician. It has been strange to read stuff like that but it is awesome. Hey”, Jonas considers with a self-deprecating smile, “maybe they were crying because they were sad, saying ‘I saw the video and I hated it!”

Given the level of success that ‘Hymns For The Broken’ has been enjoying, it helps to put all the negativity of the constant personnel changes and talk of quitting way into the past. Even so, none of the three bandmates are willing to make any promises about the future. It appears that the entire mind set of the band has changed now. Rikard is first to enlighten me.

“That’s one thing that makes Evergrey so strong now”, he states. “I don’t think we look at things that way; we just appreciate the moment which we’re really happy about and then we’ll see. That’s the type of pressure that we didn’t want to have. I mean we probably will make another album but we haven’t done it yet, so you cannot tell for sure that we will. You never know what will happen but we live in the moment right now, which we like so much.”

“That really takes the pressure off”, agrees Johan vehemently, “because we don’t have to do anything if we don’t want to. If we don’t want to make another album, we won’t. It’s really simple.”

More good-natured and hearty laughter ensues when I beg the band to record a new album at some point. I’m not ready to say goodbye to Evergrey just yet.

Turning serious again, I recall to Johan that when we last spoke, he and Tom suggested that the songs on ‘Hymns For The Broken’ were not actually that difficult to play and that they were looking forward to playing them live. I ask Johan whether his expectations in that direction have been met. He doesn’t hesitate for a second.

“Yes, oh yes”, he nods and smiles emphatically. “But I also think that the old songs are more fun to play now too. I think that has to do with Jonas and Henrik being back and the completely new vibe in the band. We’re on stage, looking around and all you can see is happy faces, yaye!”

“I don’t know what it is”, Rikard interjects, “but there’s something different about the new songs. Usually, it takes a couple of tours before you feel that you have got the new songs. But these songs just clicked right away and personally, I think that they stand out from the rest of the material live.”

Pic: Patric Ullaeus

Pic: Patric Ullaeus

It’s a daft question perhaps but nevertheless I ask whether it has been tough to choose what to play on stage.
“Yeah, but we’re playing 50 songs so we can squeeze a few in”, Jonas chuckles, with a wink. “But yes, it is really tough. With ten albums and a bunch of videos, sometimes it can be a nightmare, especially on shorter sets because we can’t fit them all in. It can be really hard to pick.”

“Like yesterday, at Grasspop”, Johan offers by way of example. “We played 50 minutes, so it was like ‘ok, what do we play?’ But it is cool that we can actually play so many new songs from the new album because they’re so strong.”

“And the reactions to the new songs are kind of different to the old songs when we look at the audience”, Jonas adds. “At least for some of the new ones, the audience goes insane for them.”

Rikard then spookily pre-empts my next question. I didn’t even need to open my mouth.

“We actually talked about playing the whole album, every song. And I think we will when we get the time to rehearse them all. But we’ve not had the time at the moment. I think that would be cool to do that. We did it once at Progpower USA, with ‘In Search Of Truth’. We played the whole album but that’s the one and only time so far.”

With the evening advancing apace and with other journalists wanting their piece of Evergrey, the opening of the tourbus door signals the imminent closure of the interview. Based on the replies previously, I could have telegraphed the answers but I ask the question anyway: what does the future hold for Evergrey now?

“We have nothing really planned after the US tour at the moment, so we’ll see”, replies Rikard with a knowing smile before the last intriguing words come from Jonas.

“We have a bunch of stuff up in the air right now but nothing is certain at all. So we have the US tour and then take it all from there.”

And with that, I’m ushered out into the rain and into the Underworld where I take up a prime position in the venue and wait impatiently for me heroes to take to the stage and give me my first live airing of some of the strongest material that my all-time favourite band has written. Was it a good show? You bet your life it was!

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

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

Abnormal Thought Patterns – Interview – ‘This was probably the most challenging album I’ve had to do’

ATP Band 1

The Tipton brothers are big names within progressive metal circles. The hugely talented twins were responsible for the technical progressive metal behemoth that was Zero Hour and, since then, have created Cynthesis and Abnormal Thought Patterns, both quite different from Zero Hour and from each other but both delivering music of the very highest calibre. I was lucky enough to get an advance copy of the sophomore Abnormal Thought Patterns album, ‘Altered States Of Consciousness’, which comes out at the end of June 2015 via Lifeforce Records.

Suffice to say that the content has blown me away. Ostensibly an instrumental technical progressive metal band, this new record has seen the introduction of guest vocals as well as a number of guest musicians of real note. But it’s the overall final product that is so impressive, treading that fine line between technicality and atmosphere, melody and overt aggression. So impressed have I been that I just had to find out more about the band. I made contact with Jasun Tipton via social media and the rest, as they say, is history.

The interview did not get off to the best of starts thanks to a two-year-old who refused to sleep, leading me to be around 30 minutes late for my Skype rendez-vous with Jasun. I needn’t have worried though because Jasun is just about the friendliest, happiest and enthusiastic guy on the planet. Within seconds we’re chatting as if we were long-term friends and in fact, it takes a fair while before I can even think about turning to the subject of Abnormal Thought Patterns (‘ATP’)

I begin things by asking Jasun to give me his own personal assessment as to the differences between ATP and the other bands with which he is, or has been, involved.

“I would say that the new album for Abnormal Thought Patterns is definitely more groove-oriented”, he begins with his thick west-coast US accent that’s almost musical in its delivery. “It’s very technical at the same time but compared to Zero Hour, they both have their own intricacies, so they’re different in that way. Cynthesis is definitely about letting the singer do his thing, building a landscape or something like that. People say to me that it’s technical, but I don’t hear that personally. I’m a huge fan of Pink Floyd, Porcupine Tree and things like that and Cynthesis is doing my interpretation of that. There’s no way that I could do what those guys are doing because they’re the best at what they do. So it’s just my atmospheric way of letting the vocals breathe.”

“The last Abnormal Thought Patterns album in the studio and during the writing process was probably the most challenging album that I’ve had to do”, Jasun then admits just as I was about to go in a different direction of questioning. It is clear that the material on ‘Altered States Of Consciousness’ is extremely ambitious but based on some of these guys’ previous output, I’m still a little surprised by this admission and immediately ask Jasun to expand on the statement.

“The reason”, he replies with laughter, “was because I tried to get a little outside the box of what I do, y’know? Maybe to someone else, they might not hear it so much but I ended up getting an 8-string and there were plenty of parts that I ended up changing. I can play some of the material that I originally had but then when I compare it to the final result, it’s a completely different monster. I wanted to stay focused on keeping things more groove-oriented; of course using the different elements of styles that we like using but still keeping it focussed as a metal thing. We were totally re-working the drums over and over with Mikey (Mike Guy – drummer). We’d go down the studio, change things like crazy, think things were ok for two weeks and then we’d change it again. So the whole approach to the song would change and then also I was trying to change the way that I would solo a little bit in certain ways. I’d be like ‘I’ve done this before’. And of course there are things that I’ve done before because that’s the player I am. I’m not going to say that I can’t be who I am any longer, it was more about branching out and focusing on bettering things by being different.”

Speaking of the 8-string guitar, I can definitely hear a djent influence within the heavier riffs and the more extreme elements of this record. Jasun agrees and explains why this is the case.

“I’m a big Meshuggah fan; they’re one of my absolute favourite bands and I see them live every time. So yeah, I did add a little bit of that in there and I did bust out the eight-string for those parts. What’s cool with that low note, it does give you that little bit of groove that you can push. Plus it is good for extending your chordal formats, because live jazz players in the past were playing eight strings. I did fight buying an eight for a long time but it was the right time to do so.”

I have to admit though that it’s not the heavy riffing or the all-out technicality which catches my ear the most. As good as those aspects are, when the music on the album quietens down and the slower, more soulful and emotive guitar solos hit, they send shivers down my spine. This is one of those albums that confirms my belief that when a guitar is allowed to sing, it is one of the most beautiful sounds on Earth. Jasun unsurprisingly tends to agree, although he responds to my comments very humbly, almost bashfully.

“I love ‘feel’ guitar and when those parts come out, I want them to really breathe. I want them to stand out because after you do the crazy stuff to start with, those aspects will stand out a lot more. I’m a huge fan of Gary Moore, David Gilmour, Neal Schon, John Sykes; those were my guys and I’d get goosebumps listening to their solos. I’m therefore glad you point this out because it means a lot to me because I was loving the sound of the guitars and the way that the notes were ringing with the sounds behind and for anyone to say they got goosebumps, that’s an awesome compliment, man.”

ATP cover

Whatever the band, it seems that the Tipton brothers love to open up their music with crazy, lightning fast and massively complex solos. ATP is no different in this respect.

“It really is a thing that Troy and I do”, Jasun states when I ask whether this approach has become something of a ‘Tipton Trade Mark’. “What has helped develop my sound is playing off what Troy does and watching what he does. The cat is so clean with every run that he does, so I have to be the same way. It was really the balance of question and answer on our solos; when he says something, I have to say something to compliment it. And that’s what’s developed our sound. And with a name like Abnormal Though Patterns, we’re going all over the place. So yeah, it has become our trademark and people come up to us and recognise that Troy and I have our own thing.”

“Yeah absolutely, I can easily say yes to that”, Jasun continues when I enquire about whether that famous ‘twins telepathy’ phenomenon plays a part in their musical endeavours. “I remember that we did a show and someone kept asking us to do a solo sequence. Troy and I didn’t know what the hell we were doing and the crowd kept going ‘solo, solo’. So I was like ‘I guess I’m doing this’ and went in. At the very same time, Troy came in with me and then we both ended on the same note right at the end. We had no idea how we did that but it looked genius at the time. It’s crazy”, he laughs heartily.

In light of the sheer variety, ambition and technical prowess on display on this record, I’m keen to find out a little more about the song writing process. In the course of his interesting and full answer, I also get to understand more about the health problems that have plagued Troy in recent years. And, whilst he never overtly admits it, I get the distinct impression that this is, in part, what has led to the cessation of Zero Hour in favour of both Cynthesis and ATP.

“These days, I’ve pretty much become the main songwriter”, Jasun admits with a very slight and rare tone of sadness in his voice. “With Zero Hour, it was a real equal task with my brother and I. I’m sure you know that my brother had ulnar nerve entrapment surgery. It’s a sub-muscular surgery so what they did was insert his funny-bone nerve into his bicep muscle. In doing so, he has lost a lot of strength in the bicep muscle and it’s something he’ll have to live with for the rest of his life. He’s doing really well now but anyways, now I’m the guy who does the writing and I play everything for my brother. But he’s got a great way of telling me something to give me structure. I take everything to heart that he tells me. Sometimes I disagree and I’ll keep rolling with what I’m doing but most of the time I listen”, he laughs again and not for the last time.

“For ‘Nocturnal Haven’, Troy was instrumental because after three and a half minutes of me playing it for him, he was the one to say ‘couldn’t you hear Tommy Rogers (Between The Buried And Me) all over this thing, someone like him’. I was like ‘yeah right dude, that’s not going to happen’. But when he put that in my head, I started thinking throughout the song with his vocals on top of it. Then Troy went behind my back and contacted the label and asked for a contact for Tommy. Luckily, everything just lined up and Tommy said he was interested which floored us. Tommy helped us a little bit because he said he wanted to rearrange things just a little. As you can hear, the instrumental format is a little longer. So we made a couple of edits, which Troy was very helpful with.”

In responding in such a fashion, Jasun has helpfully pre-empted my next line of questioning, namely the array of mouth-watering guest artists on ‘Altered States Of Consciousness’.

“I have to admit though”, Jasun offers, “that with the Michael Manring (Into Eternity) and John Onder (Artension, MSG) track, ‘Synesthesia’, my brother did already have parts written for that. I think that’s one of our absolutely strongest tracks; I love the bass on it and I call it the bass track. I love how that came out and Troy was the biggest writer on that track.”

“Jeff (Loomis – Arch Enemy, ex-Nevermore) is a really cool cat”, Jasun continues apace, “and I spoke to him a couple of times at the NAMM show. I expressed to him how I was a fan and he knew who I was. We got into conversation and he’s a really nice guy – he’s definitely the guy that kept the shred flag flying. I contacted him and asked him to do a solo; he took a listen and said ‘yeah, let’s do it’. We’re really lucky because we were able to make it happen with all the guys that we went after.”

And does Jasun think that having all these guests on the album will help to create more interest in ATP?

“It would be awesome to get new listeners, of course”, he considers, “so having these guys on the record is fantastic. We’ve never done this in the past, so when we got one person involved, it spiralled. Jeff Loomis was the first guy, Onder came second and Manring was next. Once Troy heard I had talked to Loomis, Troy was like ‘well, hell, if you’re going to do that, I’m going to talk to some people’. All of a sudden, we got Tommy and my buddy Tim Roth (Into Eternity) who’s an amazing guitar player. What they brought to the music took things to a new level. What all those cats did was great and we’re stoked.”

Speaking to Jasun, I get the feeling that as positive and up-beat as he clearly naturally is, there’s a real sense of pride about ‘Altered States Of Consciousness’. Rightly so, but I nevertheless ask Jasun to explain what exactly he’s most proud of with this release.

“All musicians will go back to albums and think ‘maybe that song didn’t catch what I was looking for’. But I can honestly say that when I listen to this album, start to finish, it’s all there. There’s nowhere where I could say ‘I wish I’d done that or this’. I can honestly feel very pleased about it. Everything was very focused and I love the songs and the soloing. That’s not the same with some of our previous albums.”

I also suggest that the album benefits from a really nice flow that means it’s very difficult to dip in and out. Instead, I find myself listening from the album from start to finish without really realising it sometimes.

“You just perfectly helped me out there”, Jasun exclaims excitedly, eliciting a small puff of the chest from yours truly in the process. “That’s exactly how I feel. I can listen to the whole thing and when it gets to the end I’m like ‘wow, I listened to the whole CD and everything is cool’. That’s instead of doing a fast-forward on a track or two, which I may have done in the past.”

“We love instrumental metal material”, Jasun states vehemently without any prompting on my part, “and we’re going to continue as an instrumental metal band. People have asked us whether the next album will have vocals and the answer is no, it was a one-time thing. I mean, I’d love to work with Tommy again on another song because it came out amazing but this band is instrumental. Our vocal thing is Cynthesis and it’s good to have both of those outlets because they feel very different to me.”

ATP Band 2

Having raised the subject of Cynthesis, as a fan of that band also, I feel compelled to enquire about the current status of that band. The answer I get is somewhat surprising but very pleasing indeed.

“Erik (Rosvold) is almost finished with the vocals to the third one, so we’re working on it, man. I went writing crazy and at the time my brother was having his surgery. I kept writing and it was my escape. I finished writing the material for the third Cynthesis album over three-and-a-half years ago. So when ‘De-Evolution’ came out, I already had the music for the other two written. Erik was like ‘what the hell are you doing?’ So it has been a long time since I wrote anything for Cynthesis. Of late it has been all about ATP. Nevertheless, sometime next year, Cynthesis will come out.”

As intriguing as the Cynthesis news is, this is an interview about Abnormal Thought Patterns. As such, I ask Jasun to close up on a very enjoyable conversation by enlightening us about any potential live, touring plans.

“On the last album, we went out with Into Eternity but right now, we’re going to see how it will all come together. My brother is starting up with us and we’re getting things moving. We are going to play ProgPower Europe but hopefully we’ll get a few things come our way and we can put something together; we really want to go out and do things – that’d be cool.”

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

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


Disarmonia Mundi – Cold Inferno – Album Review

disM cover

Artist: Disarmonia Mundi

Album Title: Cold Inferno

Label: Coroner Records

Year Of Release: 2015

As I have written ad infinitum within other posts on this very blog, I vividly remember the first time that I was introduced to melodic death metal. It was In Flames’ ‘The Jester Race’, one of the early pioneers of the Swedish ‘Gothenburg sound’ movement, and immediately I fell in love. Here was a style of music that blew my mind thanks to the simple yet ingenious blend of death metal brutality with choruses and melodic refrains that were lifted straight of the traditional, New Wave Of British Heavy Metal rulebook. I never looked back and I used this genre as an important stepping stone into the more extreme and heavy recesses of metal’s underground. That said, I have remained a fan of the genre and, whilst it’s fair to say that it has been tested by an influx of copycats, sub-par output and a subtle re-invention and change of sound by a few of the bigger guns in the genre, melodeath has survived and still produces some real gems from time to time.

Why am I saying all this? The answer is simple. What I essentially like most about Disarmonia Mundi is the approach and delivery which immediately transports me back to those halcyon days of melodic death metal. It is like Disarmonia Mundi and I agree on when the genre was at its strongest and then revel in creating music that echoes this. It might not make for the most original of output and it is unlikely to win any awards in the process; indeed, it may even be in danger of being widely overlooked. But if you are like me and consider the mid-late 90s into the early 2000s to be the purple period for melodic death metal, particularly if it emanated from Sweden, I’m certain that you’ll like this record.

Despite their obvious influences and overt Scandinavian sound, Disarmonia Mundi are based some 894 miles south of Gothenburg, in Turin, Italy. I use the word ‘they’, but to be more accurate, I should refer to Disarmonia Mundi as a ‘duo’, given that a number of line-up issues over the years has meant that Disarmonia Mundi now merely comprise the talented multi-instrumentalist, Ettore Rigotti, with the assistance of vocalist Claudio Ravinale. Nevertheless, Disarmonia Mundi has been in existence since 2000, releasing their debut ‘Nebularium’ a year later. It wasn’t until 2004 though, and the release of their storming sophomore effort ‘Fragments of D-Generation’ that I became aware of them. Featuring Soilwork’s Bjorn ‘Speed’ Strid on guest vocals, it contained some quality pieces of music, several of which remain favourites with me to this day. Unfortunately, subsequent albums failed to hit the same heights and so, when I heard that album number five, ‘Cold Inferno’ was about to be released, I wasn’t sure whether or not to bother. A good friend suggested I should and I listened to him.

disM promo

I’m glad that I did too, because ‘Cold Inferno’ is a real return to form, re-visiting a lot of the strengths of the debut and, in fact, playing to the strengths of Disarmonia Mundi in general. The fact that Bjorn ‘Speed’ Strid makes another significant guest appearance throughout the record helps to underline that the Italians are doing something right.

First off, the album is aggressive, fast-paced and energetic; there’s little let up for the entirety of the record and this is definitely part of the charm. After an apocalyptic, cinematic beginning, opener ‘Creation Dirge’ delivers a high-octane listening experience dominated by a powerful rhythm section, great riffing and a clean-sung chorus that’s immediate and enjoyable.

The tone has been set and the remainder of the album follows suit. If the opener called to mind mid-era Soilwork, ‘Stormghost’ is almost pure In Flames worship, albeit with an immensely powerful chorus that reminds me, in something of a modern twist, more of Killswitch Engage than anything else, particularly in terms of the vocal delivery. The stand-out track for me is the delectable ‘Coffin’ with its quasi-ballad feel and huge hooks. However, the rampant Soilwork-isms of ‘Behind Closed Doors’, the anthemic feel of ‘Magma Diver’ and the slightly more subtle ‘Toys Of Acceleration’ are worth the entry fee too.

In fact, there are very few any weak tracks on the album per se, and the really positive thing about ‘Cold Inferno’ is that, from start to finish, you can feel the love, the care and the attention that Rigotti has lavished on the material. Yes it might sound like the bastard love-child of In Flames and Soilwork et al, but crucially, the tracks themselves are engaging, effervescent and full of life. Listening to ‘Cold Inferno’ doesn’t frustrate in the way that many albums of this ilk can; instead it is a rather joyous, strangely uplifting and almost nostalgic experience, albeit with a smattering of modernity for good measure. The bottom line is if you want to listen to some serious heavy metal that will make you smile, Disarmonia Mundi is definitely for you.

The Score Of Much Metal: 8.0

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

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 1 – “it will defy a lot of expectations in a good way”

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

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

It is rare that I undertake an interview with a band about which I know very little. Normally, I have been fortunate enough to hear the album in advance of the interview or, if it’s an established band, I can do my homework and be prepared. In the case of Earthside, they are a new name in heavy metal circles. As such, they have yet to release their debut album and to date, I have only heard two tracks from the impending release. I say ‘impending’, although as far as I’m aware, no release date has even been divulged.

Shrouded in secrecy they may be but there seems to be a buzz growing on the Internet about the band, a quartet hailing from New Haven, Connecticut, comprised of guitarist Jamie Van Dyck, keyboardist Frank Sacramone, bassist Ryan Griffin and drummer Ben Shanbrom. Hardly surprising really because if you’ve heard the track ‘The Closest I’ve Come’, you’ll already know that there’s something special about to be unleashed. Huge riffs, odd and complex time signatures, tempo changes aplenty, gargantuan melodies and a whole lot more collide to create a song that, within seconds of it finishing, had me busily emailing the band’s PR people asking for more information.

The result of my endeavours is this, an interview with drummer Ben Shanbrom to find out a little more about Earthside; what makes them tick and what we can realistically expect from the debut full-length upon its release. After the initial pleasantries, I ask a very friendly yet focused, driven and extremely articulate Ben to provide a little background to Earthside.

“As far as the world is concerned”, he begins in eager fashion, “we’re a very new band; not a lot of people are familiar with us. But as far as the group is concerned, we’ve been together for a very long time, over a decade this year. We’ve gone through some different names and it took us a while to find that exact sound and way of doing things that we were happy with, that really reflected what we ultimately love about music and the kind of band that we wanted to be. We used to do a lot of things for the sake of shock value, like ‘people aren’t going to see this coming’ or ‘let’s write this really weird part that has nothing to do with anything, just to throw people off’, he chuckles.

“People were saying ‘why don’t you just be an instrumental band because that makes more sense’ or ‘why don’t you get a singer already?’ None of that hit for us. We like so many different kinds of music and have so many different inspirations, so to settle for one of those things because it’s easier for a PR company or a label to sum up in six words or something is not us. ‘For fans of Dream Theater, King Crimson, blah, blah, blah’ – that’s not us. It was finding the right balance, the way of doing things that we were happy with. And that”, he chuckles again with real warmth and self-deprecating humour, “took close to a decade.”

“The nucleus of the band, myself, the guitarist Jamie and the keyboardist Frank have been playing together in a basement since we were 15-16 years old. Our bass player we met a little later in the process and he’s been with us for four-five years now. It has taken this time to get the core established and now people are beginning to see and hear us for the first time.”

A decade or more is a very long time for a band to emerge from an embryonic state but based on the quality of their output, I suggest that it has perhaps been time well spent. Ben agrees before admitting that it wasn’t just the formation of the band and the overall sound that took a long time. As he explains, the recording of the debut, titled ‘A Dream In Static’, was no whistle stop exercise either.

“It certainly has taken a lot of time”, Ben confirms. “Not just coming together as a group, but from when we decided close to four or five years ago to make this record and reach out to the producers that we love. It has been very time intensive. From the time we set foot into the studio to now it’s been almost 2 and a half years. It has taken a lot of time to get the right production people involved, the exact singers we wanted to work with, and the right additional musicians. In this era, one of the biggest things that people say is that all these bands sound the same and they ask why bands aren’t taking any risks. The answer is simple – the demand is there but a lot of people in the industry say that these kinds of projects aren’t the cheapest, most efficient, and safe way of doing things and there’s a constant give and take on each side. But if you really want to try to do something different, it is about as inconvenient and as much of an uphill battle as you can imagine.”

I suggest to Ben that this is what music is all about though, creating something that means something to the band and that conveys feelings and is driven by other motivation other than dreams of fame and riches. The details surrounding how it all comes together is, to some extent, a hurdle to be navigated at a later time.

“I fully agree with you.” Ben laughs heartily in response to my rather blasé assertion, a classic comment for someone who is not a musician in any shape or form. “This album, if I had to synthesise it into any root motivation, it was totally for us. It was not for what this or that website or taste-maker would think of it. It was totally for us, what we love about music, what we miss in music today and it is ultimately about us making a mark. But the details you mention, they can be a real killer. It’s all part of the process and at the end of the day, we’re all going to have our little nit-picks but we’re really proud of the record. We think people are going to be surprised by it. It will defy a lot of expectations in a good way and I’m just stoked for people to be able to hear it.”

Stoked Ben may be for us all to hear the record, but the band are not in any rush it seems to share the fruits of Earthside’s considerable labours; in fact, the secrecy surrounding the material is intense, as if the music is to be treated as a state secret. Not so, counters Ben.

“There is some secrecy as you picked up”, he admits honestly. “But it’s not to be overly clandestine or anything, it’s more because we’re trying to keep things simple. Even until recently we had nothing out and people were like ‘can we at least hear some music?’ But when you’re dealing with labels it can be tricky because everyone wants you to release the record, but if we just release the record they’ll tell us to go right back into the studio again after being in there for over two years. And if we do that, we’ll lose our minds”, he laughs with a slightly nervous edge before continuing apace.

“But as far as your question is concerned, I can tell you that the whole album is not in the key of C. I think they (the two songs released so far – ‘The Closest I’ve Come’ and more recently ‘Mob Mentality’) are a good baseline explanation of what you’ll be hearing. It’s funny because some places who have covered us have only heard ‘The Closest I’ve Come’ and they refer to us as an instrumental progressive metal band, for people who like Animals As Leaders or Explosions In The Sky. People are going to be surprised when more music from us comes out because they’ve not picked up on a lot of the other stuff that we’re doing.”

Throughout the interview, Ben has alluded to a great deal of variety within the compositions, something that’s evident from the two tracks aired. As Ben explains, there’s a demonstrable and tangible reason for this.

“One thing we’re bummed about with a lot albums that have come out recently”, he admits candidly, “ is there’s been a movement from creating a full record experience that captures so many dimensions of a band’s sound towards more of a ‘here’s our album, here are ten tracks of the same sort of song done ten slightly different ways’. For us, that was never an option. We knew that we wanted every song to really show a very different part of who we are and what we love about music.”

“Half the record is instrumental, half the songs have vocals”, Ben counters when I ask him to enlighten us just a little on what the album as a whole has in store for listeners. He doesn’t enlighten me as to the remaining guest vocalists but his descriptions nonetheless paint vivid pictures in my mind. “The vocal songs contain three more guest singers and every song is very different. There are the two songs you’ve heard but in addition, one of the tracks has no orchestration and hardly any keyboards, it is almost an orchestra of guitar sounds and is one of the most layered guitar songs I’ve heard recently. In fact, our keyboardist has to play guitar live because there are three lead guitar lines going on at the same time. Another track is more atmospheric and is perhaps Australian alternative-influenced.”

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

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

“There’s another which is crushing”, Ben continues, really warming to this subject, underlining his eagerness for people to hear the material. “It has string players on it and it is the most depressing, soul shattering eleven minute song. One of the other tracks is more visceral, like a punch to the face which is constant intensity and movement for five minutes. There’s one that’s more expansive and atmospheric and there’s one track that’s not even a rock band song; it’s more like a modern new-age composition which acts like a palette cleanser on the record. So it’s incredibly diverse and I’m sure that there will be some people who will turn their heads sideways and won’t be sure what to make of it. But to others, I hope that it will be a refreshing listen for them.”

I think you’ll agree that this brief overview sounds mouth-watering to say the least. The intensity and excitement with which Ben describes the music is infectious and only adds to the anticipation that an increasing number of us are experiencing. I pause for a moment to consider just how lucky we are to be fans of an overall genre of music that can offer so much, before back-tracking slightly. I want to find out more about the diverse influences that have played a part in the quartet’s life, helping to shape Earthside into the band they are today. Overall, it’s not the answer I was expecting, I can tell you.

“It’s a tricky question”, Ben replies cautiously at first, “because none of us want to be pigeon-holed. An older band that we were in was certifiably prog and I found it funny because we were in our late teens and people assumed that we listened to “our parent’s King Crimson, Rush and Yes albums.” We laughed because we weren’t into any of that stuff. It wasn’t our era; we grew up listening to Linkin Park, Incubus, and System Of A Down. Our parents didn’t even have those records. The first music that I listened to was funk music and I liked that before rock. My dad had Tower Of Power, Average White Man and really intense horn funk groups.”

“That was one of my biggest early rhythmic influences, all that syncopation and groove. That’s really filtered into everything in my musical development; whether it is funk, metal or prog, it has to have a real groove and a rhythmic pulse that drives everything. That’s definitely at the root of a lot of the writing that we do, particularly the instrumental tracks that tend to be more collaborative. A lot of them will start with me farting around on the drum set and the guitarist or bass player will be like ‘wait, what was that? Play that again.’ And then the whole song will stem from an initial idea like that.”

“Our guitarist and keyboardist have, in various ways come from a classical background”, Ben returns to the question via his slight detour. “Jamie, our guitarist studied music composition at Yale and he is very deep into music theory. He’s into Stravinsky and a lot of these more adventurous 20th Century classical composers that did all this really crazy harmonic and rhythmic stuff.”

“On the keyboard end, Frank is kinda funny because he’s not really a prog keyboardist in the way that a lot of people think about it. You don’t hear big synths or Hammond organs because a lot of his influences don’t come from prog. He has much more of a cinematic background and his favourite soundtrack ever is Hans Zimmer’s ‘Gladiator’. He’ll use the name ‘Textures Frank’ for himself sometimes as he’s more about creating epic walls of sound or textures within the music. It’s the same for us all actually; we have some more technical sections but it’s more about creating that overall expansive sound and intense atmosphere rather than shredding your face off for ten minutes.”

“But there’s also all kinds of other weird stuff in there”, Ben concludes with something of a curveball. “This will get us good press with metal sites”, he chuckles, “but Frank and Jamie like Coldplay. It’s not so much my thing but we’re just very open-minded. We’re music snobs, no doubt about it but we’ll listen to anything that has strong musical ideas, whatever it is. Even ‘ET’ by Katy Perry has a really nice minor key chord progression and its good until Kanye comes in. At the other end, it could be Gojira or Hacride, or the craziest French esoteric avant-garde stuff.”

End of Part 1…keep an eye open for Part 2, coming very soon, where Ben and I delve ever further into the intriguing and exciting world of Earthside.

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