Messenger – Threnodies – Album Review

Messenger cover

Artist: Messenger

Album Title: Threnodies

Label: InsideOut Music

Date Of Release: 22 April 2016

It’s no exaggeration to say that the UK progressive music scene enjoying a period of rude health at the current time. To the already impressively-swelling ranks, you can now add the name of Messenger, a London-based quintet who bring accomplished musicianship and a plethora of personal influences to the table to create their own distinctive brand of progressive rock.

It is hard to believe but ‘Threnodies’ is just the second album from this young band who only sprang into existence in 2012. Throughout the seven tracks, you can hear the blend of youthful exuberance and a seasoned professionalism that belies their age.

And yet, despite this, ‘Threnodies’ has been a hard review to write. On the one hand, I know that the music is high in quality and with enough originality to intrigue listeners. However, from a personal point of view, I cannot seem to fully warm to the final product. I have tried an awful lot to like this record more than I do, but something stops me every time. I quite like the music and I respect the band. But I just fall short of having an emotional connection with it and I don’t get that overwhelming urge to press repeat like I feel I should. It’s intensely frustrating.

The melodies are present and correct, there is plenty in the way of variety and the record demonstrates a fondness for days gone by whilst remaining fresh and up-to-date. And yet…yet…aaargh.

messenger band

‘Calyx’ opens up the album in a calm and considered way but develops into something quite dark and brooding . I’m reminded ever so slightly of the likes of Gazpacho at this point. However, as the song ploughs on, it builds almost imperceptibly, led by the impressive rhythm section of drummer Jaime Gomez Arellano and bassist James Leach. It is almost as if the composition has two halves because, after dropping away to almost nothing, a heavier riff enters the fray alongside a prominent piano before the whole thing speeds up towards an epic and energetic crescendo.

‘Oracles of War’ is an entirely different beast. It does not hide its 70’s influences and is dominated by big doomy riffs courtesy of guitarists Khaled Lowe and Barnaby Maddick. It begins with a cheeky swagger and strong Sabbath-esque overtones. The keys of An Knight are very prominent, creating rich, nostalgic textures. The track offers much in the way of light and shade too, with tempo changes as well as fluctuating levels of intensity. In the latter stages, a really lovely guitar solo kicks in to echo Pink Floyd. The bass also catches the ear and the track drifts off on the crest of a folky, Floyd-inspired wave.

‘Balearic Blue’ opens in bright and breezy fashion with delicate vocals and soft guitar melody. The vocals remain quite relaxed and ethereal throughout whilst injecting passion into the performance. The track floats along really nicely, allowing that most beloved prog instrument – the mellotron – to shine.

‘Celestial Spheres’ features some very impressive guitar work within a framework that feels looser and more organic than that which has gone before it, creating a sense of carefree fun in the process. Again the 70s influences loom large but never overpower proceedings. Contrast that with the altogether more sombre vibe of ‘Nocturne’ which also dials up the heaviness quota in and around its altogether more introspective meanderings.

‘Pareidolia’ offers a folkier vibbe before ‘Threnodies’ closes with ‘Crown Of Ashes’. In keeping with the rest of the record it is a composition that offers much but in a subtle way. On one hand, it is a light and easy song on the ear but at the same time has a rather intense and mournful undercurrent.

After all that, have I managed to convince myself to like this record any more than before? Unfortunately, the answer is ‘no’, although what I will say is that I will return to it again in an effort to find that elusive epiphany that I’m certain has got to be lurking somewhere in close proximity.

If you’re a fan of really well constructed rich and sophisticated progressive rock, then please don’t let my review put you off too much. Indeed, I hope this review actually acts as a catalyst for people to give it a try for themselves. It is most definitely worthy of your full undivided attention and I have every confidence that my general malaise is very much the exception rather than the rule.

The Score Of Much Metal: 7.0

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

Svoid – Storming Voices Of Inner Devotion
Fallujah – DreamlessIn Mourning – Afterglow
Haken – Affinity
Long Distance Calling – TripsOctober Tide – Winged Waltz
Odd Logic – Penny For Your Thoughts
Iron Mountain – Unum
Knifeworld – Bottled Out Of Eden
Novembre – Ursa
Beholder – Reflections
Neverworld – Dreamsnatcher
Universal Mind Project – The Jaguar Priest
Thunderstone – Apocalypse Again
InnerWish – Innerwish
Mob Rules – Tales From Beyond
Ghost Bath – Moonlover
Spiritual Beggars – Sunrise To Sundown
Oceans Of Slumber – Winter
Rikard Zander – I Can Do Without Love
Redemption – The Art Of Loss
Headspace – All That You Fear Is Gone
Chris Quirarte – Mending Broken Bridges
Sunburst – Fragments Of Creation
Inglorious – Inglorious
Omnium Gatherum – Grey Heavens
Structural Disorder – Distance
Votum – Ktonik
Fleshgod Apocalypse – King
Rikard Sjoblom – The Unbendable Sleep
Textures – Phenotype
Serenity – Codex Atlanticus
Borknagar – Winter Thrice
The Mute Gods – Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me
Brainstorm – Scary Creatures
Arcade Messiah – II
Phantasma – The Deviant Hearts
Rendezvous Point – Solar Storm
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld II
Antimatter – The Judas Table
Bauda – Sporelights
Waken Eyes – Exodus
Earthside – A Dream In Static
Caligula’s Horse – Bloom
Teramaze – Her Halo
Amorphis – Under The Red Cloud
Spock’s Beard – The Oblivion Particle
Agent Fresco – Destrier
Cattle Decapitation – The Anthropocene Extinction
Between The Buried And Me – Coma Ecliptic
Cradle Of Filth – Hammer Of The Witches
Disarmonia Mundi – Cold Inferno
District 97 – In Vaults
Progoctopus – Transcendence
Big Big Train – Wassail
NightMare World – In The Fullness Of Time
Helloween – My God-Given Right
Triaxis – Zero Hour
Isurus – Logocharya
Arcturus – Arcturian
Kamelot – Haven
Native Construct – Quiet World
Sigh – Graveward
Pantommind – Searching For Eternity
Subterranean Masquerade – The Great Bazaar
Klone – Here Comes The Sun
The Gentle Storm – The Diary
Melechesh – Enki
Enslaved – In Times
Keep Of Kalessin – Epistemology
Lonely Robot – Please Come Home
The Neal Morse Band – The Grand Experiment
Zero Stroke – As The Colours Seep
AudioPlastik – In The Head Of A Maniac
Revolution Saints – Revolution Saints
Mors Principium Est – Dawn of The 5th Era
Arcade Messiah – Arcade Messiah
Triosphere – The Heart Of The Matter
Neonfly – Strangers In Paradise
Knight Area – Hyperdrive
Haken – Restoration
James LaBrie – Impermanent Resonance
Mercenary – Through Our Darkest Days
A.C.T. – Circus Pandemonium
Xerath – III
Big Big Train – English Electric (Part 1)
Thought Chamber – Psykerion
Marcus Jidell – Pictures From A Time Traveller
H.E.A.T – Tearing Down The Walls
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld

Svoid – Storming Voices Of Inner Devotion – Album Review

svoid cover

Artist: Svoid

Album Title: Storming Voices Of Inner Devotion

Label: Sun & Moon Records

Date Of Release: 18 April 2016

Do you ever get that feeling in your gut that you might just like a band? You’ve never heard of them before, let alone heard any of their music. And yet, something tells you to check it out. Well, that’s exactly what happened with Svoid. I received an email mentioning their name. Normally, I get hundreds of these emails and I discard about 75% of them. But with Svoid, I immediately felt a compulsion to investigate further. I don’t know why. I checked out a track on Youtube and replied, requesting access to the promo.

‘Storming Voices of Inner Devotion’ is the second release from Hungarian black metal band Svoid, a trio that was formed in 2009 by the enigmatically-named bassist/vocalist ‘S’. Joined by drummer Dániel and guitarist Gergö, their debut, ‘To Never Return’ went undiscovered but thankfully, that’s not the case with this sophomore album.

Black metal is at the root of what Svoid create but theirs is not ‘classic’ black metal in any shape or form. The trio refer to it as ‘anti-cosmic metal’ but I’m not entirely sure I know what that means if I’m honest. The guitars do employ that cold, frosty staccato style and the vocals are predominantly harsh and raspy. However, ‘Storming Voices Of Inner Devotion’ employs a subtle sophistication that moves Svoid beyond being a simple black metal band.

Melody plays a significant part in the music of Svoid both in terms of the music via an introduction of clean vocals here and there. There’s also a demonstrable atmosphere throughout and a really clever use of quiet and foreboding dynamics that doesn’t need all-out shock and awe to make its point. Much of the material is actually mid-paced and measured, allowing either the vocals or the bass and drums to take centre stage rather than the guitars. Occasionally, Svoid inject some groove into proceedings, creating a sense of ‘black ‘n’ roll’ from time to time. Thanks to this variety on offer across the eleven tracks, the word ‘progressive’ wouldn’t be entirely misplaced either.

Credit: unknown

Credit: unknown

The lyrical content is quite striking too. As you might expect with this kind of metal, the subject matter focuses on the occult but the words are not overly convoluted or shrouded in rhetoric; instead, there’s a simplicity and a directness that I find rather poetic and powerful.

But, that said, it’s the compositions themselves that bring me back for repeated listens.

The album is ushered in via some ominous vocals and synth sounds before kicking into gear in impressive style with ‘Through The Horizon’ which drives along impressively with a pronounced, strong beat whilst injecting just a hint of melody and a few bars of frenetic and nasty black metal to remind listeners of their roots. It’s a surprisingly addictive track that sets the tone of the record nicely. The following song, ‘Crown Of Doom’ is one of my favourites. It increasing the melody, led from the off by a really delicious lead guitar but just gets better, ending far too quickly under the four-minute mark.

In actuality, one of Svoid’s strengths is their succinct approach to song writing, with no track ever threatening the five-minute barrier. It means that the music is punchy, makes its mark and does not outstay its welcome. The same can be said of the entire album too, as it barely creeps up to the 40-minute mark.

Back to the songs and ‘Never To Redeem’ is utterly magnificent. It has a bit more of a rock vibe to it initially although the guitars retain their frosty black metal tones. I love the way that the drums and bass are not lost in the mix, adding their power to a composition that evolves into a truly epic-sounding piece of music by the close.

‘Death, Holy End’ injects some top drawer atmospherics, albeit in a fittingly subtle fashion, whilst ‘Eternal’ is the kind of song that gets lodged in your brain. The chorus is simple, infectious and masterful, employing some clean vocals to great effect. It is the perfect foil for some of the heaviest and most extreme black metal on the entire record. ‘Forlorn Heart’ then bursts from the traps with an almost 80s Gothic sheen thanks to the synth sounds and a strong bass guitar whereas ‘Bloodline’ has a positively bright and breezy feel to it in spite of the harsh vocal snarling.

All-in-all, I’m mightily impressed by Svoid and ‘Storming Voices Of Inner Devotion’. This is a very good, intelligently crafted album with plenty to sate many a metal fan throughout. As such, it comes with a healthy recommendation from yours truly.

The Score Of Much Metal: 8.0

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

Fallujah – DreamlessIn Mourning – Afterglow
Haken – Affinity
Long Distance Calling – TripsOctober Tide – Winged Waltz
Odd Logic – Penny For Your Thoughts
Iron Mountain – Unum
Knifeworld – Bottled Out Of Eden
Novembre – Ursa
Beholder – Reflections
Neverworld – Dreamsnatcher
Universal Mind Project – The Jaguar Priest
Thunderstone – Apocalypse Again
InnerWish – Innerwish
Mob Rules – Tales From Beyond
Ghost Bath – Moonlover
Spiritual Beggars – Sunrise To Sundown
Oceans Of Slumber – Winter
Rikard Zander – I Can Do Without Love
Redemption – The Art Of Loss
Headspace – All That You Fear Is Gone
Chris Quirarte – Mending Broken Bridges
Sunburst – Fragments Of Creation
Inglorious – Inglorious
Omnium Gatherum – Grey Heavens
Structural Disorder – Distance
Votum – Ktonik
Fleshgod Apocalypse – King
Rikard Sjoblom – The Unbendable Sleep
Textures – Phenotype
Serenity – Codex Atlanticus
Borknagar – Winter Thrice
The Mute Gods – Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me
Brainstorm – Scary Creatures
Arcade Messiah – II
Phantasma – The Deviant Hearts
Rendezvous Point – Solar Storm
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld II
Antimatter – The Judas Table
Bauda – Sporelights
Waken Eyes – Exodus
Earthside – A Dream In Static
Caligula’s Horse – Bloom
Teramaze – Her Halo
Amorphis – Under The Red Cloud
Spock’s Beard – The Oblivion Particle
Agent Fresco – Destrier
Cattle Decapitation – The Anthropocene Extinction
Between The Buried And Me – Coma Ecliptic
Cradle Of Filth – Hammer Of The Witches
Disarmonia Mundi – Cold Inferno
District 97 – In Vaults
Progoctopus – Transcendence
Big Big Train – Wassail
NightMare World – In The Fullness Of Time
Helloween – My God-Given Right
Triaxis – Zero Hour
Isurus – Logocharya
Arcturus – Arcturian
Kamelot – Haven
Native Construct – Quiet World
Sigh – Graveward
Pantommind – Searching For Eternity
Subterranean Masquerade – The Great Bazaar
Klone – Here Comes The Sun
The Gentle Storm – The Diary
Melechesh – Enki
Enslaved – In Times
Keep Of Kalessin – Epistemology
Lonely Robot – Please Come Home
The Neal Morse Band – The Grand Experiment
Zero Stroke – As The Colours Seep
AudioPlastik – In The Head Of A Maniac
Revolution Saints – Revolution Saints
Mors Principium Est – Dawn of The 5th Era
Arcade Messiah – Arcade Messiah
Triosphere – The Heart Of The Matter
Neonfly – Strangers In Paradise
Knight Area – Hyperdrive
Haken – Restoration
James LaBrie – Impermanent Resonance
Mercenary – Through Our Darkest Days
A.C.T. – Circus Pandemonium
Xerath – III
Big Big Train – English Electric (Part 1)
Thought Chamber – Psykerion
Marcus Jidell – Pictures From A Time Traveller
H.E.A.T – Tearing Down The Walls
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld

In Mourning – Afterglow – Album Review

COVER SMALL

Artist: In Mourning

Album Title: Afterglow

Label: Agonia Records

Date Of Release: 20 May 2016

In Mourning is a name that that have flitted around the very edges of my consciousness for a few years now. ‘Afterglow’ however, takes the Swedish quintet out of my personal periphery and re-positions them at the very forefront of my mind. To put it another way, this is the aural equivalent of shouting in my face ‘like me, like me’. Well, it has worked, because I do. Very much.

Previous albums by the Swedes had been decent enough and pleasant, if ‘pleasant’ is an adjective that can be applied to a dark and doomy death metal band. ‘Afterglow’ is, in my opinion, another proposition entirely. It isn’t decent and it isn’t pleasant. It is, instead, rather excellent.

‘Afterglow’, the fourth album from In Mourning, is such a positive album because Messrs Tobias Netzell (guitars, vocals), Pierre Stam (bass), Björn Pettersson (guitars, vocals), Tim Nedergård (guitars) and former katatonia drummer Daniel Liljekvist have really come up trumps in terms of merging three or four key ingredients into a cohesive and believable end product. They take the crushing brutality of death and doom metal and blend it with mournful, elegant melodies, a progressive bent and a liberal dose of dark, foreboding atmosphere.

Opening track, ‘Fire And Ocean’ proves this beyond any doubt whatsoever. Chunky, heavy riffs, a driving beat, clever subtle melodic leads that are vaguely reminiscent of the likes of Daylight Dies and Insomnium, as well a surprising amount of groove combine to create a heady introduction to the album, especially when you factor in the occasional lead guitar solo and some truly satisfyingly gruff growls.

If anything, there’s an even more epic feel to the album’s longest track, ‘The Grinning Mist’, thanks largely to the expansive soundscapes created from the outset. The atmospherics make a bigger impact here and help to convey a slightly darker and altogether much bleaker sonic tapestry. There’s also room within the ten minutes or so for In Mourning to break out of their shell a little more and experiment with numerous different tempos as well as injecting more pronounced light and shade to increase the overall dynamics of the song. There’s even a brief introduction of clean vocals for added variety.

Credit: unknown

Credit: unknown

The opening two tracks are very good, but by track three, the magic really hits. ‘Ashen Crown’ begins in a similar fashion to its predecessors but just after the half-way mark something a curveball is thrown. The Katatonia-esque lead guitar melody and heavy, swirling riffs are disposed of. An undistorted guitar strums away and then the clean vocals appear once again, this time to dominate proceedings. It’s as if In Mourning felt an overwhelming urge to go all shoegaze and poignant on us. Elegant soft melodies and a piano join the party to help create a closing segment that feels both solemn and uplifting, with a fragile beauty that could break the resolve of the most cold-hearted of grown men. The song builds to a majestic crescendo, offering a vague sense of hope and light to the listener.

‘Below Rise to the Above’ begins in a manner not too dissimilar to the way in which its predecessor closed, with a quiet and intensely atmospheric opening, complete with haunting guitars and more clean vocals, albeit stronger-sounding and more assured this time. It isn’t long before the heavier riffs join in but by then, the die has been cast. As heavy the track gets, it retains that melodic core throughout. I love the stop-start, chugging off-kilter riffing and the way that the gruff vocals really come to fore, a wonderful counterpoint to the melodic and restrained tumult surrounding them. This track drips with atmosphere and the hairs on the back of my neck rise, particularly when the closing soulful, bluesy guitar solo kicks in. What a song.

The clean vocals do make further appearances, particularly during the penultimate track, ‘The Call To Orion’. However, the final three songs revert more overtly to the formula seen at the beginning of the record, each providing a more than favourable listening experience.

What I really admire about this record is the way in which the compositions are complex but in an unassuming way. It’s one thing to hurl a million ideas into the melting pot and emerge with an end product that is a muddled and unfocused mélange of sounds and ideas. It’s an entirely different skill to create complex music that sounds smooth and not at all daunting. And with ‘Afterglow’, In Mourning have succeeded handsomely. Yes it is heavy, intense and raw in places but the whole thing flows very nicely nevertheless.

As the final notes of ‘Afterglow’ assault the senses, I am left with two primary thoughts. Firstly, I am hugely impressed by what I have heard. There’s not a weak track anywhere to be found and the consistency of the song writing and indeed the execution is out of the top drawer. However, featuring just seven tracks, I kind of hope for just one more song. To be entirely fair, there are no quick instrumental intros, outros or interlude to act as padding and the album does last for 55 minutes, so you’re not short-changed. It’s just that ‘Afterglow’ seems to end all too quickly somehow. Maybe that’s a good thing?

That aside though, there isn’t much to find fault with here. ‘Afterglow’ is a damn fine record and is one of the finest melodic death/doom releases I’ve heard in a while, right up there with label mates October Tide and last year’s opus from Swallow The Sun. Highly recommended.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.0

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

Haken – Affinity
Long Distance Calling – TripsOctober Tide – Winged Waltz
Odd Logic – Penny For Your Thoughts
Iron Mountain – Unum
Knifeworld – Bottled Out Of Eden
Novembre – Ursa
Beholder – Reflections
Neverworld – Dreamsnatcher
Universal Mind Project – The Jaguar Priest
Thunderstone – Apocalypse Again
InnerWish – Innerwish
Mob Rules – Tales From Beyond
Ghost Bath – Moonlover
Spiritual Beggars – Sunrise To Sundown
Oceans Of Slumber – Winter
Rikard Zander – I Can Do Without Love
Redemption – The Art Of Loss
Headspace – All That You Fear Is Gone
Chris Quirarte – Mending Broken Bridges
Sunburst – Fragments Of Creation
Inglorious – Inglorious
Omnium Gatherum – Grey Heavens
Structural Disorder – Distance
Votum – Ktonik
Fleshgod Apocalypse – King
Rikard Sjoblom – The Unbendable Sleep
Textures – Phenotype
Serenity – Codex Atlanticus
Borknagar – Winter Thrice
The Mute Gods – Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me
Brainstorm – Scary Creatures
Arcade Messiah – II
Phantasma – The Deviant Hearts
Rendezvous Point – Solar Storm
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld II
Antimatter – The Judas Table
Bauda – Sporelights
Waken Eyes – Exodus
Earthside – A Dream In Static
Caligula’s Horse – Bloom
Teramaze – Her Halo
Amorphis – Under The Red Cloud
Spock’s Beard – The Oblivion Particle
Agent Fresco – Destrier
Cattle Decapitation – The Anthropocene Extinction
Between The Buried And Me – Coma Ecliptic
Cradle Of Filth – Hammer Of The Witches
Disarmonia Mundi – Cold Inferno
District 97 – In Vaults
Progoctopus – Transcendence
Big Big Train – Wassail
NightMare World – In The Fullness Of Time
Helloween – My God-Given Right
Triaxis – Zero Hour
Isurus – Logocharya
Arcturus – Arcturian
Kamelot – Haven
Native Construct – Quiet World
Sigh – Graveward
Pantommind – Searching For Eternity
Subterranean Masquerade – The Great Bazaar
Klone – Here Comes The Sun
The Gentle Storm – The Diary
Melechesh – Enki
Enslaved – In Times
Keep Of Kalessin – Epistemology
Lonely Robot – Please Come Home
The Neal Morse Band – The Grand Experiment
Zero Stroke – As The Colours Seep
AudioPlastik – In The Head Of A Maniac
Revolution Saints – Revolution Saints
Mors Principium Est – Dawn of The 5th Era
Arcade Messiah – Arcade Messiah
Triosphere – The Heart Of The Matter
Neonfly – Strangers In Paradise
Knight Area – Hyperdrive
Haken – Restoration
James LaBrie – Impermanent Resonance
Mercenary – Through Our Darkest Days
A.C.T. – Circus Pandemonium
Xerath – III
Big Big Train – English Electric (Part 1)
Thought Chamber – Psykerion
Marcus Jidell – Pictures From A Time Traveller
H.E.A.T – Tearing Down The Walls
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld

Haken – Affinity – Album Review

Press_cover (3)

Artist: Haken

Album Title: Affinity

Label: InsideOut Records

Date Of Release: 29 April 2016

Beware! This is the first time that I have been able to review a full Haken album without any word limits or other punitive restrictions placed upon me. You have been warned…

I’m going to lay my cards on the table right at the outset: Haken are one of my all-time favourite bands. Despite only being in existence for a relatively short period of time, right from their debut ‘Aquarius’ I have held them in high regard. It is a situation that has only strengthened over the years with each passing album and having had the chance to meet the band on several occasions, from interviewing the whole motley crew on their tour van at Progpower Europe in 2010 to friendly chats with various members at numerous gigs subsequently.

Regardless of this however, Haken are the real deal. Yes, they are a cracking bunch of guys but crucially, they back it up with a superlative end product. Each member of Haken is a supremely talented individual with their chosen instrument(s) but together there is a real magic; an unquantifiable ‘x’ factor that leads to the creation of music that is almost peerless and jaw-droppingly good.

And, on that note, let us delve into the world of ‘Affinity’.

It took me quite a while to get into and appreciate ‘The Mountain’. It sounded different from what went before it; more grown-up and, ‘Cockroach King’ aside, more serious and introspective. However, in stark contrast to ‘The Mountain’, ‘Affinity’ captured my imagination right off the bat and has not failed to let go in the month or so that I’ve been listening to it. If anything, the more I listen, the better it gets.

Weirdly enough, a small voice in my brain kept suggesting that it might be a good thing if ‘Affinity’ wasn’t as good an album. That way, I’d be able to tackle this review without the inevitable comments from readers about me being a fanboy and moaning that ‘you were always going to give it a high score’. But then I came to my senses.

‘Affinity’ won’t be for everyone, that’s for sure. If you’re a fan of the first two albums and wanted a return to more of that sound and approach, you might be left slightly disappointed. If however, you’re open to listening to a band that refuses to tread the same path twice, a band that champions the true meaning of ‘progressive’ by trying new things whilst remaining loyal to their core principles, then ‘Affinity’ will probably have the same impact upon you as it has had on me.

And what exactly is that impact? It is almost impossible to describe if I’m honest. ‘Affinity’ is an album that transcends the normal debates around whether it is good or not. Of course it is good, that almost goes without saying. I’m not a musician, so I am unable to dissect all of the technical intricacies that are present on this record. That’s not my style. Instead it’s the feelings that Haken evoke in their music that I feel the need to focus on as this is arguably the most powerful and intoxicating aspect of their incredible music.

Photo: Isabell Etz

Photo: Isabell Etz

We all have them – bands that, as you listen, make you feel happy to be alive. Well, for me, Haken are one of the four or five bands on Earth that do just that.

The album opens with the sampled sounds made by early computers atop a dark, cinematic soundscape that grows in intensity, building the sense of anticipation brilliantly and setting the foundations to the musical avenues to be explored within ‘Affinity’. Whilst ‘The Mountain’ was heavily influenced by the 1970s with the likes of Gentle Giant looming large within certain compositions, ‘Affinity’ takes its cue from the following decade. To be fair, this was fairly obvious after one look at the retro cover artwork and the most excellent teaser trailers released a few weeks ago. Again, the imagery might not appeal to everyone, but I really like the boldness and simplicity of the artwork that deliberately and unashamedly harks back to the analogue days of cassette tapes and vinyl.

The opening instrumental segues seamlessly into ‘Initiate’, the first ‘proper’ track on the album and a barnstormer at that, a deceptively complex piece of music that acts as a real showcase for everything great about Haken in 2016. And as I listen, almost immediately, several things become clear. Firstly, ‘Affinity’ is blessed by a production and a mix courtesy of Jens Bogren (Fascination Street Studios) that is right out of the top drawer. The music sounds powerful yet with a clarity that allows every instrument to shine. Nothing is lost or overlooked and the results are simply stunning.

Secondly, Ross Jennings’ vocals have taken another huge leap in the right direction. I was always one of those that took a lot of convincing over his delivery on the debut record particularly. However, he has pushed himself to the point that he is, without doubt a highly talented and accomplished vocalist with a unique, passionate delivery.

Thirdly, the increase in atmospherics, of electronic sounds and textures courtesy of Diego Tejeida is also very pronounced from the outset. Not only does he create a very interesting sonic palette that weaves in and out of each composition, he injects a surprising amount of warmth to the music that could so easily have sounded cold and inaccessible.

This in turn links to my final observation, that ‘Affinity’ manages to deftly and expertly merge the sounds of the past with the sounds of the future. In spite of the 1980s sheen, all nine compositions on ‘Affinity’ come across to me as fresh and exciting, with accents of djent, post-rock, ambient and all manner of other sounds bursting forth at whim.

Having said all that, ‘1985’ is almost entirely immersed in the 80s. In the same way as ‘Cockroach King’ was Haken’s ‘all-out’ track on ‘The Mountain’, ‘1985’ is the song on ‘Affinity’ that throws a little caution to the wind and shows Haken at their most audacious in many respects. Synth drums, overt retro sounds and an occasional dive headlong into 80s movie soundtrack territory all take place within this ambitious composition. However, it works, retaining a homogenous feel throughout. It is made all the more special thanks to a really rousing, hooky chorus that is nothing short of addictive.

The elegant ‘Lapse’ features some of Jennings’ most accomplished vocal work on this record, and indeed throughout the entire back catalogue. The vocal chords are stretched in directions that must have been really challenging but the result is gripping, full of sincerity and emotion in places.

Photo: Sevcan Yuksel Henshall

Photo: Sevcan Yuksel Henshall

‘The Architect’ is Haken’s monster epic. At 15 minutes long, it allows the band the time to explore a number of ideas without ever feeling cluttered or disjointed. The track starts off in grand, cinematic style before exploding in a barely-controlled prog metal assault. It is here that Haken most clearly reference their earlier output as the music flits between the over-the-top excesses of the debut and the grandiose tones of ‘Visions’.

I’m then reminded vaguely of Tool in the more refrained guitar work and rhythms that follow, before another memorable chorus of sorts grabs the attention. And then, the song plunges into a music abyss where everything falls away to eventually and gradually rebuild over time. The foreboding yet ambient synth sounds lay the early groundwork as the bass guitar of relative newbie Conner Green joins the fray with some exceptionally expressive, deft and highly musical work. Ray Hearne’s drumming is subtle but inspired, and the resulting guitar interplay between Richard Henshall and Charlie Griffiths is inventive, melodious and ear-catching.

If that wasn’t enough, as the song ascends from the depths, the band are joined by Leprous’ Einar Solberg who adds his unique gruff vocals atop some heavy djent-like riffing before a return to the chorus and an epic lead guitar solo that rivals that of ‘Aquarium’ for spine tingling majesty.

‘Earthrise’ is possibly my favourite track on the album right now. I adore the quiet and melodic opening because it fills me with a warm glow and the feeling that the world can’t be an entirely awful place if such beautiful music can be written. It develops into a composition that is bright and breezy, complimented by lyrics that have a distinctly positive vibe to them.

By contrast, ‘Red Giant’ explores entirely different terrain. It is the most modern and post-rock that Haken have ever sounded and is also one of their most brooding and quietly intense compositions. The keys and rhythm section take the lead on this track, which is arguably the biggest and most consistent grower on the entire record.

Photo: Isabell Etz

Photo: Isabell Etz

‘The Endless Knot’ features some delicious drum fills from Mr Hearne and more killer melodies. It also affords Diego the opportunity to go a little crazy with more zany and out-there sounds. It also allows some six-string indulgence in the shape of one of the most intricate and dextrous guitar leads at around the mid-point. The song constantly shifts direction throughout its relatively modest life, but is held together by those strong melodies which return time and again to my great delight.

‘Bound By Gravity’ then closes out the album in an impossibly perfect manner. It is arguably one of the softest songs that Haken have ever penned but it is also one of the most beautiful. Acoustic guitars and more warm and inviting keys, vaguely reminiscent of Sigur Ros envelop the listener in a soothing, comforting embrace. Jennings’ soft and gentle delivery adds an almost ethereal quality to the track as it floats along on a warm current of magical melody that is both uplifting and almost heart breaking. Such is its understated and subtle beauty, I find myself smiling broadly and wiping tears from my eyes almost simultaneously.

How do I sum up an album like this? I could have mentioned a million bands throughout this review, from Textures to King Crimson and beyond as indeed there are reference points all over the place if you’re of a mind to count them. However, Haken are Haken and the bottom line is that they have developed into a modern prog band that is truly unique. ‘Affinity’ is one of the best progressive albums I have ever had the pleasure to listen to but more than that, it truly moves me and I connect to it on an emotional level; it makes me smile, it makes me cry and it makes me feel alive.

The Score Of Much Metal: 10

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

Long Distance Calling – TripsOctober Tide – Winged Waltz
Odd Logic – Penny For Your Thoughts
Iron Mountain – Unum
Knifeworld – Bottled Out Of Eden
Novembre – Ursa
Beholder – Reflections
Neverworld – Dreamsnatcher
Universal Mind Project – The Jaguar Priest
Thunderstone – Apocalypse Again
InnerWish – Innerwish
Mob Rules – Tales From Beyond
Ghost Bath – Moonlover
Spiritual Beggars – Sunrise To Sundown
Oceans Of Slumber – Winter
Rikard Zander – I Can Do Without Love
Redemption – The Art Of Loss
Headspace – All That You Fear Is Gone
Chris Quirarte – Mending Broken Bridges
Sunburst – Fragments Of Creation
Inglorious – Inglorious
Omnium Gatherum – Grey Heavens
Structural Disorder – Distance
Votum – Ktonik
Fleshgod Apocalypse – King
Rikard Sjoblom – The Unbendable Sleep
Textures – Phenotype
Serenity – Codex Atlanticus
Borknagar – Winter Thrice
The Mute Gods – Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me
Brainstorm – Scary Creatures
Arcade Messiah – II
Phantasma – The Deviant Hearts
Rendezvous Point – Solar Storm
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld II
Antimatter – The Judas Table
Bauda – Sporelights
Waken Eyes – Exodus
Earthside – A Dream In Static
Caligula’s Horse – Bloom
Teramaze – Her Halo
Amorphis – Under The Red Cloud
Spock’s Beard – The Oblivion Particle
Agent Fresco – Destrier
Cattle Decapitation – The Anthropocene Extinction
Between The Buried And Me – Coma Ecliptic
Cradle Of Filth – Hammer Of The Witches
Disarmonia Mundi – Cold Inferno
District 97 – In Vaults
Progoctopus – Transcendence
Big Big Train – Wassail
NightMare World – In The Fullness Of Time
Helloween – My God-Given Right
Triaxis – Zero Hour
Isurus – Logocharya
Arcturus – Arcturian
Kamelot – Haven
Native Construct – Quiet World
Sigh – Graveward
Pantommind – Searching For Eternity
Subterranean Masquerade – The Great Bazaar
Klone – Here Comes The Sun
The Gentle Storm – The Diary
Melechesh – Enki
Enslaved – In Times
Keep Of Kalessin – Epistemology
Lonely Robot – Please Come Home
The Neal Morse Band – The Grand Experiment
Zero Stroke – As The Colours Seep
AudioPlastik – In The Head Of A Maniac
Revolution Saints – Revolution Saints
Mors Principium Est – Dawn of The 5th Era
Arcade Messiah – Arcade Messiah
Triosphere – The Heart Of The Matter
Neonfly – Strangers In Paradise
Knight Area – Hyperdrive
Haken – Restoration
James LaBrie – Impermanent Resonance
Mercenary – Through Our Darkest Days
A.C.T. – Circus Pandemonium
Xerath – III
Big Big Train – English Electric (Part 1)
Thought Chamber – Psykerion
Marcus Jidell – Pictures From A Time Traveller
H.E.A.T – Tearing Down The Walls
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld

Albums that changed my life: Dimmu Borgir – ‘Enthrone, Darkness, Triumphant’

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The latest instalment of my ‘Albums that Changed my Life’ series takes me back to the late 1990s and therefore to when I was in my mid-late teens. I was at high school, undertaking my ‘A’ levels and starting to learn to drive. Halcyon days.

At this time, I was heavily into Cradle of Filth (see previous chapters) and gradually getting heavier and heavier in my music tastes. Primarily, I was interested in the sounds of black metal, although admittedly the more melodic end of the spectrum at this stage.

The story around this choice of album begins with a trip to London. At the time, I had family who lived in London and, whilst visiting them, I was taken to Oxford Street for a shopping trip. It was my first foray as far as I can remember to this part of London as previously, any day trips were usually of an educational or sightseeing purpose. I had heard of a mythical place, something wondrously called ‘the flagship store’. In fact, there turned out to be two: HMV and Virgin.

My generous aunt and uncle gave me and my brother £50 each and we headed off to find the mother ships.

Despite knowing that they existed, nothing prepared me for what I was to be confronted with. In Ipswich, at that time, we had no less than five record stores: HMV, Virgin, Andy’s Records, MVC and an independent by the name of Rex Records. They all had some heavy metal records on their shelves but usually mingled in with the general ‘Rock & Pop’ and certainly not to any vast amount. The only segregated metal section could be found at Rex Records but it was only small, perhaps 20-30 CDs in total.

HMV was the first stop and, after diligently following the signs, found myself looking at a shelving unit approximately ten to fifteen metres long jam packed with row upon row of heavy metal music of all genres. At first I thought it was just one sided but remembering my knowledge of the alphabet under all the excitement, I realised that I was just looking at M-Z. A-L was replicated on the other side. 20-30 metres of pure heavy metal? My mind was blown.

The choice was simply staggering and Virgin was not a lot different either when, for the sake of thoroughness, I thought I ought to have a look while in the vicinity. Ultimately, I returned to HMV and pondered what to buy.

The choice took me the best part of two hours if I’m honest and in amongst all the other purchases I made, was one record that changed my world. That album was ‘Enthrone, Darkness, Triumphant’ by Norwegian black metal band Dimmu Borgir. Before this visit, I’d not heard about this band. So what was it that made me take a punt on this album?

Dimmu_Borgir-Enthrone_Darkness_Triumphant-Trasera

My reasoning was multi-layered. Firstly, it was the rich green front cover which grabbed my attention. It looked really professional and had a dark vibe to it without appearing tacky or over-the-top. The digipack packaging further enhanced the feeling of quality and when I have always had a weakness for good artwork and packaging, this album ticked two boxes immediately. The sticker on the front that then said ‘limited edition’ pretty much sealed the deal.

The Nuclear Blast logo on the reverse meant that I knew, even then, that this was likely to sound really good production-wise. And finally, I was certain that this was an album to fit in with my interest in black metal and my craving for another band not too dissimilar to the Cradle of Filth formula.

It was a risk, but a calculated one. It was a risk that paid off handsomely.

I remember that it was late at night when I first listened, on a portable ‘discman’ with headphones. From the opening keyboard-driven intro to ‘Mourning Palace’, I knew that I was going to like this record. However, it wasn’t until track two, ‘Spellbound (By The Devil)’ that I fell in love. The closing melodic section coming after a rather furious opening couple of minutes was just nectar to my ears; manna from heaven…or, more appropriately, hell. From that moment on, I kept thinking ‘just one more song and then I’ll sleep’. But I remember getting ever more excited as each song just delivered the goods. I found it impossible to stop listening. I was too excited to hear the entire album initially and then, as it finished, I pressed play again.

Whilst I listened, I pawed through the booklet. I was struck by the band photography and the daft top hat worn by the then keyboardist Stian Aarstad, making him stand out from the spikes and swords of the remainder of the quintet. I read the lyrics under dim light, following them diligently as Shagrath growled, screamed and spat his diatribes. The whole thing was thoroughly infectious to me.

dimmu_borgir_-_enthrone_darkness_triumphant_inside

I still love this album, some 20 or so years after I first heard it. But then, what’s not to like? I am personally drawn to the wonderful juxtaposition between the sharp staccato riffing and the powerful and vibrant keyboards which create massive amounts of atmosphere as well as rich, sumptuous textures and bold, compelling melodies. The production is pretty good by the standards of 90s black metal too. The guitars do have a slightly raw, buzzy sound but not to the detriment of my enjoyment; if anything, it enhances the experience. On tracks like the mercurial ‘In Death’s Embrace’, the bass is unusually important to the composition and isn’t rendered absent in the mix.

I could cite just about every song on ‘Enthrone, Darkness, Triumphant’ as being a favourite. However, if I was to pick just a few, I’d settle on the majestic, sweeping ‘The Night Masquerade’ even with its bizarre closing male and female vocals, the epic ‘Prudence’s Fall’ with the way it swings from melody to brutality so effortlessly before ending with its gorgeous melodic outro and the elegant, brooding ‘A Succubus In Rapture’.

But, as songs like ‘Relinquishment Of Spirit and Flesh’ and ‘Tormentor Of Christian Souls’ demonstrate, Dimmu Borgir could deliver an uncompromising slab of brutality as well, minus most of the melody and with added speed and aggression.

As my ‘Top 5 albums of all time’ post confirms, ‘Enthrone, Darkness, Triumphant’ remains one of my all-time favourite albums. It has had a massive impact upon me throughout my entire adult life and is an album that I come back to time and time again.

And hearing ‘Spellbound (By The Devil)’ ring out across the field of Catton Hall at Bloodstock Open Air festival in the late summer twilight a few years ago was a magical experience, sending shivers of delight down my spine. I’ve seen Dimmu Borgir in concert many times but this gig was special.

Dimmu Borgir - GalderHowever, the most memorable was when the tour bus found itself outside Colchester Arts Centre in 2011, a small provincial venue just 20 minutes from my home and a deconsecrated church for good measure. What’s more, the Norwegians had arrived to play ‘Enthrone, Darkness, Triumphant’ in its entirety. I managed to position myself in the front row and allowed the magic to happen…but not before I’d had a chat, on the bus with guitarist Galder.

That was a night I shall never forget…and ‘Enthrone, Darkness, Triumphant’ is an album that I’ll always hold close to my heart.

If you’ve enjoyed this article, check out the others in this series:

Megadeth – Youthanasia
Cradle Of Filth – Dusk…And Her Embrace
Cradle Of Filth – Vempire
Skid Row – Slave To The Grind

An interview with Brutai – ‘we just go out and play the metal music that we love’

Credit: Will Ireland Photography

Credit: Will Ireland Photography

Over the past few months, my social media feeds have been almost on fire with the name of one band more than any other: Brutai. The culprit is Miss Lulu Davis, the one-girl whirlwind who is Incendia Music Management. I made the mistake of making her virtual acquaintance and the rest is history. Seriously though, I don’t mind at all because without this, I’d not have heard about Brutai, certainly not until it was too late. As it is, what I’ve heard has piqued my interest to the point that when the opportunity to sit and have a chat with the quintet presented itself, I couldn’t say no.

And so, in the less than salubrious surroundings of an upstairs dressing room at the Camden Barfly (full gig review), I found myself perched against some disused piece of electrical equipment, readying my first question for the guys. As a starter for ten, I suggest that Brutai come across as a blend of Voyager meets Soilwork, meets metalcore, meets pop and tentatively ask whether they agree.

“I like that”, responds Felix Lawrie, vocalist and guitarist with the London-based outfit, in a very friendly, good-humoured manner. “Our music is pretty hard to pigeonhole and I’ve heard so many different genres thrown our way. We just go out and play the metal music that we love and we love all types of metal music. So some songs might be a bit heavier and others will be completely the opposite. We call ourselves ‘metal’ but if you want to pigeon hole us, you can call us whatever you like…as long as the word metal is in there somewhere.”

I find that last vehement comment very interesting particularly when you learn that the background of several of the band is so heavily intertwined with the world of pop, quite impressively as it happens. I invite the chaps to fill in the blanks and Felix instantly obliges.

‘My family is in the pop industry’, he casually states, smiling warmly. ‘My dad is a songwriter and he has written songs for Tina Turner and Lionel Ritchie, so you can’t get any more pop than that. My auntie is the singer Lulu, so it’s hard not to have been around pop music from a young age. I was taken to Take That concerts at the age of four – it wasn’t my fault”, he remonstrates playfully with his bandmates amidst snorts of laughter, “I was four!’

brutai band on stage

“It’s a small world”, interjects keyboardist Alex Lorimer, smiling and pointing in Felix’s direction animatedly, “because my dad played the trumpet on stage with his aunt about 25 years ago and then we end up playing together in a metal band.”

The inevitable question about the origins of their love of metal looms large and I succumb.

“It was a natural progression”, Felix replies matter-of-factly. “I used to be into rap music – Dr Dre and Eminem mainly. Eminem got me into Limp Bizkit, Limp Bizkit introduced me to Korn and Korn led me to Metallica. I was introduced to the guitar at a young age but when I first heard Metallica, I was like ‘OK, I’m going to learn every single Metallica song known to man and play every day’. That’s how it started with metal for me anyway.”

Alex then offers his thoughts on the subject.

“If you end up playing metal, you have to understand music. People who don’t, just think of it as noise. If you are brought up in a musical background, even if it’s not your cup of tea, you can appreciate it. We all came from different musical backgrounds, playing different instruments…like the clarinet”.

That last comment is delivered with a certain amount of quiet reluctance which means that I already think I know the answer Prior to seeking clarification of the culprit.

“Me, can’t you tell?”, quips Alex with a rueful smile, before turning back to the original question once the laughter from around the room dies down finally. “But everyone understood it, got it and it brought us all together.”

“We really can’t complain”, offers Felix when I ask him whether he is pleased with the progress of Brutai to date, particularly in light of the fact that a debut album is yet to be released. “Because 10,000 views (for the song ‘Deep’ – see below) in a couple of months is more than we ever expected”.

After a quick prompt, Felix goes on to explain his reasoning for the comparative success.

“I think it’s more of an accessible song, it’s catchy and so I think it reaches out to more than just metal fans. People will come up to me who don’t like metal and tell me that they really like my tune. It has that kind of longevity and catchiness and our manager”, he emphasises, looking in Lulu’s direction pointedly, “getting us on the playlist on Scuzz TV probably helped as well. It’s just being spread around really well.”

Naturally the topic of conversation turns towards the debut album. At this point in time, there’s no news about a release date and I make a failed attempt to get some kind of exclusive.

“I really can’t say”, Felix shrugs to my gentle prodding. “It’s all finished and it sounds great. We’re thrilled with how it sounds. Our hard work has ended now, so it is the turn of our manager to ship it around to see if we can get any support from any labels. We’ll see how that goes but after that, we’ll be more decisive about when it is going to get released. So it is a bit up in the air at the moment and will be for the next month or so.”

Sensing that I’m a beaten man on this topic, I change tack and ask Brutai to explain a little more about the writing process. This time it’s Alex who leads the reply.

“All the tracks on the album generally have very different identities. If you knew us as musicians, you’d be able to tell who wrote this or that part. We all have our own sounds and we pull them all together. Everyone comes up with ideas or song structures and then we take those basic ideas and develop the songs together from there. And then myself and Felix will do the vocals. Everyone has their own signature sounds and these all come through in the songs.”

Felix nods his agreement.

“It all starts off as an idea from the three of us, me, Henry (Ryan – guitars) or Alex. And then, as a band (rounded out by drummer Mathieu Bauer and bassist Christian Sturgess) we piece everything together and turn them into a song. Personally, I am a really big fan of structures and the way in which songs piece together. I like general straight-forward structures but also stuff that’s a bit more out there but which still makes sense. That’s the key for me. But I’m also a big fan of the riff.”

brutai 1

“If it goes too far”, offers Henry for the first time, “then we will rein it in and make it a bit more straight-forward but if one song has elements of technical metal we will try to give it a big hook or a chorus. So there are a lot of different elements and sounds on the album.”

Dare I use the dreaded ‘prog’ word? My reticence was, as it turns out, unnecessary as Felix agrees to a certain extent.

“I definitely don’t mind us being called progressive because I think we’re a little bit progressive in the way that we write music. Not necessarily the style of music that we play but in the way that we think.”

I’m keen for Brutai to make themselves sound as intriguing and irresistible as possible to those music fans out there that have yet to give them a try. Or worse, to convince those music fans who have not even heard the name Brutai. I therefore invite the gents to come up with their most snappy description of their music in ten words or less. The answer is a slow and laboured one but involves the entire band. Eventually, as the unofficial spokesman, Felix ventures “Groove, riffs, hooks, a bit of dirt and atmosphere” before Henry offers some kind of clarification as to why they found it so difficult to reach an answer.

“I find our music really musical. It sounds silly to call music musical but there are some albums and some bands where everything sounds the same. If you listen to two songs off the album you know exactly who it is. We try to keep things different with more variety I think.”

One word that I personally feel is missing in that summary is ‘fun’. The minute I raise this, it is leapt upon by Felix.

“You can’t take yourselves too seriously and fun is what we’re all about too. The lyrics might be serious and the music might sound dreary and gloomy but a lot of the time it sounds fun and we try to have fun on stage. For me, metal music has always been fun and it always makes me smile.”

As a final question, I ask Brutai whether they, as a band, have any longer term ambitions or goals for the band. The answer is rather predictable but it demonstrates that the band have wise heads on their shoulders.

“You’ve got to just take things a step at a time”, replies Felix. “Our main goal from the get go when we started doing this seriously about three years ago was to create an album that we are all proud of. It took us a good year to write and then about nine months to record because we all did it sporadically. We did it ourselves, we all have jobs and we didn’t want to be rushed. We finally got there so if it all ended tomorrow I’d be very happy. Of course I hope it doesn’t end yet and we’ve got high hopes for Brutai, but you never know what might happen.”

And with that, the sound of the first band on the bill rumbles through the floorboards signalling that it’s time for us all to head downstairs to witness a little live music.

Interested to hear more? Then check out video for ‘Deep’ below or head to the Brutai Bandcamp page right here: https://brutai.bandcamp.com/album/brutai