Big Big Train – Folklore – Album Review

bbt folklore cover

Artist: Big Big Train

Album Title: Folklore

Label: English Electric Recordings

Date Of Release: 27 May 2016

Albums like this need to be consumed for some time before any thoughts are committed to paper or PC. However, I was desperate to review ‘Folklore’ by Big Big Train before it was officially released and so, after less than a week, here I am typing my review of the English progressive rock band’s ninth album. Admittedly I have listened to it to the exclusion of just about everything else in that time; in the car, on the dog walk, on the headphones late at night once the family are in bed. So I’ve at least scratched the surface, I suppose.

I have been a relatively late convert to the Big Big Train cause. I only discovered them upon the release of ‘English Electric Part 1’ a few years ago and even then it was only because I was badgered long and hard into doing so by a few social media acquaintances. Nevertheless, the impact upon me has been great; here is someone who goes by the name of the ‘Man of Much Metal’ and has a collection that boasts more metal than a steelworks in his collection.

Mind you, as I’ve got older, my tastes have expanded somewhat but if you’d told me 10 years ago that I’d be bowled over by a classic pastoral-style English progressive rock band, I would probably have laughed. Even more so once I got to realise that this particular band enjoys adding liberal amounts of brass to their compositions and includes a fair amount of folk influences as well. On paper, this just isn’t my thing at all. And yet, I love this band. There’s something about them that means I can forgive them all the elements that I normally hate. In fact, more than that, I even embrace these ingredients.

Big Big Train 2016 consists of bassist Greg Spawton, guitarist/keyboardist Andy Poole, vocalist/flautist David Longdon, drummer Nick D’Virgilio (Spock’s Beard), guitarist Dave Gregory (XTC), keyboardist Danny Manners, violinist Rachel Hall (Stackridge) and Beardfish guitarist/keyboardist Rikard Sjöblom. Joining these eight exemplary musicians for the recording of this album is a brass quintet and a string trio.

Credit: Kain Dear

Credit: unknown

And listening to ‘Folklore’, there are a several reasons as to why I believe the octet and friends have a hold over me.

Firstly, Big Big Train are masters of song writing with the unnerving ability to pen everything from subtle and fragile pieces right through to up-tempo rocking numbers and everything in between, sometimes all of it within the same song. Their talent allows them to execute extremely technical and sophisticated material in a manner that makes it seem smooth, cohesive and deceptively simple. Secondly, they create great stories to accompany the music. Listening to Big Big Train is like a history or a geography lesson as days gone by or interesting places in the UK are sung about. It can be nostalgic, melancholy, joyous or amusing depending on the subject matter but it is always fascinating and an enriching experience. And thirdly, there are the melodies.

Now I understand that most bands can, when required, write a decent melody. Some bands do it really well too. But on ‘Folklore’, every track on the record contains a hook or a vocal line or a chorus that will pull you back time after time. Further, it is no exaggeration to state that there are about three or four moments on the album that produce something truly magical. And by this I mean really magical. You know what I’m talking about – those moments, either fleeting or more substantial, that make you stop dead in your tracks, send shivers down your spine and that befuddle the mind due to the aural beauty. I’m not kidding, either.

To begin with, there’s the chorus of sorts within ‘London Plane’.

“Sailing on the English way
Racing on the high tides
Here by the riverside
Reaching for the day’s last light”

David Longdon’s vocals are wonderful and coupled with these lyrics and the melody that sits behind, it is a show-stopping moment within the context of an already beautiful song about the birth and growth of a city from the perspective of a tree that grew on the river bank. The first half is very pastoral, very relaxed and gentle, complete with fleeting flute embellishments, strings and soft, delicate keyboard sounds. The mid-section then indulges in some extended instrumentalism that features a plethora of sumptuous keyboard textures, lovely guitar work and the sounds of an elegant flute floating atop it all. The final section reverts back to the more laid back meanderings but with a slightly increased sense of urgency created by yet more ear-catching lead guitar work.

Then there are the closing moments of ‘Winkie’, a song bound to raise a titter amongst the pre-pubescent or the childish amongst us. The song opens up with a gentle melody that hints at what is to come later in the piece. Leading up to that magical moment is a really superb song that is ambitiously but flawlessly and cohesively comprised of a number of distinct parts, each one slightly different in tone and execution, from cinematic, to contemplative, to euphoric.

Above all, the composition couples superb progressive rock with a thoroughly engaging true-life story about a carrier pigeon called ‘Winkie’ who won the Dickin Medal for playing a vital role in the rescue of aircrew who crash landed in the North Sea in 1943 during World War II. It’s truly gripping and is enhanced by top drawer song writing and execution that is both sensitive to the topic and highly memorable.

I’m a sucker for those long and flamboyant tom rolls on the drums and here, Nick D’Vigilio indulges my weakness several times to my delight. On top of this, there is plenty of drama, tension and musical dexterity in which to take delight. And then, as the eighth minute approaches, the song reaches its glorious spine-tingling climax, accompanied by the words:

“You flew safely home Winkie…
…you flew straight, flew true,
Winkie”

The final, arguably the best of these magical moments arrives courtesy of ‘Brooklands’. It is a gorgeous song, the longest on the album at over 12 minutes but it deserves its length. It talks of John Cobb, a racing driver in the 1930s who set various records during his time behind the wheel. Sadly, Cobb died in 1952 attempting to break the water speed record at Loch Ness. Given the subject matter, the song, named after Cobb’s local racetrack is subdued and melancholy but also full of poignancy and a strangely uplifting feel towards the close of the song. Much of the extended instrumental sections are fast-paced and exuberant to cleverly reflect the central character’s love of speed but the killer blow for me comes when Longdon sings the following powerful words so passionately atop a gorgeously rousing yet heart breaking melody:

“Racing away from the shoreline;
Back there as a young lad at Brooklands.
Mountains rise into the distance.
Jetsam drifts on the water”

I’ve singled these moments out but it is fair to say that every one of the nine songs on offer on ‘Folklore’ delivers something special. This is a remarkably consistent, intelligent and thought-provoking album that is backed up by some of the best progressive rock that I have heard in a long time. Well, since ‘English Electric Part II’ to be exact.

Credit: Simon Hogg

Credit: unknown

The album opens with the title track, a song that is truly addictive, to the point that I, my partner and even my eldest daughter at the age of 3 ½ find ourselves singing it all the time. It could be parenting done right or more likely it is down to the fact that ‘Folklore’ is a really nice up-tempo prog rock anthem with more than a hint of folk music about it. Beginning with a sumptuous string arrangement, it soon changes tack. The violin of Rachel Hall takes centre stage regularly, but then so do the various guitarists with strong riffs and lead breaks, Longdon’s flute and the keyboards which add depth and richness. Then there’s the chorus which, had it not been for the aforementioned moments, would steal the show.

Elsewhere, ‘Wassail’ remains a delight having first been aired a year or so back on the EP of the same name, whilst ‘Telling The Bees’ is a real grower of a song to close out ‘Folklore’. It again straddles the line of poignancy and positivity and, with more than a hint of folk and acoustic country music to it, it slowly builds in intensity and moves from melancholy to much more positive climes all the while getting under the skin of the listener in the best possible way.

Then there’s ‘The Transit Of Venus Across The Sun’ which, again, is beautiful, even more so when you discover that it was inspired by the late Patrick Moore, the much loved British astronomer. It opens with a gorgeous brass arrangement (did I really say that??) that is joined by some equally wonderful strings. As it develops, it gently builds eventually joining together two distinct melodies into one glorious yet understated crescendo.

So there you have it. I could have waxed lyrical about each musician’s individual performance or the crystal clear and warm, welcoming production. But where Big Big Train are concerned, these things can be taken as read and anyway, I think I’ve exhausted my store of superlatives. Equally, I could have dropped the names of Genesis, Yes and many other bands into the review as reference points but whilst there are echoes of others within the music, Big Big Train are very much their own band with an ever-increasing identity all of their own and this should remain utmost in our minds at all times.

More importantly from my point of view, is the way that the album makes me feel. It makes me run the gamut of emotions if I’m honest, from elated to tearful, but does this in a very sensitive and subtle way. And, strangely enough, Big Big Train makes me proud to be English. It’s a rare feeling in this day and age, but they have a knack of focusing on topics and people worthy of our admiration and attention rather than the opposite.

‘Folklore’ is another amazing addition to the Big Big Train discography and is something all lovers of quality progressive rock should cherish and take to their hearts. I know that I have.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.75

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

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

Airbag – Disconnected – Album Review

airbag cover

Artist: Airbag

Album Title: Disconnected

Label: Karisma Records

Date Of Release: 10 June 2016

I may be the Man Of Much Metal but occasionally, there’s nothing I like more than to dial down the extremity and indulge in something altogether more relaxed. The scratching post for this particular itch comes in the form of Norwegian progressive rock band Airbag and their fourth album ‘Disconnected’.

Some bands have a knack of making everything sound so simple and effortless. Airbag are one of these bands, a quartet that seem to have something of a Midas touch; everything they write is of the highest quality with a disarming smoothness and sophistication that others can only dream of.

Given their laid back and melodious brand of progressive rock, ‘Disconnected’ is an album that could conceivably be played as background music and it would be very adept in this guise, serenely washing over the casual listeners with chameleon-like stealth. However, to do this would be the biggest of all sins in my opinion because by so doing, you’d miss out on the magic and elegant beauty of the six compositions that comprise ‘Disconnected’.

Not only that, you’d also fail to notice the richness of the compositions, the textures both subtle and more overt, the atmospheres and the depth of the lyrical content too, an ingredient that makes this record such a powerful one.

Airbag 2016 is comprised of lead vocalist Asle Tostrup, guitarist and vocalist Bjørn Riis, drummer Henrik Fossum and bassist Anders Hovdan. And it would appear that they are not averse to confronting big topics to supplement and enhance their musical output. To quote the band directly, ‘Disconnected’ “features six songs reflecting on the theme of alienation between the individual and society, what society expects from us as individuals, and our resultant failure to live up to those expectations. Each of the six compositions depicts the state of feeling on ‘the outside’ and out of touch with oneself and those around us.”

airbag band

Some might, somewhat disingenuously, dismiss this as being pretentious. However, such a comment would be a gross misjudgement because there is definitely a ‘wow’ factor that’s created through the marriage of beautiful music and the fragility and rawness of the lyrics. Pick any track amongst the six and there will be a line somewhere within it that, unless you’re a robot or lacking in feelings, will leave a lasting impression on you. For me, it’s ‘Broken’, with the line: ‘if I had the chance to take it all back, would you leave me anyway? If I told you I could change again, would you still be here with me?’ So simple but in the context of the song and given the conviction with which Tostrup delivers it, it hits me hard.

But returning to the music, it is here that Airbag truly excel. I referred to their music as progressive rock and that’s where it is rooted for sure. However, there’s no unnecessary noodling or pointless grandstanding with Airbag; each note is precise, each passage is thoroughly thought out and each song delivers exactly what it needs to. At times, the music is modern, minimalist and stark. At others, it is rich, vibrant and full of drama. The word ‘epic’ can be overused, but here it is well-placed and fully deserved.
In terms of reference-points, there are clear nods in the direction of Pink Floyd and Radiohead, but echoes of latter-day Marillion can be heard, alongside fleeting glimpses of Anathema, Steven Wilson, Riverside and a whole host of other progressive rock luminaries. That said, Airbag are very much their own band with a strong identity and a sureness of purpose.

There are no weak links on ‘Disconnected’. As such, every track deserves a mention. And, given that there are only six, I shall do just that.

Not only does ‘Killer’ open the album, it was also the album’s lead single for want of a better expression. It was therefore the first exposure to ‘Disconnected’. I listened to it once, but once turned into three or four spins back-to-back and before I knew it, I was fully entranced. Beginning with a driving beat led by Fossum’s drumming, layers of synth-led textures and a commanding bass line from Hovdan, it immediately grabs your attention. As it develops, the melodies get to work and it soon opens up into a scintillating hook-laden chorus that is impossible to shake from your mind. I also love the mid-section breakdown where Riis’ distorted guitar note cuts through the quiet introspection like a lion’s roar on the sparse plains. I also enjoy the numerous guitar leads and how the track rebuilds to a gorgeous crescendo. The lyrics are actually quite brutal in many ways, but rather than coming across as morbid, sensationalist or morose, they counterpoint the majesty of the music in compelling fashion.

The aforementioned ‘Broken’ is, if anything, even more emotional. Ushered in by a gentle acoustic guitar, the keys behind are almost imperceptible. The atmosphere and emotive nature of this track is stunning, underlined by the mournful lead guitar flourishes and the way that Tostrup sounds like he is a heartbeat away from breaking down throughout the song’s entirety. And yet, by the end, the forlornness is joined by something approaching hope. It’s an exquisite piece of music and one of my favourites of 2016 for sure.

‘Slave’ in contrast, has an angrier and darker feel, albeit cocooned beautifully within a myriad of clever textures and sounds. Nevertheless, when they enter the fray, the guitars offer more bite and controlled aggression, as do the vocals. As the composition nears its conclusion, there’s time for the mood to fleetingly change, to a feeling of elation. Well, almost – this is Airbag after all.

The melodies within ‘Sleepwalker’ are to die for, making it one of the most immediate songs on ‘Disconnected’. The acoustic guitars are once again beautiful as is the piano that becomes more and more prominent as the track develops. If you’re a fan of guitar solos that drip with emotion and soulful melody, then this is the album for you as Riis delivers another scintillating lead, arguably one of the best of many on the album.

The title track is also the longest on the record, clocking in at over 13 minutes. Within that extended period, it ebbs and flows wonderfully, creating tension and teasing the listener. For much of the time the song simmers, threatening an explosion and when it arrives, it doesn’t disappoint. The chorus hits and hits hard but each time is quickly replaced by a new idea woven into the tapestry with real deftness. Airbag talked about wanting to create dramatic music and it is here where this statement is brought to life most prominently.

And then, finally, the album closes out with ‘Returned’. And oh boy is it a real tearjerker. A simple guitar melody is joined by minimal piano notes and further fragile vocals to the point where Tostrup sounds like his voice is breaking. After a brief flurry, the song drops away again and fades out to the subtle sound of just the central guitar melody, leaving me feeling a tad bereft and tearful if I’m honest.

‘Disconnected’ is a devastating album. On the one hand, it sounds so simple, so unassuming. However, give it your full attention and the magic starts to flow. Emotionally charged, epic and beautiful, there’s unlikely to be a more majestic progressive rock album released this year. This really is a wonderful album and I love it.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.25

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

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

Katatonia – The Fall Of Hearts – Album Review

Katatonia-Fall-Of-Hearts-Medium-Res-Cover1

Artist: Katatonia

Album Title: The Fall Of Hearts

Label: Peaceville Records

Date of Release: 20 May 2016

How does one remain objective and dispassionate when reviewing a band as special as Katatonia? As long-term readers will know all-too well, the Swedish masters of dark metal are one of my all-time favourite bands. Just take a look at the banner photo at the top of the page.

Not only is their music of the highest calibre, it is also one of the strongest links between my late brother and I. You see, he had great music taste and it was he that got me to see the light about Katatonia many years ago. Subsequently, whenever I hear Jonas Renkse’s delectably emotive voice or that unmistakeable guitar tone of Anders ‘Blakkheim’ Nystrom, my little brother’s face looms large in my mind every time, usually accompanied by a smile and the odd tear. For that alone, I owe Katatonia a debt of thanks.

But every new Katatonia album is now a bitter-sweet time for me. On the one hand, I cannot wait to hear what this remarkable band have come up with. On the other, I wish fervently that I could share the experience with my sibling. There have been moments where I’ve briefly forgotten the reality that surrounds me and I have instinctively gone to contact him to share my excitement. The sinking, gut-wrenching feeling that follows is unlike nothing else on Earth but thanks in part to Katatonia’s music, I am provided the strength and courage to plough on.

It is a maudlin and very personal opening to a review, for which I implore you to forgive me. But as difficult as it is to write, I hope that it provides some much-needed context about this band and I and helps to explain why I agonise over reviews like this.

Credit: Ester Segarra

Credit: Ester Segarra

But here we are and, in short, it is almost impossible for me to not laud ‘The Fall Of Hearts’ as one of the very best releases in the band’s 25-year career. I have weighed it up thoroughly as I’ve lain on the sofa late at night, almost every night, soaking up the music on offer here within album number ten.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure how Katatonia would sound in 2016. After a tremendously stable line-up for many years, the last couple has seen a surprising number of personnel changes. Not only did the Norrman brothers depart together, but Fredrik Norrman’s six-string replacement, Per ‘Sodomizer’ Eriksson has also left. And let’s not forget drummer Daniel Lijlekvist who also jumped ship recently. All of this means that the current line-up sees vocalist Jonas Renkse and Anders Nyström joined by bassist Niklas Sandin and newcomers Daniel Moilanen on drums and guitarist Roger Öjersson (Tiamat). It is still a little odd for the time being looking at the band photos but that pales into insignificance when you take a listen to ‘The Fall Of Hearts’. It is fair to say that the new additions are significant and extremely positive, both fitting into the established dynamic whilst offering their own unique signature sounds and styles.

New members or not, over the years, Katatonia have never been afraid to grow and change, from their blackened death/doom beginnings, through their slightly more nu-metal tinged ‘Viva Emptiness’ to the more overtly progressive output on ‘Dead End Kings’. And yet, whilst Katatonia 2016 is a very different beast to twenty-five years ago, each album has brought change whilst remaining true to the core of the Katatonia sound. ‘The Fall Of Hearts’ is no different in that respect either; it is instantly and unequivocally Katatonia. In many ways it is the natural successor to ‘Dead End Kings’, increasing the progressive leanings, meaning that arguably, it is also their most varied and ambitious recording to date.

First off, it is a huge album. At nearly 70 minutes in length and spread over 12 tracks, you certainly get value for money and any concern that Katatonia may have been lacking inspiration or drive coming into this recording is immediately expunged. Come on, this is Katatonia after all and so, if anything, it’s exactly the opposite, as if the quintet has come out of the blocks with all guns blazing to prove that the recent instability has not impacted on the band in anything other than a positive manner.

To prove this point, the album opens with ‘Takeover’ and immediately, the Jens Bogren (Fascination Street Studios) and Karl Daniel Lidén mix cannot go unmentioned. The clarity with which all of the instruments can be heard has to be witnessed to be believed, providing each and every song with the polish that it so richly deserves.

KAT-BROWN-TITLES-1200PX

‘Takeover’ is an exquisitely-crafted piece of music that sums up Katatonia perfectly for me. The bleakness, the serenity and the feelings of darkness, loneliness, despair and anger are all encapsulated here, in an opening track that’s nothing short of magnificent.

It ebbs and flows majestically from a relatively quiet beginning to all-out full throttle attack mode complete with thunderous double-pedal drumming from Moilanen, powerful riffs from Nyström and Öjersson that call to mind those found on ‘The Great Cold Distance’ and a muscular guitar solo, something that’s still slightly unusual for Katatonia, although most welcome.

Jonas Renkse is one of my favourite vocalists in any kind of musical genre and his delivery within the chorus drips with his trademark sincerity and emotion that is entirely believable. He works in tandem with the layers of keys and a mournful, haunting guitar line to utterly devastating effect. Frankly, it floors me every time. What’s more, the song has an epic and distinctly progressive feel to it and, at seven minutes long, it is one of the longest compositions that Katatonia have penned for quite some time.

However, ‘Takeover’ is not the only longer track on ‘The Fall Of Hearts’. The intricately wrought and distinctly progressive ‘Serac’ is even longer, albeit only marginally. Heavy and urgent riffs catch the ear quickly, as does an overall tone that harks back to the very early days in my opinion. ‘Residual’ also pushes the seven-minute barrier very close, creating a sprawling composition that subtly works its way into my affections after a slow start. Ushered in by modern sampled sounds, the track eventually opens up into something more melodic and thoroughly engaging.

By contrast, tracks two and three, ‘Serein’ and ‘Old Heart Falls’ are much punchier and, if there is such a thing, more like typical, classic Katatonia. The former begins with a dark and dense atmosphere that is present throughout, complimented by a great dampened guitar. But it soon explodes with a panache that is captivating and a strong melodic , hard-rocking vibe that hints at Amorphis in tone . I love the way the song drops away at around the midpoint to allow the bass to shine. However, the melody quickly returns, the lead guitar again warms the heart, the head nods and a smile splits my face.

‘Old Heart Falls’ is the lead single, the first song to be released to the waiting public and it is another faultless piece of music. It blends together seamlessly the ‘Last Fair Deal Gone Down’ era with the textures and tones explored on ‘Dead End Kings’. It’s more of a slow-burner as it builds gradually, hinting at a release of the floodgates. When it arrives, it is elegant, monstrous and highly addictive, with a hook to die for. I have been told off by an exasperated partner for singing and humming this track almost incessantly, it’s that addictive. Little bro, you would have lapped this one up, I know you would; I can just sense it.

‘The Fall Of Hearts’ then offers a genuine change of pace, if not tone, with ‘Decima’. It is here that the first real effects of the recent acoustic unplugged ‘Dethrowned and Uncrowned’ album and live shows can be heard. The band suggested that they might take inspiration from this venture as far as future song writing was concerned and here it is in all its glory. Soothing, almost whimsical and with a folk tinge, it is an intimate affair that allows Renkse to come fully to the fore against a backdrop of acoustic guitars, subtle woodwind instrumentation and a demonstrably more laid back tone. As always, the lyrics are very moving and there’s a beguiling fragility that tugs at the heartstrings. Do the tears make an appearance? What do you think?!

On the theme of ‘Dethroned and Uncrowned’, the latter cuts of ‘Shifts’ and ‘Pale Flag’ require a mention. Katatonia have never been afraid to drop the pace and up the sensitivity on previous releases, but on both of these tracks, this ingredient feels just a little more pronounced somehow. ‘Shifts’ floats into being to the eerie sounds of an old air raid siren which returns at times throughout the piece. It’s a spine-tingling addition, accentuating that dark bleakness and sense of pervading melancholy. ‘Pale Flag’ on the other hand, reintroduces the folky influences within a rather minimalist framework that threatens to open into something huge but tantalisingly never does.

As if to underline the ambition of ‘The Fall Of Hearts’, ‘Sanction’ offers an entirely different proposition. There’s no quiet, atmospheric or suspense-filled intro; instead, it blasts from the speakers with a savage aggression that is more in keeping with death and doom metal, again harking back to the old days. The choral vocal effects inject a menacing and epic Gothic sheen and, in spite of an intelligent, more introspective mid-section that plays with the overall dynamics, it is a generally confrontational and venomous affair. And the last note that fades on a wave of distortion is absolutely killer, trust me.

Credit: Ester Segarra

Credit: Ester Segarra

The naked aggression that marks ‘Sanction’ makes another welcome appearance within the awesome ‘The Night Subscriber’. Sandin’s bass is prominent during an intro that also benefits from a ton of lush, majestic orchestration but is quickly disposed of in favour of a heavy-as-hell swirling, churning and hypnotic riff. The juxtaposition between the sensitive, nuanced vocals and the bruising metallic soundscapes is inspired. However, when joined with the beautiful orchestration, the result is a metaphorical unfurling of Katatonia’s musical wings, soaring on the currents of epic splendour and in complete command of their collective craft.

In another clever twist, the amazing ‘The Last Song Before The Fade’ includes a tremendous groove and a bouncy rhythm, almost waltz-like in places. The sense of drama is increased by an almost ubiquitous change of pace as the song develops, morphing into a sumptuous yet moody, atmospheric breakdown, before a bluesy lead guitar break adds further flavour and texture to an already strong piece of music.

The climax of ‘The Fall Of Hearts’ is realised through ‘Passer’, which happens to be one of the most multi-faceted songs on the record. It begins in urgent fashion where fast, aggressive drumming duels with a gorgeous lead guitar before plummeting into an abyss, from all to nothing. It rebuilds via a reticent, almost out-of-tune piano before sparking back into life with blast-beats, riffs that nod towards djent, exuberate and lavish guitars and a vocal melody that can be heard but constantly fights with its imposing surroundings.

And then it’s all over. I feel emotionally drained yet elated as it dawns on me that I have just spent an hour in the presence of greatness. Is it their best release ever? It’s too early to say for sure. However, it has had a huge impact on me, just like every release before it. As far as I’m concerned, music is all about the here and now though – how it makes you feel as you listen, how it makes you think and whether or not it gives you strength or a sense of comfort. Right now, ‘The Fall Of Hearts’ calls to me, it speaks to me on a myriad of different levels and I feel stronger and more enriched by it. And that’s more than enough for me right now.

Majestic and peerless, where there is darkness, Katatonia is your master, so allow your heart to fall to them.

The Score Of Much Metal: 10

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

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

Frost* – Falling Satellites – Album Review

Frost cover

Artist: Frost*

Album Title: Falling Satellites

Label: InsideOut Music

Date Of Release: 27 May 2016

I’m a late convert to the Frost* cause, but better late than never as the old saying goes. Last year, I had the pleasure of reviewing Lonely Robot, the debut album under that moniker from John Mitchell, he of Arena and It Bites fame as well as Frost*. It also featured Frost*’s Jem Godfrey in a guest roll in places on what is a glorious record, my number 13 of 2015 and a firm favourite still.

Given the clientele involved in that excellent album, I had to go and re-visit Frost* properly. I had bought their two albums a few years ago during a difficult time of my life following the passing of my younger brother. The only music I could face listening to was neo-prog for some reason and so I bought anything and everything connected even loosely with this genre. Frost* was one of those purchases but given my mental state and the amount of records I bought in an effort to bring me a little musical comfort, I was never able to give them the attention that they deserved. Fast forward a few years and Lonely Robot quickly changed this. Soon, both ‘Milliontown’ (2004) and ‘Experiments In Mass Appeal’ (2008) became more regularly acquainted with my stereo.

It is fortuitous timing because here we are a year later with a brand new Frost* album, their first in around eight years since the release of the aforementioned ‘Experiments…’

To begin with, on a first cursory listen, I wasn’t sure about ‘Falling Satellites’. It is such a varied and unusual album in many ways that I wasn’t really sure what to make of it. However, like many great albums, a little perseverance was the key to unlocking the charms of this rather impressive release.

It is no surprise that the music on this album is imbued with a genuine pop sheen and, on occasions dare I say it, a commercial edge. For those not in the know, Frost* mastermind Jem Godfrey has arguably had more success in his music career as a pop music songwriter, working with the likes of Take That’s Gary Barlow and writing ditties for Holly Valance, Atomic Kitten and Shane Ward amongst others. So, when tracks like ‘Towerblock’ feature electronic beats and sound effects that wouldn’t sound out of place on a mainstream radio station for the younger generation, it’s not a complete surprise. Neither is ‘Closer To The Sun’ with its electronic beat and ambient pop-meets-prog serenity. As it develops, it actually reminds me a little of ‘Distant Satellites’ by Anathema in terms of feel and construction.

Nevertheless, the backbone of ‘Falling Satellites’ is most definitely progressive rock, albeit smothered in layer upon layer of Godfrey’s unique synths and keys. And this is a very good thing indeed. Anyone familiar with Frost*’s previous work will immediately recognise the daring sounds and textures employed on this album. Godfrey is a master at creating depth and a richness that simply cannot be ignored and which makes the compositions sound huge, almost cinematic in places and dripping in majestic drama. From the subtle to the bombastic, it’s all covered here.

Credit: unknown

Credit: unknown

As always, the guitar work of John Mitchell is a delight. Crystal clear lead solos, crisp riffs and emotional phrasings are all present and correct as you’d expect from such a seasoned pro with the six-string instrument. He isn’t too bad as the lead vocalist either, following the departure of Dec Burke.

Speaking of emotion, one thing I wasn’t expecting from ‘Falling Satellites’ was the sheer amount of poignant and sensitive material that it delivers. The opening introductory piece is a dark, foreboding and dramatic piece that is in the running for being one of my favourite pieces of music from 2016 so far. It may only be 90 seconds long but the combination of stirring synths and ethereal, almost pleading vocals sends shivers up and down my spine.

The aforementioned ‘Towerblock’ is, aside from the random electronics, another moving composition. The opening bleak and sombre tones are built on as the track develops, culminating in a big intense melody, a barely-controlled explosion of sounds and gritty melancholy lyrics that also hint at hope and determination. Then there’s ‘Lights Out’ which, featuring some wonderfully tender female vocals and quiet minimalist music underneath is a compelling, goosebump-inducing listen.

‘Hypoventilate’ creates another majestic, cinematic soundscape, whilst closer ‘Last Day’ is primarily a piano and vocal piece that is again rather emotive, rounding out the record impressively.

If, however, you’re after some excellently-crafted progressive rock on top of all this, you’re in luck. ‘Numbers’ is a great up-tempo track with strong melodies, great vocals and it powers along, led by a driving rhythm section. The ludicrously clear and strong production lends the drums of Craig Blundell a really sharp punch and the intricate and dextrous bass work courtesy of Nathan King is allowed to shine rather than end up lost in a muddy mix.

‘Heartstrings’ is an absolutely belting song that showcases Frost* at their very best. The chorus is huge, the musicianship is out of the very top drawer and the track effortlessly ebbs and flows with a serene grace one moment and all-out power the next, all wrapped up with an honesty and sincerity that allows the listener to buy into the music one hundred per cent. Mind you, if I’m being completely honest, I think ‘Signs’ might be even better. I love the It Bites-esque opening which explodes into a huge chorus that sinks its hooks in nice and deep to go along with yet more equally deep lyrics.

For my money, I’d have to say that ‘Falling Satellites’ could just be Frost*’s best album to date. It has a little of just about everything that I want in my progressive rock; it’s well-written, excellently performed and is just a little bit odd and quirky too. In a year that has delivered plenty of quality already and threatens to continue the trend to the year end, ‘Falling Satellites’ has really caught my attention and thoroughly deserves to be in contention for a spot in my end of year ‘best of’ list.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.25

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

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

Earthside – Interview – “we don’t write something with the idea of making it easy to play live”

Photo Credit: Ian Christmann http://ianchristmann.com/ Ian Christmann, Photographer

Photo Credit: Ian Christmann http://ianchristmann.com/
Ian Christmann, Photographer

‘A Dream In Static’, the debut album from US progressive metal band Earthside ended up as my favourite album of 2015. I wasn’t expecting this to be the case at the start of the year but if you’ve heard it, you’ll not be surprised as to why it attained such a lofty place in my affections. Want to know more, here’s my review.

So when the opportunity presented itself to witness some of this music live on stage at the band’s debut UK gig, I couldn’t turn it down. Neither could I refuse the chance to sit down with the band and fire a few questions their way. I explored the background to Earthside and ‘A Dream In Static’ in some detail with drummer Ben Shanbrom prior to its release last year. If you’re after the Earthside back story, read part 1 and part 2 here.

I therefore thought it would be a good idea to probe the band regarding the feedback they’ve received since the album was released at the tail end of 2015 and find out how on Earth they have managed to replicate their fiendishly complicated and multi-layered music on stage.

“Let me start by saying that if I need a confidence boost, I’ll just google ‘Matt Spall’”, jokes guitarist Jamie van Dyck to much warm laughter. He is sitting across the room to me on a battered leather sofa in a ramshackle room that is somewhat misleadingly referred to as a dressing room, high up in the Camden Barfly building and he has a big smile on his face.

“But I think it has gone over really well’, he continues more seriously. “We’ve been surprised how many people in Europe know who we are, it’s stunning. It has been really cool to meet people who are really passionate about the record and are having the chance to experience it live and give us their feedback. Generally these people have been very happy about how we present it live. Also it is a fun challenge to win over people who have never heard of us and don’t know what to expect from us.’

earthside coverIt’s a big question and a very subjective one but, given how much effort, not to mention blood, sweat and tears went into this record, I’m eager to find out whether the response to ‘A Dream In Static’ has met their hopes and expectations. It is keyboardist Frank Sacramone who, perched on a table beside me, replies first.

“It differs for each person and you’re going to get a different answer from each of us. For me personally, I wish this album had reached more people, for the amount of work to reward, as far as popularity is concerned. The people who have heard it and love it, their love is very deep and that’s amazing. But in terms of how far I thought this record would go, I thought it would reach more people. I get a little down on myself, thinking ‘why don’t people know about us? What have we done wrong?”

“I don’t negate what Frank said”, Jamie weighs in. “Anyone who has lent a hand, in whatever way, they have all done a really good job and we’re grateful. When you put so much ‘blood, sweat and tears’ to use your words, I don’t think there’s any amount of success that would live up to our wildest hopes and dreams.”

“I think there is a number, I disagree”, interjects Frank to more laughter around the room.

“But I also think that once you get that new number, it becomes a moving target’, Jamie counters. “You have a new baseline and the dopamine addict in you feels like it isn’t enough; you always want more. You can view it as ‘why don’t more people know about us’ or, if you wake in a positive state of mind, it could be viewed as ‘wow, look at all those people who had no idea who we were five months ago and how passionate they are.’ As humans, we are so vulnerable to our own internal emotional states. The actual factors outside might be very different but that won’t matter. At the end of the day, we’re volatile, we’re artists.”

At this point, bassist Ryan Griffin chips in for the first time. Until now, he has been sitting on a really uncomfortable-looking seat beneath a grimy window apparently deep in thought, almost as if deliberately psyching himself up for the show ahead. In keeping with the rest of the band, Ryan is highly articulate and extremely focused.

“I would agree with these two guys but I would also add that these days in the music industry, there is more of an emphasis on churning out content rather than producing something that stands the test of time or has real weight behind it. All four of us, we’re not the kind of people who just want to get the music out there. We’re hyper-obsessives. Whoever we talk to, there’s always that question ‘What’s next?’ or ‘is there another album somewhere in there somewhere?’ We are definitely working on some new material but we’re in no way ready to close the book on the first album yet. There are so many more people that we feel need to hear this. Plus, as you said, given the blood, sweat and tears that went into this, we owe it to ourselves and to those that have supported us to continue with this album for the time being.”

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

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

If you’ve heard ‘A Dream In Static’, you’ll be aware just how complex this record is. Not just in terms of the arrangements and the intricacies of the music, but also by virtue of the guest musicians involved. Not only do Earthside employ a plethora of vocalists including Bjorn ‘Speed’ Strid (Soilwork) and Lajon Witherspoon (Sevendust), but there’s also the small matter of a full Russian orchestra being involved at times. I ask the guys how difficult it was to pull it all together and replicate the music in a live setting. Initially, the response is very jovial and light-hearted.

“On a scale from one to ten’, Frank pauses dramatically for effect, before breaking out into a grin, “thirteen or fourteen.”

“I think the scale is arbitrary”, smiles Jamie wickedly, “but it must be above ten”. Cue more raucous laughter from all corners of the room, before Jamie, today’s primary spokesman offers a more in-depth analysis.

“I think the biggest thing is that we have this collaborative spirit and when we’re composing, we’re envisioning the greater picture of the record and the songs. We enjoy the idea of working with other people with very different gifts that complement our talents. We feel that if someone is coming to see us live, this needs to be part of that live experience, especially if they have never heard of us. If they see us live and we don’t show them that, they are missing such a huge part of the story. That’s the hardest part I think.”

“Also”, he continues, “we have so many sounds among Frank’s keyboards and my guitars that are very specific and particular. There are so many different sounds we use on the record in terms of amplifiers and guitars, plus I play in so many different tunings. So there are lots things that we need to think about live. But we don’t write something with the idea of making it easy to play live or for a live setting.”

So it’s fair to say that you’ve made it difficult for yourselves then?

“It’s a bit of an aside”, Jamie explains whilst knowing looks pass between the band members, “but there are two ways that we write songs, songs we write individually and songs we write together in rehearsals. The songs we write together, by virtue of the process of being together in a room jamming them, those songs tend to be easier to pull off live. They tend to be the instrumentals and because we played them together in rehearsal, we’re able to play them from beginning to end with the technology that we have available. With the other songs, we had to kinda develop the technology to be able to pull them off. I think we’ve gotten a lot better at it.”

Although the subject of new material would appear to be unwelcome at the current time, I’m still interested to find out whether going out on tour has changed Earthside’s perception and approach in terms of future song writing. Frank is first to reply and his answer is typically vehement and honest.

“For me personally, no. The music has to be true to yourself so if I write something personally for me, I’m going to write what’s good for me and I’m not going to look any further than that.”

“I am a very firm believer”, adds Ryan equally intensely, “that whatever music we write and whatever we decide to do, there is a solution that we will be able to find to make it work live. Arguably, the reason we have a live show that so many people seem to be enthralled by is because we wrote these songs that are unplayable live”, he laughs as do the others, “and we have found a way to play them live. Sometimes it does feel bad when you have to find a solution that feels completely unattainable but when we succeed, I believe it is for the better in the long run.”

These comments are met with universal nodding around the room before Jamie adds a little practical context.

“To take a slightly alternate position, whilst I don’t think it will affect our writing in a dramatic way, but we are now writing and rehearsing using the equipment that we use live. It’s not in an intentional or conscious way but my conjecture would be that by virtue of using the same technology in rehearsals and live, from a technological standpoint, the music might translate better on stage. But ultimately, I agree with these guys that we’re going to write what we love; that’s what’s going to matter.”

“I don’t actually get any full thoughts when I’m on stage”, admits Ryan in response to my query about how it feels to pull off a live show in light of all the hurdles that have had to be overcome. “To me, when we have a really good show, it just feels really amazing. But there are no words in my brain, because I don’t work that way.”

Credit: Ray Hearne / Haken

Credit: Ray Hearne / Haken

“It really depends on the show”, adds the previously quiet Ben, obviously happy to let the other guys chat with me after our marathon Skype chat last year. “But being very emotionally attuned people, we are very hard on ourselves. So if something goes wrong or if one of us individually doesn’t feel like we gave the best performance, we have a hard time filing that away and thinking instead that the show was 90% awesome.”

Rather fittingly, not only is the last word from Jamie, but it is a very measured and positive set of comments on which to end the interview.

“One thing that we have to keep in perspective is that we are about to play our 25th show as Earthside. I think I’ve counted that right. So, to have this kind of big stage production with that limited show experience is important to remember and we’re learning on the fly all the time. We’ve been on tour twice, so we’re learning what a tour is like, what gear is reliable, what the headline band requires from us. The only way to learn this is to live it. The more shows we play, the more knowledgeable and confident we will become. Being on tour means you can learn from other bands that have done this many times and have learned from their nightmare scenarios. They can give you a great insight. Einar and Tor of Leprous both offered their suggestions, as did Danny of Voyager. Some of which we will definitely take and it’s another valuable resource for us. We are learning and we will continue to get even better.”

The rumble that suddenly erupts from the floor below indicates that Brutai have hit the stage and so, with that, both the band and I hurtle out of the room for another dose of quality live music.

Naturally, later that night, Earthside back up their words with a superbly intense live show, full of energy, emotion and technically adept musicianship. Want to know more, check out my live review here.

And for those of you who are either unfamiliar with Earthside or have yet to witness them live on stage, I urge you to amend this heinous oversight as quickly as possible.

Glorior Belli – Sundown (The Flock That Welcomes) – Album Review

Glorior Belli_Sundown (COVER ART HR)

Artist: Glorior Belli

Album Title: Sundown (The Flock That Welcomes)

Label: Agonia Records

Date Of Release: 13 May 2016

It would appear, certainly to me anyway, that black metal features more one-man bands than any other genre of metal. And here we have another in the form of Glorior Belli, the brainchild of French multi-instrumentalist Infestvvs. Glorior Belli was formed in the early-mid noughties and, throughout its history has always been tagged with the descriptors of ‘avant-garde’ and ‘progressive’; quite reasonably too, because no two albums has ever been quite the same, always willing to experiment. Infestvvs, as a musician, either has a short attention span or, more likely, is simply keen to explore different musical avenues, wherever they may take him.

Starting out life as a more straight-up conventional black metal band, the past few albums have seen an increasing divergence away from that blueprint. In fact, whilst there is a faint undertone of black metal to Glorior Belli’s previous albums, such as ‘The Great Southern Darkness’ (2011) and ‘Gators Rumble, Chaos Unfurls’ (2013), it is arguably more in tune with the dirty and sludgy Southern Rock genre, otherwise referred to as ‘NOLA’. In light of this, I felt the need to approach album number six, ‘Sundown (The Flock That Welcomes)’, with a certain amount of caution. To be honest, I’ve always been a bigger fan of black metal than Southern rock and as such I wasn’t too keen on the last album or two.

As I expected from an ‘avant-garde’ artist, the sonic output of this record delivered quite a shock, although not in the way that I had expected. I was braced for just about anything and everything except, that is, a return to the more traditional black metal structures. Frankly, it was a good shock, but it threw me to begin with.

Within a few moments of opening track ‘Strangled Skies’, I could hear with incredulity and relative delight the fast-picked tremolo riffs associated with classic black metal, not to mention furious double-pedal drumming, chord progressions and raspy vocals that call to mind the great and the good of the genre throughout the heady 90s and before.

However, allow the subtleties of the music to seep in and it becomes clear that Infestvvs has not abandoned some of the things he has learned over the years. There’s some lovely melody buried within the tumult as well as a really nice element of groove here and there.

Glorior_Belli_Promo01_2

‘World So Spurious’ continues at breakneck speed with more gloriously wrought black metal and if anything, is even better than the opener. If you like early Dissection with a splash of early Emperor, this should find favour with you. The bass guitar, when it can be heard and appreciated, has a lovely guttural rumble to it, really accentuating the slower mid-song groove segment to great effect.

‘Rebels in Disguise’ represents the first foray in a different direction. Those Southern rock influences come back with vengeance as the track writhes and lurches out of the swamps to a more pronounced stoner-like groove and with more immediacy in terms of the melodies at play.

In addition to the occasional sludgy moment, ‘Thrall of Illusions’ returns to batter the listener with more black metal menace that, for my money, tips its hat in the direction of Celtic Frost. It’s the longest track on the record and also the most epic in terms of the sheer grandiosity and ferociousness of the assault, not forgetting the grainy choral, almost operatic outro.

Elsewhere, the title track injects a tribal element to it via the repetitive nature of the ‘Sundown’ chanting and the employment of deep vocals, whilst ‘Satanists Out Of Cosmic Jail’ combines a ludicrous title with sampled French spoken-word parts and some of the most extreme battery on the entire record.

All-in-all, ‘Sundown (The Flock That Welcomes)’ is an interesting album that provides no little entertainment. It still fits within the ‘avant-garde’ realm but more importantly as far as I’m concerned, it is really gratifying to hear an artist that isn’t afraid to go back to rediscover and subtlety redefine his roots rather than push the boundaries ever further into the realms of the bizarre. It shows a real strength of character that has to be admired and this record is the stronger for it.

The Score Of Much Metal: 8.25

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

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

Habu – Infinite – Album Review

habu cover

Artist: Habu

Album Title: Infinite

Label: Independent Release

Date Of Release: 29 April 2016

It’s a rare thing for a decent band to come from my own personal neck of the woods. Aside from Cradle Of Filth, the pickings from Suffolk are pretty slim. But then, given our rural surroundings and relaxed pace of life, it’s hardly surprising. So, when whispers of a new band from Ipswich reached me, I had to investigate. Imagine my further delight upon discovering that they play progressive rock, one of my favourite styles of music.

The band in question goes by the name of Habu and they are a three-piece comprised of vocalist/guitarist Andy Clarke, bassist/keyboardist/vocalist Alex Body and drummer Alex Dunbar who formed in 2012 and who cite a lot of the usual suspects as influences, from Rush to Pink Floyd and from Queen to Kansas, with many more in between.

‘Infinite’ is the trio’s second release, the follow-up to 2014’s debut ‘To The Stars’. You can certainly hear a lot of these influences at work too as Habu have not tried to re-invent the progressive rock wheel. Instead, on the strength of this record, they have managed to sensitively blend the sounds of the ‘classic’ era of prog rock with a fresh, vibrant and modern edge. The result is a very creditable album and one that should increase the band’s stock further.

To their credit, Habu have already experienced a modicum of success, having shared the stage with the likes of Uli John Roth and Arthur Brown. However, I’m certain that ‘Infinite’ points at a very healthy future ahead.

Over the course of the ten songs that make up ‘Infinite’, Habu never stand still and never let the grass grow under their feet. There is always something going on, something interesting to explore and something to hook you in. The really neat trick however, is the way in which the music never feels overly complicated or overly contrived. Yes, these guys can play and yes there are plenty of time changes, unusual segments and the occasional gratuitous solo. But these things never detract from the songs themselves. If a composition doesn’t need to be ten minutes long, it isn’t. Equally, as deft as each musician is, no-one takes centre stage thus leading the song down an inappropriate dead end. If a straight-forward riff or melody is what is called for, that’s what’s delivered. It’s this that, to me, demonstrates most clearly the overall maturity and songwriting nous of the band.

habu band

In addition, the analogue production helps to create a real band feel. In keeping with the influences from yesteryear that creep into the music, the production (undertaken by Danny B at HVR Studios in Suffolk) has a rich and honest organic feel to it. It sounds like the material may have been jammed out together in the recording studio, even if maybe this wasn’t entirely the case.

What’s more, this music makes me smile. It comes across as bright, breezy and full of life regardless of the lyrical content which isn’t always tackling the warmer and fuzzier things in life. It just feels to me as if Habu had fun writing and performing this material. This, in itself is refreshing.

It is difficult to single out particular tracks for specific mention because of the consistency demonstrated throughout and because by so doing, I feel like I’m doing a disservice to some equally deserving moments. That said, the opening track ‘Truth And Illusion’ is a cracking beginning to the album. Upbeat, with a huge chorus and some very slick musicianship, it leaves you in no doubt as to what ‘Infinite’ is all about. The bass work, as is the case throughout the entire album is hugely impressive, complementing the rhythms but also adding plenty of musicality at the same time.

Arguably my favourite track, ‘A Thing Called Evil’ is akin to the lovechild of Rush and Hawkwind but with a more modern edge. The song is truly epic-sounding thanks to an increase in spacey, almost psychedelic keyboards but they are used in exactly the right places and are not overdone. It also features another hook-laden chorus to counteract the technicality within the rest of the song, including an extended lead guitar solo towards the end.

I didn’t like ‘Dead Weight’ that much to start with but with repeated listens the chorus begins to make sense and this is now another favourite. The song demonstrates a more hard-rocking edge and has more than an echo of the 70s about it. The keyboards add drama and it’s one of the most dynamic and up-beat compositions on the record.

‘Heavy Chains’ opens with lashings of powerful synth sounds before developing into one of the more moody and atmospheric moments on the album, whilst ‘Eat The Sun!’ and ‘Isn’t This Where We Came In’ both showcase the instrumental prowess a little more through the medium of slightly shorter instrumentals. The latter in particular reminds me a little of early Genesis in terms of the initial lead guitar tone.

The album ultimately closes with the title track, the longest single composition on the album. It’s also one of the strongest and most daring in terms of the dynamics and complexity on display. It highlight’s Habu’s ability to push the envelope a little and allows more time and space to explore a myriad of different ideas within one composition.

‘Infinite’ is a strong album and for a sophomore album just four years into the band’s fledgling career, it demonstrates that the prog force is strong in these three guys. I therefore commend ‘Infinite’ and recommend it highly. Hopefully I’ll get to a local gig soon to witness the live show but whatever happens, I will keep an eager eye on Habu as I can’t wait to see what they come up with next.

The Score Of Much Metal: 8.0

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

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