The Gentle Storm – The Diary – Album Review

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Artist: The Gentle Storm

Album Title: The Diary

Label: Inside Out Music

Year of Release: 2015

‘The Gentle Storm’…if you stop and think about it and let the words mull over in your mind for a time, it suddenly hits you what a really nice, clever and simple name it is. A contradiction in terms it may be but it’s one that beautifully sums up what this album is all about. But more about that in a moment; first, some context.

The Gentle Storm is the latest release from the intense workaholic that’s Arjen Lucassen, the Dutch multi-instrumentalist that is occasionally – and rightfully in my opinion – referred to as a musical genius. Arjen has been a part of the rock/metal music scene for over 30 years and in that time, has recorded some of the most highly regarded music within the progressive genre. With The Gentle Storm, normal service has been resumed and this project stands shoulder to shoulder with Lucassen’s previous work under his several various guises, be it Ayreon, Guilt Machine or Star One to name a few.

To be entirely accurate though, The Perfect Storm is more of a joint collaboration between Arjen and his compatriot, Anneke van Giersbergen, better known for supplying her angelic vocals to The Gathering and more latterly, in collaboration with Devin Townsend but also as a revered solo artist in her own right.

Courtesy of: Tim Tronckoe photography

Courtesy of: Tim Tronckoe photography

The fiendishly talented Lucassen handles the majority of the standard instruments on the album. However, a plethora of guests join him and Anneke on the record including a choir and over 40 authentic, exotic instruments making it an ambitious project to say the least. But Arjen is no stranger to handling such huge logistical efforts as he proves once again.

There’s even a live band for when The Gentle Storm goes onto the stage. Yes, you heard that right, the reclusive Arjen is going to perform live. For this momentous occasion, Anneke and Arjen are to be joined by an all-Dutch crew comprised of guitarists Merel Bechtold (Purest of Pain, MaYaN) and Ferry Duijsens (Anneke van Giersbergen, ex-Dreadlock Pussy), drummer Ed Warby (Hail Of Bullets, Ayreon, ex-Gorefest), bassist Johan van Stratum (Stream of Passion) and keyboardist Joost van den Broek (ex-After Forever).

But what’s the music like that fans will be treated to?

The Gentle Storm is, to put it mildly, an intelligent and multi-faceted beast. It’s a double album that features eleven tracks recorded twice in two different guises. Disc one features ‘calm’ versions of the eleven compositions whilst disc two revisits the songs and in the process dials up the metal. No suprise then that disc two is referred to as the ‘storm’ disc. I find the whole idea thoroughly fascinating.

But that’s not all. ‘The Diary’ is a concept album lyrically as well. In celebration of their Dutch heritage, the concept centres around the Dutch Golden Age from the 17th Century, a time that encompasses the likes of Rembrandt and Vermeer for example as well as new discoveries and advancements in many of the important areas we now take for granted. The story is then brought to life and given a real human element via the creation of two central characters. A sailor and his wife are kept apart for two years and their only means of communication is via letters, the content of which are explored throughout the album. It’s both am enlightening and touching story that only serves to add to the drama and richness of the album.

Disc one, the ‘gentle’ disc is stunning in its beauty. To say it is simple would be grossly unfair but so expertly crafted is it that the music gives off the illusion of simplicity; the melodies are hook-laden and breezy, the compositions feel light and airy and the almost ethereal vocals of Anneke sound effortless. The entire disc has a demonstrable folk feel to it; acoustic guitars, woodwind, strings, French horn, pianos and the myriad of aforementioned authentic instruments all play a part in creating an end product which is really rather special. Lucassen’s compositional skills are well-known and widely lauded but here, he has pulled out all the stops. In interviews, he readily admits that he wrote the music to allow Anneke’s voice to shine and he has achieved his aim with aplomb. The music is instantly recognisable as Arjen’s work but he has allowed his melodic sensibilities to come to the fore and has created some of his strongest material to date, allowing Anneke to shine like a diamond throughout. Frankly, so beautiful is Anneke’s voice that I could genuinely listen to her singing the contents of a tax return all day long.

I must admit that I wasn’t immediately put under a spell by the ‘gentle’ disc but I cannot deny that the more I listen, the more I want to return for more. The chorus within ‘New Horizons’ for example is gorgeous and captivating, the subtleties within ‘Endless Sea’ or ‘Heart of Amsterdam’ are remarkable and the almost cheeky instrumental interplay within tracks like ‘Eyes of Michiel’ is a real joy to behold.

However, I am the Man of Much Metal and for all the copious strengths of the ‘gentle’ disc, it is on the ‘storm’ disc where I unsurprisingly derive the most enjoyment. Others will no doubt disagree, but to my mind, the whole thing comes fully alive on the second disc.

Picture by: Bullet-Ray

Picture by: Bullet-Ray

We’re not talking extreme metal here and, in all honesty, the metal excesses and fripperies could have been further embellished had the mood taken the duo. However, in spite of this laudable restraint, the ante is nevertheless upped significantly. On opener ‘Endless Sea’, the guitars and dramatic symphonics are brought more to the fore to wonderful effect. The choir sounds magnificent and Anneke’s vocal delivery is captivating, reminding me more of her output on The Gathering’s seminal release ‘Mandylion’ than anything else she has put her name and considerable talents to since.

‘Heart of Amsterdam’ benefits second time around from a surprisingly chunky and heavy guitar tone that I adore and the whole thing has a grandiose majesty and beauty that cannot be ignored.

One of many highlights however must be the delightful ‘Shores of India’ with its Middle Eastern melodies and tangible exotic flavour. Coupled with a really superb rhythm guitar tone, big choir-led crescendo and another brilliant vocal delivery from Anneke, it’s a real head-turner and one of the strongest compositions on this record.

One day, Arjen Lucassen will be involved with a less-than-stellar album, but it isn’t now. The partnership between Arjen and his leading lady, Anneke van Giersbergen has proved to be an inspiring one, one that has delivered a double album which is epic and ambitious but ultimately a magnificent triumph. It might not all be to everyone’s taste, but I love it. Absolutely superb.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.25

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

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

My Top 10 Tracks of 2014

What started as a throw-away remark on Twitter has suddenly turned into the content of another blog post on the Blog Of Much Metal. Having explored in great detail my favourite 20 albums of 2014, I happened to wonder aloud about my favourite ten individual songs from last year. The response to my musings was incredible – at least two people replied feigning interest. That’s enough for me; in spite of the rather late timing, it had to be turned into a full blog post immediately!

So, here, in no particular order, are my favourite 10 compositions of 2014…

Evergrey – Archaic Rage

A powerful call to arms that bravely confronts and lays bare one of society’s most stigmatized, feared and misunderstood issues from a very personal perspective. And all this, wrapped up in a sonic tour-de-force; an anthem of epic proportion, capable of sending shivers down my spine every time. A perfect example of why I love heavy metal.

From the album: ‘Hymns For The Broken’

Anathema – The Lost Song, Part 2

Candidates from this album were plenty in number but ultimately, this track had to win. Leigh Douglas sounds angelic atop some subtly gorgeous melodies and the lyrics speak to me directly, allowing me to feel closer to a lost loved through the poignant content. I cry every time I listen. Thank you Anathema.

From the album: ‘Distant Satellites’

Threshold – Autumn Red

It was a toss-up between this, the epic ‘The Box’ and the majestic ballad, ‘Lost In Your Memory’ when it came to Threshold’s entry in this list. However, thanks to some chunky riffing, a greater progressive sheen, strong hooks and some killer vocals from Damian Wilson, this has rightly come out on top.

From The Album: ‘For The Journey’

Distorted Harmony – Every Time she Smiles

The first time I heard this song, my jaw hit the floor. Distorted Harmony had moved from being a Dream Theater clone into a unique force in their own right. The remainder of the album slays but this track had the biggest impact. Blazing fury one second, sophisticated quiet melody the next; challenging complexity but with an intermittent groove capable of moving statues.

From The Album: ‘Chain Reaction’

Haken – Crystallised

With music like this, it’s not hard to see how a 3-track EP made it into my Top 20 albums of 2014 list. ‘Crystallised’ contains everything that I want from Haken and progressive music in general – Nearly 20 minutes of epic, melodic, challenging and occasionally bonkers magnificence. Perfect.

From The EP: ‘Restoration’

Lunatic Soul – Gutter

One of only a couple of tracks in this list that don’t feature somewhere in my top 20 albums list. This particular track is a moody and rather intense atmospheric composition that grabbed my attention thanks to some inspired vocal melodies in the chorus. Riverside’s Mariusz Duda has never sounded so compelling. Try as I might, I can’t stop listening to this song, it’s fantastic.

From The Album: ‘Walking On A Flashlight Beam’

Sólstafir – Lágnætti

I don’t think there is a better band than Sólstafir when it comes to conveying the rugged and isolated beauty of Iceland. This is the opening track of the album and it sets the scene wonderfully. Beginning quietly and serenely, it eventually explodes into a powerful driving rock crescendo that’s breath taking.

From The Album: Otta

Voyager – The Morning Light

If you’re looking for a piece of music to get the blood flowing and to cheer you up, this could be the song for you. Melodic progressive metal has never sounded so good thanks to a blend of giant hooks, big riffs, powerful vocals and an unashamed pop sheen. This is the Voyager blueprint and ‘The Morning Light’ is their finest hour.

From The Album: ‘V’

Flying Colors – A Place In Your World

I have chosen this track as it is rather symbolic of my increasing love for progressive rock, particularly the kind that has a classic 70s feel and slight pop element to it. ‘A Place In Your World’ stands out thanks to a combination of undeniable technical prowess, suble complexity and hooks both vocal and instrumental that make a single listen impossible.

From The Album: ‘Second Nature’

Nothing More – I’ll Be Ok

One of the big surprises of 2014. On an album of brilliant modern melodic rock/metal, ‘I’ll Be Ok’ is my standout moment. It is a genuine slab of properly emotional music that doesn’t come across as vacuous like many of Nothing More’s peers. Oh and it has a hook-laden chorus to die for.

From The Album: ‘Nothing More’

Melechesh – Enki – Album Review

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Artist: Melechesh

Album Title: Enki

Label: Nuclear Blast

Year Of Release: 2015

A few years ago, you’d be hard-pressed to name a single hard rock or heavy metal band from Israel. Today, it’s quite different. Alongside Orphaned Land and Distorted Harmony, I can now add Melechesh to the list. Admittedly they’ve been based in Amsterdam since 1998, but the roots of Melechesh burrow back to Jerusalem where the band was created as long ago as 1993. Created in the early 90s by the band mastermind and multi-instrumentalist Ashmedi, Melechesh was created to explore a style of music which sought to blend extreme black metal with authentic Middle Eastern influences. The birth of Melechesh therefore led to the creation of self-proclaimed ‘Mesopotamian Metal’ or ‘Sumerian black thrashing metal’, so named because of the Assyrian and occult-based themes explored within the extreme metal framework.

Fittingly then, the album title follows a similar theme. In Sumerian mythology, Enki is the God of crafts, namely mischief, water and creation. And it’s an apt title as well, given that this is such a striking creation. Mind you, ‘Enki’, the sixth album from Melechesh was a slow-burner but after a lot of effort on my part in the beginning, I have grown to really like this record.

Some people in the past have rather disingenuously dismissed Melechesh as a Nile clone, due to the blend of extreme metal and ethnic instrumentation. But, try as I might, I can’t really hear the similarities; Nile are brutal death metal at their core whilst Melechesh offer more of a black metal approach with plenty of thrash embellishments to compliment their sound. Melechesh are therefore very much their own band with their own identity as far as I’m concerned.

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The album opens in typically savage and uncompromising style in the form of ‘Tempest Temper Enlil Enraged’. A six-plus minute track, it is one of the most black metal-centric compositions that ‘Enki’ has to offer. It is chock full of lightning-fast drumming from returning member Lord Curse and the riffs are fast-picked staccato monsters. And yet, despite the snarling growled vocals and relentless brutality, it packs a certain groovy punch too, which helps to regulate the pace and keep things entertaining.

Following hard on the heels of the opener is ‘The Pendulum Speaks’, a shorter track that takes an Eastern melody and wraps it up in a really powerful foot-tapping tempo. The snarled vocals are still front and centre, as is the impressive rhythm section but it’s the mid-tempo stomp that gets my head nodding in appreciation, allowing the strength of the 12-string guitars to take full effect. At times I’m even reminded of early Sepultura, it’s that damn huge.

And therein lies the strength of Melechesh and ‘Enki'; the ability by the band to pen music that is authentic to its Middle Eastern roots without sacrificing any of the brutality or extremity in the process and, if anything, making those Middle-Eastern influences an integral part of the music without which, the essence of Melechesh would conceivably be lost.

‘Enki’ is an album best enjoyed as a whole but even so, there are a few highlights worthy of particular mention. Firstly, there are the guest appearances from Max Cavalera (Soulfly, Killer Be Killed, The Cavalera Conspiracy, ex-Sepultura), Sakis Tolis (Rotting Christ) and Rob Caggiano (Volbeat, ex-Anthrax).

And then there’s the music itself. ‘Enki Divine Nature Awoken’ is a gargantuan track that’s groovy as hell but also epic in its scope. Ushered in by some quiet ethnic instrumentation it soon explodes into the mother of all mid-tempo riffs, heavy enough to crush all within its path. It’s also quite sinister in tone thanks to its sheer relentlessness and the dark chanting towards the end.

‘Metatron And Man’ is a frenetically paced number that thunders along and reminds me a little of Dissection in its execution. Then there’s the somewhat cheeky, hard-rock stomp of ‘The Palm The Eye and Lapis Lazuli’ that has to be one of the most catchy extreme metal songs I have heard in a long time. Authentic instrumentation comes to the fore courtesy of ‘Doorways To Irkala’, a composition that’s darkly hypnotic and a welcome change of pace from the onslaught that has gone before it.

The album then closes with another epic track in terms of both length and ambition, in the shape of ‘The Outsiders’. The central riff is relatively simple but effective in its bludgeoning strength but even so it threatens to be dwarfed by everything going on around it, such is the breadth and depth of the music on offer.

There are one or two less than stellar moments within ‘Enki’ and arguably, the end result is not wildly different from their past efforts. However, if what you’re looking for is an album that will bludgeon you with power and brutality but that also has an intelligent underbelly, willing and capable of treading a slightly different path from its contemporaries, then I highly recommend Melechesh and ‘Enki’.

The Score Of Much Metal: 8.0

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

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

Enslaved – In Times – Album Review

enslaved cover

Artist: Enslaved

Album Title: In Times

Label: Nuclear Blast

Year of Release: 2015

In extreme metal circles, Norway’s Enslaved are held in very high regard, something approaching royalty some may say. For nearly a quarter of a century, the band have strived to release music of the very highest quality. But more than that, they have dared to be different. A constant evolution over the years still sees their extreme metal roots intact but as the albums pass, the roots have become ever-more intrinsically linked to, and entwined with, other elements. Progressive rock and metal, ambient, post-rock, jazz and a whole host of other ideas collide in what can only be described as some of the most fascinating and rewarding heavy metal currently being created anywhere in the world. Album number thirteen, ‘In Times’ is no different.

In the same way as a small child will push their parents in order to discover their limits and boundaries, so too do Enslaved with their compositional creations. Currently comprised of founding members Ivar Bjørnson (guitars) and Grutle Kjellson (vocals, bass) alongside Cato Bekkevold (drums), Herbrand Larsen (keyboard, vocals) and Ice Dale (lead guitars), Enslaved are simply not content it seems with sticking to a formula or adhering religiously to the status quo. It is for this reason as much as the music itself why I belive that Enslaved are so highly revered.

enslaved band

And yet, for all that, I remain one of the small minority that has never fully taken Enslaved to my heart. However, in keeping with a blossoming trend of late, I have finally and fully fallen under the Enslaved spell with the help of the magnificent ‘In Times’. I always enjoyed the quintet’s music but I always felt slightly detatched, admiring the output from afar rather than immersing myself in it. Call it stupidity or the bittersweet curse of having too much music to listen to. Nevertheless, whatever the reason, it ends here and now.

‘In Times’ features just six tracks which, on the face of it and if you’re bothered by numbers, appears a disappointingly small figure. However, the six compositions are all huge, sprawling affairs that push or exceed the eight minute mark, thereby offering the better part of an hour’s worth of music. But then again, song lengths do not alone guarantee value for money and a quality product. For that, enter the music of Enslaved.

I will admit that my first couple of spins through left me dazed and confused with more questions remaining than answered. It certainly wasn’t love at first listen, but stubborn tenacity and patience have paid off in spades.

The album is ushered in by ‘Thurisaz Dreaming’ which begins innocuously enough with the quiet soothing sound of a wave crashing gently on the shore. Within seconds though, this gentle beginning is thoroughly expunged by a full-on raw, spiky and venemous-sounding black metal riff. Angry riffs join forces with furious drumming and gutteral screams in an effort to pummel and bewilder the listener. From even this early stage, the increase in those black metal influences from the bands early days are striking. As is the Enslaved way, it offers a slightly different path from their more recent output via ‘Riitiir’ and ‘Axioma Ethica Odini’ before that. This black metal reintroduction effectively forms much of the bedrock upon which ‘In Times’ handsomely sits. Enslaved then revert to type as it isn’t too long before the composition introduces other ambitious elements in order to create drama and intrigue, cleverly juxtaposing the tumult that rages around it. Clean vocals flit in and out of the track, as do moments of quiet reflection and snatches of near-discordances flirt with the peripheries of the opener.

If anything, and in almost direct contrast,the follow-up,’Building With Fire’ is positively catchy. The opening riff gallops along with an upbeat tempo and a lovely melodic, rocking groove. The soaring clean vocals are mesmerizing too, adding an extra layer of immediacy to proceedings. The growls aren’t too far away and neither are the black metal references but they’re never as confrontational as seen within the opener. A lead guitar solo then joins forces with subtle piano work to create a stunning moment before those beguiling clean vocals return atop the anthemic opening riff that re-enters with joyous gusto. The pace drops away towards the end and the post-rock influenced guitar tone really helps to emphasise the gorgeously rich and organic production that has been achieved by messers Grutle, Larsen and Bjørnson with the mastering assistance of Fascination Street Studios. Infectious and majestic are just two adjectives that can rightly be thrown at this monster of a composition.

A haunting melody welcomes ‘One Thousand Years of Rain’ before the song veers into a more chaotic construction. It also offers a demonstrable folk metal feel that increases as the track ebbs and flows from one seemingly disparate idea to another and in so doing, tests the listener’s resolve throughout.

‘Nauthir Bleeding’ in contrast sees an increase in the otherwise subtle keyboards and symphonic embellishments, giving it genuinely epic feel. The melodies are again more pronounced and at the midway point, the track erupts into an almost euphoric stomping riff that’s complimented by a stunning and wonderfully indulgent lead guitar solo, all of which breaks up the more impenetrable extreme excesses to great effect.

The title track is the longest on the album and it provides some of the harshest and heaviest material on the record. The gutteral screams make a forceful return but just as the track threatens to become too overpowering, the tempo is slowed. So pronounced is the change of pace, it is the musical equivalent of being pushed over the precipice into the abyss. The swirling and jagged hypnotic riffing is replaced by sections that are almost soothing ambient post rock in their construction. But, rather than sounding forced or overly contrived, the apparently disparate elements are brought together seemlessly and rather beautifully.

‘In Times’ then concludes with ‘Daylight’ another epic track that fuses many different styles into a homogenous and euphoric triumph of a track. A mid tempo stomp dominates large sections of the track where the drums really come to the fore. The relatively simplistic elegance of the percussion is then wonderfully embellished by further clever lead guitar work and understated vocals that create an almost hypnotic crescendo of sorts to the album.

Topped off by utterly gorgeous artwork courtesy of long-term collaborator Truls Espedal, ‘In Times’ is an almost peerless album that manages to seemlessly blend extremity with genuine compositional intelligence, in the process creating another unique body of work that cannot be referred to as anything other than a majestic masterpiece. Or, to put it more simply, if you want your mind blown, it is absolutely imperative that you own ‘In Times’.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.25

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

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

Keep Of Kalessin – Epistemology – Album Review

Keep-of-Kalessin-Epistemology

Artist: Keep Of Kalessin

Album Title: Epistemology

Label: Indie Recordings

Year of Release: 2015

I’m not afraid to admit when I am wrong. This, I believe, is one such occasion. I have had cursory listens in the past to previous releases by Keep Of Kalessin and not been overly impressed. To this day, I can’t really put my finger on why I wasn’t lured into the fold; for some reason, the black-tinged extreme metal offerings didn’t really click with me and so with more music to listen to than I have spare time, I wasn’t in a position to give the Nowegians much of a second chance. Until now that is. And you cannot believe how pleased I am that the stars aligned and somehow forced me to give album number six, entitled ‘Epistemology’ a chance. This is one hell of a record. It has well and truly made its mark and left a previous sceptic with much to ponder. I will certainly go back and re-explore the back catalogue, that’s for certain.

I talk about stars aligning because it sounds exotic, windswept and interesting. In reality, my interest in Keep Of Kalessin was re-ignited a while back when I discovered that they had entered the race to represent their native Norway in the Eurovision Song Contest. And then, more recently, there was the intriguing competition that the band ran to design the artwork for this album. The result is beautiful, striking and markedly different from what has gone before. As a complete sucker for a great album cover, I felt compelled to explore the music contained within.

The nice thing about my personal circumstances however, is that I am able to look upon ‘Epistemology’ with fresh eyes and not be swayed or influenced by what has gone before. To me, Keep Of Kalessin circa 2015 is a brand new band and therefore a brand new discovery about which I can be completely honest without being hindered by the baggage that a back catalogue can bring. It’s quite exciting actually.

What surprised me initially is that such a huge, epic sound can be created by a mere three people. Obsidian C handles the vocals, guitars and the bulk of the writing it would appear. However, he is more than ably assisted by drummer Vyl and bassist Wizziac, both of whom make an impact on this record.

Photo: Victoria Bjorklund, design: Jean Michel

Photo: Victoria Bjorklund, design: Jean Michel

In true extreme/black metal style, ‘Epistemology’ opens up with a short, minute-long instrumental piece, ‘Cosmic Revelation’. It serves it’s purpose well as a tension-builder, because it’s a surprisingly suspense-filled cinematic sci-fi inspired piece, full of dark and foreboding drama despite its diminutive length.

What follows is, frankly brilliant. ‘The Spiritual Relief’ is off-the-scale superb. It begins with a furious blastbeat and dominant riffing which together threaten to spiral out of control at any moment such is their combined frenetic vigour. Underpinned by swirling synths, the track has a classic, grandiose symphonic black metal feel to it. But then something magical happens. At first, the guitar riff descends into semi-discordant proggy territory before the composition opens up into one of the most epic and anthemic sections I’ve heard in extreme metal circles for some time. The blast beats remain at breakneck speed but the clean, soaring vocals and subtle guitar melodies send goosebumps up and down my spine. Then, as if this wasn’t enough, at about the halfway point, the track collides headlong into power metal territory, complete with groovy riffing, lead guitar breaks and catchy melodies before experimenting with what I can only describe as heavy ambient stylings. The central melody becomes ever more glorious and joyous before eventually reverting to the more black metal approach encountered at the beginning. Ten minutes never passed so quickly.

‘Dark Divinity’ follows and whilst the unique clean vocals of Obsidian C are present, he defers more readily to what I’d call a gruff black metal bark. The entire track is more straightforward if that’s not too disingenuous but what’s most striking is the unique guitar playing. I’ve used the word ‘unique’ a lot within this review but I genuinely think it’s justified. The phrasing, the execution and the entire sound of Obsidian C’s guitar playing is unlike anything I’ve heard before.

‘Epistemology’ is comprised of only eight tracks but the album as a whole does not feel too short. Indeed with the vast majority of the compositions weighing it at over seven minutes in length and up to ten on occasions, Keep Of Kalessin impress me by the way in which nothing really feels too drawn out or bloated for the sake of it. ‘The Grand Design’ is another well-worked epic and memorable track that blends extremity with sumptuous melodies whilst ‘Necropolis’ has a great groove and some really powerful mid-paced drumming that forces the listener to headbang whether or not they wanted to. ‘Introspection’ begins quietly with a theatrical synth-led opening before hurtling towards a huge, anthemic power metal-esque chorus via more lightning-fast rhythms and riffs.

The album then closes with the title track. Classic 90s-inspired symphonic black metal is the bedrock, although the clean vocals are somewhat reminiscent of a toned-down ICS Vortex or Vintersorg, thereby fleetingly calling to mind the likes of Borknagar or latter-day Arcturus. But then a beautifully melodic lead guitar break or quiet synth segment is never far away, thereby reverting to their unique approach and blowing out of the water any further easy reference points. The track builds throughout and is led to it’s conclusion for the final couple of epic minutes via a recurring melody atop which sits some majestic choral vocals and a breezy upbeat guitar melody.

And with that, ‘Epistemology’ is done, although the music stays with you long after the final notes have faded away. For someone who wasn’t expecting much, I must admit that Keep Of Kalessin have well and truly blown me away with this record. ‘Epistemology’ contains just about all the things I like from extreme metal these days; the combination of extremity, technicality and overblown grandiose melody and atmosphere is truly a thing of beauty and something special to behold. Magnificent.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9

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

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

Most Anticipated Album Releases of 2015 – Part 4

I know, I know, it’s getting a little silly now isn’t it? I’m beginning to lose count but here are another ten or so bands that either are or may be likely to release new material during 2015. It was all sparked by the first band in my list who I only just realised were in the process of writing new material. Knowing this, I couldn’t afford to miss them off my list as they are such a great band.

If for any reason you’ve missed parts 1-3, you can access them here:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

But now, here’s the next (and probably last) instalment in this series…probably…I hope.

Wolverine

As stated, Wolverine are one of the main catalysts for this fourth instalment ever since I realised a new album was on the horizon for 2015. The Swedish progressive metallers are a special and unique band and have been around for a relatively long time. Their debut was released in 2001 but they’ve only managed three further albums since. Social media updates tend to suggest however, that new material should see the light of day this year and news like this makes me very happy indeed. There are few acts out there that manage to offer progressive rock/metal that is so complex, rich, grandiose and full of gritty melancholy. Their last album, ‘Communication Lost’ is a marvellous album that is dark, sombre and very poignant, to the point that it can sometimes be a difficult listen depending on your mood. However, the music itself is fantastic, managing to be heavy and complicated yet subtle and very beautiful. A new Wolverine album is bound to be of the highest calibre possible and I cannot wait to hear it.

Katatonia

With one of my favourite bands of all time releasing one of the best albums of their career last year, the pressure is on for another of my most important bands, Katatonia. The Swedish dark metallers are in a rich vein of form at the moment, a moment that has seemingly lasted their entire career. These guys do not release mediocrity, it’s not in their vocabulary. Top class song writing, professionally executed and positively dripping with beautiful fragility underpinned by a heavy, gritty exterior – what’s not to like? With the release of a live DVD to celebrate the ‘Dethroned and Uncrowned’ acoustic tour that took place last year, it is probably expecting too much for a follow-up to the exemplary ‘Dead End Kings’. Nevertheless, I live in hope – 2015 would be magical if Jonas Renkse, Anders ‘Blakkheim’ Nystrom and Co. could deliver us new material. Fingers crossed.

Dimmu Borgir

One of these posts wouldn’t be the same without a mention for one of my favourite extreme metal bands of all time. To contextualize this statement, their 1997 release, ‘Enthrone, Darkness, Triumphant’ is one of my top 5 albums of all time. Beginning life as a black metal band, more recent output is probably better referred to as ‘extreme metal’. There are plenty of black metal elements to the Norwegian’s sound but such is the rich tapestry of influences that play a part within the modern Dimmu sound, curt pigeonholing into the black metal genre would be disingenuous. Each release from Shagrath et al is a slick, professional affair where the final product shines through a powerful and crystal-clear production. The symphonic elements and grandiose bombast provide a majestic and theatric sheen to what is, at heart, pretty bruising and uncompromising heavy metal. There’s no official confirmation of a new album in 2015, but this is an educated guess on my part.

Swallow the Sun

As with Dimmu Borgir above, there has been no official confirmation of a new album in 2015 from Swallow the Sun. However, the Finnish purveyors of ‘gloom, beauty and despair’ have not graced fans with new material since the magnificent ‘Emerald Forest And The Blackbird’ back in 2012. I’m pretty confident of a return in 2015 and I certainly hope I’m not mistaken because Swallow the Sun are my personal favourite melodic doom metal band. The blend of crushing brutality, timeless elegiac melodies and impressive vocals that flit between a guttural growl and a fragile clean delivery all come together to create something rather epic and grandiose. No-one does this kind of music better.

Distorted Harmony

Israeli progressive metallers Distorted Harmony were one of the big surprises of 2014 for me. Their sophomore release, ‘Chain Reaction’ made an appearance high up my ‘best of’ list and rightly so. The debut was practically a Dream Theater clone but with ‘Chain Reaction’, it was as if the band threw away the rulebook from the days of the debut and promptly reinvented themselves. The results were rather stunning and so I am really excited to learn that there will be even more new material in 2015, albeit in the shape of an EP rather than a full-length album. It’s a shame but I look upon it as a bonus rather than anything else, given the impressively quick-fire turnaround.

Pathosray

Here’s a band that require and deserve a lot more love and attention than they get currently. As such, they’re a perfect fit for this post. Italian prog metallers Pathosray are a slightly different proposition to many of their peers in that they are certainly prog but not in the classic, conventional sense. Their compositions are full of the requisite complexity but they’re also full of snarl and bite and more chops than you’d find at a butcher shop. Their melodies are also interesting in that they’re not always what you’d expect. This makes their releases a challenge at times but ultimately very rewarding. Pre-release bravado and puff is always full of hyperbole but the comments coming out of the Pathosray camp ahead of their third album and first for some six years have seriously piqued my interest.

Borknagar

Norwegian metallers Borknagar have been favourites of mine for quite some time. Rather simplistically, they could be seen as the middle ground between straight forward pagan black metal and the more avant-garde stylings of compatriots Arcturus et al. What I love about this band is that they are both heavy and extreme yet manage to find room for a few progressive ideas and plenty of classic folk melodies. Unique vocals sit atop blast beats one minute and then growls appear intermingled with a more subtle and laidback section the next.

Hecate Enthroned

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

Bal Sagoth

Ah Bal Sagoth. That most intriguing and entertaining of extreme metal bands. I discovered this UK-based band very early on in my exploration of music that pushed the boundaries and they’ve been an important part of my collection ever since. Led by the enigmatic Byron, they fuse the fury and aggression of black metal with fantasy lyrics and more synth-led bombastic symphonics than you’d think possible in music of this kind. One glance at album titles such as ‘Starfire Burning Upon The Ice-Veiled Throne Of Ultima thule’ and you get the idea. This is overblown, pompous extreme metal but it works brilliantly. The band have gone very quiet since signing for Nuclear Blast and releasing ‘The Cthonic Chronicles’ banck in 2006. However, I remain ever hopeful that after a wait of the best part of a decade, we get another record. Please Byron, sir, please?

Soilwork

Despite not originating from the city, Soilwork are one of the very best that the Gothenburg movement has produced. Throughout their career that has spanned 20 years and 9 albums, it is hard to point to any of their output that falls below a high standard. Their sound has changed over the years, some releases are better than others and the band has suffered from line up changes that could have been crippling for lesser acts. However, the Helsingborg-based Swedish melodic death metal band has kept plugging away with plenty of relative success and remain high in my affections. If melodic death metal with a demonstrable thrash metal edge sounds like your thing, then it is time to get excited about the prospect of album number 10 during 2015.