Votum – Ktonik – Album Review

votum cover

Artist: Votum

Album Title: Ktonik

Label: Inner Wound Recordings

Year of Release: 2016

Is there anything more controversial in life than a band changing important personnel or changing their musical direction? The furore such a move causes each and every time would suggest not. And it is no different for Polish progressive rock band Votum. Formed in 2002, they have steadily made a name for themselves, gathering more and more plaudits and fans with each passing album, culminating in ‘Harvest Moon’ in 2013, viewed by many as their very best work.

Since the release of that record, Votum have employed a new singer in the form of Bartosz Sobieraj, who replaces Maciej Kosinski. Additionally, there’s a new guitarist (Piotr Lniany) and, most controversially of all, a new musical direction. It’s not a huge sea-change, but a big enough shift to have caused frustration, bewilderment and disappointment amongst a considerable proportion of existing fans.

I have, up until now, only had a passing interest in Votum and for one reason or another didn’t really listen to ‘Harvest Moon’ all that much either. As a result, whilst taking on board the concerns of existing fans, of which they are fully entitled, I do come at this review from a different angle. In fact, there is something to be said about treating this album almost like a debut from an entirely new band. That way, it can be treated on its own merits unhindered by the baggage of the band’s back catalogue.

In a nutshell, ‘Ktonik’ is a dark and moody beast, full of oppressive and oft-claustrophobic atmosphere courtesy of Zbigniew Szatkowski’s layers of keyboards and synths. It is also a surprisingly heavy record that frequently tips the content from the realm of progressive rock into more metallic territory. The guitars of Adam Kaczmarek and Piotr Lniany are muscular and have genuine bite, the bass of Bartek Turkowski is thick and full, and the drums are wonderful. In the case of the latter, they’re not overly fast or aggressive. Instead Adam Łukaszek’s style means that they sound satisfyingly chunky with plenty of great tom fills, for which I have a real weakness.

Credit: unknown

Credit: unknown

And vocalist Bartosz Sobieraj is, in my opinion, a very nice fit behind the microphone. His softer, more sensitive and vulnerable delivery occasionally reminds me of Riverside’s Mariusz Duda, albeit this might be more because of his accent than his overall tone. Sobieraj’s biggest strength however, is when things get a bit heavier as his gravelly, quasi-gruff tone is strangely beguiling and with it, he can certainly convey those darker emotions seemingly with ease.

‘Satellite’, the album opener and lead single sets the tone to the album very nicely indeed. Blending moments of quiet acoustic guitar-led introspection with a heavy riff-led chorus, it is surprisingly catchy and addictive whilst being varied enough to maintain interest over repeated spins. In fact, the more I listen, the more I hear and the more I like the song. The tone of the guitars during the more stomping mid-tempo riffs is utterly fabulous, as is Sobieraj’s final imploring note.

‘Greed’ is dripping with synths, both prog-like in the traditional sense and more modern-sounding. Those more modern effects remind me a little of the likes of Katatonia, which can only be a good thing as far as I’m concerned. The most striking thing about the track however is its drama, created by a huge contrast between the very quiet, whispered sections and the all-out yet controlled aggression of the choruses.

‘Spiral’ on the other hand has the brooding and smouldering intensity of ‘The More Things Change…’ era Machine Head, complete with those familiar dampened high guitar notes atop layers of synths and a rich rumbling bass. The slow and ponderous riffs are a joy and eventually, the track opens up to bear fruit in the form of a simple but effective melody and a swirling, churning monster of a riff to see the track out.

Elsewhere, ‘Blackened Tree’ is a beautiful slow-burning quasi-ballad that builds to a heavy crescendo, featuring some impassioned vocals as well as a solemn piano and layers of synths and effects along the way. ‘Prometheus’ demonstrates more of a classic prog rock vibe early on, a little reminiscent of early Riverside, before building to a point where that guitar tone is unleashed again and the drums pound in unrelenting support. Once again, Sobieraj leaves nothing behind, filling the track with energy and passion. Then there’s ‘Horizontal’, which is an utter delight, creating huge, epic choral-like sounds before dropping away into gentler territory. The calm is short-lived though, thanks to arguably the catchiest chorus on the album that reintroduces the opening melody to great effect.

It is true to say that in terms of progressive music, Votum are not the most technical of bands out there. Would I have liked a bit more in that area? Well, yes, maybe. However, the overall tone of the album, the execution, the textures, the feelings it stirs within me and a myriad of other less tangible ingredients means that I cannot help but seriously enjoy the listening experience that Votum offer on ‘Ktonik’. I can understand the pangs of disappointment from those hoping for an album in the ‘Harvest Moon’ mould but ‘Ktonik’ stands tall and powerful on its own and very much on its own merits. It is different for Votum but it might just represent a brand new chapter for them. And, above all else, this is a very good album indeed.

The Score Of Much Metal: 8.5

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

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

Fleshgod Apocalypse – King – Album Review

Fleshgod Apocalypse - King - Artwork

Artist: Fleshgod Apocalypse

Album Title: King

Label: Nuclear Blast

Year Of Release: 2016

You can’t beat a bit of unadulterated brutality. My life would be much the duller without some brutality in it. I’m not, of course, talking about physical violence here. After all, I’m the kind of coward that runs away at the first hint of bodily harm on my part. Musically however, and depending on my mood, I have been heard to utter the words ‘the more brutal the better’. With that in mind, it’s not surprising that I was keen to offer my thoughts on the new album from Fleshgod Apocalypse.

As well as being a band with a fondness for brutality, Italian quintet Fleshgod Apocalypse are not a band to which the phrase ‘less is more’ can be applied. Throughout their eight year and three-album history, Fleshgod Apocalypse have experimented with a brand of symphonic and technical death metal that is ambitious to say the least. Alongside the pummelling riffs, the bludgeoning drumming, the growled vocals and the overall high speed extreme metal assault, Fleshgod Apocalypse also introduce elements of symphonic classical music, operatic female vocals, and clean male vocals. The result is a sound that can, without any doubt, be referred to as epic. However, with album number four, entitled ‘King’, some of these elements have been increased whilst others have been honed and refined to a point where I’m now confident to declare that Messrs Tommaso Riccardi (Vocals, Guitar), Cristiano Trionfera (Guitar, Vocals), Paolo Rossi (Bass, clean Vocals), Francesco Paoli (Drums, Guitar, Vocals) and Francesco Ferrini (Keyboard, Piano, Orchestral Arrangements) have delivered the best record of the their career to date.

Credit: unknown

Credit: unknown

After a short but dramatic classical film score overture entitled ‘March Royale’, ‘In Aeternum’ kicks in with the subtlety of a brick to the face. Warp speed blast beats and scything riffs duel with a heavy orchestral score to create an intense listening experience, full of bombast and technical prowess. As the track develops, melody is introduced brilliantly to take an already ambitious track to another level entirely. The passionate clean male vocals enter the fray, as does a surprisingly melodious and soulful lead guitar solo that wouldn’t sound out of place on a classic metal or power metal record. There is the briefest of moments of acoustic guitar-led calm before a reintroduction of the soaring vocals and in the blink of an eye, the song is over.

There’s no let-up however, as ‘Healing Through War’ picks up the baton with literally no pause for breath. Again, the blueprint is technical death metal blended wonderfully with an electric and dramatic classical score, made all the more palatable thanks to a rich and vibrant production topped off by a typically polished mix and master from Jens Bogren (Fascination Street Studios)

And whilst this blueprint is accurate for a large proportion of the tracks on ‘King’, this statement comes with a huge caveat: at no point do I feel daunted or exhausted by the almost unrelenting tumult that Fleshgod Apocalypse creates. Within the compositions and their impressive structures, there is a surprising amount of variety if you’re prepared to take the time to listen out for it. There is also plenty of melody to catch the ear and I also get the feeling that the band themselves are having fun creating this music. As such, almost imperceptibly and despite much of the dark subject matter on offer, there is an almost light-hearted and fun vibe about this record.

‘Cold As Perfection’ still retains the ever-present insane drumming but the overall pace is slowed to allow a touch more groove to proceedings and to allow the relatively simple central melody to shine through. When the guitars drop out and then return to ring out for a few seconds, the tone is intoxicating. Additionally, there’s even room for a spoken-word section and the female operatic vocals make quite an impact. All this within a five-minute window of opportunity is impressive and demonstrates just how accomplished the song writing on this album is.

Other notable songs include the hyper-fast and unrelenting aggression of ‘Mitra’, and two tracks that offer something a little new to the Fleshgod armoury. The title track closes out the album by way of a piano-only instrumental, almost the equivalent of a cool flannel to a fevered brow. And ‘Paramour (Die Leidenschaft Bringt Leiden)’ is a quirky mid-album palette-cleanser which again is a classical piano-led piece overlaid with female operatic vocals.

And if all that wasn’t enough, there’s the charmingly-titled ‘Syphilis’ which has to be my favourite track on the album. The first half is full of brooding intensity where the operatic vocals juxtapose the metal to nice effect but after a female spoken word section, the song transforms into a truly epic and quite majestic piece that delivers a powerful crescendo full of sorrow and pain. What was it I said about a sense of fun earlier?

Overall, I find myself really rather impressed by this latest offering from Fleshgod Apocalypse. I’ve never been a super fan, more of a distant admirer. However, based on the music here, that could be about to change.

The Score Of Much Metal: 8.25

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

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

My Top 10 Songs of 2015

Bearing in mind how strong 2015 was for heavy metal – at least in my opinion – what better way to keep that year alive a little longer by taking a look at my favourite ten individual songs of the year? As with last year, this post is coming a bit late but hopefully you can all forgive that.

My Top 30 of 2015 was a mammoth undertaking but hopefully this will be a little more digestible for those looking for an instant recommendation or two.

The following list is in no particular order – there’s no rating from one to ten. The order is purely arbitrary and no notice should be taken of it; all of these songs deserve their place in this list and should be treated equally for the purposes of this blog post.

And, with that, I give you my ten favourite tracks of 2015…

Riverside – Found (The Unexpected Flaw Of Searching)

On an album full of great music, there was only ever going to be one winner when it came to a representative on this list. Riverside can do melody, they can do atmosphere and they can also do lyrics. In the case of ‘Found (The Unexpected flaw Of Searching)’, the album closer, this song has all three. But primarily, as good as the melodies are, it is the simplicity of the track and the lyrical content that has had the biggest impact upon me. In a year where I’ve wanted to throw in the towel many times, this was the song that kept me going and gave me the motivation to keep going. ‘It’s a lovely life, you have gone so far don’t give it up’ – sends shivers down my spine and brings tears to my ears every time I listen.

From the album: Love, Fear And The Time Machine

Kingcrow – If Only

Italian progressive metal band Kingcrow delivered a stunning album in 2015 in the shape of ‘Eidos’ and top of the tree in terms of individual songs has to be ‘If Only’. It begins quietly with the most beautiful and strangely moving melody before building slowly through to a majestic crescendo to end the album in an energetic and scintillating manner. I love the initially gentle acoustic guitars and the quietly-delivered vocals; as the track opens up to include drums and the other instruments, the layered vocals are brilliant as is the lead guitar solo that ushers in the powerful and compelling crescendo. It is, in some ways, a song of two halves but they both work so well and together combine to create a track that is arguably one of Kingcrow’s best creations to date.

From the album: Eidos

Earthside – The Closest I’ve Come

To be honest, I could have chosen any track off Earthside’s debut album for inclusion in this list, such is the consistent quality of their debut album, ‘A Dream In Static’. However, I have plumped for ‘The Closest I’ve Come’ for a few reasons. To begin with, it was the first sounds that I ever heard from the band and opened my eyes and ears to a whole new musical experience. Secondly, I love the progressive nature of the mid-section, as it plays around with several different ideas but with positive intent. And then there’s that melody. Spine-tingling, majestic and beautiful, it serves as a powerful audio metaphor for the entire album, my overall number one for 2015.

From the album: A Dream In Static

Klone – Nebulous

On a very solid album, ‘Nebulous’ stood out for me head and shoulders above all the others. It begins quietly with those gravelly vocals and then the track delivers the chorus. And what a chorus. It is completely and utterly addictive to the point where I have been known to listen to it on repeat perhaps five or six times in one go. The vocals are stunning, full of passion and power and they sit atop a hook-laden melody that gets lodged in your head far too easily. I also love the bass work which acts like the song’s pulse throughout whilst around it, magic happens. What a track.

From the album: Here Comes The Sun

Abnormal Thought Patterns – Nocturnal Haven

‘Nocuturnal Haven’ is my choice from a stellar album from the Tipton brothers and Co. in the guise of Abnormal Thought Patterns. The track boasts guest appearances from Between The Buried And Me’s vocalist Tommy Rogers and Arch Enemy guitarist Jeff Loomis but this only enhances what is an already killer song. Running the gauntlet from quiet and introspective to all-out blood and thunder extreme metal, it also contains some of the most emotionally intense and beautiful music that the prog genre has ever created. The atmospherics are on point, the drama is palpable and it features some of the most spine-tingling lead guitar work I’ve ever heard. It’s the song that proves beyond doubt the fact that when a guitar truly sings, there are few sounds on this Earth that are better.

From the album: Altered States Of Consciousness

Soilwork – Enemies In Fidelty

The Swedish melodeath stalwarts Soilwork are always capable of delivering a tune and their 2015 effort ‘The Ride Majestic’ is no different. There are a few serious contenders but I have to plump for ‘Enemies In Fidelity’, primarily because of the vocals. On this track, the peerless Bjorn ‘Speed’ Strid delivers some of his best work to date. The sheer range and the gentle sophistication with which he nails the chorus is magnificent. It helps of course that the chorus is a thing of beauty, brilliantly contrasted by a blast beat underneath, but it’s taken to a new level by Speed. And the fact that it is surrounded by some properly frenetic, heavy and muscular metal, only enhances the excellence. Will Soilwork ever stop writing memorable songs?

From the album: The Ride Majestic

AudioPlastik – Bulletproof

Another album that featured in my top 30 of 2015, Audioplastik delivered many contenders for this list within ‘In The Head Of A Maniac’. However, it has to be ‘Bulletproof’. On this track, their wonderfully rich blend of melodic progressive rock, metal and pop with cinematic overtones never sounded better. The opening riffing is busy, the rhythm section is hectic and the overall feel is of a slightly heavier composition than most other songs on the album. However, juxtaposing this is the chorus which grabbed me from the first time I heard it. It is gorgeous; warm, powerful and hook-laden – a real earworm that never lets go.

From the album: In The Head Of A Maniac

(this isn’t the song in question but it’s better than nothing!)

Cattle Decapitation – Manufactured Extinct

It’s not often that a properly brutal track makes it into my top 10 songs of the year but Cattle Decapitation are worthy of such an accolade. In particular, I’m thinking of the opening track of ‘The Anthropocene Extinction’. Beginning quietly, ‘Manufactured Extinct’ soon builds to a stomping riff before exploding in a flurry of insane drumming, lightning fast riffs and vocals that sound like Travis Ryan is gargling bitumen six feet under. But then, the track opens out into a surprisingly groovy and melodic chorus of sorts complimented by an unsettling ‘clean’ vocal. I’m a sucker for a blast beat-driven groove and this track delivers this in satisfying fashion. Unsettling, brutal and uncompromising it may be, but it’s also brilliantly compelling.

From the album: The Anthropocene Extinction

Moonspell – Medusalem

Portuguese metallers Moonspell came screaming back into my conscious this year with an excellent album ‘Extinct’ that harked back to their very best. On that album, they created one of my favourite tracks of the year in the form of ‘Medusalem’. It channels the spirit of Orphaned Land with traditional Middle Eastern instrumentation and melodies but this is fused with Moonspell’s overt Gothic overtones, led by the unmistakably deep croon of Fernando Ribeiro. It is an up-tempo track that delights from start to finish, featuring within it an amazingly powerful and addictive chorus that still has me hooked to this day.

From the album: Extinct

Swallow The Sun – Lost And Catatonic

No-one does heavy, emotional and melodic quite like Swallow The Sun and with ‘Lost And Catatonic’, they have once again hit musical gold. Blending some rich and grandiose orchestration with extreme death/doom metal and some sublime melodies, this song is a winner in every possible way. The brutal guitars and double pedal drumming pummel, the orchestration gives an air of the grandiose and the chorus is beautiful. It is also sorrowful and full of exquisite melancholy in the way that only Swallow The Sun can convey. The vocals flit between growling and a hauntingly subtle clean delivery and the whole thing is pulled together with real majestic style and panache.

From the album: Songs From The North I, II & III

Rikard Sjöblom – The Unbendable Sleep – Album Review

Rikard Sjöblom album

Artist: Rikard Sjöblom

Album Title: The Unbendable Sleep

Label: Gungfly Productions

Year Of Release: 2016

I must be honest from the outset and say that I have never been a big fan of Beardfish. I should be, but their particular brand of progressive music has never really clicked with me. Having admitted this, an eyebrow or two may be raised by some of you upon seeing this, a review of only the second solo album to bear the name of the Beardfish founder and multi-instrumentalist Rikard Sjöblom. At this point, I make my second admission of this review: I chose to take a listen and review this album primarily because of Sjöblom’s more recent involvement with Big Big Train. Now this is a band that has well and truly lit up my life of late and so, for that reason mainly, I was interested to hear more. As it has turned out, my decision, as perverse as it is, has paid off handsomely. I may even re-visit Beardfish to see if I’ve been too hasty.

The album is entitled ‘The Unbendable Sleep’ and sees the light of day on February 10th 2016, with a physical version available via Gungfly Productions, named after another of Sjöblom’s creative projects. After much careful listening, I’m hooked and so this record comes with a hearty recommendation from me.

Photo credit: Simon Hogg Photography

Photo credit: Simon Hogg Photography

The first thing to point out about the music on ‘The Unbendable Sleep’ is that it is extremely varied, intricate and rather quirky in places. There’s a lot going on amongst the eight songs, keeping the listen on their mettle at all times. At its heart, this is progressive rock in a classic sense and with more than a few nods towards Beardfish, but this is only the basic framework upon which sits many other diverse influences. ‘Building A tent For Astor’ has a distinctly French feel thanks to the way in which the central melody sounds; it isn’t my normal music of choice, but I find myself really liking it. The same can be said for the country rock-infused and bluesy ‘Anna-Lee’ or the Ennio Morricone-inspired, almost Western-sounding ‘Will We Cry?’ complete with a military beat. The conviction with which these songs have been crafted and performed, not to mention the strong melodies and the clever song writing, counteracts my normal apathy and/or dislike for this kind of music generally. Instead, I find myself tapping along or nodding my head in appreciation.

That said, my favourite tracks are those with a much more progressive rock vibe. ‘Love And War Part One: I Am Who You Are’ opens the album with a really nice upbeat, up-tempo folk vibe. The keys and vibrant lead guitar work lend the track a demonstrable 70s, almost feel, but the chorus melody and the passionate vocals inject a more modern-sounding element. Then there’s the acoustic guitar-led ‘Realm Of You And Me’ which canters along with a care-free breezy attitude as well as ‘Under Northern Skies (Villemo’s Song)’, which also catches the ear thanks to a great mid-track guitar solo that leads into a closing segment that I find is equal parts poignant and euphoric.

The real star of the show as far as I’m concerned however, is the sensational ‘Rhyme And Reason’. At over eleven minutes long, it has many different facets to it and maintains my rapt attention throughout. In places, it’s arguably the heaviest track on the album with moments of barely contained frustration and raw passion noticeable in Sjöblom’s vocals, something that is mirrored within the surrounding instrumentation. The composition ebbs and flows beautifully, creating a sense of drama and urgency as well as moments of quieter introspection. The chorus is one of the strongest on the album as are the melodies in general, meaning that the whole thing flies past in a flurry of brilliance.

Lyrically, I get the feeling that this is something of a personal album that has been written by Sjöblom, for Sjöblom. ‘The Unbendable Sleep’ deals with many of the most common human emotions but, as the press release comments, there’s a big focus on self-esteem and self-belief. This is something that I can, all-too-readily equate to and so I think that this has helped the album to connect and resonate so firmly with me. I’m not normally a lyrics man but when they are good, I notice and they add another dimension to the overall package.

In conclusion, I find ‘The Unbendable Sleep’ to be a rich, warm and inviting album that has the ability to delight on a number of levels. Listen superficially or listen with minute detail; either way there’s something to enjoy at every turn. As such, Rikard Sjöblom has to be commended for ‘The Unbendable Sleep’, a truly rewarding progressive rock record and a welcome addition to his ever-expanding back catalogue.

The Score Of Much Metal: 8.0

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

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

Textures – Phenotype – Album Review

textures cover

Artist: Textures

Album Title: Phenotype

Label: Nuclear Blast

Year Of Release: 2016

Textures hold a special place in my heart. I didn’t ‘discover’ them until the release of the outstanding fourth album ‘Dualism’ in 2011 but when I did, they made a huge impact upon me. Until that point, my opinion of djent music was not that favourable; I liked a few bits here and there but it was never really my ‘thing’. Up step Textures however, and I’m utterly blown away. The combination of djent trappings with progressive influences, polyrhythms and melodies verging on the downright catchy meant that I was smitten. Tracks like the beautiful ‘Reaching Home’ and the intensely brooding ‘Burning The Midnight Oil’ to name just two, remain stalwarts in several personal playlists.

It has taken a fair amount of time for a successor to materialise in which time, the Dutch sextet have bedded in a new member with Joe Tal (guitar) coming into the fold to join up with vocalist Daniel De Jongh, synth player Uri Dijk, guitarist Bart Hennephof, drummer Stef Broks and bassist Remko Tielemans. It’s never easy when a band tinkers with the team dynamic but I do believe that the changes have been positive ones.

Photo credit: Tim Kronckoe

Photo credit: Tim Kronckoe

‘Phenotype’ is the title given to this new record and it actually forms one half of a double album concept. Comprised of nine tracks and with a running order of around the hour mark, it represents the more conventional part of the venture. I say this because ‘Genotype’ which is due to be released next year, is a 45-minute single track. According to the accompanying press release, ‘Genotype’ takes the music of ‘Phenotype’ and presents it in a completely different manner.

It sounds intriguing, but this review centres on ‘Phenotype’ and so I’ll park ‘Genotype’ for now.

I must admit that if there was ever an album that proves the point that reviews should only be written after several careful listens, it is this one. At first, I was fixated by the fact that there was apparently no equivalent of the delightful and aforementioned ‘Reaching Home’ on this record. As such, all I kept thinking was that ‘Phenotype’ was ok but it was lacked that one really accessible and mellow track. In addition, I felt that ‘Phenotype’ was perhaps too aggressive in general and lacked enough in the way of melody or at least moments to hook me in for repeated listens. How wrong I was.

Admittedly it has taken quite a while, but I have seen the error of my ways and ‘Phenotype’ has well and truly clicked with me. The aggression and mind-blowing technicality is there for all to see and it hits you hard from the opening seconds of the record when ‘Oceans Collide’ explodes with barely controlled brutality. Vocalist De Jongh roars atop a furious riff and thus the theme of the track is set. Things do calm down slightly as the synths become more prominent atop a subtly groovy riff and De Jongh introduces his powerful clean delivery to nice effect. As the track develops, the ferocity returns and I’m actually reminded a little of the tumult created by Strapping Young Lad. Closing with a bombastic crescendo of sorts, there’s no doubt that ‘Phenotype’ has opened with a bang.

‘New Horizons’ follows and turns things down a notch. It is still a heavy as hell and complex track but is ushered in with a much more relaxed and melodious intro complete with some gorgeous vocals. A lead guitar line catches the ear in what is a real grower of a song that features one of the best vocal performances of De Jongh’s career, not to mention layers of rich yet subtle synths and more melodious intent that only comes to the fore after several listens.

‘Shaping A Single Grain Of Sand’ is initially dominated by a huge chugging djent riff before a chorus enters the fray that gets bigger and better with every listen to the point that I am completely addicted. The progressive undercurrent of the song means that the tempo shifts throughout and it even flirts with both black and thrash metal, albeit very fleetingly.

Thanks to the more overt synths, the wonderfully moody mid-section where all but the synths and drums initially drop away and the lead guitar solo work, the behemoth that’s ‘Illuminate the Trail’ has a very welcome progressive metal feel more in the traditional sense of the description. The oft-overlooked rhythm section is magnificent as always, laying down a rock solid and engaging foundation upon which all else sits. In particular, the bass really impresses me throughout this composition.

‘Meander’ is essentially an impressive drum solo atop the sounds of a dystopian nightmare, acting as a mid-album interlude ahead of the introduction of ‘Erosion’. Complete with polyrhythms, more lead solo work from the guitarists and another subtly catchy, anthemic chorus that increases its impact the more I listen, it’s another highlight amongst many.

The remainder of ‘Phenotype’ is, if anything, even better, rounded out by the absolutely and completely stunning double act of ‘Zman’ and ‘Timeless’. The former is a moody, introspective and rather moving piece of music dominated by a piano melody atop layers of atmospheric synths. It segues seamlessly into ‘Timeless’ and with the benefit of several repeated listens, all I can say is ‘wow’. Reintroducing the melody of its predecessor but with a heavier edge, it is a huge and epic track and the perfect way to close out the album. It sends shivers down my spine, it connects, it resonates and it inspires me. And with it, we have another early contender for song of the year without doubt.

For someone who was close to writing Textures off after a couple of spins, I am delighted that I gave ‘phenotype’ more attention and that I let it breathe and work its magic on me. The melodies may be more subtle and hidden within the apparent aggression but they are there to be discovered. The technicality defies logic at times but it is never at the expense of the song. The same can be said for the potent ferocity and brutality; each track therefore delivers something interesting, exciting and beautiful if you’re prepared and up for the challenge. I adore ‘Dualism’ but sitting here now, I think I love ‘Phenotype’ even more.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.25

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

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

Most Anticipated Metal Releases of 2016 – Part 4

Welcome to what I fully expect is the final part in my series looking at my most anticipated albums due out during 2016. You’d think that the quality would be drying up now having already picked 30 potentially great albums. But not a chance – as Part 4 demonstrates, there are still some top quality bands who are likely to release something new this year. And this is without all those great albums that come from leftfield and deliver the goods when I’ve not anticipated it.

If you missed parts 1-3, check them out via the links below:

Most Anticipated Metal Releases of 2016 – Part 1
Most Anticipated Metal Releases of 2016 – Part 2
Most Anticipated Metal Releases of 2016 – Part 3

And now, here we go with the final batch that I’ve selected for special attention in 2016:

Rotting Christ – Rituals

I’ve been a moderate fan of Greece’s Rotting Christ for many years but previous album, ‘Do What Thou Wilt’ turned me into a real fanatic. Crushing riffs, Sakis’ distinctive vocals, relatively simple song constructions and ominous atmospheres are all present and correct but in a number of ways, the ante was upped significantly to create a killer album, worthy of a place in my Top 20 of 2013. The inclusion of even more ethnic influences in a great improvement in my opinion, as is the honing of the melodies which help to counteract and soften some of the aggression and ferocity throughout. Rotting Christ may not be the most overtly technical band in extreme metal realms but where some bands follow, Rotting Christ, to their immense credit, can genuinely be described as leaders.

Eric Gillette – The Great Unknown

Anyone who has heard the most recent album from the Neal Morse band will be familiar with the name of Eric Gillette. Joining Morse in 2012, the sickeningly talented guitarist has made quite an impact. Not only can the guy play the guitar brilliantly, he can also tinkle the ivories and has a pretty decent voice as well. The guy isn’t even ugly to make up for it. I hate him! But seriously, backed up by a stellar group of musicians including Haken’s bassist Conner Green and keyboardist Diego Tejeida, as well as Thomas Lang on drums, this is one of my dark horses for 2016 and if it’s half as good as it sounds on paper, prog rock fans are in for a treat.

Ne Obliviscaris – Title ‘TBC’

I would venture to use the word ‘peerless’ when describing Australian extreme metallers Ne Obliviscaris. I know not of any other band that manages to create music as ambitious as this but with such apparent ease. The output from these guys is stunning; simple as that. The brutality of death metal duels with quieter, more subtle moments. Warp-speed tempos dominated by frenetic double-pedal drumming are juxtaposed by slower, more relaxed and soothing passages where a violin will make a welcome appearance, creating almost a folky vibe to the music. Then, as if that wasn’t enough, the music is often littered with some great prog moments and even more gorgeous melodies. Trust me, this needs to be heard to be believed and what better way than with a brand new album in 2016? It’s not guaranteed, but I live in hope.

Brutai – Title ‘TBC’

This is a new name for me, but one that has quite recently piqued my interest. I’ve been lucky enough to hear a little of what this promising young UK band has to offer and I like what I hear. On a first listen, I’d suggest that the music of Brutai is an interesting mix of Soilwork and Voyager wrapped up in just a little hint of metalcore to create that more modern-sounding sheen. The guitars are big, the rhythms huge and the attitude would appear just right to enable Brutai to come along in 2016 with a debut release and force large sections of the metal community to sit up and take notice. Watch this space…

Distorted Harmony – Title ‘TBC’

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 2016, via a brand new album. I’ve heard just a snippet of one track but given the quality that oozed from ‘Chain Reaction’, I am confident that the end result from Yoav Efron and Co. will be something rather special indeed.

Nothing More – Title ‘TBC’

Nothing More were an utter revelation for me a couple of years ago as it’s not the kind of music I’m normally into. It’s actually difficult to pigeon-hole Nothing More into one single genre, but for brevity, I’d say it’s modern hard rock that contains elements of nu-metal, djent and demonstrable pop-rock sensibilities. I’d normally, rather cruelly dismiss as plastic teenage ear candy, the likes of which can be heard on commercial radio stations the world over. I have been proved wrong, by Nothing More at least. What made their last self-titled album so strong in my opinion, was the combination of cocksure conviction from the band, a great song-writing nous and the inclusion of some of the biggest and catchiest choruses I’ve heard for quite a while. As a result I’m looking forward to the follow up immensely.

Alcest – Title ‘TBC’

Alcest began life as a post black metal band with plenty of atmosphere and a rawness at its heart. However, over time, things have changed to a point where you can only really hear fleeting glimpses of those black metal and post black metal roots. Instead, with ‘Shelter’, Alcest’s most recent album, the duo of Neige and Winterhalter experimented more with shoegaze, post-rock and a much more chilled-out, subtle and downright beautiful approach. So much so that Sigur Ros would be the most immediate reference point rather than any black metal bands. If you’re looking for something poignant and memorable, I’m placing my bets that this will be the band to check out sometime in 2016.

Andromeda – Title ‘TBC’

Another unsung and criminally underrated progressive metal band, Sweden’s Andromeda must be due a new album in 2016. It has been nearly five years since they released the jaw-droppingly fabulous ‘Manifest Tyranny’ and I for one cannot wait to see what they deliver next. The thing I love most about Andromeda is their ability to sound quirky and properly progressive yet somehow pull it all together and put the complexity into compositions that have surprising amounts of metal crunch, hooks and melodies, giving the tracks a feeling that they are songs and not just self-indulgent virtuoso workouts. Technical they may be, but impenetrable they are not and the whole thing just screams ‘class’.

Pain Of Salvation – Title ‘TBC’

Now this is a strange one. I adore the first handful of albums by Sweden’s Pain Of Salvation, so much so that I would refer to ‘The Perfect Element Pt.1’ and ‘Remedy Lane’ as progressive metal masterpieces. Since the release of these two records around the turn of the millennium however, things have taken a turn for the worse in my opinion. Ditching any pretence of metal in favour of a softer sound, the band has experimented in areas that don’t generally interest me. Upon the release of ‘Falling Home’ a couple of years ago, I declared that Pain Of Salvation were no longer of interest to me. I think I was a little premature though because however far they have strayed from the blueprint I like, it’s Pain Of Salvation and I will always be curious to hear new material. It’s more like curiosity as opposed to anticipation however.

Mercenary – Title ‘TBC’

All I have by way of confirmation of a new Mercenary album is a quote from their facebook site that says ‘good things are coming in 2016’. Coupled with the fact that we’ve had no new material from the Danish metal band for around three years, I’m putting everything together and hoping it means a new Mercenary album sometime this year. I certainly hope so because I love the blend of aggression, groove and melody that this melodeath band creates. It’s brutal yet catchy, not to mention frequently epic and anthemic. If this isn’t a winning combination, then I don’t know what is.

Most Anticipated Metal Releases of 2016 – Part 3

Welcome to Part 3 of my most anticipated album releases of 2016. Missed Parts 1 and 2? Click the links below and find out why I’m thinking that 2016 could be one of the strongest years for rock and metal for a long time:

Most Anticipated Metal Releases of 2016 – Part 1
Most Anticipated Metal Releases of 2016 – Part 2

If these weren’t enough, today I bring you another 10 potential releases, in no particular order, all of which are highly exciting for me.

Redemption – The Art Of Loss

This US-based band is one of the very best within the progressive metal subgenre. Adventurous song writing, clinical execution and innate understanding of the role that melody has to play in such music. Add to this the ability to pen beautifully poignant and raw lyrics and you’re on to a real winner. Redemption are one of those bands that can seemingly do no wrong, with each and every album offering high quality progressive metal. Of course it helps that they are blessed with a singer in the form of Fates Warning’s Ray Alder, but it’s the overall song writing and vision of guitarist Nick van Dyk that helps take Redemption to a whole new level of excellence. The new album, entitled ‘The Art Of Loss’, is scheduled for a March 2016 release. I can’t wait!

Vanishing Point – Title ‘TBC’

I make no secret of my love for Vanishing Point. Ever since I heard the superlative ‘Tangled In Dream’ back in 2000, I have been smitten. To me, it was the perfect melodic progressive metal album, full of memorable songs both beautiful and sophisticated. Subsequent albums fell slightly short but in 2014, with ‘Distant Is The Sun’, the Australians well and truly rediscovered their mojo. Melody, intelligence and a satisfying amount of heavy metal crunch, it pressed all my buttons and remains an album that I return to on a frequent basis. Again, as with other picks in this post, there’s no official confirmation of a new album in 2016 but I have a feeling we’ll see new material. Bring it on, I say.

Voyager – Title ‘TBC’

Australian metallers Voyager have been around for a while but their rise in recent years has been rather meteoric in metal terms. Beginning in 2011 with ‘The Meaning Of I’ and then well and truly cemented with the astonishingly good ‘V’ in 2014, the world had no choice but to sit up and take notice of this rather unique band. Blending progressive metal with melodic rock, pop and an understated dash of modern electronic music, the result is ultra catchy and totally addictive. It of course helps that Voyager are a close-knit group with excellent musicians in every department topped off by the superlative Daniel Estrin behind the microphone. If the recently-released new single ‘Misery Is Only Company’ is anything to go by, a new album in 2016 threatens to very special indeed.

Cynthesis – Title ‘TBC’

Seemingly everything that the Tipton brothers touch turns to gold and Cynthesis is no different. We’ve already seen two albums under the Cynthesis moniker and when I spoke with Jasun Tipton during 2015, he confirmed that the third Cynthesis album was written, thus completing a dystopian trilogy in the process. Cynthesis is the most atmospheric, melodic and sensitive of all of the bands that feature the Tipton brothers and I absolutely adore the atmosphere and the lashings of gorgeous melodies that are a feature of both ‘DeEvolution’ and ‘ReEvolution’ respectively. Given the preposterously brilliant technical prowess of the musicians involved, I expect nothing short of a sonic treat when finally the third Cynthesis instalment sees the light of day.

Long Distance Calling – Trips

Beginning life as an instrumental band, German post-rockers Long Distance Calling took the decision with ‘The Flood Inside’ to introduce a vocalist. The results as far as I was concerned were superb, turning a hitherto unloved band into an act that now sits front and centre in my affections. Atmospheric, multi-layered, intelligent and somewhat enigmatic, the compositions are not always easy to grasp to begin with. However, with repeated listens, the music bears its fruit and snares the listener without them even realising what’s going on. With a brand new vocalist, it remains to be seen what a new Long Distance Calling album will sound like. Mind you, if it anything like the last, the late April release ‘Trips’ will be a sure-fire winner with me.

Big Big Train – Folklore

In recent years, I have become a sucker for the more relaxed sounds of classic progressive rock. One of the biggest and best finds for me has unquestionably been Big Big Train. The music borrows a little from the likes of early Genesis and is English pastoral progressive rock at its finest. As far as I’m concerned, Big Big Train are the undisputed genre leaders thanks to a willingness to experiment within and outside the confines of the progressive rock sphere, all the while creating music that is utterly compelling. From cheeky upbeat numbers right through to sprawling epic affairs via plenty of emotionally-charged compositions full of beautiful melodies and wonderfully imagined sonic vistas. Following on from the highly acclaimed ‘English Electric’ double-header, get ready in 2016 for ‘Folklore’.

Anathema – Title ‘TBC’

Ok, so this is a bit of a long shot. I’ve heard nothing from the Anathema camp to suggest that there is definitely a new album on the horizon for 2016. However, such is my love for this band, I live in hope, especially given the fact that the last studio album saw the light of day in 2014. Anathema are one of those bands that transcends genres to the point that talk about whether they are prog, post-rock, alternative rock or whatever is meaningless. Anathema write music that is emotionally charged, honest, poignant and utterly beautiful. I have lost count of the number of times that the brothers Cavanagh and Co. have brought me to tears via their music such is the elegance and raw honesty that is baked right into every Anathema composition. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: forget the Beatles, Anathema are the best band to emerge from Liverpool, end of story.

Treat – Title ‘TBC’

If there’s one melodic hard rock album I’m really looking forward to in 2016, it’s the new studio album from Treat. In 2010, the Swedes released ‘Coup de Grace’ and it blew me away. Melodicrock.com gave it a full 100% review and it isn’t hard to see why. Huge hooks, massive choruses, driving tempos and enough oomph to satisfy those looking for a little bite to their melodic rock, I fell in love with it almost immediately. ‘Coup de Grace’ remains on heavy rotation on my stereo and I never get bored of it. I therefore have high hopes for the new record, due out sometime in 2016.

Bal Sagoth – Title ‘TBC’

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?

Iced Earth – The Judas Goat

A perennial favourite, Iced Earth are surely due another album in 2016, although nothing has yet been confirmed beyond the usual rumours that are circulating. It was a shame that vocalist Matt Barlow has left the fold but in Stu Block (ex-Into Eternity), Iced Earth have found the perfect replacement. His range and natural ability behind the mic is the idea accompaniment to the classic/thrash/power metal for which guitarist and founder Jon Schaffer is famous. After a couple of hit and miss albums in recent times, Iced Earth returned to form in blistering style with 2014’s ‘Plagues Of Babylon’, meaning that the excitement for its follow-up, tentatively titled ‘The Judas Goat’ is even more feverish than before amongst the legions of loyal Iced Earth fans, myself included.