Dream Evil – Six – Album Review

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Artist: Dream Evil

Album Title: Six

Label: Century Media

Date Of Release: 26 May 2017

Dream Evil have been knocking around the metal scene for many years, having been created before the millennium by the renowned Studio Fredman producer Fredrik Nordström. It was his burning desire to create his own power metal band and Dream Evil was the result. In the early days, the band featured the notable names of guitarist Gus G (Firewind, Ozzy Osborne) and drummer Snowy Shaw.

These guys have moved on, with Dream Evil now comprised of Nordstrom alongside lead vocalist Niklas Isfeldt, lead guitarist Mark U Black, bassist Peter Stålfors and drummer Patrik Jerksten. Nevertheless Dream Evil have remained steadfast throughout and ‘Six’ being, you guessed it, their sixth studio album to date, albeit following a hefty seven-year hiatus since ‘In The Night’ was released in 2010. However, on the basis of the music on ‘Six’, it might have been kinder for all concerned if Nordström and his merry men had moved on to pastures new as well.

Long term readers of the Blog of Much Metal will know that I am not the kind of person who takes any satisfaction from writing more negative reviews. So when I can only conclude that ‘Six’ is a distinctly average album with more filler than stand-out material, you know that I am not saying this lightly or for effect.

So why have I reviewed this then? I was actually interested in hearing the new album because I have a couple of early Dream Evil albums nestled in my collection and there is some decent material to be heard on them. And additionally, I have invested too much time trying to like this album to abandon it without committing my thoughts to paper. However, from the first spin, with no agenda or axe to grind, I simply found myself feeling thoroughly disappointed and entirely underwhelmed for the most part.

But let me begin with the positives, as no album is completely devoid of such things. For a start, I do enjoy the hefty guitar tones that deliver some decent riffs. They pack a fair punch, offer plenty of grunt and help to dispel the thoughts that power metal is a softer form of metal. The rhythm section is equally commanding and muscular, as demonstrated on the self-monikered opening track, ‘Dream Evil’. It is one of the few tracks on this record that’s a genuine grower, becoming a bit of a pulsating, headbanging anthem that I am sure will come alive on stage during the upcoming festival season.

The production must be mentioned as it is this that helps to lend the guitars, bass and drums such a rich sound. Naturally, this comes as no surprise given the clientele and it is where Nordstrom comes into his own, being the quality knob-fiddler that he is.

In terms of other songs on the album that are worth mentioning, there’s the brooding, slower-paced ‘Creature of the Night’ which features some of the strongest melodies on the album. ‘The Murdered Mind’ is a fun, breezier number with a pleasant chorus whilst ‘Six Hundred And 66’ offers some great grooves and arguably the catchiest chorus on the record.

Sandwiched in between though, are too many compositions that do very little for me. The musicianship is perfectly acceptable, very good in places. And that makes things even more frustrating because they clearly have the talent to produce a higher-quality or at least a more consistent product.

Then there are the lyrics. Now I’m far from a lyric snob and very often I couldn’t care less what’s being sung about if the music is of a high quality. But even I struggle to ignore the words that accompany some of the songs on this album. Take ‘Sin City’ as the perfect example. ‘…they met my older brother, who was rich, he was poor.’ C’mon, seriously? Then there’s the line in the same song: ‘the devil proved to be a really nice guy and they partied all night long. And those who always believed in God, admitted they were wrong.’ How are your toes? Have they uncurled yet?

I also have to be honest and venture the opinion that I’m not the greatest fan of Niklas Isfeldt’s vocal delivery. He has a powerful set of lungs with a decent range but I quickly tire of his higher-pitched tones which veer perilously close to annoying territory for my tastes.

And that’s about it. I could go on, but I’ll leave it there. Dream Evil have a lot going for them and when they get it right, they get it very right. Regrettably, their conversion rate isn’t that high on ‘Six’ and so for every decent track, there are two or three that fall flat. It’s a shame and I genuinely hate being negative, but I have to be honest. Sorry guys, I won’t be returning to this record any time soon.

The Score Of Much Metal: 6

If you’ve enjoyed this review, you can check out my others from previous years and for 2017 right here:

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

Avatarium – Hurricanes And Halos
Ayreon – The Source
Until Rain – Inure
MindMaze – Resolve
God Dethroned – The World Ablaze
Bjorn Riis – Forever Comes To An End
Voyager – Ghost Mile
Big Big Train – Grimspound
Lonely Robot – The Big Dream
Firespawn – The Reprobate
Ancient Ascendant
Pyramaze – Contingent
Shores Of Null – Black Drapes For Tomorrow
Asira – Efference
Hologram Earth – Black Cell Program
Damnations Day – A World Awakens
Memoriam – For The Fallen
Pallbearer – Heartless
Sleepmakeswaves – Made of Breath Only
Ghost Ship Octavius – Ghost Ship Octavius
Vangough – Warpaint
Telepathy – Tempest
Obituary – Obituary
Fen – Winter
Havok – Conformicide
Wolfheart – Tyhjyys
Svart Crown – Abreaction
Nova Collective – The Further Side
Immolation – Atonement
The Mute Gods – Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth
Ex Deo – The Immortal Wars
Pyogenesis – A Kingdom To Disappear
My Soliloquy – Engines of Gravity
Nailed To Obscurity – King Delusion
Helion Prime – Helion Prime
Battle Beast – Bringer Of Pain
Persefone – Aathma
Soen – Lykaia
Exquirla – Para Quienes Aun Viven
Odd Logic – Effigy
Mors Principium Est – Embers Of A Dying World
Firewind – Immortals
Slyde – Back Again EP
Sepultura – Machine Messiah
Deserted Fear – Dead Shores Rising
Kreator – Gods Of Violence
Borealis – World of Silence MMXVII
Pain of Salvation – In The Passing Light of Day

Avatarium – Hurricanes And Halos – Album Review

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Artist: Avatarium

Album Title: Hurricanes And Halos

Label: Nuclear Blast

Date Of Release: 26 May 2017

‘Hurricanes And Halos’ is the title given to the third studio release from Swedish doomsters Avatarium, a band that was formed in the minds of Leif Edling (Candlemass) and Marcus Jidell (ex-Evergrey, Soen) before becoming a reality in 2012. Their sophomore album, ‘The Girl With The Raven Mask’ was released in 2015 and, quite rightly, it garnered much critical acclaim. If the world was beginning to take notice of Avatarium, this record catapulted the quintet into the full glare of the heavy metal spotlight.

But much has changed in the world of Avatarium since the releae of ‘The Girl With The Raven Mask’. The band is now a sextet of sorts, but the back story is much more complicated than a simple addition to the ranks. Leif Edling has now stepped away from the bass but remains involved and can claim the song writing credits to six of the eight tracks on ‘Hurricanes And Halos’. Into the vacated bass slot therefore, comes Mats Rydström and he is joined by fellow newbie and organ player Rickard Nielsson who has replaced keyboardist Carl Westholm. The rest of the band remains the same however, with co-founder Marcus Jidell on guitars, Jennie-Anne Smith behind the microphone and Lars Sköld on the drums.

Given the comings and goings behind the scenes, it could have been easy for Avatarium to take their eye off the ball and deliver a new album that wasn’t up to the standard of their last. But to think in such a way would be a mistake and would be to do the members of Avatarium a huge disservice. When you have musicians of the calibre of Jidell, Smith and Edling, you’re almost certainly not going to get anything substandard. If anything, ‘Hurricanes And Halos’, which features a bigger song-writing contribution from the handsome couple of Jidell and Smith, is another confident step up for this band.

When I reviewed ‘The Girl With The Raven Mask’, I remarked that it generally takes a lot for me to get excited about an album that has one foot firmly planted in the realm of doom. Well, that statement remains true but Avatarium prove once again that they one of the few bands that can manage this feat. There’s something about this band that speaks to me.

This becomes even more unfathomable in many ways when I add in to the equation that Avatarium are also heavily steeped in 1970s nostalgia as well as seemingly professing an admiration for blues, classic rock and an occasional dalliance with psychedelia. If I take a look at my personal music collection, I have a hard job finding very much that fits within any of these genres. And yet, I love Avatarium. And I love ‘Hurricanes And Halos’. Go figure.

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In trying to do just that and figure out why I have such a connection with this band, I have hit upon many possibilities.

Firstly, there is the raw honesty and genuine depth found within the compositions themselves. You get the distinct impression as you listen, that nothing has been left at the door with these guys – it is all or nothing. When Jennie-Anne sings, she sings with such passion and richness that you can’t help but listen, rapt as she delivers her gritty monologues with finesse and such resonance. This is most definitely Jennie-Anne Smith’s best performance so far and at times, she threatens to steal the show entirely, such as within the chorus of the opener, ‘Into The Fire – Into The Storm’ as one of many examples.

With lesser musicians behind her, that might have easily happened. But not in Avatarium. In Marcus Jidell for example, Avatarium are blessed with one of the very best guitarists that I know of. I must have said all this a hundred times over the years, so once more couldn’t hurt. His style is not to belt out lightning fast lead runs or to show off with fancy gimmicks. Instead, he has a grace and elegance that means that he can convey an emotion or a thought with one carefully crafted note or a series of well thought-out chords.

As demonstrated in the aforementioned heady opener, ‘Into The Fire – Into The Storm’, Marcus has not forgotten how to rock out either. The song begins with a strong 70s doomy riff that gets things off to a bold and striking start. The Hammond organ of the equally impressive Nielsson joins the party briefly before becoming an integral part of the grand chorus and later, offers an indulgent but entirely fitting lead solo.

‘The Starless Sleep’ is another superb track, one that underlines the doom credentials of Avatarium as well as underlining the strength of the oft-unsung rhythm section. Skold’s drumming is precise but has a loose, carefree feel to it, whilst bassist Mats Rydström delivers a really satisfying low-end rumble to inject gravitas to the music.

The stripped back and darkly textured ‘Road To Jerusalem’ is the perfect song to act as contrast to the higher-octane opening tracks. It also showcases the beautifully organic and honest production to ‘Hurricanes And Halos’. This is not an album to be smothered in clever, modern effects or polished to within an inch of its life. Instead, in keeping with the music itself, producer Marcus Jidell alongside David Castillo (mixing – Katatonia, Opeth) and Jens Bogren (mastering – Soilwork, Sepultura) have created a living, breathing, colourful beast that loses none of the music’s potency along the way.

The icing on the cake with ‘Hurricanes And Halos’ is the surprising amount of variety on offer. Already I’ve described the full-on power and the more subtle sides of Avatarium, but there’s more to uncover along the way.

‘Medusa Child’ is a thoroughly engrossing piece of music that begins in commanding and heavy fashion. The hooky chorus then comes out of nowhere, at an almost complete right-angle to the more aggressive and potent music that surrounds it. And then, at the half-way mark, it morphs again. An eerie child’s voice sings the chorus lyrics whilst underneath, the band veers into almost ambient, post-rock territory as a quiet, subtle melody begins to build into a rousing finale, almost threatening to implode as it does so.

‘Hurricanes and Halos’ is as far as I can tell, as much an exercise in creating interesting and multi-faceted soundscapes as it is about crafting intelligent doom-infused rock music. This point is proven eloquently via the brooding ‘When Breath Turns To Air’ with its exquisite and melodic fragility. But it is then hammered home by the closing title track which is quite different in construction and tone, but is equally poignant and captivating.

For me, it is the perfect way to end the record, a record that has impressed and moved me in equal measure right from the off. I can think of no other band in the modern era who does this kind of thing better than Avatarium. That in itself should speak volumes about just how good it is. I doubt I’ll hear a more compelling doom-infused rock album all year.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.25

If you’ve enjoyed this review, you can check out my others from previous years and for 2017 right here:

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

Ayreon – The Source
Until Rain – Inure
MindMaze – Resolve
God Dethroned – The World Ablaze
Bjorn Riis – Forever Comes To An End
Voyager – Ghost Mile
Big Big Train – Grimspound
Lonely Robot – The Big Dream
Firespawn – The Reprobate
Ancient Ascendant
Pyramaze – Contingent
Shores Of Null – Black Drapes For Tomorrow
Asira – Efference
Hologram Earth – Black Cell Program
Damnations Day – A World Awakens
Memoriam – For The Fallen
Pallbearer – Heartless
Sleepmakeswaves – Made of Breath Only
Ghost Ship Octavius – Ghost Ship Octavius
Vangough – Warpaint
Telepathy – Tempest
Obituary – Obituary
Fen – Winter
Havok – Conformicide
Wolfheart – Tyhjyys
Svart Crown – Abreaction
Nova Collective – The Further Side
Immolation – Atonement
The Mute Gods – Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth
Ex Deo – The Immortal Wars
Pyogenesis – A Kingdom To Disappear
My Soliloquy – Engines of Gravity
Nailed To Obscurity – King Delusion
Helion Prime – Helion Prime
Battle Beast – Bringer Of Pain
Persefone – Aathma
Soen – Lykaia
Exquirla – Para Quienes Aun Viven
Odd Logic – Effigy
Mors Principium Est – Embers Of A Dying World
Firewind – Immortals
Slyde – Back Again EP
Sepultura – Machine Messiah
Deserted Fear – Dead Shores Rising
Kreator – Gods Of Violence
Borealis – World of Silence MMXVII
Pain of Salvation – In The Passing Light of Day

Ayreon – The Source – Album Review

 

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Artist: Ayreon

Album Title: The Source

Label: Mascot Label Group/Music Theories Recordings

Date Of Release: 28 April 2017

My relationship with the music of Arjen Anthony Lucassen is a complex one. I would definitely class myself as a fan, but not one without reservation, as the back catalogue contains both the sublime and the slightly less impressive as far as I’m concerned. For example, I love the ‘Space Metal’ and ‘Victims of the Modern Age’ albums under the Star One moniker, whereas I have a hard time with early Ayreon records up to and including ‘Into The Electric Castle’. For many, this latter revelation will be akin to blasphemy, but that’s my opinion and I stand by it.

Nevertheless, latter Ayreon releases have made a much more positive impact with ‘01011001’ and ‘The Theory of Everything’ both capturing my imagination to the point where I was really excited to hear Lucassen’s ninth instalment of this particular franchise, ‘The Source’.

It has been a while in the making, some four years since the release of ‘The Theory of Everything’. Mind you, projects as ambitious as ‘The Source’ take some time and organisation to pull off, even for a workaholic like Lucassen. Additionally, the intervening period has also seen him working with Anneke van Giersbergen on the debut The Gentle Storm album, ‘The Diary’.

‘The Source’ is, as you might expect, a full-on science-fiction concept album, set 6 billion years in the past, that seeks to tell the story of an alien race’s attempts to save themselves and their planet from crisis. It is comprised of 17 individual tracks of progressive rock and in keeping with these huge Ayreon rock operas, it features no fewer than twelve guest vocalists, some which are new to the Ayreon family and others that are returning for another stint. As such, you get to hear the talents of James LaBrie (Dream Theater), Tommy Giles Rogers (Between the Buried and Me), Simone Simons (Epica), Mike Mills (Toehider), Floor Jansen (Nightwish), Hansi Kürsch (Blind Guardian), Michael Eriksen (Circus Maximus), Tobias Sammet (Edguy, Avantasia), Nils K. Rue (Pagan’s Mind), Zaher Zorgati (Myrath), Tommy Karevik (Seventh Wonder, Kamelot) and Russell Allen (Symphony X).

If that wasn’t enough, Lucassen, the multi-instrumentalist recluse is joined by a select group of musicians including drummer Ed Warby (Gorefest, Elegy), guitarists Paul Gilbert (Mr. Big), Guthrie Govan (The Aristocrats, Asia, Steven Wilson), Marcel Coenen and keyboard player Mark Kelly (Marillion). There’s even room for guest appearances from regulars like cellist Maaike Peterse, flautist Jeroen Goossens and violinist Ben Mathot.

Regardless of your thoughts on the music of Arjen Lucassen, one cannot deny his ambition to pull this project together, however seasoned a pro he might be. And on that note, let’s venture into the music itself. After all, that’s why you’re reading this review isn’t it?

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Cutting swiftly to the chase, it is fair to say that long term fans will be left feeling very happy with the results, wrapped safely in the comforting arms of the familiar. The die has been cast on previous Ayreon albums and by-and-large, there are no major deviations from the norm on ‘The Source’. It is over-the-top, pompous and at times, a little silly. Pick your cheese of choice and you’ll find a morsel or two of it here without question. My toes occasionally curl and I wince at certain points. The Celtic, folky ‘All That Was’ for example, does not fare well in my estimations, neither does the operatic injection within ‘Deathcry of a Race’ which is simply too much and a little ‘nails down a blackboard’ for me. As a result, ‘The Source’ is not the perfect, blemish-free release.

And yet, there is no escaping the fact that ‘The Source’ is a hugely enjoyable album for the most part, with plenty of stand-out moments where my imagination is fully captured and my enthusiasm ignited. And it must be said that much of my enjoyment comes from listening to the various vocalists who guest on this record. There are still those out there who dismiss heavy metal as just noise, overlaid by shouty blokes who can’t sing. Well, if there was ever a record to expose this ignorant view as the huge falsity that it is, it’s this one. The talent from across the gender divide is just off the scale and as absurd as the concept is in places, the vocalists breathe life into it, giving it a genuine credibility in the process.

In fittingly bombastic style, the record begins with a 12-plus minute epic that introduces just about every singer that features on the album. I’m not the biggest James LaBrie fan but even he sounds great, floating through an eerie and post-apocalyptic, dystopian soundscape at the outset. The song twists and turns throughout, never settling, as the groundwork for the concept is laid. Tommy Karevik is the early show-stealer thanks to an incredibly passionate and powerful performance, but the surprisingly heavy chugging riff pushes him close. Lucassen himself refers to this record as more guitar driven and heavier, a point that is underlined here right from the outset.

But the undoubted star of the opening act, surrounded by the likes of Nils K. Rue, Tobi Sammet and Hansi Kursch has to be Mike Mills. It’s a cliché as old as time to say that you could listen to certain vocalists singing the phonebook. But in the case of Mills, he manages to send shivers down my spine by singing something as dull as the binary code atop some moody, futuristic synths. ‘Zero, one, zero’ etc. has never sounded so utterly captivating and emotive, believe me.

I’m not such a fan of the funky, bluesy sequence that follows, although ‘Sir’ Russell Allen lends it a certain undeniable panache and swagger. There’s even time right at the death for Floor Jansen to lend her impressively huge vocal chords to see this opener out in rousing style. Had the entire record remained at this level, we’d have been staring down the barrel of a near-perfect score, it’s that good. In fact, I’d venture to suggest that it is one of Lucassen’s best under any of his various monikers.

Elsewhere, I’m a huge fan of ‘The Dream Dissolves’ with its killer lead guitar solo and the extended keyboard flamboyance. Aside from the aforementioned operatic section within ‘Deathcry of a Race’, it is a brilliant song thanks to its Middle Eastern melodies, heavy riffing and Zorgati’s distinctive vocals. And ‘Into The Ocean’ is a storming up-tempo rocker with overt 70s overtones created by the chosen keyboard sounds.

More heavy riffs and forceful drumming feature within the immediate and insanely catchy ‘Planet Y Is Alive!’ which evolves into something far more soundtrack-like and preposterously fun in the mid-section.

There are plenty more positives within this lengthy endeavour but for the sake of brevity, allow me to conclude with my joint-favourite piece, ‘Star Of Sirrah’. Heavy, melodic, over-the-top, this is Ayreon on top form. The song opens in moody but melodic and dramatic fashion with an acoustic guitar and bold synths before another huge, killer riff sweeps everything aside. It chugs and growls with real intent, complimenting all of the various vocalists who take a turn at delivering this part of the concept. If I had to nail my colours to the mast, I’d have to say that Nils K Rue offers the most compelling performance, closely followed by Tobi Sammet. It’s not a simple song by any means but it shows how superb Lucassen can be as a songwriter when he dials down the crazy and pens something a little more straightforward and rocking. Because boy does this track rock.

One of the nicest artists I’ve ever crossed path with is also one of the most openly insecure musicians in the business. Self-doubt riddles the psyche of Arjen Lucassen, something with which I can most definitely identify. The guy has an army of fans though and he always manages to attract great musicians to assist him with his music, so he must be doing something right. And there’s ‘The Source’ to further underline this conclusion. It might be a flawed record in places but regardless, ‘The Source’ is a triumph of which Lucassen should be rightly proud.

The Score Of Much Metal: 8.25

If you’ve enjoyed this review, you can check out my others from previous years and for 2017 right here:

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

Until Rain – Inure
MindMaze – Resolve
God Dethroned – The World Ablaze
Bjorn Riis – Forever Comes To An End
Voyager – Ghost Mile
Big Big Train – Grimspound
Lonely Robot – The Big Dream
Firespawn – The Reprobate
Ancient Ascendant
Pyramaze – Contingent
Shores Of Null – Black Drapes For Tomorrow
Asira – Efference
Hologram Earth – Black Cell Program
Damnations Day – A World Awakens
Memoriam – For The Fallen
Pallbearer – Heartless
Sleepmakeswaves – Made of Breath Only
Ghost Ship Octavius – Ghost Ship Octavius
Vangough – Warpaint
Telepathy – Tempest
Obituary – Obituary
Fen – Winter
Havok – Conformicide
Wolfheart – Tyhjyys
Svart Crown – Abreaction
Nova Collective – The Further Side
Immolation – Atonement
The Mute Gods – Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth
Ex Deo – The Immortal Wars
Pyogenesis – A Kingdom To Disappear
My Soliloquy – Engines of Gravity
Nailed To Obscurity – King Delusion
Helion Prime – Helion Prime
Battle Beast – Bringer Of Pain
Persefone – Aathma
Soen – Lykaia
Exquirla – Para Quienes Aun Viven
Odd Logic – Effigy
Mors Principium Est – Embers Of A Dying World
Firewind – Immortals
Slyde – Back Again EP
Sepultura – Machine Messiah
Deserted Fear – Dead Shores Rising
Kreator – Gods Of Violence
Borealis – World of Silence MMXVII
Pain of Salvation – In The Passing Light of Day

Until Rain – Inure – Album Review

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Artist: Until Rain

Album Title: Inure

Label: Sensory Records

Date of Release: 28 April 2017

I tried to get this review published before the European release date of 28th April but I have failed rather spectacularly. The primary reason for my failure is the fact that the music on ‘Inure’ is so very good and so disarmingly technical and nuanced that it deserved my full attention to enable as full a review as I could muster. In the timeframe I gave myself, this simply wasn’t possible. But good things come to those who wait and so here we are with my final, considered thoughts about this record.

Until Rain are a Greek progressive metal band who, rather delightfully, have sought to blend ‘old school’, classic progressive metal a la Dream Theater et al, with sounds and ideas much more modern in their approach. There is a danger in trying something like this because it can result in the music falling between several stools, with fans struggling to get to grips with the output. In the case of Until Rain and ‘Inure’, this is most definitely not the case. Admittedly, it took me a while to fully appreciate the music on offer here but now it has clicked into place, I have no reticence in singing its praises, recommending it to those who like well-crafted and intelligent progressive metal.

For a start, the basics are all in place, present and correct. The production, which was mixed and mastered by Daniel Cardoso (Anathema), affords the music a crystal clear yet powerful sheen, whilst the dark, moody artwork draws me in like only quality album covers can.

And then each of the six musicians that comprise Until Rain, namely Cons Marg (vocals), Donna Zed (backing vocals), Theodore Amaxopoulos (guitars), Lef Germenlis (keyboards), Linus Abrahamson (bass) and Matthew Vella (drums), all deliver their parts with consummate professionalism and not a little panache along the way. More than that, the music on this album is imbued with a vibrancy and assuredness that only comes from musicians that are fully invested in their art. This is all the more impressive given that only Amaxopoulos and Germenlis remain from the band’s previous studio outing.

For all that, ‘Inure’ strikes me as a very serious affair because, despite being a progressive album, there’s only occasional frivolity and very little that’s outright bonkers or saccharine. Thinking about it, the dark and moody artwork fits the music like a glove, for equally, ‘Inure’ is not a happy, bouncy album. It is steeped in a cloak of pensiveness for the most part where the atmospheres are strong and often thought-provoking in tone.

Most importantly, I keep coming back to this record, like the slavish moth to a flame. And the reason for this is actually rather simple; the compositions are beautifully crafted and within the elegant sophistication, there are moments of bright clarity along the way, delivered either by an insidiously catchy chorus or a grower of a melody that burrows deep within. They are not always at the forefront of the songs, but with repeated listens, the effort is repaid tenfold.

It is difficult to know where to start or which songs to highlight because I can honestly say that each of the nine tracks and one bonus cut offers something genuinely interesting and immersive. There are no duff tracks and no dips in quality, meaning that ‘Inure’ displays an incredible consistency.

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In that case, I’ll stick with convention and begin with the opening track, ‘Progressus In Idem’. Ushered in with a strangely haunting circus-like melody, it takes only a few seconds for a big riff and layers of atmospheric keys to kick in. The riffs morph into something more stop/start and djent in nature before falling away to be replaced by a subdued Katatonia vibe. And then, almost out of nowhere comes an urgent, driving chorus melody which starkly juxtaposes the heavier material, which is further toughened up by gruff vocals that counterpoint Marg’s more normal smooth, clean delivery, frequently assisted by Zed to great effect.

By contrast, ‘New World Fiction’ begins in a slightly more immediate fashion whilst retaining those dark overtones. The piano tinkles warmly to offset the sombre feel of the lyrics and as the song develops, I’m reminded of Swedish art/prog rockers A.C.T. in terms of the bittersweet nature of the music.

Next up is, without doubt, one of the stand-out highlights of ‘Inure’, namely ‘Because Something Might Happen’. Refusing to stand still, this impressive composition twists and turns from moment to moment, down dark alleys and back into the light, to heavy depths and to quieter realms. The timing signatures never rest and so the listener is kept on their toes throughout. The keys hark back to the yesteryear of prog rock and there’s even a nod towards more theatrical forms of music but it remains a thoroughly modern piece of music that is both challenging and beautiful.

As I have already stated, there’s no fall in quality in the record’s mid-section, far from it. ‘This Fear’, for example, is a rich and deep composition that introduces a slightly more laid back vibe as well as a more demonstrable classic prog metal approach in terms of the importance and boldness of the keys and the more extended instrumental passages. The acoustic guitar and bass intro to ‘A Tearful Farewell’ is a thing of subtle beauty that is made all the more powerful thanks to some of the strongest melodies on the album as well as a really captivating vocal performance from Marg, particularly as the song builds in intensity rather majestically.

And then the record ends just as commandingly, thanks to the closing pair of the utterly gorgeous and beguiling ‘A Broken Wing’ and the 13-minute title track. The former is a sensitive piece that allows warmth and beauty to lead from the front, accentuated by some wonderfully expressive and emotional guitar leads. ‘Inure’ instead throws the proverbial kitchen sink at us, as a last reminder to us of what they are capable of. It is far and away the most ambitious composition on the album, delivering a little taste of everything that has gone before, from quiet and introspective synth-led sections, right through to bursts of aggressive extreme metal, complete with double pedal drumming and guttural vocals. And yet, as with the entirety of this album, Until Rain manage to pull it all together in an homogenous and cohesive listening experience.

As you can probably tell, I am rather smitten by this album. It has come out of nowhere to provide one of the biggest surprises of the year so far. If you are open-minded, like a challenge and enjoy deep, involved music, then ‘Inure’ by Until Rain comes with the highest of recommendations from me.

The Score of Much Metal: 9.25

If you’ve enjoyed this review, you can check out my others from previous years and for 2017 right here:

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

MindMaze – Resolve
God Dethroned – The World Ablaze
Bjorn Riis – Forever Comes To An End
Voyager – Ghost Mile
Big Big Train – Grimspound
Lonely Robot – The Big Dream
Firespawn – The Reprobate
Ancient Ascendant
Pyramaze – Contingent
Shores Of Null – Black Drapes For Tomorrow
Asira – Efference
Hologram Earth – Black Cell Program
Damnations Day – A World Awakens
Memoriam – For The Fallen
Pallbearer – Heartless
Sleepmakeswaves – Made of Breath Only
Ghost Ship Octavius – Ghost Ship Octavius
Vangough – Warpaint
Telepathy – Tempest
Obituary – Obituary
Fen – Winter
Havok – Conformicide
Wolfheart – Tyhjyys
Svart Crown – Abreaction
Nova Collective – The Further Side
Immolation – Atonement
The Mute Gods – Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth
Ex Deo – The Immortal Wars
Pyogenesis – A Kingdom To Disappear
My Soliloquy – Engines of Gravity
Nailed To Obscurity – King Delusion
Helion Prime – Helion Prime
Battle Beast – Bringer Of Pain
Persefone – Aathma
Soen – Lykaia
Exquirla – Para Quienes Aun Viven
Odd Logic – Effigy
Mors Principium Est – Embers Of A Dying World
Firewind – Immortals
Slyde – Back Again EP
Sepultura – Machine Messiah
Deserted Fear – Dead Shores Rising
Kreator – Gods Of Violence
Borealis – World of Silence MMXVII
Pain of Salvation – In The Passing Light of Day

MindMaze – Resolve – Album Review

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Artist: MindMaze

Album Title: Resolve

Label: Inner Wound Recordings

Date of Release: 28 April 2017

The progressive power metal subgenre is large and highly saturated these days, which may go some way to explain why MindMaze have flown under my radar to date. Weeding out the wheat from the chaff in such a burgeoning scene can be difficult for fans and journalists alike. But it can be equally tough for bands themselves to find a way to thrust themselves out of the masses and be noticed.

With their third full-length release entitled ‘Resolve’, MindMaze may have done just this however. And interestingly, whilst this latest effort is the American quartet’s first ever concept album, it does not rely on gimmicks alone to achieve this higher level of attention. Instead, in my view, the fact this is a conceptual record plays a secondary role to the music itself. The same can be said when considering the fact that MindMaze are a female-fronted band. I hate that phrase at the best of times, but MindMaze have managed to create music that is strong enough to ensure that the voice of Sarah Teets isn’t the most important thing. Sarah has a great voice, full of power and she attacks the material throughout with full-on commitment and style. But she remains only a single piece in the overall jigsaw that is MindMaze 2017.

What I particularly like about ‘Resolve’ is the way that the compositions grow with time and the clever way in which the song writing has allowed plenty of different ideas and influences to flavour this particular melodic progressive metal dish. As the press release rightly states, ‘Resolve’ is made all the richer and more varied thanks to the inclusion of elements of melodic rock, power metal, symphonic metal. It all comes together cohesively but there is no denying the fact that the overall product is more dynamic, textured and multi-layered as a result.

Referring back to the conceptual nature of ‘Resolve’ for a second, it is gratifying to report that MindMaze have foregone the opportunity to go off on a fantasy or science-fiction tangent in this regard. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for swords, magic, spaceships and dragons in my heavy metal, but not at all times. ‘Resolve’ instead hones in on personal struggles and human emotions. It gives the material more of a gritty edge which I think plays to its strengths.

The album opens in a blaze of glory via the instrumental ‘Reverie’. It begins with a subtle acoustic guitar that delivers a very pleasant and welcoming melody before exploding with wailing lead guitars, nice and chunky heavy riffs, a tinkling piano and rich synths, all courtesy of Sarah’s brother, the highly talented Jeff Teets. The drumming from Mark Bennett and bass work from Rich Pasqualone provides a driving beat and backbone, thus completing the composition of MindMaze.

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The speed, power and sheer force of MindMaze continues without a pause for breath courtesy of ‘Fight The Future’ where the speed of power metal meets the attitude of thrash and the exuberance and dexterity of progressive metal. It creates a heady, often frenetic cocktail, but one that is thoroughly enjoyable, capped by a commanding vocal performance from Sarah Teets.

After a quick interlude, ‘Drown Me’ takes over with some seriously meaty and muscular guitar riffs. Reminiscent in tone to ‘Monday Morning Apocalypse’-era Evergrey, they carry some serious potency. The synths are quirky, slightly futuristic-sounding but entirely in keeping with the ambitious composition that experiments with light and shade to great effect thanks to a quieter, more introspective mid-section as well as a re-introduction of acoustic guitars nestled within the fierce and groovy chugging riffs that cannot fail to get the head bobbing enthusiastically.

With almost any album that contains as many as thirteen tracks and an overall running time of 68 minutes, I have to report that there are a couple of moments where the word ‘filler’ enters my mind. It’s hardly surprising really and, to be honest, it doesn’t significantly derail my overall enjoyment of the album. I understand the slightly theatrical aspect of the instrumental pieces for example that are nestled within the record, but I’m not sure they add an awful lot to the album. Future releases might benefit therefore from a little more ruthless editing.

But to return to the highlights and there are several to pick from. I really like the urgency and the full-throttle assault of ‘Abandon’ which once again flirts around the edges of thrash metal, whilst delivering some great riffs and a strong chorus. Almost subconsciously, the name Triaxis flutters in my mind during this dominant and forthright track but then so does Iron Maiden thanks to a striking melody that briefly lurks in the latter stages of the song.

The bass playing and drumming that features with ‘True Reflection’ is worthy of a mention, as is the unusual but clever fading in and out of the acoustic guitar at times. Again, the melodies are strong as is the structure of the track.

Sarah Teets’ voice shines within ‘Release’, a ballad of sorts that builds from a quiet acoustic base to end rather appropriately with a wailing lead guitar. And then there’s the 11-plus-minute closer ‘The Path To Perseverance’ which wraps things up in a suitably bombastic manner. For my money, this song delivers some of the strongest melodies anywhere on this album as well as creating a rich and vibrant listening experience, full of twists and turns and bursting with energy, led once again, by the effervescent lead guitar histrionics of Jeff Teets. The return to the album’s opening acoustic melody at the death is a really nice touch too, bringing a neat sense of closure to the record.

Overall, ‘Resolve’ has impressed me far more than I ever expected and it should no doubt propel MindMaze to the next level within the echelons of melodic progressive metal. However, as good as ‘Resolve’ is, I confidently predict even bigger and better things for MindMaze in the years to come.

The Score of Much Metal: 8.5

If you’ve enjoyed this review, you can check out my others from previous years and for 2017 right here:

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

God Dethroned – The World Ablaze
Bjorn Riis – Forever Comes To An End
Voyager – Ghost Mile
Big Big Train – Grimspound
Lonely Robot – The Big Dream
Firespawn – The Reprobate
Ancient Ascendant
Pyramaze – Contingent
Shores Of Null – Black Drapes For Tomorrow
Asira – Efference
Hologram Earth – Black Cell Program
Damnations Day – A World Awakens
Memoriam – For The Fallen
Pallbearer – Heartless
Sleepmakeswaves – Made of Breath Only
Ghost Ship Octavius – Ghost Ship Octavius
Vangough – Warpaint
Telepathy – Tempest
Obituary – Obituary
Fen – Winter
Havok – Conformicide
Wolfheart – Tyhjyys
Svart Crown – Abreaction
Nova Collective – The Further Side
Immolation – Atonement
The Mute Gods – Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth
Ex Deo – The Immortal Wars
Pyogenesis – A Kingdom To Disappear
My Soliloquy – Engines of Gravity
Nailed To Obscurity – King Delusion
Helion Prime – Helion Prime
Battle Beast – Bringer Of Pain
Persefone – Aathma
Soen – Lykaia
Exquirla – Para Quienes Aun Viven
Odd Logic – Effigy
Mors Principium Est – Embers Of A Dying World
Firewind – Immortals
Slyde – Back Again EP
Sepultura – Machine Messiah
Deserted Fear – Dead Shores Rising
Kreator – Gods Of Violence
Borealis – World of Silence MMXVII
Pain of Salvation – In The Passing Light of Day

God Dethroned – The World Ablaze – Album Review

God Dethroned - The World Ablaze

Artist: God Dethroned

Album Title: The World Ablaze

Label: Metal Blade Records

Date of Release: 5 May 2017

Finally! After plugging away in the music industry as a reviewer for nearly a decade and a half, I finally get to review an album by God Dethroned. It has been a long time coming, I can tell you, having been a fan ever since I wrapped my ears around the incendiary ‘Into The Lungs of Hell’, back in 2003.

It was something I feared would never happen either because in 2012, God Dethroned decided to hang up their instruments. Thankfully, the hiatus hasn’t proved to be permanent because the quintet, led by the irrepressible Henri Sattler, are back with their tenth studio release entitled ‘The World Ablaze’.

Given the hiatus, it is now some seven years since the Dutch death metal juggernaut released their last album, ‘Under The Sign of the Iron Cross’ in 2010. As such, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the stalwarts would be a little rusty or that maybe they’d lost their aggressive edge, particularly having cited burnout as a reason for their cessation. Well, you’d be forgiven but you’d also be very, very wrong. ‘The World Ablaze’ is nothing short of monstrous, yet another fine feather in the ridiculously consistent God Dethroned cap.

I will admit to being one of those who initially shared this erroneous view. Call it rampant cynicism, built up over many years in this industry. But nothing gives me greater pleasure, alongside a palpable sense of relief, to report that it is business as usual here. And business for God Dethroned is producing savage, face-melting brutality juxtaposed by a refined sense of anthemic melody and headbanging groove.

What this means of course, is that God Dethroned do not offer us much in the way of originality and don’t throw in many curveballs, even down to the lyrical content which once again pulls us into the trenches of the First World War. But, frankly, I don’t care that much because when God Dethroned are on it, they are seriously on it. There are few more satisfying sounds in extreme metal than when Henri Sattler (guitars/vocals), Michiel vd Plicht (drums), Mike Ferguson (lead guitars) and Jeroen Pomper (bass) unleash their personal brand of hell.

What I like so much about God Dethroned is that they are, without question a brutal, uncompromising death metal machine, capable of creating some of the most razor-sharp, incisive and precise extreme metal you’ll ever hear. But then, they can flick a switch and inject addictive groove or some melody. But the melodies are not understated or hidden; they are huge, anthemic, hook-laden melodies that make me grin from ear to ear. And the grooves will have you banging your head so hard that you fear your neck might break.

And yet, in spite of this, the aggression never feels like it is undermined or diluted. Instead, these moments of clarity within the brutality only serve to accentuate the heaviness of the God Dethroned offering.

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Take the superb ‘Annihilation Crusade’ as the perfect example. After the gloriously rousing and infectious intro instrumental ‘A Call To Arms’, ‘Annihilation Crusade’ blasts from the speakers with real venom and fury, dominated by sharp machine gun drumming and a menacing, heavy riff, interspersed by sections that intensify the track with speed and ferocity. A touch of groove overlaid with some nice lead guitar work then enters the fray as the song feels like it is building to something. And that something is a really cool, anthemic melody that retains the darkness and eeriness of the music whilst offering genuine catchiness at the same time, led by Mike Ferguson’s lead exploits. It then reverts to all-out ferocity and closes in this impressively fraught fashion.

It is at this point that I realise just how much I like the overall sound of God Dethroned. Unlike some extreme metal bands, the tones that this band employ are instantly recognisable as their own and carefully chosen. The guitars display real malevolence and they work expertly with the bold and vibrant rhythm section, not to mention Sattler’s deep, rasping vocals. Everything fits together perfectly.

The title track is another crushing example of just how powerful ‘The World Ablaze’ truly is. It skips along at a fair lick devouring everything in its path, delivering cracking riffs, memorable lead solos, and some killer drumming along the way. However, for me, it’s the final minute where the magic happens, as it departs with a behemoth of a chugging, groovy riff, strng enough to shake the earth.
‘On The Wrong Side Of the Wire’ continues on a similar theme with more muscular groove that feels wonderfully primeval in many ways.

Meanwhile, ‘Messina Ridge’ slows the pace just a touch and in so doing, it becomes a real bulldozer and a nice change of pace from the relentlessness elsewhere.

But for me, it’s the juxtaposition of extreme metal and extreme melody that excites me most with God Dethroned. And on ‘The World Ablaze’ they deliver in style.

‘Close To Victory’ is dominated by one of their strongest and most rousing melodies of late having bludgeoned the listener for the first couple of minutes. ‘Breathing Through Blood’ somehow feels a little more elegant, despite the wailing guitars and bursts of swift aggression. I firmly believe that this is because the more subtle melodic interplay takes place a little further beneath the surface, but throughout the entirety of the track instead of at defined points.

At nearly seven minutes in length, the final track, ‘The 11th Hour’ is able to deliver the ideal ending to this cracking record. I’ve mentioned the word ‘anthemic’ a few times in this review but this song deserves it more than any other. Again the pace is slowed a touch and there’s a more accessible feel to it right from the off. It’s not a ballad but it has that vague feeling to it for sure, especially when clean guitars break through to add a different texture to the composition. The whole composition is excellent but the flamboyant extended lead guitar outro is a thing of real strength and beauty. This is foot on the monitor, head-back stuff, the sort of thing that I will never grow tired of hearing, regardless of those who might deride it for being too pretentious or unnecessary.

Whether you are already a battle-hardened God Dethroned fan or someone new to death metal, ‘The World Ablaze’ will almost certainly be a hit. How could it not be though? This is God Dethroned at their savage, brutal and beautiful best.

The Score of Much Metal: 9

If you’ve enjoyed this review, you can check out my others from previous years and for 2017 right here:

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

Bjorn Riis – Forever Comes To An End
Voyager – Ghost Mile
Big Big Train – Grimspound
Lonely Robot – The Big Dream
Firespawn – The Reprobate
Ancient Ascendant
Pyramaze – Contingent
Shores Of Null – Black Drapes For Tomorrow
Asira – Efference
Hologram Earth – Black Cell Program
Damnations Day – A World Awakens
Memoriam – For The Fallen
Pallbearer – Heartless
Sleepmakeswaves – Made of Breath Only
Ghost Ship Octavius – Ghost Ship Octavius
Vangough – Warpaint
Telepathy – Tempest
Obituary – Obituary
Fen – Winter
Havok – Conformicide
Wolfheart – Tyhjyys
Svart Crown – Abreaction
Nova Collective – The Further Side
Immolation – Atonement
The Mute Gods – Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth
Ex Deo – The Immortal Wars
Pyogenesis – A Kingdom To Disappear
My Soliloquy – Engines of Gravity
Nailed To Obscurity – King Delusion
Helion Prime – Helion Prime
Battle Beast – Bringer Of Pain
Persefone – Aathma
Soen – Lykaia
Exquirla – Para Quienes Aun Viven
Odd Logic – Effigy
Mors Principium Est – Embers Of A Dying World
Firewind – Immortals
Slyde – Back Again EP
Sepultura – Machine Messiah
Deserted Fear – Dead Shores Rising
Kreator – Gods Of Violence
Borealis – World of Silence MMXVII
Pain of Salvation – In The Passing Light of Day