Category Archives: Album Review

Leprous – Malina – Album Review

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Artist: Leprous

Album Title: Malina

Label: InsideOut Music

Date of Release: 25 August 2017

One of the very biggest compliments that I can bestow upon a band is to say that they sound unique. In a day-and-age where originality is harder to come by than a public sector pay rise, it is quite an accolade to be able to declare to the world ‘we sound like no-one else’. And that is exactly what Leprous can boast. Good on them too, I say.

Ever since their debut, ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’ (2009), the Norwegian outfit has delivered superb music. In the early days, there was a touch more of the generic about them as they cut their teeth in the tough world of music whilst proudly wearing a few of their inspirations on their sleeves. The album was still brilliant, with a vibrancy and confidence thoroughly belying the incredibly young age of the individuals concerned. However, as they have become older, wiser, and ever-more proficient, the output has become more unique and, as a result, ever more intriguing.

I confess here and now my love for Leprous. However, that being said, my love is not the easy kind where I metaphorically fall into their arms, swooning at the immediate saccharine beauty of their music. Instead, it is a more reserved love, born out of respect, admiration and often astonishment at what I am hearing. That’s not to say that Leprous’ music is not beautiful, because it is, but they never seem to make it easy. And why should they? This is prog after all.

Whatever album you listen to within the back catalogue, you must make the effort, listen hard and work at it. If you do, ultimately the rewards will come. The same is true of ‘Malina’, the quintet’s fifth release to date.

At this point, I will admit to a certain amount of sympathy for Leprous, although the reason for the sympathy has been somewhat self-induced by the Norwegians. You see, their debut placed the bar very high. And remarkably, every release since then has nudged that bar higher and higher. Not one of their four previous albums has been less than brilliant. Always pushing themselves, always honing their output and tweaking their sound, they have consistently released brilliance without ever standing still. That’s all very well and good, but how can Leprous possibly continue to improve when each previous release is so strong?

Whatever the answer and whatever their strategy, something must be working though because, with ‘Malina’, they’ve done it again. You can hear the influences of previous albums, ‘The Congregation’ (2015) specifically. But importantly, the output and musical direction has been tweaked yet again; some might even baulk at the word ‘tweaked’. Nevertheless the Leprous of 2017 via ‘Malina’ sounds fresh, interesting, compelling whilst remaining totally, unequivocally unique.

True to form, my first spin through did not result in love at first listen, far from it. Instead it resulted in shrugged shoulders and apathy. My second brought consternation; would I ever like what I am hearing? The answer is ‘yes’, but not until at least the fifth pass through. Suddenly, chinks of light began to emerge, my mind opened and I now hear music full of variety, full of drama, full of melody, and full of emotion.

The rumours circulating on the internet are true, in that ‘Malina’ is definitely a less heavy beast, but to these ears, that’s only if you consider heavy guitars and pounding rhythms to be sonically heavy. ‘Malina’ has these elements and they use them wisely. But they are used less. And, as with each and every Leprous release before this, the music remains intricate, full of atmosphere and crushingly intense. It is also a multi-layered and multi-faceted affair too, with plenty going on in each composition, even if that’s not how it immediately appears.

Much of the intensity is down to the vocals of Einar Solberg, the guy that only got into music because he was coerced into it by his family. Solberg has a tone and delivery quite unlike all others. He can be melodious, he can be angry and he can be sombre, fragile, and deeply emotional. Like a chameleon, he can bring exactly what is needed to each and every composition. And he does it effortlessly. On ‘Malina’, Solberg has clearly worked a lot on his clean singing and in fact, has all but ditched the more abrasive delivery that featured so strongly on earlier albums.

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Credit: Bjørn Tore Moen

The aforementioned intensity is also created, in part, by the song writing and the absolute attention to detail. Each of the eleven tracks has been beautifully crafted and executed with a loving care. There is an ebb and flow to the material too, from atmospheric minimalism to the bang and crash that you’d expect from a band consistently labelled in some quarters as ‘progressive metal’, despite more of a rock sheen of late. Whether or not ‘Malina’ is a concept album, the music itself undeniably tells a story. Dip in and out of the record if you wish, for each track stands on its own. For maximum enjoyment however, ‘Malina’ should be listened to in its entirety.

‘Bonneville’ is the perfect introduction to the record and a firm insight into the overall stylistic direction of ‘Malina’. With its stark, minimal soundscapes at the outset, it gently builds as it develops, ultimately becoming heavier and more robust as it nears its conclusion. The melodies become more pronounced with repeated listens and those familiar guitar tones of Tor Oddmund Suhrke and newbie Robin Ognedal offer some reserved muscularity.

Unfortunately for ‘Bonneville’, it is then followed by ‘Stuck’ which is an absolute monster, arguably my favourite track on the album currently. I could spend hours dissecting it but suffice to say that there is a lot going on within the composition. Again, with perseverance, the melodic intent becomes more obvious and addictive, culminating in a very strong chorus, almost pop-like in many ways. However, I love the way the song frequently undulates and transitions from quiet introspection to something altogether more powerful. And then there’s the wonderful juxtaposition in the latter stages between the modern and the traditional, when the utterly gorgeous cello/strings of guest musician Raphael Weinroth-Browne join the electronic sounds created by Solberg’s synths. It makes for a truly epic finale.

Thereafter, we’re treated to a run of songs that are very nearly as excellent in their own way. ‘From The Flame’ offers one of the most openly catchy choruses as it ploughs a slightly more straight-forward construction, relative to the usual Leprous output of course. The properly progressive ‘Captive’ by contrast is all about the rhythms, with drummer Baard Kolstad and bassist Simen Børven working overtime to act as the foundation for this lurching number, enhanced by layers of vocals and more genuinely interesting synth sounds and effects. ‘Illuminate’ reintroduces strong melodies and manages to be the perfect contradiction by simultaneously being both upbeat and densely introspective, the latter achieved in part by the swathes of gentle keys that nestle just beneath the surface.

‘Leashes’ is smothered in emotion, quiet and unobtrusive for large parts but then dominated by some of the best, most impassioned vocals from Solberg when things take a turn for the heavier and more intense. The ebb and flow continues courtesy of ‘Mirage’ which enters the fray with some seriously heavy-sounding instrumentation from what I assume emanates from the four and six-strings respectively. But the chorus, when it hits, is bright, breezy and distinctly pop-ish in tone albeit underpinned by a clever, complex beat that seems second nature to Leprous. The djent-esque outro is a clever touch too, with props going to Børven again for some flamboyant bass work.

The title track, with the reintroduction of those lush strings is a dark, sombre composition that occasionally bubbles up via some well-placed percussion from Kolstad, but generally remains an intense, claustrophobic experience due to its fragility and emotional minimalism. It’s not an easy listen, but the pay-off is well worth the effort.

‘Coma’ reintroduces a faster pace, interesting because of the impressive drumming and incessant nature, whilst ‘The Weight of Disaster’ is a lumbering, loping hector but in the best way possible. The hint of groove finds much favour with me, particularly with the way I which it is not overplayed. In fact, this is another track of huge contrasts, where extended passages of quiet contemplation are butted up against moments of forceful intent. And it works thanks to the adeptness and sophistication of the song writing.

It is left to ‘The Last Milestone’ to close out ‘Malina’ and it does so in fabulous style. It is a crushingly beautiful, poignant and sad hymn, led by the strings of Raphael Weinroth-Browne and the sorrowful, almost operatic delivery of Solberg. It is a very different approach for Leprous but not for a single second do I believe that it doesn’t belong on this record. It is a bold way to end, but just like the opening track, it is perfectly placed, providing maximum impact in the process.

To conclude, ‘Malina’ is ultimately a stunning record. In so many ways it remains faithful to the core Leprous sound but it is bound to raise the eyebrows of many existing fans at the same time. The more rhythmic, staccato guitar work remains, as does the flair for the deceptively complex compositional and instrumental work. That said, ‘Malina’ feels smoother, even more assured and, dare I say it, more mature. Put simply, it is the sound of progressive music par excellence. Just don’t dismiss it after the first listen because if you do, you’ll be making a big mistake.

The Score of Much Metal: 9.5

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

The Lurking Fear – Out of the Voiceless Grave
Prospekt – The Illuminated Sky
Wintersun – The Forest Seasons
Witherfall – Nocturnes And Requiems
Tuesday The Sky – Drift
Anthriel – Transcendence
Decapitated – Anticult
Cosmograf – The Hay-Man Dreams
Orden Ogan – Gunmen
Iced Earth – Incorruptible
Anathema – The Optimist
Solstafir – Berdreyminn
Dream Evil – Six
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

The Lurking Fear – Out of the Voiceless Grave – Album Review

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Artist: The Lurking Fear

Album Title: Out of the Voiceless Grave

Label: Century Media Records

Date Of Release: 11 August 2017

I could be wrong but I’m pretty certain that Tomas Lindberg has never been involved in any band, project or record that has been anything less than solid. In fact, the vast majority of the material in which he has played some part, has been a lot better than ‘solid’, with much of it falling into ‘excellent’ or even ‘classic’ territory. It’s one heck of a list too, but most will be familiar with the Swede and his caustic gruff vocals as a result of his work with the peerless melodic death metal behemoth At The Gates. Personally-speaking, I also want to tip my cap to the criminally underrated Nightrage whilst I’m at it.

And now, not content with everything he has achieved to date, Lindberg pops up as the vocalist for The Lurking Fear, a brand new band that will naturally attract the dreaded ‘supergroup’ tag. Joining Lindberg is none other than his At The Gates sticksman Adrian Erlandsson, guitarists Jonas Stålhammar (Crippled Black Phoenix, God Macabre) and Fredrik Wallenberg (Skitsystem), as well as bassist Andreas Axelson (Disfear).

The band moniker is inspired by a short story written by H.P Lovecraft but apparently, that’s not where the inspiration finished, for it was musical inspiration that pulled this impressive quintet together in spite of their demanding day jobs. To illustrate this point, according to the press release, the guys came together and incredibly composed 18 songs in just two months.

‘Out Of The Voiceless Grave’ has since been trimmed down and thus features twelve tracks with a brisk running time of a little over 42 minutes. But what a 42 minutes it is, especially if you have a weakness for old-school death metal. This is a record that has clearly come from the modern era but which is imbued with many of the traits that made death metal so essential some twenty or thirty years ago.

What I hear is a record with a raw, nasty intensity to it as well as a bleak, suffocating atmosphere. The music is well-honed and tightly-performed but there’s enough fluidity to allow it to avoid sounding overly-precise or sterile. Instead, coupled with a production that blends the best of old and new, there’s an organic aspect to it, making it feel like the music lives and breathes.

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Credit: Martin Ahx

The Lovecraft-inspiration doesn’t cease at the band moniker either, as a sense of darkness and foreboding, in keeping with the literature of the Victorian/Edwardian author, looms large over ‘Out Of The Voiceless Grave’ right from the off. The opening instrumental title track provides an unsettling and clandestine soundtrack, murky and depraved. It may be a wasted track for many, but importantly, it sets the tone of the album, a tone that’s consistent as the record develops.

Those left in any doubt about the rhetoric surrounding The Lurking Fear and their love of old-school death metal need only listen to the opening few bars of ‘Vortex Spawn’ to be convinced. It might not be the best track on the record but it is an opening statement of real intent, switching between all-out speed and swirling lead guitar solos to more of a plodding, doomy pace, allowing the guitars to introduce some memorable riffing in that ever-so-familiar tone.

Next is ‘The Starving Gods Of Old’ and as it kicks in, I can hear more than a touch of thrash within it. It is also a much stronger track overall, with a break-neck pace for the most part, juxtaposed with a smattering of groove and topped off by a wild lead solo that threatens to spiral out of control almost as soon as it begins.

‘The Infernal Dread’ reintroduces the sounds of the opening instrumental before delivering something a little more melodic and immediate. The sound of tolling bells is a nice touch, injecting a little more atmosphere into the music but regardless, this is a very strong track.

After a few spins however, the realisation dawns on me that ‘Out of the Voiceless Grave’ is markedly stronger in the latter stages. I like the ominous mid-section stomp of ‘With Death Engraved In Their Bones’ amongst others, but by track seven, the magic happens on a more frequent basis as far as I’m concerned.

‘Teeth Of The Dark Plains’ begins in standard bruising fashion but just after the mid-way mark, the guitars have some real fun, delivering something more NWOBHM within the confines of their extreme metal cocoon. It’s a masterstroke, proving that there is more to The Lurking Fear than just out-and-out savagery and I like this album all the more for it.

Some spoken-word samples are injected into a slower section of ‘The Cold Jaws of Death’, giving the track a vague Gothic feel, which I hadn’t anticipated, whilst closing track, ‘Beneath Menacing Sands’ slows the pace more consistently, and brings the record to an end in a much more ponderous and overtly melodic manner, albeit without losing any of that atmospheric darkness that fits the Lovecraftian themes so well. In between, both ‘Winged Death’ and ‘Tentacles of Blackened Horror’ deliver yet more powerful and deliciously caustic content.

I think it says something about my personal tastes as well as the strength of the death metal releases in 2017 that an album this good is unlikely to be at the top of my list this year. Nevertheless, if you’re after a lovingly and expertly crafted death metal album that embraces a bygone era of the genre with authenticity, then this filthy, raw album is the one for you, without doubt.

The Score Of Much Metal: 8.75

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

Prospekt – The Illuminated Sky
Wintersun – The Forest Seasons
Witherfall – Nocturnes And Requiems
Tuesday The Sky – Drift
Anthriel – Transcendence
Decapitated – Anticult
Cosmograf – The Hay-Man Dreams
Orden Ogan – Gunmen
Iced Earth – Incorruptible
Anathema – The Optimist
Solstafir – Berdreyminn
Dream Evil – Six
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

Prospekt – The Illuminated Sky – Album Review

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Artist: Prospekt

Album Title: The Illuminated Sky

Label: The Laser’s Edge

Date Of Release: 21 July 2017

I remember reviewing the debut record from UK progressive metal band Prospekt for Powerplay some years ago. But more importantly, I remember being very impressed with the output and so it was a natural step for me to seek this out and give it the full treatment on the Blog Of Much Metal. No word limits here, so I am able to explore the music a little bit more in depth.

Formed in 2008 in Oxfordshire, a county more renowned for its world famous higher learning establishment than for its world class progressive metal, Prospekt remain a relatively young band with a self-titled EP (2011) and debut full length (‘The Colourless Sunrise – 2013) in their locker already. But it has been a long four years leading to ‘The Illuminated Sky’, the band’s sophomore studio release; four years that has seen a few changes to the band’s line-up. Keyboardist Richard Marshall and lead vocalist Matt Winchester have left, to be replaced by Rox Capriotti and Michael Morris respectively.

Now, I always get nervous when a progressive band changes vocalist, particularly when the departing member was a perfectly good fit. However, it is clear that Prospekt have expertly dodged the ‘disappointing vocalist’ bullet that hits a good number of bands within the genre. In Michael Morris, they have found a vocalist who works really well with the music that sits behind him. His range is impressive, able to hit the lower notes, the high notes and, as demonstrated within ‘Beneath Enriya’ by way of just one example, the very high notes. You know the ones that threaten to veer into ‘canine-only’ territory? Yeah, them!

And whilst ever so occasionally, I wish Morris has just a little more bass to his voice, I really can’t fault his ability or his delivery at all. He certainly has the ability to tell a story convincingly which is important in this kind of music, working with the complex compositions rather than battling them. In time, we could be looking at another Michael Eriksen from Circus Maximus or Tommy Karevik of Seventh Wonder perhaps. We shall have to wait and see.

Given that Prospekt’s musical weapon of choice is dextrous and complex symphonic prog metal, the choice of keyboardist is just as important as the vocalist. Again, Rox Capriotti would appear to be ideal. Not only is he clearly adept at creating sweeping atmospheric vistas and layers of bombast with his synths, Capriotti can deliver a flamboyant solo too, as demonstrated within ‘In The Shadows Of The Earth’ for example.

They join the unchanged core of bassist Phil Wicker, guitarist Lee Luland and drummer Blake Richarson who are equally adept and impressive in their chosen fields. The licks, leads, riffs and chops delivered by Luland are wonderful, the flamboyance of Wicker is not lost in a decent mix and as such is reminiscent of Seventh Wonder and Shadow Gallery. And Blake Richardson lays down some excellent rhythms, just the right balance of power, precision and flair.

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Everything so far is pointing in the right direction and the positivity continues as one’s focus then shifts to the compositions themselves. I’m a big sucker for melody and whilst there are just a few occasions where I want the quintet to go bigger and bolder in this area, they generally deliver something rather ear-pleasing to keep me coming back for more. In fact, in true progressive metal style, the more I listen, the more I discover.

Prospekt describe themselves as ‘cinematic technical progressive metal’ which I completely agree with. The content of the ten tracks on ‘The Illuminated Sky’ are truly epic in scope and cover a multitude of different influences, from the neoclassical output of Symphony X, to the more symphonic elements of bands like Dream Theater and the all-out technical flamboyance of Haken. To be honest though, listen carefully enough and you’ll be able to pick out ingredients from just about any of the biggest and best protagonists in the prog metal genre. And yet the music does not sound like a clone of any one band. Nor does it come across as being derivative in the slightest. Instead, it sounds confident, assured and remarkably vibrant.

The dramatic intro ‘Ex Nihilo’ sits somewhere between the aforementioned Haken and Dream Theater in tone, before the title track kicks in. And kick in, it certainly does, with the force and fury of a band that know they have something to offer the metal world. The riffs are excellent, the rhythm section is thunderous and the transitions between sections are slick. The chorus is a real grower and throughout it all, the synths provide that wonderfully dramatic and grandiose feel.

Remarkably, the quintet keep up the momentum as the album develops. ‘Titan’ has a vague Middle-Eastern flavour within its up-tempo structure, as well a striking lead guitar solo from Luland, whilst ‘Beneath Enriya’ offers a beautifully melodic and expansive chorus as well as some spoken-word samples to increase the sense of theatre.

Arguably my favourite track on ‘The Illuminated Sky’ is the nine-minute giant ‘Alien Makers Of Discord’. But it isn’t the amazing guest lead guitar work of Greg Howe that draws me in, it’s the huge melodic hooks within the chorus that floor me, nestled expertly within some impressive musicianship, a staple of the Prospekt sound.

And then, there’s ‘Cosmic Emissary’, which seems to dial everything up a further notch if that’s even possible. The neoclassical lead guitar work that introduces the song is superb but the symphonic elements are possibly the most ear-catching aspect of the song, adding drama and boosting the cinematic flavour even further. And then there’s the thunderous drumming that injects genuine heaviness to expertly counterbalance the well-placed quieter sections within the track.

‘Akaibara’, the closest Prospekt get to a ballad, is also a winner thanks in large part to the brief reduction of complexity and the subtle way that it builds. And what a pay-off when it reaches its climax – the melodies are so powerful and the relative simplicity, topped off by Morris’ emotional performance makes the whole thing more impactful and honest.

And yet there’s still time for one more song. And it’s the biggest of the lot. Weighing in at over 11 minutes, ‘Where Masters Fall’ which features the guest vocal talents of Dragonforce’s Marc Hudson, is the massive conclusion to an already massively impressive album, where just about nothing is off limits. Combining a little bit of everything that has gone before, it is the perfect way to conclude the record, leaving the listener on a real high.

The only conclusion I can reach is that with ‘The Illuminated Sky’, Prospekt have signalled their intent to become a big hitter in the prog scene in the most impressive of ways. Or, to put it another way, if you’re a fan of progressive music, it won’t be long before you’re a fan of Prospekt.

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

Wintersun – The Forest Seasons
Witherfall – Nocturnes And Requiems
Tuesday The Sky – Drift
Anthriel – Transcendence
Decapitated – Anticult
Cosmograf – The Hay-Man Dreams
Orden Ogan – Gunmen
Iced Earth – Incorruptible
Anathema – The Optimist
Solstafir – Berdreyminn
Dream Evil – Six
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

Wintersun – The Forest Seasons – Album Review

Wintersun - The Forest Seasons - Artwork

Artist: Wintersun

Album Title: The Forest Seasons

Label: Nuclear Blast

Date of Release: 21 July 2017

If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it’s when the off-stage antics become bigger than the music. I understand that in an environment as volatile, unpredictable and fast-paced as the music industry, very little ever runs smoothly. Sometimes the issues are kept strictly behind closed doors whilst others are just too big to be kept hidden. However, when the issues completely overshadow the music, the thing that I’m most interested in, I lose interest. Particularly when it feels, at least to me anyway, that the dirty laundry is being deliberately aired in public.

It is also for these reasons, generally speaking, that I have never been a fan of Finland’s Wintersun. I am pretty sure that, had I given them more time and attention, I might have found a band with which I could click. After all, originally starting life as the side project of Jari Mäenpää from Ensiferum, the DNA was strong. The fact that Wintersun play melodic extreme metal with strong symphonic and folk overtones, with a flair for the dramatic only adds to the likelihood that they’d find favour, musically-speaking, with my ruined ears.

Unfortunately however, over the years, there have been so many dramas surrounding the Helsinki-based quartet that I have felt reticent to get too involved with the entire saga. From dramas with record labels, to huge delays with releases, to crowdfunding campaigns and a myriad of other ‘stuff’, the whole thing is draining and not conducive to building a positive relationship between the band and potential fans. As a result, aside from the occasional cursory dabble, I have kept Wintersun firmly at arm’s length.

It comes as a surprise therefore, that I find myself penning a review for ‘The Forest Seasons’, only the third album of the Finn’s 14-year career. I don’t really know why I have taken this step if I’m honest, but I was sent the promo by the good people at Nuclear Blast and here I am. It certainly wasn’t the hype, I can tell you. Ever since their inception, Wintersun have been the recipients of some of the most insane hype ever. Some of it is undeniably of their own doing, whilst some of it is, to be fair, not their fault. But either way, the hype has been enormous, almost making me shy away from this.

Right from the off, the fact that this isn’t ‘Time II’ will bother many longer-term fans. I’ve never really listened to it, so I’m not bothered in the slightest. But this review cannot ignore the fact that ‘The Forest Seasons’ is not the sequel to ‘Time I’, the record that many quote as being Wintersun’s finest moment to date. Maybe that’s the reason then – the fact that I can review this record unencumbered by the baggage of expectation and without the inevitable, palpable disappointment experienced by others. Or maybe it’s because I was drawn in by the impressive cover artwork which I rather admire.

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Whatever the reason, what do I think of ‘The Forest Season’? Yeah, I’d better get round to that hadn’t I?

Well, to cut to the chase, I like parts of it, I am slightly bored by other parts and I have an overall feeling that can be best explained by a puff of the cheeks and a shrug of the shoulders. Let me explain.

‘The Forest Seasons’ has a running time of around 55 minutes but is split into just four distinct compositions. This means that each track requires the expenditure of quite some time, as the shortest clocks in at 12 minutes whilst the longest falls just shy of 15 minutes. Now, as many of you know, I love long, epic tracks – it’s in my blood as a fan of prog. However, this love is predicated on the fact that the composition has a reason for the extended life. If it doesn’t, I do get bored. And that’s part of the problem here with ‘The Forest Seasons’. Each track contains some excellent moments where either a riff, a melody or a symphonic arrangement will strike a chord with me. The problem is, these are not quite frequent enough to keep my attention unwavering throughout. I tried, I really did, but something fails to click enough for me to fully immerse myself in it and therefore it prevents me from recommending it unconditionally.

The opening track is entitled ‘Awaken The Dark Slumber’ and naturally for an album that is clearly meant to represent the seasons, it is Wintersun’s interpretation of Spring. What I wasn’t quite expecting was the overt black metal feel, complete with dramatic swathes of synths and raspy vocals. However, it takes until the fifth minute for my interest to be fully piqued, when the vocals break out into a bold, almost pleading clean croon. For a couple of minutes, I get swept up in the music but as the track ploughs on, I again switch off as it lacks sufficient variety to pull me along. The last two minutes then see out the longest composition of the four in a much more positive vein.

Summer follows in the form of ‘The Forest That Weeps’ and it’s here that Wintersun’s game is upped. With a much stronger folk element to it, this slightly shorter track bounds along at a great pace and with a little swagger too. The melodies, although a little repetitive in the latter stages, are a lot more memorable, to the point where I find myself humming the chorus when I least expect it. I really like the over-the-top choir vocals, as they add an epic gravitas to the composition and nicely juxtapose the extended foray into quieter, more laid-back folk territory which arrives around the mid-way point. This is a very nice song, possibly my favourite on the album.

After a dark foreboding intro, ‘Eternal Darkness’ explodes into something very Dimmu Borgir-esque. Furious double-pedal drumming, layer upon layer of grandiose synths and raw, spiteful growls combine to create a very striking passage of music. However, in my opinion, it goes on a little too long without sufficient variety and so it’s not until the six-minute mark that my attention is fully held. At this point, the song slows and opens up allowing a really nice passage that builds whilst all the while being dominated by some increasingly flamboyant lead guitar work. I will also accede to enjoying the bombastic closure of the track which is rather epic and atmospheric

The final season, winter, is represented by ‘Loneliness’, a track that begins quietly and then plods along at a markedly slower pace than their norm. The swathes of synths literally drench the music in atmosphere in keeping with the song’s title, whilst there is a greater variety in the vocal delivery for my money. In fact, I wish we’d heard more of Jari Mäenpää’s clean delivery elsewhere because when he lets go, he can really sing, as demonstrated in the sequence that leads up to the mid-way point as well as the truly excellent final crescendo. At points, this vies for top spot with ‘Summer’ but in between, my mind wanders yet again.

So, in summary, ‘The Forest Seasons’ is a frustrating record. There is a lot to like about it when you start to dissect the music. However, these moments or passages of excellence feel to me like they are too few and far between, padded out by some average music along the way. Put it like this – if ‘The Forest Seasons’ was a ten track record, there’d be about four killer tracks surrounded by six disappointing fillers. That, to me, is not the recipe for a great album. And that’s a shame because when Wintersun fire on all cylinders, it sounds immense.

The Score of Much Metal: 7

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

Witherfall – Nocturnes And Requiems
Tuesday The Sky – Drift
Anthriel – Transcendence
Decapitated – Anticult
Cosmograf – The Hay-Man Dreams
Orden Ogan – Gunmen
Iced Earth – Incorruptible
Anathema – The Optimist
Solstafir – Berdreyminn
Dream Evil – Six
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

Witherfall – Nocturnes And Requiems – Album Review

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Artist: Witherfall

Album Title: Nocturnes and Requiems

Label: Independent Release

Date of release: 10 February 2017

I’m going to start this review in a blunt manner: I am enjoying the hell out of this album. With that in mind, allow me to elaborate in a style more familiar to those who follow this site.

‘Nocturnes And Requiems’ is the debut album from Witherfall, a band comprised of four extremely talented musicians in their own right, namely guitarist Jake Dreyer, vocalist Joseph Michael, bassist Anthony Crawford and drummer Adam Sagan. Dreyer will be a familiar name to many as an ex-member of White Wizzard and current lead axeman for Iced Earth. Michael is also ex-White Wizzard stock whilst Sagan plied his trade with the likes of Circle II Circle and a personal favourite of mine, Into Eternity.

‘Nocturnes and Requiems’ was apparently recorded in 2014 but has taken until 2017 to be released. Tragically, in the interim, drummer Sagan has passed away having bravely battled with a form of blood cancer. The release could be viewed then as something of a tribute to a fallen comrade and what a fitting tribute it is to a talented sticksman. But more than simply being a tribute, ‘Nocturnes And Requiems’ is an excellent heavy metal album in its own right, regardless of the circumstances surrounding its release.

If you have a weakness for superlative musicianship, you’ll lap this record up, particularly if that weakness focuses on the six-string instrument. If you are also a fan of progressive metal, then this record might just have you jumping for joy.

That said, there isn’t much within Witherfall’s approach that screams originality but somehow that doesn’t matter to me here. In fact, if anything, I’d argue that there is a heavy indebtedness to the likes of Symphony X, Nevermore and many others within the six full tracks and two shorter interludes that comprise ‘Nocturnes And Requiems’. Speaking personally, as a fan of both of the aforementioned, this is no a bad thing.

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Whilst every member of the band has skills, it is inevitable that the stand-out member of Witherfall for most of us is going to be guitarist Jake Dreyer. It is no wonder that Iced Earth snaffled him up because the guy is utterly immense. In fact, dare I suggest that he might be just a little under-utilised with Iced Earth? It may seem like overenthusiastic hyperbole but there is a strong case for putting Dreyer into the same league as the likes of Jeff Loomis or Michael Romeo, albeit he has his own style.

Given the neoclassical bent to some of the material, the parallels to Romeo are clearer, as is firmly demonstrated by the lightning fast playing which introduces the rather epic ‘End Of Time’ which is actually split into three parts. The intensity and technicality of the opening solo, followed by the flamboyance of the ensuing riff is enough to make me grin from ear to ear. If that wasn’t enough, the acoustic work that is incorporated into the track is sublime, adding plenty of darker tones to the track, enhanced by the emotive delivery of Joseph Michael.

Naturally, for a song that spans the better part of ten minutes, there are plenty of different sections that I could mention, including several of the extended guitar solos or the brief classical guitar segments that are beautifully delivered. But as good as all these parts are, the icing on the cake is the chorus that introduces a strong melody and a sense of the grandiose that is catchy enough to pull me in for repeated listens and proves that Witherfall are more than just clever instrumentalists; they are accomplished songwriters too.

Indeed, the songwriting prowess can be heard littered throughout the record. The Nevermore-tinged aggression of opener ‘Portrait’ is a huge winner thanks to the powerful riffs, driving rhythms, dark tones and strangely addictive introspective chorus of sorts not to mention its overt classic prog metal sheen. It contains a little bit of just about everything I want in my metal these days if I’m honest.

Then there’s the equally compelling follow-up in the shape of ‘What We Are Dying For’. It begins in frenetic style with a melodeath-style riff before descending into modern Symphony X territory, all the while keeping the foot to the floor in terms of pace and tempo. Sagan’s drumming is a key factor to the success of this composition, along with clever changes of pace that bring the track more into line with the doom genre. The solo guitar work atop the repetitive rhythm guitar notes is superb as is the bass playing of Anthony Crawford. I love the diversity of the song which, in true clichéd style, genuinely takes the listener on a journey. The Spanish-influenced classical guitar playing has to be, above all else, my favourite part though – it has to be heard to be believed, such is its blend of technicality and rich warmth.

I’ve yet to really mention vocalist Joseph Michael but when discussing yet another epic track, ‘Sacrifice’, his name comes top of the list. With a range that allows the guy to sing softly with emotion, snarl with naked aggression, soar with melodious intent or burst his lungs with the kind of high-pitched wails that the likes of Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens or Rob Halford would be proud of, Michael has it all. And he demonstrates this impressive repertoire on ‘Sacrifice’ which is as bold and ambitious as his vocals. If I’m being hyper-critical, this track lacks a killer hook or melody to ensnare the unwary listener. However, it makes up for this with the sheer variety, drama and myriad of tones and textures on offer, meaning that it still holds your attention throughout.

So there you have it. An album that I knew nothing about until a copy was thrust upon me has ended up making a huge impression upon me. It remains to be seen what the future holds for the remaining three members of Witherfall but I sincerely hope that ‘Nocturnes And Requiems’ is not a one-off because it is just too damn good and newly-converted fans (myself included), simply need more of this kind of music in our lives. To deny us this would be a huge travesty.

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

Tuesday The Sky – Drift
Anthriel – Transcendence
Decapitated – Anticult
Cosmograf – The Hay-Man Dreams
Orden Ogan – Gunmen
Iced Earth – Incorruptible
Anathema – The Optimist
Solstafir – Berdreyminn
Dream Evil – Six
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

Tuesday The Sky – Drift – Album Review

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Artist: Tuesday The Sky

Album Title: Drift

Label: InsideOut Music

Release date: 30 June 2017

You’ll already be aware of my general feelings towards instrumental albums as I’ve made no secret of it on this blog. I’m not the biggest fan as a rule, because I tend to find them a little one-dimensional and just a bit dull to be perfectly honest. There are exceptions to every rule of course, the most significant being the magnificent ‘A Dream In Static’ from Earthside which rightfully finished top of my 2015 Album of the Year list.

And now, the latest album to buck the trend is ‘Drift’, the debut release from the slightly absurdly-monikered Tuesday The Sky. I hesitate to refer to Tuesday The Sky as a band because this is more accurately a project, at least it is at this stage anyway. What happens over the long term of course remains to be seen. Involved with this project is none other than Jim Matheos, guitarist and song writer with the iconic progressive metal band Fates Warning. Joining him in this venture is Lloyd Hanney, drummer with God Is An Astronaut. If that isn’t enough to pique your interest, then let me add the names of Kevin Moore (ex-Dream Theater) who provides his keyboard skills to two tracks and Anna-Lynne Williams (Trespassers William) who provides non-lyrical vocals on two songs.

The overall output of Tuesday The Sky could best be described as ambient instrumental rock; indeed that’s how they are billed in most corners of the internet. It is an accurate description but it also fails, in my opinion, to do the music full justice. Having had the privilege of sharing many a precious hour in the company of ‘Drift’, it is patently obvious that this record is far more involved, nuanced and brilliantly constructed than this generic description suggests.

‘Drift’ is comprised of ten individual tracks that all stand on their own merits but which are at their most powerful when listened to as a whole. At times the music is barely audible, a gentle minimalist ambience at best. At other times, it explodes with real force and is surprisingly heavy. But the heaviness is in no way angry or confrontational; instead, it is like the outpouring of pent up emotions, the bursting of a dam. In the case of the perfectly-named ‘It Comes In Waves’, the heaviness has a demonstrably euphoric feeling to it, as the floodgates are opened and the strong, vibrant guitars crash around the quieter elements in a way that conveys so much human emotion, albeit positive, almost life-affirming.

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The melodies throughout ‘Drift’ are consistently excellent, forcing me to question how this material was created with such apparent nonchalance by Matheos in the downtime between the release of ‘Theories of Flight’ and the ensuing touring cycle. It is no secret how talented Matheos is as a musician and song writer but the music of Tuesday the Sky shows a whole new side to him and he comes out of it with bucket loads of integrity and my increased admiration.

‘Dyatlov Pass’ is one of the most striking compositions on the entire record for a number of reasons. The first half is pure ambient territory but with vaguely unsettling overtones due to the use of some strange dystopian sound effects. It has a cinematic vibe which then gives way to a pounding rhythm and arguably the heaviest riffs found anywhere on the album. The guitar tone delivers a real crunch and serious bite in what is quite a stark juxtaposition with what is on offer elsewhere.

And, even though I initially thought my download had been corrupted in light of the deliberately tremulous and static-plagued fragile opening guitar melody, opening track ‘Today The Sky’ has to be my current favourite. I love the crispness of the drumming, the vibrancy of the guitar tones and the way in which the atmospheric ambience rises and falls, building in intensity, delivering beautiful melodies and culminating in a glorious crescendo of sound that sends a shiver down my spine.

The aforementioned vocals of Williams are also a masterstroke. Her heart-rending ethereal approach bathes the sumptuous ‘Vortex Street’ in a warm embrace that is impossible to not take to your heart. In fact, I am struggling to think of a composition outside of Anathema with such depth of feeling and emotion. But crucially, the vocals are not overused; it could have been a temptation to employ Williams on every track but then their impact would have been diminished. As it is, when they surface, they are a delight.

The final tick in the box for ‘Drift’ is the variety on offer. There are common themes and threads that run through each song but they all have their own identities, be it the more robust post-rock/metal leanings of ‘Kite’ or the filmic nature of ‘Roger Gordo’, complete with its dense atmospherics and multitude of spoken word samples.

I know that I have published this review well after its release. However, I make no apologies for this. There are some records that require a little extra attention, a little more time and this is one of those. I feel like I understand it a lot more now, but more importantly, my admiration has grown into a genuine fondness for what has become a go-to record when I wish to be emotionally nourished and surrounded by music that has something subtle yet powerful to say. There will be no other instrumental album released in 2017 that will get close to topping this, I guarantee it.

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

Anthriel – Transcendence
Decapitated – Anticult
Cosmograf – The Hay-Man Dreams
Orden Ogan – Gunmen
Iced Earth – Incorruptible
Anathema – The Optimist
Solstafir – Berdreyminn
Dream Evil – Six
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

Anthriel – Transcendence – Album Review

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Artist: Anthriel

Album Title: Transcendence

Label: Lion Music

Date Of Release: 15 June 2017

I don’t think I have ever been bullied so relentlessly by a reader in the quest for me to publish a review. But I’m nothing if not willing to please my loyal followers, so here I am with some considered thoughts about ‘Transcendence’, the sophomore album from Anthriel.

Having not been aware of the debut album, ‘The Pathway’, I come at this follow-up without the baggage of expectation and without the need to compare the two. If you’re looking for a review that specifically does this, I’m afraid you’ll need to go elsewhere. From what I can glean from various sources that I tend to trust, this record might be in a heavier and darker vein to its predecessor. Indeed this is borne out by the band on the accompanying press release, as they admit exactly that.

Well, for the Man of Much Metal, darker and heavier is almost always a good thing and so it has proved here. The reason for the delay in penning this review is because, drowning under a host of new releases, I disregarded it to begin with. Then I heard a few comments about it and, resulting from the aforementioned bullying, I was browbeaten into finding a track online to listen to. Well blow me down with a feather, I rather liked it, so here I am now with my considered review.

It has been a lengthy wait for new material, some seven years. In the intervening time, the Finns have suffered problems with their rehearsal studio and then the almost inevitable line-up issues, losing both their drummer and bassist. It means now that Anthriel is comprised of Simo Silvan (lead vocals & backing vocals), Timo Niemistö (guitars & backing vocals), Antti Hakulinen (keyboards), Antti Horttana (bass & backing vocals) and Henrikki Markkula (drums).

It’s not all bad news though, because to me, this sounds like a very strong unit playing together to create a rather glorious racket. Naturally the band suggests that this is their strongest incarnation to date but that is definitely backed up by the end result. The inter-album turmoil has also led to the inspiration for the lyrical concept which follows on from the debut but is more about the time in a person’s life where there is almost no hope at all.

I’m not going to sit here and say that ‘Transcendence’ reinvents any wheels. However, what it does do, is provide a hugely enjoyable and immersive listen that gets better and better with each spin. This is bombastic and occasionally over-the-top progressive power metal but unlike other bands who proclaim to play a similar style of music, this is a really excellent blend of all of these elements.

Firstly, it is most definitely heavy enough to be accurately referred to as metal. It also has the symphonics and sprawling qualities of power metal and finally, it is definitely progressive thanks to an abundance of chops, tempo changes and intricate compositions. Two of the tracks extend beyond ten minutes, with the album closer falling just shy of the 20-minute mark. ‘Transcendence’ is also a lush and layered album where, on repeated listens, new intricacies and depth comes through.

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In terms of reference points, there is more than a hint of mid-era Symphony X about some of the Anthriel output. But equally, I hear smatterings of Dream Theater, the pomp of Edguy or compatriots Sonata Arctica at their most epic and numerous other influences including a smattering of Shadow Gallery and Seventh Wonder. The opening cinematic and symphonic instrumental also has a touch of ‘Chariots of Fire’ about it thanks to the prominent keys.

I sometimes wish that bands dispensed of these instrumental intros, particularly where the entire album only consists of eight tracks. However, it is difficult to be too churlish about ‘The Calling’ as it fits the feel of ‘Transcendence’ nicely, even if it isn’t the most essential and memorable piece of music in and of itself. Get that out of the way and from there on, the remaining seven tracks that break the hour mark, rightfully rack up the positives.

‘Under Burning Skies’ is a high-octane opener that bounds along at a great pace. I love the riffs that feature as well as the pinched harmonics that dominate the opening few bars of the first major riff. The two newbies Horttana and Markkula immediately make their mark, creating a strong rhythmic spine at the centre of the track. The synths of Hakulinen bathe the song throughout and the quiet mid-section is a great touch, injecting loads of introspective atmosphere, entirely fitting with the dark tones and a great juxtaposition with the heaviness and in-your-face drama that sandwiches it. The icing on the cake is the vocal performance of Simo Silvan, who impresses me with his rich, commanding and melodious tones. This is where many bands of this ilk fall down, but not Anthriel.

The 11-minute ‘Oath Of Darkness’ is even better in my opinion. This is ‘proper’ full-on, no holes barred classic-style progressive metal with a plethora of twists and turns, from dark and brooding atmospheres to triumphant euphoria led by lead guitar solos and rousing keys. Starting with a Mike Oldfield-esque melody, it then lurches forward, building in intensity whilst experimenting with many keyboard-soaked aural textures along its journey. The angry, quasi-gruff vocals add to the aggression but then in come some great melodies to transform the song into something quite excellent, deceptively catchy and thoroughly satisfying.

Tinkling piano, choppy riffs and strong melodies dominate the excellent, slightly more balladic ‘Siren’s Song’, alongside duelling keyboard and guitar solos for which I’ll admit to having a soft spot occasionally. ‘Painted Shadows’ and the angrier follow-up ‘Rhapsody Of Fire’ both revisit those Symphony X influences thanks to strong riffs, layers of key, flamboyant guitar work and plenty of neo-classical affectations, particularly within the former.

‘My Morning Star’ in contrast blasts forth with the kind of symphonic bombast that Nightwish would be proud of, before reining things in to create something altogether more slow-burning and poignant whilst retaining much of the heaviness and catchiness witnessed elsewhere on this record.

It falls to ‘Fallen Souls’ to complete the album. At 19 minutes long, it is the very definition of ‘epic’ but crucially for a track so long, the time most certainly does not drag. There’s simply too much going on for my mind to wander, beginning with an enormously dramatic and cinematic introduction. Extended instrumental passages, tempo changes, virtuosic instrumentalism and symphonic bombast come together in a surprisingly cohesive manner to make this final act a memorable one, with a tiny Haken hint in places. If I’m being picky, I’d have liked a few more memorable melodies within it, similar to those earlier on the album but otherwise it’s a very powerful closing piece of music.

I must admit that I have been left more impressed with ‘Transcendence’ than I thought I would be at the beginning. This is so good in fact, that it might muscle its way into my end-of-year top 30 at this rate. Vibrant, complex, nuanced…this is progressive power metal of a very high standard indeed.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.0

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

Decapitated – Anticult
Cosmograf – The Hay-Man Dreams
Orden Ogan – Gunmen
Iced Earth – Incorruptible
Anathema – The Optimist
Solstafir – Berdreyminn
Dream Evil – Six
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