Category Archives: Ambient

Asira – Efference – Album Review

Final Artwork

Artist: Asira

Album Title: Efference

Label: Independent Release

Date Of Release: 7 April 2017

As little as a week ago, I had never heard of the band Asira. I did not know that they were a new band. I didn’t know that they hailed from Reading on these very shores in the UK. I didn’t know that they were a quintet comprised of vocalist Jack Reynolds, guitarists Martin Williams and Ethan Bishop, bassist Chris Kendell and drummer Sam Greenland. I didn’t know that on 7th April they were to release their debut full-length album entitled ‘Efference’. And, most crucially of all, I didn’t know that the music on this debut album would be so beautiful.

I know all of these things now and my life is much the richer for it.

The musical output of Asira is undeniably quite complex. It is complex in the fact that it draws upon a number of styles and influences across the eight tracks that comprise ‘Efference’. In essence, it is a thorough and fascinating multi-layered and multi-faceted exploration of the subgenre loosely termed as ‘blackgaze’, where savagery and uncompromising black metal sounds are blended with the subtle and evocative beauty of ambient and shoegaze music.

And yet, the skill of Asira has meant that the final product sounds so effortless and so simple. The warm ambient and atmospheric sections sooth and embrace you, whilst the melodies catch your ear almost immediately. And then, even when these passages are replaced by the naked aggression of cold and icy black metal, sometime abruptly, the juxtaposition doesn’t feel forced or clunky in any way. The compositions are ambitious and grand in scope, but they also feel homogenous and eloquent.

I have no qualms in admitting that I am a huge fan of this kind of music and Asira are yet another strong and exciting example of why this is. I regard the likes of Alcest and Les Discrets as the genre leaders and whilst the differences between them are marked, I have no problems in referencing all three in the same breath. I am much less of a fan of Opeth and Steven Wilson and yet even when there are nods in these directions, as evidenced within the short piece entitled ‘Of Dawn’, I’m not left disappointed or underwhelmed. Yes, ‘Efference’ is that good.

Scott Chalmers photography

Scott Chalmers Photography

The opening to the album, ‘Sanguine’ contains some of the most moving sounds this side of modern-day Anathema. It begins with a very simple ambient melody before exploding in a blaze of euphoric warmth and beauty. The sombre tinkling of the ivories as the all-too-brief composition closes is simply gorgeous. It is already at this point that I am hooked and realise that I’m almost certainly about to listen to something special.

And then, with no warning, in comes ‘Crucible Of Light’ with full-on black metal malevolence and spite. Blast beats and fast-picked riffing bombard the senses from the outset but even at this point, melody and sophistication is never far away. In come the blackened screams to add to the intensity but just as quickly, they are replaced by a soothing clean croon and all of a sudden the uncompromising black metal assault is replaced by something more ethereal and majestic, full of melody and atmosphere. A groovy mid-section takes over with a vaguely progressive feel to it before the track reverts back to black metal brutality and then ends with a reprise of the central melody to glorious effect.

There is a much calmer, more introspective opening to the title track , as if to allow the listener to take stock of what went before. The melodies are once again poignant and arresting, capturing my full attention. The blend of clean guitars, synths and almost angelic vocals is inspired. The pace is then lifted although clean, jangling guitars remain at the heart of the bittersweet-sounding composition. After another section of decadent ambience, I’m pulled from my reverie by a fabulous lead guitar solo, whilst it is only the final minute or so that touches on anything remotely connected to extreme metal.

The nods to Opeth are again evident within the opening stages to ‘This Hollow Affliction’ but the show-stopper for me is the expressive and soulful lead guitar work that enters the fray wonderfully. It is one of the longest tracks on ‘Efference’ but its double-figure length is used to good effect, offering plenty of variety along the way. It’s one of the worst clichés in metal journalism but it really does take the listener on a journey through emotional highs and lows. What jumps out at me is the much more pronounced Riverside –esque lead guitar work that rears its head at various points as well as the sublime serenity and remarkable depth of the piece at around the 7:30 mark. It is soon replaced by bludgeoning black metal but the melody and the angelic vocals remain as a thread to the very end.

‘Phosphorous’ delivers more of a punchy and harsh battery of classic symphonic black metal underpinned by a softer shoegaze element to smooth the rough edges, whereas ‘Whispers Of The Moon’, as its name suggests, it a completely different beast, sprawling across seven minutes in languid fashion, offering more melodic bliss within the context of an ambient-meets-progressive rock framework. It slowly builds to a resounding finale that is full of energy, vitality and beauty.

In what feels like the blink of an eye, ‘The Mortal Tide’ arrives to see ‘Efference’ out and, in keeping with the rest of the album, it does so in style. In fact, if anything, there’s more of a prog metal feel to the overall composition as well as the guitars on this track. But fear not as this is never at the expense of the ubiquitous atmospheres, ambience and more extreme elements that Asira execute so well. The vocal melodies that enter around the half-way mark are stunning, only adding to the impact of another brilliantly devised and executed composition.

On the basis of ‘Efference’, I can only predict big things for Asira. If their debut album can be so ambitious, cohesive and assured, what on earth will their second, third and fourth albums sound like. We can only wait and see. However, for now, content yourself with the fact that there’s a new band in existence that has so much potential and simply immerse yourself in ‘Efference’. As blackgaze goes, this is one of the best I’ve heard in a long, long time.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

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

BlogOfMuchMetal – Metal News – 23 March 2017

As you can see from the title of this post, I’ve gone through a bit of a re-branding with these regular news reports. They will still focus on news about albums in the pipeline, so keep expecting updates on new releases, big album announcements, new tracks, studio reports etc.

However, I wanted something a bit more snappy as a title and also something that wasn’t so restrictive as there may be times when I need to write about something that doesn’t involve a new album.

If you’ve not checked out any of the previous posts in this series, entitled ‘Anticipated music in 2017 – an update…’, they can be found via the links at the bottom of this page.

Lonely Robot – The Big Dream
Release date: 28 April 2017

16729381_10155037235405439_4788700761726639376_nI brought you news a week or two back about a new album from Lonely Robot, the brainchild of John Mitchell of It Bites, Arena and Frost* fame. Well, I can now bring you a new track from the forthcoming sophomore release ‘The Big Dream’.

As you might expect, Mitchell’s recognisable guitar playing and vocals are all over this energetic and dynamic progressive rock track that features plenty of melodic hooks to get you coming back for repeated listens. From what can be gleaned from ‘Everglow’, there is unlikely to be a massive sea-change from the debut but that’s a good thing in my opinion. This sounds big, bold and continues with those grand cinematic overtones.

This is just the kind of song to get me extremely excited for the upcoming album.

Lost In Thought – TBC
Release date: TBC

This has got to be one of my most highly anticipated albums of 2017 right here, the sophomore release from the re-formed and rejuvenated UK progressive metal band, Lost In thought. Their debut, ‘Opus Arise’ was a cracking body of progressive metal and is a more than solid foundation upon which to build.

Over the past few weeks and months, the band have been releasing snippets of the recording process and everything I have heard from these suggests that the anticipation for a long-overdue follow-up has not been misplaced. It remains to be seen exactly how the all-new line-up will fare and how new vocalist Deane Lazenby fits in having recently replaced Nate Loosemore behind the mic but that’s all part of the excitement for me.

And whilst we wait for more, here is a selection of recent updates to get you salivating at the prospect of what threatens to be another quality progressive metal album during 2017.

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CyHra – TBC
Release date: TBC

Now this is some news that came out of nowhere and was broken to the world by my old mate and died-in-the-wool metalhead Carl Begai of BWBK. I have been a fan of Amaranthe since the very beginning and I’ve enjoyed each album they have released, even when the music has veered dangerously close to cheesy pop territory. Vocalist Jake E. is one of the reasons for my enjoyment as he has a great voice. So when he left the band, I was very disappointed.

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Similarly, I have also been a fan of In Flames for nearly 20 years. Admitedly, I much prefer their earlier output to the more latter-day incarnation, with guitarist Jesper Stromblad playing an integral part in that with his distinctive playing and input into the song writing.

Therefore, news of these two artists coming together in a brand new project get me very intrigued and a little bit excited. The new band, CyHra, which also features Peter Iwers (ex-In Flames) and Alex Landerburg (Luca Turilli’s Rhapsody), will have fans of old In Flames salivating for obvious reasons, although the band have distanced themselves from being an old In Flames clone right at the outset. Regardless though of what they actually sound like, the debut album will attract a great deal of attention and I’m very excited to hear the finished article.

Ghost Bath – Starmourner
Release date: 21 April 2017

1000x1000Ghost Bath were a new find for me last year. Until that point, I’d never checked out the American quintet. To be honest, I’d barely even heard their name before. But then the band suddenly found themselves on the books of Nuclear Blast and the whole world seemingly took more notice, including me.

In my review of ‘Moonlover’, I described Ghost Bath as appealing to those ‘with a penchant for music that juxtaposes dark and depressing black metal with elegant and soaring shoegaze-like melodies. Call it ‘blackgaze’ if you will’, later concluding that the album delivered ‘a sophisticated blend of aggression, beauty and raw emotion.’

And now, here we have a brand new track from the forthcoming studio album, ‘Ambrosial’ to tide us over until the record is released. Early impressions from me are mixed, but I’ll give it time and judge the material in the context of the entire album. Here’s the track – see what you think…

Novembers Doom – Hamartia
Release date: 14 April 2017

16194898_10154785044620926_4893612019868184461_nNovembers Doom are one of those bands that I think I should really like but end up passing by. I always try to like the American dark/doomsters and I have a couple of their albums in my collection. But I’ve never been much of a fan.

Album number ten is on the horizon and once again, I’m dutifully checking out their new material in the hope that it will finally click with me. And you know what? I really like this track entitled ‘Zephyr’; it is dark and depressive, but it has a really rich tone and an understated melodic chorus that gets under the skin quite quickly. If the new album offers this standard throughout, it might finally be the album that I’ve been waiting for from Novembers Doom.

Previous updates:

11 March 2017
5th March 2017
26th February 2017
13th February 2017
3rd February 2017
30th January 2017
21st January 2017

Fen – Winter – Album Review

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Artist: Fen

Album Title: Winter

Label: Code666

Date Of Release: 10 March 2017

If ever there was an album title that fitted the music of the band perfectly, it is this. ‘Winter’ is the name of the latest album from UK progressively-laced black metal band Fen and, as someone very wise pointed out to me on social media recently, Fen are the ideal band to listen to when you find yourself in the cold and dark.

The trio of Fen that’s comprised of drummer Havenless, bassist/vocalist Grungyn and guitarist/vocalist The Watcher, have been around for a surprisingly long time. And, in their eleven-year year existence, they have released no fewer than three full-length albums of high quality dark, atmospheric and organic-sounding black metal. From this vantage point, they have always skirted with the possibility of ascending into the extreme metal mainstream if such a thing exists, without ever fully breaking through. That said, theirs is a brand of heavy metal that has garnered something of a cult following, where the hardcore believers await new music with feverish anticipation. I’d not have previously placed myself squarely within this relatively small but perfectly-formed core. However, I have more than admired Fen for a number of years and am familiar with all of their output to date.

However, ‘Winter’, the band’s fourth studio recording might change my position because it sees Fen further honing and refining their impressive sound with first class results. Whilst raw and harsh-sounding black metal sits at the heart of the band’s sound, the dark, cloying atmospheric elements remain ever-present, as do the progressive leanings and the quieter, more introspective ambient sections. Melody also plays an increasingly important part in the overall Fen approach, adding yet another important ingredient in the already refined multi-layered and richly-textured music.

And whilst ‘Winter’ is most definitely another important step forward in the evolution of Fen, it also hints at the earlier days of the band. As such, there feels to me like there’s a re-invigoration of those extreme metal roots; the harsh vocals make quite an impact, as do the sections that feature cold and sharp staccato-style riffing atop savage blast beats. These aspects of the Fen soundscape have never gone away but here, it all suggests a renewed vigour, an apparent hunger and a desire to re-state the core principles of the band.

The Watcher has gone on record to state that ‘Winter’ is ‘lengthy and self-indulgent for which we make no apology’ and that’s as true a statement as you’re likely to hear all year. ‘Winter’ is certainly both self-indulgent and lengthy, clocking in as it does at over 70 minutes in length, divided into six tracks where all bar one extend into double figures. I have absolutely no problem with this in principle so long as the compositions have something worthwhile to say and are well-executed. And that’s where Fen have succeeded by and large, because when I listen to ‘Winter’, I don’t get the sense that it drags or outstays its welcome. Yes there are parts that might benefit from a little editing here and there, but to do so might jeopardise the overall flow and feel of the record.

‘Winter’ kicks off with ‘Winter I (Pathway)’ the longest track on the album. And, throughout its 17-minute length, it creates a significant and grandiose soundscape that takes in plenty of intelligent highs and lows and peaks and troughs, leaving the listener with much to think about and digest. The first three minutes are quiet, contemplative and atmospheric before something altogether more extreme jumps out of the murky shadows to ramp up the aggression and intensity. Harsh and raspy growls replace the early clean delivery but what remains is the sense of melody and brittleness despite the more extreme sheen. Frequent and marked shifts in tempo add to the drama whilst sections of all-out ambience are juxtaposed with hard-hitting riffs. Add to this some beautifully cold and icy guitar melodies that create something approximating a crescendo towards the end as well as an extended atmospheric outro, and ‘I’ becomes a hugely impactful and intelligent opening to the album.

FEN low

In contrast, the mere ten-minute-long ‘Winter II (Penance)’ is slightly more direct and generally more of an up-tempo highly charged affair, littered more heavily with blast beats, fast riffing and urgent ear-catching bass work rumbling just below the surface. I also really like the more muscular, almost groovy guitar work that segues into something much more atmospheric towards the end.

The theme continues with the cunningly titled ‘Winter III (Fear)’ which starts off in sublime fashion, oozing atmospheric beauty and elegance. The minimalist post-rock, shoegaze vista slowly and gently increases in intensity before bursting at the seams, exploding into something both savage and beautiful at the same time as gorgeous melodies are interwoven into the black metal tapestry masterfully.

If anything, ‘Winter IV (Interment)’ is even more gorgeous. The quiet beginning contains some lovely understated acoustic guitars and arguably the most memorable melodies. The bold, heavier riffs that replace the atmosphere-drenched intro are equally as compelling as the track shifts almost surreptitiously into a much darker, angrier-sounding place before ultimately unravelling into something altogether slower and doomier as it progresses to a conclusion.

‘Winter V (Death)’ begins with savage intent, replacing melody and subtlety for something altogether harsher, at least at the outset. As the song develops, there’s a greater injection of what I can only describe as ‘moments of clarity’ within the more extreme framework. I’ve not mentioned the progressive elements of Fen very much in this review up to this point, but whilst they are to be found within the entire album, they make a real mark within ‘V’. Grandiose, euphoric-sounding moments are quickly replaced with a more discordant section or a challenging shift in the dynamics of the song. And yet, whilst the markedly different and competing ideas should interrupt the flow of the track, there’s an impressive smoothness that is beyond my limited comprehension.

Fen’s last hurrah on ‘Winter’ is delivered by ‘Winter VI (Sight)’. It is the shortest composition on the record but. The minimalist, atmospheric opening is heartbreakingly serene and beautiful, allowing the listener the time and space to think and look back at the entire album in retrospect. It isn’t until the half-way mark that things change with the reintroduction of Fen’s raw black metal approach, albeit overlaid initially with whimsical clean vocals. Somewhat fittingly, the final moments of the album are given over to a challenging, almost cacophonic crescendo of extremity, the perfect counterpoint to the laid back vibes both at the outset of the song and the album itself.

‘Winter’ is an album that perfectly demonstrates the not inconsiderable talents of this trio of musicians who go by the name of Fen. This is black metal of the highest order that displays sophistication, beauty and progressive intent, delivered in a package that just gets better with every listen. If you are a fan of intelligent extreme metal, there is literally no excuse good enough to explain why you don’t have Fen and ‘Winter’ in your life.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.0

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

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