Category Archives: Brother

Anathema – The Optimist – Album Review

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Artist: Anathema

Album Title: The Optimist

Label: Kscope

Date of Release: 9 June 2017

Anathema is one of my top 5 bands of all time. As such, their new full-length release, ‘The Optimist’ is easily my most highly anticipated album release of 2017.

Put simply, Anathema are a band that speaks to me. They are a band that seem to know instinctively how to press my buttons and touch me whatever my mood. From euphoric and uplifting, to fragile and poignant, they cover the gamut of emotions, leaving me exhilarated one minute and sombre the next, frequently with tears as my constant and ubiquitous silent companion.

I have always liked Anathema, discovering the Liverpudlians via the magnificent ‘Eternity’, back in 1996 as a teenager. However, it was with 2010’s ‘We’re Here Because We’re Here’ and 2012’s ‘Weather Systems’ that my admiration grew into a full-blown love affair, further cemented by ‘Distant Satellites’ in 2014.

To some extent, timing was everything. ‘We’re Here Because We’re Here’ was born less than two years after the heartbreaking passing of my younger brother. And so, when the song ‘Presence’ delivers the spoken word lines of ‘Life is not the opposite of death. Death is the opposite of birth. Life is eternal’ atop a gorgeously ethereal soundscape, I was floored. I know it sounds nonsensical but I felt like Anathema knew me and had put this into the album just for me to help ease my own inner turmoil.

‘Weather Systems’ was released just two years later. Stronger human beings might have moved on from personal tragedy better than I but truth be told, I was still struggling. As such, when I heard ‘Internal Landscapes’ with another powerful spoken word intro delivered by a man who had suffered a near-death experience, I was hit once again. Was this written for me? Of course not, but the conflicting emotions that it stirred in me made me think so. From despair at my loss to the comfort of gaining a little insight into what my brother might have felt as he slipped from us, this masterpiece within Anathema’s undeniable tour-de-force continues to have a huge and lasting impact.

And then, if that wasn’t enough, along came ‘Distant Satellites’ in 2014. I had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing Daniel and Vincent prior to its release. The guys graciously listened to my babblings as I tried to ineloquently describe the importance of their music to me. To my eternal gratitude, the brothers then gave me the gift of a whole new perspective on ‘The Lost Song, Part 2’. Already an achingly gorgeous song, their words made this composition even more important, further cementing the bond between Anathema, my brother and me.

Given all this history, it is very difficult for me to remain entirely objective where Anathema is concerned. And naturally my expectations will be massive ahead of the release of any new material.

And, to begin with, I struggled with ‘The Optimist’, the eleventh album of the Liverpudlian’s career. Never ones to shy away from experimentation, ‘The Optimist’ is yet another shift in Anathema’s own personal evolution. Whilst the core ingredients of atmosphere, emotional depth and lyrical eloquence are present and correct here, the output framed loosely by alternative/prog rock, has a much darker feel to it in general. There is also a more pronounced use of loops, electronic sounds and percussion that were hinted at within the title track on ‘Distant Satellites’. If I’m honest, whilst I love that specific track, I had my doubts and concerns should Anathema venture further down this musical avenue.

The fact that they have done just that perhaps explains why my initial thoughts on ‘The Optimist’ were not overly favourable. The selfish side of me wanted ten more close variations of ‘The Lost Song Part 2’ or ‘Internal Landscapes’ and I felt disappointed that together, Vincent Cavanagh (vocals, guitars, keys), Daniel Cavanagh (guitars, keys, vocals), John Douglas (acoustic/electronic percussion), Lee Douglas (vocals), Jamie Cavanagh (bass) and Daniel Cardoso (drums/keyboards) hadn’t indulged me.

Anathema-promo-2017-1-1024x683 Caroline Traitler

Credit: Caroline Traitler – http://www.carolinetraitler.net

With the benefit of time and perseverance though, I can now admit that it is not the music on ‘The Optimist’ that was at fault, but my own issues, my own limitations and my selfishness. ‘The Optimist’ is not an instant fix, an immediate score of your favourite musical drug. What it is instead, is a multi-layered, multi-faceted record that demands time and effort on behalf of the listener to unlock its true potential. And when it unlocks…wow!

Interestingly the band have married this latest step forward sonically with a thematic step backwards. In 2001, Anathema released an album called ‘A Fine Day To Exit’ which told the story of a man who wanted to escape his life and the modern world. ‘The Optimist’ reprises this story and in so doing, provides closure to a story that was left unfinished. In typical Anathema style however, the conclusion remains deliberately ambiguous, inviting personal interpretation by the listener.

This thematic decision explains the somewhat strange title of the opening track on ‘The Optimist’, namely ’32.63N 117.14W’. These are in fact the co-ordinates for the beach in San Diego where ‘A Fine Day to Exit’ concludes and which, I assume, adorns the cover of that album, a cover that becomes quite emotional with closer scrutiny. I’ll admit that this is in no way my favourite album in the Anathema back catalogue but I had often thought about that cover and the family photo that sits on the dashboard of the empty car wondering how this story ultimately played out. And now I can.

This opener very much has the feel of a concept album introduction. The sound of waves lapping on the shore, footsteps crunching on the beach, a car engine starting and then station-hopping on the car radio. It is more a scene-setter than a piece of music per se but it then segues rather seamlessly into ‘Leaving It Behind’ and we’re off. And we’re off at some pace, because this is a massively up-tempo, loud and abrasive piece of rock music. The electronic aspect is present from the beginning but with a bit of listening, it really enhances the track, adding an interesting slant to the composition, particularly in the brief atmospheric mid-song break down. As the song develops, the intensity increases as guitars begin to build up into walls of jangly sound whilst the drumming from Cardoso is relentless, ably assisted by bassist Jamie Cavanagh. To my mind, it is the perfect way to introduce an album that has deliberately and consciously been recorded ‘live’ in the studio, because the resulting energy is palpable and thoroughly infectious, pulling the listener along for the heady ride immediately.

As ‘Endless Ways’ begins quietly with just a lone piano and plaintive melody, I’m still catching my breath a little. But as Lee Douglas enters the fray for the first time, accented by some lush orchestration, my attention is well and truly undivided. The melodies and angelic vocals are more reminiscent of the last couple of albums, even if Douglas has parked the vibrato which characterised previous performances. Here, as the song majestically builds from humble beginnings into a powerful and heartfelt outpouring of emotions, Lee demonstrates that she is one of the shining lights in rock music today, whilst Anathema demonstrate that they haven’t lost their mercurial spark, whatever I might have first thought. And yes, you guessed it, the tears flow as I find myself being emotionally nourished by the incredibly important rock in my life that is Anathema.

“Hold on, hold on for dear life
And run, and run all night
For you are loved in endless ways
Stay with me, please believe
I can be your memory

My world will never be the same
And my heart is never going to regret
For you are loved in endless ways
Are loved in endless ways”

This wasn’t written for me, just as previous lyrics weren’t. But they could have been. These words resound with me, they touch me and they comfort me.

More piano introduces the title track, but it is Vincent that initially joins in vocally, joined by Lee at times but only fleetingly. Delicate melodies that are pure Anathema begin to work their charm after a few listens and further orchestration embellishments help to propel the song to a new level of sophistication. The track ebbs and flows, toying with the listener’s moods, but as with its predecessor, there is a subtle build-up towards a crescendo where there’s a hint of a wailing guitar in the vein of songs like ‘Anathema’.

‘San Francisco’ is a bit of an odd one. It is an instrumental that is dominated by a rather repetitive yet strangely beguiling melody, a reprise of sorts of ‘Endless Ways’ if I’m not mistaken. It is then accented by atmospheric synths and electronic sounds which help to set a completely different tone, one that I warm to more and more as time goes by.

In keeping with the concept vibe, the sounds of a train in full flight acts as a pause before ‘Springfield’ is introduced, almost shyly and reluctantly via a quiet and delicate guitar melody which is quickly taken up by the piano. Electronic sounds make a subtle return but it is the insistent rhythmic beat that makes the biggest impression in the early stages, driving the song towards what ultimately becomes an imposing wall of post rock-inspired sound led by urgent guitars and topped off by Lee’s serene voice almost pleading to the heavens. The track then falls away to conclude in a minimalist manner accompanied by the sounds of waves, distant sirens and the whispers of a male voice.

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Credit: Caroline Traitler – http://www.carolinetraitler.net

‘Ghosts’ then offers one of the most poignant and immediate melodies on the album which is enhanced by a beautiful string arrangement and a beat that together suggests something reminiscent of a film soundtrack. By contrast, ‘Can’t Let Go’ ups the pace and features arguably Vincent’s strongest performance on the entire record. Once again, drummer Cardoso provides the drive to a track that begins in bold fashion but which builds sublimely through a clever injection of rich and vibrant aural textures.

We return to another snippet of action from the central character before we delve into the murky world of ‘Close Your Eyes’, which evokes images in my mind of a dark and smoky backstreet jazz club. I can appreciate the composition and I don’t dislike it but it is by far and away my least favourite track on the album. The fact that a trumpet plays a significant role no doubt feeds my apathy as I continue to fail to warm to brass of any kind in my music.

Any lingering misgivings are short-lived however as ‘The Optimist’ ends in genuinely commanding fashion courtesy of ‘Wildfires’ and the fittingly-titled epic closer, ‘Back To The Start’.

The former has a dark, eerie tone created by the haunting, echoed vocals of Vincent atop the ubiquitous piano which for large portions of the track delivers something monotone, incessant and deliberately uncomfortable. But it works, as does the controlled explosion of sound before another swift descent into a minimalist, thought-provoking abyss.

The album is then brought to a close by the near 12-minute ‘Back To The Start’ and it is nothing short of magical, the perfect way to round out this impressive body of work. The sound of waves gently lapping onto the beach ushers in an aching and gorgeous melody that, when coupled by some devastatingly honest lyrics, threatens to reduce this grown man to tears yet again. I’m not normally someone who likes choral vocals, especially when they have a vague gospel ‘happy’ feel to them, but here, it just sounds right. Perfect in fact. The combination of voices, orchestration and lyrics as the song builds and ultimately reaches its climax is truly epic and a feeling of barely contained euphoria washes over me, bathing me in a warm glow. It’s all too much, so when the final act of the central character follows, I get tingles, chills and all manner of conflicting emotions.

Once again, Anathema have delivered an album that is more to me than just a collection of beautifully and lovingly-crafted songs. It is an album that lives and breathes. It has a vibrancy, an intense raw honesty and a human depth that many strive to deliver but that very few succeed in achieving. Whether or not it ultimately surpasses the last couple of records in terms of my overall enjoyment, only time will tell. For now though, I am content to lose myself in ‘The Optimist’ via its aural magnificence and the emotional succour that it provides to this fragile and damaged soul.

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

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

Dark Tranquillity – Atoma – Album Review

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Artist: Dark Tranquillity

Album Title: Atoma

Label: Century Media

Date Of Release: 4 November 2016

It seems fitting that I am releasing this review on the eighth anniversary of my late brother’s passing. It is a horrendously sad time of the year but it is made a little more comforting by being surrounded by an old friend in the form of Sweden’s Dark Tranquillity.

Dark Tranquillity are not just one of my favourite melodic death metal bands, they are one of my all-time favourite bands from any genre or subgenre of music. They were also a big favourite of my brother too. Ever since I first discovered them at University in the late 90s, they have been a constant companion, a band that has brought me joy and satisfaction with a consistency that is more than impressive. Be it on record or in the live arena, they never failed to delight my brother and me and we shared some great times down the years thanks to this band.

I have tried but I can’t think of a single album that I don’t like. Moreover, I can’t actually think of an album which is anything less than excellent, a standard that the Swedes constantly aim for with unerring accuracy.

Dark Tranquillity are rightly attributed with helping to form the genre within which they sit, the ‘New Wave of Swedish Death Metal’ or the ‘Gothenburg sound’ if you prefer. Much like other melodeath bands, they have tinkered with their sound over the years, dabbling with different ideas within their core framework. However, unlike some of their contemporaries and compatriots, they have never taken the experimentation too far. Whether their output has been more catchy or extreme, Dark Tranquillity have always had the knack of delivering the goods.

I’ve always thought about the reason for the success and longevity of Dark Tranquillity and in writing this review, I think I have hit upon an answer; their music always feels genuine, never contrived or forced. The blend of more extreme ingredients with strong, memorable melodies and powerful atmospheres is just about perfect. What’s more, despite plying their trade in the extreme metal world, Dark Tranquillity always manage to convey a high level of sincerity and a genuine warmth, led by the mercurial and enthusiastic Mikael Stanne, which then flows through the rest of the band.

It goes without saying that I have been looking forward to album number eleven for some time. And here we have it, in the form of ‘Atoma’, a release that didn’t have the easiest of births following the somewhat shock departure of guitarist and founding member Martin Henriksson, who realised that after a quarter of a century, he had had enough and didn’t have the drive or desire to carry on.

Nevertheless, the remaining members of vocalist Mikael Stanne, lead guitarist Niklas Sundin, drummer Anders Jivarp, keyboardist Martin Brändström and ‘new’ bassist Anders Iwers have continued, persevered and have delivered yet another truly wonderful chapter in the story of Dark Tranquillity. Lyrically and conceptually, ‘Atoma’ is an album that tackles the world’s current ills through a demonstrably human angle, deliberately steering clear of any political stance. And it’s a powerful and rather emotive narrative, crucially backed up by some of the strongest material of the band’s lengthy career.

Credit: Dirk Behlau

Credit: Dirk Behlau

In a nutshell, ‘Atoma’ is just about the perfect blend of the catchiness and immediacy of ‘Haven’ or ‘Character’, the more extreme elements found within ‘We Are The Void’ or ‘Construct’ and the more atmospheric and rich sounds of ‘Projector’, an album which remains a firm favourite to this day. Allow me to elaborate just a touch.

‘Atoma’ kicks off superbly with ‘Encircled’, a track that starts off slowly and deliberately with lashings of atmosphere before picking up pace in positive fashion. The beating heart of the song is very melodic with an instantly likeable chorus, reminding me of the ‘Haven’ era given the catchiness on display. The lead breaks from Sundin are great, whilst Stanne is as caustic as ever with his trademark growl that still maintains some warmth and enables the lyrics to be understood.

The title track begins with an electronic melody before bursting into life. ‘Oh mama, Stanne has brought back his clean vocals’ I exclaim with barely contained joy on a first spin, having sorely missed this ingredient in recent years. The chosen vocal delivery immediately provides a wonderful ‘Projector’ feel, one of my favourite albums from the strong discography. Vocals aside, I also love the contrast between the light and heavy sections, including a pronounced atmospheric minimalist section led by keyboardist Brändström before closing out the song full throttle. The drama is therefore increased at the death and this song just oozes quality from every pore.

I love the bass and drum combo courtesy of Jivarp and Iwers that opens up ‘Forward Momentum’, as well as the opening riff and the overall pace of the track. The keys come to the fore to create depth and dark atmosphere, whilst the clean vocals give me goose bumps. The track’s construction is wonderful as it becomes more intense during the chorus, which is memorable yet at the same time, not quite as obvious. With time though, the melodies sink in with devastating effect. The lead guitar solo from Sundin is gorgeous, full of feeling and eloquence. The dark undertones common to Dark Tranquillity are present but they give me a warm glow as I begin to realise that I’m in the presence of something potentially very special in ‘Atoma’.

‘Neutrality’ continues the theme with a quiet opening, before exploding with urgency and a fair ferocity. Indeed, there is more of a savage feel to this song which I like. The pace is quicker, the vocals more venomously spat and the vibe is more in keeping with the last couple of albums, being darker and more extreme. And yet, despite this, the slightly more subtle melodies are present throughout the song, as are the keys. The groove at the three-quarter mark is marvellous, counterpointed by the slightly uncomfortable-sounding off-kilter notes that are entirely deliberate.

A very dark, quiet and contemplative tone starts off ‘Force Of Hand’, complete with ominous, barely audible whispered vocals. This is a more mid-tempo, moody and cerebral composition with a seriously cool groove to it as well as a commanding ebb and flow. The heaviness eventually joins the fray but at a more measured tempo for the most part until the accelerator is pressed and the track suddenly gallops along, led by powerful near blast-beat drumming at times from Jivarp.

‘Faithless by Default’ doesn’t begin in the same quiet manner as many of its predecessors and yet it has the appearance of being a quieter track somehow. It is still heavy and dark when required but it comes across as being a little more refined overall with a sprawling chorus that works its magic after repeated listens. The stars of this particular show are drummer Jivarp and bassist Iwers who catch my ear every time I dive into this song.

Many of you will have already heard ‘The Pitiless’, given that it is also the lead single from the album, released a while back. It is arguably the most extreme track on the record, opening up at a fair lick and maintaining this urgency As such, ‘The Pitiless’ is much more in keeping with the last couple of records. It goes without saying that it displays some melody and indeed becomes more melodic the more time I spend with it. However, the melodic aspects are buried much deeper in the background as the key for the song, I believe, is to create something altogether more furious, dark and disturbing.

A seriously groovy rhythm straight off the bat introduces the listener to ‘Our Proof Of Life’, which is best described as a rich and powerful affair and is arguably my favourite song on the album. Stanne’s clean vocals return and I’m smiling again as a result – I can’t help it. And then, at the half-way mark, the composition turns into the most anthemic of songs, complete with rousing guitar solo and killer melodies. It also flirts astutely with quieter passages before returning to the opening melody for a muscular closure.

‘Clearing Skies’ which offers more huge melodies throughout but, despite the catchy chorus, the band then deftly reverts to something altogether more spiky and confrontational for the verse. The aforementioned chorus offers more in the way of keys and stop-start riffing, creating a more modern sheen in the process, almost vaguely djent albeit fleetingly. But regardless, this atmospheric composition is absurdly addictive.

The guitar tones and the rhythms applied within ‘When The World Screams’ remind me of the earlier days of Dark Tranquillity much more, whilst expertly blending them with accents of ‘Character’ with hugely impressive results.

Credit: Dirk Behlau

Credit: Dirk Behlau

I’m beginning to run out of positive adjectives by this point but the quality from the Swedish quintet shows no signs of abating. Penultimate track ‘Merciless Fate’ opens slowly and utilises a slower pace overall. Stanne snarls menacingly to begin with, but then the song opens up nicely as it develops. Led by more clean vocals, the melodies suddenly come to the fore almost shyly and make a huge impact within the context of the song. My hairs stand up on end and whether it is because there is seemingly no let-up in the brilliance of this album, I find myself getting emotional.

‘Atoma’ closes with ‘Caves and Embers’. The intro is strong and dramatic, acceding before long to an up-tempo rhythm overlaid with lashings of atmospheric keys from Brändström. The lead guitar flourishes are flamboyant and whether I’m dreaming it or not, there is a vague sense of hope and positivity within the song. The extended introspective and atmospherically substantial mid-section eventually gives way to an outpouring of power as the song, and indeed the album, drives forcefully to a conclusion.

Just when I thought 2016 couldn’t get any better, up pops Dark Tranquillity to send me into a spin of emotion and elation. As I said at the outset, Dark Tranquillity have always been very important to me. However, what ‘Atoma’ does so wonderfully, is draw all of their key ingredients together into one 12-track album to create a thrill-ride of expertly-crafted, engaging and elegant melodic death metal. My love for Dark Tranquillity has been well and truly cemented and right now, I can’t think of a better band within this particular genre. They helped to create it, they have helped to shape it and now, in 2016, Dark Tranquillity have proved that they are still, unquestionably, the masters of melodic death metal.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.75

If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others via my reviews pages or by clicking the links right here:

Hammerfall – Built To Last
Testament – Brotherhood Of The Snake
Crippled Black Phoenix – Bronze
Riverside – Eye Of The Soundscape
Hanging Garden – Hereafter
Theocracy – Ghost Ship
Arkona – Lunaris
Oddland – Origin
Sonata Arctica – The Ninth Hour
Edensong – Years In The Garden of Years
Meshuggah – The Violent Sleep Of Reason
Alcest – Kodama
Opeth – Sorceress
Negura Bunget – ZI
Epica – The Holographic Principle
Amaranthe – Maximalism
Eye Of Solitude – Cenotaph
Seven Impale – Contrapasso
DGM – The Passage
Pressure Points – False Lights
In The Woods – Pure
Devin Townsend – Transcendence
The Pineapple Thief – Your Wilderness
Evergrey – The Storm Within
Dream The Electric Sleep – Beneath The Dark Wide Sky
Periphery – ‘Periphery III: Select Difficulty’
Karmakanic – Dot
Novena – Secondary Genesis
Witherscape – The Northern Sanctuary
Eric Gillette – The Great Unknown
Tilt – Hinterland
Cosmograf – The Unreasonable Silence
Fates Warning – Theories Of Flight
Wolverine – Machina Viva
Be’lakor – Vessels
Lacuna Coil – Delirium
Big Big Train – Folklore
Airbag – Disconnected
Katatonia – The Fall Of Hearts
Frost* – Falling Satellites
Glorior Belli – Sundown (The Flock That Welcomes)
Habu – Infinite
Grand Magus ‘Sword Songs’
Messenger – Threnodies
Svoid – Storming Voices Of Inner Devotion
Fallujah – Dreamless
In Mourning – Afterglow
Haken – Affinity
Long Distance Calling – Trips
October Tide – Winged Waltz
Odd Logic – Penny For Your Thoughts
Iron Mountain – Unum
Knifeworld – Bottled Out Of Eden
Novembre – Ursa
Beholder – Reflections
Neverworld – Dreamsnatcher
Universal Mind Project – The Jaguar Priest
Thunderstone – Apocalypse Again
InnerWish – Innerwish
Mob Rules – Tales From Beyond
Ghost Bath – Moonlover
Spiritual Beggars – Sunrise To Sundown
Oceans Of Slumber – Winter
Rikard Zander – I Can Do Without Love
Redemption – The Art Of Loss
Headspace – All That You Fear Is Gone
Chris Quirarte – Mending Broken Bridges
Sunburst – Fragments Of Creation
Inglorious – Inglorious
Omnium Gatherum – Grey Heavens
Structural Disorder – Distance
Votum – Ktonik
Fleshgod Apocalypse – King
Rikard Sjoblom – The Unbendable Sleep
Textures – Phenotype
Serenity – Codex Atlanticus
Borknagar – Winter Thrice
The Mute Gods – Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me
Brainstorm – Scary Creatures
Arcade Messiah – II
Phantasma – The Deviant Hearts
Rendezvous Point – Solar Storm
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld II
Antimatter – The Judas Table
Bauda – Sporelights
Waken Eyes – Exodus
Earthside – A Dream In Static
Caligula’s Horse – Bloom
Teramaze – Her Halo
Amorphis – Under The Red Cloud
Spock’s Beard – The Oblivion Particle
Agent Fresco – Destrier
Cattle Decapitation – The Anthropocene Extinction
Between The Buried And Me – Coma Ecliptic
Cradle Of Filth – Hammer Of The Witches
Disarmonia Mundi – Cold Inferno
District 97 – In Vaults
Progoctopus – Transcendence
Big Big Train – Wassail
NightMare World – In The Fullness Of Time
Helloween – My God-Given Right
Triaxis – Zero Hour
Isurus – Logocharya
Arcturus – Arcturian
Kamelot – Haven
Native Construct – Quiet World
Sigh – Graveward
Pantommind – Searching For Eternity
Subterranean Masquerade – The Great Bazaar
Klone – Here Comes The Sun
The Gentle Storm – The Diary
Melechesh – Enki
Enslaved – In Times
Keep Of Kalessin – Epistemology
Lonely Robot – Please Come Home
The Neal Morse Band – The Grand Experiment
Zero Stroke – As The Colours Seep
AudioPlastik – In The Head Of A Maniac
Revolution Saints – Revolution Saints
Mors Principium Est – Dawn of The 5th Era
Arcade Messiah – Arcade Messiah
Triosphere – The Heart Of The Matter
Neonfly – Strangers In Paradise
Knight Area – Hyperdrive
Haken – Restoration
James LaBrie – Impermanent Resonance
Mercenary – Through Our Darkest Days
A.C.T. – Circus Pandemonium
Xerath – III
Big Big Train – English Electric (Part 1)
Thought Chamber – Psykerion
Marcus Jidell – Pictures From A Time Traveller
H.E.A.T – Tearing Down The Walls
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld

Wolverine – Machina Viva – Album Review

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Artist: Wolverine

Album Title: Machina Viva

Label: The Laser’s Edge

Date of Release: 8 July 2016

There were hushed rumours soon after the release of the Swedes’ fourth release, the sensationally powerful and emotional ‘Communication Lost’ that there might not be another album from Wolverine. It was a rumour that I prayed would not become reality but, as the years rolled on accompanied by near silence from the band, I began to fear the worst. However, in 2016, my most fervent of hopes have materialised and with them, a new album has emerged from the masters of dark, melancholic progressive music.

The album, Wolverine’s fifth, goes by the name of ‘Machina Viva’ and, if you’d be so kind, I’d like to here and now go on record and say something directly to Messrs Henriksson (keyboards), Jansson (bass), Losbjer (drums), Jonsson (guitars) and Zell (vocals): thank you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

You see, for me and many others I’m sure, a world without such beautiful, fragile, challenging and emotional music is unimaginable.

In a strange way, it seems fitting that I’m writing this review now, around the birthday of my late brother. I’m not in the best of emotional states this time each year, but it is albums like this that fit my melancholia perfectly but that also give me the strength to carry on. Forget for just a moment all of the intricacies & progressive nuances that litter Wolverine’s music, there are few artists out there that have the unnerving ability to break hearts with just one note. And Wolverine do it with such style that it’s impossible not to get swept up entirely in the emotion of it all.

Add to this a level of lyricism that delves deep into the shadows of the human psyche to lay bare all the sorrows, regrets and bleak misery to which we, as humans, are susceptible and all of a sudden, you’re confronted with a body of work that is as draining and intense as it is bleak and stunningly beautiful.

As I listen, the word ‘claustrophobic’ frequently pops into my head but in a positive way, as there’s almost no let-up in the intensity of the music, the atmospheres and the extremely powerful and thought-provoking lyrics. In fact, listening to Wolverine is more than just listening to music; it is an all-encompassing experience, at its most fulfilling if you give yourself entirely over to it. And yet, somehow, the music also offers a cathartic and highly rewarding journey too.

In keeping with Wolverine’s bold and daring approach, ‘Machine Viva’ opens with the longest and arguably the most challenging composition entitled ‘The Bedlam Overture’. With a duration of over 14 minutes, it is a brave move but it pays off handsomely. It is a truly epic piece of music that ebbs and flows majestically, from quiet and contemplative to all-out power and seemingly everything in between. Featuring a guest guitar solo from former member Per Broddesson, it is also a real slow-burner that takes time to work its magic but given repeated listens, it blossoms into something genuinely very special.

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‘Machina’ by contrast, is a lot shorter and is driven by an urgent beat led by the great drumming of Marcus Losbjer that rarely lets up throughout the song. The melodies build with grace and elegance and eventually, a key change allows the track to explode with real force before an abrupt conclusion that sees the song just die, as if falling from a cliff into the silent darkness below.

The sounds of a lone, lightly distorted guitar join forces with vocalist Stefan Zell to deliver a sublime piece of music in the form of ‘Pile Of Ash’. The guitar work from Jonsson is understated but beautifully executed, full of expression and poignancy. Zell’s vocals are thoroughly captivating; exhibiting a vulnerability that sends shivers down my spine. It is almost as if Zell is on the verge of tears in places, such is the passion with which he delivers the desperately sad lyrics. And then, to top things off, simple heavier guitar notes fade in and out brilliantly to increase the drama within the song.

‘Our Last Goodbye’ begins with an ominous synth texture courtesy of Henriksson, one that reminds me of an oppressive cinematic experience. It is quickly joined by a doleful French horn that fits the mood perfectly despite my normal aversion to brass of any kind. The beat that enters the fray is clever, subtle and understated yet it drives the track along at a nice pace. The melodies are gorgeous, and there are no words to express how exquisite the occasional lead guitar melodies are. The chorus is graceful and elegant but as memorable as it is, it is the lyrics that catch my ear as the music heightens its intensity. Apparently inspired by the divorce of Zell from the mother of his children, it is striking, but no less meaningful whatever may be the source of our own personal travails.

“Tonight I’ll be there by my window
Watching the people below
So many stories of sorrow
So many endings to know
How come that I feel so alone,
and that all that I see is my pain”

Talk about shivers, chills and goosebumps. I can just imagine the scene as I listen and can easily relate to similar times in my life where I’ve done the same and had very similar thoughts. What a sensational piece of music.

‘Pledge’ ups the ante a little in terms of heaviness and the opening riff is prog metal nectar; intelligent and idiosyncratic but engaging nonetheless. The song eventually opens up into a great highly charged chorus where Zell almost sounds angry. What Wolverine do so well is manage to mix things up within the compositions and so here, the abrasiveness is quickly but smoothly interspersed with much more subtly-nuanced music where multi-layered textures inject moments of calm reflection and plenty more in terms of atmosphere.

‘When The Night Comes’ is arguably the most immediate and vaguely up-beat song on the album. It begins with a vibrant acoustic guitar before building surreptitiously into quite a heavy composition. I love the bass of Jansson on this track as well as the chorus which is hook-laden with a punishingly powerful guitar and drum combo for emphasis. There are another couple of gorgeous lead guitar solos, the second of which is a monster and the addition of string instruments adds real depth and sophistication to proceedings, not to mention a poignancy that’s hard to express.

Next up is ‘Nemesis’ which begins with a piano melody and more ubiquitous passionate vocals. The bass again is superb, afforded a clarity within the mix which is so strong that it is worthy of mention in its own right. The track is arguably one of the most overtly progressive, flirting with a myriad of different and intriguing sounds, time signatures and textures throughout, including an imposing keyboard solo and more killer lead guitar work. And yet it is held together by a really wonderful melody that only rears its head a couple of times but is all the more impactful as a result.

And then, aside from a re-worked version of ‘Pile Of Ash’ with a cello in place of the guitar, the album closes with ‘Sheds’. Oh. My. Goodness. Almost exclusively a vocal and keyboard track with flashes of other instrumentation at times within it, it actually physically makes me break down and cry. The choral vocal effects and deep, rich organ-like synth tones simply add more power and emotion to Zell’s already spellbindingly melancholic delivery. And when the piano and a subtly distorted guitar offer their melodies accompanied by a heartbeat like beat, that’s it. I’m done. Overcome with emotion, I generally sit, gazing into space with tears flowing down my cheeks.
There’s not a lot more I can say to be honest, so I won’t. I’ll just press play again and revel in some properly intelligent and intoxicating music that despite its heart-breaking overtones is a sheer magical delight from start to finish.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.75

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

Be’lakor – Vessels
Lacuna Coil – Delirium
Big Big Train – Folklore
Airbag – Disconnected
Katatonia – The Fall Of Hearts
Frost* – Falling Satellites
Glorior Belli – Sundown (The Flock That Welcomes)
Habu – Infinite
Grand Magus ‘Sword Songs’
Messenger – Threnodies
Svoid – Storming Voices Of Inner Devotion
Fallujah – Dreamless
In Mourning – Afterglow
Haken – Affinity
Long Distance Calling – Trips
October Tide – Winged Waltz
Odd Logic – Penny For Your Thoughts
Iron Mountain – Unum
Knifeworld – Bottled Out Of Eden
Novembre – Ursa
Beholder – Reflections
Neverworld – Dreamsnatcher
Universal Mind Project – The Jaguar Priest
Thunderstone – Apocalypse Again
InnerWish – Innerwish
Mob Rules – Tales From Beyond
Ghost Bath – Moonlover
Spiritual Beggars – Sunrise To Sundown
Oceans Of Slumber – Winter
Rikard Zander – I Can Do Without Love
Redemption – The Art Of Loss
Headspace – All That You Fear Is Gone
Chris Quirarte – Mending Broken Bridges
Sunburst – Fragments Of Creation
Inglorious – Inglorious
Omnium Gatherum – Grey Heavens
Structural Disorder – Distance
Votum – Ktonik
Fleshgod Apocalypse – King
Rikard Sjoblom – The Unbendable Sleep
Textures – Phenotype
Serenity – Codex Atlanticus
Borknagar – Winter Thrice
The Mute Gods – Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me
Brainstorm – Scary Creatures
Arcade Messiah – II
Phantasma – The Deviant Hearts
Rendezvous Point – Solar Storm
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld II
Antimatter – The Judas Table
Bauda – Sporelights
Waken Eyes – Exodus
Earthside – A Dream In Static
Caligula’s Horse – Bloom
Teramaze – Her Halo
Amorphis – Under The Red Cloud
Spock’s Beard – The Oblivion Particle
Agent Fresco – Destrier
Cattle Decapitation – The Anthropocene Extinction
Between The Buried And Me – Coma Ecliptic
Cradle Of Filth – Hammer Of The Witches
Disarmonia Mundi – Cold Inferno
District 97 – In Vaults
Progoctopus – Transcendence
Big Big Train – Wassail
NightMare World – In The Fullness Of Time
Helloween – My God-Given Right
Triaxis – Zero Hour
Isurus – Logocharya
Arcturus – Arcturian
Kamelot – Haven
Native Construct – Quiet World
Sigh – Graveward
Pantommind – Searching For Eternity
Subterranean Masquerade – The Great Bazaar
Klone – Here Comes The Sun
The Gentle Storm – The Diary
Melechesh – Enki
Enslaved – In Times
Keep Of Kalessin – Epistemology
Lonely Robot – Please Come Home
The Neal Morse Band – The Grand Experiment
Zero Stroke – As The Colours Seep
AudioPlastik – In The Head Of A Maniac
Revolution Saints – Revolution Saints
Mors Principium Est – Dawn of The 5th Era
Arcade Messiah – Arcade Messiah
Triosphere – The Heart Of The Matter
Neonfly – Strangers In Paradise
Knight Area – Hyperdrive
Haken – Restoration
James LaBrie – Impermanent Resonance
Mercenary – Through Our Darkest Days
A.C.T. – Circus Pandemonium
Xerath – III
Big Big Train – English Electric (Part 1)
Thought Chamber – Psykerion
Marcus Jidell – Pictures From A Time Traveller
H.E.A.T – Tearing Down The Walls
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld

Katatonia – The Fall Of Hearts – Album Review

Katatonia-Fall-Of-Hearts-Medium-Res-Cover1

Artist: Katatonia

Album Title: The Fall Of Hearts

Label: Peaceville Records

Date of Release: 20 May 2016

How does one remain objective and dispassionate when reviewing a band as special as Katatonia? As long-term readers will know all-too well, the Swedish masters of dark metal are one of my all-time favourite bands. Just take a look at the banner photo at the top of the page.

Not only is their music of the highest calibre, it is also one of the strongest links between my late brother and I. You see, he had great music taste and it was he that got me to see the light about Katatonia many years ago. Subsequently, whenever I hear Jonas Renkse’s delectably emotive voice or that unmistakeable guitar tone of Anders ‘Blakkheim’ Nystrom, my little brother’s face looms large in my mind every time, usually accompanied by a smile and the odd tear. For that alone, I owe Katatonia a debt of thanks.

But every new Katatonia album is now a bitter-sweet time for me. On the one hand, I cannot wait to hear what this remarkable band have come up with. On the other, I wish fervently that I could share the experience with my sibling. There have been moments where I’ve briefly forgotten the reality that surrounds me and I have instinctively gone to contact him to share my excitement. The sinking, gut-wrenching feeling that follows is unlike nothing else on Earth but thanks in part to Katatonia’s music, I am provided the strength and courage to plough on.

It is a maudlin and very personal opening to a review, for which I implore you to forgive me. But as difficult as it is to write, I hope that it provides some much-needed context about this band and I and helps to explain why I agonise over reviews like this.

Credit: Ester Segarra

Credit: Ester Segarra

But here we are and, in short, it is almost impossible for me to not laud ‘The Fall Of Hearts’ as one of the very best releases in the band’s 25-year career. I have weighed it up thoroughly as I’ve lain on the sofa late at night, almost every night, soaking up the music on offer here within album number ten.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure how Katatonia would sound in 2016. After a tremendously stable line-up for many years, the last couple has seen a surprising number of personnel changes. Not only did the Norrman brothers depart together, but Fredrik Norrman’s six-string replacement, Per ‘Sodomizer’ Eriksson has also left. And let’s not forget drummer Daniel Lijlekvist who also jumped ship recently. All of this means that the current line-up sees vocalist Jonas Renkse and Anders Nyström joined by bassist Niklas Sandin and newcomers Daniel Moilanen on drums and guitarist Roger Öjersson (Tiamat). It is still a little odd for the time being looking at the band photos but that pales into insignificance when you take a listen to ‘The Fall Of Hearts’. It is fair to say that the new additions are significant and extremely positive, both fitting into the established dynamic whilst offering their own unique signature sounds and styles.

New members or not, over the years, Katatonia have never been afraid to grow and change, from their blackened death/doom beginnings, through their slightly more nu-metal tinged ‘Viva Emptiness’ to the more overtly progressive output on ‘Dead End Kings’. And yet, whilst Katatonia 2016 is a very different beast to twenty-five years ago, each album has brought change whilst remaining true to the core of the Katatonia sound. ‘The Fall Of Hearts’ is no different in that respect either; it is instantly and unequivocally Katatonia. In many ways it is the natural successor to ‘Dead End Kings’, increasing the progressive leanings, meaning that arguably, it is also their most varied and ambitious recording to date.

First off, it is a huge album. At nearly 70 minutes in length and spread over 12 tracks, you certainly get value for money and any concern that Katatonia may have been lacking inspiration or drive coming into this recording is immediately expunged. Come on, this is Katatonia after all and so, if anything, it’s exactly the opposite, as if the quintet has come out of the blocks with all guns blazing to prove that the recent instability has not impacted on the band in anything other than a positive manner.

To prove this point, the album opens with ‘Takeover’ and immediately, the Jens Bogren (Fascination Street Studios) and Karl Daniel Lidén mix cannot go unmentioned. The clarity with which all of the instruments can be heard has to be witnessed to be believed, providing each and every song with the polish that it so richly deserves.

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‘Takeover’ is an exquisitely-crafted piece of music that sums up Katatonia perfectly for me. The bleakness, the serenity and the feelings of darkness, loneliness, despair and anger are all encapsulated here, in an opening track that’s nothing short of magnificent.

It ebbs and flows majestically from a relatively quiet beginning to all-out full throttle attack mode complete with thunderous double-pedal drumming from Moilanen, powerful riffs from Nyström and Öjersson that call to mind those found on ‘The Great Cold Distance’ and a muscular guitar solo, something that’s still slightly unusual for Katatonia, although most welcome.

Jonas Renkse is one of my favourite vocalists in any kind of musical genre and his delivery within the chorus drips with his trademark sincerity and emotion that is entirely believable. He works in tandem with the layers of keys and a mournful, haunting guitar line to utterly devastating effect. Frankly, it floors me every time. What’s more, the song has an epic and distinctly progressive feel to it and, at seven minutes long, it is one of the longest compositions that Katatonia have penned for quite some time.

However, ‘Takeover’ is not the only longer track on ‘The Fall Of Hearts’. The intricately wrought and distinctly progressive ‘Serac’ is even longer, albeit only marginally. Heavy and urgent riffs catch the ear quickly, as does an overall tone that harks back to the very early days in my opinion. ‘Residual’ also pushes the seven-minute barrier very close, creating a sprawling composition that subtly works its way into my affections after a slow start. Ushered in by modern sampled sounds, the track eventually opens up into something more melodic and thoroughly engaging.

By contrast, tracks two and three, ‘Serein’ and ‘Old Heart Falls’ are much punchier and, if there is such a thing, more like typical, classic Katatonia. The former begins with a dark and dense atmosphere that is present throughout, complimented by a great dampened guitar. But it soon explodes with a panache that is captivating and a strong melodic , hard-rocking vibe that hints at Amorphis in tone . I love the way the song drops away at around the midpoint to allow the bass to shine. However, the melody quickly returns, the lead guitar again warms the heart, the head nods and a smile splits my face.

‘Old Heart Falls’ is the lead single, the first song to be released to the waiting public and it is another faultless piece of music. It blends together seamlessly the ‘Last Fair Deal Gone Down’ era with the textures and tones explored on ‘Dead End Kings’. It’s more of a slow-burner as it builds gradually, hinting at a release of the floodgates. When it arrives, it is elegant, monstrous and highly addictive, with a hook to die for. I have been told off by an exasperated partner for singing and humming this track almost incessantly, it’s that addictive. Little bro, you would have lapped this one up, I know you would; I can just sense it.

‘The Fall Of Hearts’ then offers a genuine change of pace, if not tone, with ‘Decima’. It is here that the first real effects of the recent acoustic unplugged ‘Dethrowned and Uncrowned’ album and live shows can be heard. The band suggested that they might take inspiration from this venture as far as future song writing was concerned and here it is in all its glory. Soothing, almost whimsical and with a folk tinge, it is an intimate affair that allows Renkse to come fully to the fore against a backdrop of acoustic guitars, subtle woodwind instrumentation and a demonstrably more laid back tone. As always, the lyrics are very moving and there’s a beguiling fragility that tugs at the heartstrings. Do the tears make an appearance? What do you think?!

On the theme of ‘Dethroned and Uncrowned’, the latter cuts of ‘Shifts’ and ‘Pale Flag’ require a mention. Katatonia have never been afraid to drop the pace and up the sensitivity on previous releases, but on both of these tracks, this ingredient feels just a little more pronounced somehow. ‘Shifts’ floats into being to the eerie sounds of an old air raid siren which returns at times throughout the piece. It’s a spine-tingling addition, accentuating that dark bleakness and sense of pervading melancholy. ‘Pale Flag’ on the other hand, reintroduces the folky influences within a rather minimalist framework that threatens to open into something huge but tantalisingly never does.

As if to underline the ambition of ‘The Fall Of Hearts’, ‘Sanction’ offers an entirely different proposition. There’s no quiet, atmospheric or suspense-filled intro; instead, it blasts from the speakers with a savage aggression that is more in keeping with death and doom metal, again harking back to the old days. The choral vocal effects inject a menacing and epic Gothic sheen and, in spite of an intelligent, more introspective mid-section that plays with the overall dynamics, it is a generally confrontational and venomous affair. And the last note that fades on a wave of distortion is absolutely killer, trust me.

Credit: Ester Segarra

Credit: Ester Segarra

The naked aggression that marks ‘Sanction’ makes another welcome appearance within the awesome ‘The Night Subscriber’. Sandin’s bass is prominent during an intro that also benefits from a ton of lush, majestic orchestration but is quickly disposed of in favour of a heavy-as-hell swirling, churning and hypnotic riff. The juxtaposition between the sensitive, nuanced vocals and the bruising metallic soundscapes is inspired. However, when joined with the beautiful orchestration, the result is a metaphorical unfurling of Katatonia’s musical wings, soaring on the currents of epic splendour and in complete command of their collective craft.

In another clever twist, the amazing ‘The Last Song Before The Fade’ includes a tremendous groove and a bouncy rhythm, almost waltz-like in places. The sense of drama is increased by an almost ubiquitous change of pace as the song develops, morphing into a sumptuous yet moody, atmospheric breakdown, before a bluesy lead guitar break adds further flavour and texture to an already strong piece of music.

The climax of ‘The Fall Of Hearts’ is realised through ‘Passer’, which happens to be one of the most multi-faceted songs on the record. It begins in urgent fashion where fast, aggressive drumming duels with a gorgeous lead guitar before plummeting into an abyss, from all to nothing. It rebuilds via a reticent, almost out-of-tune piano before sparking back into life with blast-beats, riffs that nod towards djent, exuberate and lavish guitars and a vocal melody that can be heard but constantly fights with its imposing surroundings.

And then it’s all over. I feel emotionally drained yet elated as it dawns on me that I have just spent an hour in the presence of greatness. Is it their best release ever? It’s too early to say for sure. However, it has had a huge impact on me, just like every release before it. As far as I’m concerned, music is all about the here and now though – how it makes you feel as you listen, how it makes you think and whether or not it gives you strength or a sense of comfort. Right now, ‘The Fall Of Hearts’ calls to me, it speaks to me on a myriad of different levels and I feel stronger and more enriched by it. And that’s more than enough for me right now.

Majestic and peerless, where there is darkness, Katatonia is your master, so allow your heart to fall to them.

The Score Of Much Metal: 10

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

Frost* – Falling Satellites
Glorior Belli – Sundown (The Flock That Welcomes)
Habu – Infinite
Grand Magus ‘Sword Songs’
Messenger – Threnodies
Svoid – Storming Voices Of Inner Devotion
Fallujah – Dreamless
In Mourning – Afterglow
Haken – Affinity
Long Distance Calling – Trips
October Tide – Winged Waltz
Odd Logic – Penny For Your Thoughts
Iron Mountain – Unum
Knifeworld – Bottled Out Of Eden
Novembre – Ursa
Beholder – Reflections
Neverworld – Dreamsnatcher
Universal Mind Project – The Jaguar Priest
Thunderstone – Apocalypse Again
InnerWish – Innerwish
Mob Rules – Tales From Beyond
Ghost Bath – Moonlover
Spiritual Beggars – Sunrise To Sundown
Oceans Of Slumber – Winter
Rikard Zander – I Can Do Without Love
Redemption – The Art Of Loss
Headspace – All That You Fear Is Gone
Chris Quirarte – Mending Broken Bridges
Sunburst – Fragments Of Creation
Inglorious – Inglorious
Omnium Gatherum – Grey Heavens
Structural Disorder – Distance
Votum – Ktonik
Fleshgod Apocalypse – King
Rikard Sjoblom – The Unbendable Sleep
Textures – Phenotype
Serenity – Codex Atlanticus
Borknagar – Winter Thrice
The Mute Gods – Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me
Brainstorm – Scary Creatures
Arcade Messiah – II
Phantasma – The Deviant Hearts
Rendezvous Point – Solar Storm
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld II
Antimatter – The Judas Table
Bauda – Sporelights
Waken Eyes – Exodus
Earthside – A Dream In Static
Caligula’s Horse – Bloom
Teramaze – Her Halo
Amorphis – Under The Red Cloud
Spock’s Beard – The Oblivion Particle
Agent Fresco – Destrier
Cattle Decapitation – The Anthropocene Extinction
Between The Buried And Me – Coma Ecliptic
Cradle Of Filth – Hammer Of The Witches
Disarmonia Mundi – Cold Inferno
District 97 – In Vaults
Progoctopus – Transcendence
Big Big Train – Wassail
NightMare World – In The Fullness Of Time
Helloween – My God-Given Right
Triaxis – Zero Hour
Isurus – Logocharya
Arcturus – Arcturian
Kamelot – Haven
Native Construct – Quiet World
Sigh – Graveward
Pantommind – Searching For Eternity
Subterranean Masquerade – The Great Bazaar
Klone – Here Comes The Sun
The Gentle Storm – The Diary
Melechesh – Enki
Enslaved – In Times
Keep Of Kalessin – Epistemology
Lonely Robot – Please Come Home
The Neal Morse Band – The Grand Experiment
Zero Stroke – As The Colours Seep
AudioPlastik – In The Head Of A Maniac
Revolution Saints – Revolution Saints
Mors Principium Est – Dawn of The 5th Era
Arcade Messiah – Arcade Messiah
Triosphere – The Heart Of The Matter
Neonfly – Strangers In Paradise
Knight Area – Hyperdrive
Haken – Restoration
James LaBrie – Impermanent Resonance
Mercenary – Through Our Darkest Days
A.C.T. – Circus Pandemonium
Xerath – III
Big Big Train – English Electric (Part 1)
Thought Chamber – Psykerion
Marcus Jidell – Pictures From A Time Traveller
H.E.A.T – Tearing Down The Walls
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld

Frost* – Falling Satellites – Album Review

Frost cover

Artist: Frost*

Album Title: Falling Satellites

Label: InsideOut Music

Date Of Release: 27 May 2016

I’m a late convert to the Frost* cause, but better late than never as the old saying goes. Last year, I had the pleasure of reviewing Lonely Robot, the debut album under that moniker from John Mitchell, he of Arena and It Bites fame as well as Frost*. It also featured Frost*’s Jem Godfrey in a guest roll in places on what is a glorious record, my number 13 of 2015 and a firm favourite still.

Given the clientele involved in that excellent album, I had to go and re-visit Frost* properly. I had bought their two albums a few years ago during a difficult time of my life following the passing of my younger brother. The only music I could face listening to was neo-prog for some reason and so I bought anything and everything connected even loosely with this genre. Frost* was one of those purchases but given my mental state and the amount of records I bought in an effort to bring me a little musical comfort, I was never able to give them the attention that they deserved. Fast forward a few years and Lonely Robot quickly changed this. Soon, both ‘Milliontown’ (2004) and ‘Experiments In Mass Appeal’ (2008) became more regularly acquainted with my stereo.

It is fortuitous timing because here we are a year later with a brand new Frost* album, their first in around eight years since the release of the aforementioned ‘Experiments…’

To begin with, on a first cursory listen, I wasn’t sure about ‘Falling Satellites’. It is such a varied and unusual album in many ways that I wasn’t really sure what to make of it. However, like many great albums, a little perseverance was the key to unlocking the charms of this rather impressive release.

It is no surprise that the music on this album is imbued with a genuine pop sheen and, on occasions dare I say it, a commercial edge. For those not in the know, Frost* mastermind Jem Godfrey has arguably had more success in his music career as a pop music songwriter, working with the likes of Take That’s Gary Barlow and writing ditties for Holly Valance, Atomic Kitten and Shane Ward amongst others. So, when tracks like ‘Towerblock’ feature electronic beats and sound effects that wouldn’t sound out of place on a mainstream radio station for the younger generation, it’s not a complete surprise. Neither is ‘Closer To The Sun’ with its electronic beat and ambient pop-meets-prog serenity. As it develops, it actually reminds me a little of ‘Distant Satellites’ by Anathema in terms of feel and construction.

Nevertheless, the backbone of ‘Falling Satellites’ is most definitely progressive rock, albeit smothered in layer upon layer of Godfrey’s unique synths and keys. And this is a very good thing indeed. Anyone familiar with Frost*’s previous work will immediately recognise the daring sounds and textures employed on this album. Godfrey is a master at creating depth and a richness that simply cannot be ignored and which makes the compositions sound huge, almost cinematic in places and dripping in majestic drama. From the subtle to the bombastic, it’s all covered here.

Credit: unknown

Credit: unknown

As always, the guitar work of John Mitchell is a delight. Crystal clear lead solos, crisp riffs and emotional phrasings are all present and correct as you’d expect from such a seasoned pro with the six-string instrument. He isn’t too bad as the lead vocalist either, following the departure of Dec Burke.

Speaking of emotion, one thing I wasn’t expecting from ‘Falling Satellites’ was the sheer amount of poignant and sensitive material that it delivers. The opening introductory piece is a dark, foreboding and dramatic piece that is in the running for being one of my favourite pieces of music from 2016 so far. It may only be 90 seconds long but the combination of stirring synths and ethereal, almost pleading vocals sends shivers up and down my spine.

The aforementioned ‘Towerblock’ is, aside from the random electronics, another moving composition. The opening bleak and sombre tones are built on as the track develops, culminating in a big intense melody, a barely-controlled explosion of sounds and gritty melancholy lyrics that also hint at hope and determination. Then there’s ‘Lights Out’ which, featuring some wonderfully tender female vocals and quiet minimalist music underneath is a compelling, goosebump-inducing listen.

‘Hypoventilate’ creates another majestic, cinematic soundscape, whilst closer ‘Last Day’ is primarily a piano and vocal piece that is again rather emotive, rounding out the record impressively.

If, however, you’re after some excellently-crafted progressive rock on top of all this, you’re in luck. ‘Numbers’ is a great up-tempo track with strong melodies, great vocals and it powers along, led by a driving rhythm section. The ludicrously clear and strong production lends the drums of Craig Blundell a really sharp punch and the intricate and dextrous bass work courtesy of Nathan King is allowed to shine rather than end up lost in a muddy mix.

‘Heartstrings’ is an absolutely belting song that showcases Frost* at their very best. The chorus is huge, the musicianship is out of the very top drawer and the track effortlessly ebbs and flows with a serene grace one moment and all-out power the next, all wrapped up with an honesty and sincerity that allows the listener to buy into the music one hundred per cent. Mind you, if I’m being completely honest, I think ‘Signs’ might be even better. I love the It Bites-esque opening which explodes into a huge chorus that sinks its hooks in nice and deep to go along with yet more equally deep lyrics.

For my money, I’d have to say that ‘Falling Satellites’ could just be Frost*’s best album to date. It has a little of just about everything that I want in my progressive rock; it’s well-written, excellently performed and is just a little bit odd and quirky too. In a year that has delivered plenty of quality already and threatens to continue the trend to the year end, ‘Falling Satellites’ has really caught my attention and thoroughly deserves to be in contention for a spot in my end of year ‘best of’ list.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.25

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

Glorior Belli – Sundown (The Flock That Welcomes)
Habu – Infinite
Grand Magus ‘Sword Songs’
Messenger – Threnodies
Svoid – Storming Voices Of Inner Devotion
Fallujah – Dreamless
In Mourning – Afterglow
Haken – Affinity
Long Distance Calling – Trips
October Tide – Winged Waltz
Odd Logic – Penny For Your Thoughts
Iron Mountain – Unum
Knifeworld – Bottled Out Of Eden
Novembre – Ursa
Beholder – Reflections
Neverworld – Dreamsnatcher
Universal Mind Project – The Jaguar Priest
Thunderstone – Apocalypse Again
InnerWish – Innerwish
Mob Rules – Tales From Beyond
Ghost Bath – Moonlover
Spiritual Beggars – Sunrise To Sundown
Oceans Of Slumber – Winter
Rikard Zander – I Can Do Without Love
Redemption – The Art Of Loss
Headspace – All That You Fear Is Gone
Chris Quirarte – Mending Broken Bridges
Sunburst – Fragments Of Creation
Inglorious – Inglorious
Omnium Gatherum – Grey Heavens
Structural Disorder – Distance
Votum – Ktonik
Fleshgod Apocalypse – King
Rikard Sjoblom – The Unbendable Sleep
Textures – Phenotype
Serenity – Codex Atlanticus
Borknagar – Winter Thrice
The Mute Gods – Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me
Brainstorm – Scary Creatures
Arcade Messiah – II
Phantasma – The Deviant Hearts
Rendezvous Point – Solar Storm
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld II
Antimatter – The Judas Table
Bauda – Sporelights
Waken Eyes – Exodus
Earthside – A Dream In Static
Caligula’s Horse – Bloom
Teramaze – Her Halo
Amorphis – Under The Red Cloud
Spock’s Beard – The Oblivion Particle
Agent Fresco – Destrier
Cattle Decapitation – The Anthropocene Extinction
Between The Buried And Me – Coma Ecliptic
Cradle Of Filth – Hammer Of The Witches
Disarmonia Mundi – Cold Inferno
District 97 – In Vaults
Progoctopus – Transcendence
Big Big Train – Wassail
NightMare World – In The Fullness Of Time
Helloween – My God-Given Right
Triaxis – Zero Hour
Isurus – Logocharya
Arcturus – Arcturian
Kamelot – Haven
Native Construct – Quiet World
Sigh – Graveward
Pantommind – Searching For Eternity
Subterranean Masquerade – The Great Bazaar
Klone – Here Comes The Sun
The Gentle Storm – The Diary
Melechesh – Enki
Enslaved – In Times
Keep Of Kalessin – Epistemology
Lonely Robot – Please Come Home
The Neal Morse Band – The Grand Experiment
Zero Stroke – As The Colours Seep
AudioPlastik – In The Head Of A Maniac
Revolution Saints – Revolution Saints
Mors Principium Est – Dawn of The 5th Era
Arcade Messiah – Arcade Messiah
Triosphere – The Heart Of The Matter
Neonfly – Strangers In Paradise
Knight Area – Hyperdrive
Haken – Restoration
James LaBrie – Impermanent Resonance
Mercenary – Through Our Darkest Days
A.C.T. – Circus Pandemonium
Xerath – III
Big Big Train – English Electric (Part 1)
Thought Chamber – Psykerion
Marcus Jidell – Pictures From A Time Traveller
H.E.A.T – Tearing Down The Walls
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld

Albums that changed my life: Cradle Of Filth – ‘Vempire’

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For the next instalment of my ‘Albums that Changed My Life’ series, I’m moving to around the mid 90’s. In the timeline of my life, this puts me at my mid-teens and it ushers in a whole new world music-wise. By now, my music addiction had taken full hold and I was spending all the money that I made from my weekend job on rock and metal albums galore. However, in a strange twist of fate, it was my late brother, two years my junior who was the catalyst for one of my best discoveries and subsequent love affairs.

The band? Cradle Of Filth. The album? Well, I’m going to cheat and mention two: ‘Vempire’ (or ‘Dark Faerytales In Phallustein’) and its successor ‘Dusk…And Her Embrace’.

I don’t know why a 14 year-old decided to buy ‘Vempire’ out of the blue like he did. Maybe it was the naked women on the front cover? More likely it was because of the overt ‘parental guidance’ sticker that it had plastered on the front cover. Ever one to push boundaries, he probably looked at the sticker and the imagery and thought in his wicked way that this was the perfect album to buy. Whatever the reasoning, he bought it and the rest is history.

When I heard the album for the first time, I recoiled in horror. I can laugh about it now but at the time, I was still someone who was still feeling his way into the metal world. As such, I loved many of the usual suspects like Guns ‘N’ Roses, mid-era Metallica, Def Leppard and Iron Maiden. However, Cradle Of Filth was an entirely different proposition. It seemed like the most extreme music on the planet and I wasn’t sure I liked it.

Incessant lightning fast double-pedal drumming, frenetic evil-sounding riffs, sinister atmospherics from abundant keyboards and those high-pitched screamed vocals…this was the stuff of nightmares. And whilst I wasn’t sure that I liked it, I felt compelled to listen. I was drawn in and became fascinated with the sounds that Cradle Of Filth created.

Finding out that the band was local to me only increased the fascination. I was amazed that such a band could reside in such a sleepy place in Suffolk so far away from the bright lights of any of the big cities. And yet here they were. As it transpires, band mastermind and lead vocalist Dani Filth now lives only about 500 metres from where I grew up in my family home and where my parents still live. This is possibly as spooky as some of the band’s music.

The early key to my love of this record was, ironically, the instrumental track ‘She Mourns A Lengthening Shadow’. It was a very melodic piece of keyboard and synth driven classical-sounding music. If a band could write something so beautiful, I reasoned that the rest of the music couldn’t be that bad. As it turns out I was right because littered within the relentless machine-gun rhythms, staccato riffs and high-pitched screams, there is an awful lot of melody to be heard. Not only did the music contain great melodies but a surprising amount of groove and head-bang worthy material as well.

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Take the mid-section of ‘The Rape And Ruin Of Angels’ as a prime example of the melodic sensibilities of Cradle of Filth. The track quietens and is dominated by a lovely bass rumble before the keys and guitars kick in with devastating effect. It is akin to an oasis of beauty within the desert of extremity and the huge juxtaposition works brilliantly, creating drama and the necessary hooks to keep the listener returning time and again.

To this day however, ‘Queen Of Winter, Throned’ remains the stand-out track on this mini-album from 1996. At over ten minutes, the track has a genuinely epic feel and it darts from one segment to the next throughout its significant length. As the track advances, it also builds. The tension increases and so does the speed until you’re hit with one hell of a crescendo. It is actually very melodic and groovy, dominated by a mid-tempo riff, flamboyant drumming and layers of synths that take the atmospherics to a whole new level.

This was, as it later transpired, the track that inspired my brother to take up drumming and to later play in several local metal bands. He explained to me that it was the way in which Nick Barker was able to keep up the relentless pace and precision for so long and to up his game in the final moments of the song that captured his imagination and his utmost respect.

Years later, it was fitting that Mr Barker was to visit my brother in the hospice in the days before he passed away, helping him to set up his electronic drum kit and encouraging him to play a few beats. To be honest, this act of kindness had even more of an impact on us all than the album itself back in the day.

For all these reasons, ‘Vempire’ or ‘Dark Faerytales In Phallustein’ is a very special album in my collection and will forever remain so.

At the beginning of this article, I mentioned two Cradle Of Filth albums. In the next instalment of this series, I’ll take a look at the magnificent ‘Dusk…And Her Embrace’

Check out my other posts in this series:

Skid Row – ‘Slave To The Grind’