Category Archives: Female Fronted Metal

Avatarium – Hurricanes And Halos – Album Review

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Artist: Avatarium

Album Title: Hurricanes And Halos

Label: Nuclear Blast

Date Of Release: 26 May 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.25

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

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

MindMaze – Resolve – Album Review

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Artist: MindMaze

Album Title: Resolve

Label: Inner Wound Recordings

Date of Release: 28 April 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Score of Much Metal: 8.5

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

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

Helion Prime – Helion Prime – Album Review

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Artist: Helion Prime

Album Title: Helion Prime

Label: AFM Records

Release Date: 24 February 2017

Science-based power metal. These four words will go a long way to determine whether or not you carry on reading the remainder of this review. It is a description that it likely to either draw you in like a tractor beam or send you scurrying away faster than you can say ‘Higgs Bosun’. See what I did there?!

Personally, I have a big soft spot for power metal in general so long as it is done properly. That was definitely the impression I got when I heard ‘Life Finds A Way’ on the Internet and so therefore, coupled with the striking cover artwork that borders on the silly, I found myself intrigued enough to give this self-titled debut album from Helion Prime a proper listen.

By way of background for the uninitiated like me, Helion Prime are a Sacramento, California-based quintet comprised of guitarist and founder Jason Ashcraft, lead guitarist Chad Anderson, bassist Jeremy Steinhouse, drummer Alexander Bosson and brand new vocalist Kayla Dixon. The band are now signed to AFM Records and as part of that contract, they are re-releasing this self-titled debut that originally saw the light of day in 2016. The fact that many of us were blissfully unaware of this album clearly meant that the initial release did not come with a great deal of pomp or fanfare, something that this re-release will no doubt hope to address.

Personally, I’m really glad this decision was taken. Normally, I’m a little cynical about such things, questioning value for money and such like. However, here I think it is justified because this is a band that have plenty of potential and they deserve to be brought to the attention of the wider world before a second album is released in the next year or so.

Forget the science aspect for just a moment and concentrate on the music. On this score, the output is bound to find favour with plenty of fans of power metal but more than that, it is likely to appeal to those who delve into the worlds of melodic metal and classic heavy metal, even those who prefer the thrash genre, although this is slightly less pronounced perhaps.

What you get is ten songs full of sharp, chunky riffs, lots of groove and strong choruses with enough hooks and melodies to keep you entertained without diluting the metallic intent of the compositions. And then on top of that, you have the voice of Heather Michelle, who has since departed. Despite a proliferation of female singers in metal in recent years, the genre of power metal is still largely a male dominated world, so this is a welcome ingredient to the Helion Prime recipe.

More than just a unique selling point or novelty aspect, Heather has a truly wonderful voice, one that I personally really like. It is more than powerful and plenty rich enough to compliment the beefy music that sits behind it but she also sounds strangely seductive and very feminine. It is difficult to explain but I can’t get enough of her voice; there’s just something about it. I hope her recent replacement Kayla Dixon is as good.

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In keeping with the scientific-based lyrical content that spans space exploration, prehistoric times and a nod to science-fiction, the album opens up with a futuristic-sounding intro where synths lay the foundation for a sampled spoken-word diatribe that hypothesises that we are not the only intelligent life in the universe.

After this dramatic opening, things get going properly with a duo of monstrous tracks. ‘The Drake Equation’ bounces along in up-tempo fashion, leading to an instantly catchy chorus that lays down a marker for what Helion Prime are all about. The rhythm section is impressively robust and dominant and the lead guitar work that enters the fray in the latter stages is extravagant, but not overly so. In fact, thinking about it, this is a feature of Helion Prime; they could have gone all-out bonkers and over-the-top but instead, they have chosen to craft a set of songs that are nicely honed and which don’t take things too far.

The chorus to ‘Life Finds A Way’ has to be my favourite on the entire record. It is catchy as hell, epic-sounding with a galloping rhythm. Instantly likeable, it is compounded by a cool lead guitar solo and more strong riffs that are addictive and bring a smile to my face.

‘Into The Black Hole’, raises the pace even further and has a vaguely prog feel as it features a slightly quirky vocal line within the verses, only to be replaced by another great sing-along chorus and no-nonsense riffs that wouldn’t sound out of place on a traditional heavy metal record.

Elsewhere on this debut record, ‘A Place I Thought I Knew’ dials the intensity down a notch to good effect whilst ‘You Keep What You Kill’ delivers more of a speedy thrash vibe, incorporating some deep growled vocals and some prominent keyboard embellishments.

‘Oceans Of Time’ is arguably the first time on the record where the band delve a little into indulgent territory as keyboards and guitars trade blows during an extended solo section whereas ‘Apollo (The Eagle Has Landed)’ has the feel of the band letting go just a little more. It has another big chorus but flits between all-out speedy power metal and thrash and even flirts ever so subtly with progressive elements.

To round things out, Dream Evil’s Niklas Isfeldt appears on closer ‘Live And Die On This Day’ to deliver some male lead vocals. It’s a nice touch and ends the album with an interesting and welcome twist.

All in all, I have a strong feeling that Helion Prime might prove themselves to be a class act. This debut is slick, well put together, nicely proportioned and a lot of fun, without ever descending into silliness as their self-created tag line might suggest. ‘Helion Prime’ is a cracking debut and sets an impressively high benchmark for future releases by this talented bunch of Californians, beginning with their sophomore effort, along with their new vocalist, which is due to see the light of day in late 2017/early 2018.

The Score of Much Metal: 8.5

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

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

Album of the Year 2016 – number 22

Welcome to day nine of my ‘Album of the Year 2016’ top 30 countdown. Are you all still with me? I certainly hope so.

If you have just discovered this blog or this particular series, please feel free to check out the previous entries – my picks for 23-30 can be found via the links at the bottom of this post, along with links to the previous years as well. It should keep you busy for a few hours I should think.

So far, this year’s list has contained everything from prog metal to melodeath and from thrash metal, to avant-garde black metal. What can I say? My tastes really do encompass most styles of heavy music and that’s firmly reflected by this list. And now today, you can add ‘melodic metal’ to the list as I give you my choice at number 22…

Number 22

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Universal Mind Project
The Jaguar Priest
Inner Wound Recordings

 

“It is actually quite difficult to describe the musical output of Universal Mind Project succinctly because it features so many different elements. It is progressive, powerful, symphonic and highly melodic, almost veering into mainstream music territory on more than one occasion. There are dual male and female vocals plus a fair few extreme metal growls as well as demonstrably heavier moments that arguably belong more to the more extreme genres of metal than to anything else.

The list of guest musicians…is quite something too and includes Nils K Rue (Pagan’s Mind), Johan Reinholz (Andromeda), Mark Jansen (Epica, Mayan), Charlie Dominici (ex-Dream Theater), Emanuele Casali (DGM) and Diego Valdez (Helker).

Enhanced by a lyrical content that generally avoids genre clichés, striking cover artwork and a hugely impressive production…Universal Mind Project have delivered the full package. Remarkably consistent, hugely engaging and expertly crafted, it has come out of nowhere to blow me away.”

Read the full review here

Credit: unknown

Credit: unknown

OK, so Universal Mind Project have not quite made it into my top 10 as I suggested it might via my review earlier in the year. At the time, I had no idea just how strong the year was to be overall. Nevertheless, it is still an impressively strong release that deserves a place in this list without a shadow of doubt. It certainly came out of nowhere to make a huge impact, even more so given that this is the debut album under the Universal Mind Project moniker.

Every song delivers something just a little bit different, be it the involvement of a guest artist or an injection of greater prog or cinematic overtones. However, what nearly every song has in common with each other is that the quality is consistently very high and there is always a catchy melody or hook somewhere to grab me and pull me under its spell. In some ways, ‘The Jaguar Priest’ could be referred to as a ‘feel good’ album, an dose of superb, grandiose, over-the-top heavy metal that does one thing: puts a huge smile on my face. Oh, ok, two things: it also makes me bang my head and sing out loud too.

Is there anything else an album like this needs to do?

In case you’ve missed any of the other posts in the 2016 series, here they are for you to explore and enjoy:

Album of the Year 2016 – number 23
Album of the Year 2016 – number 24
Album of the Year 2016 – number 25
Album of the Year 2016 – number 26
Album of the Year 2016 – number 27
Album of the Year 2016 – number 28
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 29
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 30

And from previous years:

Album of the Year 2015
Album of the Year 2014
Album of the Year 2013
Album of the Year 2012

Delain – Moonbathers – Album Review

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Artist: Delain

Album Title: Moonbathers

Label: Napalm Records

Date Of Release: 26 August 2016

I must apologise for the tardiness of this review. However, I do have my reasons. When I first listened to ‘Moonbathers’, the fifth album from melodic symphonic metallers Delain, I was not overly impressed.

I have, over the years, grown tired of female-fronted melodic symphonic metal to the point where I rarely listen to it. Bands like Universal Mind Project have sprung up out of nowhere to make an impact this year but in terms of the more tried and trusted genre favourites, nothing has really grabbed my attention for quite a while. Whether I’m being grossly unfair or not, I got the feeling that it was ‘same old, same old’, re-badged and released to the faithful. Delain were one of the bands that fell into this category.

However, a week or two ago, I found myself in Norwich, watching Delain headline at the Waterfront and I was shaken from my apathy. I was in attendance purely and simply because of the inclusion of Evergrey on the bill. However, I stayed in the venue to watch Delain and I am so glad that I did. It may not have changed my opinion of all female-fronted music of this kind but I heard and saw something in Delain that compelled me to go home a re-listen to ‘Moonbathers’.

I think with hindsight, it was two things that stuck with me. Firstly, it was the sense of fun and love of what they were doing that made me realise that the sextet formed by keyboardist Martijn Westerholt and fronted by Charlotte Wessels deserved a second chance. The enthusiasm, the smiles, the interaction with the audience; it all came together to create a special atmosphere, one that I thoroughly enjoyed.

Secondly, the following morning, I awoke with two distinct earworms running through my head and they were both Delain songs from the new album as it turns out. This rarely happens, particularly when my all-time favourite band were also on the bill the night before.

Since then, I have listened to ‘Moonbathers’ with fresh ears and a fresh, unbiased perspective. The result? I cannot help but really fall under the Delain spell, via what must surely be their most satisfying and accomplished release to date.

In 2016, the aforementioned Wessels and Westerholt are joined by bassist/vocalist Otto Schimmelpenninck van der Oije, guitarists Merel Bechtold and Timo Somers and drummer Ruben Israel. Each member of the band, be they longstanding or new to the fold come together really well to create the Delain sound. And that sound is highly melodic, infectious heavy metal with big choruses and bombastic, grandiose orchestration, which adds drama and a theatrical, cinematic depth to the songs. The majority of the music is generally around the classic mid-tempo with a strong beat and satisfyingly chunky riffs. I think it’s fair to say that Delain are not a complex listen but then that’s not the end result that they are going for, far from it. In fact, if they dallied with more complicated ideas and structures, it might even detract from the overall impact.

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Atop the instrumentation is the not so secret weapon in Charlotte Wessels, a striking lady that has an even more striking voice, not to mention an infectious love of what she is doing. Wessels’ range is impressive, but more so is her effortless power that creates a formidable cocktail when combined with her softer, more emotional delivery. And her phrasing as well as her innate sense of melody helps to transform a good composition into something great, even magical at times.

I realise that I am making a rather huge u-turn in my opinion of Delain and ‘Moonbathers’, from where I was after a first couple of spins. However, something has simply clicked and as is the beauty of music, sometimes things happen that cannot fully be explained. When all is said and done, I honestly don’t think that there is a weak track to be found on ‘Moonbathers’, such is the consistency of the material.

The album begins with ‘Hands Of Gold’ which opens with a short cinematic intro before launching into one of the most urgent songs on the entire album. The track bounds along at a decent lick, built on a strong foundation by drummer Israel, bassist Schimmelpenninck and guitarists Bechtold and Somers. The composition builds up to a hook-laden chorus dominated by Wessels’ rich and honest voice. The verses are laced with full-on orchestration to accent a central riff with bite. There is even the inclusion of gruff vocals from bassist Schimmelpenninck to increase the extremity and inject a ‘beauty and the beast’ element which I can’t help but like.

The delightfully named ‘The Glory And The Scum’ follows swiftly and, if anything, it ups the heaviness and the bombast. The orchestration is front and centre, acting as a counterpoint to some genuinely cracking riffs. And the enormous chorus is closed out by a gorgeous vocal melody from Wessels, one of those aforementioned magical moments. This was one of the earworms that wouldn’t let go after the gig.

‘Suckerpunch’ is a more immediate hit of aural saccharine. It begins with an 80s synth-pop vibe before delivering one of the most infectious choruses on the album. By this point, I’m well and truly being sucked in to the energetic vitality of the record and I’m loving it. After an extended cinematic workout, there’s a quick guitar solo before the chorus takes us breathlessly to the close.

The second earworm from that fateful night came courtesy of ‘The Hurricane’, an altogether moodier and more emotive song. The atmospheres take centre stage alongside a sprawling chorus where Wessels can once again shine beautifully. The same can be said of ‘Chrysalis’, a delicate ballad which builds in intensity, allowing Westerholt to show off his considerable talents in the process.

The heaviness is ratcheted up again via the up-tempo hard rocker ‘Fire With Fire’, a stadium-friendly beast if ever there was one. It is a bit of a grower but thanks to an insidiously infectious chorus and some unusual vocals from Wessels, it has slowly become one of my favourites.

Other highlights include ‘Danse Macabre’ thanks to more uniquely compelling vocals from Wessels, some subtle lead guitar work from Somers and the use of some bold electronics. And I also particularly like the initially brooding and sombre ‘Turn The Lights Out’ that again launches into a memorable, sing-along chorus.

Even the cover of Queen’s ‘Scandal’ is handled well – it’s not as good as the original, but then no-one could realistically better or match the original.

Ok, so this is the part where I once again admit that I was wrong. ‘Moonbathers’ is a monster of a record that delivers some of the most enjoyable and compelling female-fronted melodic metal I have heard in a while. The music itself is strong in its own right but what makes it even stronger is the knowledge that Delain genuinely love what they are doing. It comes through in the music, creating an honest and well-crafted set of songs with honesty and heart; and with killer choruses of course. You can’t really ask for more than that can you?

The Score Of Much Metal: 8.75

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

Arcade Messiah – III
A Sense Of Gravity – Atrament
Devilment – Devilment II: The Mephisto Waltzes
Maschine – Naturalis
Brutai – Born
False Coda – Secrets and Sins
Pretty Maids – Kingmaker
In Flames – Battles
The Neal Morse Band – The Similitude Of A Dream
Memoreve – Insignia
Enbound – The Blackened Heart
Blind Ego – Liquid
Dark Tranquillity – Atoma
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

Live gig review: Delain, Evergrey, Kobra And The Lotus – Norwich Waterfront 15/11/16

No words are required!

No words are required!

It might have been a cold and wet autumn evening, but it isn’t every day that my favourite band tours within an hour’s drive of my house, not when I live in what feels like the middle of nowhere. It felt like a lifetime of watching clips and seeing photographs from the preceding five weeks of the European tour but finally, Evergrey had arrived in Norwich alongside their touring partners, openers Kobra And The Lotus and the headliners Delain. I’m not going to make my usual comment about Evergrey and the fact that they should have been the headliners…oh, damn, I just have. Oops.

I left work early, gave my children a quick hug and then scampered off up the main road that links Ipswich to Norwich. Huge metropolitan cities these are not, so it was an after-dark journey dominated by single carriageway roads, punctuated by pockets of heavy rain and occasional slow-moving farm vehicles. Welcome to East Anglia!

But it was all worth it because on arrival, I get a message from Evergrey founder Tom Englund to say that the band are heading to a local restaurant not far from the venue. Apparently, I’m invited, even though it means that everyone has to move tables to accommodate some imposter to the group. Warm greetings are exchanged with every member before we get down to the important stuff: eating, chatting about music and trashing each other’s football teams of choice.

After the meal, Tom, Rikard and Johan all wander back to the venue whilst Jonas and Henrik head off in a different direction, in search of ice cream or some such. I’m invited onto the tour bus to have a more in-depth chat about the world of Evergrey before I join a gently increasing queue outside the venue. I make it in to the Waterfront just in time to witness Canadian metal band Kobra And The Lotus take to the stage.

Having never really investigated the sounds of Kobra And The Lotus before, I was pleasantly surprised with what I witnessed. Altogether heavier than I was expecting, they had some solid beats, riffs and solos as well as a definite stage presence that kept me interested throughout, albeit through the fog and mud of a less-than-stellar sound. Nevertheless, it is always exciting to hear a new band on stage and the hard rock/heavy metal sounds of Kobra And The Lotus were good enough that I have since delved into the band’s back catalogue to discover more.

Frontwoman Kobra Paige was a striking focal point, dressed in figure-hugging gold attire and covered in tattoos. The visuals were complimented by a delivery that was full of attitude and explosive energy, and not just from Paige. All members of the band contributed to the enjoyable opening salvo, including the Lemmy look-alike bassist Brad Kennedy and golden-haired guitarist Jasio Kulakowski, who together breathed life and an honest grit into some well-crafted heavy metal songs.

At a mere 30 minutes, the set was short and sweet but in that time, it appeared that the growing crowd liked what they heard.

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And with that, it was time for the main event, at least as far as I was concerned. The lights went down and five shadowy figures took to the stage before launching into a blistering rendition of ‘Passing Through’, one of two excellent new songs from the Swedish dark melodic progressive metaller’s latest opus ‘The Storm Within’.

I may have been in the photo pit, but I couldn’t concentrate on taking pictures. Besides, I’m rubbish at photography and had an entirely inadequate lens on my camera. So, I just made use of having the best seat in the house to witness guitarist/vocalist Tom Englund, guitarist Henrik Danhage, keyboardist Rikard Zander, bassist Johan Niemann and drummer Jonas Ekdahl blast the crowd away with a blend of hugely powerful and emotional music performed with a level of skill and professionalism that spoke volumes.

Before I went into the pit, I happened to mention in passing to the friendly security chap how important Evergrey are to me. Quite unexpectedly then, after the three opening songs were up and I was ushered from the pit, I was invited with a smile to watch the rest of the show at the side of the stage. Talk about VIP treatment.

I have seen Evergrey countless times over the past 12 years, but I have yet to see the band deliver anything other than a quality, breathless performance. And this gig was no different. I would have dearly loved a longer set than 45 minutes which equated to just eight songs but what Evergrey lacked in length of set, they made up for in quality.

As is common place, Tom’s inter-song self-deprecating humour and dry wit was a joy to hear, getting the crowd on-side almost immediately by making them laugh openly on a frequent basis. However, it was the music itself that made the greatest impression on people if the rapt faces in the crowd, the parting applause and the queues to meet the band after the show were anything to go by.

Alongside another new song, ‘In Orbit’, we got to hear, amongst others, the up-tempo anthem that’s ‘Broken Wings’, the darkly progressive magnificence of ‘A Touch Of Blessing’, the utterly sensational and highly melodic ‘Black Undertow’ and the blistering intensity and grandiosity of ‘King Of Errors’, one of my favourite songs of 2014.

The sound wasn’t perfect, but that had more to do with the unique acoustics of the venue than anything else. And yet, the majesty and strength of the material shone through as well as the subtlety created by Zander’s atmospheric keys. The superb rhythm section of Ekdahl and Niemann never missed a beat, Englund’s vocals were on point and my spine tingled when Danhage took centre stage to deliver a soulful and heartfelt lead guitar solo at the midway point.

‘Wow, they were superb’, said a friend to me when it was all over. I’d banged on to them for years about how good Evergrey were, but it was this live show that convinced them. All I could do was smile knowingly, maybe even smugly and utter ‘that’s why they are the best band in the world’.

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If truth be told, I was considering making an exit after Evergrey as Delain are not normally my particular cup of tea. I like some of it but in general, I have grown tired over the years of the female-fronted symphonic melodic metal genre. However, after having a chat with a couple of friends I’d not seen for months, and because I wanted to say cheerio to the Evergrey chaps, I was in the venue as the Dutch band took to the stage.

And, as it turns out, I am glad I stayed. Within seconds, I found myself smiling as the sextet bounded onto the stage with an abundance of energy and enthusiasm. There were perhaps as few as 400 people in this small venue in Norfolk, but Delain did not care, as they set about entertaining the hardcore that were there and were ready to have a party.

Bedecked in a sparkly mini dress and flowing black and red hair, Charlotte Wessels looked every inch the rockstar to lead the band but it was her warm smile that caught my attention most of all. In fact, everywhere I looked on stage, all I could see were smiles.

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Celebrating their 10 year anniversary, Delain were like an undeniable force of nature, able to sweep the crowd up and carry them along for the ride without any apparent effort whatsoever. In a live setting, many of their better-known tracks made more sense and sounded that little more powerful and I will admit to being one of those that was ultimately swept away.

It’s fair to say that Delain are not the most technical or complex of bands. What they do is create memorable music full of big choruses and melodies. And they do it very well. Neither are Delain, Wessels apart, the most striking of bands visually. In fact, from the back-to-front baseball cap wearing drummer Ruben Israel, to the minute new rhythm guitarist Merel Bechtold, they are a somewhat incongruous sight. That said, watching the interaction between the band members and their rapport with the crowd was an utter joy.

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The polished and thoroughly entertaining set included the vast majority of latest release ‘Moonbathers’ as well as older numbers like ‘Stay Forever’ and ‘The Gathering’. And I must admit that earworm tracks like ‘Hands Of Gold’ and ‘The Glory And The Scum’ sat lodged in my head well into the following day, a sign of the impact that they had on me throughout the night.

And then it was all over. I said a quick goodbye to the guys in Evergrey before heading off in search of my car and a misty, cold drive home. The smile plastered on my face almost exclusively over the following day or so was testament to a genuinely fun and highly entertaining evening, both on and off the stage.