I’m really not entirely sure how I should view this album, and how I should go about reviewing it.
Thirteen Goats is a new name to me, and to the metal world at large, with little known about the band, other than they like heavy, extreme metal, they have a sense of humour, and ‘Servants Of The Outer Dark’ is their debut full-length offering. Comprised of three musicians, Graham K. Miles (vocals, lead and rhythm guitars), Rob Fitzgerald (lead and rhythm guitars, vocals), and Mike Redston (bass, vocals, acoustic guitar), this band is then rounded out in the live arena by drummer Leonid Verman, with the bass duties switching to Cody Lewichew. Together, this ensemble takes us into a world of death metal that is hard to definitively describe.
Apparently, according to the ‘fun facts’ presented within the accompanying press release Miles is a classically trained Shakespearian actor with a master’s degree in theatre from the New School for Drama in New York City. This goes some way to explain the more flamboyant elements to this album that show up throughout, although maybe some of it was an outlet for the frontman to turn his pain into something creative – Miles played all of his guitar solos with a broken finger and two sprained wrists following a motorbike accident midway through the recording process. This is some feat and perhaps helps to underline the apparent determination and hunger of Thirteen Goats to succeed where so many others have failed. Clearly, they are made of strong stuff up there in Canada.
The thing that threw me from the very beginning, and still does to some extent, is the way in which the opening title track differs so markedly from the remainder of the album. The band themselves admit that this is the most melodic song on the album, but that doesn’t really tell the full story because ‘Servants Of The Outer Dark’ is so much more catchy and immediate than the rest of the album. With a gentle acoustic guitar-led intro, clean vocals and a full-on melodic death metal hook-laden chorus, it becomes disconcerting to not hear anything of its like again within any of the subsequent eight songs. That isn’t to say that the remainder of the material isn’t good, it’s just that I feel I have to register the slight pang of disappointment I encountered when I realised that there was no similar output anywhere else on the album.
With time, I have been able to make peace with the initial feelings of disappointment, not least because there is some genuinely great material to be heard on the album if you take the time to listen and treat the songs on their own merits. For example, ‘Challenge The Executioner’ is a thunderous and aggressive beast of a death metal track, with an impressive array of technical-sounding riffs, vibrant bass work, and some truly bruising drumming. It’s a song that proves that these guys have the ability and the chops to succeed, whilst channelling bands like Lamb Of God into their output.
On the other hand, you have a song like ‘Return To Ruin’ that is part thrash-infused monster, and part groove fest. Again, it is heavy and aggressive with the speed to match when the pace is kicked up a notch, but equally, the slower sections are no shrinking violets either, with a steamroller-like, pounding groove. The juxtaposition works really well, too, making it a much more memorable and enjoyable affair than I first gave it credit for. The spoken-word part is a little hammed-up, but it further emphasises the thrash vibe, backed up by lyrics that touch on the political, talking about institutions that have failed this current generation. The political content is maintained elsewhere, such as within the more no-frills, dialled up to eleven attack of ‘Prisoner’s Anthem’.
And then you have songs with names like ‘Through the Meat Grinder…The Recipe’ which is about as serious as a clown on a unicycle. Mind you, the song itself is nothing to be laughed at, what with its slow doom-like intro that then explodes into full-on death metal territory before veering into all sorts of wild and wonderful places, the musical equivalent of a toddler searching high and low for the biscuit tin. And how about the opening to ‘Sub-being’ which begins with a twisted circus ringleader’s address to the audience – it’s a little incongruous, as is the ensuing ‘whoop, whoop’ declaration before a brutal slab of death metal kicks in to blow our heads off.
As I declared right at the start, this is a difficult album to review as it has a little bit of everything within it, without nailing any colours firmly to the mast. The death metal quota is highest and acts as the framework around which everything else congregates, but even after several weeks in the company of this album, I don’t instinctively think of it as a death metal album. And that’s because of the wide variety of influences at play and, dare I say it, a lack of genuine, true identity from the band. Instead, I’ll cop out slightly and refer to it as extreme metal where just about anything goes. Nevertheless, I’d urge you to take a listen to ‘Servants Of The Outer Dark’ because as debuts go, there is an awful lot to enjoy within it. I also have a strong sense when I listen, that there is plenty more to come from Thirteen Goats. I certainly hope so.
Welcome to the first post in a brand new series called ‘new sounds to wrap your ears around’
The idea of these posts is simple. Every week, I am inundated with requests and/or updates from bands that are either well-known, deep in the underground, or brand new. Often, these requests or updates seek to get me to feature a new song on my website. Up until now, I’ve had to say ‘thanks, but I only have time to feature albums and EPs’.
I hate saying ‘no’ to anyone in a musical context, so I have come up with something that I hope will please everyone: a regular round-up of some of the new sounds that are out there that you may have missed, or you simply weren’t even aware existed. More often than not, the music featured here will then translate into an album or EP review in due course, but it doesn’t have to. This is a new platform to shine the spotlight in any direction and on any subgenre. The only criteria is that I have to like it.
I’m happy to tweak the format dependng on suggestions or feedback, but let’s get started with this first instalment…
— MoMM —
Artist: Hyper Planet
Song Title: “To Live With Wisdom”
Album info: N/A
Hyper Planet are a progressive metal band from Tehran, Iran. I was contacted recently and asked if I would feature their new song on my website. In fact, this was the catalyst for this whole new feature, as I wanted to give the song a bit of a plug. Incorporating traditional instrumentation and lyrics that talk of the struggles of being an Iranian metal band, it immediately interested me. Plus, as you’ll hear, the song itself is a great slab of prog metal that successfully blends melody and complexity together. Check it out:
— MoMM —
Artist: Virtual Symmetry
Song Title: “Come Alive”
Album info: “Virtual Symmetry” – 16 September 2022
Label: Sensory Records
Swiss progressive metal band Virtual Symmetry may be a more widely-known band, but they are featured here for two important reasons. Firstly, they are one of the support acts for Evergrey’s European tour which kicks off on the same day as this self-titled album, their fourth, is released. And secondly, I really like the song. But then, as it’s a realy nice mix of prog metal and Euro power metal, with bucket loads of melody, it’s hardly surprising that I like it, is it?!
— MoMM —
Artist: Demon Hunter
Song: “Silence The World” (feat. Tom Englund)
Album info: “Exile” –9 September 2022
Label: Weapons FMG
Were it not for a loyal reader tipping me off about this song, I might have missed it altogether. So I had to spread the word just in case it had slipped past anyone else’s radar too. Featuring the peerless Tom Englund as a guest vocalist, it immediately piqued my interest and the ensuing moody and atmospheric composition has really grown on me over repeated listens. Unbelievably, the upcoming album, ‘Exile’, is Demon Hunter’s eleventh full-length release. And until a few days ago, I’d never heard of them. I will do all I can to bring you a review in due course. In the mantime, enjoy ‘Silence The World’:
— MoMM —
Album info: “Pagans Rising” – 30 September 2022
Label: ViciSolum Productions
This is a song that caught me by surprise, because I wasn’t expecting anything much when I checked it out recently. I’m not the biggest fan of symphonic metal at the best of times, but this is a little different because it rocks hard, it’s sufficiently heavy, and the melodies are strong. I also like the mix of clean female vocals and growls which normally are a little cliched, but given the attitude and grit within Tina Gunnarsson’s performance, it’s hard not to like the final product. This definitely has potential…
I have closely followed the career of Pete Morten ever since I discovered him whilst plying his trade with UK progressive metal band Threshold. Being involved in some of my favourite and most enduring records by one of the best bands within the genre will certainly help with the spotlight. However, in 2017, after a decade in which he played the guitar on both ‘March Of Progress’ (2012) and ‘For The Journey’ (2014), Pete decided that he wanted to focus solely on his own music, and own band, My Soliloquy.
Until now, Pete Morten has released two albums under the My Soliloquy moniker, ‘The Interpreter’ in 2013, followed by ‘Engines Of Gravity’ four years later. And now, in 2022, Pete and My Soliloquy bring us the third instalment, ‘Fu3ion’, this time under his own steam, through his label, Rare Artist Music.
In the spirit of transparency, I do have to declare at this point that I have a friendship with Pete. As I have written in the past, it makes for a difficult review process because I have to constantly question myself and ensure that I am remaining objective with my findings – I do not want to compromise on my integrity, so however much I like the person/people behind the music, I have to remain absolutely honest. If their music stinks, then that’s what I have to report. Fortunately, with a completely clear conscience, I can attest to the complete opposite reality here.
With a noticeable improvement from the debut to the second release, I lavished a score of 9.25 on ‘Engines Of Gravity’. I stand by that score even now. But I am going to have to go even higher here with ‘Fu3ion’ because I am thoroughly impressed with it; it is easily Morten’s best solo material that he has written and performed to date, and that is certainly saying something.
The very first thing that hit me right from the start with ‘Fu3ion’ is that it contains some of the most immediate material that Morten has ever penned. The melodies are big, and when I say ‘big’, I actually mean ‘huge’. There are hooks littered about this record like no-one’s business, something that pleases me greatly. However, if you are a fan of music that’s more progressive and less melodic, you might not end up with the same concluding thoughts as I. That’s not to say that ‘Fu3ion’ is a straight-up melodic metal album, because it isn’t. There is still plenty of prog complexity to be heard, as well as lots of variety. Some of the complexity is very subtle, some of it quite deceptive, but like some of my favourites in the genre, Kingcrow for example, just because it doesn’t sound complicated doesn’t mean that it isn’t.
As I understand it, this more immediate approach to the music on this album was completely deliberate from Pete Morten. And if that was his end game, then he has well and truly succeeded with ‘Fu3ion’. The multi-instrumentalist who handled all guitars, bass, keys, and vocals, not to mention the artwork and production alongside Rob Aubrey (Transatlantic, IQ, Big Big Train, Spock’s Beard) is joined on this venture by his ex-colleague, Threshold’s Johanne James on the drums. It makes for a winning partnership here and reinforces the occasional hint of Threshold within the music on this album. For the avoidance of doubt, this is not a bad thing at all.
‘Fu3ion’ opens with ‘Triunion’, an introductory piece that is ushered in by bold synth sounds and a slow-paced but resolute drumbeat from James. The sounds intensify with a dramatic, cinematic feel, overlaid by the unmistakeable voice of Pete Morten meting out the minimal lyrics in mantra-like style. In terms of building the tension, it’s an excellent way to begin the record.
For me, as interesting as the first track is, it’s in the follow-up, ‘Kingship’ when the magic hits. And it hits me incredibly hard, with the gloriously melodic and powerful chorus hitting a sweet spot with me and resonating so strongly that I get chills and goosebumps almost every time it kicks in. And a lot of this has to do with the soaring, emotional vocals of Morten that sound brilliant here. But the remainder of the song isn’t bad either to put it bluntly. The bass playing is a particularly ear-catching aspect of the song for a start, standing out within a high-tempo energetic intro that also features melodic keys and chunky guitars to create something of a power metal/prog fusion.
You have to back up a great opening song with further high quality though, and that’s exactly what happens here, with track after track delivering something beguiling and thoroughly engaging to listen to. The intro to ‘Mind Storms’ is the kind of output that gets my blood pumping, as it is an epic, melodic affair, with thunderous drumming from James and muscular guitar tones to underline the properly metallic credentials of My Soliloquy. The ensuing verse takes things down a notch but in so doing creates great dynamics, as it’s an atmospheric-led section that deliberately builds to unleash a reprise of the intro as the captivating chorus, so majestic in its sprawling glory. With Pete Morten at the helm, expect some technically adept but engaging lead solos too, with this being one of the most striking to my ears.
I can’t possibly continue to describe each of the ten tracks (twelve if you include the bonus songs that feature as part of the limited-edition version) because if I did, it’d take longer to read than it would to listen to the entire record. As such, allow me to give you more of a flavour of what you can expect as you delve further into ‘Fu3ion’, starting with the shorter, punchier, and slightly heavier ‘The Great Polarity’ which is no less catchy, thanks to a stomping pace and incisive chorus, laced with some great lead guitar flamboyance.
‘Here In The House Of I’ by contrast, is immediately one of the most progressive sounding songs on the album, dominated in the early stages by some arresting synth embellishments and a really nice insistent riff. But once again, I’m floored by the chorus, another thing of impressive beauty, that materialises almost unexpectedly out of nowhere, from within a much more robust, slightly darker and heavy framework, full of drama and intrigue.
It can’t get better, though, can it? Well that depends on your point of view, but ‘Office Of Imaginings’, a near nine-minute monster certainly tries its best. After a more atmospheric and foreboding intro, I’m covered from head to toe in goosebumps once again as Morten hits us with yet another wondrous chorus where vocals and lead guitar lines combine in scintillating fashion not for the first time. I love the way that the song takes its time to get right under the skin, the dense atmospheres and palpable emotion gradually seeping into the listener almost insidiously until the point that you realise just how invested you are with the song as a whole. If that wasn’t enough, Johanne James also adds a little of his rapping talents, but don’t worry, Fred Durst this is not, thankfully, far from it.
‘Interlocuter’ is a lovely change of pace; a shorter track that’s predominantly acoustic guitars, and vocals, with some orchestral style synths and sparce drumming for added depth. That is, until the halfway mark, when a full-on symphonic metal ballad is unleashed in handsome fashion. And then there’s ‘Bury Your Dead’ which, as the title may suggest, is arguably the heaviest song on the album, full of beefy, no-nonsense riffs at its heart, but with some incredibly bold synths in places too, as well as some cracking twists and turns in true prog fashion.
According to the artist himself, the album has been inspired by a best-selling trilogy of books. I have my theories, but I shall keep them to myself so that when you listen, because listen you will, you can form your own theories. But whether I am right or wrong, it doesn’t matter one iota because the music alone is enough to satisfy all my progressive and melodic cravings. ‘Fu3ion’ is an absolute must-have for all like-minded prog fans because it sees the talented, humble, and genuinely lovely Pete Morten at the very top of his game in all respects. I know that the music world is often fickle and unfair, but for once I hope that fairness prevails because if it does, it will mean that Pete Morten and My Soliloquy will achieve the recognition that they so fully deserve. ‘Fu3ion’ is utterly brilliant, simple as.
If I’m honest, when I saw this release nestled within my promo pile, I didn’t have high expectations for it. I’d never heard of Ironflame before, and the questionable and dated cover artwork did nothing to whet my appetite when I first laid eyes on it. I’ve leaned to trust my instincts though, and as we are at a point in the year when there are slightly fewer albums released, I had the time to try out those instincts once again.
The album in question is ‘Where Madness Dwells’, the fourth album from Ohio-based Ironflame, and it has taken me more than a little by surprise – in a good way. The brainchild of multi-instrumentalist Andrew D’Cagna, Ironflame was conceived back in 2016 as a one-off to honour a friend that passed away. But when you do things well, people always want more. And so here we are some six years later, with album number four, a remarkable feat in a number of ways. Not only is D’Cagna still active in other bands such as Icarus Witch and Brimstone Coven, he has essentially, once again, created the music on this latest Ironflame album himself. He is joined by guitarists Quinn Lukas and Jesse Scott, bassist James Babcock, and drummer Noah Skiba, but these guys are his live band. In the studio though, only the solos were outsourced to Lukas and Scott; the rest is all D’Cagna.
Having heard nothing of the past three albums, I cannot offer a comparison for those more familiar with Ironflame. However, what I can say is that ‘Where Madness Dwells’ is a cracking album. Deeply rooted in the ‘classic’ metal genre with plenty of NWOBHM-isms, this music will appeal to anyone who likes their metal on the more traditional end of the spectrum. Naturally therefore, the likes of Iron Maiden and Judas Priest spring to mind, the latter far more forcefully though, with songs like the title track bordering on an homage to East London’s finest, after an intro that’s early Metallica through and through, in a good way.
It’s also interesting to note that D’Cagna references the likes of Savatage, Helloween, and even 90s Swedish death metal as influences. Whilst the latter references aren’t overly obvious, once you know this, you can definitely hear some vague hints within the songs, particularly the guitar playing. Overall, it means that there’s as much of a European flavour as a US one.
But above and beyond all else, ‘Where Madness Dwells’ delivers forth a collection of ten highly enjoyable, catchy, and quality heavy metal songs which you’d have to be deaf or devoid of music taste not to quickly latch on to and take great pleasure from listening.
“Famine, pestilence, war, disease, and death. They rule this world.”
This quote from the 1964 film, ‘The Masque Of The Red Death’ opens the album, as the intro to ‘Everlasting Fire’, but within seconds my mind is consumed by the riff that ensues, which is an energetic, up-tempo, and catchy affair. The vocals of D’Cagna do sound similar to those of Bruce Dickinson, whilst the central riff echoes Maiden. But when it all comes together this powerfully and with such a brazen swagger, who am I to criticise? Especially when Maiden seem to be concentrating on countless epics rather than their shorter, punchier material these days. ‘Everlasting Fire’, with its hooks, immediate chorus, and rip-roaring solos is a tonic for my ears.
But are we in the presence of a one-song wonder though? Don’t you believe it, not even for one second. No sooner has the opener disappeared, it is replaced by ‘Under The Spell’, which increases tempo even more and brings with it some slight thrashy overtones, especially in the brisk riffs and rhythm section where the drums in particular are pretty relentless. However, again, the song is memorable thanks to some great hooks, especially in the central harmony licks and riffs that emerge after the halfway point. I have to remind myself frequently that this is, aside from the lead guitar solos, the work of just one man, albeit an incredibly talented man.
I’m going to be absolutely fair here and say that, in a couple of places, the songs don’t grab me as strongly as others, but that’s not a comment on the quality of the material. Moreso, it’s a question of personal taste I would say. But the positives far outweigh the negatives as far as I’m concerned, with several songs delivering some wonderfully powerful heavy metal.
One of these high points arrives in the form of the slower, more brooding, ‘A Funeral Within’. The pace lends an old school doom atmospheric to the song, a little Sorcerer-esque, aided by some of the most prominent bass to be heard on the album. But it remains an endearing and catchy composition with ballad-like overtones to it also, as well as the ubiquitous lead breaks.
I really enjoy the thunderous intensity of the up-tempo ‘The Phantom Flame’ with its infectious lead guitar lines and punishing drumming. The melodies within ‘A Curse Upon Mankind’ get quickly and firmly lodged in my brain too.
But quite possibly my favourite of them all is ‘Infernal Angels’ thanks to the most irresistible chorus that gets better and better with every passing listen. Oh, and how can I forget the classic ‘oh, oh, oh’ passage that you can imagine getting sung with gusto at live shows the world over? It’s a wonderful song, and I have taken it to my heart in the same way that I have taken the entire album to my heart. I love it when I’m taken off guard and sideswiped by a previously unknown entity, and Ironflame have done just that to me. I can see ‘Where Madness Dwells’ getting very regular rotation in the Mansion Of Much Metal over the coming months, because it’s one of those albums that plants a great big smile on your face and reminds you of why you got into heavy metal in the first place all those years ago. If NWOBHM or classic/trad metal floats your boat, then ‘Where Madness Dwells’ by Ironflame requires your immediate attention.
We’re halfway through 2022 already. How on Earth did that happen? It’s true what they say, that the older you get, the faster time seems to fly by.
However, the good news is that it gives me an excuse to bring you a round-up post of my favourite albums that have been released in the second quarter of the year, between April and June.
In the same way as my post for the first three months of the year (click here to read that), I have listed the releases chronologically. The task of ordering them will come at the end of the year with my mammoth ‘Album Of The Year’ countdown.
On that note, here goes…
Atomic Fire Records
“…you hopefully get the idea just how varied and dynamic this record truly is, and why I like it more than any other Meshuggah record in their now nine-deep discography. It may be a little too long but that’s literally the only gripe I have. In every other way, it’s Meshuggah. But more than that, it’s Meshuggah at their glorious best. And that means that with ‘Immutable’, we’re in the presence of heavy metal greatness.”
“It’ll be interesting to see what others come up with over the next few months but, as it currently stands, ‘The Endgame’ is far and away the best melodic hard rock album of 2022 so far. And it’ll take an awful lot for it to be beaten, that’s for sure.”
“I’m so glad I was introduced to Soledad, because the French quartet have impressed me immensely with their ambitious, bold, eclectic, and slightly eccentric musical vision…listen to ‘XIII’ and, I hope, prepare to be entertained and captivated like I have been. This is easily one of the best progressive records of 2022 so far.”
“…the album takes me back in time and fills me with an infectious nostalgia, and for all the right reasons. This album reminds me in glorious technicolour exactly why I fell for this kind of music in the first place. And it does this because it is lovingly crafted and is of an incredibly high standard throughout.”
“‘A Heartless Portrait (The Orphean Testament)’ is anything but Evergrey’s unlucky thirteenth record. Instead, it only helps to further underline their utter dominance and superiority in my mind, and hopefully in the minds of other fans too. A companion of mine for the last few months, the music on this album has given me strength, support, and the knowledge that I am not alone on this tumultuous journey called ‘life’.”
“…the six songs are chock full of exemplary musicianship from guitar, bass, drums, and vocals alike, just as we would all hope and expect from a band with the reputation that they historically have. To be honest, I’m just delighted that Zero Hour are back. The fact that they bring with them such an enjoyable feast for the ears is just the icing on the cake. Welcome back gents…”
“As extreme metal albums go, ‘Cancer Culture’ has to be up there with the very best that 2022 has had to offer so far. Everything from the slightly disturbing cover artwork to the performances, and from the production to the songs themselves, Decapitated have returned with one hell of a bang. But crucially, the bang is not only thunderous, but it is intelligent, varied, and completely engaging from start to finish.”
“It may have taken 14 years to see the light of day but as far as I’m concerned, it has been more than worth the wait. I absolutely love this album and, if quality black metal is a favourite of yours, then you will too. Without doubt, with ‘Rapture’, Lord Belial have released my favourite out-and-out black metal record of the year so far.”
“It really is hard to fault ‘Hate Über Alles’ when all is said and done, because Kreator have well and truly delivered the goods once again. Power, aggression, venom, and spite collide superbly with expert songwriting, memorable melody, and irresistible catchiness to produce easily one of my favourite thrash records of the past couple of years.”
“Ultimately, I’m just delighted that Seventh Wonder continue to write new music. The fact that they have created another excellent body of music is the icing on the cake…it is so refreshing to hear Tommy Karevik once again unshackled and able to put his own unique talent to full use. When he is in full flow, there are few better vocalists out there…But alongside him are four more supremely talented individuals…As a result, ‘The Testament’ is, quite simply, a joy to listen to from start to finish.”
“With ‘Liminal Rite’, American quartet Kardashev have pulled the rug out from under me and sent me reeling. I said earlier that I feel like this record is a game changer for me, and I truly mean it. I love heavy music and I also adore strong melody; Kardashev have managed to combine the two in a way that I’ve never really heard before and I am left stunned and in awe of this album.”
“I had a feeling that ‘Tiktaalika’ would be good, but I wasn’t banking on it being quite this good if I’m being brutally honest. There is much to enjoy about Charlie Griffith’s debut solo effort, and I keep discovering new things with each passing listen too. No doubt it’ll appeal first and foremost to lovers of the guitar and the almighty riff, but given the diversity of the material and the quality of the songs themselves, I’m certain that the appeal of ‘Tiktaalika’ will be much wider, and rightly so.”
“Add to the package some seriously cool cover artwork, and a production that is crystal clear without detracting from the sheer power and technicality of the music, and you’re staring at one hell of an album. I love the way that bands like Exocrine have managed to open my mind fully to the magnificence of technical and progressive extreme metal, because it is a genuine thrill ride when you get to listen to music that’s this intense, this intricate, and this memorable.”
“…I am delighted to be able to say that ‘Inhuman Spirits’ shows that this quintet have lost none of their ability, hunger, or bite. All that remains is my now heightened ambition to see the Swedes on a stage as I’ve never had the pleasure to date. In the meantime, won’t you all please stop what you are doing and wrap your ears around ‘Inhuman Spirits’, as Darkane are well and truly back.”
A combination of melodic death metal and Finland? That sounds like a marriage made in heaven to me. For a start, there’s no doubting the heavy metal credentials of this country across a huge range of subgenres, but it is also home to my favourite melodic death metal band of all time: Omnium Gatherum. Reading that the guitarist for this band and Insomnium, Mr Markus Vanhala, makes an appearance on the title track with a lead solo just sealed the deal and I willingly placed my ears in the care of ‘Towards The Dying Lands’, the sophomore release from Horizon Ignited, following 2019’s debut ‘After The Storm’.
Formed in 2017, Horizon Ignited is a sextet comprised of vocalist Okko Solanterä, guitarists Johannes Mäkinen and Vili Vottonen, keyboardist Miska Ek, bassist Jukka Haarala, and drummer Jiri Vanhatalo. And whether or not you’ll like this record will depend on a few factors including how you prefer your melodic death metal to sound. We all know how varied the output can be when placed under this loose and overarching description, and Horizon Ignited have a very definite approach. Put it this way, if you’re wanting to hear the next Omnium Gatherum, this isn’t the record for you. Equally, if you want a similar sound to Amon Amarth, At The Gates, or Insomnium, there’s a fair chance that you’ll end up a little disappointed I’m afraid.
Instead, the tack that Horizon Ignited have chosen sees them more closely aligned to more current era In Flames, with a hint of the melodic end of Dark Tranquillity peeking through. Add to this a modern sheen, a reasonable dose of metalcore and some moments where alt rock plays a part, and you’ll be in the general vicinity of these Finns’ output. Going in blind to this album, with only the words ‘melodic death metal’ and ‘Finland’ in my mind, I must admit I was surprised by what I heard subsequently. Not one to arbitrarily dismiss a band because it wasn’t what I was expecting, I charged on regardless to see what I thought.
Having done just that, I’m going to be honest and say that the style of music that Horizon Ignited offer up on ‘Towards The Dying Lands’ is probably not what I’d normally choose to listen to, but that doesn’t mean that the finished article is not without merit. For my personal tastes though, the music is just a bit too polished, a bit too clean, a bit too mainstream-sounding, and at times, not quite heavy enough to send me off into raptures.
Despite this summary, there is plenty that I can still get on board with. As such, I think that the band should be commended that their performances and song writing ability are such that I can still find a certain amount of enjoyment with their music even if it doesn’t sit within my normal wheelhouse. The music is definitely catchy and melodic, so that’s an element that’s very hard to ignore for a start.
From the outset, there’s a demonstrable In Flames vibe within the guitar tones and the chosen riffs of ‘Beyond Your Reach’. The song rides along at a solid mid-tempo, with chunky guitars and a strong rhythmic spine, the growls of Okko Solanterä properly deep and powerful too. The chorus, however, reveals a clean approach that’s far more melodic and mainstream, almost befitting an alt-rock or nu-metal band. The song is well put together and reasonably memorable, but even at this early stage, I’m searching for a ‘wow’ factor, or interesting USP that fails to fully materialise.
This lack of a unique selling point continues as the album further develops, with song after song delivering some decent riffs, a nice hooky chorus, and the familiar blend of gruff and clean vocals. Tracks like ‘Servant’ or ‘Reveries’ will get stuck in your head because they are enjoyable compositions, that benefit from a good production that affords clarity to all concerned. But there just isn’t enough here to convince me that ‘Towards The Dying Lands’ is anything truly special unfortunately.
A few of the songs either open with clean vocals or feature this delivery more prominently. When this is the case, the melodic death metal descriptor becomes that little bit more tenuous to say the least. The title track is one of these very songs, which despite featuring the guest lead solo from Omnium Gatherum and Insomnium’s Markus Vanhala, sounds more like a meaty mainstream heavy metal song rather than a cutting or bludgeoning slice of death metal. Other tracks of this ilk include ‘Guiding Light’ with its sprawling chorus that has more of an EMO, or metalcore vibe than anything approaching extreme metal. Then there’s the quasi-ballad-like ‘Arching Wings’ which is catchy as hell, but as heavy and edgy as the storylines in Peppa Pig.
Occasionally, the aggression is increased to include a more vibrant and faster beat from the drums and bass, such as ‘End Of The Line’ for example. But these moments feel like they are the exception rather than the rule, leading to a firm impression in my mind that this album is just too smooth and, dare I say it, safe.
As you all know, I vehemently dislike writing reviews that are anything less than positive. However, if I am to listen to more and more music in order to bring readers as much new material as possible, it is inevitable that this will happen with greater frequency. Nevertheless, I always try to steer away from being negative without being constructive in my criticism. Ultimately, Horizon Ignited’s music found here on ‘Towards The Dying Lands’ may not be to my personal taste, but I’d still urge anyone to give it a listen because the content of this record is professionally crafted and well executed. It might even be your next great discovery.
Seeing as I have finally embraced a greater love and appreciation for the thrash metal genre over the past year or two, I felt like it would be a good opportunity to listen to the new album from Municipal Waste, one of several bands within the genre with which I have never previously clicked. Entitled ‘Electrified Brain’, it’s the seventh album from the quintet hailing from Richmond, Virginia. And, at the end of the day, it is the seventh album from the quintet of Tony Foresta (vocals), Ryan Waste (guitar), Nick Poulos (guitar), Philip ‘Landphil’ Hall (bass), and Dave Witte (drums) that has failed to fully ignite my enthusiasm. Allow me to explain why, if I can…
Firstly, there’s that ‘crossover’ aspect of the music. Municipal Waste play a form of thrash metal that seeks to blend in a heavy dose of hardcore into their compositions. As such, you’ll find plenty of ‘gang’ vocals, where a number of voices basically shout in unison. I’ve never been the biggest fan of this, which is why I don’t tend to listen to very much hardcore music at all. The attitude is there, front and centre, but it’s not the kind of attitude that I am drawn to if I’m honest – it’s all a bit shouty and overly angst-ridden.
Yes, there is plenty of tongue-in-cheek attitude as well, but that doesn’t always help because it adds a vaguely comedic element to the output, meaning that it’s hard to take everything seriously. In effect, it only serves to dilute the usual messages of political corruption and discord, which could have been more impactful otherwise. With that said, I am not a fan of overly political music either, because I get enough of that in my daily life, so I’m looking for more of an escape route. Yup, the world is awful in many ways right now, I get it.
The fourteen songs that feature on ‘Electrified Brain’ rip from the speakers with plenty of energy and enthusiasm but without wanting to sound too harsh, the album feels a little one-dimensional. There is a change in pace here and there, but for the most part, the music skips along at a similar brisk pace with a precious lack of variety. I’ve listened to this record a number of times through, including during an eight-hour train journey to Scotland where I had no distractions aside from the sight of green fields rushing past my window. And even then, after listening, I couldn’t pick more than a couple of the songs out of a line-up if my life depended upon it. It’s not quite a case of ‘heard one, heard them all’, but it isn’t far off to be perfectly honest.
This is all a bit of a shame because actually, the album begins in promising fashion thanks to the first three tracks, the title-track opener, followed by ‘Demoralizer’ and ‘Last Crawl’. ‘Electrified Brain’ sets off like a stabbed rat after a short intro, full of pacey aggression, led by some sharp, thrusting riffs and Foresta’s unmistakeable, higher-pitched semi-shouted vocals. Just as the song is about to end though, in marches in a really nice bass-led groovy ending sequence that’s totally infectious.
Speaking of infectious, ‘Demoralizer’ continues the trend with a combination of riffs and melodies that seemingly blend the naked aggression of thrash with the immediacy of Maiden-esque NWOBHM. It makes for a thoroughly decent and enjoyable song, with much more depth to it, one of the few to stick in my brain for a little longer than others. And even though ‘Last Crawl’ is a faster, more uncompromising cut, it features a couple of thunderous riffs that catch my ear, alongside a cool lead solo that sparks and fizzes nicely. But there it more or less ends.
Undoubtedly, the musicians within Municipal Waste are talented at what they do, with each musician apparently fully committed to making as much focused noise as possible. The riffs in particular, are sharp, incisive, and the guitars are blessed with a great tone that feeds my inner metalhead soul. The solos are equally impressive, full of venom and executed with style and aplomb. Occasionally, there’s a dip in the speed in favour of a mid-pace groove, which is positive too. But it doesn’t quite feel like it’s enough. The album comes to an end, and I’m left thinking ‘oh, that’s it, then’, which is never how you want to feel at the end of a record.
Now, I’m well aware that an album shouldn’t be judged on outside factors, such as what other bands within the same genre are doing, but in this instance, it’s hard not to. Over the past year or two, a number of the heavyweights of the genre have released some excellent new material, and there are a handful of exciting releases still to come before 2022 is out. More than ever therefore, it is imperative that bands are on their mettle, delivering the best that they possibly can. But that doesn’t feel like that’s the case here. There will be the hardcore fanbase that’ll lap up every confrontational moment of ‘Electrified Brain’, but it’s nowhere near essential enough for me to recommend it more widely than that. Unless you’re a devotee, I’d search elsewhere for your thrash metal fix.
Welcome one and all to another instalment of ‘Matt drops the ball’, or as I prefer to call it, my review of Swedish death metal stalwarts Paganizer’s twelfth full length release, ‘Behind The Macabre’. It feels like the more music I review, the more I need to discover, because more and more, I notice great big gaping holes in my knowledge and appreciation of heavy metal in all its forms. Admittedly, straight-up brutal death metal is always going to throw up plenty of examples given my relatively recent conversion to the genre, but to know almost nothing of a band that has been around since 1998 and have a back catalogue longer than my arm is more than a little chastening. Turn it around, though, and the positive is that I have another clear candidate to be explored and added to my album collection.
Enough of that though – let’s get down to business and talk about the latest album to emerge from Sweden at the hands of Rogga Johansson (vocals and guitars), Matthias Fiebig (drums), Martin Klasén (bass), and Kjetil Lynghaug (lead guitars). And what a great beast ‘Behind The Macabre’ is. If, like me, you’re a fan of dirty and pulverising death metal that’s loosely based on the ‘Stockholm sound’ and is blessed with some gnarly riffs and just the right amount of well-placed melody and groove, then pay attention because you won’t want to miss this.
The moment that the spiralling leads duel with a heavy, dirty riff and uncompromising rhythm section within the opening seconds of ‘Down The Path Of Decay’, you can tell this could be a really fun ride. The vocals of Rogga Johansson are deliciously deep and gravelly, just as the ugly music demands, but the pace of the song is varied, from fast sections to more measured and slower groovy parts. And even though the pace never reaches the warp speed seen with other bands within the death metal scene, it’s never meant to. Instead, the angle of attack is in the depravity of the material, as well as the pulverising strength.
Mind you, ‘Left Behind To Rot’ is a generally faster track, full of energetic drumming and fast-picked riffs that come close to knocking on the door of the black metal scene. But again, the pace is cleverly varied, and whether fast or slow, the song is laced with a surprising amount of catchy melody to counteract the heaviness. There’s almost none of that to be found on the hilariously named ‘Meatpacker’ which decides to just pummel us into the ground with sheer strength of the riff and blast beats. Nevertheless, I love the end product because it’s just so unapologetically brutal and groovy in a steamroller kind of way.
If there’s a negative, it’s that there are what feels to be a couple of fillers at the heart of the album, or at least a couple of songs that don’t hit the mark quite as powerfully as others; to call anything a filler on an album as strong overall as this feels perhaps a bit unfair.
Unsurprisingly, my favourite tracks are those that dabble with a little more melody, such as the excellent ‘Sleepwalker’. It batters my ears with a frenzied double-pronged attack of drums and guitars at the beginning before injecting a lot more atmosphere, albeit dark and evil atmosphere which feels intense and claustrophobic. But the melodic lead guitar solo that pierces through the gloom alongside a more upbeat and catchier riff is marvellous.
The closing stages in particular of ‘Raving Rhymes Of Rot’ bring with them a whole heap of enjoyment in the form of rampaging melodies alongside the naked aggression of Paganizer’s more standard death metal depravity. ‘Menschenfresser’ by contrast delivers all of the groove in a song that’s pulverising, but a whole heap of fun too, whether or not it is meant to be ‘fun’.
The unequivocal star of the show, however, is the fantastic ‘You Are What You Devour’. Purists may argue that this song sees Paganizer pushing the envelope too far, but I would disagree for what it’s worth. None of the sheer power and menace is lost, as large portions of this song seeks to attack the listener with ferocity. But this is blended with far and away the most melodic and earworm laden material to be found on ‘Behind The Macabre’. It even features a key change for added potency, whilst the lead guitar melodies overlaying a chugging riff near the end are utterly delicious, especially when blended with a blood curdling scream from Johansson.
If all of this wasn’t enough, the final track on the album, ‘Unpeaceful End’ features a guest vocal appearance from Bolt Thrower’s Karl Willets. It’s a fitting collaboration because the unmistakeable tone of Willets’ growl dovetails perfectly with what is a much slower, more doom-infused death metal stomper of a track that’s also the longest single composition on the entire album.
I fully appreciate that dirty and gruesome death metal won’t be to everyone’s taste, but then what’s new at manofmuchmetal.com hey? I like to bring readers a bit of everything that I like, so expect the beautiful and the ugly to mingle side-by-side. If you’re a fan of the more extreme side of the heavy metal spectrum, I can highly recommend this latest effort from Paganizer because ‘Behind The Macabre’ is a truly excellent album that hits the sweet spot between old school brutality and memorable songwriting. I just wish that I’d dived into death metal more deeply in years gone by because it feels more and more that I missed out on some great bands and super music. Better late than never though, and I’m delighted to have finally joined the Paganizer fan club.
For all of my new-found love of some more extreme styles of metal, I will always gravitate back to the progressive metal scene, because it is one of my favourite, and most enduring styles of music, particularly the more ‘classic’ melodic end of the spectrum. It feels, though, as if the pool is getting ever smaller, with less and less new music coming through. This may be an illusion, but that’s how it seems to me. But today, I’m pleased to be able to bring a review of a debut album by a new band that has tapped into the style that I like so much.
The band’s name is Philosophobia, and they first materialised back in 2007 when Andreas Ballnus (Paul Dianno) and Alex Landenburg (Kamelot, Cyrha, Mekong Delta), who had been friends for some time, met up to write and record some new music to accompany a concept that Andreas had written, a prog metal concept to be more precise. Unfortunately, as the press release informs us, existing priorities for the duo meant that this project would have to be put on hold for the intervening years. After a coincidental meeting with Kristoffer Gildenlöw some years later, and his subsequently joining the band, Philosophobia was back in action with added impetus. Rounded out by keyboardist Tobias Weißgerber and Wastefall vocalist Domenik Papaemmanouil, the line-up was finally complete, and the band could bring their music to fruition.
I’ll be honest from the outset and say that this self-titled debut was not love at first listen. But then, neither were many of my favourite albums within this genre, to be fair. It has been a slow burn, but with each passing listen, I have found myself enjoying more and more about this record. In fact, I really like ‘Philosophobia’ now.
Before I get to all of the positives, I must mention that the production. It’s clear, and it isn’t bad per se, it’s just that for my tastes, I’d have preferred it if the music had a little bit more grunt to it. I feel like the guitars, in particular, are robbed just a touch of the impact and muscle that they could have had if the bottom end had been favoured a little more than it has. I also have to query whether a little more judicious editing might have been in order here. I understand that no fewer than six of the songs on this record are the originals from the 2007 writing sessions, and so this might be a factor, with the band very protective over the music that has been sitting patiently in the wings for a decade and a half. But ‘Philosophobia’ feels just a little bloated at times; for a prog metal album, 54 minutes or so isn’t that long, but it feels a bit longer than it is if truth be told.
However (and it’s a big however), all of this fades into the background once you get to grips with this album. It begins in strong fashion with ‘Thorn In Your Pride’, a nine-minute affair that opens with a cinematic intro, dramatic in tone, with a vaguely Middle Eastern voice singing with increasing passion until receding to be replaced by a powerful, catchy, and groovy prog riff, accented by an equally powerful and crisp rhythm section. I wish the riffs bit more, but they remain impactful, as do the synths. From there, the composition takes a number of twists and turns, but they are all as memorable as each other. The voice of Domenik Papaemmanouil doesn’t enter until the end of the fourth minute, when the heaviness recedes in place of some gentle, but rich and welcoming melodies. As you might expect from a prog composition, there is plenty of instrumental prowess, but it’s also mixed with some aggressive semi-growls which lend a more modern twist. The section at around the seven-and-a-half-minute mark is where you’ll find my favourite part of the song, such is the beauty of the melody and the accompanying soaring vocals.
It’s a brave move to open up a debut album with two songs that together account for eighteen minutes of the album, but ‘I Am’ follows the opener and is nearly as long, albeit with a different vibe to it. The riff that introduces it is a classic prog stomper, that’s muscular but also littered with great technique and embellishments that make it impossible for me to describe succinctly. But the energy that feeds through the music is palpable. The change of direction is all the starker because it’s a detour into quiet, lush melodic territory, led by a lovely lead guitar line and complimented by tinkling pianos. There’s even a brief foray into more of a heavy power/speed metal direction where drums and bass gallop off. I detect a Threshold/Damian Wilson vibe in some of the vocals within one of the biggest ‘growers’ on the album.
‘Time To Breathe’ is an interesting track, with plenty of light and shade, going from quiet and introspective, to pronounced explosions of emotion and power. This is one of those tracks that would have benefitted from that beefier sound I referred to earlier, but it’s still an enjoyable affair. ‘Between The Pines’ is a sensational track to follow though. Dominated by keys and vocals, it’s a brooding and emotional ballad like track with poignant melodies throughout topped off superbly by an evocative lead guitar solo.
‘As Light Ceased To Exist’ benefits from some of the most immediate melodies on offer throughout ‘Philosophobia’ as well as a stunning intro where keyboardist Tobias Weißgerber adds depth and gravitas via some lovely orchestration alongside the piano. Dare I suggest a slight Shadow Gallery vibe to the song? Yes, I think I do, even though these vibes are fleeting and oblique to say the least, but most heard within the extended instrumental workout at the heart of the song.
Realising that I’m in danger of turning this into a song-by-song, blow-by-blow review, I’ll just mention one of the final three compositions. And that song is entitled ‘Voices Unheard’. The other two tracks have plenty to offer, which you will be able to discover if this review has sufficiently piqued your interest. However, ‘Voices Unheard’ is my undoubted favourite of the closing trio. From the opening aggression created by a forceful riff that has hints of latter-day Symphony X to it, to easily the most insidiously catchy chorus on the album, this is a belting composition. Sitting here now, it’s bizarre to think that I didn’t rate it much to begin with, but isn’t that the beauty of prog sometimes? The best bit of the song though, is undoubtedly the quieter passage at its heart where you get to hear some stunning keys, bass, and guitar, before the song builds again and we’re slapped around the chops by a glorious lead guitar solo. The spoken-word samples that emerge at the death are the icing on the cake.
There you have it. Yes, it could have had a production better suited to my personal taste, but if we remove that from the equation, you’re left with a really rather wonderful collection of progressive metal songs. The music may not resonate fully with you right from the start, but I guarantee that if you give it some time and proper attention, there’s too much quality here for it not to have an impact upon you. Philosophobia have, with their debut album, positioned themselves in a very strong position to quickly become one of the most talked about new bands within the progressive metal sphere. And rightly so, too. If you like prog, checking this out is a genuine no-brainer.
Ever since I discovered ‘Expanding Senses’ back in 2002 or thereabouts, I have had a soft spot for Swedish band Darkane. At a time when I was still very heavily into exploring everything that the melodic death metal genre had to offer, I stumbled across their third album and never looked back. What attracted me to Darkane was the fact that they were always just a little bit different from everyone else in the densely populated scene. Whilst others were experimenting with loads of clean vocals, going ultra-melodic, or completely the opposite direction, here was a band that had a much more pronounced thrash metal element to their output, alongside some great riffs, and savagery blended with a sense of the epic and grandiose. I also liked the vaguely progressive edge that they had, meaning that you had to work a little harder to fully appreciate their output. To me, this was a great mix which led to my becoming a firm fan of the quintet.
And then, after they released album number six, ‘The Sinister Supremacy’ in 2013, everything went very quiet. And it isn’t clear why. But no matter, because 2022 is the year that Darkane have retuned, and I for one am happy about this. With one of the most stable line-ups in extreme metal, the original core quartet who came together in 1998 remain present and correct. This means that the guitars are handled by Klas Ideberg and Christofer Malmström, Jörgen Löfberg is the bassist, and Peter Wildoer remains on the drum stool. The vocalist is the only person that has changed over the years, but original singer Lawrence Mackrory fronts ‘Inhuman Spirits’, his second album appearance since his return in 2011.
After such a prolonged hiatus, their return could have gone one of several ways. The resultant album could have been a pale shadow of their past offerings, it could have seen their modus operandi change with a pronounced identity shift, or the quintet could have come back hungrier than ever, or with no real appreciable change to their core identity. Thankfully, it is the latter that has transpired, and this has made me even happier.
It takes precisely 2.5 seconds before I start to smile. The opening song is also the title track and in classic Darkane style, it comes roaring out of the blocks with intensity, heaviness, and a grandiose bombast that only they can deliver. The drums mete out a punishing beat, ably assisted by a rumbling bass and strong riffs, all coated in some excellent, rich orchestration. Darkane are back, peeps! From there, Lawrence Mackrory takes centre stage with his familiar aggressive, gritty, snarling delivery whilst the energetic hybrid of death and thrash metal alongside him cuts and scythes with precise intensity. The chorus, however, when it arrives, is a magnificent thing of thunderous and melodic beauty. It takes a few spins to fully make its mark, but when it lodges itself in your brain, it will not let go.
Up next is ‘Awakening’ and whilst it is still unmistakeably Darkane, the approach is slightly different. It’s much more death metal-centric, with Mackrory unleashing a deeper growl that is less decipherable. That is, until the chorus, which is a stomping, groove-laden beast that builds upon the far less orchestrated, and far more muscular, chunky riff-laden affair that you hear in the verses. As the song develops, there’s a return to the cleaner vocals, plus there’s a large dollop of melody within the lead guitar solos that emerge later in the track.
The more I listen to ‘Inhuman Spirits’, the more I come to the conclusion that the album could very well be neatly split into two halves. Opener aside, the first few songs feel a little more spiky, incisive, and aggressive; there is still melody and groove, of that there’s no doubt, but the songs feel a little more confrontational and extreme, if I can use that descriptor. The second half however, is markedly more catchy and more melodic overall. Unless my ears are playing tricks on me of course.
And then track five, ‘Inhaling Mental Chaos’ kicks in. It still deploys a pleasing amount of strong and tight riffs, not sacrificing the heaviness one iota, but after a frenetic introduction, the melody feels more immediate and pronounced. Those that know me will know that this is a very positive thing indeed, so the combination of memorable riffs and melodically tinged cleaner vocals of Mackrory satisfy my needs perfectly. The ensuing lead solos and harmonic leads are delicious too, bringing that wicked smile to my lips once again.
I could pick any number of songs to thrust under the spotlight, but the truth is that ‘Inhuman Spirits’ is a remarkably consistent creation, with not one of the ten songs falling short, not even the slightly strange and unexpected final instrumental that’s just piano and atmospherics to end the record in moody fashion. It won’t be everyone’s preferred way of ending the album, but thanks to the darkness and the melancholy within the central melody, I rather like it.
Back to the heavier songs though, and ‘Mansion Of Torture’ is a snarling, frothing monster of a track that blends savagery and attitude with a huge chorus that once again sees some pronounced symphonic orchestration to inject that sense of majestic opulence to the material, culminating in a full-on cinematic film score outro.
In a slight change of pace, the intro to ‘The Quintessence Of…’ is a much slower affair, that shows the way in which Darkane can, if the need arises, offer a sense of more measured drama and slow build to their material. I love the way that the music builds from all corners of the band over the course of a minute or more, taking its time to come to full fruition. Whilst the pace does quicken slightly within the verses, it is a slower-paced composition overall, revelling in a big, grandstand chorus via a wonderfully groovy riff that will test those neck muscles whether or not you want it to. Alongside the title track, this is where Darkane are at their most gloriously epic and it’s at this point that I suddenly realise how much I love this band and how much I have missed them over the past near decade.
‘A Spiral To Nothing’ is a catchy and upbeat song, whose opening riff and melody reminds me a little of Arch Enemy, albeit in their early days when they wrote their best material by a million miles. There’s also a hint of early Megadeth too, particularly in the chorus that mimics the song title by cleverly spiralling down as it goes along. But don’t be fooled, because this is still 100% Darkane.
The only disappointment that I have is that I singularly failed in my attempt to bring this review to you before the album’s release. However, being such an important band for me and many others, and with such expectation after their hiatus, I felt I owed it to Darkane to get this review right, and to give the music as much time to fully resonate as possible. Having done that, I am delighted to be able to say that ‘Inhuman Spirits’ shows that this quintet have lost none of their ability, hunger, or bite. All that remains is my now heightened ambition to see the Swedes on a stage as I’ve never had the pleasure to date. In the meantime, won’t you all please stop what you are doing and wrap your ears around ‘Inhuman Spirits’, as Darkane are well and truly back.