Category Archives: jazz

Anathema – The Optimist – Album Review

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Artist: Anathema

Album Title: The Optimist

Label: Kscope

Date of Release: 9 June 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Score of Much Metal: 9.5

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

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

Nova Collective – The Further Side – Album Review

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Artist: Nova Collective

Album Title: The Further Side

Label: Metal Blade Records

Date Of Release: 10 March 2017

The progressive rock and metal genres are awash with projects that operate outside the boundaries and the constraints of the musicians’ day jobs. And it’s a double-edged sword to be honest. If you’re a glass half full kind of person, you’d be saying that we can hardly moan about new music from what is more often than not a group of highly talented and creative artists. However, if you’re a glass half empty person, your argument will inevitably be that, as a project, we are less likely to see follow-up albums and even less likely to see the music in the live arena. Of course that’s not always the case, but these concerns remain valid.

Me though, I’m a glass half full person. And so any new music that features musicians that I greatly respect is a reason to get excited and celebrate. In this instance, it is difficult to think of a more mouth-watering collaboration than that which goes by the name of Nova Collective. Allow me to explain.

For some time now, there has been a mutual respect and appreciation between UK progressive rising stars Haken and the US prog juggernaut that is Between The Buried And Me. In 2015, the two bands shared a stage for a trek across Europe but the links apparently go even deeper.

The embryonic beginnings of Nova Collective can be traced back to email conversations in 2014 between Haken guitarist Richard Henshall and Between The Buried And Me bassist Dan Briggs. The internet chats soon turned into the sharing of musical ideas and before long, something approaching full songs were being created. At this point, a couple more musicians were recruited including original Haken keyboardist Pete Jones and drummer Matt Lynch who Dan had worked with in Trioscapes.

Now, I love my progressive music but I’ve made no secret in the past about my general apathy towards instrumental prog/fusion. Too much of it strikes me as being an exercise in showing off, of demonstrating technical prowess at the expense of anything approaching a listenable and enjoyable composition. I’m also not the biggest fan of jazz, another element weaved into the Nova Collective tapestry. So despite the clientele involved, I remained unsure whether I’d actually like the music that was offered.

I’m actually laughing at myself as I write this because how could I have ever doubted these particular musicians? ‘The Further Side’ is unequivocally the exception to my self-imposed rule.

I like this album. I really like this album. Naturally as you might expect from a quartet who fuse prog with jazz, classical and other world music, the complexity is very high across the board as is the technical prowess and the individual dexterity of each member, demonstrating beyond doubt that they are in complete control of every note.

However, as long term readers will know, I’m not one to go into detail about the technicalities on offer because I can’t. I simply don’t know enough about what is going on to be able to adequately comment upon it. Instead, what I try to do is focus on what I can communicate more clearly and that’s what the album sounds like, what I like about it and the effect that the music has on me.

On that score, let me begin with one of the biggest factors at play here and that’s the warmth and the richness of the material. I don’t feel, as is so often the case with this kind of music, like I am being preached at or on the end of some superior, condescending musical speech. I feel included and I connect with the music on many levels.

For something so intricate, each of the compositions feels like a cohesive and well-rounded piece of music that is welcoming and inviting. The tones and effects that the band use are myriad but are clear, precise and the overall production has done wonders to draw out the very best of each of the four musicians and their respective performances. It is clear and vibrant but with an organic feel to it, meaning that Nova Collective don’t fall into the trap of sounding sterile or over-produced.

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Photo credit: Scottie Bottenus

Then there are the occasionally subtle or more overt references to the music of the musicians’ day jobs. Overall, Nova Collective sound commendably unique and bristle with originality. However, here and there, the keen-eared amongst you will be able to pick out references to either Between The Buried And Me through Dan’s bass work or flashes of Haken via Richard’s guitar playing. I rather like this if I’m honest. I like the challenge that the music presents but I also welcome a touch of the familiar, especially when those familiar sounds and techniques are so good in the first place.

As if to immediately stomp their authority, Nova Collective begin ‘The Further Side’ with one of the most complex and riotous tracks of the six that comprise the debut. It starts off with a cheeky and intriguing melody created by a keyboard and guitar duet. Before long, the drums enter the fray alongside the bass and we’re off. What ensues is a near ten-minute voyage into largely unknown and unexplored territory that incorporates all of the aforementioned influences and ingredients to the full.

The drumming from Matt Lynch is incredible, flitting from subtle deftness to driving power as the composition dictates, embellishing everything with intelligent and dextrous fills that are beyond my comprehension. Pete Jones’ keyboards are all over this track too, utilising what comes across to me as a plethora of different tones and effects, either creating gentle atmosphere-inducing soundscapes or up front and centre in a more lead capacity. Riffs that border on more modern djent territory are suddenly usurped by more urgent lead licks or simply disappear cleverly to phoenix into something entirely different. Tempos change, the mood changes, the intensity shifts and I’m left dazed, confused but thoroughly entertained thanks to the deft song writing abilities and the use of enough melody to retain my eager interest.

The remaining five tracks do, to a greater or lesser extent, share many of these wonderful facets and as you’d expect by now, the quartet deploy them with skill and intelligence.

I personally think that the beautifully deep, resonate and pulsating bass work of Briggs is one of the stand-out features of ‘Cascades’. I even like the use of keyboard effects that I might normally dismiss callously as ‘hideous jazzy lounge musak’, but in the context of the song, it actually works rather delightfully.

Featuring a sumptuous and breezy melody that in entirely in keeping with the title of the track, ‘Air’ has become my current favourite on ‘The Further Side’. The melody is made so wonderful because it involves every member of the band. It enters after a quiet opening and then later in the piece. And on both occasions, it sets my hairs on end and it makes me smile. In between, I also enjoy the oriental-sounding melodies that are introduced, the sense of drama that builds and with it, the forceful drumming from Lynch and more commanding bass work from Briggs.

To these ears, ‘State of Flux’ introduces a few nods to the neo-prog movement thanks to more huge swathes of keyboards and more pronounced and indulgent guitar solos from Richard. Things get a little science-fiction and weird in the middle but again it is handled sensibly and adds to the song rather than undermine it. I have to say it is another of my personal favourites as it all comes together so well and it flies by despite pushing the ten minute barrier once again.

‘Ripped Apart and Reassembled’ is the shortest composition on the record but at a shade under six minutes, it still has plenty of time to weave some magic. It contains some of the most dramatic and heavy segments on the record with Briggs’ bass sounding extremely aggressive at times. But the more subtle and experimental ingredients are never far away, weaving themselves into the tapestry with apparent ease.

It is then left for the title track to conclude proceedings. It kicks off in a very familiar way if you’re either a Haken or Between The Buried And Me fan but before long, the song meanders off those more well-travelled paths to explore other climes. There’s an air of mystery created as the composition matures and I love the way that it falls off the metaphorical cliff to be saved by a really excellent jazz piano interlude from Pete Jones, to then whisk this impressive finale in another direction entirely. A sense of the theatrical is soon built on and overlaid with a heavier, more menacing veneer before returning full circle to reintroduce more of the jazz-influenced piano. Jones then turns all classical on us, providing the foundation upon which the four can see out the album with one last grandiose flourish.

I’ve said until I’m blue in the face but the abilities of these artists involved are completely staggering. And not just in terms of their performances; in terms of the song writing as well. For the first time in ages, possibly forever, I am listening to an instrumental progressive jazz fusion album and I am not bored to the very core of my soul. Instead, I want to press play and listen to it all over again. Maybe I am maturing and with that, so are my musical tastes? Quite possibly. However, I think it has more to do with the fact that Nova Collective have actually written music that is intelligent and challenging but that is also vibrant, melodic and engaging. Bravo, Nova Collective, bravo.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.25

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

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

Slyde – Back Again – EP Review

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Artist: Slyde

Album Title: Back Again EP

Label: Independent

Date Of Release: 17 February 2017

I don’t often review EPs, because I’m not generally a fan. I much prefer full-length albums because they offer much more value for money and give the listener a much better insight into the band and their musical vision. However, I do also accept that EPs offer new and up-and-coming artists the opportunity to showcase their art without the cost and other challenges that a full record can entail.

And occasionally, I will be faced with an EP that simply cannot be ignored. That was the case here, with ‘Back Again’, the latest output from Canadian prog rockers Slyde.

Slyde are a four-piece, comprised of guitarist/vocalist Nathan Da Silva, keyboardist Sarah Westbrook, bassist Alberto Campuzano and drummer Brendan Soares. Previously to this, I’d never heard of the name Slyde but when I read the press release that suggested they might appeal to fans of Haken, Coheed and Cambria and even compatriots Rush, I was both slightly sceptical and intrigued. But I needn’t have been sceptical because by and large, the comparisons are well-placed. Given their modest history, Slyde have a long way to go to sit alongside these illustrious names for sure. But you can certainly hear the similarities in style and execution even at this early stage in Slyde’s development.

In true prog style, ‘Back Again’ is a concept, albeit a modest one spread across just four compositions. It apparently tackles the subject of ‘environmentalism and the wider world with a sci-fi twist’. Well why not hey?

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For me though, it is the music itself which makes the biggest impression. From a first spin, I knew that Slyde showed real promise. But more than that, being just their third EP, I have been very impressed with their maturity, both in terms of their song writing and with their execution. ‘Back Again’ is a breath of fresh air as all four songs bounce along with spirit and confidence, not to mention a great blend of strong hooks, succinctness and technical ability which is evident but not rammed down our throats. Everything just sounds right, if that makes sense.

If I had to pick a favourite track, it’d be the opener, ‘Fading’. Right from the off, the keys of Sarah Westbrook are prominent, as are the very pleasant lead vocals of Nathan Da Silva. The track bounds along at a nice pace led by the rhythm section of bassist Alberto Campuzano and drummer Brendan Soares, whilst the guitar work is both punchy and subtly intricate. But the melodies, particularly within the upbeat chorus are just a delight and extremely addictive.

Having said that, all four tracks offer something of real merit. ‘Join The Parade’ is dominated by some lush synths and an impressive bass performance. I also like the funky almost jazzy vibe that it exudes at certain points. ‘Divide’ kicks off with a slightly darker, more confrontational vibe but again the melodies are strong as are the keys that create a more epic, cinematic feel whilst closing the song out with a gorgeous piano outro.

The title track closes the EP and does so with real style. It is the longest song here and it is also the most expansive in terms of the sounds and textures that are explored, from quiet and simple to big, bold and multi-layered. There’s also a sense of positivity and euphoria that I glean from within the generally sombre and honest lyrics not to mention compelling guitar and keyboard solos

Ultimately, the best compliment I can pay Slyde is the fact that I wanted to hear more, much more. I want ‘Back Again’ to be a full-length album and I hope that this will be a reality in the not-too-distant future.

The Score Of Much Metal: 8

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

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 10

Finally, after what seems like an age, my ‘Album of the Year 2016’ top 30 countdown reaches the top 10, those ten albums that have made the biggest impact upon me over the past year.

As I’ve said many times throughout this series, this isn’t anything other than one person’s personal thoughts on the year in music. There are going to be some glaring omissions as far as many are concerned. For a start, I’ll let you into a secret: Metallica are not included in this list; they’re not even close, despite their new record being the best for far too many years to count. And there will be others who aren’t included as well, which might raise an eyebrow or two. But hey, it’s my list, so what I say goes!

And on that rather bullish note, it’s time to get on with revealing my top 10, starting with today’s choice at 10. There’s just time to mention that all of the other posts in this series can be viewed via links at the bottom of this page, so please check them out if you haven’t already done so.

Number 10

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Maschine
Naturalis
InsideOut Music

 

“After a few weeks, I have several adjectives running through my mind, many of which have become stronger and more defined the more familiar I get with the album. Words like ‘smooth’, ‘sophisticated’ and ‘refined’ sit comfortably alongside ‘adept’, ‘confident’ and ‘assured’.

You can probably tell therefore, that I like ‘Naturalis’. But that’s not entirely accurate. I love this album. There is so much within it to enjoy and discover; it will take more than a cursory listen to fully appreciate it and that’s one of the beauties of this record.

…on ‘Naturalis’, Maschine just have a knack of making the most complex and challenging music sound so gorgeous, effortless and smooth. Add to the mix a strong production and lyrics that don’t shy away from the big topics of the day and ‘Naturalis’ begins to add up to a very commanding release indeed. I’m thoroughly smitten and can only conclude that if you’re a fan of intelligent and ambitious progressive music, Maschine are an essential addition to your collection.”

Read the full review here

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‘Naturalis’ might have been one of the last releases of the year to be featured on the Blog Of Much Metal but, thanks to the lovely people at InsideOut, I was treated to a generous advance preview period, in which time I was able to sink my teeth deeply into this sophomore album from UK proggers Maschine. Mind you, I needed that time to even begin to fully appreciate everything that such an ambitious and complex record had to offer.

It was time well spent because ‘Naturalis’ has become a firm favourite at the Mansion of Much Metal. It isn’t hard to see why either, because this is a thoroughly immersive and sophisticated listen, one that I have found difficult from which to extricate. But then, I’m not sure I want to.

If their debut was a superb starter for ten, this follow-up has upped the ante in just about every department. As my quotes above indicate, ‘Naturalis’ has to be one of the most complex yet smoothest and subtle releases of the year. The album is littered with clever nuances and impressive intricacies but yet it manages to blend the technicalities and superb musicianship with confident songwriting, plenty of atmospheres and strong melodic sensibilities. The result is an album where every song contains something irresistible, begging a repeat play almost immediately. And, as I have discovered over the past couple of months, the music just gets better the more I listen. Who knows where within my list it might have been if it had been released a few months earlier. This is sophisticated prog and I love it.

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 11
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 12
Album of the Year 2016 – number 13
Album of the Year 2016 – number 14
Album of the Year 2016 – number 15
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 16
Album of the Year 2016 – number 17
Album of the Year 2016 – number 18
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 19
Album of the Year 2016 – number 20
Album of the Year 2016 – number 21
Album of the Year 2016 – number 22
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

Album of the Year 2016 – Number 23

Welcome to day eight of my epic ‘Album of the Year 2016’ top 30 countdown. And today is one of those posts that get to the heart of what my blog is all about – it’s not about singing the praises of the biggest bands out there, although I will do that too. It’s more about shining the spotlight on the music I love and the bands that deliver it whilst being relatively unknown or ‘successful’ in the conventional sense of the word.

In fact, in the case of today’s choice of album, the artist in question is unsigned and somewhat unbelievably, has less ‘likes’ on facebook than me. Now I know that’s not the sign of success, but how can such a great band have so little love from the metal community? It’s ridiculous.

And, on that note, I give you my choice at number 23:

Number 23

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Odd Logic
Penny For Your Thoughts
Independent Release

 

“…‘Penny For Your Thoughts’ is properly progressive. This isn’t one of those records that toys around the edges of prog thanks to an occasional off-kilter riff or brief foray into anything other than a 4-4 time signature. The music of Odd Logic has a lot going on within it, with different ideas falling over themselves to be heard. And yet, despite what could become an untidy or unruly listening experience remains commendably cohesive. Almost naturally and organically, elements of rock, metal, jazz, classical and pop are fused together to create an enthralling, dramatic and dynamic listening experience.

As you can probably tell, this has been something of a revelation to me. I adore this record because it delivers exactly what I like in my music. It is heavy, melodic, complex, intelligent, surprisingly emotional and thoroughly entertaining from beginning to end.”

Read the full review here

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There are precious few relatively unknown bands out there that create really exceptional music. So it is nice to discover one and be able to feature them in my end of year ‘best of’ list. Odd Logic have been one of the biggest revelations for me this year – even during such a fantastically strong year for heavy music, ‘Penny For Your Thoughts’ is easily one of the best prog releases of the year and this should speak volumes as to how much I like this record.

It isn’t like ‘Penny For Your Thoughts’ flattered to deceive at the beginning either. It hasn’t lost its lustre at all and the magic is still there to hear several months after release. In true prog style, this is a proper concept disc and it’s the story that allows the guys in Odd Logic to go crazy with the styles and sounds that feature on this record.

And, if that wasn’t enough, the penultimate track ‘Lighthouses’ is another contender for the song of the year – it is just the most exquisite blend of prog, AOR and pop that comes together to deliver a song that gets completely lodged in my head and begs for repeated plays. If you’re into progressive metal of any kind, then ‘Penny For Your Thoughts’ needs to be high on your list. And then, once you’ve fallen for it, shout the name ‘Odd Logic’ from the rooftops.

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 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

A Sense Of Gravity – Atrament – Album Review

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Artist: A Sense Of Gravity

Album Title: Atrament

Label: Independent Release

Date Of Release: 18 November 2016

An album like ‘Atrament’ from Seattle metallers A Sense Of Gravity is almost certain to raise a few eyebrows and catch significant attention. Prior to this review, I’d never heard of A Sense of Gravity but on the strength of ‘Atrament’, they are well and truly on my radar. More than that, they have given me cause to reassess my opinion of the whole tech/djent genre.

Going back a step, A Sense Of Gravity are, as they state on their social media pages, ‘six polite, well-educated gentlemen that make metal’. They formed in 2011 and have since been dedicated to playing ear-catching extreme metal. Their ranks are made up of vocalist C.J. Jenkins, guitarist/programmer Brendon Williams, guitarist Morgan Wick, keyboardist/guitarist Brandon Morris, drummer Pete Breene and bassist Chance Unterseher.

And, whilst I can’t attest to their politeness yet, I can certainly believe that they are well educated if their music is anything to go by. This isn’t simple paint-by-numbers stuff, I can tell you.

And on that note, with the background information dealt with, I can now get back to what I’m chomping on the bit to write about: the music on ‘Atrament’, the sextet’s sophomore independent release.

I’ve been growing a little tired and jaded of late with the whole tech metal, djent genre. There are plenty of good exponents of this kind of music and plenty of good albums have been released during 2016 by some of the biggest hitters, from Meshuggah, to Textures. However, it is a type of music that has to be done very well in order for me to take it to my heart.

With A Sense Of Gravity, they have used the tech/djent style of music as their core framework sound and then built upon it expertly, adding plenty of other styles, sounds and textures to it to create something very exciting indeed. Not just exciting – thoroughly enjoyable and immersive too.

There is an overt cinematic influence at work on these ambitious Americans, as demonstrated most eloquently on the opening track, ‘Drowning In The Ink’ for example. It is a piece of music that could easily be part of a film score, such is the tangible drama within it. The tension is increased as the composition builds, accented by C J Jenkins’ more-than-solid clean vocals.

But it’s not just symphonic, cinematic content that’s added. Also included is a very sophisticated progressive element, post rock, a touch of ambient and lots of subtle little inflections that become more evident the more I listen, be they nods towards the realm of death metal, jazz or metalcore. Polyrhythms feature, as do impressive sections of melody and plenty of mind-bending solo instrumental flamboyance.

‘Reclusive Peace’ takes over and, from the off, it is a roiling, tumultuous composition that is bold, expertly technical and grandly melodic and epic in scope. I hear faint echoes of Haken in the surprisingly deep and emotive repeated chorus whilst the instrumentation, not to mention the tightness of the band is impressive to say the least.

‘Echo Chasers’ is more down the line tech/djent meets death route which demonstrates tremendous instrumental abilities, from the bursts of warp speed drumming from Pete Breene, to the blistering riffs of Williams, Wick and Morris, not to mention bold synth work and a plethora of vocal styles, from a caustic rasp, to a more guttural death growl via more clean, melodious singing. In fact, it is the vocal delivery which is one of the strengths of the A Sense Of Gravity. C J Jenkins is hugely adept behind the microphone, acting like a vocal chameleon, effortlessly moving from one delivery to another as the compositions demand.

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‘The Divide’ features some of the best death vocals this side of Omnium Gatherum, but begins in a very different manner. The quieter intro is more classic prog metal in sound and approach but it remains dense, atmospheric and almost claustrophobic in tone. In fact, the entire track is one of the most diverse cuts on the album, flowing organically from one idea to another with aplomb. Slow, monolithic riffs give way to bursts of faster paced material, shifting between heavy and softer passages seemingly at will.

Mind you, this modus operandi could be thrown at many of the songs on this album. No single song is easy to define as the whole thing is a multi-layered, multi-faceted beast. ‘Artificially Ever After’ is a cracking song that’s all-out aggression one minute and then soothing , atmospheric and highly melodic the next. The keys of Brandon Morris are all over ‘Revenant’ as it juxtaposes a bludgeoning riffs and complex beats with moments of soothing clarity.

‘Guise Of Complacency’ briefly features some classic NWOBMH wails but they fit perfectly into the much more modern and dystopian-sounding soundscape that surrounds them. In fact, this is one of the most challenging and daunting tracks on the album, liberally channelling their inner Meshuggah one minute and then trading supersonic guitar and keyboard solos the next in some hedonistic display of dexterity and prowess. And yet it comes together and works.

By contrast, ‘Shadow Lines’ is one of the most immediate tracks on ‘Atrament’. It begins quietly where the guitars and piano shine, alongside a very self-assured and subtle vocal performance from Jenkins. It builds in intensity as it develops and, in the process, offers some of the strongest melodic refrains anywhere on the album.

I really enjoy the nonchalant swagger within ‘The Projectionist’ which also features some of my favourite bass playing on the album courtesy of Chance Unterseher. And the classical guitar intro to ‘I, Recreant’ is a thing of beauty, particularly when coupled with such a cool beat and given the way the song builds from such modest foundations to explode with barely contained bursts of epic and highly memorable melody. This has to be my current favourite track on the entire record.

Oh and the near nine-minute closer ‘Manic Void’ is too huge and epic for words. It is a grandiose conclusion to the album and offers A Sense Of Gravity one final opportunity to batter the listener with an intense composition that features just about every positive aspect of the band’s sound in one hell of a rousing finale.

I feel churlish mentioning anything negative at this point. However, to maintain a level of honesty, I must. Therefore, if I have any gripes with A Sense Of Gravity’s latest release, it is that the album feels just a little too long, particularly given the intensity and complexity on offer. At around the 70 minute mark, I get the feeling that the record might have been better served being a little more succinct. It’s a sad indictment on the human race but at a time when attention spans are decreasing at an alarming rate, I fear that ‘Atrament’ might be too much for some, thereby putting them off.

Everything else about A Sense Of Gravity and ‘Atrament’ however, is very positive and as such, it has genuinely grabbed my attention. I’m really surprised that a band as good as A Sense of Gravity isn’t signed to a decent metal label. However, if this level of quality is maintained and their creativity is not stifled, it surely cannot be too long before the situation changes. If you’re a fan of ambitious and challenging modern extreme heavy metal, the progressive sounds of A Sense Of Gravity come with the highest of recommendations from me, the latest convert to the cause.

The Score Of Much Metal: 8.5

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

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

Maschine – Naturalis – Album Review

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Artist: Maschine

Album Title: Naturalis

Label: Inside Out Music

Date Of Release: 18 November 2016

Regular readers of the Blog of Much Metal wil be familiar with my posts where I look into my crystal ball and comment on the albums that I most look forward to in the coming year. Regular readers will also be acutely aware that Maschine have featured within these posts for the past couple of years but, until now, have not delivered. I need to get the crystal ball booked in for a service, I reckon.

Maschine first came to my attention back in 2013 when I was still writing for Powerplay. I was asked if, at the 11th hour, I could fit in one more review and turn it around in a little under 48 hours. The album in question was the debut from a previously unknown band called Maschine, a young UK-based prog rock band with a penchant for jazz and fusion amongst other influences.

I never like reviewing albums under such a tight timescale because I like to allow records the chance to get under my skin. This wasn’t an option but in the short space of time I had, I listened to ‘Rubidium’ almost non-stop. Not just because I had to, but because I wanted to. Frankly, it blew me away and I still play it regularly. It had a few rough edges and areas of improvement naturally. However, as debuts go, it was highly impressive to say the least.

Since then, I’ve been patiently waiting for the follow-up. In the intervening years, there were long periods of silence and apparent inactivity from the Brighton-based quintet, at least from my outsider perspective. There was also an important line-up change. Original female vocalist and keyboardist Georgia Lewis left the band, to be replaced by Marie-Eve de Gaultier.

Now in 2016, consisting of guitarist/vocalist Luke Machin, bassist/vocalist Daniel Mashal, vocalist/keyboardist Marie-Eve de Gaultier, guitarist Elliott Fuller and drummer James Stewart, Maschine are back with their eagerly anticipated sophomore release, ‘Naturalis’. This time, I made sure I gave myself a lot longer to listen and to absorb the music on this record, so that I could make the most of the experience.

After a few weeks, I have several adjectives running through my mind, many of which have become stronger and more defined the more familiar I get with the album. Words like ‘smooth’, ‘sophisticated’ and ‘refined’ sit comfortably alongside ‘adept’, ‘confident’ and ‘assured’.

You can probably tell therefore, that I like ‘Naturalis’. But that’s not entirely accurate. I love this album. There is so much within it to enjoy and discover; it will take more than a cursory listen to fully appreciate it and that’s one of the beauties of this record.

‘Naturalis’ is comprised of a mere six tracks but together they amount to around 52 minutes of music that touches just about every genre and subgenre of music possible. From prog rock to metal, from jazz to funk, from ambient to pop, it is all pretty much catered for. It is an album book-ended by two eleven-plus-minute epics between which sit four that average around seven minutes. This is another master stroke that Maschine play – this is not an album that outstays its welcome in any shape or form but which contains plenty of room for the music to take the listener on an engrossing journey, full of technicality, complexity and beauty.

I’m feeling all conventional, so let’s begin a deeper look at this record with the opening track, ‘Resistance’.

It begins with moody, futuristic electronic sounds and textures from de Gaultier that are carefully built on, first by a simple yet bold drum beat, then further layers of synths to deepen the atmosphere. Finally, in come the guitars with a deceptively simple riff, further layered until the song opens up into a truly epic and majestic soundscape where the keys soar and the senses are assaulted from all directions within the band.

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This most grandiose of beginnings then drops away starkly to reveal some gorgeous bass work from Mashal as well as subtle vocals, both from Luke Machin and de Gaultier. The song rebuilds towards a reintroduction of that powerful and seductive melody, only to give way this time to something more spiky, led by a guitar riff that has one toe in the realm of black metal of all things.

This is only a momentary flourish as the composition ebbs and flows, moving back and forth between moody atmospherics and all-out abandon via some funky interludes and jazzy flourishes to create palpable tension and an intelligent sense of storytelling through music.

If the first half of the track is full of darker atmosphere, the second half is very different. Like the parting of the clouds, a brighter and breezier melody replaces the aural gloom to glorious effect. The vocals from Machin and de Gaultier are much more pronounced and the introduction of acoustic guitars adds to the more positive vibes and creates a slightly more pastoral feel. There’s still a moody undercurrent but it only reveals itself at certain points as the narrative demands.

‘Resistance’ is an extremely bold and ambitious opener but it is delivered with consummate skill. And, despite the shifts in tempo, atmosphere, textures and mood, all of which culminate in a final act that throws instrumental caution to the wind in an abrasive and dramatic conclusion, it is held together by some superb musicianship. Somehow, it ends up sounding very smooth and sophisticated when by all accounts, it had no right to do so.

The following track is very aptly named. ‘Night And Day’ is indeed the ‘day’ to the ‘night’ of ‘Resistance’. There’s no protracted intro for a start. Instead, a guitar riff from Machin and his equally talented six string partner Elliott Fuller introduces what happens to be the shortest, punchiest track on ‘Naturalis’. However, it is the utterly addictive and ludicrously catchy lead melody that grabs my attention from the off. Vaguely reminiscent to the song ‘Visions’ by Haken and injecting electronic and pop hints into the whole, it is another example of the quality that exudes from every pore of this young band.

I heard mutterings around the release of the debut that some didn’t like Machin’s vocals. He has a distinct style for sure but I really like his delivery. It is quite unique and crucially it acts as a superb partner to the utterly beguiling voice of de Gaultier. If her superb keyboard playing wasn’t enough on its own, this young lady has the voice of an angel; so refined, so full of emotion and almost seductive in tone.

There’s no better example of her beautiful voice than on the equally stunning ‘Make Believe’, a contender for my song of the year. The track opens with a simple piano and de Gaultier’s breathy, almost ethereal voice. It sends shivers down my spine every time I listen.

In some ways, this is the most simple song on ‘Naturalis’ in terms of the construction but so strong are the melodies and the collective performance of the band that, to me, it packs the biggest punch of all. The ‘chorus’ melody is a work of genius and the effect that it has on me when some beefier guitars join to act as a muscular counterpoint to the angelic vocals is pure magic. To cap things off, Machin indulges in a scintillating lead guitar solo and then communicates such poignancy and feel as the song draws to a conclusion with some wonderfully subtle guitar notes, executed with a sympathy and deftness that is remarkable.

In my opinion, the first three songs are so undeniably great that it would take a gargantuan effort, something approaching an all-time masterpiece for the remaining three to match the same level. To Maschine’s credit, they pretty much achieve the feat as nothing on ‘Naturalis’ is anything other than magnificent. If I’m being 100% honest, my preferences veer more towards the opening half but it is my a miniscule margin.

‘Hidden In Plain Sight’ is a breath of fresh air in terms of its more upbeat and laid-back vibe. There’s a demonstrably greater jazz and fusion vibe to the song which I have really grown to appreciate initially and then more latterly, to embrace and enjoy. It helps that there are some hugely likeable melodies to underpin everything, turning it into a song as opposed to anything else. Again, the individual performances are spot on and impressive in their assuredness whilst a doff of the cap has to go to the rhythmic team of drummer James Stewart and bassist Daniel Mashal, as they drive forward an extended instrumental section with the kind of touch, feel and ability that most of us can only dream of.

By contrast, ‘A New Reality’ has a much more whimsical feel to it, not to mention the sophisticated and compelling feel of a romantic movie score thanks to the rich strings, warm textures and layers of dreamy synths that dominate large parts of the composition.

‘Naturalis’ then closes with ‘Megacyma’, which begins with darker, dystopian overtones complete with ominous sampled sounds of sirens and fires. The track builds, aided by another gloriously emotive lead guitar segment. The song then explodes into some of the heaviest material on the album, led by the bruising drumming of Stewart. In fact, ‘Megacyma’ is arguably the angriest sounding composition of Maschine’s career to date, bounding along in places at a fair lick.

However, in true Maschine style, the heavy riffs, pounding rhythms and the moments of individual instrumental prowess are kept in check within an overall framework that has been finely honed and wonderfully crafted. Just when you think Maschine might jump off the metaphorical cliff, the track is pulled from the brink with a well-placed moment of calm or elegance. For a song that clocks in at over eleven minutes and for all its ambitious endeavours, it is frightening just how quickly it seems to reach its impressive conclusion.

I return to one of the opening paragraphs by reiterating the fact that on ‘Naturalis’, Maschine just have a knack of making the most complex and challenging music sound so gorgeous, effortless and smooth. Add to the mix a strong production and lyrics that don’t shy away from the big topics of the day and ‘Naturalis’ begins to add up to a very commanding release indeed. I’m thoroughly smitten and can only conclude that if you’re a fan of intelligent and ambitious progressive music, Maschine are an essential addition to your collection.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.5

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

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