Category Archives: jazz

Half-way through 2017 – the best so far – Part 3

Welcome to the third and final part of my round-up, looking at the best albums to have been released during the first half of 2017. It is an eclectic list overall, where there’s room for extreme metal and progressive rock alike. But for someone who has wide-ranging tastes with a rock and metal framework, this is exactly what I expected and it is great to see that 2017 has, so far, delivered the goods across a decent breadth of genres.

If you have missed the previous two installments of this series, click the following links:

Half-way through 2017 – the best so far – Part 1
Half-way through 2017 – the best so far – Part 2

deserted_fear_-_dead_shores_rising_cover_2016Deserted Fear
Dead Shores Rising

Just thinking about this album puts a smile on my face. It is pure, unadulterated and undiluted old-school death metal and it seriously kicks ass. But, whilst the compositions themselves reek of days gone by, the production is bang up-to-date. This might put off some purists but for me, it just makes the entire listening experience all the more impactful and powerful. If you listen to this but fail to bang your head or grin like a loon, the chances are that you are either not a metal fan, or you’re dead.

“I remember the days when I heard Entombed for the first time or Obituary, Dismember or even At The Gates. To a greater or lesser extent, these are all good reference points for the output of Deserted Fear and I get the same kind of overall feelings listening to ‘Dead Shores Rising’ as I did when I first listened to the aforementioned. The power, the brutality, the malevolence, the clandestine melodies, and the more overt hooks – it is all there and it is thoroughly absorbing. This is the kind of no-frills, headbanging, groove-laden death metal with a hint or two of melodeath that I really enjoy listening to.”

“I have absolutely fallen for the immense charms of Deserted Fear and this, their third full-length studio album. ‘Dead Shores Rising’ is a totally compelling album that has completely renewed and reinvigorated my love for death metal. It is bold, it is savage and it kicks some serious butt. What more could you possibly want?”

Read the full review here.

SOM412-Solstafir-1500X1500px-300dpi-RGBSólstafir
Berdreyminn

Having been blown away by their previous album, ‘Otta’, I was desperate for Sólstafir to repeat the trick with their latest record, ‘Berdreyminn’. It was always going to be tough given the strong connection that I have with ‘Otta’, but I have to say that Sólstafir have not disappointed. I can say that with even more conviction now that I have had a chance to hear the material in the live setting where it came alive more strongly and made even more sense. Packed with atmosphere and emotion, it beautifully conveys the bleaker recesses of human feeling, whilst painting glorious vistas in the mind of their striking homeland, Iceland.

“And what Sólstafir have succeeded in doing so eloquently with ‘Otta’ and now this new record, ‘Berdreyminn’, is give voice to the natural splendour of their native land, as depicted in the evocative cover art work courtesy of Adam Burke. Fragile and brittle melodies alongside quiet and calm soundscapes give rise to introspective thought and an appreciation of the beauty of their homeland. But juxtaposed with this are sections of grittier, heavier and more powerful swells and eddies of sound that serve as a timely reminder that the beauty can be deceptive, ready to ensnare those unprepared for the harsher, more unforgiving realities of the oft bleak and barren land.”

“…how can one fault music that has such heart, such life and such majesty? More importantly for me though, ‘Berdreyminn’ serves to merely strengthen my deep love and affinity with Sólstafir’s homeland. And for that I am forever thankful.”

Read the full review here.

Final ArtworkAsira
Efference

Over the years, I have become a big fan of the movement known as ‘blackgaze’, the genre that seeks to blend the extremity of black metal with the melodic intensity and beauty of shoegaze. When I thought of blackgaze in the past, I’d immediately call to mind the likes of Alcest or Amesoeurs. But now, in 2017, I can confidently add the name Asira to the list. For a debut outing, ‘Efference’ is a stunning body of work that delights at every glorious twist and turn.

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

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

Read the full review here.

16729381_10155037235405439_4788700761726639376_nLonely Robot
The Big Dream

In my eyes, John Mitchell can do no wrong. Whatever band he is involved with, be it Arena, It Bites of Frost*, the results are always fantastic. And then, when he stretches his musical wings and goes it alone, the results are equally as compelling. ‘The Big Dream’ is John Mitchell’s sophomore outing under the moniker of Lonely Robot, where he is responsible for everything aside from the drums. In keeping with the debut, it is an album of lush and hugely cinematically-tinged progressive rock full of depth and musical eloquence.

“…ultimately, I am blown away by this album, regardless of the meaningful threads that clearly run through it.”

“I am a big fan of the Lonely Robot debut, ‘Please Come Home’. But if anything, I think ‘The Big Dream’ is even better…I just feel that the music itself is just that little bit stronger. It is definitely more consistent, simply because there isn’t a wasted moment, a weaker track or a let-up in the quality on offer. It takes its time to work its magic though, so if you feel uneasy or underwhelmed after a first spin, listen again. And then again, several times more. The payoff is well worth it.”

Read the full review here.

nova-collective-the-further-sideNova Collective
The Further Side

Normally, I vehemently dislike instrumental music, particularly when the music is technical fusion. However, like all rules, there is an exception and the exception to this self-imposed rule goes by the name of Nova Collective. Featuring an all-star cast, spearheaded by Haken’s Richard Henshall and Dan Briggs from Between The Buried And Me, there was no way that the output would be poor. But what I wasn’t expecting was to actually become engaged with the music and absorbed by it. Unlike many other records in this loose genre, the music is more than background noise; instead the compositions are well crafted and intelligent whilst also remaining memorable.

“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.”

“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.”

Read the full review here.

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.

Anathema-portrait-1-MEDIA-640x967

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

nova-collective-the-further-side

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

back-again-front-cover-copy

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