Silent Skies – Satellites – Album Review

Artist: Silent Skies

Album Title: Satellites

Label: AFM Records

Date of Release: 11 December 2020

A review of this album was about as inevitable as death and taxes quite frankly, so I suspect none of you are surprised to be reading this. Silent Skies is the new project between Evergrey’s Tom S. Englund and pianist Vikram Shankar, he of Lux Terminus and Redemption fame, amongst others. I am in awe of both from a musical and creative standpoint, because when it comes to writing and performing music, these two gentleman have more talent in their little fingers than I will ever have. In fact, forget little fingers, little fingernails might be more accurate. Or a single hair follicle.

And so, despite the fact that Silent Skies is predominantly an album of vocals and piano, with the occasional foray into something more cinematic, I had to take a listen. What follows is an honest appraisal of the music, regardless of the fact that I would, I hope not too presumptuously, call both of these chaps friends.

Admittedly, piano and vocal music wouldn’t normally be something that I’d be overly interested in. I do like classical music, soundtracks and film scores, but ‘Satellites’ is none of these. Not exclusively, anyway. It is a collection of songs that Tom and Vikram have composed together, utilising the skills of each to the very maximum. And when I talk of talent and skill, it is evident in abundance on ‘Satellites’.

The more I listen, the more enthralled and entranced I become. What started out as a listening experience that I admired and liked, has blossomed into something far stronger. This year has been tough for many of us on many levels and once it seeps into your mind and soul, this music makes a huge impact. It keys into something within me that resonates so strongly, that I find myself openly crying as I listen, with some songs crushingly powerful despite the lack of anything remotely resembling rock, let alone metal.

‘Solitude’ is possibly the greatest example on this record. It is a stunning composition in every way possible. The piano playing is delicate and conveys a fragility at its core, whilst the vocals from Tom are equally emotional too. His performance on this song and across the album as a whole does nothing to dissuade me from the feeling that his is my favourite voice ever. If anything, it only underlines why I love his style, his tones, his delivery…everything. The chorus is heart breaking in its beauty, led by some exquisite playing from Vikram, but there’s a quieter section that allows the sound of waves to permeate the melancholy, before the introduction of a deep, rich, yet equally sombre cello, the perfect accompaniment to the composition. It’s no good, I’m typing through tears again.

Mind you, the incredibly moving nature of the music should be no surprise, and the dye is cast in the first few seconds of the album’s opener, ‘Horizons’. The opening piano notes from the classically-trained virtuoso are tentative, mournful, brittle, but achingly beautiful. The touch and feel of Vikram is stunning, as are the hushed, introspective vocals of Tom when he joins his partner. At times, it’s like he is whispering, but the two artists in tandem keep you gripped as the composition builds into more cinematic territory, with orchestration and electronic embellishments swelling around them. The shifts in light and shade are pronounced, adding to a palpable sense of drama. The lone strings at the end that duet with the ivories whilst being wrapped in a rich cinematic blanket, are arresting and help to create the perfect end to a flawless piece of music.

It would be impossible to go into such detail about the remaining eight tracks, but suffice to say that there isn’t a wasted moment on ‘Satellites’, no let-up in the quality, no reprieve from the gloomy, desolate and incredibly touching music.

‘Endless’ is dominated more by Tom’s voice, with Vikram happy to play more of a supporting role here, albeit with deft of touch and mesmerising ability. It is also a more boldly cinematic piece, the kind of composition that you could imagine more as a full-on metal Evergrey song.

If Vikram Shankar’s abilities were ever in doubt, then ‘Us’ puts those ridiculous notions to bed. The sensitivity that he displays, particularly in the beautiful intro, but throughout, is something to behold. The emotions conveyed through such simplicity, even between the notes, demonstrates a true artist at work. But when things get more complex and intricate, they are delivered with such smoothness, it’s almost hypnotic, especially when combined with the atmospheric, cinematic electronics, and Tom’s electric performance. I also love the urgency and dramatic intent of the closing stages, drawing a few comparisons in my mind to the likes of the composer, Craig Armstrong.

I’ll be honest and admit to not being the biggest fan of Annie Lennox and the Eurythmics. It’s not a style of music that does much for me. But the duo recreates ‘Here Comes The Rain Again’ in a way that breathes new life into the song. It is much more stripped back, honest, and raw. As a result, it is incredibly compelling and magnetic, with the inclusion of what I can only describe as a fleeting, yet heart breaking solo violin for good measure.

Speaking of covers, fans of Evergrey will immediately recognise the opening dramatic notes of ‘Distance’, taken from their 2016 release, ‘The Storm Within’. As with ‘Here Comes The Rain Again’, it is a fascinating and engrossing re-working that emphasises the strength of the melodies that are contained within the song. If anything, the lyrics are even more poignant too. The drama that the cinematics, the cello, and most importantly Vikram, injects into the composition leaves me stunned. Vikram is able to break the shackles and blend his trademark deftness with something more powerful, if such a descriptor can be applied to a pianist. Lo and behold, I’m on the verge of tears once again. Oh who am I kidding, I’m typing through blurred vision for the millionth time; I can’t help it.

The final piece, is entitled ‘1999’. It is an instrumental that carries with it a melancholy befitting the remainder of the record, but equally, there’s a hint of hope, of positivity, of acceptance perhaps within the melodies. It’s a glorious way to end ‘Satellites’, possibly the perfect way.

When the album comes to an end, I don’t mind admitting that I am shattered. The emotions, the melancholy, the fragility, and the honesty all combine to stir a crescendo of feelings within me. The music is refined and majestic, but there’s a sadness that permeates over and above all else. This means that the experience might be too sombre for some. For me, however, it is damn near perfect. Music that can move the listener to such a great extent has to be special, and so I can only conclude that ‘Satellites’, the debut release from Silent Skies is a truly magical listening experience. Heart-wrenching, but utterly magical.

The Score of Much Metal: 97%

Check out my reviews from 2020 right here:

Countless Skies – Glow

Dark Tranquillity – Moment

My Dying Bride – Macabre Cabaret

Sólstafir – Endless Twilight Of Co-Dependent Love

Communic – Hiding From The World

Wolverine – A Darkened Sun

Avandra – Skylighting

Pyramaze – Epitaph

Necrophobic – Dawn Of The Damned

Fates Warning – Long Day Good Night

Draconian – Under A Godless Veil

Mörk Gryning – Hinsides Vrede

DGM – Tragic Separation

Perduratum – Exile’s Anthology

Carcass – Despicable EP

Mors Principium Est – Seven

Cult Of Lilith – Mara

Helion Prime – Question Everything

Soul Secret – Blue Light Cage

Enslaved – Utgard

Dynfari – Myrkurs er þörf

Amaranthe – Manifest

Kataklysm – Unconquered

Structural Disorder – Kingdom Crossing

Skeletal Remains – The Entombment Of Chaos

Prehistoric Animals – The Magical Mystery Machine (Chapter One)

Ihsahn – Pharos

Hinayana – Death Of The Cosmic
Oceans Of Slumber – Oceans Of Slumber
Okyr – Premorbid Intelligence
Manticora – To Live To Kill To Live
Pain Of Salvation – Panther
Vanishing Point – Dead Elysium
Unleash The Archers – Abyss
Veonity – Sorrows
Nyktophobia – What Lasts Forever
Ages – Uncrown
Awake By Design – Awake By Design
Black Crown Initiate – Violent Portraits Of Doomed Escape
Gaerea – Limbo
Buried Realm – Embodiment Of The Divine
Navian – Reset
Selenseas – The Outer Limits
Quantum – The Next Breath Of Air
Ensiferum – Thalassic
Long Distance Calling – How Do We Want To Live?
Airbag – A Day At The Beach
Re-Armed – Ignis Aeternum
Atavist – III: Absolution
Frost* – Others EP
Darker Half – If You Only Knew
Atavistia – The Winter Way
Astralborne – Eternity’s End
Centinex – Death In Pieces
Haken – Virus
Pile Of Priests – Pile Of Priests
Sorcerer – Lamenting Of The Innocent
Lesoir – Mosaic
Temnein – Tales: Of Humanity And Greed
Caligula’s Horse – Rise Radiant
…And Oceans – Cosmic World Mother
Vader – Solitude In Madness
Shrapnel – Palace For The Insane
Sinisthra – The Broad And Beaten Way
Paradise Lost – Obsidian
Naglfar – Cerecloth
Forgotten Tomb – Nihilistic Estrangement
Winterfylleth – The Reckoning Dawn
Firewind – Firewind
An Autumn For Crippled Children – All Fell Silent, Everything Went Quiet
Havok – V
Helfró – Helfró
Victoria K – Essentia
Cryptex – Once Upon A Time
Thy Despair – The Song Of Desolation
Cirith Ungol – Forever Black
Igorrr – Spirituality and Distortion
Nightwish – Human. II: Nature.
Katatonia – City Burials
Wolfheart – Wolves Of Karelia
Asenblut – Die Wilde Jagd
Nicumo – Inertia
The Black Dahlia Murder – Verminous
Omega Infinity – Solar Spectre
Symbolik – Emergence
Pure Reason Revolution – Eupnea
Irist – Order Of The Mind
Testament – Titans Of Creation
Ilium – Carcinogeist
Dawn Of Ouroboros – The Art Of Morphology
Torchia – The Coven
Novena – Eleventh Hour
Ashes Of Life – Seasons Within
Dynazty – The Dark Delight
Sutrah – Aletheia EP
Welicoruss – Siberian Heathen Horde
Myth Of I – Myth Of I
My Dying Bride – The Ghost Of Orion
Infirmum – Walls Of Sorrow
Inno – The Rain Under
Kvaen – The Funeral Pyre
Mindtech – Omnipresence
Dark Fortress – Spectres From The Old World
The Oneira – Injection
Night Crowned – Impius Viam
Dead Serenity – Beginnings EP
The Night Flight Orchestra – Aeromantic
Deadrisen – Deadrisen
Blaze Of Perdition – The Harrowing Of Hearts
Godsticks – Inescapable
Isle Of The Cross – Excelsis
Demons & Wizards – III
Vredehammer – Viperous
H.E.A.T – H.E.A.T II
Psychotic Waltz – The God-Shaped Void
Into The Open – Destination Eternity
Lunarsea – Earthling/Terrestre
Pure Wrath – The Forlorn Soldier EP
Sylosis – Cycle of Suffering
Sepultura – Quadra
Dyscordia – Delete / Rewrite
Godthrymm – Reflections
On Thorns I Lay – Threnos
God Dethroned – Illuminati
Fragment Soul – A Soul Inhabiting Two Bodies
Mariana Semkina – Sleepwalking
Mini Album Reviews: Moloken, The Driftwood Sign & Midnight
Serenity – The Last Knight
Ihsahn – Telemark EP
Temperance – Viridian
Blasphemer – The Sixth Hour
Deathwhite – Grave Image
Marko Hietala – Pyre Of The Black Heart
SWMM – Trail Of The Fallen
Into Pandemonium – Darkest Rise EP
Bonded – Rest In Violence
Serious Black – Suite 226
Darktribe – Voici L’Homme
Brothers Of Metal – Emblas Saga
A Life Divided – Echoes
Thoughts Factory – Elements

You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here:

2019 reviews
2018 reviews
2017 reviews
2016 reviews
2015 reviews

Sorcerer – Interview 2020 – ‘Lamenting Of The Innocent’ – “Songwriting…is heart breaking…and painful”

 

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When the opportunity arises to speak directly to one of the hottest metal bands on the planet right now, you’d have to be mad to refuse wouldn’t you? I definitely thought so, which is why I found myself mid-lockdown chatting to guitarist and co-songwriter for Sorcerer, Kristian Niemann, over possibly the worst internet connection in the entire history of the world. We both sounded like aliens or robots, and the buffering and delays were bordering on the ridiculous. However, no amount of technical issues could hide the fact that I was speaking to one of the nicest guys I’ve ever interviewed over a ‘career’ that has spanned 15 years so far.

“We’re still in the middle of the pandemic like everybody else but it’s alright”, Kristian begins in his wonderfully calm and happy tone, accompanied by an almost audible shrug of the shoulders. “We’re still working and still healthy. Same with the family too, everybody is still healthy.”

“In terms of the records, they have got a load of great reviews and had a good reception”, Kristian continues, perhaps revealing part of the reason for his friendly warmth. I mean it’s always nice when your music receives some acclaim, not that it is all plain sailing of course, as he explains. “But it is a different thing to turn that into merch sales at gigs for example, so we’re still a baby band when it comes to those things. We’ve done quite a few festivals since we started but we feel like what we really need to do is get out and tour; get in a van or a bus or whatever and tour with some other bands. That’s what’s really needed. The pandemic sort of stopped that.”

“But that’s the same for every other band. But it put a dampener on things I have to say. We were really looking forward to getting out there and play as much as possible. We have a great booking agent, Dragon Production, so hopefully they can promote us and do their stuff. But at the moment, it sucks.”

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And yet Sorcerer decided to release their new album, ‘Lamenting Of The Innocent’ in the heart of such a difficult time. I’m keen to find out the thinking behind the decision and Kristian kindly obliges.

“Some bands will wait to release their new albums in the fall or whatever. We had that discussion with our label, Metal Blade, but we felt ‘nah, why not put it out now?’ The fans can hear new music and I don’t want to be sitting on an album that’s going to be a year or year-and-a-half old while nothing is happening. We’d rather just put it out so that we can start writing new music.”

With ‘Crowning Of The Fire King’ being such a massively positive release for the Swedes, there must surely have been a little pressure on the band to follow it up in a way that maintained the growing momentum?

“Absolutely”, Kristian responds honestly and with a chuckle. “I would be lying if I said there wasn’t any pressure, mainly from ourselves. No-one really put pressure on us, but we felt pressure. It was a little bit the same when we released ‘In the Shadow Of the Inverted Cross’. That was pretty well received also, but it came from nowhere. No-one knew anything about us or had heard anything except the 20-year-old demos maybe. When you’re starting a new record, it is about getting those first few songs to gel and sound really great. Before that, we always wonder if we have what it takes and can we do it again? So yeah, it was a bit nerve-wracking.”

“I just think it is a combination of all of our influences”, Kristian offers when I deviate a little and ask about the band’s influences and how they ended up creating such epic, heavy and melodic metal all in one glorious package, a package that continues with ‘Lamenting Of The Innocent. “Obviously we have the doom influences from way back – Candlemass, Sabbath and all that stuff; the really slow, heavy, grinding dirge-like riffs. But all of us are flans of melodic music as well and not just in heavy metal but pop music, rock music; those big choruses. It’s just an amalgamation of five personalities and we’re all suckers for those anthemic choruses. It’s a natural thing. Maybe we need to shake it up in the future but I think that element is never going to go away. We always want huge choruses that you can sing along to, and you can almost imagine the audience reaction to some parts. I think about that a lot actually, thinking about what the audience will think, what will it feel like and what will they respond to. You try to envisage it and imagine what will be the best part. I guess we’re lucky to all have this in common.”

“I think we wanted to expand the sound out in all directions”, comes the considered and thoughtful answer when I bring things back to the present day and enquire as to the initial master plan with ‘Lamenting…’. “We wanted to make it more melodic in places, make it more anthemic, make it slower, make it faster, just broaden the whole thing. We wanted to have more variety tempo-wise than we had on ‘Fire King’. For instance, we have ‘Institorius’ and ‘Hammer Of The Witches’ which are a bit faster. Those were the main focus points I believe. We wanted to keep the sound, to create a big wall of sound but we wanted more variety in the material.”

No musician I have ever spoken to has ever been 100% happy with the end result and Sorcerer are no different as Kristian explains.

“I hope that there is going to be room for improvement”, he states with honesty. “When we look back at this album in a couple of years from now, we are going to feel like we could have done this thing or that thing a little bit better. But right now, we are really happy with this album. We probably wouldn’t have released it otherwise, if we weren’t super happy with it.”

“It is difficult releasing an album”, Kristian continues whilst the Internet connection I have does its best to make him sound like a stuttering robot, “because you put so much of your time and your life into and you want to make sure that it is the absolute best that it can be. We have always done that with all our records. When you have the perspective of time and you go back and look at it, you might think ‘that song was too long’, ‘that bit got boring’, ‘this part didn’t sound great’. But that’s hindsight for you, you always see those things later on. And I hope we will be able to that with this one as well when we come to write the next record.”

“Haha, you are absolutely right”, Kristian laughs loudly when I suggest that Sorcerer are not a band to settle for anything less than the best. “We do not settle for anything. We give 150% to better ourselves and make it the absolute best we can. Of course, people are going to have different tastes and some will say that it is too long, or boring, or slow, or whatever. That’s fine because not everybody will like everything, I have no problem with that. And if we wanted to write any other kind of music, I’m sure we could. But we’d not be called Sorcerer anymore and we want to be honest and play what we want and like. If we can listen to it ourselves, that’s the thing. After working on the album for a year and a half, I still put it on and go ‘yeah man, I want to hear this part, that vocal part or that chorus’. I still get goosebumps and that’s the good thing. You can always tell in the writing process based on the goosebump factor!”

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Credit: Marieke Verschuren

At this point, I want to get Kristian to do the thing that makes most musicians the most uncomfortable, and that’s picking out something that they are particularly proud of. It’s normally even worse when the band are from the UK because we cannot take compliments very well at all. However, I feel bad that I may have put Kristian in an equally uncomfortable position. To his credit, he does offer a reply nonetheless.

“Thank you” he responds, albeit reluctantly. “I have to say that I am proud of the solos, like all of them. I’m usually never that happy with my solos but this time, for some reason, I dig all of them. But I’m also really happy, and you mentioned it in your review, the song ‘Lamenting of The Inncocent’, especially the chorus. It’s one of the first songs we wrote for the album and made us think ‘yes, we’re going to be able to make another great record!’”

“But”, he strongly emphasises, “I don’t know exactly how good something will be until the vocals are on there. The way I work, or we work, is that I record a whole demo vocal-less with just the riffs and some other scraps. I then send it off to Anders and the others, and let them do their thing. I can be really excited, thinking how good it can be, but they have to put their parts into the song. When I get it back from them and I hear this amazing melody, I’m like ‘yes, this is so cool’. To me, the most important bits are the riffs and the vocal melodies. All the rest can be fixed. But if you’ve got the riffs and the vocal melodies, you’re in a good place.”

I think it’s because the interview is such a warm and friendly affair that I feel brave and try my luck again, cheekily asking whether or not new material is already in the pipeline, considering that touring is currently out of the question. As is the trend of the chat, Kristian takes my question in gracious spirit, answering incredibly honestly, offering a real insight into his mind in the process.

“I need to let this one sink in and let it go at least a couple of months before I want to start thinking about writing new music”, he answers before pausing for a moment. “Writing music is not something you want to dive right into, not for me anyway. I feel this way. It is heart breaking, it is painful and it takes a long time. You’re usually feeling like shit when you’re writing because you’re always second guessing, thinking ‘is this good, or is it shit?’ I’m looking forward to when the process is over, when the record is done. I love that bit but it is a struggle to get there and it isn’t always fun.”

I’m genuinely shocked. Here’s a guy that has contributed heavily to creating some of the best heavy metal that I have heard in the last few years and he has the same insecurities as the rest of us. I shouldn’t be surprised, I know that, but you get in the mindset of thinking that it’s just you that is plagued with doubt. I certainly do, reading, editing, and re-reading my work on this website a million times before setting it free. It’s strangely comforting to have it affirmed yet again, that I’m not alone with self-doubt. I must sound incredulous, but I have to clarify with Kristian that he really does feel this way when writing new material.

“Yeah, I do”, he answers with a chuckle after an interminable delay over the airwaves. “I mean not the other stuff. Not on stage or playing wise, it’s just the coming up with good songs that people care about. Sitting there riffing and thinking ‘didn’t Metallica already write this?’ Or someone in the band will say ‘that’s a Candlemass song’ so it goes in the garbage. That’s what it’s like all the time and you need dedication to do it.”

Fortunately, it isn’t up to Kristian to come up with everything, as he is eager to tell me.

“Oh no, hell no. I would not be comfortable with that”, he laughs with more than a hint of maniacal nervousness. “Peter (Hallgren – guitars) does as well, Justin (Biggs – bass) does, so does Johnny (Hagel – ex-bassist) – of course Johnny is also involved in the song writing. I write my stuff and I send it to the other guys. Peter does the same thing. When Johnny writes, he does demos and he needs Peter and me to flesh out the ideas. Justin is something in between – he wrote some stuff almost completely by himself, then another one he collaborated. Basically, everyone is contributing stuff for sure. Anders obviously, and even Richard (Evensand) our drummer comes up with stuff which is very inspiring. Everyone is creative and we are very happy to have it that way. It is one of the most fun parts of being in a band.”

It is a question I always ask when confronted with a scandinavian band, and this occasion is no different. I have to enquire as to why Sweden in particular has given birth to so many great bands. Naturally, Sorcerer are definitely in this bracket for me, but I also throw around names like Evergrey, Katatonia and Dark Tranquillity to illustrate my point.

“If I knew that, I’d try to put it in a bottle and sell it”, laughs Kristian with genuine amusement. “I don’t know, some people say that maybe it is because we have such long periods of cold, shitty weather and everyone stays at home and plays music. That might be true, I don’t know. We used to have a great system, like a music community where kids could learn an instrument after school. And it was cheap. I’m not sure if that’s the way it works now. All the bands that you mention, we all come from that generation; we’re getting old. We have to be real here because we are old. I’m not sure if the younger generations have he same creativity and drive, but we will see I guess.”

“Being the next Metallica would be great”, Kristian offers with cheekiness when I ask about the future plans for Sorcerer, “but I don’t think that’s on the cards for us. I want to keep on doing what we are doing. I would like to do some more touring, draw in more people and, like everyone does, I want to get a little higher on the ladder. But who knows? It feels like we can’t really do anything more to influence that or change that. All we can do is make the music we make, the best we can do, and if everybody wants to see a doom metal band, and play in front of like 10,000 people, we will definitely be at the forefront of that, I hope. But I don’t really see that happening. So I think we’ll concentrate on making more great albums for the next ten years…and then we’re sixty…holy shit.”

I’m just delighted that I got to see Sorcerer live on stage before the pandemic hit with all its might. They are a force to behold and make an incredible impact on me earlier in the year, even if they were ‘just’ the support for compatriots Evergrey in Malmö. Based on his last reply to me, it would appear that the stage is his happy place too.

“We do what we do, we have fun on stage, we love being on stage and performing for people. That’s our right element, I would say. The connection with the audience and seeing happy faces in the crowd, it means everything for us. And we’d love to play in the UK. We’ve played in Wales and Scotland before, a couple of years ago. But it’s just a matter of promoters taking a chance on us or people mentioning our name in the right places. We’d love to, but obviously we have no plans right now. I’ve heard people mentioning Bloodstock, they have some amazing line-ups and so yeah, we’d love to be part of that someday.”

At this point, the connection over Skype finally descends into unworkable territory, so I have no alternative but to end the interview at this point. Kristian makes a genuine offer to continue at some other time and I agree. Unfortunately, life, kids, career, and a little bout of ill health mean that I never really get the opportunity again. Nevertheless, speaking with Kristian is a joy, an experience I hope I can replicate again one day, hopefully face-to-face when the world returns a little more to normality. For now though, we can all take great enjoyment from their stellar new record, ‘Lamenting of The Innocent’ and imagine the songs being performed in all their glory in the live environment.

‘Lamenting Of The Innocent’ is out now on Metal Blade Records.

If you’re interested in reading my review, it can be found here.

And my review of the live show with Evergrey in Malmö can be checked out here.

Haken – Interview 2020 Part 1 – Virus – ‘music prevails in the end’

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My love affair with UK progressive metal band Haken is well documented both on manofmuchmetal.com but previously in the pages of Powerplay Magazine where I was writing when this young band burst onto the scene in 2010. Their debut, ‘Aquarius’ was a glorious discovery, one of those records that is equal parts raw talent, genius, daring and absurd brilliance. Needless to say I have closely followed their career since, watching them release album after album of high quality material along the way, deservedly garnering new fans at every turn. It feels a long time ago that I sat in their beat-up tour van at ProgPower Europe in 2010 interviewing the promising newcomers.

“I remember that interview like it was yesterday”, responds vocalist Ross Jennings with genuine warmth over a surprisingly clear Skype connection. I’ve always been treated very nicely by the whole band, honouring me with a thanks in the liner notes for both ‘Visions’ and ‘The Mountain’. And it’s like I’m chatting with a long-time friend rather than an interviewee from one of my favourite bands.

“It’s gone pretty fast if you think of it like that”, he continues, “although we’ve crammed in quite a bit. Very happy with the progress we’ve made as a band and where we’re at six albums down the line. The prospects are promising still. In a sense, we still feel like we are trying to make it, but it’s good and we’re having a good time.”

If I’m completely honest, the growing success of Haken is a double-edged sword from a personal perspective. On the one hand, I’m delighted that a special band is getting the recognition that they deserve. But, on the other, I can’t help thinking back wistfully to the days when I could be in a small ‘crowd’, able to easily enjoy the music from right in front of the stage. These days, I’m lucky if I can get within 100 feet of the band, damnit.

“We found that was very much the case across the tour with Devin [Townsend – 2019]”, Ross agrees, with a surprised tone to his voice. “We went into that not expecting anyone to know who we were. All things considered, we did turn a few heads and make a new few fans. We were chuffed with how many Haken shirts were there already; it was good, a success for sure.”

“When this all started to unravel in a big way, we were still touring in the US”, Ross answers when posed with the inevitable question regarding the current Covid-19 pandemic. I mean, I had to raise it, given how it has shaken the very foundations of everything we hold dear, including the music world.

“We had to cut that tour short and took a bit of a financial hit to be honest with you. But it’s one of those things and we’ve had great support from the fan base, to the point where some made donations to tide things over and help to soften the financial blow a little. That was really, really appreciated and just goes to show the power of music, the effect it can have, and the support we have out there.”

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So incredibly serious is the current situation in which we find ourselves, that everything else seems to have fallen off the radar, including the dreaded Brexit issue. But before the pandemic, that was the biggest threat to the music industry and I put all this to Ross, who responds in his usual, unflappable and relaxed manner with a hint of understated humour.

“Bit of a double jeopardy there isn’t there?”, he chuckles. “Brexit hasn’t really been on our minds though through this. We are lucky that we do have this album that was ready just in time, so there’s activity on that front. I do feel sorry for bands who don’t have anything to put out or had things postponed. They have to make ends meet elsewhere. We have the online platforms that we can utilise; we have embraced the Twitch generation. It is early days but we’ve been hosting some question and answer sessions, playthrough videos and other fun stuff. I’ve seen across the board lots of concerts from home and solo performances which are really cool. It is something that there wasn’t a lot of before. In terms of getting out there, doing our job, making money on the road, it really is just up in the air at the moment.”

“Charlie and myself put this concept together of ‘Vector’ and ‘Virus’ back right at the beginning of 2018”, Ross replies when I broach the somewhat prophetic title of the new album. “I traced an email from February or March of that year when we were plotting the course of the next two records. Like I’ve been telling everyone and it’s the honest truth, the concept was born then, the titles were in place, the overarching narrative was plotted back then as well as a lot of the music. But yeah, the irony is not lost on us, in terms of what we’re all going through. There’s just a bizarre synchronicity to it all; it’s crazy that we found ourselves announcing this album with this title at the very point that this virus was breaking out.”

Those that know me often accuse me of thinking too deeply about things, and I’m apprehensive that this may be one of those times. Nevertheless, having had it on my mind, I have to ask Ross whether he’s worried in the slightest about the fact that some might accuse Haken of callously cashing in on the current pandemic. Ross’ reply is incredibly honest and sincere.

“Of course, you can imagine the conversations we were having on the tour bus. We were wrapping up the mixes as things started to unravel in a big way. We were aware of it on the horizon with what was happening in China but we had no idea that it would unfold this way. We had thought about the implications of keeping the title, and what people might say. It was no surprise that on the day of the announcement people said, and maybe still do think, that it’s a bad idea and we’re being unsympathetic. My hope is that people will be able to separate the art from life. It reminds me of the situation with Dream Theater and ‘Scenes From New York’. They were releasing the live album with the Twin Towers in flames. It was due for release on the day that it happened or the day after. And they pulled the production. Some people said to me that they wish they hadn’t done that because it was like a memory of the time. In a way, thinking about it like that, I’m happy that we stuck to our guns with the title. The label did contact us to say that we could delay the record or pull the production. They told us there was no right or wrong but the option was there. We didn’t want to throw away two or three years of work and artistic expression. Hopefully it will act as some kind of sadistic souvenir to remember this time. The music prevails in the end, I feel.”

Putting the issue of the title to bed, it’s time to focus on the actual music on ‘Virus’ I’m in the middle of reviewing the album, so I don’t want to give too much away at this point. Suffice to say that it is the Haken album that I have most immediately taken to in a positive way for some time. I begin by inquiring about the writing process, which somewhat accidentally hit upon a positive new experience for the sextet as I find out. Ross explains:

“Obviously, we’d mapped out a lot of stuff but not all the music was in place. The touring that we underwent in support of ‘Vector’ took a lot of time out of what we had planned to spend on finishing the writing for ‘Virus’. Chunks of the ideas were in place but we didn’t have fully fleshed-out songs that we were necessarily happy with. It wasn’t there y’know? The touring set us back in a way, but we found this opportunity to utilise the time had together on the tour. It was a blessing in disguise that we had procrastinated in that way because the best stuff came together with us all in the same space on the tour bus. We made this makeshift studio in the lounge area of the bus and we were able to go back and forth with ideas. The creative energy that was there, really turned out to benefit the album tenfold. Coming to fully formed ideas can take a long time if you’re sharing files online. When you’re in the room bouncing ideas off each other, it feels like a real band and it was a really rewarding time.”

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“I hope we do go back to that”, Ross offers, clearly enthused by this topic of conversation, “because it really proved to be beneficial and we all enjoyed the experience. I had been trying to persuade the guys to do that for ‘Vector’, to hire a place and stick together for a few weeks. For whatever reason, it didn’t come together and we just continued in our old ways. In light of this, I hope we do this again. We’re not like Nirvana, bouncing around three chords”, Ross jokes good-naturedly, “it’s complicated stuff, so naturally you have to come to the room with some pre-prepared idea of what you’re going to write. So it’ll probably start off individually but then I think if we did get together like that in the future, we’ll be producing good records.”

Before I get the opportunity to interject with another question or observation, Ross seems keen to further explore the writing process. Finding this topic fascinating, I’m more than happy to take a back seat and listen intently.

“It’s all a massive puzzle to put it all together”, he states with classic understatement. I wouldn’t even know where to begin and neither would a good 99 per cent of the population. “And it was even more of a challenge as it was stretched over the two albums. We already had a definite idea that we’d finish the two records with a long piece, like a grand opus to sum up everything. That was preordained and we had a 13 minute demoed version of that already in place when we were writing ‘Vector’. But there were also bits and pieces that didn’t fit on ‘Vector’, so we had to pull out and re-work the ideas into completely new songs. Once we had an idea of what was happening on ‘Vector’, we had a better idea of what to keep to the side to develop for later on. That’s pretty much it; bits and pieces, a couple of formed songs…but we even scrapped a couple of the songs that we had, completely scrapped them and started afresh when we got together. I believe that ‘Canary Yellow’ was one of those that was started from scratch.”

If I had one observation, not even a criticism, of ‘Vector’, it would be that it felt a little short in length and I missed a classic Haken ‘epic’. The reasons for this become clear once Ross addresses this comment.

“It was cheeky of us in a way because we knew this was going to happen and we were fully aware of the, not disappointment”, he muses, “but the comments about ‘Vector’ missing that big piece that the fans are used to us doing. All the while we had this up our sleeves and we hoped the penny would drop once people heard ‘Virus’ and the relationship between the two albums. We really wanted ‘Vector’ to be a really solid, shorter record anyway; that was always the intention anyway.”

“We were totally aware that this might be the reaction to ‘Vector’”, Ross further offers in direct reference to my observation. “But we were happy with the decision. As I said, it was a bit cheeky of us, I suppose.”

I have to say that I’m unsurprised to hear Haken acting in a cheeky fashion like this, because one of the most endearing qualities of the band has been their ability to inject a little fun and humour into their music.

“I totally agree”, Ross agrees when I suggest that this humour, occasionally self-deprecating, is one of the keys to their continued popularity. “We try to draw a balance between taking ourselves seriously and not taking ourselves seriously, which is often evident on stage and on our Facebook posts for example. But also the music as well. All the musical jokes are in there too; writing a double album about a Cockroach King is one of them, even though it can be, and should be, taken seriously as well.”

I was lucky enough to catch Haken as support for the afore-mentioned Devin Townsend in late 2019. I even wrote a review about it. Being a musical legend with such a varied back catalogue, I wonder aloud whether any inspiration was consciously (or subconsciously) taken that influenced the music on ‘Virus’. Ross pauses for a few moments, clearly thinking hard, before offering his answer.

“I can’t say that there’s anything that’s directly influenced. With anything in life, things can seep into the subconscious but off the top of my head, I can’t honestly say that we were, well, stealing from the master if you know what I mean”, he laughs. “We had a lot of this in place before the tour, but it was a great experience watching Devin. That tour we were doing with him was quite a left-field turn for him anyway. What was inspiring about him though, was his conduct backstage and the way he approaches his shows before he goes on. He’s always looking for a state of calm and zen, which was quite inspiring for me as a performer – not running on stage all tense was a real help to our performance. It’s no secret that I was a massive fan of him growing up. His work on ‘Terria’ was one of my favourite albums in high school and just to be able to meet the guy and share a tour with him was out of this world.”

And on that note, because it’s never a good time to pause an interview, we’ll leave it there. But join me in Part 2 when, amongst other things, we continue discussing the writing process, Ross’ vocals, concept albums, and the future for Haken.

End of Part 1…

‘Virus’ is out on 5th June on InsideOut Music.

Live Review: A Swedish Adventure with Evergrey and Sorcerer – 28 February 2020, Kulturbolaget, Malmö

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The wait had been interminable. As an early Christmas present from my incredible girlfriend, the Miss Of Much Metal, I was presented with tickets to the first Evergrey gig in some time, to be hosted in the southern Swedish town of Malmö. Finally however, the 28th February arrived and began with a trip to the airport. Aside from a plethora of people wearing face masks to make themselves feel safe against the apparent onslaught of Covid 19, this part of the journey was smooth and unremarkable.

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After touchdown in Denmark and walking what felt like five miles through Copenhagen Airport, we eventually emerged into the daylight and jumped into a taxi. With no knowledge whatsoever of the exchange rate, we were blissfully unaware that the short trip across the border was going to cost us more than around six times the expense of the train. But hey, we got to ride over the Copenhagen Bridge which was a pretty impressive experience. Just perhaps not worth £150. Ouch!

To add insult to injury, the taxi driver was new and the journey included a couple of unnecessary detours, including one that meant we returned to the airport soon after leaving. But, being in high spirits, we didn’t care about the rather random and haphazard arrival to our hotel and were soon checked in and freshened up, ready for the evening ahead.

Having kept in touch during the day, we headed down to the hotel lobby to meet my Norwegian friends, Lene and Kim, who had travelled from Stavanger in Norway for tonight’s show. After the warm greeting and introductions to Gemma, the Miss of Much Metal, we headed out into the brisk Malmö evening in search of food and high class entertainment.

The Italian restaurant had a nice atmosphere but average food, so we all hoped the rest of the evening might rise above ‘average’.

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Pic: Kim Haugland

And it did, but none of us were expecting it to reach the heights that it did. Starting with the venue, the Kulturbolaget was just lovely; two bars, friendly staff and a relaxed atmosphere meant that we were in the ideal setting for a night of great music. A quick trip to the merch stand where I bought just about everything on sale and, with drinks in hand, soon we were ready for the first band of the night. And it wasn’t just any old tin pot local band either.

When I found out that Sorcerer were going to be the support for Evergrey at this gig, I nearly fainted with joy. The Swede’s latest album, ‘Crowning Of The Fire King’ was easily one of my very favourite albums of 2018 so to have the chance to hear the music in a live setting was too good to be true. And they did not let me or the audience down one bit.

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Blessed with a really great sound from the very beginning, the quintet impressed me from start to finish. Kicking off with one of their most powerful tracks from their latest, incredible record, ‘Crowning Of The Fire King’, they grabbed my attention immediately. They also captured the imagination of the Miss Of Much Metal, who has since added the band to her running playlist as she trains for the upcoming London Marathon.

In the live setting, vocalist Anders Engberg is brilliant, even better for my money than he is on record. His presence is surprisingly imposing but more importantly, he nails every note and sings with a passion and enthusiasm that seems to drive the rest of the band onwards. Not that the other four musicians needed a second invitation, with each of them combining to bring the epic, melodic doom of Sorcerer to life. In particular, credit has to go to the guitarists Kristian Niemann and Peter Hallgren who traded crushing riffs and effervescent solos to great effect, albeit supported expertly by a muscular rhythm section, courtesy of drummer Richard Evansand and bassist Justin Biggs.

And, whilst I am only familiar with their latest record, the earlier material such as ‘The Dark Tower Of The Sorcerer’ and ‘Exorcise The Demon’ really impressed me, ensuring that I will most certainly be checking out the back catalogue when time in my hectic life allows. I said before the show that I had three songs that I wanted to hear during the night, one in particular from Sorcerer. And they didn’t fail, as the utterly glorious ‘Crowning Of The Fire King’ began to a great roar from me and several others. My drink was taken from me under instruction to enjoy myself and I did just that, throwing my head back and signing along with the infectious, anthemic chorus that rightfully became one of the songs of the year when it was released.

Sorcerer were even better than I had dared to hope and had it not been for the fact that Evergrey were up next, I’d have been extremely disappointed at the all-too-soon arrival of their departure.

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A couple of drinks later and the blinking torch from on-stage signalled what I fervently hoped would be another magical performance from my all-time favourite band. Evergrey have never delivered a sub-par show that I have witnessed, so I had incredibly high expectations for this show too. Admittedly I had a few nerves as this would be the first live performance from the Swedes in some time, but I always have faith where Evergrey are concerned.

The faith was well-placed and the nerves, as it turned out, were unnecessary as my boys came onto the stage like the legends that they are as the familiar sonar sounds emanated from the speakers. Naturally, first up was the gargantuan ‘A Silent Arc’, the opening track from their latest masterpiece ‘The Atlantic’. Earlier in the evening, I had been treated to a copy of the limited edition Mediabook version of the album and, having clutched hold of it for dear life from most of the evening, it was taken from me along with my drink under more stern instructions to ‘enjoy yourself’. I don’t argue with the Miss Of Much Metal, so enjoy myself, I duly did.

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If I’m honest, the sound initially was a little muddy and significantly louder than the support but it improved as the song progressed and by the time ‘Weightless’ and then ‘Distance’, the opener from ‘The Storm Within’ were unleashed, the clarity was much improved. It meant that the crushing riffs from Englund and Danhage, the monstrous bass from Niemann, the pounding drums of Ekdahl, the rich keys from Zander and Englund’s magnificent vocals could all be heard to absolutely devastating effect.

The energy from the stage was impressive too, as if Evergrey were comprised of five animals, tired of being caged and enjoying the freedom of the stage together again. Ekdahl was frequently up off his stool and the six-string duo were on the move whenever possible, allowing each other a place in the spotlight as they traded riffs and solos with utter relish.

For the most part, naturally, Tom addressed the eager, yet respectful and friendly crowd in his native tongue. But then, as the strains of ‘Leave It Behind Us’ disappeared, Englund reverted to English and the stuff of dreams happened. ‘All the way from England, this song is for Matt’, Tom declared, or words to that effect. To be honest, I was stunned and that exact moment remains a bit of a blur. The ensuing rendition of ‘Mark Of The Triangle’ was not though, as I sang, air guitared and generally lost my head throughout my favourite song ever written. This was the first time I’d ever had a song dedicated to me, and the whole experience just blew me away.

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Pic: Lene Haugland

Mind you, with ‘The Masterplan’ immediately following, and then the anthemic ‘Black Undertow’, my demeanour didn’t calm down particularly quickly. Alongside ‘Mark Of The Triangle’, the other absolute ‘must hear’ of the evening was ‘All I Have’, a song that has been my anthem of the last twelve months or so. And it duly arrived, to my utter delight, but not to the delight of my already-wrecked vocal cords. That didn’t matter a jot at all though, as I sang my heart out regardless, feeling almost overcome with emotion of the most positive kind. Here I was, in Sweden, with my dear friends, my incredible girlfriend and my favourite band , playing the best song released in 2019. I was elated and in heaven, metaphorically-speaking of course.

The set was impressively lengthy, so we still had time for ‘The Grand Collapse’ as well as a four-song encore that included the magnificent ‘Recreation Day’ and the absolute behemoth that’s ‘King Of Errors’, which fittingly ended the show in imposing style. I will never tire of that beast of a final note.

20200228_194623Sweaty, breathless and overcome with happiness, I clapped and cheered the conquering heroes off the stage and slowly retreated to one of the two bars, happy to discover that it remained open. There was no immediate ushering out of the venue by surly, oppressive security and as such, we were able to grab another drink and wait to see if the band might make an appearance. The UK take note, this is how you do gigs.

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Pic: Kim Haugland

To round off a perfect evening, the guys did emerge from backstage – firstly Johan, then Rikard, Jonas and Henrik. Met with warm hugs and, in Rikard’s case ‘Come On You Spurs!’, the greetings were so very warm and genuine from them all. They all chatted, traded stories, asked how I was with genuine sincerity and signed my newly-acquired Mediabook before Tom eventually materialised. Another hug came my way along with some gentle and good-natured football banter, before a few photos were taken and we eventually and reluctantly decided that we ought to let the guys load up and get on the road to Stockholm for the following day’s show.

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Due to the unique nature of our host town, we and our Norwegian friends were unable to locate another venue in which to enjoy one last nightcap. So it was, in the freezing and deserted high street at around 1am that we warmly bid our friends goodnight and safe travels, until the next time we would meet for a musical adventure. With the following day dedicated to a relaxing and a smooth, uneventful return journey back to the UK, the last word has to go to Evergrey and Sorcerer, who together gave me an unforgettable night, full of outstanding musicianship and a fair bit of magic. And to the beautiful human being that made it all possible for me, the Miss Of Much Metal – thank you, Gemma, from the bottom of my heart for sharing my passion with me.

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Sorcerer setlist: Sirens, Lake Of The Lost Souls, The Dark Tower Of The Sorcerer, Ship Of Doom, Exorcise The Demon, The Crowning Of The Fire King, The Sorcerer

Evergrey setlist: A Silent Arc, Weightless, Distance, Passing Through, The Fire, Leave It Behind Us, Mark Of The Triangle, The Masterplan, Black Undertow, I’m Sorry, My Allied Ocean, All I Have, The Grand Collapse. Encore: When The Walls Go Down, Recreation Day, A Touch Of Blessing, King Of Errors

The Night Flight Orchestra – Aeromantic – Album Review

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Artist: The Night Flight Orchestra

Album Title: Aeromantic

Label: Nuclear Blast

Date of Release: 28 February 2020

You’d think that given my love of Soilwork and melodic rock music that The Night Flight Orchestra would be a total no-brainer for me. But the truth is that I’ve never really got into the band, despite the dulcet tones of Björn ‘Speed’ Strid behind the mic and a line-up of musicians that should have me salivating at the very prospect. But no, I’ve never given them the time and attention that they perhaps deserved. Don’t ask me why, I have no idea; they’re perhaps just one of the inevitable casualties that we all have from time to time when faced with so much great music the world over. Whatever the reason, that’s why, in 2020, and with album number five, I am finally breaking my review virginity where The Night Flight Orchestra are concerned. About time too, I can hear many of you cry!

You probably already know all this, but for those of you who have been as out of the loop as I have, The Night Flight Orchestra (henceforth referred to as TNFO) are comprised of lead vocalist Björn Strid, guitarists David Andersson and Sebastian Forslund (who is also credited for percussion and Special FX duties), bassist Sharlee D’Angelo (Arch Enemy), drummer Jonas Källsbäck and backing vocalists Anna-Mia Bonde and Anna Brygård (The Airline Annas). In addition, for this album, the band welcome a couple of guests in the form of Big Big Train’s violinist Rachel Hall and keyboardist John Lönnmyr.

As I sit on a packed train to Scotland for work, I find myself listening to ’Aeromantic’ and I’m tempted to bang my head repeatedly on the tray table in front of me. In fact, were it not for the threat of a broken laptop and a scalding by piping hot coffee, I’d almost certainly admonish myself because on the basis of ’Aeromantic’, I have been missing out. A lot.

Given the personnel involved, it goes without saying that the performances are of the highest calibre and the music just sounds effortless, as if (excuse the unintentional pun), the guys and gals are on autopilot. Mind you, it takes immense skill to create music that sounds this good, so perhaps that’s not a fair thing to say in retrospect. But you get what I mean. You get the feeling listening to this record that the band are having real fun, despite the fact that the subject matter on ’Aeromantics’ isn’t all throw-away, fluffy sweetness and light; there’s a depth to the subject matter that could go unnoticed but which further demonstrates the prowess of Strid and Co. as songwriters and performers. To quote the band themselves via their press release, ’Aeromantic’:

”…is a street opera based upon shattered dreams, broken illusions, and the fact that we are all something much less than the person we were supposed to be. But in the darkness, there’s always a glimmer of hope. And from that glimmer of hope, with the right mindset, you can sculpt and create a whole lot of Swedish classic rock melodrama.”

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Musically, there are so many highlights to pick out of the thirteen tracks that sit proudly on ’Aeromantic’. It’’s literally an hour-long ride that unashamedly revels in the sounds of classic rock, AOR and more mainstream pop music from a bygone but much-loved age. Gone is the extremity that dominates Soilwork and Arch Enemy for example, and in comes influences that range from Abba to Journey and everything in between.

One of the most immediate cuts is the sublime ‘Divinyls’ which features some of the catchiest hooks on the entire record. The bass pulses alongside some subtle synths during the verses that are dominated by Speed’s silky vocals but the chorus is incredibly irresistible, with dare I say it, a touch of ‘Flashdance’ about it? You tell me, but whatever, it’s a stunning song and one that I can’t stop listening to.

Mind you, the immediate follow-up, ‘If tonight Is Our Only Chance’ is equally as engaging thanks go yet more irresistible melodies and 70s disco vibes. Normally, I’d baulk at this kind of overtly pop-influenced music, but in the hands of TNFO, it is a masterful homage to a time gone by whilst sounding strangely up-to-date and relevant in today’s world.

‘This Boy’s Last Summer’ has a vague UK punk feel to it at the outset, before launching into another urgent melodic hard rock chorus. ‘Curves’ is another song I should hate but I lap up thanks to the style and panache with which it is delivered, alongside another great performance from Strid at the centre of what is, unarguably, a mainstream pop song with massive crossover appeal; it’s the kind of song that you, your parents, your metal-hating mates and your Gram will probably all enjoy.

The Abba influences loom large over ‘Transmissions’ but despite not being the biggest fan of the Swedish pop legends, I love this song; it’s so damn catchy, melodic and addictive. There is just enough guitar to add a slight rock appeal and without wishing to sound like a broken record, Strid delivers a faultless performance. The violin of Hall towards the end is a wonderful addition, lending the song something of a melancholy hint, as well as significant gravitas.
The ballad ‘Golden Swansdown’ begins with electronics that are pure 80s pop but don’t let that fool you because it is another song that gets quickly under your skin and refuses to let go, however much you might wish, for credibility purposes, it would. Mind you, you can’t really argue with the guitar solo towards the end.

I could go on, but I think by now you get the idea – TNFO appear to be masters of creating music that we shouldn’t like, but which we cannot help but enjoy enormously. I wouldn’t refer to ‘Aeromantic’ as a guilty pleasure because I don’t feel even remotely guilty for enjoying the music that is served up to us here. Just about everything is on point on this record, which means it cannot be ignored and only the churlish would consider it beneath them. If you want to have a good time and chill out with some feel-good music with intelligence and heart, allow TNFO and ‘Aeromantic’ into your life and remember what it is like to smile and have some fun.

The Score of Much Metal: 90%

Check out my reviews from 2020 right here:

Deadrisen – Deadrisen
Blaze Of Perdition – The Harrowing Of Hearts
Godsticks – Inescapable
Isle Of The Cross – Excelsis
Demons & Wizards – III
Vredehammer – Viperous
H.E.A.T – H.E.A.T II
Psychotic Waltz – The God-Shaped Void
Into The Open – Destination Eternity
Lunarsea – Earthling/Terrestre
Pure Wrath – The Forlorn Soldier EP
Sylosis – Cycle of Suffering
Sepultura – Quadra
Dyscordia – Delete / Rewrite
Godthrymm – Reflections
On Thorns I Lay – Threnos
God Dethroned – Illuminati
Fragment Soul – A Soul Inhabiting Two Bodies
Mariana Semkina – Sleepwalking
Mini Album Reviews: Moloken, The Driftwood Sign & Midnight
Serenity – The Last Knight
Ihsahn – Telemark EP
Temperance – Viridian
Blasphemer – The Sixth Hour
Deathwhite – Grave Image
Marko Hietala – Pyre Of The Black Heart
SWMM – Trail Of The Fallen
Into Pandemonium – Darkest Rise EP
Bonded – Rest In Violence
Serious Black – Suite 226
Darktribe – Voici L’Homme
Brothers Of Metal – Emblas Saga
A Life Divided – Echoes
Thoughts Factory – Elements

You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here:

2019 reviews
2018 reviews
2017 reviews
2016 reviews
2015 reviews

Evergrey – Interview 2019 – ‘I feel like we could do this forever’

 

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Ever since I discovered Evergrey around the turn of the Millennium, I have seen them live on stage countless times. They have released seven or eight new records of original material and I have interviewed Tom on perhaps five or six occasions. But Evergrey, as we all know, are my number one band, and it never gets old. Never.

So, when I got the invitation via the AFM Records UK PR rep to come to London because Tom Englund and Jonas Ekdahl had personally invited me out for dinner whilst on their UK press leg, I didn’t have to think for more than a nano-second.

The day before travelling, my life changed immeasurably and unexpectedly. So rather than jump in the car and head to the capital, I bought a train ticket because damn, I needed a drink. On the train journey, I listened to the new album, ‘The Atlantic’ twice through and, at times, I felt an almost inexplicable wave of emotion crash over me. Evergrey’s music always moves me and I wasn’t in the best emotional state admittedly, but for some reason, I felt a strong connection with ‘The Atlantic’, which I could not quite place.

Upon arrival at the hotel, I was greeted by the giant figure of Mr Englund himself and was pulled in for a bear hug. Jonas Ekdahl, on the other hand, pretended not to notice me, feigning apathy as he strode purposefully past. The joke didn’t last long, as grinning ear to ear, he warmly greeted me too.

With an almost comedically bad phone interview shelved, I got the nod to jump in and make use of a break in proceedings to crack on with my interview.

Leading up to this release, Tom had mentioned to me over the Internet that ‘The Atlantic’ might just be the best album he’s ever written. With wine delivered to the table, I decided to kick things off right there and ask Tom whether he believed his own hype or whether it was the usual hyperbole that surrounds a new release. Did he really mean what he said? The response I got was an uncomfortably long silence as Tom stared into space, apparently collecting his thoughts, mulling over how best to frame his reply. Eventually, he answers quietly and deliberately.

“I am absolutely positive that this is within at least the top three albums anyone released this year.”

“It is deadly serious for us”, Tom continues with a face to match his answer. “It is sincere, with all of our blood, sweat and tears in it, it really is. It is my personal journey’s manifestation. It is also, in a way, a conclusion. Or a start. It has meaning for me on so many levels. That’s where it is at for me anyway – I don’t know where it is at for you”, he concludes, looking pointedly at his long-haired drummer and co-writer before breaking into his more familiar jocular manner, booming out his hilarious faux-British accent.

“It’s the worst, most boring album we have ever written. It doesn’t do anything for me on any level. I’ll be at the bar. Champagne!”

“I agree”, responds Jonas after the warm laughter subsides. “it has this seriousness which was there even when we wrote it. But we also had fun writing it and in pre-production. Everything went super-smooth but we were very serious, particularly in the early stages. All the little details were very important to us, even down to a synth sound or whatever.”

“Particular is the word, definitely, even down to an OCD level”, interjects Tom thoughtfully. “But we love that part of music-making. It’s not engineering for us, it is part of the music-making, painting the picture that we want you to hear.”

“Me and Tom would just go into a bubble”, Jonas expands without prompting as the interview starts to find a nice rhythm. “We find a vibe or an image or a place in our heads and then we know where we want to go. Once we are in that zone, everything just falls into place. It makes it very simple for us to write because we know what will fit and what won’t.”

That word ‘vibe’ is an important one in the context of Evergrey. After years of line-up instability, I was among large swathes of fans that rejoiced when Jonas and Henrik (Danhage – guitars) re-joined Tom, Rikard (Zander – keys) and Johan (Niemann – bass) for ‘Hymns For The Broken’ back in 2014. For many, it is the best and strongest line-up in the band’s history principally because of the vibe that was apparent within the reformed quintet. It is wonderful to know that this vibe has remained intact two albums later.

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“That vibe is bigger now than ever”, Tom smiles. “It is more cemented – we know what we want and how to get there. We might not have trusted each other before in terms of composing but the band now knows that when me and Jonas start working on the songs, we’ll create the best Evergrey songs we can. The other guys come in with their brushes and their colours to enhance what we have written. Or we write songs from their ideas. Everyone is super-comfortable, which makes it more comfortable for us. And it is easier to work with one guy in every detail than with five guys.”

“All the guys in the band know that the way we work now is for the best of the band”, agrees Jonas. “It’s not because we don’t want anyone not participating. It is just a better workflow and the end result is better with fewer heads and less hassle.”

“There are different stages of the songwriting though”, Tom clarifies eagerly. “We listen to everyone’s ideas, and we decide on the ideas that we will use to create ten songs. The other guys are not involved in the mixing process at all. So, when we all five of us sit in a room together and listen to the album for the first time, it is extremely stressful but also very rewarding.
There were tears and everything – several times throughout the recording actually”, Tom reveals. Frankly, I’m not at all surprised.

It is clear that there is a huge amount of trust and understanding these days between Tom and Jonas, with Jonas becoming as important to the writing and recording process as Evergrey’s founding member. Jonas nods as I voice this to him.

“I’ve never been able to settle only playing drums. I have always been wanting to do more. I love playing drums but somehow it is not enough on its own. So it is great to be able to do more with Evergrey. It feels more and more natural every album too, even though you have to be focused and on your toes all the time. It is a different kind of confidence I think, because actually, I’m a very nervous guy.

The laughter returns at that point, especially as Jonas is slouched comfortably in his chair as if he hasn’t a care in the world as he talks. It turns out that around 15 beers will make even a nervous Jonas the coolest cat in London.

Returning to the issue at hand, after much deliberation and soul-searching on my part, I tentatively suggest that the first three songs on ‘The Atlantic’ are some of the very best ever written by Evergrey. But not only that, the album is littered with world-class material. To use a footballing analogy because we’d just deviated into some good-natured Manchester United versus Tottenham Hotspur banter, I’d suggest ‘The Atlantic’ is entirely Champions League material. I’m keen to find out from the guys though, what it is particularly that they are proud of with ‘The Atlantic’. Tom replies first.

“It is the coherent feeling of the album, that we made a painting that is beautiful everywhere within the frame, not just in certain spots. It tells a story, you go through an experience when you listen to it. And when you’re done, you think ‘fuck, I have listened to something that was really good’. I have heard the songs 500 times each and I still do not stray from my listening. That’s a good grade in my book.”

“Going back to the painting”, Jonas offers, “we put effort with every stroke. And since day one, until it was mastered by Jakob Hansen, that has been the same. We put all we had, all our energy into it for such a long time. I’m proud of the fact that we have worked our asses off, busted our balls off in the process to create this record.”

“And that’s exactly what ‘All I Have’ is about”, reveals Tom. “It is about putting all you have into something. And if it isn’t good enough, we wouldn’t release it. But in terms of relationships, if it isn’t good enough, you have to release it.”

Before delving further into the music itself, I first want to touch on the break-in that hampered the recording process and delayed the release of ‘The Atlantic’ into 2019. As I ask, you can see the frustration etched on the guys’ faces.

“Wake me up please, I’m living in a nightmare”, states Jonas. “We had no option but to tell the label and Jakob Hansen that we would have to postpone the release date so that we could do things properly.”

Tom continues the thread: “We had to start buying recording equipment and we didn’t know if they had stolen the three songs we’d recorded and if they’d know what it was. It is an accomplishment to get through that, but also an accomplishment to mix the record. We didn’t stray an inch from where we knew we wanted to be.”

“We had this super analogue feel on the album and it was our number one priority to have a dirtier, analogue sound. We couldn’t express this enough to Jakob – more wood!”, Jonas emphasises with a smile. I don’t think that was a euphemism, more a statement about the overall texture and feel to this record.

Having been led back to the actual material on the album, I remark that ‘The Atlantic’ is a very bass-heavy record, with Johan Niemann taking more of the spotlight than ever before.

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“More than any other album”, Jonas nods, “me and Johan recorded so much of the record live, almost the whole album. So we need to have the bass present. Plus, it adds more of that dirt and grit and attitude to the sound.”

“But”, Tom asserts with utter sincerity, “if you had a bass player who is 10% less of a player, you couldn’t have the bass like this. I say this in the documentary but I would choose Johan over any other bass player in the world. Without a doubt, there is no competition. This, everybody should hear, so raise the volume. Without taking away from the production of course, but you can afford to have him this loud because he is so fucking good.”

One thing that I think all Evergrey fans worth their salt will recognise is that whilst ‘The Atlantic’ is the next logical step in the evolution of Evergrey, it also contains many elements of previous albums. I hear elements of nod towards all of the Evergrey eras, from ‘In Search of Truth’ to ‘Monday Morning Apocalypse’. Turns out though that this was not intentional.

“We didn’t think about that at all – it must have been a fluke”, smiles Jonas before Tom affirms, to close this particular topic.

“We never think about anything like that”, he emphasises with a gentle shake of the head. “We set out to create a vibe. But if any of our albums are close to this album, it would be ‘Recreation Day’. But no, we don’t try to deliberately do this.”

At this point, I feel the desperate need to actually home in on some of the songs on ‘The Atlantic’. It is still early days in my listening journey, but several moments have already made a remarkable impression on me. I start with ‘Departure’ which ironically enough signals the biggest departure from Evergrey’s core sound, very similar to the way in which ‘Waking Up Blind’ did on ‘The Inner Circle’. And, as it turns out, the catalyst for this track, which features acoustic guitars and what I can only describe as a US arena rock vibe at one point, didn’t even originate with my two friends across the table from me.

“That was Rikard’s idea actually”, Jonas reveals. “We had a weekend where all the guys sat down, worked together and presented ideas.”

“That’s the thing with Rikard”, Tom interjects purposefully, “he usually presents a part and on this occasion, when we heard his part, everyone was like ‘woah, let’s make a song, right now’. And we made this song within two or three hours. Not vocally, but the song was done the same day.”

“It was the same with ‘Currents’”, Jonas continues with barely a pause for breath. “That was the next day and it was started by a synth riff. He presents his parts and says, ‘go do what you want with it’. He knows that we will do our best to make the best music out of his ideas. But everyone gets super-excited. With ‘Departure’, Henrik went out for ten minutes and came back with an acoustic guitar. He tuned it in Nashville tuning, whatever that is. Tom started doing all this finger-picking stuff and we just had to record it all. That was my favourite song when Johan and I practiced for the album. We had all these horrible songs to practice with all these difficult parts and so we named them terrible names because we hated them. ‘Departure’ was the song where we could relax and enjoy ourselves.

And now for the lyrics. Having had the words for a little while, I sensed that this was not a light-hearted or easy-going record. Yes, I can hear a certain amount of positivity at points, but I also hear strong undercurrents of emotional turmoil going on, with lots of darkness, despair, disorientation and soul-searching at play.

“You are way off the mark!” Tom chuckles before admitting the opposite and providing more detail.

“This is the final in a trilogy. ‘Hymns…’ was an album where I felt I had to do something – my subconscious was telling me I had to do something. Uproar, frustration. ‘The Storm Within’ was really about realising you’ve mentally left, you know. ‘The Atlantic’ is the manifestation of the actual leaving. It is also the first album that Carina (Englund) is not on. That is symbolic enough.”

Right there. That’s the moment that everything clicked into place and explained why I felt such an emotional connection with ‘The Atlantic’. It is about the break-up of Tom’s marriage and the feelings surrounding this ending of a chapter as well as the beginning of a new one. A torrent of feelings assaults me because, literally, the day before this interview, my partner called an end our nine-year relationship, a relationship that blessed me with two wonderful children and some happy memories. If I’m honest, I could see it coming as we’d grown apart over time, but the reality of having to start my life over again whilst trying not to destroy my little girls’ lives was suddenly my full focus. I didn’t want to put my children through such a thing but suddenly, I had no choice, I was trapped within my worst nightmare. Fortunately, I was in the right place – surrounded by friends, one of whom understood exactly what I was going through. The look on Tom’s face as I revealed my own personal turmoil nearly brought me to tears. No judgement, no irritation at derailing the interview, just genuine sympathy and a deep understanding of where I was mentally and emotionally.

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“It can be a good thing”, Tom eventually responds in kindly fashion and with a Sage-like wisdom. “It may not at the moment but it will. Some changes are not only bound to happen but also necessary. It makes you”, he pauses searching carefully for the right word “…better. I feel as strong as fuck. I’m stronger than I’ve ever been. More confident, more certain, more secure, more relaxed.

And you know what? I believe him. Tom sits in the chair across from me and I notice for the first time just how relaxed he looks. He looks alive and there is a sparkle in his eye that maybe I’d not seen for a while. If Tom can go through something like this and come out the other side this strong, I begin to feel a little better. And then, as if a damn has burst, all three of us burst out in laughter, a little unsure of exactly why.

“But confident is a good word”, Tom sets off again as the unexplained merriment subsides. “I’m confident that I…that we…have done the right thing. If you’re a grown-up, you have kids and have been together for a quarter of a century, you need to deal with things in those terms. But life is to short and everyone deserves to be happy.”

Reluctantly, as time marches on, I start to wrap up this intense and hugely significant interview by asking the guys to reflect on the early feedback they’ve had to ‘The Atlantic’.

“We’re so early into the process that I don’t even know what response we’ve had”, jokes Tom but with a thread of truth. “But someone said to me that if it was released this year, it would be in their top five for the year. And others have said that this has the coolest cover we’ve ever had. It sets the tone and 100% represents the album visually.”

“I feel like we could do this forever”, offers Tom as his final thought, in response to my inevitable query over the future of Evergrey. “That’s where I am right now. When things start to deteriorate and become less rewarding, things might change. But we’re on a huge rise at the moment. We’re getting more fans, we’re selling more albums…that’s the advantage of not being huge. We sold two more albums – that’s a 100% increase”, he chuckles as he looks in Jonas’ direction. “Let’s celebrate. But seriously, that’s what it is all about. What more can you ask for than to improve and to go to new places, see more people?”

What more indeed?

And with that, I recede into the background for a time to allow others to chat to Tom and Jonas. After all, I had the rest of the evening to come, an evening which, as it turned out, involved one of the nicest and hottest curries of my life. It also featured plenty of alcohol and the kind of friendly chat and camaraderie that I really needed.

‘The Atlantic’ is out on 25th January 2019 on AFM Records.

 

Fifth Angel – The Third Secret – Album Review

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Artist: Fifth Angel

Album Title: The Third Secret

Label: Nuclear Blast

Date of Release: 26 October 2018

The last time Seattle-based heavy metal band Fifth Angel released an album, I didn’t know what heavy metal was. I was about eight or nine years old and obsessed with football and the original Transformers cartoon series. That was nearly three decades ago but here we are in 2018, faced with album number three, aptly-titled ‘The Third Secret’. And, having spent the past 20-plus years exploring and devouring this glorious music in all its various forms and subgenres, I’m now know all about the magic of heavy metal.

Back in the day, Fifth Angel, who were spawned from the same heavy metal hotspot as Queensryche, Sanctuary and metal Church, were signed to a seven-album deal worth $21m but they disbanded in the early 90s as the grunge movement threatened the very lifeblood of heavy metal. Their talents have not gone unnoticed however because Fifth Angel managed to turn the heads of those in the know at Nuclear Blast and were signed on the basis of just a three-track demo having decided to reform in 2010 to headline the Keep It True festival. These guys must have something about them, regardless of the relentless passage of time it seems.

As is the way of things, Fifth Angel v2018 is a little different in the personnel department than they were in the early days. The original members of drummer Ken Mary and bassist John Macko remain but they are now joined by guitarist and lead vocalist Kendall Bechtel in the place of vocalist Ted Pilot and guitarist Ed Archer.

I was persuaded to give this album a listen because of all of the positive comments that I read from several quarters on the Internet, from those unknown and those trusted alike. Given these comments and given their initial success in the early days, I didn’t want to miss out again.

However, I’m not sure whether it is because of my lofty hopes for this release or what because I cannot avoid the feeling of being a touch underwhelmed by ‘The Third Secret’. It isn’t a poor release and anyone who suggests such a thing is being more than a little disingenuous. The fact remains though that for my tastes, this record lacks the ‘wow’ factor that I had expected to hear. Or, as the French might say, it is devoid of a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’.

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From the opening notes of ‘Stars Are Falling’, with its thunderous, urgent drumming, expansive lead guitar dexterity and lung-busting cry from Bechtel, it is clear that Fifth Angel still have what it takes to make powerful and well-honed heavy metal in the classic vein. The chorus gallops along with unrestrained glee and it is undeniably catchy. Indeed, when you then factor in a commanding vocal performance from Bechtel, plenty of lead six-string histrionics, it is very easy to get swept up in the nostalgia of it all.

Follow-up track, ‘We Will Rise’ continues the trend as it explodes out of the blocks with a cheeky swagger, where the riffs are both chunky and vibrant and where the rhythm section of Macko and Mary lays down a forceful, if uncomplicated, backbone. If anything, the chorus is even better than its predecessor, a hook-laden affair that will have you throwing the horns an punching the air like it’s 1989 again.

Unfortunately, from there, my attention starts to wander and I begin to lose interest. The music on ‘The Third Secret’ becomes a little formulaic, a little pedestrian and lacking in real stand-out moments if I’m being entirely honest.

The chunky, mid-tempo stomp of ‘Queen of Thieves’ becomes a bit of a plod, whilst I’m hard-pushed to remember very much of tracks like ‘Dust To Dust’, ‘Fatima’ or the title track which is really mediocre fare at best.

The quasi ballad-like ‘Can You Hear Me?’, with a strong chorus and the introduction of some rich acoustic guitars is sufficiently epic-sounding to rouse me from my general malaise. ‘This Is War’ also has a muscular charm as it happens. However, with a few too many missteps along the way, it means that by the time we reach the final duo of ‘Shame On You’ and ‘Hearts of Stone’, I find that I am no longer fully engaged and invested in the music.

All that being said, I want it to go on record again that ‘The Third Secret’ is not a bad album, far from it. You have to consider the context in which the record sits for a start – to produce an album as solid as this after being out of the game for such a long period of time is an impressive feat and should not be overlooked. I just feel that too often, Fifth Angel fall into a bit of a rut where things get a little safe, comfortable and slightly stale. If the quality had remained at the level of the opening two tracks, then ‘The Third Secret’ might have been a rip-roaring success. As it is, it’s not essential listening as far as I’m concerned. But let’s see what’s next, as I join with most lovers of heavy metal in hoping we don’t have to wait another 30 years for a follow-up.

The Score of Much Metal: 7.25

If you’ve enjoyed this review, you can check out my others from 2018 and from previous years right here:

2017 reviews
2016 reviews
2015 reviews

Ashes of my Memory – Raptures /// Disillusions EP
Anathema – Internal Landscapes
Samskaras – Lithification
Seventh Dimension – The Corrupted Lullaby
Hate Eternal – Upon Desolate Sands
Witherfall – A Prelude To Sorrow
Northward – Northward
Seventh Wonder – Tiara
Warrel Dane – Shadow Work
Haken – Vector
Beyond Creation – Algorythm
Ultha – The Inextricable Wandering
Amaranthe – Helix
Ghost Ship Octavius – Delirium
Decembre Noir – Autumn Kings
The Odious Construct – Shrine of the Obscene
Fauna Timbre – Altering Echoes
The Moor – Jupiter’s Immigrants
Revocation – The Outer Ones
Riverside – Wasteland
Ethernity – The Human Race Extinction
Dynazty – Firesign
Deicide – Overtures of Blasphemy
Brainstorm – Midnight Ghost
Krisiun – Scourge of the Enthroned
Kingcrow – The Persistence
Cast The Stone – Empyrean Atrophy
Omnium Gatherum – The Burning Cold
Helion Prime – Terror of the Cybernetic Space Monster
Madder Mortem – Marrow
A Dying Planet – Facing The Incurable
Árstíðir – Nivalis
Mob Rules – Beast Reborn
The Spirit – Sounds From The Vortex
Aethereus – Absentia
Unanimated – Annihilation
Manticora – To Kill To Live To Kill
Rivers of Nihil – Where Owls Know My Name
Halcyon Way – Bloody But Unbowed
Michael Romeo – War Of The Worlds, Part 1
Redemption – Long Night’s Journey Into Day
Distorted Harmony – A Way Out
Tomorrow’s Eve – Mirror of Creation III – Project Ikaros
Atrocity – Okkult II
Lux Terminus – The Courage To Be
Kataklysm – Meditations
Marduk – Viktoria
Midas Fall – Evaporate
The Sea Within – The Sea Within
Haken – L-1VE
Follow The Cipher – Follow The Cipher
Spock’s Beard – Noise Floor
Ihsahn – Amr
The Fierce And The Dead – The Euphoric
Millennial Reign – The Great Divide
Subsignal – La Muerta
At The Gates – To Drink From The Night Itself
Dimmu Borgir – Eonian
Hekz – Invicta
Widow’s Peak – Graceless EP
Ivar Bjørnson and Einar Selvik – Hugsjá
Frequency Drift – Letters to Maro
Æpoch – Awakening Inception
Crematory – Oblivion
Wallachia – Monumental Heresy
Skeletal Remains – Devouring Mortality
MØL – Jord
Aesthesys – Achromata
Kamelot – The Shadow Theory
Barren Earth – A Complex of Cages
Memoriam – The Silent Vigil
Kino – Radio Voltaire
Borealis – The Offering
W.E.T. – Earthrage
Auri – Auri
Purest of Pain – Solipsis
Susperia – The Lyricist
Structural Disorder – …And The Cage Crumbles In the Final Scene
Necrophobic – Mark of the Necrogram
Divine Realm – Nordicity
Oceans of Slumber – The Banished Heart
Poem – Unique
Gleb Kolyadin – Gleb Kolyadin
Apathy Noir – Black Soil
Deathwhite – For A Black Tomorrow
Conjurer – Mire
Jukub Zytecki – Feather Bed/Ladder Head
Lione/Conti – Lione/Conti
Usurpress – Interregnum
Kælling – Lacuna
Vinide – Reveal
Armored Dawn – Barbarians In Black
Long Distance Calling – Boundless
In Vain – Currents
Harakiri For The Sky – Arson
Orphaned Land – Unsung Prophets And Dead Messiahs
Tribulation – Down Below
Machine Head – Catharsis
Bjorn Riis – Coming Home EP
Twilight’s Embrace – Penance EP
Bloodshot Dawn – Reanimation
Rise of Avernus – Eigengrau
Arch Echo – Arch Echo
Asenblut – Legenden
Bleeding Gods – Dodekathlon
Watain – Trident Wolf Eclipse

Anubis Gate – Covered In Black – Album Review

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Artist: Anubis Gate

Album Title: Covered In Black

Label: Nightmare Records

Date of Release: 1 September 2017

Whenever I review an album, I always do my very best to avoid the thoughts and opinions of others so that my write-ups are as unbiased as possible and unaffected by third party influence. Unfortunately, it proved exceedingly difficult with this, the brand-new album from Anubis Gate. Firstly, I was late to the party, so I was already behind the curve. Secondly, given the personnel that frequent my social media timelines, it was almost impossible to ignore the comments flying about. ‘Album of the year’, ‘best of 2017’ and many other similarly positive statements were read almost daily.

It was probably impossible therefore to not come to ‘Covered In Black’, the seventh album from Denmark’s melodic power/progressive quartet Anubis Gate with stratospherically-high expectations. Ever since I heard the excellent ‘Andromeda Unchained’, I have always enjoyed the band’s music and certainly look forward to a new release. This time, I was pleading with the record label to grant me access so I could review it.

This might go some way to explain why, for a long time, I felt massively underwhelmed by the final product. I was expecting so much that literally nothing would have sated my appetite. I’ve been here before though and so I knew that there was just one thing I could do: carry on and persevere. When I was getting into prog music in the beginning, the thing that attracted me so much was the need to work hard at the music, not to expect an instant pay-off and enjoy the rewards when finally they came my way. Pain of Salvation, Sieges Even and Vanden Plas are great examples of where my stubbornness worked wonders.

Add to that list ‘Covered In Black’, because my opinion has finally been forced to change. This is, in part, why this review comes so long after its release, but it was worth taking my time for sure.

Sitting here now, it is hard to put my finger on exactly why this record took so much time to infiltrate my affections. However, I have a few theories.

I’m not saying that ‘Covered In Black’ is the most avant-garde or ‘out there’ in terms of progressive music. That said, for my money, it is more overtly progressive than previous Anubis Gate records. In addition, the melodies do not go where I always expect them to. Or, to put it another way, when I first listened to the record, I would hear the melodies and would want them to go one way or another. When they didn’t comply, I was taken aback, slightly affronted. It sounds daft I know but it then took a while for the songs to infiltrate my affections.

A lot has been made by the band, the label and the fans about the darker, heavier tone to this record. Without doubt, this is a significant part of the Anubis Gate sound on ‘Covered In Black’. From the moody cover artwork to the beefed-up metallic elements, this is a more extreme album than just about everything written by the Danes in the past. It’s all relative though and in no way is ‘Covered In Black’ an extreme metal record, but the increased aggression does take a bit of getting used to when you’re used to their ‘normal’ delivery.

Put all these factors together and my initial malaise is perhaps unsurprising. Equally unsurprising now that the malaise has cleared, is the extent to which I have finally warmed to ‘Covered In Black’.

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If you are in any doubt about the ‘heavier’ tag, opener ‘Psychotopia’ should dispel them almost immediately. It begins with an unsettling noise that increases in frequency until it is replaced with a strong off-kilter industrial riff that displays echoes of Fear Factory in the way that the drums and guitars and drums align. It takes until the two-minute mark before that familiar descent into more melodic territory occurs, whilst lead vocalist Henrik Fevre sounds pained and troubled throughout. This is now the third album since the departure of Jacob Hansen and on this evidence, Fevre is really making the position his own whilst still playing the bass. The midway point offers a respite with just a delicate piano and acoustic guitar section before the heaviness returns to snuff out any light that was threatening to break through.

I’m still a little undecided about ‘The New Delhi Assassination’. As the title suggests, it is bathed in Asian melodies but has a very dark feel to it. And then, somewhat inexplicably, it ceases to be in the blink of an eye, to be replaced by ‘The Combat’, a personal favourite of mine. Having disliked some of the melodic choices made within this composition, I now really like the way in which it switches between a sense of the epic and a sense of dramatic urgency, made all the more potent and interesting thanks to the many layers of rich sounds, enhanced by the keys of Kim Oleson. The guitar work from Oleson and Michael Bodin is superb, particularly in the construction and deployment of some of the crunchier riffs and expressive leads that only add to the intensity of this wonderfully dark progressive track.

‘Too Much Time’ takes a while to get going although in so doing, the vaguely sci-fi sounds and textures within the minimalist framework do act as a counter-balance to the increased aggression experienced elsewhere to this point. Eventually, the heavier riffs do enter the fray, underpinned by a muscular beat from drummer Morten Gade Sørensen. The sci-fi overtones continue for the duration of what is easily one of the most progressive and arguably least immediately accessible tracks on ‘Covered In Black’. Nevertheless, the speedy lead guitar solo is a delight as is the powerful drumming that sits beneath it.

To redress the balance, ‘A Journey To Nowhere’ delivers a huge chorus after a quiet opening. The guitar tone within the riff straight after is monstrous, whilst the ensuing solo is gorgeous, planting a huge smile on my face.

I assume that the following three tracks are a trilogy of sorts, named as they are ‘Black’, ‘Blacker’ and ‘Blackest’ respectively. The chugging riff, mid-track groove and top-drawer vocals of ‘Black’ make it the best of the three shorter songs, although there’s something intriguing about ‘Blacker’ with its hints of early Bay Area thrash within the riff. I’m not so keen on the heavily effect-laden vocal segment, but the wailing guitars and reprise of the ‘Black’ riff mean it closes strongly.

The ethnic influences return within ‘Operation Cairo’, the band’s nine-minute epic. This time, it is Middle Eastern melodies and flavours that feature, imbuing the composition with an air of mysticism and great, rich atmospheres that are sown in the introduction and grow as the track develops. After a sticky start, I absolutely adore the melodies used within the giant chorus, more so because the music that surrounds it is quite claustrophobic, technical, and intense. This was one of the moments of epiphany that led to a greater understanding and fondness for this record and it just gets better with each spin.

‘From Afar’ closes out this record and does so in a fittingly strong manner. The prominence of acoustic guitars is a great addition and yet another important layer in this complex record. Again, the melodies grow with time and although I wonder whether it ends a little too abruptly, it has some glorious moments within it, such as the bold keyboard sounds, adding texture and further nuance to the material.

I’ll be honest and say that, as I sit here now, I struggle to see ‘Covered In Black’ feature in my top 10 of 2017. However, there is no denying the high quality of music on this record and it is a slick, professional and ultimately rewarding melodic progressive metal album. Mind you, if it continues to work its charms as it has done so far, I may change my mind before the year is out.

The Score of Much Metal: 9

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

Protean Collective – Collapse
Cradle Of Filth – Cryproriana – The Seductiveness of Decay
TDW & Dreamwalkers Inc. – The Antithetic Affiliation
Caligula’s Horse – In Contact
Nocturnal Rites – Phoenix
Arch Enemy – Will To Power
Threshold – Legends Of The Shires
H.E.A.T – Into The Great Unknown
Dyscarnate – With All Their Might
Subterranean Masquerade – Vagabond
Adagio – Life
Paradise Lost – Medusa
The Haunted – Strength In Numbers
Serious Black – Magic
Leprous – Malina
The Lurking Fear – Out of the Voiceless Grave
Prospekt – The Illuminated Sky
Wintersun – The Forest Seasons
Witherfall – Nocturnes And Requiems
Tuesday The Sky – Drift
Anthriel – Transcendence
Decapitated – Anticult
Cosmograf – The Hay-Man Dreams
Orden Ogan – Gunmen
Iced Earth – Incorruptible
Anathema – The Optimist
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

Threshold – Legends Of The Shires – Album Review

Threshold - Legends Of The Shires - Artwork

Artist: Threshold

Album Title: Legends of the Shires

Label: Nuclear Blast

Date of Release: 8 September 2017

I still remember, vividly, the first time that I heard UK progressive metal band Threshold. It was the song ‘Falling Away’ from the album ‘Critical Mass’, released in 2002 and I was blown away. The energy, the emotion and the melodies all combined to stunning effect. I played the song about seven times in a row without a pause, before promptly placing an order for the album. It arrived a couple of days later and I hungrily devoured the record, delighted that the entire disc lived up to my lofty expectations at a time when I was getting heavily pulled under the spell of progressive music.

Naturally, as was my way, I delved headlong into the back catalogue, discovering many other gems along the way. Whilst ‘Falling Away’ remains my all-time favourite Threshold track, the likes of ‘Ravages of Time’ and ‘Safe To Fly’ push it very close.

In the intervening years, I have seen Threshold live several times including a great show at the criminally under-supported Fused Festival in 2011. I have also had the pleasure in reviewing most of their recent albums as well as chatting with keyboardist Richard West on more than one occasion. They are, without doubt one of the most important bands in my life, certainly where progressive music is concerned.

A small pocket of fans have bemoaned a lack of diversity within the Threshold sound, but I think this is grossly unfair. The old saying goes that ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. Threshold have grown, they have matured and their output has changed, albeit in more subtle ways than other acts. But at their core, they have remained true to the melodic progressive metal blueprint that has marked their output pretty much since day one. And in terms of quality, they are consistency personified. You just know that Threshold will not release a stinker. Of course, opinions will differ among the faithful as to which of their ten albums to date is the best, but there’s a tacit understanding that every album has a vein of quality running through it.

This is quite remarkable, given the line-up changes that have befallen the band over the years. Only guitarist Karl Groom remains from the original line-up as a founding member. That said, since the mid-noughties, perhaps a little earlier, the core has remained relatively static, with Groom joined by drummer Johanne James, bassist Steve Anderson and keyboardist Richard West. In the last few months, second guitarist Pete Morten stepped down to focus on his own material and the vocalist carousel has turned again, rather surprisingly.

In their near 30-year history, Threshold have had no less than four lead vocalists. Jon Jeary (who returns as a guest vocalist on ‘The Shire (Part 3)’) was succeeded by Damian Wilson who himself was replaced briefly by Glynn Morgan and then more permanently by Andrew ‘Mac’ McDermott. Mac, who later tragically passed away, left the band somewhat unexpectedly. In a blaze of glory, Wilson returned, but just a few months ago it was confirmed that he was to leave Threshold again. Many of us were shocked, particularly when it was announced that Glynn Morgan was to return to the mic. Was this to be a mistake? Or would it be a masterstroke?

As news of the band’s eleventh album began to surface, more questions began to emerge. Apparently, ‘Legends of The Shires’ was going to be a double album, the first of their career. Would this be a risky move? Would it prove to be too much for fans? ‘Legends of The Shires’ would also be a concept album. Another risky move? Were Threshold trying too much with this record to succeed?

All these thoughts and more were going through my mind as I pressed play for the first time. I was surprisingly nervous, even though I’d loved the first two singles from the album, the immensely powerful epic ‘Lost In Translation’ and the shorter, punchier ‘Small Dark Lines’ with its sprawling monster of a chorus.

I don’t think there is ever a point with any album where I think ‘right I’m 100% ready to pen this review’ – that feeling never arrives. But having spent quite a lot of time with ‘Legends Of The Shires’, obsessively at times, I’m as ready as I’ll ever be to pin my colours to the mast. And all I can really say at this point is ‘Oh. My. God’ This record is mind-blowingly good. It is sensational.

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The first thing to report is that the core sound I referred to earlier is all still in place; ‘Legends Of The Shires’ couldn’t be anyone other than Threshold. If you’re looking for a radically different approach, you’ll be disappointed. The rest of us should simply rejoice. Big, chunky riffs, bigger melodies, technicality, swathes of keys, extended instrumental passages – they’re all here and it all sounds utterly glorious.

The next thing to tackle is the reintroduction of Glynn Morgan as lead vocalist. I don’t know if I’m likely to be in the minority here, but as much as I respect and admire Damian Wilson as a singer, I never got to the stage of loving his voice unconditionally. As a result, I’m not overly upset at his departure. After all, he’s still active as a solo artist and as the front man for Headspace, so we won’t be able to miss him too much. Additionally, as someone who came to the Threshold cause with Mac on vocals, I’m delighted to note that more than once, Morgan sounds scarily like the late singer. He has his own style for sure, but the similarities are there to be heard. But more than that, Morgan can definitely sing and I have no complaints about him whatsoever on ‘Legends Of The Shires’. His voice may lack a stratospheric ‘wow’ factor at times but his performance is nothing short of excellent throughout, thoroughly professional and with the range to do the songs full justice.

It’s always a bit of a risk to release a double album and, in the case of Threshold, it is a record featuring 14 individual tracks with a running time of well over 80 minutes. That’s a lot of music in anyone’s language and could be daunting to some. Indeed, I took a deep breath before plunging in. However, I can honestly say, hand-on-heart that ‘Legends Of The Shires’ flies by. At the outset, I immediately had my favourite songs but as time has gone by, I find myself liking something within each track. No, that’s not accurate – I adore just about every minute of this weighty tome.

There’s a beautiful ebb and flow to the record, encompassing all of the myriad strengths of the Threshold collective. From quiet, introspective and delicate, right through to heavy, powerful and commanding, the full gamut is explored. There are shorter pieces and, as is their way, a few longer compositions where the technical prowess and flamboyance of each member is given a chance to shine brightly. And believe me, every member of this band is dreadfully talented.

Contrary to popular belief, the loose concept is not influenced by ‘Lord of the Rings’. Mind you, one look at the sumptuous artwork alongside the album title and you can see where that idea came from. But rather, the album looks at how a nation interacts with others and how it grows and evolves over time. It’s a grand concept and one that befits the equally grand soundscapes that surrounds it.

‘Legends Of The Shires’ starts off, fittingly, with the gentle sounds of birds singing and a church bell ringing via ‘The Shire (Part 1)’. It is an acoustic guitar and vocal intro that introduces some beautiful melodies that crop up elsewhere, as well as instantly dismissing anyone’s potential misgivings about Morgan’s return. His delivery is passionate and resonates excellently.

The aforementioned ‘Small Dark Lines’ acts as the stark juxtaposition to the opener as it is one of the most up-tempo, powerhouse tracks on the entire record. The chorus is immense but the chugging riffs and strong rhythms from James and Anderson provide the groovy framework that’s almost as infectious as the chorus.

At nearly 12 minutes in length, ‘The Man Who Saw Through Time’ is the longest composition on the album but also one of the most satisfying and beguiling. A slow-burner, it soon opens like a delicate flower to expose its subtle charms. The keys and piano of West are superb, working in tandem with Morgan’s poignant delivery. The slow and emotional-sounding lead guitar work of Groom is superb, segueing into a properly ‘progressive’ section where a myriad of different synth sounds are aired, the tempos frequently change as does the intensity and a story is told via a combination of instrumentation and lyrics in expert fashion. But despite the diversity in evidence, the band use their mature and seasoned song writing skills to create a piece of music that sounds smooth and cohesive. Nothing feels out of place or unnecessary, however dramatic the individual performances are or how awe-inspiring the lead guitar-driven finale becomes.

I cannot possibly go through each and every track in detail, but it’s tough not to. ‘Trust The Process’ is a choppier, grittier track that is another progressive masterclass, full of twists and turns, whilst ‘On The Edge’ comes out of the blocks like something possessed before calming right down and delivering more of a big ballad-like chorus. Then there’s the complex and fascinating ‘Snowblind’ which takes its time to blossom but delivers a huge pay-off when it finally clicks, particularly the long-awaited chorus and more urgent sections in the latter stages.

In terms of personal favourites, I could mention pretty much half of the material frankly. ‘The Man Who Saw Through Time’ is clearly up there, as is ‘Small Dark Lines’. However, if pressed, I’d also mention ‘The Shire (Part 2)’ which builds on the melodies of the opening part and just when you think it’ll exclusively follow the acoustic-and-vocal blueprint of its predecessor, it explodes in spectacular fashion, causing me to stop whatever I’m doing and sing along, even if I’m in public.

Then there’s the aforementioned behemoth ‘Lost In Translation’ which was a killer song right from the off and has turned into a bona-fide anthem of truly epic proportions. Or how about ‘Stars And Satellites’ that unashamedly blends the hard rock/metal with overt pop and AOR sensibilities? Catchy as hell and beautiful, it really captured my attention, showcasing the delicate and powerful sides of this special band with consummate ease. I smiled when I first heard it and it still has the same effect a week or two later.

I could go on, so I will. ‘Subliminal Freeways’ features a beefy riff that I love, alongside an understated swagger from Morgan, before the mother of all power-ballad choruses rips through the speakers, bathed in soothing synths and a lush melody. And lastly, ‘State Of Independence’ has a solemn tone, paired with some strikingly real lyrics, a comment on the recent Brexit decision if I’m not mistaken.

I’m not really sure how to sum up ‘Legends Of The Shires’ adequately, because in many ways I am lost for words. I was expecting a great album, because that’s what Threshold always seems to deliver. I wasn’t necessarily expecting a masterpiece. For that is exactly what ‘Legends Of The Shires’ is; it is magical, it is majestic and it is a perfect tour-de-force of melodic progressive metal. Outstanding.

The Score of Much Metal: 10

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

H.E.A.T – Into The Great Unknown
Dyscarnate – With All Their Might
Subterranean Masquerade – Vagabond
Adagio – Life
Paradise Lost – Medusa
The Haunted – Strength In Numbers
Serious Black – Magic
Leprous – Malina
The Lurking Fear – Out of the Voiceless Grave
Prospekt – The Illuminated Sky
Wintersun – The Forest Seasons
Witherfall – Nocturnes And Requiems
Tuesday The Sky – Drift
Anthriel – Transcendence
Decapitated – Anticult
Cosmograf – The Hay-Man Dreams
Orden Ogan – Gunmen
Iced Earth – Incorruptible
Anathema – The Optimist
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

Subterranean Masquerade – Vagabond – Album Review

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Artist: Subterranean Masquerade

Album Title: Vagabond

Label: ViciSolum Productions

Date Of Release: 1 September 2017

When I reviewed the previous Subterranean Masquerade album, ‘The Great Bazaar’, I came to the following conclusion in the final line: “‘The Great Bazaar’ is a very strong album. It’s varied, it’s intriguing, it’s powerful and above all, it’s wonderfully idiosyncratic.”

Fast-forward just two years and after spending some considerable time getting to grips with the band’s new record, ‘Vagabond’, I have to say that my thoughts towards it are frighteningly similar. When I was sent the promo by founding member and principle songwriter Tomer Pink, it was sent with the following comment: ‘Good luck, not an easy album’. And hell, he wasn’t kidding, I can tell you.

The thing that I liked so much about ‘The Great Bazaar’ was the way in which Subterranean Masquerade really went all-out to create something unique. They managed to bring an awful number of seemingly disparate ideas to the table, but made them work. What’s more, the album never felt disjointed or clunky in spite of the myriad influences at work within each composition. Again, the same is very true of ‘Vagabond’.

Since the last record, there has been a little tweak or two to the clientele within Subterranean Masquerade. The core of the band remains the same, with guitarist Tomer Pink at the helm, joined by guitarist Or Shalev, bassist Golan Farhi, keyboardist Shai Yallin and drummer Matan Shmuely (Orphaned Land). This time around however, Novembers Doom’s Paul Kuhr is no longer involved. Instead, Kjetil Nordhus (Green Carnation, Tristania) is joined on vocal duties by Eliran Wizeman, who delivers a frightful growl. In addition, Ilan Arad features in the line-up to provide the brass quota.

Those that know me and my musical preferences will now be expecting me to deride the band for the inclusion, and indeed the increase, of brass on this record. I have a rule: if the album contains brass, it gets deducted one point immediately. I just cannot stand brass. There are exceptions to every rule and in my case, Big Big Train are perhaps the most notable. With Subterranean Masquerade, my prejudices have been tested to the very limits. So prominent is the saxophone et al, that I did baulk at it in the beginning. Even now, I can’t help but wish that this element be reduced. However, I really like ‘Vagabond’ and initially I thought that was very much in spite of the brass. As it turns out, I have come to the surprising realisation that this is a necessary ingredient, without which the compositions and the whole essence of the music would suffer.

The growls of Wizeman and the strong guitar work of Pink and Shalev might mean that Subterranean Masquerade have a sheen of extreme metal about them, death metal being the most obvious protagonist. However, ‘Vagabond’ is much more extreme in terms of its bold ambition and it revels in being a hugely uplifting and positive-sounding record. The melodies that litter the album are really lovely, making the whole thing a warm and positive-sounding affair. In fact, I am struggling to think of a heavy metal album that sounds quite so ‘happy’, exuberant and fun.

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There aren’t many metal records that can have these three adjectives applied to it, but with ‘Vagabond’, they are well-placed and accurate. With the plethora of Middle Eastern influences and cheeky quirkiness within each composition, there’s almost a sense of carnival about ‘Vagabond’. I’m not entirely certain that the lyrical content always marries up, but this is the distinct feeling I get when I listen to this record.

The sounds of a bustling street accompany simple hand-clapping and a terrific Indian-tinged melody to open up the album via ‘Place For Fairytales’. The lyrical tip of the cap to the previous album is a nice touch too. It is a bright and breezy introduction that continues even when the heavier instrumentation eagerly enters the fray. It doesn’t take long until the brass makes a forthright entrance, but it fits with the care-free feel to the track. Female vocals, menacing growls, saxophone solos, chugging riffs, powerful drumming and strong 70s-inspired keyboard sounds all make their mark in an opening song that’s utterly glorious. I love the way it ebbs and flows whilst incorporating everything so smoothly and serenely. Even the saxophone solo atop the crescendo at the close is a thing of unbridled joy.

The clean vocals of Green Carnation’s Kjetil Nordhus take centre stage within the equally glorious and eccentric ‘Nomad’. Here is a highly underrated vocalist delivering some excellent vocals, so smooth and nuanced. I hear echoes of Amorphis in the key melodies but equally, there’s a hint of the avant-garde, reminiscent of bands like Knifeworld in the brass arrangements, as well as the injection of psychedelic ingredients. Again, the ethnic influences loom large, hardly surprising given the Israeli homeland of several of the members.

‘Ways’, a more ‘normal’ composition, albeit with jazz undertones then pushes me to the limits via a mid-section out of nowhere that I can only refer to as a brass-led oompah-like affair, conveying an almost comedic circus feel. In stark contrast, ‘Carousal’ is a two-minute instrumental, led initially by piano and strings for the vast majority once the Middle Eastern sounds die away. This is arguably the saddest-sounding composition, the most wistful and poignant, even if the final moments deliver another excellent quick-fire melody.

The shifting tempos and moods of ‘Kippur’ are intriguing, from fast-paced folk to the slower, heavier dirge of something altogether doomier. Once again, the melodies that feature in the expansive chorus are a delight and a much needed anchor for the listener, particularly when sandwiched between such an eclectic soundscape that incorporates Gothic synth-pop, ska, jazz and 70s progressive rock, not to mention the inclusion of an accordion. On paper, it shouldn’t work, but remarkably, Subterranean Masquerade pull it all together with aplomb.

The rhythm section really catches my ear within the extended instrumental of ‘Daled Bavos’; the bass of Farhi rumbles nicely alongside the more aggressive drumming of Shmuely. The swift ‘As You Are’ follows and has a bouncy rhythm and a tone that reminds me of Orphaned Land. ‘Hymn Of The Vagabond’ is the longest track on the record but it is fully worthy of its seven-and-a-half-minute length. In fact, it could have gone on for twice as long as far as I’m concerned. The track is equally as complex and multi-faceted as all of the others but what I like about it are those things that normally I’d shy away from, like the ethnic female vocals and the use of what I assume is a sitar. Those melodies are heavily Eastern-influenced but they are bold and rather irresistible.

The album then ends with a cover of David Bowie’s ‘Space Oddity’. I’m not the biggest fan of covers, but given the full Subterranean Masquerade treatment, complete with funeral doom intro, this is actually a pleasant surprise and a nice tribute to an iconic artist.

‘Vagabond’ is another triumph for Subterranean Masquerade, a definite step up from their last record. The members of the band may have changed slightly but the core feels like it is more stable and confident as a unit. This translates through the music without doubt; I have mentioned the fact that the music feels ‘happy’ and ‘fun’, but I get the distinct impression that the members of the band buy into this too and had fun making ‘Vagabond’. The only gripe I have mirrors that of their last: I want there to be more material on the album. Discounting the cover song, ‘Vagabond’ lasts for just over 40 minutes. It’s positive that we’re not left bored or confused by an over-bloated album but I’d have liked something this good to last a little longer. A double-album next time lads?

The Score Of Much Metal: 9

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

Adagio – Life
Paradise Lost – Medusa
The Haunted – Strength In Numbers
Serious Black – Magic
Leprous – Malina
The Lurking Fear – Out of the Voiceless Grave
Prospekt – The Illuminated Sky
Wintersun – The Forest Seasons
Witherfall – Nocturnes And Requiems
Tuesday The Sky – Drift
Anthriel – Transcendence
Decapitated – Anticult
Cosmograf – The Hay-Man Dreams
Orden Ogan – Gunmen
Iced Earth – Incorruptible
Anathema – The Optimist
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

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