Category Archives: Melodic Metal

Prospekt – The Illuminated Sky – Album Review

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Artist: Prospekt

Album Title: The Illuminated Sky

Label: The Laser’s Edge

Date Of Release: 21 July 2017

I remember reviewing the debut record from UK progressive metal band Prospekt for Powerplay some years ago. But more importantly, I remember being very impressed with the output and so it was a natural step for me to seek this out and give it the full treatment on the Blog Of Much Metal. No word limits here, so I am able to explore the music a little bit more in depth.

Formed in 2008 in Oxfordshire, a county more renowned for its world famous higher learning establishment than for its world class progressive metal, Prospekt remain a relatively young band with a self-titled EP (2011) and debut full length (‘The Colourless Sunrise – 2013) in their locker already. But it has been a long four years leading to ‘The Illuminated Sky’, the band’s sophomore studio release; four years that has seen a few changes to the band’s line-up. Keyboardist Richard Marshall and lead vocalist Matt Winchester have left, to be replaced by Rox Capriotti and Michael Morris respectively.

Now, I always get nervous when a progressive band changes vocalist, particularly when the departing member was a perfectly good fit. However, it is clear that Prospekt have expertly dodged the ‘disappointing vocalist’ bullet that hits a good number of bands within the genre. In Michael Morris, they have found a vocalist who works really well with the music that sits behind him. His range is impressive, able to hit the lower notes, the high notes and, as demonstrated within ‘Beneath Enriya’ by way of just one example, the very high notes. You know the ones that threaten to veer into ‘canine-only’ territory? Yeah, them!

And whilst ever so occasionally, I wish Morris has just a little more bass to his voice, I really can’t fault his ability or his delivery at all. He certainly has the ability to tell a story convincingly which is important in this kind of music, working with the complex compositions rather than battling them. In time, we could be looking at another Michael Eriksen from Circus Maximus or Tommy Karevik of Seventh Wonder perhaps. We shall have to wait and see.

Given that Prospekt’s musical weapon of choice is dextrous and complex symphonic prog metal, the choice of keyboardist is just as important as the vocalist. Again, Rox Capriotti would appear to be ideal. Not only is he clearly adept at creating sweeping atmospheric vistas and layers of bombast with his synths, Capriotti can deliver a flamboyant solo too, as demonstrated within ‘In The Shadows Of The Earth’ for example.

They join the unchanged core of bassist Phil Wicker, guitarist Lee Luland and drummer Blake Richarson who are equally adept and impressive in their chosen fields. The licks, leads, riffs and chops delivered by Luland are wonderful, the flamboyance of Wicker is not lost in a decent mix and as such is reminiscent of Seventh Wonder and Shadow Gallery. And Blake Richardson lays down some excellent rhythms, just the right balance of power, precision and flair.

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Everything so far is pointing in the right direction and the positivity continues as one’s focus then shifts to the compositions themselves. I’m a big sucker for melody and whilst there are just a few occasions where I want the quintet to go bigger and bolder in this area, they generally deliver something rather ear-pleasing to keep me coming back for more. In fact, in true progressive metal style, the more I listen, the more I discover.

Prospekt describe themselves as ‘cinematic technical progressive metal’ which I completely agree with. The content of the ten tracks on ‘The Illuminated Sky’ are truly epic in scope and cover a multitude of different influences, from the neoclassical output of Symphony X, to the more symphonic elements of bands like Dream Theater and the all-out technical flamboyance of Haken. To be honest though, listen carefully enough and you’ll be able to pick out ingredients from just about any of the biggest and best protagonists in the prog metal genre. And yet the music does not sound like a clone of any one band. Nor does it come across as being derivative in the slightest. Instead, it sounds confident, assured and remarkably vibrant.

The dramatic intro ‘Ex Nihilo’ sits somewhere between the aforementioned Haken and Dream Theater in tone, before the title track kicks in. And kick in, it certainly does, with the force and fury of a band that know they have something to offer the metal world. The riffs are excellent, the rhythm section is thunderous and the transitions between sections are slick. The chorus is a real grower and throughout it all, the synths provide that wonderfully dramatic and grandiose feel.

Remarkably, the quintet keep up the momentum as the album develops. ‘Titan’ has a vague Middle-Eastern flavour within its up-tempo structure, as well a striking lead guitar solo from Luland, whilst ‘Beneath Enriya’ offers a beautifully melodic and expansive chorus as well as some spoken-word samples to increase the sense of theatre.

Arguably my favourite track on ‘The Illuminated Sky’ is the nine-minute giant ‘Alien Makers Of Discord’. But it isn’t the amazing guest lead guitar work of Greg Howe that draws me in, it’s the huge melodic hooks within the chorus that floor me, nestled expertly within some impressive musicianship, a staple of the Prospekt sound.

And then, there’s ‘Cosmic Emissary’, which seems to dial everything up a further notch if that’s even possible. The neoclassical lead guitar work that introduces the song is superb but the symphonic elements are possibly the most ear-catching aspect of the song, adding drama and boosting the cinematic flavour even further. And then there’s the thunderous drumming that injects genuine heaviness to expertly counterbalance the well-placed quieter sections within the track.

‘Akaibara’, the closest Prospekt get to a ballad, is also a winner thanks in large part to the brief reduction of complexity and the subtle way that it builds. And what a pay-off when it reaches its climax – the melodies are so powerful and the relative simplicity, topped off by Morris’ emotional performance makes the whole thing more impactful and honest.

And yet there’s still time for one more song. And it’s the biggest of the lot. Weighing in at over 11 minutes, ‘Where Masters Fall’ which features the guest vocal talents of Dragonforce’s Marc Hudson, is the massive conclusion to an already massively impressive album, where just about nothing is off limits. Combining a little bit of everything that has gone before, it is the perfect way to conclude the record, leaving the listener on a real high.

The only conclusion I can reach is that with ‘The Illuminated Sky’, Prospekt have signalled their intent to become a big hitter in the prog scene in the most impressive of ways. Or, to put it another way, if you’re a fan of progressive music, it won’t be long before you’re a fan of Prospekt.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.25

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

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

BlogOfMuchMetal – Metal News – 24 July 2017

Well, while I’m on a roll, I may as well continue. And while so many bands are also on a roll of late it seems, I owe it to them to keep the news flowing.

If you’ve missed any of my other posts in this series, links to all of them can be found at the bottom of this post.

Jag Panzer release their first song off their new album.

c09ce1fccd75b68f298157c7f5ffc169Jag Panzer – The Deviant Chord
Release date: 29 September 2017
Label: SPV

Jag Panzer and I have never had the smoothest of relationships. I bought ‘Thane To the Throne’ many years ago when it was released but didn’t warm to it, so sold it soon after. Having gone back and listened to it again a few years later, I realise that I made a rather big mistake. They are obviously a band that requires time in order to acquire the taste.

This must still be true to this day because, on a first listen, I was not blown away by ‘Far Beyond All Fear’, the first song to be released off ‘The Deviant Chord’, the tenth album from the US power metal stalwarts. Subsequent spins have been increasingly positive to a point where I’m really rather liking it. The melodies are subtle, the riffing is satisfyingly chunky and there are plenty of solos. In fact, that galloping rhythm is very reminiscent of Iron Maiden. So what’s not to like, then? It bodes well for the entire album when it is released at the end of September.

The Haunted release another song of their highly-anticipated new album…

19399139_10154703997157503_7451569900000520260_nThe Haunted – Strength In Numbers
Release date: 25 August 2017
Label: Century Media Records

The more I hear of this new album from The Haunted, the more excited I get. After the uncompromising and brutal blitz of the well-named ‘Brute Force’, the Swedes have released their second track ‘Spark’ which is a different beast altogether. You still get the harsh vocals and the big, bruising thrash-like riffs. But this time, the song contains more variety, more subtlety and arguably a more sophisticated vibe all-round.

And you know what? I dig this song a lot. It shows that The Haunted are growing and maturing all the time, with the confidence and ability to experiment just a little bit. I love the bass intro andthat quiet mid-song interlude – it is brief but the melody is continued for a time once things get heavier which is a nice touch, as is the more soulful lead guitar solo. There are hints within it to previous work but it still sounds fresh, interesting and has me very intrigued as to the overall sound of ‘Strength In Numbers’.

Confirmed release date and a non-finalised tracklist for ‘1755’ by Moonspell.

19943052_1371175159604409_8323465143835788802_oMoonspell – 1755
Release date: 3 November 2017
Label: Napalm Records

I seem to have been aware of a new album from Portuguese metallers Moonspell for ages. In fact, as early as March, I was gearing up for it.  As I confirmed back then, the record will be entitled ‘1755’ it will centre on the Great Lisbon Earthquake of that year. And, according to the press release, “the band has developed a lyrical concept that looks into the death and rebirth of Lisbon and how the disaster changed Religion, Politics and Philosophy in the whole of Europe.”

We were also told that it would be heavier than ‘Extinct’ and will be sung entirely in Portuguese. It might not be 100% confirmed yet but the track list would bear this out. And that is possibly the most intriguing thing about ‘1755’ – I generally love albums where the lyrics are not in English because there’s a greater authenticity with them and what they are singing about.

Momentum increases on the new Vanishing Point album, coming in early 2018…

Vanishing Point – TBC
Release date: 2018
Label: AFM Records

I have it from the horse’s mouth that the new Vanishing Point album will see the light of day in 2018. During a chat with guitarist and songwriter Chris Porcianko, he confirmed that whilst a date isn’t cast in stone yet, the new record was progressing well. However, it had to be delayed until early 2018 for various reasons. As soon as I hear news of a definite date, I will bring it to you.

Despite the 2018 date, I couldn’t help but bring you an update right now. Why? Because not only are Vanishing Point one of my favourite bands ever, updates from the melodic prog metal masters themselves suggest that the new music could be more in the vein of their 2000 magnum opus, ‘Tangled In Dream’. A top 5 all-time album, this is news that threatens a grown man’s bladder control.

To quote Porcianko directly, he actually said of the new record: So far the new Vanishing Point album is a mix of Prog, metal , melodic metal , hard rock and AOR…There’s a little bit of something in it for everyone…Fans of Distant is The Sun and Tangled In Dream will like it I think.’ No wonder I’m bursting with excitement! So here’s some solo action for us all to enjoy.

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fchris.porcianko%2Fvideos%2F1653026798044753%2F&show_text=0&width=222

Orphaned Land confirm new album in early 2018…

Orphaned Land – Unsung Prophets and Dead Messiahs
Release date: 26 January 2018
Label: Century Media Records

In a similar vein to Vanishing Point above, I felt compelled to comment about this confirmed release, even if it is destined to see the light of day in 2018. Israeli band Orphaned Land are a special outfit; not only do they create superb melodic progressive metal, but they have managed the seemingly impossible: brought fans of all faiths and backgrounds together in a collective love of music.

It has been quite a while since the quintet last gave their fan base some new music; five years in fact. And given how superb their last record, ‘All Is One’, I am climbing the walls waiting for this new album.

With no new snippets of music to bring you, instead, allow me to remind you just how good their last album was.

Previous updates:

22 July 2017
28 March 2017
23 March 2017
11 March 2017
5th March 2017
26th February 2017
13th February 2017
3rd February 2017
30th January 2017
21st January 2017

Witherfall – Nocturnes And Requiems – Album Review

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Artist: Witherfall

Album Title: Nocturnes and Requiems

Label: Independent Release

Date of release: 10 February 2017

I’m going to start this review in a blunt manner: I am enjoying the hell out of this album. With that in mind, allow me to elaborate in a style more familiar to those who follow this site.

‘Nocturnes And Requiems’ is the debut album from Witherfall, a band comprised of four extremely talented musicians in their own right, namely guitarist Jake Dreyer, vocalist Joseph Michael, bassist Anthony Crawford and drummer Adam Sagan. Dreyer will be a familiar name to many as an ex-member of White Wizzard and current lead axeman for Iced Earth. Michael is also ex-White Wizzard stock whilst Sagan plied his trade with the likes of Circle II Circle and a personal favourite of mine, Into Eternity.

‘Nocturnes and Requiems’ was apparently recorded in 2014 but has taken until 2017 to be released. Tragically, in the interim, drummer Sagan has passed away having bravely battled with a form of blood cancer. The release could be viewed then as something of a tribute to a fallen comrade and what a fitting tribute it is to a talented sticksman. But more than simply being a tribute, ‘Nocturnes And Requiems’ is an excellent heavy metal album in its own right, regardless of the circumstances surrounding its release.

If you have a weakness for superlative musicianship, you’ll lap this record up, particularly if that weakness focuses on the six-string instrument. If you are also a fan of progressive metal, then this record might just have you jumping for joy.

That said, there isn’t much within Witherfall’s approach that screams originality but somehow that doesn’t matter to me here. In fact, if anything, I’d argue that there is a heavy indebtedness to the likes of Symphony X, Nevermore and many others within the six full tracks and two shorter interludes that comprise ‘Nocturnes And Requiems’. Speaking personally, as a fan of both of the aforementioned, this is no a bad thing.

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Whilst every member of the band has skills, it is inevitable that the stand-out member of Witherfall for most of us is going to be guitarist Jake Dreyer. It is no wonder that Iced Earth snaffled him up because the guy is utterly immense. In fact, dare I suggest that he might be just a little under-utilised with Iced Earth? It may seem like overenthusiastic hyperbole but there is a strong case for putting Dreyer into the same league as the likes of Jeff Loomis or Michael Romeo, albeit he has his own style.

Given the neoclassical bent to some of the material, the parallels to Romeo are clearer, as is firmly demonstrated by the lightning fast playing which introduces the rather epic ‘End Of Time’ which is actually split into three parts. The intensity and technicality of the opening solo, followed by the flamboyance of the ensuing riff is enough to make me grin from ear to ear. If that wasn’t enough, the acoustic work that is incorporated into the track is sublime, adding plenty of darker tones to the track, enhanced by the emotive delivery of Joseph Michael.

Naturally, for a song that spans the better part of ten minutes, there are plenty of different sections that I could mention, including several of the extended guitar solos or the brief classical guitar segments that are beautifully delivered. But as good as all these parts are, the icing on the cake is the chorus that introduces a strong melody and a sense of the grandiose that is catchy enough to pull me in for repeated listens and proves that Witherfall are more than just clever instrumentalists; they are accomplished songwriters too.

Indeed, the songwriting prowess can be heard littered throughout the record. The Nevermore-tinged aggression of opener ‘Portrait’ is a huge winner thanks to the powerful riffs, driving rhythms, dark tones and strangely addictive introspective chorus of sorts not to mention its overt classic prog metal sheen. It contains a little bit of just about everything I want in my metal these days if I’m honest.

Then there’s the equally compelling follow-up in the shape of ‘What We Are Dying For’. It begins in frenetic style with a melodeath-style riff before descending into modern Symphony X territory, all the while keeping the foot to the floor in terms of pace and tempo. Sagan’s drumming is a key factor to the success of this composition, along with clever changes of pace that bring the track more into line with the doom genre. The solo guitar work atop the repetitive rhythm guitar notes is superb as is the bass playing of Anthony Crawford. I love the diversity of the song which, in true clichéd style, genuinely takes the listener on a journey. The Spanish-influenced classical guitar playing has to be, above all else, my favourite part though – it has to be heard to be believed, such is its blend of technicality and rich warmth.

I’ve yet to really mention vocalist Joseph Michael but when discussing yet another epic track, ‘Sacrifice’, his name comes top of the list. With a range that allows the guy to sing softly with emotion, snarl with naked aggression, soar with melodious intent or burst his lungs with the kind of high-pitched wails that the likes of Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens or Rob Halford would be proud of, Michael has it all. And he demonstrates this impressive repertoire on ‘Sacrifice’ which is as bold and ambitious as his vocals. If I’m being hyper-critical, this track lacks a killer hook or melody to ensnare the unwary listener. However, it makes up for this with the sheer variety, drama and myriad of tones and textures on offer, meaning that it still holds your attention throughout.

So there you have it. An album that I knew nothing about until a copy was thrust upon me has ended up making a huge impression upon me. It remains to be seen what the future holds for the remaining three members of Witherfall but I sincerely hope that ‘Nocturnes And Requiems’ is not a one-off because it is just too damn good and newly-converted fans (myself included), simply need more of this kind of music in our lives. To deny us this would be a huge travesty.

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

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

Essential rock & metal releases still to come in 2017 – Part 3

Welcome to my third instalment of this series, where I dust off my crystal ball – or just trawl the internet obsessively – to bring you the pick of the releases that are still to come in the rock and metal world during the second half of 2017.

If you missed the previous two posts in this series, they can be accessed here:
Essential rock & metal releases still to come in 2017 – Part 1
Essential rock & metal releases still to come in 2017 – Part 2

And now on to the main event…

Subsignal
TBC (‘La Muerta’)
Release date: TBC

Their Facebook page promised that fans would be treated to a new album in 2017 and so far, Subsignal appear to be sticking to their promise. There is no confirmed information regarding a release date but, according to their official social media feeds, production is in progress. The guitars are currently being tracked and the drum recordings are all finished. No final announcement regarding an album title has been forthcoming either, although there is a strong suggestion that it might be called ‘La Muerta’.

Rising from the ashes of Sieges Even, Subsignal are the more immediate, slightly less progressive replacement. And what a replacement they are. Beautiful melodies, deep and thoughtful lyrics, and technically adept compositions all play an important part in the rich aural tapestry that these talented Germans deliver. With a consistency that is frightening, I’m expecting big things from this record as and when it is released.

18766020_10155371710959287_3595486704059865356_nNothing More
The Stories We Tell Ourselves
Release date: 15 September 2017

For some reason, it feels like a very long time that I have been patiently waiting for a new album from Nothing More. But finally, after featuring them in just about every round-up for the last couple of years in hope more than expectation, I can bring confirmed news. The American band are not normally my kind of thing but their blend of modern rock with djent and pop rock is almost impossible to ignore. The music on their previous, self-titled record, was infectious in the extreme, delivering chorus after chorus full of huge hooks and strong melodies. I was obsessed with this album for weeks.

The new album will be released on 15th September 2017. Entitled ‘The Stories We Tell Ourselves’, I know that this is going to be a big record based on the cuts that they have released so far. Will it beat their last one? Who knows, but I will certainly have fun finding out when the time comes. And you can bet your life that I’ll bring you my thoughts on it as soon as humanly possible.

19106036_10158716292755386_2949343652863781873_nSepticflesh
Codex Omega
Release date: 1 September 2017

I’m a relative newcomer to Greek extreme metal band Septicflesh, only cutting my teeth with them via their 2008 album, ‘Communion’. I’m amazed that the Athens-based death metal band managed to elude me for so long as well, given that their brand of dark, symphonic death metal with an ear for well-placed groove and melody is right up my street. And the fact that a new album is on the horizon nearly passed me by too, but thankfully I found out just in the nick of time.

With Septicflesh, you get the full-on extreme metal experience with ferocious riffing, brutal rhythms and all of the grandiose pomp and ceremony that you could ask for. Mind you, the brutal and uncompromising artwork that accompanies the new record should leave you in no doubt that this is not easy listening for the feint hearted. Just take a listen to the track below, entitled ‘3rd Testament’, to prove the point and to get a firm idea as to what to expect when ‘Codex Omega’ hits the shelves via Season of Mist on 1st September. One spin of this and my expectations just went through the roof.

20046566_1265671230229159_6290285644420623914_nAnubis Gate
Covered In Black
Release date: 1 September 2017

It feels like Anubis Gate have been around forever but in actual fact, the Danes have only been in existence since 2001. In that time, they have released six studio albums, all of which have been of a consistently high standard. It means that every time the quartet announces a new album, those who enjoy their music on the melodic and progressive end of the spectrum will take notice. I don’t think I’ve ever read anything massively negative about Anubis Gate either, which again speaks volumes of their ability to create high quality material.

Unsurprisingly, given the dark and moody cover artwork alongside the album title, ‘Covered In Black’ is billed as the darkest material of the bands’ career. This sounds intriguing and I can’t wait to find out if this will be the album that tops my personal favourite, ‘Andromeda Unchained’. Naturally, I will feed back as soon as possible.

nocturnalritesphoenixalbumNocturnal Rites
Phoenix
Release date: 29 September 2017

Despite the fear in some corners that Nocturnal Rites might be no more, the melodic metal band have finally officially announced that a new album is on the way. Back in 2013, founding member Fredrik Mannberg went on record with Bravewords.com to confirm that new material was being worked on. But another four years of near silence will have got the nerves jangling a little amongst the faithful. It is now an entire decade since they released ‘The 8th Sin’ but at last, their patient fan base has been rewarded in the way that they would have hoped.

Somewhat fittingly, Nocturnal Rites’ ninth release is entitled ‘Phoenix’ and will see the light of day on 29th September via AFM Records. Whilst I wouldn’t refer to myself as a dyed-in-the-wool diehard, I really like their output and so I am eager as anyone to hear what impact the intervening ten years has had on Nocturnal Rites. On the basis of this track, could the wait have been fully worth it?…

Anthriel – Transcendence – Album Review

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Artist: Anthriel

Album Title: Transcendence

Label: Lion Music

Date Of Release: 15 June 2017

I don’t think I have ever been bullied so relentlessly by a reader in the quest for me to publish a review. But I’m nothing if not willing to please my loyal followers, so here I am with some considered thoughts about ‘Transcendence’, the sophomore album from Anthriel.

Having not been aware of the debut album, ‘The Pathway’, I come at this follow-up without the baggage of expectation and without the need to compare the two. If you’re looking for a review that specifically does this, I’m afraid you’ll need to go elsewhere. From what I can glean from various sources that I tend to trust, this record might be in a heavier and darker vein to its predecessor. Indeed this is borne out by the band on the accompanying press release, as they admit exactly that.

Well, for the Man of Much Metal, darker and heavier is almost always a good thing and so it has proved here. The reason for the delay in penning this review is because, drowning under a host of new releases, I disregarded it to begin with. Then I heard a few comments about it and, resulting from the aforementioned bullying, I was browbeaten into finding a track online to listen to. Well blow me down with a feather, I rather liked it, so here I am now with my considered review.

It has been a lengthy wait for new material, some seven years. In the intervening time, the Finns have suffered problems with their rehearsal studio and then the almost inevitable line-up issues, losing both their drummer and bassist. It means now that Anthriel is comprised of Simo Silvan (lead vocals & backing vocals), Timo Niemistö (guitars & backing vocals), Antti Hakulinen (keyboards), Antti Horttana (bass & backing vocals) and Henrikki Markkula (drums).

It’s not all bad news though, because to me, this sounds like a very strong unit playing together to create a rather glorious racket. Naturally the band suggests that this is their strongest incarnation to date but that is definitely backed up by the end result. The inter-album turmoil has also led to the inspiration for the lyrical concept which follows on from the debut but is more about the time in a person’s life where there is almost no hope at all.

I’m not going to sit here and say that ‘Transcendence’ reinvents any wheels. However, what it does do, is provide a hugely enjoyable and immersive listen that gets better and better with each spin. This is bombastic and occasionally over-the-top progressive power metal but unlike other bands who proclaim to play a similar style of music, this is a really excellent blend of all of these elements.

Firstly, it is most definitely heavy enough to be accurately referred to as metal. It also has the symphonics and sprawling qualities of power metal and finally, it is definitely progressive thanks to an abundance of chops, tempo changes and intricate compositions. Two of the tracks extend beyond ten minutes, with the album closer falling just shy of the 20-minute mark. ‘Transcendence’ is also a lush and layered album where, on repeated listens, new intricacies and depth comes through.

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In terms of reference points, there is more than a hint of mid-era Symphony X about some of the Anthriel output. But equally, I hear smatterings of Dream Theater, the pomp of Edguy or compatriots Sonata Arctica at their most epic and numerous other influences including a smattering of Shadow Gallery and Seventh Wonder. The opening cinematic and symphonic instrumental also has a touch of ‘Chariots of Fire’ about it thanks to the prominent keys.

I sometimes wish that bands dispensed of these instrumental intros, particularly where the entire album only consists of eight tracks. However, it is difficult to be too churlish about ‘The Calling’ as it fits the feel of ‘Transcendence’ nicely, even if it isn’t the most essential and memorable piece of music in and of itself. Get that out of the way and from there on, the remaining seven tracks that break the hour mark, rightfully rack up the positives.

‘Under Burning Skies’ is a high-octane opener that bounds along at a great pace. I love the riffs that feature as well as the pinched harmonics that dominate the opening few bars of the first major riff. The two newbies Horttana and Markkula immediately make their mark, creating a strong rhythmic spine at the centre of the track. The synths of Hakulinen bathe the song throughout and the quiet mid-section is a great touch, injecting loads of introspective atmosphere, entirely fitting with the dark tones and a great juxtaposition with the heaviness and in-your-face drama that sandwiches it. The icing on the cake is the vocal performance of Simo Silvan, who impresses me with his rich, commanding and melodious tones. This is where many bands of this ilk fall down, but not Anthriel.

The 11-minute ‘Oath Of Darkness’ is even better in my opinion. This is ‘proper’ full-on, no holes barred classic-style progressive metal with a plethora of twists and turns, from dark and brooding atmospheres to triumphant euphoria led by lead guitar solos and rousing keys. Starting with a Mike Oldfield-esque melody, it then lurches forward, building in intensity whilst experimenting with many keyboard-soaked aural textures along its journey. The angry, quasi-gruff vocals add to the aggression but then in come some great melodies to transform the song into something quite excellent, deceptively catchy and thoroughly satisfying.

Tinkling piano, choppy riffs and strong melodies dominate the excellent, slightly more balladic ‘Siren’s Song’, alongside duelling keyboard and guitar solos for which I’ll admit to having a soft spot occasionally. ‘Painted Shadows’ and the angrier follow-up ‘Rhapsody Of Fire’ both revisit those Symphony X influences thanks to strong riffs, layers of key, flamboyant guitar work and plenty of neo-classical affectations, particularly within the former.

‘My Morning Star’ in contrast blasts forth with the kind of symphonic bombast that Nightwish would be proud of, before reining things in to create something altogether more slow-burning and poignant whilst retaining much of the heaviness and catchiness witnessed elsewhere on this record.

It falls to ‘Fallen Souls’ to complete the album. At 19 minutes long, it is the very definition of ‘epic’ but crucially for a track so long, the time most certainly does not drag. There’s simply too much going on for my mind to wander, beginning with an enormously dramatic and cinematic introduction. Extended instrumental passages, tempo changes, virtuosic instrumentalism and symphonic bombast come together in a surprisingly cohesive manner to make this final act a memorable one, with a tiny Haken hint in places. If I’m being picky, I’d have liked a few more memorable melodies within it, similar to those earlier on the album but otherwise it’s a very powerful closing piece of music.

I must admit that I have been left more impressed with ‘Transcendence’ than I thought I would be at the beginning. This is so good in fact, that it might muscle its way into my end-of-year top 30 at this rate. Vibrant, complex, nuanced…this is progressive power metal of a very high standard indeed.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.0

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

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

Orden Ogan – Gunmen – Album Review

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Artist: Orden Ogan

Album Title: Gunmen

Label: AFM Records

Date of Release: 7 July 2017

This is getting embarrassing. Over the past couple of decades, I have built up what I would like to think is a fairly extensive and varied knowledge of vast swathes of the heavy metal world, even occasionally veering into rockier territories where appropriate. However, it wasn’t until I started writing music reviews for myself rather than a national publication that I have begun to realise how much more there is out there that has completely eluded me. It’s actually quite staggering and a little overwhelming if I’m honest.

And today, I bring you the latest band that has been a completely new revelation for me, namely Orden Ogan. I am familiar with the power metal and melodic metal genres, liking much within them. But German outfit Orden Ogan never crossed my path. Until now.

But hey, I thought, it’s not like they have been around for that long, is it? Oh, 20 years? Damn. Three demos and five previous studio albums? Damn and drat. Oh well, let’s not dwell on my failings, let me try to put things straight at the earliest opportunity, for Orden Ogan have made an impression on me that is extremely positive.

Based on the evidence of ‘Gunmen’, the Teutonic quartet comprised of guitarist/lead vocalist and last-remaining founding member Sebastian ‘Seeb’ Levermann, guitarist Tobias Kersting, bassist Niels Löffler and drummer Dirk Meyer-Berhorn are likely to quickly become a firm favourite of mine in the power metal world. Naturally, genre pigeon-holing can be precarious but Orden Ogan are easier than most; this is unashamed power metal with all the trimmings and a few fleeting elements of other influences, namely folk metal and symphonic metal.

What hits me right off the bat with the dark Wild West-themed ‘Gunmen’ more than anything else, is the way in which they create genuinely epic-sounding music. More specifically, it is the choruses on this album that make the biggest impact. And it’s an immediate impact. Some bands will pretend to create bombastic and epic music but Orden Ogan properly succeed. Layers of keyboards, synths and choirs combine with the more metallic aspects of their sound to produce a soundtrack that is rousing and one that cannot fail to stir even the coldest of hearts. The choruses throughout this record are huge, addictive beasts that I have listened to on repeat several times without them losing any of their ardour. In fact, in many cases, they just get better.

The opening one-two comprised of the title track and ‘Fields Of Sorrow’ is easily one of the most powerful and attention-grabbing beginnings to a record that I have heard from a power metal band in many a year. ‘Gunman’ is a highly-charged thrill-ride from the opening hefty guitar notes and orchestration, right through to the sound of a firing gun to signal its end. In between, we get a combination of stomping and galloping metal riffs, melodic lead guitar licks, a ferocious rhythmic backbone and one of the biggest and most glorious choruses you’ll hear for quite some time. I adore the groove that accompanies the chorus and even the ubiquitous lead guitar solos that crop up toward the end are a great blend of shred and melody. Atop it all are Levermann’s vocals, which I am drawn to thanks to his gritty and deep tones.

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By contrast, ‘Fields Of Sorrow’ is a much darker number and generally more mid-tempo than its predecessor. It kicks off with a seriously cool riff that reinforces my opinion that this record is blessed with some superb guitar tones and a production that more than adequately does it justice. Once again, the chorus is where the music goes from great to sensational. It is a sombre affair but remains highly addictive and huge in scope. The pummelling double-pedal drumming that underpins the chorus is a lovely touch, too, adding further gravitas to proceedings.

It would be difficult for most bands to follow up such an impressive opening and indeed, if I’m being completely honest, I’m still of the opinion that these two cuts, aside from the final song ‘Finis Coronat Opus’ are the strongest on ‘Gunman’. However, what follows is still very good indeed and almost all of the eight subsequent songs have something about them that warrants my admiration. I dismissed ‘Vampire In Ghost Town’ out of hand on a first listen because it came across as just a little too cheesy and the lyrics felt a little silly. But now, I can’t help but love it, principally because, despite the silliness, it remains a well-crafted heavy metal song with meaty riffs, catchy melodies and yet more powerhouse rhythmic flair, a strong recurring feature throughout the album.

The soothing, acoustic opening of ‘Come With Me To The Other Side’ is accented by the soft tones of ex- Leaves Eyes vocalist Liv Kristine, who appears at points elsewhere within a song that has a balladic feel to it, but does not dial down the bombast and metallic elements to compensate. Instead, it becomes a bona-fide symphonic anthem, with a vaguely progressive edge given its many varied components.

It is this variety overall that makes ‘Gunman’ such a rewarding listen and one that doesn’t quickly become one-dimensional and boring. The output remains firmly in the power metal camp, but within this framework, I get the impression that the quartet wanted to experiment a little bit. As such, in addition to the aforementioned tracks, we get s like ‘Down Here (Wanted: Dead Or Alive)’ with its dramatic cinematic overtones and the brooding, stomp of ‘One Last Chance’, where the heaviness is marked and wouldn’t be out of place in other more extreme metal genres. It goes without saying that the chorus is another delicious affair here too.

Closing track, ‘Finis Coronat Opus’ is the longest on ‘Gunman’, nearly nudging the nine-minute mark. Personally, I can’t think of a better way for Orden Ogan to end this epic record, than with their most epic composition. It plays around with light and shade and pacing to great effect, injecting just a touch of prog and then dials everything else up to 11. The chorus is gargantuan, the riffs are superb and the bombastic symphonic elements are a real joy. There’s a sombre tone to the song but a sense of hope and positivity comes through as it draws to a close.

There is no doubt in my mind that ‘Gunmen’ will end the year as one of my favourite power metal albums. It exudes quality from every pore and has been a genuine revelation for me. I will explore the back catalogue for sure but for now, I just need to prise ‘Gunmen’ out of my stereo…and that might prove harder than I first thought.

The Score of Much Metal: 8.75

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

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