Category Archives: progressive metal

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

Ayreon – The Source – Album Review

 

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Artist: Ayreon

Album Title: The Source

Label: Mascot Label Group/Music Theories Recordings

Date Of Release: 28 April 2017

My relationship with the music of Arjen Anthony Lucassen is a complex one. I would definitely class myself as a fan, but not one without reservation, as the back catalogue contains both the sublime and the slightly less impressive as far as I’m concerned. For example, I love the ‘Space Metal’ and ‘Victims of the Modern Age’ albums under the Star One moniker, whereas I have a hard time with early Ayreon records up to and including ‘Into The Electric Castle’. For many, this latter revelation will be akin to blasphemy, but that’s my opinion and I stand by it.

Nevertheless, latter Ayreon releases have made a much more positive impact with ‘01011001’ and ‘The Theory of Everything’ both capturing my imagination to the point where I was really excited to hear Lucassen’s ninth instalment of this particular franchise, ‘The Source’.

It has been a while in the making, some four years since the release of ‘The Theory of Everything’. Mind you, projects as ambitious as ‘The Source’ take some time and organisation to pull off, even for a workaholic like Lucassen. Additionally, the intervening period has also seen him working with Anneke van Giersbergen on the debut The Gentle Storm album, ‘The Diary’.

‘The Source’ is, as you might expect, a full-on science-fiction concept album, set 6 billion years in the past, that seeks to tell the story of an alien race’s attempts to save themselves and their planet from crisis. It is comprised of 17 individual tracks of progressive rock and in keeping with these huge Ayreon rock operas, it features no fewer than twelve guest vocalists, some which are new to the Ayreon family and others that are returning for another stint. As such, you get to hear the talents of James LaBrie (Dream Theater), Tommy Giles Rogers (Between the Buried and Me), Simone Simons (Epica), Mike Mills (Toehider), Floor Jansen (Nightwish), Hansi Kürsch (Blind Guardian), Michael Eriksen (Circus Maximus), Tobias Sammet (Edguy, Avantasia), Nils K. Rue (Pagan’s Mind), Zaher Zorgati (Myrath), Tommy Karevik (Seventh Wonder, Kamelot) and Russell Allen (Symphony X).

If that wasn’t enough, Lucassen, the multi-instrumentalist recluse is joined by a select group of musicians including drummer Ed Warby (Gorefest, Elegy), guitarists Paul Gilbert (Mr. Big), Guthrie Govan (The Aristocrats, Asia, Steven Wilson), Marcel Coenen and keyboard player Mark Kelly (Marillion). There’s even room for guest appearances from regulars like cellist Maaike Peterse, flautist Jeroen Goossens and violinist Ben Mathot.

Regardless of your thoughts on the music of Arjen Lucassen, one cannot deny his ambition to pull this project together, however seasoned a pro he might be. And on that note, let’s venture into the music itself. After all, that’s why you’re reading this review isn’t it?

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Cutting swiftly to the chase, it is fair to say that long term fans will be left feeling very happy with the results, wrapped safely in the comforting arms of the familiar. The die has been cast on previous Ayreon albums and by-and-large, there are no major deviations from the norm on ‘The Source’. It is over-the-top, pompous and at times, a little silly. Pick your cheese of choice and you’ll find a morsel or two of it here without question. My toes occasionally curl and I wince at certain points. The Celtic, folky ‘All That Was’ for example, does not fare well in my estimations, neither does the operatic injection within ‘Deathcry of a Race’ which is simply too much and a little ‘nails down a blackboard’ for me. As a result, ‘The Source’ is not the perfect, blemish-free release.

And yet, there is no escaping the fact that ‘The Source’ is a hugely enjoyable album for the most part, with plenty of stand-out moments where my imagination is fully captured and my enthusiasm ignited. And it must be said that much of my enjoyment comes from listening to the various vocalists who guest on this record. There are still those out there who dismiss heavy metal as just noise, overlaid by shouty blokes who can’t sing. Well, if there was ever a record to expose this ignorant view as the huge falsity that it is, it’s this one. The talent from across the gender divide is just off the scale and as absurd as the concept is in places, the vocalists breathe life into it, giving it a genuine credibility in the process.

In fittingly bombastic style, the record begins with a 12-plus minute epic that introduces just about every singer that features on the album. I’m not the biggest James LaBrie fan but even he sounds great, floating through an eerie and post-apocalyptic, dystopian soundscape at the outset. The song twists and turns throughout, never settling, as the groundwork for the concept is laid. Tommy Karevik is the early show-stealer thanks to an incredibly passionate and powerful performance, but the surprisingly heavy chugging riff pushes him close. Lucassen himself refers to this record as more guitar driven and heavier, a point that is underlined here right from the outset.

But the undoubted star of the opening act, surrounded by the likes of Nils K. Rue, Tobi Sammet and Hansi Kursch has to be Mike Mills. It’s a cliché as old as time to say that you could listen to certain vocalists singing the phonebook. But in the case of Mills, he manages to send shivers down my spine by singing something as dull as the binary code atop some moody, futuristic synths. ‘Zero, one, zero’ etc. has never sounded so utterly captivating and emotive, believe me.

I’m not such a fan of the funky, bluesy sequence that follows, although ‘Sir’ Russell Allen lends it a certain undeniable panache and swagger. There’s even time right at the death for Floor Jansen to lend her impressively huge vocal chords to see this opener out in rousing style. Had the entire record remained at this level, we’d have been staring down the barrel of a near-perfect score, it’s that good. In fact, I’d venture to suggest that it is one of Lucassen’s best under any of his various monikers.

Elsewhere, I’m a huge fan of ‘The Dream Dissolves’ with its killer lead guitar solo and the extended keyboard flamboyance. Aside from the aforementioned operatic section within ‘Deathcry of a Race’, it is a brilliant song thanks to its Middle Eastern melodies, heavy riffing and Zorgati’s distinctive vocals. And ‘Into The Ocean’ is a storming up-tempo rocker with overt 70s overtones created by the chosen keyboard sounds.

More heavy riffs and forceful drumming feature within the immediate and insanely catchy ‘Planet Y Is Alive!’ which evolves into something far more soundtrack-like and preposterously fun in the mid-section.

There are plenty more positives within this lengthy endeavour but for the sake of brevity, allow me to conclude with my joint-favourite piece, ‘Star Of Sirrah’. Heavy, melodic, over-the-top, this is Ayreon on top form. The song opens in moody but melodic and dramatic fashion with an acoustic guitar and bold synths before another huge, killer riff sweeps everything aside. It chugs and growls with real intent, complimenting all of the various vocalists who take a turn at delivering this part of the concept. If I had to nail my colours to the mast, I’d have to say that Nils K Rue offers the most compelling performance, closely followed by Tobi Sammet. It’s not a simple song by any means but it shows how superb Lucassen can be as a songwriter when he dials down the crazy and pens something a little more straightforward and rocking. Because boy does this track rock.

One of the nicest artists I’ve ever crossed path with is also one of the most openly insecure musicians in the business. Self-doubt riddles the psyche of Arjen Lucassen, something with which I can most definitely identify. The guy has an army of fans though and he always manages to attract great musicians to assist him with his music, so he must be doing something right. And there’s ‘The Source’ to further underline this conclusion. It might be a flawed record in places but regardless, ‘The Source’ is a triumph of which Lucassen should be rightly proud.

The Score Of Much Metal: 8.25

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

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

Until Rain – Inure – Album Review

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Artist: Until Rain

Album Title: Inure

Label: Sensory Records

Date of Release: 28 April 2017

I tried to get this review published before the European release date of 28th April but I have failed rather spectacularly. The primary reason for my failure is the fact that the music on ‘Inure’ is so very good and so disarmingly technical and nuanced that it deserved my full attention to enable as full a review as I could muster. In the timeframe I gave myself, this simply wasn’t possible. But good things come to those who wait and so here we are with my final, considered thoughts about this record.

Until Rain are a Greek progressive metal band who, rather delightfully, have sought to blend ‘old school’, classic progressive metal a la Dream Theater et al, with sounds and ideas much more modern in their approach. There is a danger in trying something like this because it can result in the music falling between several stools, with fans struggling to get to grips with the output. In the case of Until Rain and ‘Inure’, this is most definitely not the case. Admittedly, it took me a while to fully appreciate the music on offer here but now it has clicked into place, I have no reticence in singing its praises, recommending it to those who like well-crafted and intelligent progressive metal.

For a start, the basics are all in place, present and correct. The production, which was mixed and mastered by Daniel Cardoso (Anathema), affords the music a crystal clear yet powerful sheen, whilst the dark, moody artwork draws me in like only quality album covers can.

And then each of the six musicians that comprise Until Rain, namely Cons Marg (vocals), Donna Zed (backing vocals), Theodore Amaxopoulos (guitars), Lef Germenlis (keyboards), Linus Abrahamson (bass) and Matthew Vella (drums), all deliver their parts with consummate professionalism and not a little panache along the way. More than that, the music on this album is imbued with a vibrancy and assuredness that only comes from musicians that are fully invested in their art. This is all the more impressive given that only Amaxopoulos and Germenlis remain from the band’s previous studio outing.

For all that, ‘Inure’ strikes me as a very serious affair because, despite being a progressive album, there’s only occasional frivolity and very little that’s outright bonkers or saccharine. Thinking about it, the dark and moody artwork fits the music like a glove, for equally, ‘Inure’ is not a happy, bouncy album. It is steeped in a cloak of pensiveness for the most part where the atmospheres are strong and often thought-provoking in tone.

Most importantly, I keep coming back to this record, like the slavish moth to a flame. And the reason for this is actually rather simple; the compositions are beautifully crafted and within the elegant sophistication, there are moments of bright clarity along the way, delivered either by an insidiously catchy chorus or a grower of a melody that burrows deep within. They are not always at the forefront of the songs, but with repeated listens, the effort is repaid tenfold.

It is difficult to know where to start or which songs to highlight because I can honestly say that each of the nine tracks and one bonus cut offers something genuinely interesting and immersive. There are no duff tracks and no dips in quality, meaning that ‘Inure’ displays an incredible consistency.

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In that case, I’ll stick with convention and begin with the opening track, ‘Progressus In Idem’. Ushered in with a strangely haunting circus-like melody, it takes only a few seconds for a big riff and layers of atmospheric keys to kick in. The riffs morph into something more stop/start and djent in nature before falling away to be replaced by a subdued Katatonia vibe. And then, almost out of nowhere comes an urgent, driving chorus melody which starkly juxtaposes the heavier material, which is further toughened up by gruff vocals that counterpoint Marg’s more normal smooth, clean delivery, frequently assisted by Zed to great effect.

By contrast, ‘New World Fiction’ begins in a slightly more immediate fashion whilst retaining those dark overtones. The piano tinkles warmly to offset the sombre feel of the lyrics and as the song develops, I’m reminded of Swedish art/prog rockers A.C.T. in terms of the bittersweet nature of the music.

Next up is, without doubt, one of the stand-out highlights of ‘Inure’, namely ‘Because Something Might Happen’. Refusing to stand still, this impressive composition twists and turns from moment to moment, down dark alleys and back into the light, to heavy depths and to quieter realms. The timing signatures never rest and so the listener is kept on their toes throughout. The keys hark back to the yesteryear of prog rock and there’s even a nod towards more theatrical forms of music but it remains a thoroughly modern piece of music that is both challenging and beautiful.

As I have already stated, there’s no fall in quality in the record’s mid-section, far from it. ‘This Fear’, for example, is a rich and deep composition that introduces a slightly more laid back vibe as well as a more demonstrable classic prog metal approach in terms of the importance and boldness of the keys and the more extended instrumental passages. The acoustic guitar and bass intro to ‘A Tearful Farewell’ is a thing of subtle beauty that is made all the more powerful thanks to some of the strongest melodies on the album as well as a really captivating vocal performance from Marg, particularly as the song builds in intensity rather majestically.

And then the record ends just as commandingly, thanks to the closing pair of the utterly gorgeous and beguiling ‘A Broken Wing’ and the 13-minute title track. The former is a sensitive piece that allows warmth and beauty to lead from the front, accentuated by some wonderfully expressive and emotional guitar leads. ‘Inure’ instead throws the proverbial kitchen sink at us, as a last reminder to us of what they are capable of. It is far and away the most ambitious composition on the album, delivering a little taste of everything that has gone before, from quiet and introspective synth-led sections, right through to bursts of aggressive extreme metal, complete with double pedal drumming and guttural vocals. And yet, as with the entirety of this album, Until Rain manage to pull it all together in an homogenous and cohesive listening experience.

As you can probably tell, I am rather smitten by this album. It has come out of nowhere to provide one of the biggest surprises of the year so far. If you are open-minded, like a challenge and enjoy deep, involved music, then ‘Inure’ by Until Rain comes with the highest of recommendations from me.

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

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

MindMaze – Resolve – Album Review

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Artist: MindMaze

Album Title: Resolve

Label: Inner Wound Recordings

Date of Release: 28 April 2017

The progressive power metal subgenre is large and highly saturated these days, which may go some way to explain why MindMaze have flown under my radar to date. Weeding out the wheat from the chaff in such a burgeoning scene can be difficult for fans and journalists alike. But it can be equally tough for bands themselves to find a way to thrust themselves out of the masses and be noticed.

With their third full-length release entitled ‘Resolve’, MindMaze may have done just this however. And interestingly, whilst this latest effort is the American quartet’s first ever concept album, it does not rely on gimmicks alone to achieve this higher level of attention. Instead, in my view, the fact this is a conceptual record plays a secondary role to the music itself. The same can be said when considering the fact that MindMaze are a female-fronted band. I hate that phrase at the best of times, but MindMaze have managed to create music that is strong enough to ensure that the voice of Sarah Teets isn’t the most important thing. Sarah has a great voice, full of power and she attacks the material throughout with full-on commitment and style. But she remains only a single piece in the overall jigsaw that is MindMaze 2017.

What I particularly like about ‘Resolve’ is the way that the compositions grow with time and the clever way in which the song writing has allowed plenty of different ideas and influences to flavour this particular melodic progressive metal dish. As the press release rightly states, ‘Resolve’ is made all the richer and more varied thanks to the inclusion of elements of melodic rock, power metal, symphonic metal. It all comes together cohesively but there is no denying the fact that the overall product is more dynamic, textured and multi-layered as a result.

Referring back to the conceptual nature of ‘Resolve’ for a second, it is gratifying to report that MindMaze have foregone the opportunity to go off on a fantasy or science-fiction tangent in this regard. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for swords, magic, spaceships and dragons in my heavy metal, but not at all times. ‘Resolve’ instead hones in on personal struggles and human emotions. It gives the material more of a gritty edge which I think plays to its strengths.

The album opens in a blaze of glory via the instrumental ‘Reverie’. It begins with a subtle acoustic guitar that delivers a very pleasant and welcoming melody before exploding with wailing lead guitars, nice and chunky heavy riffs, a tinkling piano and rich synths, all courtesy of Sarah’s brother, the highly talented Jeff Teets. The drumming from Mark Bennett and bass work from Rich Pasqualone provides a driving beat and backbone, thus completing the composition of MindMaze.

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The speed, power and sheer force of MindMaze continues without a pause for breath courtesy of ‘Fight The Future’ where the speed of power metal meets the attitude of thrash and the exuberance and dexterity of progressive metal. It creates a heady, often frenetic cocktail, but one that is thoroughly enjoyable, capped by a commanding vocal performance from Sarah Teets.

After a quick interlude, ‘Drown Me’ takes over with some seriously meaty and muscular guitar riffs. Reminiscent in tone to ‘Monday Morning Apocalypse’-era Evergrey, they carry some serious potency. The synths are quirky, slightly futuristic-sounding but entirely in keeping with the ambitious composition that experiments with light and shade to great effect thanks to a quieter, more introspective mid-section as well as a re-introduction of acoustic guitars nestled within the fierce and groovy chugging riffs that cannot fail to get the head bobbing enthusiastically.

With almost any album that contains as many as thirteen tracks and an overall running time of 68 minutes, I have to report that there are a couple of moments where the word ‘filler’ enters my mind. It’s hardly surprising really and, to be honest, it doesn’t significantly derail my overall enjoyment of the album. I understand the slightly theatrical aspect of the instrumental pieces for example that are nestled within the record, but I’m not sure they add an awful lot to the album. Future releases might benefit therefore from a little more ruthless editing.

But to return to the highlights and there are several to pick from. I really like the urgency and the full-throttle assault of ‘Abandon’ which once again flirts around the edges of thrash metal, whilst delivering some great riffs and a strong chorus. Almost subconsciously, the name Triaxis flutters in my mind during this dominant and forthright track but then so does Iron Maiden thanks to a striking melody that briefly lurks in the latter stages of the song.

The bass playing and drumming that features with ‘True Reflection’ is worthy of a mention, as is the unusual but clever fading in and out of the acoustic guitar at times. Again, the melodies are strong as is the structure of the track.

Sarah Teets’ voice shines within ‘Release’, a ballad of sorts that builds from a quiet acoustic base to end rather appropriately with a wailing lead guitar. And then there’s the 11-plus-minute closer ‘The Path To Perseverance’ which wraps things up in a suitably bombastic manner. For my money, this song delivers some of the strongest melodies anywhere on this album as well as creating a rich and vibrant listening experience, full of twists and turns and bursting with energy, led once again, by the effervescent lead guitar histrionics of Jeff Teets. The return to the album’s opening acoustic melody at the death is a really nice touch too, bringing a neat sense of closure to the record.

Overall, ‘Resolve’ has impressed me far more than I ever expected and it should no doubt propel MindMaze to the next level within the echelons of melodic progressive metal. However, as good as ‘Resolve’ is, I confidently predict even bigger and better things for MindMaze in the years to come.

The Score of Much Metal: 8.5

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

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

Voyager – Ghost Mile – Album Review

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Artist: Voyager

Album Title: Ghost Mile

Label: IAV Records

Date Of Release: 12 May 2017

In the three years since the release of Voyager’s last album, ‘V’, much has changed in my life. I am no longer writing for Powerplay magazine, I’ve moved house and I now have a second daughter on which to dote. Not to mention double my stress levels and further eat into my spare time. Not that I’d have it any other way of course.

But in the world of Voyager, things have been surprisingly stable and quiet. For a band that has experienced more than their fair share of line-up changes over the years since their inception around 1999, the clientele has happily remained the same from ‘V’ to the current day.

As a result, Voyager 2017 consists of vocalist Daniel Estrin, guitarists Simone Dow and Scott Kay, bassist Alex Canion and drummer Ashley Doodkorte. A more talented and hungry group of musicians you’ll struggle to find and it shows too. This is a tight unit, a formidable machine.

The stock of the quintet who hails from the most remote city in the world has risen unbelievably over the last few years. They have gone from a band very much in the underground to one of the current darlings of the metal world. Some of this has to do with their live shows. I have yet to witness one but I have it on good authority that they are incredible, drawing the highest of praise and comments like ‘the best live performance I’ve ever seen’.

However, the other enormous factor in the rapid rise of the affable five from Perth, Western Australia is the music itself. Quite simply, Voyager is a band that keeps getting better and better. I joined the cause around the release of their fourth album, ‘The Meaning Of I’ in 2011, becoming smitten with their brand of quirky melodic progressive metal. I delved into their back catalogue and then salivated all over ‘V’, such was its brilliance.

To quote my review for Powerplay Magazine, “Immediate, catchy and satisfyingly heavy, ‘V’ is a brilliantly-written album, deserving of your undivided attention.”

And now finally and joyously, album number six is upon us. Entitled ‘Ghost Mile’, you very quickly realise that this is yet another impressive body of work from the good ship Voyager. Instead of the 13-track affair that ‘V’ was, ‘Ghost Mile’ consists of a mere ten tracks and a running time of 45 minutes. But worry not, because listeners have not been short-changed by this, not one iota.

What this represents in fact is that Voyager today is an even more tightly honed entity. More focussed and more self-assured than ever before. That rising stock I mentioned a moment ago? Expect it to go through the roof upon the release of this record, mark my words.

Firstly, in a very similar vein to ‘V’, ‘Ghost Mile’ is impeccably produced. Mastered by Matthew Templeman and mixed by Simon Struthers, it sounds slick, polished and smooth. The music is provided a great depth and clarity which is vital given the subtle nuances at play within Voyager’s sound. But being a metal band, Voyager like to crack out the heavy occasionally and when they do, there’s plenty of muscle to back up the aggression, losing nothing in the mix.

There are definitely ingredients of many different bands within the Voyager sound, many influences. But the final result is just so unique that these reference points are rendered redundant. In my opinion, Voyager sound like no-one else. They have worked hard over the years to craft their sound and perfect their own vision, to the point where comparisons are impossible and, in any case, are utterly pointless. Their output blends progressive metal, prog and pop-like melodies with a quirky and often atmospheric sheen. Put simply, the music sounds like…Voyager.

Each musician within the band brings something interesting and vital to the overall sound. Guitarists Simone Dow and Scott Kay are exemplary riff machines with an almost telepathic understanding. I love the tones of the guitars as well as the inventiveness of the riffs and chord structures. They work perfectly in tandem with a behemoth of a rhythm section comprised of the expressive and flamboyant bassist Alex Cannion alongside drummer Ashley Doodkorte who is metronomic in his accuracy, laying down a thunderous yet varied and cleverly nuanced heartbeat. And then there’s Daniel Estrin. I cannot get enough of this guy’s vocals – they are quirky and off-beat at times which adds to the uniqueness of Voyager’s output. But more than that, he is such a powerful, melodious and emotive vocalist. He also brings his skills with the ivories by creating the synth and key textures that layer the album, bringing with it that aforementioned atmosphere, a sense of drama and yet more originality.

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On to the songs themselves and ‘Ghost Mile’ opens up with ‘Ascension’. It is a track you’re likely to have already heard given that it was the first track released to an expectant fan base. When I first heard it, I had my reservations as it didn’t immediately seem to deliver a killer melodic hook or a chorus to grab my attention. However, I was wrong. It encapsulates just about everything that is so brilliant about Voyager.

Beginning with a gorgeously serene guitar and synth intro that subsequently welcomes in a simple, pounding drum beat, it builds a sense of tension which is released once the intriguing progressive-sounding riff kicks in. When the heavy guitars fall away, in come Estrin’s vocals which create the melodies as well as some really wonderful bass playing. Accompanied by layers of synths, there is genuine warmth to the music and it feels like it is seeping into my bones and my soul. And then, all of a sudden, some brief growls usher in something altogether heavier. An almost post-metal wall of groovy sound greets us, before things revert back, only for the song to close on a lurching, progressive/tech metal riff. I can’t help but grin already.

The grin then gets even bigger as the monstrous one-two of ‘Misery Is Only Company’ and ‘Lifeline’ take over. The former starts off in quirky, progressive fashion before delivering one of the strongest hook-laden choruses of Voyager’s career. Juxtaposed with some punchy, fast-paced music in the verses, this is a great blend of melodic and progressive metal par excellence.

‘Lifeline’ then reintroduces what becomes a bit of a trend on ‘Ghost Mile’, namely an ambient, atmospheric, almost electronic-sounding opening. The overtly progressive, twisting and turning track then builds expertly with stop/start riffing entering before being gradually joined by striking drumming and then Estrin’s trade mark melodic vocals. But the best is saved until the chorus. I adore what Dow and Kay do here but I’m at a loss to explain it more eloquently; the guitar notes send shivers down my spine, as if speaking directly to something primitive inside of me.

‘The Fragile Serene’ caresses the soul initially before stomping all over it with a more ponderously-paced riff. The track eventually quickens but, by taking the foot off the pedal, it cleverly introduces another strong and dynamic facet to the album. The synths are integral to this more wistful and dreamy-sounding composition, as are the more subtle melodies that permeate the consciousness with repeated listening.
It might only be a little over two minutes in length but ‘To The Riverside’ makes a huge impact. It is a composition that paints huge, stunning vistas in the mind’s eye. It is at once both soothing and surprisingly emotional. The tinkling keys, layers of synths and the pensive voice of Estrin all combine to stunning effect, only enhanced latterly by some simple additions from the rest of the band.

By contrast, the title track changes things up once again by offering a dramatic and intense listening experience right from the off. It is one of the most progressive tracks on the record by virtue of the fact that it never sits still. The melody remains but the tone is darker, more dystopian, accented by some bold sounds and samples and ultimately communicated via a deviation into extreme metal territory. Ferocious blast beats, fast-picked riffing and suffocating intensity all feature prominently in the latter stages as Voyager channel their inner anger with superb and eyebrow-raising results.

Not content with just one cut of extremity, ‘Disconnected’ also packs a real punch, along with more dark, foreboding atmosphere whilst the short, sharp and unashamedly modern pop-inspired ‘What A Wonderful Day’ also features a brief smattering of growled vocals for good measure.

‘This Gentle Earth’ is a beautiful track, predominantly a piano and vocal composition. It has bittersweet overtones as the melodies feel quite up-beat whereas the lyrics talk about having ‘never felt so alien’. The poignancy really makes me think, something that I heartily approve of.

All too swiftly, ‘Ghost Mile’ comes to a close with ‘As The City Takes The Night’. However, it says its goodbyes in the best possible fashion. Funky bass lines, more cracking riffs, layers of synths and another vocal masterclass all ensure that this melodic progressive composition is a more than fitting finale for such an amazing album. The chorus is once again a thing of understated and subtle beauty, wonderfully topped off by the more ethereal vocals that almost blend into the music. And when the album closes, it stays in my mind for quite some time.

The only problem with ‘Ghost Mile’ is that it is a stealer of time, a thief of moments. I listen to this record and immediately feel compelled to listen again. Before I know it, huge chunks of my life have disappeared. However, at this precise moment, I don’t care. All I know is that ‘Ghost Mile’ is a very special record from an equally special band and…damn it, I need to listen to it again.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.9

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

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

Pyramaze – Contingent – Album Review

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Artist: Pyramaze

Album Title: Contingent

Label: Inner Wound Recordings

Date Of Release: 28 April 2017

Melodic progressive metallers Pyramaze are one of those entities that prove that the band is bigger than the individuals within it. Since their inception in 2002, the Danes have had no fewer than four lead vocalists and have also lost their founding member, guitarist Michael Kammeyer and bassist Niels Kvist along the way. And yet, despite all this, the name Pyramaze still exists and, if the hype surrounding this latest release is anything to go by, they are gaining in popularity.

‘Contingent’ is the band’s fifth full-length studio release but only the second outing from the current line-up, in existence for only a couple of years. Following in Lance King, Matt Barlow and Urban Breed’s considerable footsteps, Pyramaze is now fronted by vocalist Terje Harøy, ably surrounded by keyboardist Jonah W., lead guitarist Toke Skjønnemand, drummer Morten Gade Sørensen and guitarist/bassist Jacob Hansen. Yes, the producer. And yes, Hansen has produced, mixed and mastered this record as well.

And as you might expect, one of the biggest strengths of ‘Contingent’ is indeed the production. This is a record that sounds as good as you’d hope it would, with a nice mix of clarity and clout.

Now, I’m a bit of a sucker for melodic progressive metal and so when I read that ‘Contingent’ was to be ‘an epic post-apocalyptic conceptual piece’ with ‘cinematic film score elements’ I had very high hopes for this release. Unfortunately, at the beginning, I struggled to get to grips with it and I felt more than a little underwhelmed. The hooks and melodies weren’t as strong as I had hoped and it all felt a little bit overblown to the detriment of the songs themselves. As such, after a handful of spins, I shelved it temporarily.

However, the more I listened to other music in this period, the more I found myself thinking ‘I need to hear the new Pyramaze again’. What witchcraft was this? Whatever the answer, I found myself gravitating back to ‘Contingent’. And finally, it all started to click into place. I now find myself really enjoying this album to the point where I can only wonder incredulously why I didn’t like it from the very beginning.

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The first thing to say is that ‘Contingent’ is indeed a very ambitious record, arguably the boldest of their career to date. It is full of bombast, drama and the symphonic elements are prominent, up front and centre much of the time. The good thing is though, that despite my early misgivings, the songs themselves are strong enough to cope with the additional baggage. The metal quota remains high, with powerful riffs, a muscular rhythm section and a commanding vocal performance from Terje Harøy. The progressive nature of the riffs and the changes in tempo are evident and the choruses, an integral part of any metal with the word ‘melodic’ in the title, take their time but eventually deliver the goods too.

The opening salvo, the impressive ‘Land Of Information’ is the perfect example of everything that Pyramaze have managed to do so well with this release. The first few moments introduce mechanical, almost dystopian sound effects amidst a bold cinematic score which then segues nicely into a powerful, progressively-tinged riff and a bulldozing rhythm section. It doesn’t take long either for Terje Harøy to make his presence felt behind the mic either, coming into the song with authority, confidence and an on-point delivery.

It may not have been the most immediate chorus to my mind but it has worked insidiously to get under my skin without me even realising it. The more I listen, the grander it feels and the more addictive it becomes. Keyboard and guitar solos litter the latter stages but it signs off in suitably bombastic fashion, with everything coming together in a final rousing chorus to leave a lasting impression on the listener.

This sense of grandiosity continues throughout the album but thanks to some strong songwriting and plenty of experience from this group of musicians, it never spirals out of control and crucially, focus isn’t lost.

Even when the metal falls away within ‘Kingdom of Solace’ to be replaced by a filmic passage of respite, everything works. In fact, this is a lovely touch that adds drama and intrigue whilst allowing the track to breathe. And then, in turn, the change of pace allows the wailing and gnashing solos of both keys and guitars to make a bigger impact when they arrive.

‘Star Men’ begins with tinkling ivories and a brilliantly heavy and menacing chugging riff as the frenetic pace of the opening tracks is deliberately slowed. It also features one of my favourite choruses on the album which has a faint ballad feel about it, such is its sprawling grace and beauty. I hear echoes of Evergrey in the ensuing guitar solo from Toke Skjønnemand, but this entire track is an utter delight in its own right.

The introduction to ‘A World Divided’ is a thing of magnificence where an orchestral score is built around a sorrowful-sounding piano melody. In a heartbeat, it is replaced by a barnstorming riff and rhythm combo before settling down into a bold mid-tempo, dominated by yet another deceivingly catchy chorus. Morten Gade Sørensen’s inventive yet thunderous drumming catches the ear on this track, as does the rumbling bass of Jacob Hansen.

Then we come to ‘Nemesis’ and I’m blown away. This has to be my favourite track on ‘Contingent’. It bounds along with at a great pace, exploding into the chorus. And the chorus is one of the best I’ve heard from this kind of music in a while, it’s completely killer, taken to a new level by an inspired performance by Harøy. You can’t help but reach for the volume dial, crank it up and sing along. I also love the way it slows to introduce a hard rock-esque segment before increasing in intensity towards the close, led by Sørensen’s powerhouse double-pedal drumming.

Comprised of thirteen tracks, ‘Contingent’ lasts for a good hour but it never really feels that long. In fact the whole thing zips by in a blaze of barely-contained glory. There are a couple of symphonic, cinematic interludes that help to underline the conceptual nature of the album whilst offering some brief yet sophisticated respite to the listener.

Other highlights within a consistently tremendous album have to be the feel-good anthem that is ’20 Second Century’, the stomping mid-tempo majesty of ‘Heir Apparent’ and the piano and vocal ballad, ‘The Tides That Won’t Change’ which features a guest female vocal performance from Kristen Foss to duet delightfully with Harøy.

2017 is not even four months old and already we have yet another contender for the best melodic progressive metal album of the year. ‘Contingent’ has slowly and cleverly worked its way into my affections and now I can’t sing its praises highly enough. Pyramaze have quite simply delivered a stunning album that’s ambitious and highly impressive.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.25

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

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

Hologram Earth – Black Cell Program – Album Review

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Artist: Hologram Earth

Album Title: Black Cell Program

Label: Independent Release

Date Of Release: 7 April 2017

It never ceases to amaze me how many excellent bands and artists there are swirling around the metal underground. The more I explore, the more I discover and the subject of this review is yet another example to prove this point most eloquently.

Hologram Earth are a Dutch quintet, formed in 2011, comprised of vocalist Michiel Meurs, guitarists Bram Heijs and Steven Hulshof, drummer Luuk van der Velden and bassist Thomas Cochrane who is also responsible for the brass elements found on this debut record entitled ‘Black Cell Program’.

The album opens up with ‘Immaculate Conception’ which features bruising and technically adept djent riffs that immediately call to mind the likes of Meshuggah, particularly in terms of their heaviness and intensity. However, as the track and indeed the album progresses, it is evident that Hologram Earth are not mere Meshuggah clones. The similarities are inescapable but so too are the differences that become apparent the more you listen to this record.

For a start, there’s the introduction to the opening song which is grand, almost cinematic in tone, delivering some powerful, aggressive drumming and a touch of early groove. Now, I must admit to having a strong dislike in general to any brass whatsoever in rock or metal music. Call me narrow-minded and dismissive if you like but I have to be honest. As such, whilst I have got used to the use of brass on this album, I still haven’t got to the point where I really like it. Nevertheless, for those without such prejudices, the fact that the brass of Cochrane cleverly blends in and out of the track will come as a positive aspect of the music, I’m sure.

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‘Outnumbered’ begins in a manner that’s more Textures than Meshuggah, although those technical and swirling djent riffs are never far away. What this track also introduces is a more pronounced injection of light and shade, where the foot is frequently taken off the pedal to allow more ambient and atmospheric textures to come to the fore. The brass is more prominent for better or worse but it creates an intriguing juxtaposition nevertheless. And I really like the choral vocal effects as the song draws to a close alongside some really excellent bass work.

Whilst there is melody within the opening compositions, it really comes to the fore within ‘Circadian’, a personal favourite of mine. The song begins in a relaxed ambient manner that is quite beautiful, particularly as it is built up in a fashion not dissimilar to the likes of Long Distance Calling. The way in which the guitars enter the fray is very nice, as you almost don’t notice them at first. The bass work is out of the top draw here too.

Vocally, Michiel Meurs gives a great performance, moving between deep growls and a more soaring clean approach. Then there’s his forceful delivery somewhere in the middle, more heavy-rock like. The versatility is a very nice touch, accentuating the equally versatile music beneath it.

‘Moment of Despair’ then descends into discordant avant-garde territory complete with a guest saxophonist which is, with respect, probably my least favourite section on the album. There is melodic intent within the song and it is undeniably ambitious and well-executed but despite my best efforts, I’m not a fan.

In stark contrast, ‘Rebirth’ delivers the better part of four minutes of serene ambient soundscapes which are slightly dark in places. The song then builds gently and deliberately before exploding into a crescendo that is rather epic and thoroughly engrossing, complete with some really nice lead guitar work from Hulshof.

‘In Ashes We Sleep’ returns us to the world of djent riffing and measured aggression, albeit tempered by more grand cinematics, a soupcon of melody and a touch of the avant-garde again. It is then left to the title track to close out this seven-track debut album and it does so in typically ambitious fashion, entirely in keeping with the intent shown throughout the record. Only this time, I detect a vaguely loose, punk attitude in places that infiltrates the intensely precise and technical output elsewhere.

It takes a while to fully appreciate what Hologram Earth have produced here. This is their debut album and as such, there is plenty of room for growth and maturation. However, ‘Black Cell Program’ is a very well thought out album, bursting with ideas and with an evident talent to match the ambition. Put it high on your ‘to listen’ list if you’re a fan of modern progressive metal in any shape or form.

The Score Of Much Metal: 8

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

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