Welcome to the first post in a brand new series called ‘new sounds to wrap your ears around’
The idea of these posts is simple. Every week, I am inundated with requests and/or updates from bands that are either well-known, deep in the underground, or brand new. Often, these requests or updates seek to get me to feature a new song on my website. Up until now, I’ve had to say ‘thanks, but I only have time to feature albums and EPs’.
I hate saying ‘no’ to anyone in a musical context, so I have come up with something that I hope will please everyone: a regular round-up of some of the new sounds that are out there that you may have missed, or you simply weren’t even aware existed. More often than not, the music featured here will then translate into an album or EP review in due course, but it doesn’t have to. This is a new platform to shine the spotlight in any direction and on any subgenre. The only criteria is that I have to like it.
I’m happy to tweak the format dependng on suggestions or feedback, but let’s get started with this first instalment…
— MoMM —
Artist: Hyper Planet
Song Title: “To Live With Wisdom”
Album info: N/A
Hyper Planet are a progressive metal band from Tehran, Iran. I was contacted recently and asked if I would feature their new song on my website. In fact, this was the catalyst for this whole new feature, as I wanted to give the song a bit of a plug. Incorporating traditional instrumentation and lyrics that talk of the struggles of being an Iranian metal band, it immediately interested me. Plus, as you’ll hear, the song itself is a great slab of prog metal that successfully blends melody and complexity together. Check it out:
— MoMM —
Artist: Virtual Symmetry
Song Title: “Come Alive”
Album info: “Virtual Symmetry” – 16 September 2022
Label: Sensory Records
Swiss progressive metal band Virtual Symmetry may be a more widely-known band, but they are featured here for two important reasons. Firstly, they are one of the support acts for Evergrey’s European tour which kicks off on the same day as this self-titled album, their fourth, is released. And secondly, I really like the song. But then, as it’s a realy nice mix of prog metal and Euro power metal, with bucket loads of melody, it’s hardly surprising that I like it, is it?!
— MoMM —
Artist: Demon Hunter
Song: “Silence The World” (feat. Tom Englund)
Album info: “Exile” –9 September 2022
Label: Weapons FMG
Were it not for a loyal reader tipping me off about this song, I might have missed it altogether. So I had to spread the word just in case it had slipped past anyone else’s radar too. Featuring the peerless Tom Englund as a guest vocalist, it immediately piqued my interest and the ensuing moody and atmospheric composition has really grown on me over repeated listens. Unbelievably, the upcoming album, ‘Exile’, is Demon Hunter’s eleventh full-length release. And until a few days ago, I’d never heard of them. I will do all I can to bring you a review in due course. In the mantime, enjoy ‘Silence The World’:
— MoMM —
Album info: “Pagans Rising” – 30 September 2022
Label: ViciSolum Productions
This is a song that caught me by surprise, because I wasn’t expecting anything much when I checked it out recently. I’m not the biggest fan of symphonic metal at the best of times, but this is a little different because it rocks hard, it’s sufficiently heavy, and the melodies are strong. I also like the mix of clean female vocals and growls which normally are a little cliched, but given the attitude and grit within Tina Gunnarsson’s performance, it’s hard not to like the final product. This definitely has potential…
Hailing from Baltimore, Maryland, Greylotus are a relatively new and emerging name in the technical death metal arena. They released an EP in 2018 entitled ‘Savior’, and toured in the US with Abiotic, Cognitive, and God Of Nothing in 2019. Just last weekend, they came to the shores of Blighty to play on the UK Tech Fest bill alongside the likes of Scar Symmetry, The Ocean Collective, and God Is An Astronaut. And now, in 2022, they are on the cusp of releasing their debut album.
Entitled ‘Downfall’, this first full-length record feels like a massive smack in the face in a number of ways. Firstly, the nine tracks spread across nearly three-quarters of an hour contain some pretty hefty and aggressive sounds, with blast beats and rabid riffs in plentiful supply. Then there’s the complexity of the music too, which is impressive in itself, but when coupled with a myriad of different styles, influences, and genres, it becomes quite an intense and daunting prospect. The jewel in the crown though, is the way in which the quintet manages to pull everything together thanks to an inspired and liberal use of melody. I’ve listened to a lot of technical and extreme death metal these past few months, and not all of them succeed because the balance is not quite right as far as I’m concerned. Greylotus don’t suffer from this however, which means that I have become quite smitten with ‘Downfall’.
Admittedly, the album is not perfect; there are some rough edges that will, in time, likely be ironed out. On occasion, for my tastes, the music does veer a little too far into metalcore territory, and a few of the transitions from idea to idea come across as a little clunky or contrived. Plus, at times, the sheer breadth of experimentation on offer does call into question the exact identity of the band. However, that’s where the criticism ends because the rest is pure positivity as far as I’m concerned.
To quote the band directly, “‘Downfall’ explores the self-doubt that accompanies the realization that healing is a non-linear process. It wanders through the pits of self-judgment and confronts what follows when an individual accepts that the best version of themselves is not constrained by perfection.” No wonder then that the music is so varied, given the subject matter, which is a deep and interesting topic for sure.
Given the paucity of information about the band on the press release and across the Internet, you’ll have to forgive me if I am mistaken, but I understand the quintet to be comprised of guitarists Ben Towles and Sanjay Kumar, drummer Matt Tillett, bassist Drewsif Reynolds, and vocalist Lee Mintz. They waste no time in laying waste to our ears either as ‘Rectilinear Motion’ explodes from the speakers in a breathless, extreme attack of ferocious drumming, lightning fast almost neo-classical-style riffs and leads, and savage, possessed screams. The whole thing is laced with a grandiose feel though, thanks to layers of synths, and after a minute or two, an incredibly elegant melody that cuts through the extremity like a knife through butter. It is gone in a flash, but it leaves a lasting impression throughout the next section of the track which offers real cut and thrust thanks to more complex musicianship. A moment of quiet near ambience takes over, the signal for yet more melodic interplay, albeit this time accented by more of a progressive gown. And with that, after one more furious blast of extremity, it’s gone.
With head still reeling, I willingly dive straight into the rest of the album, to uncover what’s in store. The immediate answer is ‘Shadow Archetype’, an initially uncompromising slab of death metal that features deeper vocal growls overall, as well as a greater use of bold and more modern electronic sounds, culminating in a full-on electronic section for a few moments. I’m not sure the song required the ensuing breakdown, as I much prefer the breezier, more melodic closing flourish, capped off by some insanely good lead guitar playing.
The intro to ‘Currents’ is pure melodic death metal nectar, full of precision and elegant, almost epic melody. The remainder of the track isn’t bad either, featuring the first use of clean vocals in a layered, choral manner to only reinforce my ‘epic’ description. And yet, as the song develops, we’re suddenly taken into some twisted death metal-meets-grindcore aural nightmare that then segues into the fastest drumming I’ve heard in a while. Melody is never far away though, as this track borders ‘catchy’ territory which I lap up gleefully. The addition of the string orchestral sounds towards the end is the icing on an already delicious cake.
‘Chiaroscuro’ features spoken-word sections set to an ambient soundscape, the voice gentle and soothing with an English accent (bonus points there gentlemen!), whilst much of the remainder of the song feels like a barely contained, violent stream of consciousness, where the instruments go wherever they please, molten, fluid, and organic. The ending minute or two of ‘Capgras Delusion’ is stunning too, as the pace slows and quickens at will, but retains a wonderful sense of melodic intent. I could have done without the shouted spoken-word part that feels a little unnecessary and slightly ham-fisted, but that aside, the second half of the song is just about flawless.
I could go on with the same level of detail, but instead I’ll mention the sonic destruction created by the classic death metal muscle and pinched harmonics within the opening half of ‘Syzygy’ which I love (the second half suffers from delving too deeply into cliched metalcore realms) as well as the delicate beauty of the introduction to ‘Hoarfrost’. And what about the latter stages of the title track? After a blitz of uncompromising progressive death metal, we’re suddenly met with clean vocals that soar, alongside equally vibrant guitars, a dancing bass, and wondrous, uplifting melodies.
It seems almost fitting that the final track, ‘Azure Rain’ is arguably the most stunning song of them all. There are bursts of breakneck speed, heaviness, and complexity, but the song is built around exquisite melody, ambient textures, deep atmospherics, and in so doing, ends the album in near-perfect fashion. It features a smattering of just about every style of music heard in the preceding eight tracks, from metalcore to electronic, but it just works and gives me a few chills in the process. Yes, there are a couple of minor things I’d change, but that in itself is in keeping with the album as a whole.
And what an album ‘Downfall’ is. Warts and all, I have taken it to my heart, and I feel so grateful to have heard it. As I’ve said many times before, there’s no better feeling than being blindsided by a new band, and Greylotus is that band on this occasion. Every single established technical death metal band needs to watch out, because with more time and experience, Greylotus could become the new force to be reckoned with in the genre. Some will find the melodic sensibilities not to their taste or feel that it dilutes some of the intensity. But I’m not one of those, and as such, cannot recommend Greylotus’ debut, ‘Downfall’ more highly.
I have closely followed the career of Pete Morten ever since I discovered him whilst plying his trade with UK progressive metal band Threshold. Being involved in some of my favourite and most enduring records by one of the best bands within the genre will certainly help with the spotlight. However, in 2017, after a decade in which he played the guitar on both ‘March Of Progress’ (2012) and ‘For The Journey’ (2014), Pete decided that he wanted to focus solely on his own music, and own band, My Soliloquy.
Until now, Pete Morten has released two albums under the My Soliloquy moniker, ‘The Interpreter’ in 2013, followed by ‘Engines Of Gravity’ four years later. And now, in 2022, Pete and My Soliloquy bring us the third instalment, ‘Fu3ion’, this time under his own steam, through his label, Rare Artist Music.
In the spirit of transparency, I do have to declare at this point that I have a friendship with Pete. As I have written in the past, it makes for a difficult review process because I have to constantly question myself and ensure that I am remaining objective with my findings – I do not want to compromise on my integrity, so however much I like the person/people behind the music, I have to remain absolutely honest. If their music stinks, then that’s what I have to report. Fortunately, with a completely clear conscience, I can attest to the complete opposite reality here.
With a noticeable improvement from the debut to the second release, I lavished a score of 9.25 on ‘Engines Of Gravity’. I stand by that score even now. But I am going to have to go even higher here with ‘Fu3ion’ because I am thoroughly impressed with it; it is easily Morten’s best solo material that he has written and performed to date, and that is certainly saying something.
The very first thing that hit me right from the start with ‘Fu3ion’ is that it contains some of the most immediate material that Morten has ever penned. The melodies are big, and when I say ‘big’, I actually mean ‘huge’. There are hooks littered about this record like no-one’s business, something that pleases me greatly. However, if you are a fan of music that’s more progressive and less melodic, you might not end up with the same concluding thoughts as I. That’s not to say that ‘Fu3ion’ is a straight-up melodic metal album, because it isn’t. There is still plenty of prog complexity to be heard, as well as lots of variety. Some of the complexity is very subtle, some of it quite deceptive, but like some of my favourites in the genre, Kingcrow for example, just because it doesn’t sound complicated doesn’t mean that it isn’t.
As I understand it, this more immediate approach to the music on this album was completely deliberate from Pete Morten. And if that was his end game, then he has well and truly succeeded with ‘Fu3ion’. The multi-instrumentalist who handled all guitars, bass, keys, and vocals, not to mention the artwork and production alongside Rob Aubrey (Transatlantic, IQ, Big Big Train, Spock’s Beard) is joined on this venture by his ex-colleague, Threshold’s Johanne James on the drums. It makes for a winning partnership here and reinforces the occasional hint of Threshold within the music on this album. For the avoidance of doubt, this is not a bad thing at all.
‘Fu3ion’ opens with ‘Triunion’, an introductory piece that is ushered in by bold synth sounds and a slow-paced but resolute drumbeat from James. The sounds intensify with a dramatic, cinematic feel, overlaid by the unmistakeable voice of Pete Morten meting out the minimal lyrics in mantra-like style. In terms of building the tension, it’s an excellent way to begin the record.
For me, as interesting as the first track is, it’s in the follow-up, ‘Kingship’ when the magic hits. And it hits me incredibly hard, with the gloriously melodic and powerful chorus hitting a sweet spot with me and resonating so strongly that I get chills and goosebumps almost every time it kicks in. And a lot of this has to do with the soaring, emotional vocals of Morten that sound brilliant here. But the remainder of the song isn’t bad either to put it bluntly. The bass playing is a particularly ear-catching aspect of the song for a start, standing out within a high-tempo energetic intro that also features melodic keys and chunky guitars to create something of a power metal/prog fusion.
You have to back up a great opening song with further high quality though, and that’s exactly what happens here, with track after track delivering something beguiling and thoroughly engaging to listen to. The intro to ‘Mind Storms’ is the kind of output that gets my blood pumping, as it is an epic, melodic affair, with thunderous drumming from James and muscular guitar tones to underline the properly metallic credentials of My Soliloquy. The ensuing verse takes things down a notch but in so doing creates great dynamics, as it’s an atmospheric-led section that deliberately builds to unleash a reprise of the intro as the captivating chorus, so majestic in its sprawling glory. With Pete Morten at the helm, expect some technically adept but engaging lead solos too, with this being one of the most striking to my ears.
I can’t possibly continue to describe each of the ten tracks (twelve if you include the bonus songs that feature as part of the limited-edition version) because if I did, it’d take longer to read than it would to listen to the entire record. As such, allow me to give you more of a flavour of what you can expect as you delve further into ‘Fu3ion’, starting with the shorter, punchier, and slightly heavier ‘The Great Polarity’ which is no less catchy, thanks to a stomping pace and incisive chorus, laced with some great lead guitar flamboyance.
‘Here In The House Of I’ by contrast, is immediately one of the most progressive sounding songs on the album, dominated in the early stages by some arresting synth embellishments and a really nice insistent riff. But once again, I’m floored by the chorus, another thing of impressive beauty, that materialises almost unexpectedly out of nowhere, from within a much more robust, slightly darker and heavy framework, full of drama and intrigue.
It can’t get better, though, can it? Well that depends on your point of view, but ‘Office Of Imaginings’, a near nine-minute monster certainly tries its best. After a more atmospheric and foreboding intro, I’m covered from head to toe in goosebumps once again as Morten hits us with yet another wondrous chorus where vocals and lead guitar lines combine in scintillating fashion not for the first time. I love the way that the song takes its time to get right under the skin, the dense atmospheres and palpable emotion gradually seeping into the listener almost insidiously until the point that you realise just how invested you are with the song as a whole. If that wasn’t enough, Johanne James also adds a little of his rapping talents, but don’t worry, Fred Durst this is not, thankfully, far from it.
‘Interlocuter’ is a lovely change of pace; a shorter track that’s predominantly acoustic guitars, and vocals, with some orchestral style synths and sparce drumming for added depth. That is, until the halfway mark, when a full-on symphonic metal ballad is unleashed in handsome fashion. And then there’s ‘Bury Your Dead’ which, as the title may suggest, is arguably the heaviest song on the album, full of beefy, no-nonsense riffs at its heart, but with some incredibly bold synths in places too, as well as some cracking twists and turns in true prog fashion.
According to the artist himself, the album has been inspired by a best-selling trilogy of books. I have my theories, but I shall keep them to myself so that when you listen, because listen you will, you can form your own theories. But whether I am right or wrong, it doesn’t matter one iota because the music alone is enough to satisfy all my progressive and melodic cravings. ‘Fu3ion’ is an absolute must-have for all like-minded prog fans because it sees the talented, humble, and genuinely lovely Pete Morten at the very top of his game in all respects. I know that the music world is often fickle and unfair, but for once I hope that fairness prevails because if it does, it will mean that Pete Morten and My Soliloquy will achieve the recognition that they so fully deserve. ‘Fu3ion’ is utterly brilliant, simple as.
I can’t quite believe that it has been over four years since I first wrapped my ears around ‘Mire’, the debut album from UK-based metal band Conjurer. Despite being described as a sludge/post-metal outfit with strong doom leanings, I had to give them a go at the time because of the hyperbole and excitement about them in the metal community. And you know what? I loved the album, lavishing a 9.5/10 score. Admittedly, I may have been a touch too overzealous with my marking, because hindsight would suggest that I have not listened to ‘Mire’ quite as much as I thought I would after its release. Nevertheless, the debut was undoubtedly hugely impressive and so I have been looking forward to investigating the long-awaited follow-up, ‘Páthos’.
Four years on and whilst there have, inevitably, been one or two changes to life in general, Conjurer have withstood it all and remain fully intact. This means that both guitarists and vocalists Brady Deeprose and Dan Nightingale remain in place alongside bassist Conor Marshall and drummer Jan Krause. As we heard with ‘Mire’, this quartet can create a fearsome noise when they want to, and it was my fervent hope that this would continue with ‘Páthos’. It definitely works in their favour that they are unchanged, because there was a definite magic to this quartet’s debut; it felt like they were a well-honed unit, able to work as a team to create some truly powerful music. You’ll not be overly surprised to learn then, that the same sentiment can be levelled at the sophomore outing.
However, the magic manifests itself in a slightly different manner this time around, as ‘Páthos’ is very much an album that seeks to expand the sound of the quartet in a number of ways. As with the debut, listeners are not denied the sheer Earth-shaking force of Conjurers huge riffs and walls of sound. However, it is clear that the band wanted to explore other avenues as well, to take their music in a number of different directions in the process. As a result, you’ll hear some supremely heavy and intimidating music that contains Conjurer’s usual blend of sludge, doom, death, and post-metal. But these sections are more overtly interspersed and laced with various influences, quieter moments of contemplation, a greater sense of the progressive, and also (unless I’m terribly mistaken) a dash more melody too. Whereas the debut was akin to being attacked by a blunt tool to the head, ‘Páthos’ is more of an attack by a Swiss Army Knife, or at least a nifty multitool. For the avoidance of doubt, it’ll still hurt, but the attack will have slightly more finesse about it.
The first witness to all this isn’t slow in coming forward, being the first of the album’s eight songs, ‘It Dwells’. Opening with vibrant acoustic guitar strumming and gentle but dark electronic samples we’re lulled into a false sense of security that’s soon obliterated by a savage attack; bulldozing drums, monolithic bass, and heavy guitars combine with some bestial growls and caustic shrieks to send the listener reeling. It isn’t long though until we’re dealt some groove and a deeply shrouded, almost hidden melody that becomes more pronounced as the song unfolds. The music becomes positively beautiful when the aggression is replaced for a short while with a gorgeous, almost whimsical section, full of acoustic guitar picking, and chilled percussion. Later in the piece Conjurer experiment with more lurching rhythmic riffs, and a much more doom-infused approach borne out by the lumbering pace but overlaid by a surprisingly poignant lead guitar line. The sheer complexity of the song, coupled with the masterful ebb and flow has me salivating over what’s to come next.
The answer is ‘Rot’, a dense, suffocating affair that seeks to terrify the listener with its dark, cloying atmospheres and uncomfortable yet compelling dissonance. This is not a song for lovers of easy-listening music but there is something about it that makes it impossible to pull away. Instead, I get drawn into the calculated horror that’s created and which comes seeping out of the speakers with a twisted malevolence. I’m not normally a fan of music like this, but so brilliantly executed is it, that I am pulled in willingly.
Quite possibly my favourite of all of the compositions comes next in the form of ‘All You Will Remember’. For the first time on ‘Páthos’, we hear some clean vocals, and they are devastatingly delivered, sending shivers down my spine every time they emerge. The song has a greater quota of melody within it too, which works well with the clean vocals and, at the death, the spoken-word female voice of guest musician Alice Zawadzki. In fact, the combination of the sorrowful melodies, heartfelt vocals and the melancholy subject matter all ensure that this is quite possibly the most poignant and moving composition that Conjurer have ever written. Of course, there are some impossibly heavy moments within the song, but the heaviest thing of all here, is the emotion that runs through the music like a rich vein of intoxicating misery.
The drumming that features within ‘Basilisk’ is literally thunderous, the monstrous double-pedal assault creating a clever juxtaposition with the gentleness of the song’s opening minute or so. But, again, the melodic sensibilities are clear for all to hear, and they just serve to raise the song even higher in my estimations; it would have been so easy to just bludgeon the listener with a relentless blast of power and barely contained noise, but the musicians here are far too talented and intelligent to allow that to happen.
Staking a strong claim for my favourite song alongside ‘All You Will Remember’ is the scintillating ‘Those Years, Condemned’ a supremely weighty and bruising composition that hits the sweet spot between punishing doom-laden heaviness and melody, cleverly abutted to ‘Suffer Alone’, a sub three minute blitz of fast-paced intensity with an almost punk attitude buried within it.
‘Páthos’ is rounded out by arguably the doomiest of them all, ‘In Your Wake’, and then the atmospheric splendour of ‘Cracks In The Pyre’, which carries all of the grandeur that a closer to an album of this magnitude demands and more besides. I could say an awful lot more about each, but for the sake of brevity and in an effort to give you something to discover for yourselves, I’ll leave the descriptions there. Suffice to say that if my descriptions of the previous six have piqued your interest, you’ll find plenty to enjoy in the final portion of the album, too.
With the debut, ‘Mire’, I was completely blindsided as I knew not what to expect. The situation is different this time around, but I find myself no less impressed, or in awe. And that’s a tribute to the skill, vision, and bravery of the four musicians here in Conjurer; even though I knew roughly what to expect, I didn’t expect it to be this good. And I love the fact that the band have kept their core sound intact whilst willingly experimenting and pushing the boundaries that little bit further. The added melody, the increased variety, and the extra experimentation all conspire to create an album that will rightly receive huge plaudits from across the metal spectrum. Don’t dither, don’t dally, just part with your cash now and immerse yourself in a true extreme metal highlight of 2022.
We’re halfway through 2022 already. How on Earth did that happen? It’s true what they say, that the older you get, the faster time seems to fly by.
However, the good news is that it gives me an excuse to bring you a round-up post of my favourite albums that have been released in the second quarter of the year, between April and June.
In the same way as my post for the first three months of the year (click here to read that), I have listed the releases chronologically. The task of ordering them will come at the end of the year with my mammoth ‘Album Of The Year’ countdown.
On that note, here goes…
Atomic Fire Records
“…you hopefully get the idea just how varied and dynamic this record truly is, and why I like it more than any other Meshuggah record in their now nine-deep discography. It may be a little too long but that’s literally the only gripe I have. In every other way, it’s Meshuggah. But more than that, it’s Meshuggah at their glorious best. And that means that with ‘Immutable’, we’re in the presence of heavy metal greatness.”
“It’ll be interesting to see what others come up with over the next few months but, as it currently stands, ‘The Endgame’ is far and away the best melodic hard rock album of 2022 so far. And it’ll take an awful lot for it to be beaten, that’s for sure.”
“I’m so glad I was introduced to Soledad, because the French quartet have impressed me immensely with their ambitious, bold, eclectic, and slightly eccentric musical vision…listen to ‘XIII’ and, I hope, prepare to be entertained and captivated like I have been. This is easily one of the best progressive records of 2022 so far.”
“…the album takes me back in time and fills me with an infectious nostalgia, and for all the right reasons. This album reminds me in glorious technicolour exactly why I fell for this kind of music in the first place. And it does this because it is lovingly crafted and is of an incredibly high standard throughout.”
“‘A Heartless Portrait (The Orphean Testament)’ is anything but Evergrey’s unlucky thirteenth record. Instead, it only helps to further underline their utter dominance and superiority in my mind, and hopefully in the minds of other fans too. A companion of mine for the last few months, the music on this album has given me strength, support, and the knowledge that I am not alone on this tumultuous journey called ‘life’.”
“…the six songs are chock full of exemplary musicianship from guitar, bass, drums, and vocals alike, just as we would all hope and expect from a band with the reputation that they historically have. To be honest, I’m just delighted that Zero Hour are back. The fact that they bring with them such an enjoyable feast for the ears is just the icing on the cake. Welcome back gents…”
“As extreme metal albums go, ‘Cancer Culture’ has to be up there with the very best that 2022 has had to offer so far. Everything from the slightly disturbing cover artwork to the performances, and from the production to the songs themselves, Decapitated have returned with one hell of a bang. But crucially, the bang is not only thunderous, but it is intelligent, varied, and completely engaging from start to finish.”
“It may have taken 14 years to see the light of day but as far as I’m concerned, it has been more than worth the wait. I absolutely love this album and, if quality black metal is a favourite of yours, then you will too. Without doubt, with ‘Rapture’, Lord Belial have released my favourite out-and-out black metal record of the year so far.”
“It really is hard to fault ‘Hate Über Alles’ when all is said and done, because Kreator have well and truly delivered the goods once again. Power, aggression, venom, and spite collide superbly with expert songwriting, memorable melody, and irresistible catchiness to produce easily one of my favourite thrash records of the past couple of years.”
“Ultimately, I’m just delighted that Seventh Wonder continue to write new music. The fact that they have created another excellent body of music is the icing on the cake…it is so refreshing to hear Tommy Karevik once again unshackled and able to put his own unique talent to full use. When he is in full flow, there are few better vocalists out there…But alongside him are four more supremely talented individuals…As a result, ‘The Testament’ is, quite simply, a joy to listen to from start to finish.”
“With ‘Liminal Rite’, American quartet Kardashev have pulled the rug out from under me and sent me reeling. I said earlier that I feel like this record is a game changer for me, and I truly mean it. I love heavy music and I also adore strong melody; Kardashev have managed to combine the two in a way that I’ve never really heard before and I am left stunned and in awe of this album.”
“I had a feeling that ‘Tiktaalika’ would be good, but I wasn’t banking on it being quite this good if I’m being brutally honest. There is much to enjoy about Charlie Griffith’s debut solo effort, and I keep discovering new things with each passing listen too. No doubt it’ll appeal first and foremost to lovers of the guitar and the almighty riff, but given the diversity of the material and the quality of the songs themselves, I’m certain that the appeal of ‘Tiktaalika’ will be much wider, and rightly so.”
“Add to the package some seriously cool cover artwork, and a production that is crystal clear without detracting from the sheer power and technicality of the music, and you’re staring at one hell of an album. I love the way that bands like Exocrine have managed to open my mind fully to the magnificence of technical and progressive extreme metal, because it is a genuine thrill ride when you get to listen to music that’s this intense, this intricate, and this memorable.”
“…I am delighted to be able to say that ‘Inhuman Spirits’ shows that this quintet have lost none of their ability, hunger, or bite. All that remains is my now heightened ambition to see the Swedes on a stage as I’ve never had the pleasure to date. In the meantime, won’t you all please stop what you are doing and wrap your ears around ‘Inhuman Spirits’, as Darkane are well and truly back.”
For all of my new-found love of some more extreme styles of metal, I will always gravitate back to the progressive metal scene, because it is one of my favourite, and most enduring styles of music, particularly the more ‘classic’ melodic end of the spectrum. It feels, though, as if the pool is getting ever smaller, with less and less new music coming through. This may be an illusion, but that’s how it seems to me. But today, I’m pleased to be able to bring a review of a debut album by a new band that has tapped into the style that I like so much.
The band’s name is Philosophobia, and they first materialised back in 2007 when Andreas Ballnus (Paul Dianno) and Alex Landenburg (Kamelot, Cyrha, Mekong Delta), who had been friends for some time, met up to write and record some new music to accompany a concept that Andreas had written, a prog metal concept to be more precise. Unfortunately, as the press release informs us, existing priorities for the duo meant that this project would have to be put on hold for the intervening years. After a coincidental meeting with Kristoffer Gildenlöw some years later, and his subsequently joining the band, Philosophobia was back in action with added impetus. Rounded out by keyboardist Tobias Weißgerber and Wastefall vocalist Domenik Papaemmanouil, the line-up was finally complete, and the band could bring their music to fruition.
I’ll be honest from the outset and say that this self-titled debut was not love at first listen. But then, neither were many of my favourite albums within this genre, to be fair. It has been a slow burn, but with each passing listen, I have found myself enjoying more and more about this record. In fact, I really like ‘Philosophobia’ now.
Before I get to all of the positives, I must mention that the production. It’s clear, and it isn’t bad per se, it’s just that for my tastes, I’d have preferred it if the music had a little bit more grunt to it. I feel like the guitars, in particular, are robbed just a touch of the impact and muscle that they could have had if the bottom end had been favoured a little more than it has. I also have to query whether a little more judicious editing might have been in order here. I understand that no fewer than six of the songs on this record are the originals from the 2007 writing sessions, and so this might be a factor, with the band very protective over the music that has been sitting patiently in the wings for a decade and a half. But ‘Philosophobia’ feels just a little bloated at times; for a prog metal album, 54 minutes or so isn’t that long, but it feels a bit longer than it is if truth be told.
However (and it’s a big however), all of this fades into the background once you get to grips with this album. It begins in strong fashion with ‘Thorn In Your Pride’, a nine-minute affair that opens with a cinematic intro, dramatic in tone, with a vaguely Middle Eastern voice singing with increasing passion until receding to be replaced by a powerful, catchy, and groovy prog riff, accented by an equally powerful and crisp rhythm section. I wish the riffs bit more, but they remain impactful, as do the synths. From there, the composition takes a number of twists and turns, but they are all as memorable as each other. The voice of Domenik Papaemmanouil doesn’t enter until the end of the fourth minute, when the heaviness recedes in place of some gentle, but rich and welcoming melodies. As you might expect from a prog composition, there is plenty of instrumental prowess, but it’s also mixed with some aggressive semi-growls which lend a more modern twist. The section at around the seven-and-a-half-minute mark is where you’ll find my favourite part of the song, such is the beauty of the melody and the accompanying soaring vocals.
It’s a brave move to open up a debut album with two songs that together account for eighteen minutes of the album, but ‘I Am’ follows the opener and is nearly as long, albeit with a different vibe to it. The riff that introduces it is a classic prog stomper, that’s muscular but also littered with great technique and embellishments that make it impossible for me to describe succinctly. But the energy that feeds through the music is palpable. The change of direction is all the starker because it’s a detour into quiet, lush melodic territory, led by a lovely lead guitar line and complimented by tinkling pianos. There’s even a brief foray into more of a heavy power/speed metal direction where drums and bass gallop off. I detect a Threshold/Damian Wilson vibe in some of the vocals within one of the biggest ‘growers’ on the album.
‘Time To Breathe’ is an interesting track, with plenty of light and shade, going from quiet and introspective, to pronounced explosions of emotion and power. This is one of those tracks that would have benefitted from that beefier sound I referred to earlier, but it’s still an enjoyable affair. ‘Between The Pines’ is a sensational track to follow though. Dominated by keys and vocals, it’s a brooding and emotional ballad like track with poignant melodies throughout topped off superbly by an evocative lead guitar solo.
‘As Light Ceased To Exist’ benefits from some of the most immediate melodies on offer throughout ‘Philosophobia’ as well as a stunning intro where keyboardist Tobias Weißgerber adds depth and gravitas via some lovely orchestration alongside the piano. Dare I suggest a slight Shadow Gallery vibe to the song? Yes, I think I do, even though these vibes are fleeting and oblique to say the least, but most heard within the extended instrumental workout at the heart of the song.
Realising that I’m in danger of turning this into a song-by-song, blow-by-blow review, I’ll just mention one of the final three compositions. And that song is entitled ‘Voices Unheard’. The other two tracks have plenty to offer, which you will be able to discover if this review has sufficiently piqued your interest. However, ‘Voices Unheard’ is my undoubted favourite of the closing trio. From the opening aggression created by a forceful riff that has hints of latter-day Symphony X to it, to easily the most insidiously catchy chorus on the album, this is a belting composition. Sitting here now, it’s bizarre to think that I didn’t rate it much to begin with, but isn’t that the beauty of prog sometimes? The best bit of the song though, is undoubtedly the quieter passage at its heart where you get to hear some stunning keys, bass, and guitar, before the song builds again and we’re slapped around the chops by a glorious lead guitar solo. The spoken-word samples that emerge at the death are the icing on the cake.
There you have it. Yes, it could have had a production better suited to my personal taste, but if we remove that from the equation, you’re left with a really rather wonderful collection of progressive metal songs. The music may not resonate fully with you right from the start, but I guarantee that if you give it some time and proper attention, there’s too much quality here for it not to have an impact upon you. Philosophobia have, with their debut album, positioned themselves in a very strong position to quickly become one of the most talked about new bands within the progressive metal sphere. And rightly so, too. If you like prog, checking this out is a genuine no-brainer.
Released nearly two weeks ago, I am really tardy with this review, and for that I apologise to all those who are bitterly disappointed by my ineptitude. The thing is, I just missed it. And were it not for a nudge from outside sources, this album might have escaped me altogether. And, as it turns out, that would have been a real shame. ‘Grey Everlasting’ is the third full-length release from Deathwhite, a band that steadfastly refuses to uncover their identity, preferring to let the music do the talking. For a decade this has been the case and once again, their music has seen another shift as the enigmatic band continue their anonymous evolution towards whatever vision they have.
Written a couple of years ago at the very beginning of the global pandemic, when the world’s inhabitants locked themselves away in an effort to stay alive and protect loved ones, it will come as no surprise to learn that ‘Grey Everlasting’ is a bleak and maudlin affair. Never ones to jump for joy and express their exuberance via the medium of song, it is nevertheless immediately noticeable that the tone and feeling of Deathwhite’s latest creation is different. This may not be a bad thing though, because although I found much to like about their sophomore release, 2020’s ‘Grave Image’, I was far less a fan of their debut of 2018 entitled ‘For A Black Tomorrow’.
That said, I am firmly of the opinion that the band have never reached their full potential. Even within the debut, there were flashes of brilliance, albeit cloaked too heavily by material I referred to as ‘average’. The balance was better struck within ‘Grave Image’, but still, it wasn’t the home run that it might have been. But does the trend continue here with ‘Grey Everlasting’?
I started writing this review on the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. It has been a gloriously warm and sunny couple of days outside, so it feels utterly incongruous to the mood captured within ‘Grey Everlasting’. In trying to describe the music on this record, words such as ‘brooding’, ‘slow burn’, and ‘stark’ all come easily to mind, as the output here is carved more from the environs of dark metal than anything else.
The opening instrumental, ‘Nihil’ is a rich and powerful orchestrated piece that communicates a sense of the forlorn feelings and darkness that permeate this album. It is imbued with strong melodic traits and it has a sense of the cinematic, of a dystopian epic. But from there, ‘Earthtomb’ throws a curveball straight away thanks to a frenetic black metal assault, all cold and fast riffing alongside frenetic drumming. It doesn’t last long though, and whilst this element makes a return at points later in the song, the vast majority of the track inhabits a mid-to-slow-pace, where the rich Gothic tinged vocals duel with more orchestration, acoustic strumming, and heavier, churning riffs. Names like Swallow The Sun, Sentenced, Soen, My Dying Bride, and Katatonia are all relevant, despite none of them quite hitting the mark alone. It has taken several careful spins to get to this point but I’m entranced by the clever, subtle melodies that worm their way in to your brain cleverly and surreptitiously.
Frustratingly however, the album doesn’t always hit as hard as this opening duo do, with a few of the songs veering close to that ‘average’ description. For all of the chunky riffing, powerful atmospheres, and precise delivery, songs like ‘No Thought Or Memory’ don’t create the same impact for me. It is hard to explain, but the melodies feel a little underwhelming and one-dimensional.
As a result, ‘Grey Everlasting’ is not the killer third record that I was hoping for, but when they get it right, I do find myself wavering slightly. ‘Quietly, Suddenly’ is a beast that contains such emotion it’s impossible to ignore. Even the solo that emerges after the halfway point is laced with misery and torment. But it’s also the pronounced light and shade that stands it above other songs on this record, flitting from muscular to brittle in a heartbeat. Then there’s the beautiful title track itself which dials down the heaviness in favour of hushed vocals, quiet instrumentation, and a genuinely organic feel, particularly with the drums. It also demonstrates just how good the production is too, but with Shane Mayer (Cerebral Audio Productions) involved alongside Dan Swanö who mastered the album, and with vocals tracked at Mana Recording (Erik Rutan), it’s not surprising that ‘Grey Everlasting’ sounds so good.
The bass at the outset of ‘Immemorial’ is brilliant, as are the ensuing guitar notes that resonate and then disappear to be replaced by orchestration. The lead guitar melodies that bring ‘Formless’ to life, meanwhile, are stunning; they add a certain catchiness to the song overall, a description I wasn’t thinking of using in this review I must admit. But catchy and moving they are, inevitably leading to the conclusion that this is one of my favourite cuts on ‘Grey Everlasting’. And finally, a word for ‘Blood And Ruin’ which deals us a heavy, epic-sounding blow after a quiet and tentative opening.
It isn’t a particularly long album at 47 minutes, but the style of the music and the constant maudlin atmosphere makes it feel longer than it is. It does seem to drag a little towards the end, so perhaps a song or two of the eleven could have been cut entirely, but that’s me just thinking out loud. All-in-all, I have to admit that ‘Grey Everlasting’ is probably my favourite from Deathwhite so far, meaning that they continue their slow ascent in my estimations. I like this chosen path, and it really does tell us that the musicians involved here are highly accomplished. I just wanted a little more overall, be it more potent melodies, or a little greater variation. As always though, I will enjoy chunks of what I’ve been served here and wait patiently to see if I can be blown away by their next effort.
My love and admiration for the progressive metal band Haken is something with which regular readers of manofmuchmetal.com will be all too familiar. Hell, I even wrote a piece suggesting that Haken might be the best band from the UK currently plying their trade. That thought may resonate, or it might seem like misguided hyperbole but either way, it demonstrates the strength of feeling I have for a band that I have steadfastly followed since the beginning. It was something of a no-brainer then, when I was presented with the opportunity to check out the debut solo album, ‘Tiktaalika’ by Haken guitarist Charlie Griffiths.
Handling the guitars, bass, keyboards, as well as writing the material and even singing lead vocals on a song, Griffiths demonstrates just how annoyingly talented he is as a musician on ‘Tiktaalika’. He is then joined throughout the album by drummer Darby Todd (Frost*, Devin Townsend), as well as a number of guest musicians including Dream Theater keyboardist Jordan Rudess, and saxophonist Rob Townsend (Steve Hackett). The list of guest vocalists is also eye-watering, as it includes Tommy Rogers (Between The Buried And Me), Danïel De Jongh (Textures), Vladimir Lalić (Organized Chaos), and Neil Purdy (Luna’s Call).
In anyone’s language, this is a hefty cast of musicians, so undoubtedly, expectations in various quarters were very high. But all of the star names in the world cannot save an album that suffers from poor songwriting, so it is imperative that this is not a stumbling block right at the outset. Thank goodness that Charlie Griffiths is a talented guy and a consummate professional, because almost immediately, I was able to relax and absorb the music on ‘Tiktaalika’ with a smile on my face.
As a side note, whilst there might be some slight play on words with a certain Bay Area thrash band, the bulk of the title of this album is inspired by the ‘Tiktaalik’, an extinct species that was present on Earth some 375 million years ago, a special creature that helped us to better understand the evolution of dinosaurs, fish, and land mammals. I’d never heard of it, so props to Mr Griffiths for making another day a school day. Love that!
My oblique reference to Metallica makes sense from the very get go of ‘Tiktaalika’, because the opening track, ‘Prehistoric Prelude’ begins in a manner that immediately reminds me of the wonderful opening of the classic track, ‘Battery’. When you hear the tone of the acoustic guitar and the chosen melody, you’ll understand. From there, the heaviness cranks up, eventually opening up into a full-on, speedy thrash metal work out complete with energetic riffs, thunderous drumming, and exuberant lead guitar soloing.
One of the big selling points with ‘Tiktaalika’ is Griffith’s return to a six-string guitar with the man himself remarking just how easily the riffs started to come to him. And this album is a proper riff heavy affair that leaves the listener in no doubt about the truth of this statement. ‘Arctic Cemetery’, featuring Tommy Rogers is a microcosm of everything that Charlie Griffiths is clearly striving for with this record; it is subtle, nuanced, heavy, and memorable. But most of all, it is varied, keeping the listener on their toes. It helps that Rogers delivers both his quiet, clean tones as well as his more aggressive style, because it creates another layer of variation. But between the chunky, groovy riffs, delicate melodies, and whimsical, atmospheric chorus, not to mention the numerous peaks and troughs, the song never sits still, with creativity seemingly oozing from every pore.
From there, we’re confronted with further experimentation, seemingly at every turn. ‘Luminous Beings’ is far more progressive in tone, with a stronger jazzy, fusion feel to large portions of it. The vocals of Danïel De Jongh are really excellent, completely in keeping with the soundtrack upon which he sings. The quieter moments allow Griffiths’ not inconsiderable bass talents to come more to the fore too, as he delves deeper into out-and-out prog before pulling us back from the brink with a satisfyingly bruising riff alongside a typically non-standard time signature.
As my favourite track of them all begins, you’re left in no doubt about the quality of the production, handled by Nolly Getgood. It is superb, bringing all of the songs to life. However, ‘In Alluvium’, one of three songs that extends beyond eight minutes, is a stand-out affair. The synth-heavy opening is melodious and enticing with the ensuing mid-paced groove utterly compelling, enhanced by Vladimir Lalić’s singing. The drumming from Darby Todd is marvellous too as the song slowly increases the intensity, dishing out killer riff after killer riff. The one-take keyboard solo courtesy of Jordan Rudess is impressive, but so is the whole song which again acts as a smorgasbord of different styles and inspirations, all wrapped up in some catchy as hell melodies.
I wasn’t originally as much of a fan of ‘Dead In The Water’ given my general dislike of the saxophone but I have been won over for the most part thanks to Griffiths’ songwriting prowess. Once again, the disparate has been forged into something surprisingly cohesive, dominated again by some instantly memorable and muscular progressive metal riffing and a hint of ‘The Mountain’ era Haken. Then there’s the epic-sounding segment that emerges after a brief foray into more extreme metal territory. Neil Purdy’s clean vocals join what feels like an outpouring of melodic emotion, before there’s a clever return to the motif from ‘In Alluvium’ at the death.
On ‘Digging Deeper’, an overall more delicate song, Charlie sings. It’s more of a hushed, delicate and tentative delivery, often strongly effect-laden, but it is a great vehicle to explore another different soundscape. With an echo of ‘Affinity’-era Haken thanks to the chosen samples and electronic effects, it further demonstrates Charlie Griffiths’ desire to keep experimenting.
The title track is an instrumental piece that is positively brimming with exuberance, instant feel-good melody and yes, you’ve guessed it, a ton of riffs. It feels very much as if this was the chance for Griffiths to go all-out and tell the world what an incredible guitarist he is – and he succeeds in the strongest of ways. Blazing solos, clever time signatures, light and shade, and groove by the truck full, it has everything you could want if you’re a lover of the six-string.
And finally, ‘Crawl Walk Run’ rounds things out in tandem with ‘Under Polaris’. The former reminds me a little of bands like latter-day Symphony X thanks to the high tempo and intricate riffs, despite some savage growls from Danïel De Jongh. The latter sees the album come full circle with a return of some impossibly fast guitar work that’s part prog, part thrash akin to the opener. But led by the vocals of Tommy Rogers, it also sees a reprise of several of the melodies seen throughout the album. I love this sort of thing, and it means that, as far as I’m concerned, ‘Tiktaalika’ ends in the strongest and most captivating way possible. The return of the acoustic guitar at the death in particular sends a shiver down my spine.
I had a feeling that ‘Tiktaalika’ would be good, but I wasn’t banking on it being quite this good if I’m being brutally honest. There is much to enjoy about Charlie Griffith’s debut solo effort, and I keep discovering new things with each passing listen too. No doubt it’ll appeal first and foremost to lovers of the guitar and the almighty riff, but given the diversity of the material and the quality of the songs themselves, I’m certain that the appeal of ‘Tiktaalika’ will be much wider, and rightly so. The only problem for Charlie Griffiths now, is how does he go about topping this on his sophomore release? Tune in 375 million years from now to find out!
I missed the White Ward’s last album, ‘Love Exchange Failure’ in 2019, so I also missed the fact that the Ukrainian band had added a new musician to their ranks, saxophonist Dima Dudko. Those that are familiar to my reviews will know that this spells trouble, for I am not a lover of this particular instrument. Neither am I a fan of brass instruments, the trumpet being top of my hit list. And yes, you guessed it, the trumpet also features on ‘False Light’, albeit not to the same extent as the saxophone.
I have got on my high horse plenty of times, bemoaning the increasing prevalence of these instruments in metal music over the last few years. But this time, I really listened and delved deep within myself to try to work out what it is that puts me off so much. And the reason why I am so keen to do this right here, right now, is because, were it not for my dislike of brass instruments and the saxophone, we would be standing in the presence of a genuine top five or top ten contender in my 2022 ‘Album of the Year’ list. In every other conceivable way, ‘False Light’ is a behemoth, a fantastic body of work that impresses me no end. I felt I had to explore my prejudice in greater detail then, and to better understand it.
This I have done, and I have had a bit of an epiphany in the process. Sadly, not the epiphany that I wanted, where I could genuinely say ‘I like the trumpet and the sax’. But a few realisations have been made. The first is that brass instruments within an ensemble, or as part of wider orchestration, I can handle and have no issue with at all. My problems stem from the instruments when they are solo, prominent within the composition. If they are used sparingly in this context, quietly or gently within the general framework of the music, again I can deal with this. But, if the saxophone or trumpet is used as the primary instrument within a song, or within a particular part of a song, that’s where it gets difficult for me.
I can only liken it to the way in which the sound of nails down a blackboard, or a knife cutting an empty plate can set some people’s teeth on edge. I have realised that’s the case for me with the sax or trumpet; I don’t want to dislike their involvement, but I simply can’t help it. I grant you that part of me wishes that the solo notes were played by a guitar, but I’d accept the flute, violin, piano, instead. Anything but the sax or trumpet. I’m sorry to all those who like these instruments, but I can’t help the way I feel.
It’s therefore inevitable that others will be giving ‘False Light’ a far better score and write-up than I will, but as I said earlier, everything else about this record is out of the very top drawer and should be commended as such. If you’re not afflicted with similar prejudices to me, prepare to have your mind blown.
The album begins with the appropriately named ‘Leviathan’ because the song is an absolute monster. At over thirteen minutes, it’s a bold opener but it becomes quickly apparent that White Ward are not afraid of taking risks or tying new things. The opening minute or more is quiet, tentative, and shy, before in marches the heavy guitar tones of Yurii Kazarian and Mykola Previr, gurgling and rumbling bass, and interesting drumming courtesy of Ievgen Karamushko that delivers blasts but is much more refined and varied than that. We get an early blast of the sax but as I said earlier, I can live with it in this context, especially when it is quickly replaced by some crushing black metal that’s powerful, emotional and melodic. The rasping growls of vocalist and bassist Andrii Pechatkin are truly nasty and also strangely full of sorrow at the same time. The atmosphere and drama is palpable despite the frenetic and aggressive black metal assault which, blended with the melody makes it a real force to be reckoned with. At almost exactly the mid-way mark, everything drops away to reveal a minimalist post rock ambience, upon which guest trumpeter Jerome Burns adds his solo skills to take us into avant-garde jazz territory for a good couple of minutes, before the heaviness returns, along with more pronounced saxophone embellishment from Dima Dudko. Clean vocals from Vitaliy Havrilenko add yet another dimension to the song that honestly feels like it lasts half the time that it does. And that’s in spite of my aforementioned prejudices and misgivings. That’s how good this moody composition truly is.
The even gloomier and moody ‘Salt Paradise’ throws in a curveball thanks to the almost spoken-word singing of Jay Gambit, nothing like the aggressive and atmospheric black metal fare found elsewhere on this album. Nevertheless, it shows another side to the band, and will intrigue many a listener, even if it’s not an instant favourite of mine.
The bass within the dark opening to ‘Phoenix’ feels like it could jump out of the speakers and throttle us, such is its demonstrably menacing approach and tone. The vocals, when they arrive are equally as fierce and dangerous, whilst the all-out speed of the fast-picked tremolo riffs are a thing of real frigid beauty. I also love the chosen electronic synth sounds that bathe the quieter passages within the song.
Elsewhere, I cannot resist some of the riffing and melodic intensity within ‘Silence Circles’, a song that unleashes some of the most savage but majestic material found anywhere on the record. Plus, the playful, groovy NWOBHM-inspired riff that jumps out towards the end is another unexpected delight. Speaking of the unexpected, White Ward again toy with the listener with ‘Cronus’, a very different track that features Vitaliy Havrilenko once more, and calls on a more Goth-sounding vibe, blending this with post black metal tendencies and more of a punk attitude in places.
But undoubtedly my favourite track on ‘False Light’ is the title track which stands at an impressive near-fifteen-minutes. I actually like better the avant-garde passages within it, plus the latter stages feature my favourite riffs. Add to this a more pronounced quota of groove, beautiful clean vocals from Adam Symonds, and a bona-fide lead guitar solo, and it has to end up at the top of the pile for me. It also underlines the fact that nothing will beat the sound of a well-executed guitar solo; it just can’t be done.
In order to remain consistent, I have to mention the 66-minute run time which is just a little too long in my opinion, especially when you consider just how intense and aggressive much of the music is on this album. This minor niggle alongside the issues discussed in detail at the outset of this review mean that ‘False Light’ falls a touch short of being considered as an essential album as far as I’m concerned. However, I am absolutely certain that most of you out there will disagree and proclaim ‘False Light’ as a masterpiece of extremity and originality. And I get it, I really do – this is a band and a record that deserves all of the plaudits that it gets, and I wish the band nothing but success with it. And success is what they will get thanks to the vast majority of the heavy metal community lauding another superb release.
When was the last time you sat down and listened to an artist about which you previously knew nothing and had your world turned upside down? Well, it has happened to me here. Deathgaze – I didn’t even realise the subgenre existed, but I do now. Equally, I didn’t even realise a band by the name of Kardashev existed until a week or two ago. Why didn’t anyone tell me? Why didn’t anyone shout their name to me at any point over the last decade since their inception back in 2012? It’s too late to go back in time and put right this massive faux pas, but at least I am here now, and have seen the light.
For those of you who are still in the dark, Kardashev are a quartet from Arizona who play a style of music that’s referred to as deathgaze amongst other things. Progressive death metal, atmospheric, post-metal; these are all descriptions with merit as well, but for me, deathgaze resonates best. Two original founding members remain in place, in the form of vocalist Mark Garrett and guitarist Nico Mirolla, with bassist Alex Rieth and drummer Sean Lang both joining the ranks in 2019. In their decade of existence thus far, Kardashev have released a demo, three EPs and one full-length album, ‘Peripety’ in 2015. That’s a lot of music that I’ve missed, but I’ll track it down and devour it, of that make no mistake.
The reason why I like the term ‘deathgaze’ so much is because, when you distil Kardashev’s music down to fundamentals, you’re left with adjectives like ‘crushing’ and ‘monumentally heavy’ sitting alongside ‘fragile’, ‘poignant’, and ‘achingly beautiful’. In much the same way as blackgaze goes about its business, Kardashev merge the delicate beauty of shoegaze with an uncompromisingly ferocious and weighty brand of death metal. And it works. No, that’s not doing the music justice. The music on ‘Liminal Rite’ has floored me. It isn’t overstating things to say that the discovery of this band and this album has been profound, a game changer if you will. I have literally no qualms in likening this discovery to those heady days as a teenager in a pre-Internet world when I’d take a blind punt on a record based on the cover art or record label alone, only to find that I’d found a gem. Dimmu Borgir, Anathema, and My Dying Bride are three that immediately spring to mind. Remember that rush of giddy excitement? I have that here in spades.
In terms of negative comments, I only have two. Firstly, at a full hour in length, ‘Liminal Rite’ is a little on the long side. Mind you, I’m only saying this because I feel that I have to for reasons of consistency, because in reality, I don’t really mind at all. Yes, you can have too much of a good thing, but not on this occasion. Secondly, the final song on the album, the gargantuan ‘Beyond The Passage Of Embers’ features a guest musician, Christoph Clöser, the saxophonist from ambient/jazz band Bohren & Der Club Of Gore. You all know ad nauseum what I think of this wretched instrument, and yet it doesn’t ruin the final offering. In fact, through gritted teeth and with bile rising in my throat, I must concede that the song is enhanced thanks to Clöser’s inclusion.
So, in reality, I don’t have anything truly negative to say, and what’s more, everything else about this album is approaching perfection. Unnecessary hyperbole, I hear you cry. No, not a bit of it. It now falls upon me to back this up, so I shall take my best shot…
Argh, I don’t know where to start. Normally, I tend to go track-by-track, but to a certain extent it’s a fruitless exercise here because the whole album is wonderful and should be enjoyed as such. To skip a song is to risk missing a slice of magic, and to shuffle this album is akin to adding a mixer or ice to a glass of neat 18-year-old single malt whisky. It shouldn’t be done. Ever. And that’s because ‘Liminal Rite’ has been carefully and lovingly crafted by the quartet to flow in a certain way and flow it does. If you listen from start to finish as I have done on countless occasions, you realise that everything fits together perfectly. Nothing is out of place, it just feels right as you listen to it, quite the feat when you consider just how different and contradictory some of the passages are to each other. It should sound clunky or jarring. Instead, it sounds smooth and completely natural.
As early as the first 20 seconds of opening piece, ‘The Approaching Of Atonement’, I get a tingling because of the delicate, atmospheric feel, accented by an equally delicate melody from the synths whilst Mark Garrett, I assume, delivers a melancholy spoken-word monologue. From there, ‘Silver Shadows’ takes over and it’s like being hit by a truck carrying several tonnes of feathers. Frantic blastbeats and fast-picked riffs assault the senses, but the onslaught is softened somewhat by a sublime, elegance and melodic intensity, whilst the bass playfully frolics within the song’s framework. I don’t mind admitting that the sheer power and beauty has moved me near to tears on more than one occasion. When the vocals emerge alongside chunky death metal riffs, they are clean and ethereal, adding to the overall impact. It isn’t until a minute or more has passed before we get to hear Garrett’s higher-pitched rasping delivery, and then his guttural growl hits and it’s incredible – it’s so low and bestial, it’s fantastic. As the song progresses, Kardashev demonstrate that they are not afraid to strip everything back to minimal ambience one minute, only to raze the tranquillity down to the ground with a truly thunderous death metal attack. But those melodic guitar leads from Nico Mirolla which remind me a little of MØL return alongside the soaring clean vocals to ensure that as heavy as the music gets, it is laced liberally with an air of grandiose majesty combined with heartbreaking poignancy. Apparently, this song falls just shy of eight minutes but feels like two, ending with a dramatic, cinematic soundscape that’s eerie and dystopian in tone.
‘Apparitions In Candlelight’ follows and it begins with an explosion of death metal fury, with a hint of deathcore around the edges. The multi-layered vocals create a menacing presence before, out of nowhere, one of the most heartrending melodies I’ve heard in a while appears. I love the way in which Garrett’s various vocal styles are cleverly interwoven to provide numerous emotions to accompany the music. Within the quieter, more reflective and insular mid-section of the song, the sound of clean guitars is accompanied by some reserved drumming and truly resonant bass work to offer something different once again. Towards the end, the blastbeats continue unabated whilst Garrett returns to his stunning clean approach, joined to devastating effect by a whimsical yet melancholy lead guitar line. The sheer emotion and feeling that comes across is almost too much to bear, but in a good way.
I’m beginning to run out of superlatives and yet I’ve barely scratched the surface of this album. Tracks like the captivating ‘Lavender Calligraphy’ defy words…well, my pathetically inarticulate words anyway. Whatever I write will not be enough to convey the brilliance of the song. Suffice to say that I adore the way in which the music is both insanely heavy and melodic at the same time – the deep, guttural vocals sound inspired against the unashamedly glorious melodies, ensuring that the whole listening experience is simply magnetic and utterly irresistible.
If you’re looking for some chugging death metal groove, I urge you to listen to the bulldozing ‘Compost Grave-Song’. If you are hankering for something more heavily inspired by the machinations of the death/doom sound, then the aforementioned closer ‘Beyond The Pale Embers’ is where you’ll have your craving sufficiently sated.
In between, you’ll find the trio of ‘Cellar Of Ghosts’, ‘Glass Phantoms’, and ‘A Vagabond’s Lament’. All three songs have their own identities and are bathed in genius. The first features some killer melodies and soaring clean vocals from Garrett, whilst ‘Glass Phantoms’ has to be one of the most abrasive tracks whilst also managing to be one of the most emotional and angst fuelled. It is a heady combination, but these gents have made it seem so easy and effortless, complimenting an all-out black/death attack with resonant melodies and a mesmeric performance from Garrett as he literally pleads to the heavens as he sings.
‘A Vagabond’s Lament’ is the perfect antidote to the bruising predecessor in that it spends the first half or more of the song exploring much more ambient soundscapes. Delicate yet striking drumming, and whimsical bass playing join ethereal, dreamlike surroundings bathed in synth-led melodies, although over the ensuing minutes, there’s an ebb and flow that builds in intensity, hinting at something else to come. And that something else is a controlled and measured eruption of heaviness overlaid by clean vocals predominantly whilst the central melodic sensibilities very much remain intact.
I could continue to wax lyrical about this stunning album, but I hope by now that I have made my point forcefully enough. With ‘Liminal Rite’, American quartet Kardashev have pulled the rug out from under me and sent me reeling. I said earlier that I feel like this record is a game changer for me, and I truly mean it. I love heavy music and I also adore strong melody; Kardashev have managed to combine the two in a way that I’ve never really heard before and I am left stunned and in awe of this album. All of a sudden, the usual suspects have a fight on their hands for the number one spot in my end-of-year ‘best of’ list, and I couldn’t be happier about it because I feel like a teenager again, full of that wide-eyed wonder at a new, very special discovery.