Category Archives: psychedelia

Avatarium – Hurricanes And Halos – Album Review

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Artist: Avatarium

Album Title: Hurricanes And Halos

Label: Nuclear Blast

Date Of Release: 26 May 2017

‘Hurricanes And Halos’ is the title given to the third studio release from Swedish doomsters Avatarium, a band that was formed in the minds of Leif Edling (Candlemass) and Marcus Jidell (ex-Evergrey, Soen) before becoming a reality in 2012. Their sophomore album, ‘The Girl With The Raven Mask’ was released in 2015 and, quite rightly, it garnered much critical acclaim. If the world was beginning to take notice of Avatarium, this record catapulted the quintet into the full glare of the heavy metal spotlight.

But much has changed in the world of Avatarium since the releae of ‘The Girl With The Raven Mask’. The band is now a sextet of sorts, but the back story is much more complicated than a simple addition to the ranks. Leif Edling has now stepped away from the bass but remains involved and can claim the song writing credits to six of the eight tracks on ‘Hurricanes And Halos’. Into the vacated bass slot therefore, comes Mats Rydström and he is joined by fellow newbie and organ player Rickard Nielsson who has replaced keyboardist Carl Westholm. The rest of the band remains the same however, with co-founder Marcus Jidell on guitars, Jennie-Anne Smith behind the microphone and Lars Sköld on the drums.

Given the comings and goings behind the scenes, it could have been easy for Avatarium to take their eye off the ball and deliver a new album that wasn’t up to the standard of their last. But to think in such a way would be a mistake and would be to do the members of Avatarium a huge disservice. When you have musicians of the calibre of Jidell, Smith and Edling, you’re almost certainly not going to get anything substandard. If anything, ‘Hurricanes And Halos’, which features a bigger song-writing contribution from the handsome couple of Jidell and Smith, is another confident step up for this band.

When I reviewed ‘The Girl With The Raven Mask’, I remarked that it generally takes a lot for me to get excited about an album that has one foot firmly planted in the realm of doom. Well, that statement remains true but Avatarium prove once again that they one of the few bands that can manage this feat. There’s something about this band that speaks to me.

This becomes even more unfathomable in many ways when I add in to the equation that Avatarium are also heavily steeped in 1970s nostalgia as well as seemingly professing an admiration for blues, classic rock and an occasional dalliance with psychedelia. If I take a look at my personal music collection, I have a hard job finding very much that fits within any of these genres. And yet, I love Avatarium. And I love ‘Hurricanes And Halos’. Go figure.

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In trying to do just that and figure out why I have such a connection with this band, I have hit upon many possibilities.

Firstly, there is the raw honesty and genuine depth found within the compositions themselves. You get the distinct impression as you listen, that nothing has been left at the door with these guys – it is all or nothing. When Jennie-Anne sings, she sings with such passion and richness that you can’t help but listen, rapt as she delivers her gritty monologues with finesse and such resonance. This is most definitely Jennie-Anne Smith’s best performance so far and at times, she threatens to steal the show entirely, such as within the chorus of the opener, ‘Into The Fire – Into The Storm’ as one of many examples.

With lesser musicians behind her, that might have easily happened. But not in Avatarium. In Marcus Jidell for example, Avatarium are blessed with one of the very best guitarists that I know of. I must have said all this a hundred times over the years, so once more couldn’t hurt. His style is not to belt out lightning fast lead runs or to show off with fancy gimmicks. Instead, he has a grace and elegance that means that he can convey an emotion or a thought with one carefully crafted note or a series of well thought-out chords.

As demonstrated in the aforementioned heady opener, ‘Into The Fire – Into The Storm’, Marcus has not forgotten how to rock out either. The song begins with a strong 70s doomy riff that gets things off to a bold and striking start. The Hammond organ of the equally impressive Nielsson joins the party briefly before becoming an integral part of the grand chorus and later, offers an indulgent but entirely fitting lead solo.

‘The Starless Sleep’ is another superb track, one that underlines the doom credentials of Avatarium as well as underlining the strength of the oft-unsung rhythm section. Skold’s drumming is precise but has a loose, carefree feel to it, whilst bassist Mats Rydström delivers a really satisfying low-end rumble to inject gravitas to the music.

The stripped back and darkly textured ‘Road To Jerusalem’ is the perfect song to act as contrast to the higher-octane opening tracks. It also showcases the beautifully organic and honest production to ‘Hurricanes And Halos’. This is not an album to be smothered in clever, modern effects or polished to within an inch of its life. Instead, in keeping with the music itself, producer Marcus Jidell alongside David Castillo (mixing – Katatonia, Opeth) and Jens Bogren (mastering – Soilwork, Sepultura) have created a living, breathing, colourful beast that loses none of the music’s potency along the way.

The icing on the cake with ‘Hurricanes And Halos’ is the surprising amount of variety on offer. Already I’ve described the full-on power and the more subtle sides of Avatarium, but there’s more to uncover along the way.

‘Medusa Child’ is a thoroughly engrossing piece of music that begins in commanding and heavy fashion. The hooky chorus then comes out of nowhere, at an almost complete right-angle to the more aggressive and potent music that surrounds it. And then, at the half-way mark, it morphs again. An eerie child’s voice sings the chorus lyrics whilst underneath, the band veers into almost ambient, post-rock territory as a quiet, subtle melody begins to build into a rousing finale, almost threatening to implode as it does so.

‘Hurricanes and Halos’ is as far as I can tell, as much an exercise in creating interesting and multi-faceted soundscapes as it is about crafting intelligent doom-infused rock music. This point is proven eloquently via the brooding ‘When Breath Turns To Air’ with its exquisite and melodic fragility. But it is then hammered home by the closing title track which is quite different in construction and tone, but is equally poignant and captivating.

For me, it is the perfect way to end the record, a record that has impressed and moved me in equal measure right from the off. I can think of no other band in the modern era who does this kind of thing better than Avatarium. That in itself should speak volumes about just how good it is. I doubt I’ll hear a more compelling doom-infused rock album all year.

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

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

Messenger – Threnodies – Album Review

Messenger cover

Artist: Messenger

Album Title: Threnodies

Label: InsideOut Music

Date Of Release: 22 April 2016

It’s no exaggeration to say that the UK progressive music scene enjoying a period of rude health at the current time. To the already impressively-swelling ranks, you can now add the name of Messenger, a London-based quintet who bring accomplished musicianship and a plethora of personal influences to the table to create their own distinctive brand of progressive rock.

It is hard to believe but ‘Threnodies’ is just the second album from this young band who only sprang into existence in 2012. Throughout the seven tracks, you can hear the blend of youthful exuberance and a seasoned professionalism that belies their age.

And yet, despite this, ‘Threnodies’ has been a hard review to write. On the one hand, I know that the music is high in quality and with enough originality to intrigue listeners. However, from a personal point of view, I cannot seem to fully warm to the final product. I have tried an awful lot to like this record more than I do, but something stops me every time. I quite like the music and I respect the band. But I just fall short of having an emotional connection with it and I don’t get that overwhelming urge to press repeat like I feel I should. It’s intensely frustrating.

The melodies are present and correct, there is plenty in the way of variety and the record demonstrates a fondness for days gone by whilst remaining fresh and up-to-date. And yet…yet…aaargh.

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‘Calyx’ opens up the album in a calm and considered way but develops into something quite dark and brooding . I’m reminded ever so slightly of the likes of Gazpacho at this point. However, as the song ploughs on, it builds almost imperceptibly, led by the impressive rhythm section of drummer Jaime Gomez Arellano and bassist James Leach. It is almost as if the composition has two halves because, after dropping away to almost nothing, a heavier riff enters the fray alongside a prominent piano before the whole thing speeds up towards an epic and energetic crescendo.

‘Oracles of War’ is an entirely different beast. It does not hide its 70’s influences and is dominated by big doomy riffs courtesy of guitarists Khaled Lowe and Barnaby Maddick. It begins with a cheeky swagger and strong Sabbath-esque overtones. The keys of An Knight are very prominent, creating rich, nostalgic textures. The track offers much in the way of light and shade too, with tempo changes as well as fluctuating levels of intensity. In the latter stages, a really lovely guitar solo kicks in to echo Pink Floyd. The bass also catches the ear and the track drifts off on the crest of a folky, Floyd-inspired wave.

‘Balearic Blue’ opens in bright and breezy fashion with delicate vocals and soft guitar melody. The vocals remain quite relaxed and ethereal throughout whilst injecting passion into the performance. The track floats along really nicely, allowing that most beloved prog instrument – the mellotron – to shine.

‘Celestial Spheres’ features some very impressive guitar work within a framework that feels looser and more organic than that which has gone before it, creating a sense of carefree fun in the process. Again the 70s influences loom large but never overpower proceedings. Contrast that with the altogether more sombre vibe of ‘Nocturne’ which also dials up the heaviness quota in and around its altogether more introspective meanderings.

‘Pareidolia’ offers a folkier vibbe before ‘Threnodies’ closes with ‘Crown Of Ashes’. In keeping with the rest of the record it is a composition that offers much but in a subtle way. On one hand, it is a light and easy song on the ear but at the same time has a rather intense and mournful undercurrent.

After all that, have I managed to convince myself to like this record any more than before? Unfortunately, the answer is ‘no’, although what I will say is that I will return to it again in an effort to find that elusive epiphany that I’m certain has got to be lurking somewhere in close proximity.

If you’re a fan of really well constructed rich and sophisticated progressive rock, then please don’t let my review put you off too much. Indeed, I hope this review actually acts as a catalyst for people to give it a try for themselves. It is most definitely worthy of your full undivided attention and I have every confidence that my general malaise is very much the exception rather than the rule.

The Score Of Much Metal: 7.0

If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others right here:

Svoid – Storming Voices Of Inner Devotion
Fallujah – DreamlessIn Mourning – Afterglow
Haken – Affinity
Long Distance Calling – TripsOctober Tide – Winged Waltz
Odd Logic – Penny For Your Thoughts
Iron Mountain – Unum
Knifeworld – Bottled Out Of Eden
Novembre – Ursa
Beholder – Reflections
Neverworld – Dreamsnatcher
Universal Mind Project – The Jaguar Priest
Thunderstone – Apocalypse Again
InnerWish – Innerwish
Mob Rules – Tales From Beyond
Ghost Bath – Moonlover
Spiritual Beggars – Sunrise To Sundown
Oceans Of Slumber – Winter
Rikard Zander – I Can Do Without Love
Redemption – The Art Of Loss
Headspace – All That You Fear Is Gone
Chris Quirarte – Mending Broken Bridges
Sunburst – Fragments Of Creation
Inglorious – Inglorious
Omnium Gatherum – Grey Heavens
Structural Disorder – Distance
Votum – Ktonik
Fleshgod Apocalypse – King
Rikard Sjoblom – The Unbendable Sleep
Textures – Phenotype
Serenity – Codex Atlanticus
Borknagar – Winter Thrice
The Mute Gods – Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me
Brainstorm – Scary Creatures
Arcade Messiah – II
Phantasma – The Deviant Hearts
Rendezvous Point – Solar Storm
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld II
Antimatter – The Judas Table
Bauda – Sporelights
Waken Eyes – Exodus
Earthside – A Dream In Static
Caligula’s Horse – Bloom
Teramaze – Her Halo
Amorphis – Under The Red Cloud
Spock’s Beard – The Oblivion Particle
Agent Fresco – Destrier
Cattle Decapitation – The Anthropocene Extinction
Between The Buried And Me – Coma Ecliptic
Cradle Of Filth – Hammer Of The Witches
Disarmonia Mundi – Cold Inferno
District 97 – In Vaults
Progoctopus – Transcendence
Big Big Train – Wassail
NightMare World – In The Fullness Of Time
Helloween – My God-Given Right
Triaxis – Zero Hour
Isurus – Logocharya
Arcturus – Arcturian
Kamelot – Haven
Native Construct – Quiet World
Sigh – Graveward
Pantommind – Searching For Eternity
Subterranean Masquerade – The Great Bazaar
Klone – Here Comes The Sun
The Gentle Storm – The Diary
Melechesh – Enki
Enslaved – In Times
Keep Of Kalessin – Epistemology
Lonely Robot – Please Come Home
The Neal Morse Band – The Grand Experiment
Zero Stroke – As The Colours Seep
AudioPlastik – In The Head Of A Maniac
Revolution Saints – Revolution Saints
Mors Principium Est – Dawn of The 5th Era
Arcade Messiah – Arcade Messiah
Triosphere – The Heart Of The Matter
Neonfly – Strangers In Paradise
Knight Area – Hyperdrive
Haken – Restoration
James LaBrie – Impermanent Resonance
Mercenary – Through Our Darkest Days
A.C.T. – Circus Pandemonium
Xerath – III
Big Big Train – English Electric (Part 1)
Thought Chamber – Psykerion
Marcus Jidell – Pictures From A Time Traveller
H.E.A.T – Tearing Down The Walls
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld

Live gig review: Earthside, Toska, Brutai, Voices from the Fuselage – Camden Barfly 10/04/16

Credit: Ray Hearne / Haken

Credit: Ray Hearne / Haken

The following gig review comes with an apology for the quality of the photos – I’m no photographer and so, coupled with a poorly-equipped camera and a level of entertainment that meant I didn’t want to ruin my enjoyment by staring through a lens all night, they are not the best. In fact, if there was an award for ‘worst ever gig photography’, I’d surely be in the running! But hopefully, the words make up for it.

And with that, on to the review…

The chance to attend the debut UK show, an exclusive show no less on these fair shores from US metal band Earthside was just too good an opportunity to miss. I had to be there. And so it was that I set out from Suffolk and headed to ‘the big smoke’, to the Camden Barfly, on a Sunday afternoon to witness what I hoped would be a great evening’s entertainment.

This wish became ever more fervent as I found myself snarled up in heavy traffic as my Sat Nav sadistically took me within a few hundred yards of White Hart Lane, the home Tottenham Hotspur, on a day when they were due to play Manchester United in the Premier League. As a Spurs fan, I couldn’t moan too much but when added to the difficulty I had in parking my car, I arrived in Camden seriously regretting my decision not to get the Underground train from the outskirts of the city. Never mind, Spurs won and I finally located a free parking spot within walking distance of the venue.

Things only got better from there too. After meeting Lulu of Incendia Music for the first time and a quick drink in the bar, I headed upstairs to hear a little of the soundcheck but not before being greeted by with a warm hug from a beaming Frank Sacramone, keyboardist with Earthside.

My next task was to interview the lads from Brutai, so it was up to the dressing rooms next for me. I say ‘dressing rooms’ but to be honest, I have been in a lot more salubrious surroundings in my time. Bare floor boards, tatty walls, minimal furniture that had clearly seen better days and grimy windows made up the setting for my first journalistic task for the day.

Somewhat unbelievably given the number of gigs I’ve attended over the years in the capital, this was my first visit to this particular venue but I rather liked the experience. I missed the first song of openers Voices From the Fuselage but upon entering the small and intimate Barfly venue, I was immediately struck by the sounds coming from the stage.

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Voices From The Fuselage

In Ashe O’Hara, Voices From The Fuselage are blessed with a very talented singer, able to hit those high notes and add a demonstrable amount of emotion into his performance. Behind him, the music was powerful, muscular and well performed, not to mention subtle and melodic too when the need arose. The whole thing reminded me a little of the likes of TesseracT. Untried by me before this evening, these guys now need some further exploration as soon as possible.

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Brutai

Next up, a return to the dressing rooms to interview Earthside and before I knew it, the floor started to shake to signal to us all that Brutai were just starting their set. I’d heard a little of Brutai prior to the gig and I was very interested to see how the band would come across on stage. The answer was ‘very well indeed’.

I would have preferred a better defined mix in order to allow more clarity for the guitar solos and the keyboards but aside from this, Brutai put on a great show that only served to heighten my excitement for the forthcoming debut full-length. I have likened their output to a blend of Soilwork, Voyager, metalcore and pop and I think, on balance, as a brief reference point, I’d stick with this description. On stage though, coupled with a high energy, professional delivery, they certainly offer a lot more in the live arena and justifiably won over the decent-sized crowd, many of whom had not heard of them before this evening.

Brutai

Bruta

Normally, I get very bored during the set changeovers but on this particular evening, it was a lot of fun. Chatting with friends in the audience and then enjoying a long conversation with Mr Ray Hearne, drummer with Haken, it seemed like no time at all had passed before Earthside took to the stage.

Oh. My. Word. It is not often these days that I go to a live show and am absolutely blown away but tonight was one of these rare occasions. Knowing how technical, multi-layered and ambitious the music on Earthside’s debut album, ‘A Dream In Static’ is, I was intrigued to find out how the quartet would be able to pull it off. But pull it off they did and then some.

Tight as a drum, the music was performed almost flawlessly from start to finish, with the kind of intensity that I’ve rarely witnessed. But more than that, alongside the steely determination, there was a genuine sense of enjoyment from the band. Guitarist Jamie van Dyck constantly had a smile on his face and you simply had to see keyboardist Frank Sacramone in action to believe it. Air drumming, expansive arm gestures, singing along, alternating between keytar, standard synths and a guitar; he was a bundle of energy and a real joy to watch. At one point, he even stopped the music to admit that the experience had brought him to tears, something that you could clearly see was true even half-way back in the crowd.

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Earthside

In terms of the voices, Earthside employed the interesting and unusual tactic of projecting the vocals of the guest singers on a giant screen at the back of the stage. As such, you got to hear Bjorn ‘Speed’ Strid (Soilwork) in all his glory on the emotionally-charged ‘Crater’, my personal favourite track. Then there was an ‘appearance’ by vocalist Daniel Tompkins (TesseracT) on ‘A Dream In Static’ as well as Lajon Witherspoon on the epic and visually stunning ‘Mob Mentality’. It isn’t an approach to suit everyone. Yes the interludes between songs was a little protracted and minimised spontaneity and yes, in years to come it would be amazing to have these guests on stage with Earthside. But for now, for this particular performance, it did the job very well indeed.

And what’s more, the crowd lapped it up. A quick glance at those around me witnessed many that were full-on headbanging, several mouths were wide open and the remainder either were appreciatively nodding along or wrapt and ensconced in what they were witnessing. At the end of each song, the response was effusive and by the close of the set, the crowd roared their approval to almost disbelieving looks from the band. It was a crackling atmosphere and Earthside were worth every ounce of it.

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Toska

Brighton’s Toska followed albeit with a significantly truncated set and a slightly thinner crowd, mainly due to the inadequacies of public transport at weekends in this country. Nevertheless, those that remained were treated to some instrumental technical metal of a very high quality. Led by the imposing Rabea Massaad on guitar, the trio introduced a faint air of psychedelia and a little sludge to their repertoire meaning that Toska rounded off the impressive bill very handsomely indeed.

If I’m honest though, for all the strengths of the other bands, this night belonged to Earthside. They were incredible and the electricity between the audience and the band was something special to be a part of. After the show, Frank admitted to me that in terms of atmosphere and the feeling he got, it was a 10/10 show for him. He did qualify the statement to say that technically he could improve but overall, from such a perfectionist, this was quite the statement. I just hope that other parts of the UK and indeed the world get to witness this band. They are this good after only their 25th show? Wow. They are, quite simply, a force to be reckoned with.