Category Archives: Rock

Leprous – Malina – Album Review

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Artist: Leprous

Album Title: Malina

Label: InsideOut Music

Date of Release: 25 August 2017

One of the very biggest compliments that I can bestow upon a band is to say that they sound unique. In a day-and-age where originality is harder to come by than a public sector pay rise, it is quite an accolade to be able to declare to the world ‘we sound like no-one else’. And that is exactly what Leprous can boast. Good on them too, I say.

Ever since their debut, ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’ (2009), the Norwegian outfit has delivered superb music. In the early days, there was a touch more of the generic about them as they cut their teeth in the tough world of music whilst proudly wearing a few of their inspirations on their sleeves. The album was still brilliant, with a vibrancy and confidence thoroughly belying the incredibly young age of the individuals concerned. However, as they have become older, wiser, and ever-more proficient, the output has become more unique and, as a result, ever more intriguing.

I confess here and now my love for Leprous. However, that being said, my love is not the easy kind where I metaphorically fall into their arms, swooning at the immediate saccharine beauty of their music. Instead, it is a more reserved love, born out of respect, admiration and often astonishment at what I am hearing. That’s not to say that Leprous’ music is not beautiful, because it is, but they never seem to make it easy. And why should they? This is prog after all.

Whatever album you listen to within the back catalogue, you must make the effort, listen hard and work at it. If you do, ultimately the rewards will come. The same is true of ‘Malina’, the quintet’s fifth release to date.

At this point, I will admit to a certain amount of sympathy for Leprous, although the reason for the sympathy has been somewhat self-induced by the Norwegians. You see, their debut placed the bar very high. And remarkably, every release since then has nudged that bar higher and higher. Not one of their four previous albums has been less than brilliant. Always pushing themselves, always honing their output and tweaking their sound, they have consistently released brilliance without ever standing still. That’s all very well and good, but how can Leprous possibly continue to improve when each previous release is so strong?

Whatever the answer and whatever their strategy, something must be working though because, with ‘Malina’, they’ve done it again. You can hear the influences of previous albums, ‘The Congregation’ (2015) specifically. But importantly, the output and musical direction has been tweaked yet again; some might even baulk at the word ‘tweaked’. Nevertheless the Leprous of 2017 via ‘Malina’ sounds fresh, interesting, compelling whilst remaining totally, unequivocally unique.

True to form, my first spin through did not result in love at first listen, far from it. Instead it resulted in shrugged shoulders and apathy. My second brought consternation; would I ever like what I am hearing? The answer is ‘yes’, but not until at least the fifth pass through. Suddenly, chinks of light began to emerge, my mind opened and I now hear music full of variety, full of drama, full of melody, and full of emotion.

The rumours circulating on the internet are true, in that ‘Malina’ is definitely a less heavy beast, but to these ears, that’s only if you consider heavy guitars and pounding rhythms to be sonically heavy. ‘Malina’ has these elements and they use them wisely. But they are used less. And, as with each and every Leprous release before this, the music remains intricate, full of atmosphere and crushingly intense. It is also a multi-layered and multi-faceted affair too, with plenty going on in each composition, even if that’s not how it immediately appears.

Much of the intensity is down to the vocals of Einar Solberg, the guy that only got into music because he was coerced into it by his family. Solberg has a tone and delivery quite unlike all others. He can be melodious, he can be angry and he can be sombre, fragile, and deeply emotional. Like a chameleon, he can bring exactly what is needed to each and every composition. And he does it effortlessly. On ‘Malina’, Solberg has clearly worked a lot on his clean singing and in fact, has all but ditched the more abrasive delivery that featured so strongly on earlier albums.

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Credit: Bjørn Tore Moen

The aforementioned intensity is also created, in part, by the song writing and the absolute attention to detail. Each of the eleven tracks has been beautifully crafted and executed with a loving care. There is an ebb and flow to the material too, from atmospheric minimalism to the bang and crash that you’d expect from a band consistently labelled in some quarters as ‘progressive metal’, despite more of a rock sheen of late. Whether or not ‘Malina’ is a concept album, the music itself undeniably tells a story. Dip in and out of the record if you wish, for each track stands on its own. For maximum enjoyment however, ‘Malina’ should be listened to in its entirety.

‘Bonneville’ is the perfect introduction to the record and a firm insight into the overall stylistic direction of ‘Malina’. With its stark, minimal soundscapes at the outset, it gently builds as it develops, ultimately becoming heavier and more robust as it nears its conclusion. The melodies become more pronounced with repeated listens and those familiar guitar tones of Tor Oddmund Suhrke and newbie Robin Ognedal offer some reserved muscularity.

Unfortunately for ‘Bonneville’, it is then followed by ‘Stuck’ which is an absolute monster, arguably my favourite track on the album currently. I could spend hours dissecting it but suffice to say that there is a lot going on within the composition. Again, with perseverance, the melodic intent becomes more obvious and addictive, culminating in a very strong chorus, almost pop-like in many ways. However, I love the way the song frequently undulates and transitions from quiet introspection to something altogether more powerful. And then there’s the wonderful juxtaposition in the latter stages between the modern and the traditional, when the utterly gorgeous cello/strings of guest musician Raphael Weinroth-Browne join the electronic sounds created by Solberg’s synths. It makes for a truly epic finale.

Thereafter, we’re treated to a run of songs that are very nearly as excellent in their own way. ‘From The Flame’ offers one of the most openly catchy choruses as it ploughs a slightly more straight-forward construction, relative to the usual Leprous output of course. The properly progressive ‘Captive’ by contrast is all about the rhythms, with drummer Baard Kolstad and bassist Simen Børven working overtime to act as the foundation for this lurching number, enhanced by layers of vocals and more genuinely interesting synth sounds and effects. ‘Illuminate’ reintroduces strong melodies and manages to be the perfect contradiction by simultaneously being both upbeat and densely introspective, the latter achieved in part by the swathes of gentle keys that nestle just beneath the surface.

‘Leashes’ is smothered in emotion, quiet and unobtrusive for large parts but then dominated by some of the best, most impassioned vocals from Solberg when things take a turn for the heavier and more intense. The ebb and flow continues courtesy of ‘Mirage’ which enters the fray with some seriously heavy-sounding instrumentation from what I assume emanates from the four and six-strings respectively. But the chorus, when it hits, is bright, breezy and distinctly pop-ish in tone albeit underpinned by a clever, complex beat that seems second nature to Leprous. The djent-esque outro is a clever touch too, with props going to Børven again for some flamboyant bass work.

The title track, with the reintroduction of those lush strings is a dark, sombre composition that occasionally bubbles up via some well-placed percussion from Kolstad, but generally remains an intense, claustrophobic experience due to its fragility and emotional minimalism. It’s not an easy listen, but the pay-off is well worth the effort.

‘Coma’ reintroduces a faster pace, interesting because of the impressive drumming and incessant nature, whilst ‘The Weight of Disaster’ is a lumbering, loping hector but in the best way possible. The hint of groove finds much favour with me, particularly with the way I which it is not overplayed. In fact, this is another track of huge contrasts, where extended passages of quiet contemplation are butted up against moments of forceful intent. And it works thanks to the adeptness and sophistication of the song writing.

It is left to ‘The Last Milestone’ to close out ‘Malina’ and it does so in fabulous style. It is a crushingly beautiful, poignant and sad hymn, led by the strings of Raphael Weinroth-Browne and the sorrowful, almost operatic delivery of Solberg. It is a very different approach for Leprous but not for a single second do I believe that it doesn’t belong on this record. It is a bold way to end, but just like the opening track, it is perfectly placed, providing maximum impact in the process.

To conclude, ‘Malina’ is ultimately a stunning record. In so many ways it remains faithful to the core Leprous sound but it is bound to raise the eyebrows of many existing fans at the same time. The more rhythmic, staccato guitar work remains, as does the flair for the deceptively complex compositional and instrumental work. That said, ‘Malina’ feels smoother, even more assured and, dare I say it, more mature. Put simply, it is the sound of progressive music par excellence. Just don’t dismiss it after the first listen because if you do, you’ll be making a big mistake.

The Score of Much Metal: 9.5

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

The Lurking Fear – Out of the Voiceless Grave
Prospekt – The Illuminated Sky
Wintersun – The Forest Seasons
Witherfall – Nocturnes And Requiems
Tuesday The Sky – Drift
Anthriel – Transcendence
Decapitated – Anticult
Cosmograf – The Hay-Man Dreams
Orden Ogan – Gunmen
Iced Earth – Incorruptible
Anathema – The Optimist
Solstafir – Berdreyminn
Dream Evil – Six
Avatarium – Hurricanes And Halos
Ayreon – The Source
Until Rain – Inure
MindMaze – Resolve
God Dethroned – The World Ablaze
Bjorn Riis – Forever Comes To An End
Voyager – Ghost Mile
Big Big Train – Grimspound
Lonely Robot – The Big Dream
Firespawn – The Reprobate
Ancient Ascendant
Pyramaze – Contingent
Shores Of Null – Black Drapes For Tomorrow
Asira – Efference
Hologram Earth – Black Cell Program
Damnations Day – A World Awakens
Memoriam – For The Fallen
Pallbearer – Heartless
Sleepmakeswaves – Made of Breath Only
Ghost Ship Octavius – Ghost Ship Octavius
Vangough – Warpaint
Telepathy – Tempest
Obituary – Obituary
Fen – Winter
Havok – Conformicide
Wolfheart – Tyhjyys
Svart Crown – Abreaction
Nova Collective – The Further Side
Immolation – Atonement
The Mute Gods – Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth
Ex Deo – The Immortal Wars
Pyogenesis – A Kingdom To Disappear
My Soliloquy – Engines of Gravity
Nailed To Obscurity – King Delusion
Helion Prime – Helion Prime
Battle Beast – Bringer Of Pain
Persefone – Aathma
Soen – Lykaia
Exquirla – Para Quienes Aun Viven
Odd Logic – Effigy
Mors Principium Est – Embers Of A Dying World
Firewind – Immortals
Slyde – Back Again EP
Sepultura – Machine Messiah
Deserted Fear – Dead Shores Rising
Kreator – Gods Of Violence
Borealis – World of Silence MMXVII
Pain of Salvation – In The Passing Light of Day

BlogOfMuchMetal – metal news – 22 July 2017

Hello and welcome to the latest post in this series after a bit of a hiatus, where I bring you the latest confirmed news within the world of rock and heavy metal. This series does not require the use of a crystal ball, which can sometimes malfunction with embarrassing results. No, this is a series that works on facts, on the news that I know to be true and which I bring you because I found it exciting and I’m therefore sure that you will find it exciting too.

Today’s post focuses on some of the new songs that have been revealed ahead of the full album release later in the year.

And if you’ve missed any of my previous posts in this series, links can be found at the bottom of this post.

legendsoftheshiresThreshold – Legends of the Shires
Release date: 8 September 2017
Label: Nuclear Blast

Well, if you’re going to release a new song and an accompanying video, it might as well be a ten-minute monster mightn’t it? Especially if you are prog as all hell eh? So that’s what Threshold have done. Not content to compose a double album for the very first time, the UK progressive metal band have also announced a change of singer, ditching Damian Wilson in favour of a return to Glynn Morgan. And now they have released the first track off ‘Legends of the Shires’, the monumental ‘Lost In Translation’. If, like me, you are a massive Threshold fan, it’s a great time to be alive.

I’ve only listened to this song about 17 times, so I’m in no way able to dissect it quite yet. For that, you’ll have to wait until my full review later in the year. However, for now, all I can say is ‘wow’. Morgan sounds really good on this track, giving the music a whole new dimension. The prog elements are really pronounced which I like, particularly in terms of the changes in tempo, tone and with the bold keyboard sounds in places. But that chorus. Those melodies. Boy, oh boy is this one hell of an anthem. Just take a listen and tell me that you disagree. On the strength of this track, I have such massively high hopes for the full album, it’s ridiculous.

19990364_1676025859077305_924654058634164650_nSubterranean Masquerade – Vagabond
Release date: 1 September 2017
Label: ViciSolum Productions

In typical Man of Much Metal style, about five minutes after I publish a blog post, one of the bands featured releases the first track off their new album. The culprits this time are Subterranean Masquerade, with ‘Nomad’, taken from their upcoming release, ‘Vagabond’.

In keeping with their last record that I thoroughly enjoyed, it will take some time to get fully to grips with the music that this band creates. However, a couple of listens in and the signs are extremely positive. I hear echoes of Amorphis in parts of this track but despite this, the final result is definitely unique. Complex and ambitious yet catchy and unexpectedly immediate with a smooth and rich sheen, Subterranean Masquerade may just have hit upon a winning formula, one that may pull me deeper under their spell. I can’t wait to hear more and bring you my considered thoughts nearer to the release of ‘Vagabond’.

18892998_10154663048738806_2247176504358416942_nParadise Lost – Medusa
Release date: 1 September 2017
Label: Nuclear Blast

UK veterans Paradise Lost have to be one of my all-time favourite bands. Beginning my love affair nearly two decades ago with ‘Draconian Times’, I have never looked back…well, except for delving back into the Yorkshire gloomsters back catalogue of course. In so doing, I discovered the monumenatal ‘Shades of God’, a huge game-changer for me. I may not have liked the more ‘Goth’ or ‘pop-infused’ era, but of late, their albums have been tremendous, really harking back to their earlier halcyon days.

Cue ‘Medusa’, which is apparently inspired by another foray into the historic vaults. And, if this new track, ‘The Longest Winter’ is representative of the vibe and direction of the new record, we’re in for one heck of a heavy and doomy affair. Activate sarcasm mode: Oh no, how horrible.

19420708_1698781136823429_4102190633439104941_nArch Enemy – Will To Power
Release date: 8 September 2017
Label: Century Media Records

Long term followers of my blog will be sick of hearing my thoughts on Arch Emeny. Whilst their stock has risen over the past decade or so, my liking for the band has nose-dived and I make no bones about the fact that ‘xxx’ is their last chance as far as I’m concerned. I’m sure Michael Amott is quaking in his boots at the thought of losing a slightly overweight and balding Englishman from his ever-expanding fanbase but I’ll be genuinely disappointed if I have to call it a day with a band that was so important to me at the time they released the majestic ‘Stigmata’.

So now we have ‘The World Is Yours’, the first track to be aired from the new album ‘Will To Power’…and it feels like Arch Enemy might have returned from the brink. There are still things that I don’t like so much, but in general, this feels like a proper song, something more akin to the music that the band can write when they put their mind to it. It goes without saying that the drumming and the guitar work is utterly insane and of the very highest order – the inclusion of Jeff Loomis is a BIG deal as far as I’m concerned. But more importantly, there is more to this song than just instrumental noodling and histrionics just for the sake of it. On the strength of this song, I’m feeling more hopeful than I was fearing…

Previous updates:

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

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

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

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

And now on to the main event…

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

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

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

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

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

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

19106036_10158716292755386_2949343652863781873_nSepticflesh
Codex Omega
Release date: 1 September 2017

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

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

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

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

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

nocturnalritesphoenixalbumNocturnal Rites
Phoenix
Release date: 29 September 2017

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

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

Tuesday The Sky – Drift – Album Review

Press_Cover_01

Artist: Tuesday The Sky

Album Title: Drift

Label: InsideOut Music

Release date: 30 June 2017

You’ll already be aware of my general feelings towards instrumental albums as I’ve made no secret of it on this blog. I’m not the biggest fan as a rule, because I tend to find them a little one-dimensional and just a bit dull to be perfectly honest. There are exceptions to every rule of course, the most significant being the magnificent ‘A Dream In Static’ from Earthside which rightfully finished top of my 2015 Album of the Year list.

And now, the latest album to buck the trend is ‘Drift’, the debut release from the slightly absurdly-monikered Tuesday The Sky. I hesitate to refer to Tuesday The Sky as a band because this is more accurately a project, at least it is at this stage anyway. What happens over the long term of course remains to be seen. Involved with this project is none other than Jim Matheos, guitarist and song writer with the iconic progressive metal band Fates Warning. Joining him in this venture is Lloyd Hanney, drummer with God Is An Astronaut. If that isn’t enough to pique your interest, then let me add the names of Kevin Moore (ex-Dream Theater) who provides his keyboard skills to two tracks and Anna-Lynne Williams (Trespassers William) who provides non-lyrical vocals on two songs.

The overall output of Tuesday The Sky could best be described as ambient instrumental rock; indeed that’s how they are billed in most corners of the internet. It is an accurate description but it also fails, in my opinion, to do the music full justice. Having had the privilege of sharing many a precious hour in the company of ‘Drift’, it is patently obvious that this record is far more involved, nuanced and brilliantly constructed than this generic description suggests.

‘Drift’ is comprised of ten individual tracks that all stand on their own merits but which are at their most powerful when listened to as a whole. At times the music is barely audible, a gentle minimalist ambience at best. At other times, it explodes with real force and is surprisingly heavy. But the heaviness is in no way angry or confrontational; instead, it is like the outpouring of pent up emotions, the bursting of a dam. In the case of the perfectly-named ‘It Comes In Waves’, the heaviness has a demonstrably euphoric feeling to it, as the floodgates are opened and the strong, vibrant guitars crash around the quieter elements in a way that conveys so much human emotion, albeit positive, almost life-affirming.

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The melodies throughout ‘Drift’ are consistently excellent, forcing me to question how this material was created with such apparent nonchalance by Matheos in the downtime between the release of ‘Theories of Flight’ and the ensuing touring cycle. It is no secret how talented Matheos is as a musician and song writer but the music of Tuesday the Sky shows a whole new side to him and he comes out of it with bucket loads of integrity and my increased admiration.

‘Dyatlov Pass’ is one of the most striking compositions on the entire record for a number of reasons. The first half is pure ambient territory but with vaguely unsettling overtones due to the use of some strange dystopian sound effects. It has a cinematic vibe which then gives way to a pounding rhythm and arguably the heaviest riffs found anywhere on the album. The guitar tone delivers a real crunch and serious bite in what is quite a stark juxtaposition with what is on offer elsewhere.

And, even though I initially thought my download had been corrupted in light of the deliberately tremulous and static-plagued fragile opening guitar melody, opening track ‘Today The Sky’ has to be my current favourite. I love the crispness of the drumming, the vibrancy of the guitar tones and the way in which the atmospheric ambience rises and falls, building in intensity, delivering beautiful melodies and culminating in a glorious crescendo of sound that sends a shiver down my spine.

The aforementioned vocals of Williams are also a masterstroke. Her heart-rending ethereal approach bathes the sumptuous ‘Vortex Street’ in a warm embrace that is impossible to not take to your heart. In fact, I am struggling to think of a composition outside of Anathema with such depth of feeling and emotion. But crucially, the vocals are not overused; it could have been a temptation to employ Williams on every track but then their impact would have been diminished. As it is, when they surface, they are a delight.

The final tick in the box for ‘Drift’ is the variety on offer. There are common themes and threads that run through each song but they all have their own identities, be it the more robust post-rock/metal leanings of ‘Kite’ or the filmic nature of ‘Roger Gordo’, complete with its dense atmospherics and multitude of spoken word samples.

I know that I have published this review well after its release. However, I make no apologies for this. There are some records that require a little extra attention, a little more time and this is one of those. I feel like I understand it a lot more now, but more importantly, my admiration has grown into a genuine fondness for what has become a go-to record when I wish to be emotionally nourished and surrounded by music that has something subtle yet powerful to say. There will be no other instrumental album released in 2017 that will get close to topping this, I guarantee it.

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

Anthriel – Transcendence
Decapitated – Anticult
Cosmograf – The Hay-Man Dreams
Orden Ogan – Gunmen
Iced Earth – Incorruptible
Anathema – The Optimist
Solstafir – Berdreyminn
Dream Evil – Six
Avatarium – Hurricanes And Halos
Ayreon – The Source
Until Rain – Inure
MindMaze – Resolve
God Dethroned – The World Ablaze
Bjorn Riis – Forever Comes To An End
Voyager – Ghost Mile
Big Big Train – Grimspound
Lonely Robot – The Big Dream
Firespawn – The Reprobate
Ancient Ascendant
Pyramaze – Contingent
Shores Of Null – Black Drapes For Tomorrow
Asira – Efference
Hologram Earth – Black Cell Program
Damnations Day – A World Awakens
Memoriam – For The Fallen
Pallbearer – Heartless
Sleepmakeswaves – Made of Breath Only
Ghost Ship Octavius – Ghost Ship Octavius
Vangough – Warpaint
Telepathy – Tempest
Obituary – Obituary
Fen – Winter
Havok – Conformicide
Wolfheart – Tyhjyys
Svart Crown – Abreaction
Nova Collective – The Further Side
Immolation – Atonement
The Mute Gods – Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth
Ex Deo – The Immortal Wars
Pyogenesis – A Kingdom To Disappear
My Soliloquy – Engines of Gravity
Nailed To Obscurity – King Delusion
Helion Prime – Helion Prime
Battle Beast – Bringer Of Pain
Persefone – Aathma
Soen – Lykaia
Exquirla – Para Quienes Aun Viven
Odd Logic – Effigy
Mors Principium Est – Embers Of A Dying World
Firewind – Immortals
Slyde – Back Again EP
Sepultura – Machine Messiah
Deserted Fear – Dead Shores Rising
Kreator – Gods Of Violence
Borealis – World of Silence MMXVII
Pain of Salvation – In The Passing Light of Day

Half-way through 2017 – the best so far – Part 3

Welcome to the third and final part of my round-up, looking at the best albums to have been released during the first half of 2017. It is an eclectic list overall, where there’s room for extreme metal and progressive rock alike. But for someone who has wide-ranging tastes with a rock and metal framework, this is exactly what I expected and it is great to see that 2017 has, so far, delivered the goods across a decent breadth of genres.

If you have missed the previous two installments of this series, click the following links:

Half-way through 2017 – the best so far – Part 1
Half-way through 2017 – the best so far – Part 2

deserted_fear_-_dead_shores_rising_cover_2016Deserted Fear
Dead Shores Rising

Just thinking about this album puts a smile on my face. It is pure, unadulterated and undiluted old-school death metal and it seriously kicks ass. But, whilst the compositions themselves reek of days gone by, the production is bang up-to-date. This might put off some purists but for me, it just makes the entire listening experience all the more impactful and powerful. If you listen to this but fail to bang your head or grin like a loon, the chances are that you are either not a metal fan, or you’re dead.

“I remember the days when I heard Entombed for the first time or Obituary, Dismember or even At The Gates. To a greater or lesser extent, these are all good reference points for the output of Deserted Fear and I get the same kind of overall feelings listening to ‘Dead Shores Rising’ as I did when I first listened to the aforementioned. The power, the brutality, the malevolence, the clandestine melodies, and the more overt hooks – it is all there and it is thoroughly absorbing. This is the kind of no-frills, headbanging, groove-laden death metal with a hint or two of melodeath that I really enjoy listening to.”

“I have absolutely fallen for the immense charms of Deserted Fear and this, their third full-length studio album. ‘Dead Shores Rising’ is a totally compelling album that has completely renewed and reinvigorated my love for death metal. It is bold, it is savage and it kicks some serious butt. What more could you possibly want?”

Read the full review here.

SOM412-Solstafir-1500X1500px-300dpi-RGBSólstafir
Berdreyminn

Having been blown away by their previous album, ‘Otta’, I was desperate for Sólstafir to repeat the trick with their latest record, ‘Berdreyminn’. It was always going to be tough given the strong connection that I have with ‘Otta’, but I have to say that Sólstafir have not disappointed. I can say that with even more conviction now that I have had a chance to hear the material in the live setting where it came alive more strongly and made even more sense. Packed with atmosphere and emotion, it beautifully conveys the bleaker recesses of human feeling, whilst painting glorious vistas in the mind of their striking homeland, Iceland.

“And what Sólstafir have succeeded in doing so eloquently with ‘Otta’ and now this new record, ‘Berdreyminn’, is give voice to the natural splendour of their native land, as depicted in the evocative cover art work courtesy of Adam Burke. Fragile and brittle melodies alongside quiet and calm soundscapes give rise to introspective thought and an appreciation of the beauty of their homeland. But juxtaposed with this are sections of grittier, heavier and more powerful swells and eddies of sound that serve as a timely reminder that the beauty can be deceptive, ready to ensnare those unprepared for the harsher, more unforgiving realities of the oft bleak and barren land.”

“…how can one fault music that has such heart, such life and such majesty? More importantly for me though, ‘Berdreyminn’ serves to merely strengthen my deep love and affinity with Sólstafir’s homeland. And for that I am forever thankful.”

Read the full review here.

Final ArtworkAsira
Efference

Over the years, I have become a big fan of the movement known as ‘blackgaze’, the genre that seeks to blend the extremity of black metal with the melodic intensity and beauty of shoegaze. When I thought of blackgaze in the past, I’d immediately call to mind the likes of Alcest or Amesoeurs. But now, in 2017, I can confidently add the name Asira to the list. For a debut outing, ‘Efference’ is a stunning body of work that delights at every glorious twist and turn.

“…the skill of Asira has meant that the final product sounds so effortless and so simple. The warm ambient and atmospheric sections sooth and embrace you, whilst the melodies catch your ear almost immediately. And then, even when these passages are replaced by the naked aggression of cold and icy black metal, sometime abruptly, the juxtaposition doesn’t feel forced or clunky in any way. The compositions are ambitious and grand in scope, but they also feel homogenous and eloquent.”

“On the basis of ‘Efference’, I can only predict big things for Asira. If their debut album can be so ambitious, cohesive and assured, what on earth will their second, third and fourth albums sound like. We can only wait and see. However, for now, content yourself with the fact that there’s a new band in existence that has so much potential and simply immerse yourself in ‘Efference’. As blackgaze goes, this is one of the best I’ve heard in a long, long time.”

Read the full review here.

16729381_10155037235405439_4788700761726639376_nLonely Robot
The Big Dream

In my eyes, John Mitchell can do no wrong. Whatever band he is involved with, be it Arena, It Bites of Frost*, the results are always fantastic. And then, when he stretches his musical wings and goes it alone, the results are equally as compelling. ‘The Big Dream’ is John Mitchell’s sophomore outing under the moniker of Lonely Robot, where he is responsible for everything aside from the drums. In keeping with the debut, it is an album of lush and hugely cinematically-tinged progressive rock full of depth and musical eloquence.

“…ultimately, I am blown away by this album, regardless of the meaningful threads that clearly run through it.”

“I am a big fan of the Lonely Robot debut, ‘Please Come Home’. But if anything, I think ‘The Big Dream’ is even better…I just feel that the music itself is just that little bit stronger. It is definitely more consistent, simply because there isn’t a wasted moment, a weaker track or a let-up in the quality on offer. It takes its time to work its magic though, so if you feel uneasy or underwhelmed after a first spin, listen again. And then again, several times more. The payoff is well worth it.”

Read the full review here.

nova-collective-the-further-sideNova Collective
The Further Side

Normally, I vehemently dislike instrumental music, particularly when the music is technical fusion. However, like all rules, there is an exception and the exception to this self-imposed rule goes by the name of Nova Collective. Featuring an all-star cast, spearheaded by Haken’s Richard Henshall and Dan Briggs from Between The Buried And Me, there was no way that the output would be poor. But what I wasn’t expecting was to actually become engaged with the music and absorbed by it. Unlike many other records in this loose genre, the music is more than background noise; instead the compositions are well crafted and intelligent whilst also remaining memorable.

“I like this album. I really like this album. Naturally as you might expect from a quartet who fuse prog with jazz, classical and other world music, the complexity is very high across the board as is the technical prowess and the individual dexterity of each member, demonstrating beyond doubt that they are in complete control of every note.”

“For the first time in ages, possibly forever, I am listening to an instrumental progressive jazz fusion album and I am not bored to the very core of my soul. Instead, I want to press play and listen to it all over again. Maybe I am maturing and with that, so are my musical tastes? Quite possibly. However, I think it has more to do with the fact that Nova Collective have actually written music that is intelligent and challenging but that is also vibrant, melodic and engaging. Bravo, Nova Collective, bravo.”

Read the full review here.

Cosmograf – The Hay-Man Dreams – Album Review

Cosmograf-TheHayManDreams-RGBCover

Artist: Cosmograf

Album Title: The Hay-Man Dreams

Label: Cosmograf Music

Date Of Release: 14 July 2017

When I reviewed ‘The Unreasonable Silence’, the fifth album from Robin Armstrong under the Cosmograf moniker, it was my first real exposure of this project. I really enjoyed that record and still listen to it on a relatively regular basis. And so I just had to get involved again when, just a year later, I heard noises from Armstrong on social media regarding a follow-up. And here we are, with my considered thoughts on album number six, entitled ‘The Hay-Man Dreams’.

Ostensibly a one-man project, one of the strengths of Cosmograf is that Robin is always open to allowing others into the fold. Perhaps it has something to do with an acceptance of his limitations where certain instruments are concerned. Or perhaps, just as likely, it is because Robin is an intelligent chap and he understands the fact that his compositions can benefit from the inclusion of others.

This time around, the cast of guest musicians is different but no less mouth-watering, featuring Kyle Fenton on drums, Big Big Train violinist Rachel Hall, former BBC voiceover artist David Allan as the narrator, The Fierce And The Dead guitarist Matt Stevens and the returning vocalist Rachael Hawnt. Robin himself handles all the songwriting and production duties as well as being the primary vocalist, guitarist, keyboardist and bassist.

Thematically, I’d venture to say that ‘The Hay-Man Dreams’ is darker and more poignant, at least on a human level than previous releases, as far as I am concerned at any rate. The concept resonates with me greatly as this record tells the story of the untimely death of a farm labourer and the loving family that is left behind. At the centre of the tale is the scarecrow or ‘hay man’, as depicted on the beautifully moody album cover artwork.

And over time, I have well and truly fallen for the veritable charms of ‘The Hay-Man Dreams’. What I love most about it, is its richness and vibrancy. This is a lush album sonically, with real depth and an atmosphere that envelops the listener from beginning to end. A lot of this has to do with the production of the record but there’s more to it than that I feel.

For one, I like the fact that ‘The Hay-Man Dreams’ is a slightly more guitar-driven record than others in the catalogue. As someone who prefers their music on the heavier end of the spectrum for much of the time, an increase in oomph with the guitars will always be welcome. Importantly though, Robin has not sacrificed the subtlety of his music as a result; indeed, ‘The Hay-Man Dreams’ remains as varied, nuanced and cinematic as you’d hope and expect from a seasoned progressive rock artist.

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Take the opening track for instance. ‘Tethered And Bound’ features some gorgeously strong riffs made all the sweeter by the chosen tones, forcing a raising of an eyebrow in appreciation. However, the song offers much more besides, opening up with some theatrical narration from David Allan atop a dark and foreboding synth-led soundscape and later delving into more minimalist territory where we’re treated to some classic prog keyboard effects. Naturally, given the album’s subject matter, the lyrics are not a ray of sunshine and they are delivered very honestly and with passion by Robin himself.

Acoustic guitars feature prominently alongside the piano and synths as well as some hushed vocals to create an intro to ‘Trouble In The Forest’ that is ethereal in tone and bathed in rich atmosphere. Robin’s vocals are really captivating when they eventually arrive at around the three-minute mark, echoing the sense of sadness that the track conveys so well with its evocative melodies. The bass work is prominent and offers a sombre flamboyance, whilst the guitar solo courtesy of the highly talented Matt Stevens in the latter stages is a thing of beauty, like an eruption of raw feeling as if from nowhere.

‘The Motorway’ offers a change of pace somewhat and is welcome because of it. Again it is introduced by acoustic guitars but they are quicker and more urgent in tone, not dissimilar in some ways to the likes of latter-day Anathema. As the intro gives way to the heart of the song, there’s an overt and instantly demonstrable 70s prog rock vibe to what is ultimately a slightly brighter and breezier number. Robin’s voice impressively reaches new heights and there’s a cheekiness to some of the melodies and numerous embellishments. This isn’t to say that there’s not a dark underbelly to the song, because there certainly is, and as the song reaches the half-way mark, I am surprised by the classic rock vibe that is introduced as well. It is unexpected, but it fits the song really well, as does the energetic and expressive extended guitar solo that sees the song to its conclusion.

Without doubt, my favourite track on ‘The Hay-Man Dreams’ has to be ‘Cut The Corn’. If the previous three tracks were dark and sombre, this song takes things to a new level. Slow-paced and led by a simple but effective piano melody, there is a melancholy fragility to the song, enhanced by Robin’s vocals that come across as very heartfelt, vaguely reminiscent of Marillion’s Steve Hogarth at times. The song builds gently in intensity as more layers of synths and a simple beat are introduced. The acoustic guitar solo that then enters the fray is stunning, heartbreaking, poignant and melodious in equal part.

‘Melancholy Death of a Gamekeeper’ does little to lift the mood, but its neo-prog overtones are beautifully lush and inviting, helping to soften the sober edges just a little. Rachael Hawnt then takes centre stage as the six-track album draws to a close via the 12-minute epic title track. It begins quietly with plenty of acoustic guitars and Hawnt’s delicate vocals before taking a pronounced cinematic turn thanks to more narration and atmospheric sound effects that are both sombre and quite thought-provoking in tone. Rachel Hall’s distinctive violin playing lends a folk edge but not before the song has flirted with some of the heaviest material I have heard from Robin. Churning riffs swirl around us as well as some excellent lead guitar shredding and I’m thoroughly engaged and edified by the marked change of pace and intensity. At the flip of a switch though, the folk-esque violin melody acts as a stark juxtaposition and alongside the sounds of nature within the closing pastoral soundscape, it is undeniably reminiscent of Hall’s main employer Big Big Train and the perfect way to end this record.

I truly hope that my preceding waffle has sufficiently captured how much I like this record. If not, I have failed miserably because I have genuinely taken ‘The Hay-Man Dreams’ to my heart. It is, for me, right up there with the very best that the progressive rock world has to offer right now. Confident, assured, intelligent and beautiful; that’s Cosmograf and that’s ‘The Hay-Man Dreams’.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

Orden Ogan – Gunmen
Iced Earth – Incorruptible
Anathema – The Optimist
Solstafir – Berdreyminn
Dream Evil – Six
Avatarium – Hurricanes And Halos
Ayreon – The Source
Until Rain – Inure
MindMaze – Resolve
God Dethroned – The World Ablaze
Bjorn Riis – Forever Comes To An End
Voyager – Ghost Mile
Big Big Train – Grimspound
Lonely Robot – The Big Dream
Firespawn – The Reprobate
Ancient Ascendant
Pyramaze – Contingent
Shores Of Null – Black Drapes For Tomorrow
Asira – Efference
Hologram Earth – Black Cell Program
Damnations Day – A World Awakens
Memoriam – For The Fallen
Pallbearer – Heartless
Sleepmakeswaves – Made of Breath Only
Ghost Ship Octavius – Ghost Ship Octavius
Vangough – Warpaint
Telepathy – Tempest
Obituary – Obituary
Fen – Winter
Havok – Conformicide
Wolfheart – Tyhjyys
Svart Crown – Abreaction
Nova Collective – The Further Side
Immolation – Atonement
The Mute Gods – Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth
Ex Deo – The Immortal Wars
Pyogenesis – A Kingdom To Disappear
My Soliloquy – Engines of Gravity
Nailed To Obscurity – King Delusion
Helion Prime – Helion Prime
Battle Beast – Bringer Of Pain
Persefone – Aathma
Soen – Lykaia
Exquirla – Para Quienes Aun Viven
Odd Logic – Effigy
Mors Principium Est – Embers Of A Dying World
Firewind – Immortals
Slyde – Back Again EP
Sepultura – Machine Messiah
Deserted Fear – Dead Shores Rising
Kreator – Gods Of Violence
Borealis – World of Silence MMXVII
Pain of Salvation – In The Passing Light of Day