Category Archives: Thrash Metal

Iced Earth – Incorruptible – Album Review

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Artist: Iced Earth

Album Title: Incorruptible

Label: Century Media Records

Date Of Release: 16 June 2017

The phrase ‘only time will tell’ features a lot in music reviews, certainly in mine. Over the years, I’ve had to listen to hundreds of albums and put pen to paper in double-quick time to submit my thoughts in time for the deadline. All too frequently, I have to make a snap decision about whether I like something and sometimes I’ll add in the caveat ‘only time will tell’ to buy myself a little breathing space regarding a record’s long term status and whether it’s a classic or the band’s best. Sometimes, I get my reviews right and sometimes I get them wrong.

When it comes to Iced Earth, I have to hold my hands up and admit to getting it very wrong. I’m a long term fan of the Indiana metal band, discovering them in the late 90s via ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’. This is the album lauded by many as the band’s best and I certainly hold it in high regard. However, with interest piqued, I delved into the back catalogue and I also enjoy the vast majority of their earlier material, favouring ‘Night of the Stormrider’ if my life depended on it. In terms of the post- ‘Something…’ era, I lapped up ‘Horror Show’ and ‘The Glorious Burden’, both of which are fabulous records. Their unique blend of classic metal, power metal and thrash has proved to be a potent formula amongst their ever-growing army of fans, myself included.

More recent output, beginning with 2007’s ‘Framing Armageddon: Something Wicked Part 1’ and ending in 2014 with ‘Plagues of Babylon’ garnered very positive reviews from me in the pages of Powerplay Magazine. However, as time has told, I don’t return to them as frequently as I thought that I would. If I want a fix of Iced Earth, I’ll tend to go for something older. In fact, as I type, I’m hard-pressed to remember very much from any of these more recent albums.

Many will point to the instability of the line-up and, in particular, the frequent changes of the vocalist. However, I think that’s unfair. Matt Barlow will remain a fan favourite since he stood front and centre over some of the best material of the band’s career. That’s unavoidable. However, Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens did an excellent job on a couple of records including the aforementioned ‘The Glorious Burden’ and then, after a brief return for Barlow with ‘The Crucible of Man: Something Wicked Part 2’, Iced Earth have since 2011, turned to ex-Into Eternity vocalist Stu Block to deliver their diatribes. And make no mistake; he does a very good job, sounding very similar to both Barlow and Owens when delivering in the lower and higher registers respectively.

The revolving door syndrome that has affected almost every other position within the band is not entirely to blame either, although it can’t have been the most conducive atmosphere in which to create high quality music. Neither can Schaffer’s ongoing medical problems which fortunately have never drastically curtailed his endeavours. At the end of the day, this is Jon Schafer’s band; he founded Iced Earth and he remains the central creative force, creating most the material and having a say in just about everything else.

With that said, all of the albums between 2007 and 2014 have some very good material on them and I’m in no way saying that they are bad. It is just that they haven’t stood the test of time with me.

This time around however, with no deadlines or time constraints, I could listen in more detail and form a much firmer opinion over the material. And the material in question is the ten songs that feature on ‘Incorruptible’, the twelfth album in the Iced Earth discography.

The accompanying press release sees the ever-confident and bullish Shafer referring to this album as one of their strongest and whilst I approached this hyperbole with caution, I now must agree with him. Having allowed this album to burrow deeper into my brain than many others, I feel much more confident in delivering a very positive review of ‘Incorruptible’. I shall go so far as to stick my neck out and venture that this record is the best material to emanate from the Iced Earth camp since ‘The Glorious Burden’, possibly even longer. Indeed, alongside vocalist Stu Block, in-out drummer Brent Smedley, bassist Luke Appleton and new lead guitarist Jake Dreyer, Schaffer has clearly hit a rich vein of form with ‘Incorruptible’.

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What I like about this album so much is that it manages to blend powerful riffs and heavy music with plenty of melody and strong choruses to make the music truly memorable and rather addictive. Add in to the mix a sense of theatrics, drama and storytelling for which Iced Earth have become known and synonymous and suddenly things start to stack up in the right way.

Given the dark album cover complete with the ubiquitous Set Abominae character, I was expecting something more along the lines of ‘The Dark Saga’ with this record. But what I actually get is more of a ‘Something Wicked…’ vibe, where just about every track delivers something that makes me bang my head, smile or reach for the repeat button. There will no doubt be some who suggest that Iced Earth are cynically trying to recapture the magic of ‘Something Wicked…’ but I humbly disagree. Of course there are some similarities but on ‘Incorruptible’, I hear some of that magic that has imbued all classic Iced Earth material, whatever the era, whoever the clientele.

Kicking off with a dark and theatrical, almost cinematic intro, ‘Great Heathen Army’ offers fans of this band a thoroughly rousing and raucous opening salvo. Block screams and croons with gusto, the rhythm section pounds away and those trademark fast-picked rhythm guitars of Schafer create some tasty riffs. The chorus is a bit of a grower too, blossoming into a full-blown anthem after a few spins.

One of the most ear-catching aspects of Iced Earth on this record though, is the lead guitar work of newbie Jake Dreyer. His lead breaks litter the opener but they have a genuinely melodic edge to them, transforming the solos into something more nuanced than just a gratuitous shred-fest. To further illustrate this point, just check out the fabulous ballad-esque ‘Raven Wing’, complete with lush acoustic guitars. It is here that Dreyer indulges in some lead work that is full of depth, subtlety and bluesy soul, as well as the necessary all-out shred. It doesn’t do any harm that the entire song itself is a well-crafted monster, but it is the lead work alongside the changes in pace and heaviness that leaves the greatest impression.

The variety of the music is also a definite strength of ‘Incorruptible’ too. This is not a one-dimensional album and it benefits greatly as a direct result. You get the mid-tempo stompers like ‘Black Flag’ which in itself is a muscular metal track laced with plenty of melody. And there are the more sombre and brooding compositions like ‘The Veil’ which arguably features my favourite chorus on the record, one that I find myself humming at the most unexpected of times, unable to dislodge it from my head.

Then there’s the short, sharp and intense thrash blitzkrieg of ‘Seven Headed Whore’ with its intro riff that’s instantly reminiscent of Slayer in their prime followed by the potent combination of machine-gun drumming and matching riffs. In contrast, ‘Brothers’ is imbued with a satisfying groove that’s infectious as hell.

‘Ghost Dance (Awaken The Ancestors)’ is an instrumental but far from being a snooze-fest, it is actually one of the most intriguing tracks on the record. I find the tribal vocals fascinating and a really nice touch whilst I’m genuinely taken by the pronounced, powerhouse drumming that is a firm feature of the track.

And ‘Incorruptible’ ends in fitting Iced Earth style with a slightly longer track, ‘Clear The Way (December 13th, 1862)’. At just shy of ten minutes, it isn’t the longest epic that Schaffer has ever penned but it does still pack a punch. Complete with occasional Celtic overtones, a certain amount of quiet homage to Iron Maiden and the sounds of war, it tells a story within the Battle of Fredericksburg to great effect. It’s a glorious romp and the perfect way to end such a glorious album.

Mind you, I’m struggling to pick out any of the songs on ‘Incorruptible’ that demonstrate a lessening of the quality as I genuinely like them all. In that respect, this has to be the most consistent record from Iced Earth for a significant number of years. In fact, as I alluded to earlier, this is without doubt their best release since ‘The Glorious Burden’ and it pushes the likes of ‘Horror Show’ and ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’ as one of their best ever releases. In short, ‘Incorruptible’ is unmistakeably the sound of Iced Earth firing on all cylinders and I love 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

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

Ancient Ascendant – Raise The Torch – Album Review

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Artist: Ancient Ascendant

Album Title: Raise The Torch

Label: Spinefarm Records / Candlelight Records

Date Of Release: 21 April 2017

When the legendary Dan Swanö is quoted as saying that Ancient Ascendant are ‘one of the best brutal bands to come out of Britain, well, ever’, I don’t really have any choice but to investigate further. Who am I to ignore a ringing endorsement like this from such an important name within extreme metal circles?

To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure that I’ve have given this album a go if it hadn’t been for Swanö’s interjection, so I have yet another reason to be indebted musically to the legendary Swede.

‘Raise The Torch’ is the third album from the UK extreme metallers and the first to cross my path. And the first thing that strikes me is just how different this sounds. It is no exaggeration to describe the output of Ancient Ascendant as a blend of death metal, black metal, classic metal, hard rock, thrash metal and prog. There’s even a faint echo of a few other things in the melting pot too. The way I’m describing this, you must be thinking ‘oh, that sounds like it could be messy’.

And you’re right, the result could sound messy, disjointed and lacking cohesion. And yet it doesn’t. This is a rip-roaring album that works pretty much from start to finish, where the enjoyment levels are cranked up to the max, accentuated by a strong production courtesy of Ritual Sound and Swanö himself (Unisound).  I’ve become pretty hooked on this record if I’m honest.

The black and death metal genres, by their very nature are usually associated with the darker side of life but whilst these elements play a big part in the Ancient Ascendant sound, the music here frequently comes across as being quite upbeat and infectious. Yes, there are sections that are extreme and intense and in no way can ‘Raise The Torch’ be considered ‘happy’. However, the venom is tempered all the while by huge grooves, large slabs of melody, interesting song structures or simply an almost intangible vibrancy that permeates the album.

The juxtaposition of various, competing ideas in turn then creates something of a progressive vibe. Whether this was by accident or design, it matters not because to my mind, the end result is all that matters. Each of the nine compositions has a strong identity at its core but within that, Ancient Ascendant afford themselves the space to experiment. And this experimentation, although not overdone, makes the listening experience exciting and rather exhilarating. I’m struggling to think of another band currently on the scene who has anything significant in common with Ancient Ascendant, something that can only be positive.

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Credit: Haste Malaise Photography

On to the music itself in more detail and ‘Raising The Torch’ kicks things off with an atmospheric instrumental that is elegant and refined. It has a sinister edge that’s pure black metal intro fodder but it is also quite beautiful and cinematic in scope.

After one minute and 31 seconds, ‘Our Way’ enters the fray to kick things off properly. It starts with a frosty guitar line, very old school black/death in tone before exploding thanks to some frenetic drumming from Dave Moulding and faster-paced riffing from guitarists Alex Butler and Nariman Poushin. At this point, vocalist Alex Butler delivers a deep, guttural death growl which shakes the earth. The pace slackens slightly to be replaced by a groovy and melodic riff that has burrowed right under my skin. The fact that it is overlaid by a much higher-pitched, raspy and thoroughly caustic black metal scream, only enhances its overall impact. There’s a nice moment of respite where the bass of Alan Webb comes through nicely in the mix before the track gallops to a close via some expressive and exuberant lead guitar work. Dare I begin to call this ‘nasty, feel good music’?

‘Scaling The Gods’ comes out of the traps like a scolded rat, full of energy and intent. Again, whilst it has extreme metal tendencies, there’s a playful edge to much of it, particularly when the guitars go all classic hard rock on us in the mid-section, complete with hand-clapping if my ears aren’t deceiving me.

The doom metal references loom large within ‘Unearth’ as the pace is slowed slightly, fed by twisted, vaguely discordant riffs before being replaced by a truckload of groove interspersed with moments of black metal malevolence or extreme death metal brutality.

For me, ‘Foreign Skies’ is the absolute high point within this excellent record. It begins in very chilled fashion, delivering delicate atmospheric melodies with gorgeous clean guitars and some stunning bass work. The heaviness comes in out of nowhere like a slap in the face. The guitars chug with menace one minute and then inject black metal voracity the next whilst the vocals are venomous either in black or death mode. However, the music retains its melodic edge wonderfully, occasionally reverting to the quieter intro melody to create variety and keep the listener fully engaged. The groove-laden chug at the mid-point is marvellous as is the ensuing riff which is equally groovy but more expansive and brimming with cheekiness. This is the kind of music that’ll have you grinning like a loon, trust me.

‘Grasping The Torch’ is thoroughly infectious thanks to yet more solid and commanding riffing. Out of nowhere the heaviness departs to be replaced by an all-too-brief jazz-tinged progressive interlude that calls to mind the likes of Opeth. However, just as quickly, this is eclipsed by one of the most thunderous sections anywhere on the record as the song powers to a conclusion. Naturally, as is the Ancient Ascendant way, the conclusion is reached via a few ubiquitous twists and turns fuelled by a large helping of daring do in the process.

If ‘The Great Curve’ doesn’t get you banging your head from the outset then the conclusion must be that you’re deaf, whilst it is left to ‘To The Cold’ to see ‘Raise The Torch’ to its conclusion, which it does with the kind of panache and uniqueness that is a hallmark of this album. Frequent shifts in tempo and a demonstrable classic heavy metal vibe supplement the more extreme elements. And the outro delivers a wonderfully dramatic and epic-sounding conclusion, just as it should.

To conclude, ‘Raise The Torch’ is a fabulous record. The music is hugely engaging and memorable but what I like most about it is that these guys clearly enjoyed making this music, they are assured and accomplished in what they are doing and it shows. Nothing is off limits for Ancient Ascendant and ‘Raising The Torch’ is all the stronger for it. What a record!

The Score Of Much Metal: 9

In the absence of a new track to bring you, check out ‘Driven By The Dark’, from the EP ‘Into The Dark’:

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

Pyramaze – Contingent
Shores Of Null – Black Drapes For Tomorrow
Asira – Efference
Hologram Earth – Black Cell Program
Damnations Day – A World Awakens
Memoriam – For The Fallen
Pallbearer – Heartless
Sleepmakeswaves – Made of Breath Only
Ghost Ship Octavius – Ghost Ship Octavius
Vangough – Warpaint
Telepathy – Tempest
Obituary – Obituary
Fen – Winter
Havok – Conformicide
Wolfheart – Tyhjyys
Svart Crown – Abreaction
Nova Collective – The Further Side
Immolation – Atonement
The Mute Gods – Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth
Ex Deo – The Immortal Wars
Pyogenesis – A Kingdom To Disappear
My Soliloquy – Engines of Gravity
Nailed To Obscurity – King Delusion
Helion Prime – Helion Prime
Battle Beast – Bringer Of Pain
Persefone – Aathma
Soen – Lykaia
Exquirla – Para Quienes Aun Viven
Odd Logic – Effigy
Mors Principium Est – Embers Of A Dying World
Firewind – Immortals
Slyde – Back Again EP
Sepultura – Machine Messiah
Deserted Fear – Dead Shores Rising
Kreator – Gods Of Violence
Borealis – World of Silence MMXVII
Pain of Salvation – In The Passing Light of Day

Pyramaze – Contingent – Album Review

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Artist: Pyramaze

Album Title: Contingent

Label: Inner Wound Recordings

Date Of Release: 28 April 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.25

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

Shores Of Null – Black Drapes For Tomorrow
Asira – Efference
Hologram Earth – Black Cell Program
Damnations Day – A World Awakens
Memoriam – For The Fallen
Pallbearer – Heartless
Sleepmakeswaves – Made of Breath Only
Ghost Ship Octavius – Ghost Ship Octavius
Vangough – Warpaint
Telepathy – Tempest
Obituary – Obituary
Fen – Winter
Havok – Conformicide
Wolfheart – Tyhjyys
Svart Crown – Abreaction
Nova Collective – The Further Side
Immolation – Atonement
The Mute Gods – Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth
Ex Deo – The Immortal Wars
Pyogenesis – A Kingdom To Disappear
My Soliloquy – Engines of Gravity
Nailed To Obscurity – King Delusion
Helion Prime – Helion Prime
Battle Beast – Bringer Of Pain
Persefone – Aathma
Soen – Lykaia
Exquirla – Para Quienes Aun Viven
Odd Logic – Effigy
Mors Principium Est – Embers Of A Dying World
Firewind – Immortals
Slyde – Back Again EP
Sepultura – Machine Messiah
Deserted Fear – Dead Shores Rising
Kreator – Gods Of Violence
Borealis – World of Silence MMXVII
Pain of Salvation – In The Passing Light of Day

Ghost Ship Octavius – Ghost Ship Octavius – Album Review

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Artist: Ghost Ship Octavius

Album Title: Ghost Ship Octavius

Label: Independent Release

Date Of Release: 2015

What I’m about to say might shock you. There are some of you who might even vehemently disagree. But it is true, I can assure you.

I am human and I am fallible.

I know this for sure because I have dropped the proverbial ball from a great height. As you can see from the heading above, this self-titled album by Ghost Ship Octavius was released in 2015. Two years ago! Many of you will already be well aware of its existence and may even have it nestled within your collections. But I missed it. As I feverishly tried to cover as many releases as I could, this record passed me by. And by that, I mean that it really passed me by. I had to be gently nudged by a reader to even learn of its existence and to check it out.

And by heavens I’m glad of the prodding because this album is right up my street and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed listening to it over the past few weeks.

For those poor, unfortunate souls like me who are in need of a bit of background, Ghost Ship Octavius was formed in 2012 and this impressive record is their debut. Mind you, the quality of this album is hardly a surprise given the clientele involved. As a huge fan of Nevermore, my attention was initially drawn to the fact that the beast that is Van Williams sits behind the kit. Conducting a little further research has led me to understand that God Forbid guitarist Matthew Wicklund is also involved, as is Dagna Silesia who has worked with another member of the Nevermore alumni, Warrel Dane, on his solo material alongside Wicklund .Completing the line-up is vocalist Adon Fanion, a relative unknown but as it transpires, the owner of one hell of a set of pipes.

On paper then, the prospect of this band is very exciting. The reality is equally so. No damp squibs present, no deflated expectations. ‘Ghost Ship Octavius’ is a melodic progressive metal monster that’s not afraid to dip its toe into the realms of other metal subgenres.

Before I dissect a few of the tracks in more detail, there are a few more general aspects to this album that need to be mentioned. First, there are the performances of each member of the band which, as you might expect are highly professional throughout. But, intrinsically linked to this is the song writing. Well-executed instrumentalism only goes so far and will ultimately fail if it is not used to create strong compositions. Ghost Ship Octavius do not have this problem, as the music is incredibly well-conceived.

Being a melodic metal band, you’d expect there to be plenty of big choruses and hooks to pull you in. There are. Just about every one of the eleven tracks on this record provides some satisfying and addictive ear candy, be it overt or more subtly-placed.

Being a band with progressive leanings as well, you’d also expect the songs to have a fair amount of variety to them and for the music to offer something a little bit different. They do. There is more than enough virtuosity and technicality from each corner of Ghost Ship Octavius to supplement the melodies and the more immediate aspects of the music. Furthermore, there are several eyebrow-raising moments where the band goes all-out to intrigue and test the listener, something I really enjoy and fully welcome.

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If that wasn’t enough, there’s also a more intangible aspect to ‘Ghost Ship Octavius’ that has an effect on me, and that’s the vibe of the record. Melodic and progressive it certainly is but it is also extremely heavy and quite dark. As befits a moniker like Ghost Ship Octavius, there’s a slightly menacing and brooding underbelly to the album that I find compelling and refreshing for a melodic metal band. The lyrics, the atmospheres, the vocal delivery and a million other minute ingredients lend the music on this debut a morose and haunting aspect. I love it.

Throw in a robust production that also allows sufficient clarity and space for everything to be heard, even Silesia’s impressive bass work, and it becomes evident pretty quickly that we’re on to a real winner here. Everything about Ghost Ship Octavius screams quality, focus and purpose. It only serves to heighten my embarrassment for missing out on this album when it was released.

The album opens with ‘Saturn and Skies’. It isn’t a long track but it immediately throws down the Ghost Ship Octavius gauntlet. It has a vague Nevermore feel to it in the riff department, but this is a theatrical, dynamic and ambitious composition that has its own strong identity, changing tack frequently within its relatively short existence. Fanion’s vocals immediately come to the fore, displaying a huge range but also impressing thanks to his ability to convey emotion with genuine power and conviction.

‘Alive’ has a sinister edge to it, driven by the monstrously powerful rhythm section of Williams and Silesia. Wicklund indulges in several wailing solos but they are as melodic and emotive as they are dextrous and technical, meaning that they genuinely add to the song. A mix of all-out blastbeat-led power and quiet, contemplative sections, complete with string and piano embellishments adds to the sense of drama and theatrical grandiosity that permeates the entirety of this record.

The stomping opening of ‘Silence’ is delivered with pin-sharp accuracy, ultimately giving way to one of the best choruses on the album. After about the third spin, the melodies get right under my skin and they don’t let go. Its strength lies, I think, in the fact that it is so powerful yet is also quite subtle, with Fanion showing restraint in his delivery, allowing his voice to be at one with the music rather than overpower it.

If the preceding few paragraphs have whetted your appetite, allow me to then introduce you to ‘In Dreams’. Buried within the middle of the album, it was the first Ghost Ship Octavius track I heard and was the one that made me realise the enormity of my mistake. Having listened to it several more times, I have to declare it to be one of the very best melodic metal tracks that I have ever heard. Everything about it is just about perfect. The riffs, in keeping with the entirety of the album, are fantastically muscular, the solos are exuberant, the bass is glorious, the drumming is thunderous and the vocals are superb. Then there’s the chorus, which is completely killer; hook-laden and hugely powerful, it slays.

It’s on this track that Fanion also produces arguably his best performance, full of anger and frustration during the chorus but something more measured, thoughtful and sorrowful in the quieter passages. I can neither confirm nor deny that I might have got a bit carried away when listening to this song on my headphones whilst walking the dog in my neighbourhood. But hell, music is meant to move you right?

Elsewhere, the introduction to ‘Pendulum’ is a thing of real beauty if you’re a sucker for the sound of a wailing guitar solo. It also ups the ante in terms of the band’s use of symphonic embellishments and is a wonderfully grandiose piece of music as a result, particularly in the more melodic mid-section onwards where there’s the sense of a group of musicians cutting loose a little bit. ‘Bloodcaster’ on the other hand, is one of the songs where the aforementioned eyebrows are raised thanks to its overtly quirky and borderline avant-garde nature juxtaposed by some of the most extreme music to be heard anywhere on the record.

‘Epitaph’ is a shorter blast of exuberant heavy metal underpinned by an insidious melody whilst ‘Burn Away’ has more of a power metal feel to it. Immediately melodic and up-tempo from the get-go, it then settles into more of a ballad-like composition. Fanion offers his most sensitive performance within yet another strong chorus, accented by a delicious piano that weaves itself nicely into the song.

I could go on because truth be told, ‘Ghost Ship Octavius’ doesn’t contain any filler material at all. This is a brilliant example of how wonderful melodic metal with a progressive edge can sound when done properly with care and skill, not to mention a clear vision and clarity of purpose from every member of the band. Become familiar with the name of Ghost Ship Octavius because if this is how good they sound on their debut album, just imagine what they might produce in the future. The mind boggles but I can’t wait.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.25

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

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

Havok – Conformicide – Album Review

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Artist: Havok

Album Title: Conformicide

Label: Century Media Records

Date Of Release: 10 March 2017

For someone who is continually going on record to say that he doesn’t, as a rule, prefer thrash metal, I seem to have been enjoying quite a lot of albums in this genre recently. First there was the new Testament disc that found itself in my top 30 for 2016. Then, more recently, there has been the new Kreator album that has made quite an impression on me. And now, here I am, about to wax lyrical about another thrash metal album. Maybe I like thrash metal more than I thought? Maybe I ought to re-evaluate my musical tastes?

The album at the centre of my current affections is ‘Conformicide’ from Havok, the fourth album from the Denver-based thrashers. I’ve never listened to Havok before, so what, I hear you ask, made me check out a band from a genre I’m not overly keen on that I’d never investigated before?

Well, it wasn’t the hyperbole-fuelled press release that brazenly refers to ‘Conformicide’ as Havok’s own ‘Master of Puppets’ or ‘Rust In Peace’ that’s for sure. I take these comments with a pinch of salt, quite frankly. No, it was the fact that this was a band that was consistently mentioned by friends, acquaintances and valued review sites when discussing their most anticipated albums of 2017. With such a swell of interest, I figured I must have missed out on something and so took the decision to check it out when it found its way into my inbox.

I was right. With ‘Conformicide’, Havok have delivered a really superb, muscular-sounding slab of properly caustic, savage and aggressive heavy metal that is delivered alongside a cutting and sobering commentary on the state of the world today. The riffs from David Sanchez and Reece Scruggs are multi-layered, razor-sharp and often complex as are the whirlwind lead breaks and solos. The rhythm section comprised of drummer Pete Webber and bassist Nick Schendzielos are powerful in the extreme, almost telepathic at times but more than that, they are truly inventive and don’t just make up the numbers. Then there are the vocals of Sanchez, which are some of the most vitriolic, snarling and venomous I’ve heard on a thrash album. They might not be to everyone’s taste, but they fit this music perfectly.

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What I particularly like though, is when a band makes me raise an eyebrow or offer something different to what I was expecting. We get this immediately on ‘Conformicide’ thanks to the opening track ‘F.P.C’ which begins with a melodic acoustic guitar intro before a heavy, moody riff enters. It is short-lived though as the track becomes dominated by some funky, groovy slap-bass that hints at a progressive slant to the song writing that I simply wasn’t ready for. It is nevertheless rather great. I also really enjoy the drumming thanks to some really inventive fills and the mix of tempos gives the track an added dimension as it moves effortlessly from slow groove to all-out speed, topped by wailing and gnashing lead guitar breaks.

The slap bass returns to introduce what has to be one of the best tracks on the record, in the shape of ‘Hang ‘Em High’. The frantic riffs and urgent rhythm section are then topped off by some of the most confrontational and angry lyrics anywhere on ‘Conformicide’. ‘The enemy is not coming from overseas…the United Snakes of America’ gives you a truncated but illuminating example of the lyrical content that is positively spat out and later screamed venomously by vocalist Sanchez. And yet, for all this, the occasional flash of groove or subtle melody keeps the song interesting and accessible.

‘Dogmaniacal’ contains strong echoes of ‘Countdown To Extinction’-era Megadeth but ultimately marches to its own savage tune. Taking more than just a casual swipe at religion, it fizzes by in a blaze of violent aggression whilst somewhat contradictorily it displays some of the strongest melodic intent along the way. The fact that the content mirrors much of my own dislike of religion in general means that this is a song that makes its mark on me powerfully on all levels.

The news reader introduction to ‘Intention To Deceive’ is absolutely brilliant. ‘…and in the news today’, he says in that polished American manner, ‘we cover trivial stories to distract you from what’s really going on in the world. It’s five o’clock and here’s what we want you to think’. It is comedic on a superficial level but has the ring of dark truth about it. What then ensues is a strong and incisive groove-laden thrash workout preoccupied by the media’s stance on misinformation, lies and false news.

Elsewhere, the progressive nods return within ‘Ingsoc’, as it builds on a strange but compelling introduction and features some of the most frenetic drumming on the album, alongside some of the more ponderously-paced material in an oddly juxtaposing but utterly addictive manner. As a fan of prog, I can lap this sort of thing up all day long.

‘Peace Is In Pieces’ is another quirky track that has a shouty, hardcore/punk feel on top of a cheeky opening that catches the attention whilst ‘Claiming Certainty’ is a more standard breakneck and short-lived all-out thrash attack.

And then there’s another favourite in the form of ‘Wake Up’. It is once again a fast-paced and frenetic affair with really cool lead guitar embellishments but what I like most is the more overtly melodic intent of the song. It feels warm and rich as a result and grabs my attention from the very beginning, only getting stronger and more forceful with repeated listens.

Whether or not ‘Conformicide’ becomes an album muttered in the same breath as the likes of ‘Master of Puppets’ or ‘Rust In Peace’ remains to be seen and it will take many years before such a judgement can be made with any genuine justification. However, it is fair to say that from my point of view, this is one of the best ‘true’ thrash metal albums that I have heard in a very long time, certainly from a band within what is referred to as the ‘new wave of thrash’ movement. In true thrash style, it is angry, it is spiteful and it sticks two metaphorical fingers up at the establishment. But more than that, the rhetoric is backed up by some killer heavy music. It makes me bang my head and, more importantly, has forced me to re-evaluate my opinion of thrash metal in general. And I wasn’t expecting that when I first pressed play, I can tell you.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.25

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

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

Helion Prime – Helion Prime – Album Review

CD Booklet

Artist: Helion Prime

Album Title: Helion Prime

Label: AFM Records

Release Date: 24 February 2017

Science-based power metal. These four words will go a long way to determine whether or not you carry on reading the remainder of this review. It is a description that it likely to either draw you in like a tractor beam or send you scurrying away faster than you can say ‘Higgs Bosun’. See what I did there?!

Personally, I have a big soft spot for power metal in general so long as it is done properly. That was definitely the impression I got when I heard ‘Life Finds A Way’ on the Internet and so therefore, coupled with the striking cover artwork that borders on the silly, I found myself intrigued enough to give this self-titled debut album from Helion Prime a proper listen.

By way of background for the uninitiated like me, Helion Prime are a Sacramento, California-based quintet comprised of guitarist and founder Jason Ashcraft, lead guitarist Chad Anderson, bassist Jeremy Steinhouse, drummer Alexander Bosson and brand new vocalist Kayla Dixon. The band are now signed to AFM Records and as part of that contract, they are re-releasing this self-titled debut that originally saw the light of day in 2016. The fact that many of us were blissfully unaware of this album clearly meant that the initial release did not come with a great deal of pomp or fanfare, something that this re-release will no doubt hope to address.

Personally, I’m really glad this decision was taken. Normally, I’m a little cynical about such things, questioning value for money and such like. However, here I think it is justified because this is a band that have plenty of potential and they deserve to be brought to the attention of the wider world before a second album is released in the next year or so.

Forget the science aspect for just a moment and concentrate on the music. On this score, the output is bound to find favour with plenty of fans of power metal but more than that, it is likely to appeal to those who delve into the worlds of melodic metal and classic heavy metal, even those who prefer the thrash genre, although this is slightly less pronounced perhaps.

What you get is ten songs full of sharp, chunky riffs, lots of groove and strong choruses with enough hooks and melodies to keep you entertained without diluting the metallic intent of the compositions. And then on top of that, you have the voice of Heather Michelle, who has since departed. Despite a proliferation of female singers in metal in recent years, the genre of power metal is still largely a male dominated world, so this is a welcome ingredient to the Helion Prime recipe.

More than just a unique selling point or novelty aspect, Heather has a truly wonderful voice, one that I personally really like. It is more than powerful and plenty rich enough to compliment the beefy music that sits behind it but she also sounds strangely seductive and very feminine. It is difficult to explain but I can’t get enough of her voice; there’s just something about it. I hope her recent replacement Kayla Dixon is as good.

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In keeping with the scientific-based lyrical content that spans space exploration, prehistoric times and a nod to science-fiction, the album opens up with a futuristic-sounding intro where synths lay the foundation for a sampled spoken-word diatribe that hypothesises that we are not the only intelligent life in the universe.

After this dramatic opening, things get going properly with a duo of monstrous tracks. ‘The Drake Equation’ bounces along in up-tempo fashion, leading to an instantly catchy chorus that lays down a marker for what Helion Prime are all about. The rhythm section is impressively robust and dominant and the lead guitar work that enters the fray in the latter stages is extravagant, but not overly so. In fact, thinking about it, this is a feature of Helion Prime; they could have gone all-out bonkers and over-the-top but instead, they have chosen to craft a set of songs that are nicely honed and which don’t take things too far.

The chorus to ‘Life Finds A Way’ has to be my favourite on the entire record. It is catchy as hell, epic-sounding with a galloping rhythm. Instantly likeable, it is compounded by a cool lead guitar solo and more strong riffs that are addictive and bring a smile to my face.

‘Into The Black Hole’, raises the pace even further and has a vaguely prog feel as it features a slightly quirky vocal line within the verses, only to be replaced by another great sing-along chorus and no-nonsense riffs that wouldn’t sound out of place on a traditional heavy metal record.

Elsewhere on this debut record, ‘A Place I Thought I Knew’ dials the intensity down a notch to good effect whilst ‘You Keep What You Kill’ delivers more of a speedy thrash vibe, incorporating some deep growled vocals and some prominent keyboard embellishments.

‘Oceans Of Time’ is arguably the first time on the record where the band delve a little into indulgent territory as keyboards and guitars trade blows during an extended solo section whereas ‘Apollo (The Eagle Has Landed)’ has the feel of the band letting go just a little more. It has another big chorus but flits between all-out speedy power metal and thrash and even flirts ever so subtly with progressive elements.

To round things out, Dream Evil’s Niklas Isfeldt appears on closer ‘Live And Die On This Day’ to deliver some male lead vocals. It’s a nice touch and ends the album with an interesting and welcome twist.

All in all, I have a strong feeling that Helion Prime might prove themselves to be a class act. This debut is slick, well put together, nicely proportioned and a lot of fun, without ever descending into silliness as their self-created tag line might suggest. ‘Helion Prime’ is a cracking debut and sets an impressively high benchmark for future releases by this talented bunch of Californians, beginning with their sophomore effort, along with their new vocalist, which is due to see the light of day in late 2017/early 2018.

The Score of Much Metal: 8.5

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

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

Persefone – Aathma – Album Review

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Artist: Persefone

Album Title: Aathma

Label: ViciSolum Records

Date of Release: 24 February 2017

I will be honest and admit that prior to this record, my opinion of progressive death/extreme metal band Persefone was not that high, despite my general favour towards this particular subgenre of metal. I felt that the music on previous outings was impressively technical and ambitious but that it lacked that certain something to hook me in and keep me fully engaged. I appreciated the music, but I didn’t love it. As such, there was no real connection and even now, I am struggling to remember too much about the content of their previous album, 2013’s ‘Spiritual Migration’ for example.

I therefore came to ‘Aathma’ with minimal expectations. I was aware of plenty of excitement from certain corners of the metal underground of course, but I did not share these expectant feelings.

So, at this point, my review of this record could have gone one of two ways. Indeed, after an initial listen, my early notes began to lead me firmly in a particular direction. However, I have since undergone some kind of epiphany and find myself penning a review that differs greatly from its embryonic form.

To be clear, I absolutely love ‘Aathma’ and I’m now a fully paid up member of the Persefone Appreciation Society. So what changed?

First of all, it is blindingly obvious within moments just how much effort Persefone have put into this record. Mind you, in the crowded and increasingly saturated market that is Andorran extreme metal scene, the sextet needed to do something to separate themselves from the hordes.

Clearly I jest, but in all seriousness, I am not at all surprised that ‘Aathma’ took four years to come to fruition. The music itself may have taken a while to make an impact but the rest of the package does not. From the gorgeously striking cover artwork to the production of ‘Aathma’, all the important basics have been covered. In terms of the production, the finished article is slick, crystal clear and powerful whilst avoiding the easy pitfall of making the music sound sterile and soulless. It’s a fine line and whilst the production is unashamedly modern, it never manages to stifle the content or it’s vibrancy.

One of the reasons why it took me so long to warm to this record is that it is so impossibly complicated. ‘Aathma’ contains either ten or thirteen songs depending on how you look at it. The closing title track is a 20-minute epic split into four distinct parts to reflect the content and the themes explored. Either way though, ‘Aathma’ lasts for over an hour and, given the content, is one hell of a listening experience.

Within the hour, we are treated to a little bit of just about everything. And when I say everything, I mean it. Ok, so there’s no rap or R&B in there, but you know what I mean. Death metal, progressive metal, ambient, thrash, tech, djent; it is all evident to greater or lesser extents, combined into a single breath-taking whole. It is multi-layered, dextrous, cinematic and just a little bit pretentious. But as I’ve said before, I’m not averse to some well-placed pretension from time to time, it makes the world a more interesting place. And Persefone certainly fits that bill.

As you might then expect, ‘Aathma’ is an album of impressive contrasts, both between songs and indeed within them too. You have moments of calm, atmosphere-driven introspection forcefully juxtaposed against all-out extreme metal brutality and over-the-top, mind-blowing complexity. And yet, somehow, inexplicably, the song-writing is so honed and assured that everything neatly falls into place and you’re not left thinking that the album is one giant mess of disparate ideas. In fact, if anything, there is a strangely smooth feel to the album.

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The album begins with ‘An Infinitesimal Spark’, a rich, multi-layered cinematic opening that showcases keyboardist Miguel Espinosa’s talents excellently. It is enriched further by the unmistakeable clean vocals from Cynic’s Paul Masvidal, a band who have clearly been an inspiration to Persefone over the years.

‘One Of Many’ continues the symphonic and cinematic trend in elegant fashion, albeit this time joined by the rest of the ensemble, including some crushing riffs from guitarists Carlos Lozano, Jordi Gorgues and Filipe Baldaia. It is here that the talent of Persefone really begins to become evident, as the technicality and the contrast in tones and textures come together harmoniously to create dramatic beginning to the record.

At this point, a word is required about the melodic sensibilities of Persefone. Whilst this is an extreme metal record first and foremost, there is just enough melody to peek through and to surreptitiously hook you in for future listens. It was my realisation of this during my sixth, seventh or possibly eighth spin that was the catalyst for my aforementioned epiphany. If I was being very picky, I’d love Persefone to have given even more in this area, to open up and show us their epic and melodic side more, because I think I would be amazing. But then, it might have impinged negatively on the overall feel of the record, something that I’d never advocate. Nevertheless, suddenly, I could hear cleverly subtle synth melodies, fleeting vocal hooks or other moments of melodic clarity elsewhere; just enough to catch my attention, make me smile in appreciation and provide a welcome respite from the sophisticated tumult elsewhere. And the more I listen, the more I hear those snatched moments of beauty and revel in them.

There is far too much music on ‘Aathma’ for me to describe it all in detail – you’ll just have to listen for yourselves to decide what it is that makes this record such a magical experience. Every time I listen, I hear something new to wax lyrical about within this review.

‘Prison Skin’ is the first ‘proper’ track on ‘Aathma’ and it is a huge beast of a track. The rhythm section comprised of drummer Sergi ‘Bobby’ Verdeguer and bassist Toni Mestre is on top form, weaving their technical prowess into the composition in such a way as to support and drive the song rather than dominate it. The guitar riffs and lead breaks are razor sharp and the ever present synths are subtle one minute and then right up front and centre the next. Gloriously rich clean vocals from Espinosa duel with the much harsher gruff delivery of lead vocalist Marc Martins and the whole thing pulls together in a manner that leaves me scratching my head thinking ‘that shouldn’t be possible’. But it is and it sounds immense.

A dramatic ambient, post-rock intro ushers in ‘Spirals Within Thy Being’, a track that then morphs into something a little more abrasive and spiky. The song has a vaguely sci-fi, other-worldly feel to it, complete with tinkling keys and caustic vocals from Martins that are almost black metal in delivery. The guitar solos are simply ridiculous but then the utterly grandiose ending eclipses everything that has gone before.

Elsewhere, ‘Cosmic Walkers’ and ‘Vacuum’ both provide respite from the onslaught via some rather exquisite instrumental music. They are both very different from each other but both are beguiling and majestic, demonstrating the band’s deftness and apparent love of experimenting with textures and tones within a more minimalist framework.

Staccato riffs and blastbeats feature within ‘No Faced Mindless’, a rip-roaring track that fizzes past in a blaze of speed and yet more incomprehensible instrumental gymnastics, as well as a gorgeous mid-song break into more dynamic and epic climes. ‘Living Waves’ then enters the fray and with it comes more vocals from Paul Masvidal in the form of his unmistakeable effect-laden clean delivery. The contrasts within this song are pronounced as the atmospheric sections that feature Masvidal are punctuated by bursts of intense extremity. This has to be one of the best songs on the record, it just has to be; the melodies, the variation and the sheer audacity of these six gentlemen are hard to eloquently describe.

‘Stillness Is Timeless’ is intriguing insofar as it cleverly and subtly manages to blend old with new. The opening guitar and key combo has more than a hint of 70s prog to it, but then we’re clobbered by a monumental modern groovy riff with the odd bass bomb thrown in for good measure.

And then it’s on to the epic title track. By now, I’m finding it hard to think of new things to say about the music. I love the more playful, almost power metal infused ‘Part II: Spiritual Bliss’ but to be honest, the entire thing is a work of impressive art and justifiably acts as the final piece for such an already impressive album. ‘Part III: One With The Light’ also stands out as it is a behemoth of a track that highlights Persefone’s death metal attributes whilst offering plenty of variety to accentuate the extremity. The final part, ‘Part IV’ is a gentle symphonic closer made all the more beautiful by the inclusion of a female singer. It wouldn’t sound out of place on a film soundtrack and, ushered out via the soothing sounds of the sea, it ends the album perfectly.

As the album closes, I’m thoroughly exhausted but in a really good way. I absolutely love music when it offers a challenge and isn’t afraid to go in directions that it wants, rather than what convention dictates it should do. I don’t mind saying that Persefone have produced an absolute masterpiece with ‘Aathma’ – it is the work of six supremely talented musicians at the top of their game. Short of a miracle, I cannot see any other extreme progressive metal albums topping this during 2017 or beyond. Spectacular.

The Score of Much Metal: 9.8

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

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