Pain Of Salvation – In The Passing Light Of Day – Album Review

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Artist: Pain Of Salvation

Album Title: In The Passing Light Of Day

Label: InsideOut Music

Release date: 13 January 2017

I suspect I’m not in a minority who include Pain of Salvation as one of their most important musical discoveries. Here is a band that have released easily some of the best progressive metal music ever written and any time they bring out new material, there is a buzz of excitement, an intake of breath and fevered anticipation.

If truth be told however, the Swedish quintet led by the irrepressible Daniel Gildenlöw, have given me much to deliberate over the years. I hold ‘The Perfect Element: Part 1’ and ‘Remedy Lane’ in the highest regard, with both of them featuring high up in my all-time albums list. But I am less enamoured with some of the output since. ‘Scarsick’ was interesting shall we say. But in particular, there’s the ‘Road Salt’ double which is very well written and passionately performed but which ultimately left me quite cold due to its overall approach and complete abandonment of anything even remotely heavy. I admire the band for trying something that their heart desired but it simply wasn’t for me.

And so, when I heard a rumour that Pain of Salvation might just return to their heavier roots with album number ten, I wasn’t sure I could believe it. Well, I should never have doubted the word of Daniel Gildenlöw, even if he did tell me directly during the press rounds for ‘Road Salt 1’ that he couldn’t see himself ever returning to metal. The result is ‘In The Passing Light of Day’ and it is rather magnificent.

Before tackling the music, I feel that the subject matter and lyrical content of ‘In The Passing Light Of Day’ needs to be fully explored. Pain of Salvation and founder Daniel Gildenlöw in particular have never shied away from confrontational issues be they inspired by personal experiences or otherwise. This record is no different as the catalyst has been Daniel’s own medical problems of late. And when I say ‘problems’, I am understating things drastically as he nearly died. As such, it is hardly a shock to note that ‘In The Passing Light Of Day’ is a dark and claustrophobic, gritty and raw record.

Under normal circumstances, this would be sufficient to make the album a challenge for listeners, even the absolute die-hards. However, for me, it has been even tougher as my last remaining grandmother sadly passed away mid-review. As you might imagine, this has added another dimension to an already powerful listening experience.

Two days ago, I sat by her bedside for the last time, holding her hand and chatting nonsense whilst life became ever more of a chore for her. It brought back painful memories as I did exactly the same with my only brother at a hospice bedside eight years ago as he left us to an aggressive form of cancer.

So when Daniel sings, ‘…you’re watching me slowly slip away, like the passing light of day…’ within the epic, closing title track, it resonates with me more than you could ever imagine. OK, he isn’t singing about an elderly lady coming to the end of her life or a brother being cruelly taken from his family in the prime of life, but the parallels are there and I take great meaning from his words. I even toyed with not reviewing this album for a short period as it became so difficult to listen to without breaking down. I wasn’t focusing on the album from a reviewers standpoint, I was feeling it, living it and using it selfishly to help me with my own grief.

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Photo credit: Lars Ardarve

I make no apologies for the sombre tone of the review thus far because I think that in many ways it reflects the oppressive darkness that cloaks much of the record. It isn’t a carefree, easy listen and it is more powerful and memorable because of it. I love the fact that Daniel feels able to open up through his music, just like I feel I can bare all when I write.

That being true, there is also a sense of positivity that runs through this album, like a delicate gossamer thread of hope, of light, of better things on the horizon. In many ways, this added ingredient just makes the album even more of an emotional rollercoaster for all concerned.

The previous quote then eventually leads to ‘…and although I wish that I could stay, it somehow strangely feels ok…it is what it is and I’ll find my way through the passing light…’ and the ultimate bittersweet line of ‘…I’m in too much pain to feel afraid…’ Not exactly cheerful, but with a touch of positivity and maybe even a oddly comforting insight into what both of my family members and indeed Daniel, must have felt in the midst of their ordeals.

The most powerful and emotive of lyrics will fall flat however, if the music that sits beside it, underneath it and within it is deficient. On that score, Pain of Salvation have no worries. In progressive music terms, I am still in the early days of digesting the music having only listened to it for three weeks but in that time I have listened to little else it has to be said. Is it their best work to date? That would be a big call to make at this stage but it certainly ranks highly in my estimations.

Given the subject matter, the return to heavier climes is a perfect fit, accenting the anger, despair, and frustration of the central themes very well. However, this isn’t a one-dimensional heavy album. It flows from all out bombast to sections of intelligent complexity to quieter more minimalist landscapes and back again as the mood of the tracks dictate. And what I really find intriguing and enjoy more than I thought is the fact that the band have not completely ditched the sounds and textures that were explored on the ‘Road Salt’ albums. As a result, there is a tangibly organic feel to much of the output; acoustic guitars and occasional nods to bluegrass can be heard amongst other things whilst the whole thing is wrapped up in a production courtesy of Daniel Bergstrand (Dugout Studio) that is far from over-polished, thus retaining a certain purity, honesty and rawness to proceedings. It works brilliantly, quite frankly.

What also works well is the way in which the music sounds fresh and vital but also isn’t afraid to borrow from the band’s past either. As well as the ‘Road Salt’ echoes, there are passages where I also hear elements of the ‘One Hour By The Concrete Lake’, ‘Remedy Lane’ and ‘Be’, the latter mainly through the way in which the songs are accompanied by sound samples to depict the hospital setting of the album, introducing songs, closing songs and indeed dissecting them, adding a sense of theatre in the process.

In fact, listen carefully enough and there are influences to be heard from all corners of the band’s rich history. It is a clever trick when the band itself is markedly different in 2017. ‘In The Passing Light of Day’ sees mainstay vocalist and guitarist Daniel Gildenlöw joined by drummer Léo Margarit, bassist/vocalist Gustaf Hielm, keyboardist/vocalist Daniel Karlsson and guitarist/vocalist Ragnar Zolberg in a line-up that has now been stable for the past four years. Regardless of their relatively new relationship under the Pain of Salvation banner, there’s no denying that together, they are a highly talented bunch of musicians.

The album begins with ‘On A Tuesday’ which wastes no time in laying down the heavier credentials of the album thanks to a thundering groovy riff backed up by an expressive bass line from Gustaf Hielm and dominant drumming courtesy of Léo Margarit. The heaviness gives way to Daniel’s narration that is a recurring theme throughout the album, adding that important personal dimension. The chorus of sorts that explodes is a thing of real quality, which then returns at various points within the 10-minute track.

Ragnar’s higher-pitched, almost feminine sounding vocals make their first appearance atop a gorgeous piano melody from Daniel Karlsson accented by orchestral embellishments. Much has been made of Zolberg’s voice but I have to say that I really like them and find that they add something very valuable to the overall sound of the music.

The track ebbs and flows tremendously, returning to an all-out tumultuous metal attack full of urgency before falling away to allow a lone piano before the striking melody is built on with sampled, electronic effects that introduce a sinister edge. It builds and builds to a heady, oppressive crescendo from which there is no escape.

‘Tongue of God’ follows, starting quietly in stark contrast to what went before. The bass of Hielm is again a focal point for my ears before the heaviness is reintroduced via a commanding riff. The echoes of the early days are writ large across this composition thanks to the overt power and sense of anger that pervades.

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Photo credit: Lars Ardarve

By now, anyone worth their salt will have heard the lead single ‘Meaningless’ and seen the dark and provocative video to accompany it. I adore this track to the point where I’m borderline obsessed by it. From the intriguing, odd-sounding opening melody to the quirky, slightly tribal-sounding bass and drum-led verses to the all-out power and melody of the insanely catchy chorus, not to mention the emotive lyrics, this has class written all over it. The word ‘anthemic’ is over-used at times, but by hell it’s deserved here.

By contrast, ‘Silent Gold’ is a stripped down, organic piece of music where the piano and vocals of Daniel take centre stage almost exclusively at least for the first half. This is where the ‘Road Salt’ influences reveal themselves most clearly but in the context of what surrounds it, it’s a really delicate and lovely composition with real character. There’s a similar vibe to ‘If This Is The End’, complete with more slide guitar, albeit it is blended with starkly juxtaposing segments of heavy material to create a real Jekyll and Hyde piece in many ways.

‘Full Throttle Tribe’ opens with those hospital-derived sampled sounds before a typical, almost ubiquitous Pain of Salvation syncopated beat and riff enters the fray. There are more electronic sounds to be heard before the chorus hits, making a real impact as it does. The minimalist mid-section is gorgeous, accented by what sounds like a heart monitor, before the track concludes with a reprise of the striking chorus and then a monstrous down-tuned, swirling and churning djent-esque breakdown.

The second ‘single’ off the album comes in the form of ‘Reasons’ which displays many of the hallmarks of older Pain Of Salvation including more syncopated riffing and unique vocals of Daniel Gildenlöw which descend into more venomous spoken-word diatribe territory as the song develops.

‘Angels of Broken Things’ is one of my personal favourites. It builds from humble beginnings, via a really insidious and simple melody and dark atmospheres to eventually erupt into one of the best extended guitar solos that I have heard in a long time. It is technically very adept but what is more impressive is the expressive nature of it and its eloquence. It more than adeptly conveys a feeling of pent up frustration and a full-on release of it, along with relief, misery, hope, and a million other strong human emotions, all of which Daniel must have felt during his ordeal. It’s a real head back, air-guitar moment of giant proportions.

There is then more heavy, groovy and intense listening courtesy of ‘The Taming of A Beast’ which contains within it some of the most crunching riffs on the album as well as being a bona-fide slow burner that has burrowed its way into my affections after a sticky start.

If all this wasn’t enough, arguably the very best is saved for last in the shape of the title track of sorts, ‘The Passing Light Of Day’. For all of the aforementioned reasons and more besides, this is the point at which the tears really start to flow and I’m taking deep breaths. It is the culmination of a superb album, a 15-minute smorgasbord of fragile emotion, musical peaks and troughs, poignancy and utterly magical beauty. The song moves from quiet and introspective, to heavy and complex and back again whilst always maintaining the intensely personal feeling, as if we’re voyeurs infringing on the privacy of two souls going through hell.

And I swear blind that I hear a subtle reprise of ‘Ending Theme’ from ‘Remedy Lane’ buried within the composition. But regardless, the final moments are the icing on the cake in that they reintroduce the early melodies sumptuously embellished by some rich and spine-tingling orchestral additions. Quite often I find myself listening to this track in the open air at night and so, on more than one occasion I have ended up staring at the stars, with tears rolling down my cheeks, covered in goose bumps. It seems the appropriate thing to do, a response entirely fitting with the tone and messages conveyed by this remarkable album.

I’m not sure there’s much else to add at this stage. 2017 may have only just begun but Pain of Salvation have laid down the marker for all others to reach. After a few releases that didn’t move me, ‘In The Passing Light of Day’ has redressed the balance and then some. If this is what intelligent and emotional progressive metal sounds like in 2017, I don’t want the year to ever end.

The Score of Much Metal: 9.75

If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others via my reviews pages or by clicking the links right here:

Delain – Moonbathers
Arcade Messiah – III
A Sense Of Gravity – Atrament
Devilment – Devilment II: The Mephisto Waltzes
Maschine – Naturalis
Brutai – Born
False Coda – Secrets and Sins
Pretty Maids – Kingmaker
In Flames – Battles
The Neal Morse Band – The Similitude Of A Dream
Memoreve – Insignia
Enbound – The Blackened Heart
Blind Ego – Liquid
Dark Tranquillity – Atoma
Hammerfall – Built To Last
Testament – Brotherhood Of The Snake
Crippled Black Phoenix – Bronze
Riverside – Eye Of The Soundscape
Hanging Garden – Hereafter
Theocracy – Ghost Ship
Arkona – Lunaris
Oddland – Origin
Sonata Arctica – The Ninth Hour
Edensong – Years In The Garden of Years
Meshuggah – The Violent Sleep Of Reason
Alcest – Kodama
Opeth – Sorceress
Negura Bunget – ZI
Epica – The Holographic Principle
Amaranthe – Maximalism
Eye Of Solitude – Cenotaph
Seven Impale – Contrapasso
DGM – The Passage
Pressure Points – False Lights
In The Woods – Pure
Devin Townsend – Transcendence
The Pineapple Thief – Your Wilderness
Evergrey – The Storm Within
Dream The Electric Sleep – Beneath The Dark Wide Sky
Periphery – ‘Periphery III: Select Difficulty’
Karmakanic – Dot
Novena – Secondary Genesis
Witherscape – The Northern Sanctuary
Eric Gillette – The Great Unknown
Tilt – Hinterland
Cosmograf – The Unreasonable Silence
Fates Warning – Theories Of Flight
Wolverine – Machina Viva
Be’lakor – Vessels
Lacuna Coil – Delirium
Big Big Train – Folklore
Airbag – Disconnected
Katatonia – The Fall Of Hearts
Frost* – Falling Satellites
Glorior Belli – Sundown (The Flock That Welcomes)
Habu – Infinite
Grand Magus ‘Sword Songs’
Messenger – Threnodies
Svoid – Storming Voices Of Inner Devotion
Fallujah – Dreamless
In Mourning – Afterglow
Haken – Affinity
Long Distance Calling – Trips
October Tide – Winged Waltz
Odd Logic – Penny For Your Thoughts
Iron Mountain – Unum
Knifeworld – Bottled Out Of Eden
Novembre – Ursa
Beholder – Reflections
Neverworld – Dreamsnatcher
Universal Mind Project – The Jaguar Priest
Thunderstone – Apocalypse Again
InnerWish – Innerwish
Mob Rules – Tales From Beyond
Ghost Bath – Moonlover
Spiritual Beggars – Sunrise To Sundown
Oceans Of Slumber – Winter
Rikard Zander – I Can Do Without Love
Redemption – The Art Of Loss
Headspace – All That You Fear Is Gone
Chris Quirarte – Mending Broken Bridges
Sunburst – Fragments Of Creation
Inglorious – Inglorious
Omnium Gatherum – Grey Heavens
Structural Disorder – Distance
Votum – Ktonik
Fleshgod Apocalypse – King
Rikard Sjoblom – The Unbendable Sleep
Textures – Phenotype
Serenity – Codex Atlanticus
Borknagar – Winter Thrice
The Mute Gods – Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me
Brainstorm – Scary Creatures
Arcade Messiah – II
Phantasma – The Deviant Hearts
Rendezvous Point – Solar Storm
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld II
Antimatter – The Judas Table
Bauda – Sporelights
Waken Eyes – Exodus
Earthside – A Dream In Static
Caligula’s Horse – Bloom
Teramaze – Her Halo
Amorphis – Under The Red Cloud
Spock’s Beard – The Oblivion Particle
Agent Fresco – Destrier
Cattle Decapitation – The Anthropocene Extinction
Between The Buried And Me – Coma Ecliptic
Cradle Of Filth – Hammer Of The Witches
Disarmonia Mundi – Cold Inferno
District 97 – In Vaults
Progoctopus – Transcendence
Big Big Train – Wassail
NightMare World – In The Fullness Of Time
Helloween – My God-Given Right
Triaxis – Zero Hour
Isurus – Logocharya
Arcturus – Arcturian
Kamelot – Haven
Native Construct – Quiet World
Sigh – Graveward
Pantommind – Searching For Eternity
Subterranean Masquerade – The Great Bazaar
Klone – Here Comes The Sun
The Gentle Storm – The Diary
Melechesh – Enki
Enslaved – In Times
Keep Of Kalessin – Epistemology
Lonely Robot – Please Come Home
The Neal Morse Band – The Grand Experiment
Zero Stroke – As The Colours Seep
AudioPlastik – In The Head Of A Maniac
Revolution Saints – Revolution Saints
Mors Principium Est – Dawn of The 5th Era
Arcade Messiah – Arcade Messiah
Triosphere – The Heart Of The Matter
Neonfly – Strangers In Paradise
Knight Area – Hyperdrive
Haken – Restoration
James LaBrie – Impermanent Resonance
Mercenary – Through Our Darkest Days
A.C.T. – Circus Pandemonium
Xerath – III
Big Big Train – English Electric (Part 1)
Thought Chamber – Psykerion
Marcus Jidell – Pictures From A Time Traveller
H.E.A.T – Tearing Down The Walls
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld

Album of the Year 2016 – Number 1

Here we are. I’ve done it, and I have finished earlier than ever before. I never doubted it, even for a second!

What was also never in doubt was the support that I have received from all of you over the last month or so. The likes, the hits, the comments, the shares…it all comes together to make this whole thing worthwhile and actually a joy to create. The banter, the conversation and the disagreements; they’re all part of life’s rich tapestry.

But best of all is the fact that some of you have discovered a new band or a new album from reading this blog – that’s my main aim and I’m delighted that I have managed to succeed.

As I have said over the past couple of posts, the final three picks caused me no end of trouble. I’m generous with my review scores I will admit but it is rare I give out a perfect 10/10. So the fact that I gave out three during 2016 speaks volumes for the quality of music that was delivered this year.

In reality, the final three albums should be joint winners as they are all so good. However, I wanted to avoid doing this because it might have been a let-down to you all and a bit of a fudge. Instead I have searched deep inside to come up with some kind of order to these excellent releases. In the end, I decided to order them based on the most important factor – how they make me feel. On that basis, I was able to decide on an order that I am content with.

If you’re wondering what my other choices have been this year, then links to all 29 other picks can be found at the bottom of this post. There are also links to my complete series from previous years, 2012-2015. If you take a look, I hope you enjoy the read.

And with that, I can procrastinate no longer; it is time to reveal my album of 2016, the record that has had the biggest and most profound effect on me this year. The winner is…

Number 1

evergrey storm within

 

Evergrey
The Storm Within
AFM Records

 

“The Storm Within’ is the glorious sound that is created when five musicians come together at the very top of their game. Rikard’s keys permeate the entire album with an abundance of sounds and textures, both familiar and new. Tom and Henrik’s guitar playing is out of the top drawer, both in lead and rhythm guises. Johan’s bass is clear within the muscular mix, allowing his understated dexterity and sense of melody to provide an audible pulse to the music. And Jonas’ drumming is the heartbeat, offering a solid foundation that’s also deceptively complex and ambitious, arguably his most accomplished performance to date.

From the first notes of opener ‘Distance’, to the final moments of the closing title track, ‘The Storm Within’ is just about the perfect album for me in the here and now. It is exactly the kind of music that I want to listen to and, more so, that I crave. I have listened to this record more times than I care to admit, probably close to twice a day on average if not more. And the great thing is that it keeps getting better.

For those looking for a carbon copy to any of Evergrey’s previous releases, prepare to be disappointed. ‘The Storm Within’ is the sound of Evergrey 2016 and it is another step in their gradual evolution towards what they personally perceive to be the Holy Grail.

Onto the music itself and deliberate or not, there are more than a few nods to previous releases on this album. Be it a riff that calls to mind ‘Monday Morning Apocalypse’, a string embellishment that conjures up nostalgic memories of ‘Solitude…’ or a keyboard sound that recalls the ‘In Search Of Truth’ era, these little gems do exist and they are truly wonderful.

Give it your full, undivided attention and maybe you too will consider this album to be Evergrey’s finest hour. Will it even replace ‘In Search Of Truth’ as my all-time favourite album? Watch this space. What is certain however is that Evergrey’s majestic blend of heaviness, melody and emotion means that ‘The Storm Within’ is nothing short of a bona fide masterpiece. All hail Evergrey.”

Read the full review here

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Yes, yes, I accept that this is probably the most obvious choice that I have made in this entire series. Evergrey are my all-time favourite band after all, a group of musicians that I hold dear to my heart. However, I would have been the first to moan if they released a bit of a stinker. I have gone on record to suggest that there are a few albums in their back catalogue that I like less, so whilst I love this band, I’m not blindingly biased. At one stage in the mid-noughties, I was even close to replacing Evergrey as my favourite band.

And then ‘Hymns For The Broken’ came along. With it, came a reunited line-up after years of instability and most importantly, some of the most powerful music the band had ever released. The sense of contentment and excitement within the band was tangible and I felt that Evergrey were once again back to their very best. This also worried me because I wasn’t sure whether the euphoria would be short-lived or extend to future albums.

In the middle of 2016, I had my answer in the form of ‘The Storm Within’. Oh. My. Word. You can read the full review to get the bigger picture, but ‘The Storm Within’ is essentially a continuation of what they did so well with ‘Hymns…’ whilst adding a few different ingredients – the cinematic embellishments for one – and more than a few nods to their early days. It turns out to be the perfect blend of old and new and one of the most vital-sounding albums I have heard in some time.

Strong melodies, powerful riffs, bulldozing rhythms, a pronounced progressive element and dark, emotional atmospheres. That’s the Evergrey recipe and it creates some of the best music I have ever heard. This is exactly how I want my music to sound and Evergrey have delivered yet again.

So, ‘The Storm Within’ is expertly written, immaculately performed and anthemic in the extreme. But what tips this album into the top place however, is what has happened since I wrote the review. The songs just get better and better for a start.

And then Tom Englund, the driving force behind the band and the owner of arguably my favourite set of vocal chords in any genre of music went over to Iceland to film some videos. It was felt that Iceland offered the bleak and rugged visuals to fit with the tone of the record and this couldn’t have been more apt.

Tom Englund and his wife duet on the stunningly beautiful and emotional ‘The Paradox Of The Flame’ at the very spot where I scattered my brother’s ashes near the Gulfoss waterfall. The feelings that this evoked within me when I first saw the video can never be forgotten. Goosebumps upon chills upon more chills and then tears…it was a rollercoaster of emotions and one that repeats itself whenever I am brave enough to watch the video.

It was perfect. My favourite band playing beautiful music at one of my most important places on Earth…it was like it was meant to be. I believe that maybe it was meant to be.

The result is that ‘The Storm Within’ is my album of the year for 2016…and rightly so.

In case you’ve missed any of the other posts in the 2016 series, here they are for you to explore and enjoy:

Album of the Year 2016 – number 7
Album of the Year 2016 – number 8
Album of the Year 2016 – number 9
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 10
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 11
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 12
Album of the Year 2016 – number 13
Album of the Year 2016 – number 14
Album of the Year 2016 – number 15
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 16
Album of the Year 2016 – number 17
Album of the Year 2016 – number 18
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 19
Album of the Year 2016 – number 20
Album of the Year 2016 – number 21
Album of the Year 2016 – number 22
Album of the Year 2016 – number 23
Album of the Year 2016 – number 24
Album of the Year 2016 – number 25
Album of the Year 2016 – number 26
Album of the Year 2016 – number 27
Album of the Year 2016 – number 28
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 29
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 30
And from previous years:

Album of the Year 2016 – Number 2

Welcome to the penultimate day in my 2016 ‘Album of the Year’ top 30 countdown. It is a series I started at the end of November, so around a month later, here we are nearly at the end of this rather epic journey. It’s one that I undertake every year, so I should be used to it by now.

However, I always forget what a buzz it gives me. I really like having the opportunity to listen to the very best music of the year and to then be able to write about it one last time before a whole new year and a new chapter begins. It’s a labour of love that I fully enjoy – I hope you have enjoyed it too.

Forgive me but, as always, if you’re new to this series or my blog in general, links to the previous posts in this series can be found at the bottom of this post, along with links to the entire 2012-2015 lists, should you be interested.

As I stated at the beginning of the last post, these top three albums are almost inseparable and really, they should be given equal billing as joint winners. In my eyes and in my heart, they are equally brilliant and worthy winners. However, I’ve tried to avoid sitting on the fence for the purposes of this series. As a result, I have put these three records in an order. It is a little arbitrary but is based on the way in which the albums in question made me feel and continue to make me feel some time after their release.

So here goes, here is my silver medal winner…

Number 2

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Haken
Affinity
InsideOut Music

“…in stark contrast to ‘The Mountain’, ‘Affinity’ captured my imagination right off the bat and has not failed to let go in the month or so that I’ve been listening to it. If anything, the more I listen, the better it gets.

‘Affinity’ is an album that transcends the normal debates around whether it is good or not. Of course it is good, that almost goes without saying.

‘Affinity’ manages to deftly and expertly merge the sounds of the past with the sounds of the future. In spite of the 1980s sheen, all nine compositions on ‘Affinity’ come across to me as fresh and exciting, with accents of djent, post-rock, ambient and all manner of other sounds bursting forth at whim.

How do I sum up an album like this? I could have mentioned a million bands throughout this review, from Textures to King Crimson and beyond as indeed there are reference points all over the place if you’re of a mind to count them. However, Haken are Haken and the bottom line is that they have developed into a modern prog band that is truly unique. ‘Affinity’ is one of the best progressive albums I have ever had the pleasure to listen to but more than that, it truly moves me and I connect to it on an emotional level; it makes me smile, it makes me cry and it makes me feel alive.”

Read the full review here

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Credit: Isabell Etz

There is no denying that Haken has been an important band in my collection ever since their debut, ‘Aquarius’. This was a seriously great find for me musically and, as it happens, personally too as the guys in this UK based prog band are some of the nicest and most down-to-earth fellows you’re ever likely to meet. Not that they’ll feel the same about me when they find out that I’ve not given them the ultimate number one slot in this 2016 best of countdown!

Their debut was intriguing, full of unique moments whilst paying homage to their musical heroes. However, as it turns out, this was just the beginning. It was hugely enjoyable but moreover, it hinted at even better to come. Those hints were right. Over time, they have built upon their debut, always seeking to try new things and bring in new sources of inspiration. The net result is, in my opinion, a band that has remained one step ahead of their peers, sounding fresh and interesting with each incarnation and each album.

And so we now have ‘Affinity’, an album that once again sees Haken in devastating form. If ‘The Mountain’ was this young band coming of age, ‘Affinity’ silences any doubters to the assertion that Haken are the most accomplished and exciting band in progressive music today. Too much? Nope, I don’t think so.

Throwing the rule book away, they have managed to create an album that is something that only this sextet could have put together. It is incredibly technical and complex but never at the expense of the songs and the vibe that they are trying to create. ‘Affinity’ harks back unashamedly to the 80s whilst also managing to sound new, innovative and fresh, borrowing from all corners of the musical spectrum in the process. The playful side of Haken, never allowing themselves to be taken too seriously, is evident but, at the same time, there is a much more mature side to much of the material. At some points, the music is deeply moving and touching, whilst at others, you can’t help but smile.

Whilst many have rightly lauded the fantastically epic ‘The Architect’ as the best song on the album, perhaps even the best song of Haken’s career to date, I have other personal favourites from ‘Affinity’. The gorgeous ‘Earthrise’ with its wonderfully up-beat vibe has been my ringtone for months, meaning that I never answer my phone on the first, second or third ring…sometimes, I fail to answer at all. Oh well, music comes first.

Then there’s the closer, ‘Bound By Gravity’ which is much more sombre, fragile and stunningly beautiful. There isn’t anything approaching a weak track on this album but these two have become the show-stoppers for me; when they start, I stop. I stop and listen, regardless of time, situation or mood. This is the hallmark of intensely powerful music.

I adore this album and my adoration has only strengthened as the year has gone on. I’d have to say that ‘Affinity’ is now my favourite Haken album, nudging ‘Visions’ off the top spot. But not only that, ‘Affinity’ is the best progressive album of the year and, for me, the best for some time beyond that too.

In case you’ve missed any of the other posts in the 2016 series, here they are for you to explore and enjoy:

Album of the Year 2016 – number 7
Album of the Year 2016 – number 8
Album of the Year 2016 – number 9
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 10
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 11
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 12
Album of the Year 2016 – number 13
Album of the Year 2016 – number 14
Album of the Year 2016 – number 15
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 16
Album of the Year 2016 – number 17
Album of the Year 2016 – number 18
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 19
Album of the Year 2016 – number 20
Album of the Year 2016 – number 21
Album of the Year 2016 – number 22
Album of the Year 2016 – number 23
Album of the Year 2016 – number 24
Album of the Year 2016 – number 25
Album of the Year 2016 – number 26
Album of the Year 2016 – number 27
Album of the Year 2016 – number 28
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 29
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 30
And from previous years:

Album of the Year 2016 – Number 3

Welcome to day 28 of my ‘Album of the Year 2016′ top 30 countdown and with it, we’re into the top 3 of the year. Thanks to everyone who has stuck with me over the past month, I hope you’ve found it as fun as I have to write.

As ever, if you are new to this blog, you’ll find links to my previous 27 choices at the bottom of this post along with links to the full series’ from previous years. I hope you enjoy them if you decide to take a look.

Now, I have a bit of a confession to make at this point in the proceedings. The final three choices of mine are so damn-near inseparable that in all reality, they should be a joint no.1. All three have seriously kicked my backside this year and deserve all the accolades that can be bestowed upon them. In my heart, they are as one and cannot be separated.

However, in the spirit of this countdown and to demonstrate that I am able to make a decision however impossible it might be, I have put these three albums into some semblance of an order, based on one simple thing: how they made me feel. They are all superb in their own right, all written and executed with care, passion and finesse.

With that firmly in mind, here’s the bronze medal winner…

Number 3

Katatonia-Fall-Of-Hearts-Medium-Res-Cover1

Katatonia
The Fall Of Hearts
Peaceville Records

“…in short, it is almost impossible for me to not laud ‘The Fall Of Hearts’ as one of the very best releases in the band’s 25-year career. I have weighed it up thoroughly as I’ve lain on the sofa late at night, almost every night, soaking up the music on offer here within album number ten.

…it is a huge album. At nearly 70 minutes in length and spread over 12 tracks, you certainly get value for money and any concern that Katatonia may have been lacking inspiration or drive coming into this recording is immediately expunged. Come on, this is Katatonia after all and so, if anything, it’s exactly the opposite, as if the quintet has come out of the blocks with all guns blazing to prove that the recent instability has not impacted on the band in anything other than a positive manner.

I feel emotionally drained yet elated as it dawns on me that I have just spent an hour in the presence of greatness. Is it their best release ever? It’s too early to say for sure. However, it has had a huge impact on me, just like every release before it. As far as I’m concerned, music is all about the here and now though – how it makes you feel as you listen, how it makes you think and whether or not it gives you strength or a sense of comfort. Right now, ‘The Fall Of Hearts’ calls to me, it speaks to me on a myriad of different levels and I feel stronger and more enriched by it. And that’s more than enough for me right now.

Majestic and peerless, where there is darkness, Katatonia is your master, so allow your heart to fall to them.”

Read the full review here

Ester Segarra
Credit: Ester Segarra

At the time of my review, I gave ‘The Fall of Hearts’ a perfect 10/10. I stand by this decision wholeheartedly. It deserves this score because  of its genre, if such a thing even exists, it is at the very pinnacle, a superlative slab of melancholy dark rock/metal with a progressive sheen. And, if you’ll forgive a further quote from my review:

“Not only is their music of the highest calibre, it is also one of the strongest links between my late brother and I. You see, he had great music taste and it was he that got me to see the light about Katatonia many years ago. Subsequently, whenever I hear Jonas Renkse’s delectably emotive voice or that unmistakeable guitar tone of Anders ‘Blakkheim’ Nystrom, my little brother’s face looms large in my mind every time, usually accompanied by a smile and the odd tear. For that alone, I owe Katatonia a debt of thanks.”

So not only is the music out of the very top drawer, there is a more personal connection between the music of Katatonia and I. It all comes together to create something immensely powerful but intangible and hugely difficult to express in words.

What makes ‘The Fall of Hearts’ so special, even above some of their own extraordinarily strong back catalogue, is that it is the sound of a band still growing, still experimenting and still learning even after so many years. They’ve never stood still but there’s an even greater feeling of exploration and soul-searching on this record.

And inevitably, it is a success. Listen to any of the songs on this record and you can feel the magic. And you can hear something incredibly vibrant and explosive yet poignant, fragile and bleak. What a combination; it is something that Katatonia have mastered and, I hope, will continue to master for many years to come.

In case you’ve missed any of the other posts in the 2016 series, here they are for you to explore and enjoy:

Album of the Year 2016 – number 7
Album of the Year 2016 – number 8
Album of the Year 2016 – number 9
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 10
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 11
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 12
Album of the Year 2016 – number 13
Album of the Year 2016 – number 14
Album of the Year 2016 – number 15
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 16
Album of the Year 2016 – number 17
Album of the Year 2016 – number 18
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 19
Album of the Year 2016 – number 20
Album of the Year 2016 – number 21
Album of the Year 2016 – number 22
Album of the Year 2016 – number 23
Album of the Year 2016 – number 24
Album of the Year 2016 – number 25
Album of the Year 2016 – number 26
Album of the Year 2016 – number 27
Album of the Year 2016 – number 28
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 29
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 30
And from previous years:

Album of the Year 2016 – Number 4

Welcome to day 27 of my ‘Album of the Year 2016’ top 30 countdown.

It has been a couple of days since I last posted an update in this series – don’t you just hate it when something as inconsequential as Christmas gets in the way of some serious blog writing? Only kidding, I hope you’ve all enjoyed the holidays and are now raring to get back on track with me with the next instalment of this slightly epic series.

We are getting to the really important posts now and with it, the seriously brilliant albums that crossed my path during 2016, helping make my year so much better and more enjoyable. Music has always been an important form of escapism for me and so the albums that feature in the latter stages of this series have given me so much this year to be happy about.

As always, if you are new to this series or if you have been negligent enough to miss any of the series thus far, links to each 2016 post can be found at the bottom of this post. In addition, you’ll also find links to my entire series from previous years, from 2012-2015 inclusive. I hope you enjoy checking them out.

And on that note, I must return to 2016 and reveal my fourth favourite album of this year…

Number 4

bbt folklore cover

 

Big Big Train
Folklore
English Electric Recordings

 

“…Big Big Train are masters of song writing with the unnerving ability to pen everything from subtle and fragile pieces right through to up-tempo rocking numbers and everything in between, sometimes all of it within the same song. Their talent allows them to execute extremely technical and sophisticated material in a manner that makes it seem smooth, cohesive and deceptively simple.

…on ‘Folklore’, every track on the record contains a hook or a vocal line or a chorus that will pull you back time after time.

…it is fair to say that every one of the nine songs on offer on ‘Folklore’ delivers something special. This is a remarkably consistent, intelligent and thought-provoking album that is backed up by some of the best progressive rock that I have heard in a long time.

More importantly from my point of view, is the way that the album makes me feel. It makes me run the gamut of emotions if I’m honest, from elated to tearful, but does this in a very sensitive and subtle way. And, strangely enough, Big Big Train makes me proud to be English. It’s a rare feeling in this day and age, but they have a knack of focusing on topics and people worthy of our admiration and attention rather than the opposite.”

Read the full review here

bbt band 1
Credit: unknown

The very fact that a progressive rock album has made it this high in what is, essentially a heavy metal-oriented countdown by a dyed-in-the-wool metal head should speak volumes for the quality of this album. It is simply the greatest progressive rock album that I have heard this year. It might also be one of the best, if not the best, progressive rock album that I have heard for several years. Maybe even ever. And believe me, this is not just unfounded hyperbole, I genuinely mean it.

In my review earlier in the year, I focused on the melodies, the technical prowess of the eight musicians and the way that ‘Folklore’ made me feel. Well, several months on, these huge strengths have become even more important to me and even more pronounced.

Those melodies just burrow deeper into my mind, the stories and lyrical content become ever richer and more interesting and my affinity with the record just gets ever stronger. It is like I have a new friend, or several new friends and every time I press play, I meet up with them and we have another adventure together.

But, unlike a lot of the music that I listen to that has either a more melancholy edge or darker overtones, ‘Folklore’ is a positive life-affirming listening experience. Yes it has its more emotional moments that are thought-provoking or genuinely moving. However, more often than not, it is an album that ultimately lightens my mood, relaxes me and makes me smile.

And all this is wrapped up in some incredibly deep, complex and beautiful pastoral progressive rock that gives so much to the listener each and every time. Is there anything else that I need to say to convince you?

In case you’ve missed any of the other posts in the 2016 series, here they are for you to explore and enjoy:

Album of the Year 2016 – number 7
Album of the Year 2016 – number 8
Album of the Year 2016 – number 9
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 10
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 11
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 12
Album of the Year 2016 – number 13
Album of the Year 2016 – number 14
Album of the Year 2016 – number 15
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 16
Album of the Year 2016 – number 17
Album of the Year 2016 – number 18
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 19
Album of the Year 2016 – number 20
Album of the Year 2016 – number 21
Album of the Year 2016 – number 22
Album of the Year 2016 – number 23
Album of the Year 2016 – number 24
Album of the Year 2016 – number 25
Album of the Year 2016 – number 26
Album of the Year 2016 – number 27
Album of the Year 2016 – number 28
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 29
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 30
And from previous years:

Album of the Year 2016 – Number 5

Welcome to the top 5 of my ‘Album of the Year 2016’ top 30 countdown. It has been a long time coming but here we finally are – the five best albums of 2016, according to the Man of Much Metal.
as I’ve said many times before, this is just one man’s opinion of the music he has heard over the last 12 months. I have not taken votes, I have not compiled the list in an effort to get extra traffic to my site or a procession of positive, fawning comments. Frankly, given the quality of the music this year, I could have compiled a top 60. But instead, I have kept it to the very best 30 from my subjective viewpoint.
I’m always keen to have a debate, so let me know what you think of my choices.
If you’ve missed any of the previous 25 posts in this series, you can find links to them all at the bottom of this post. In addition, you can also find links to the entire lists I have compiled since 2012, should you be curious about my choices in years gone by.
And now, here comes my pick for the fifth best album of 2016…
Number 5
Press_Cover_01
Borknagar
Winter Thrice
Century Media Records
“It’s only mid-January and already I’m confronted with an album that has well and truly put the cat amongst the proverbial pigeons. The enigmatic and evergreen Borknagar have released what I consider to be their magnum opus. ‘Winter Thrice’ is nothing short of magnificent, a triumphant album full of almost flawless music. You think I’m kidding? You think I’ve begun this review with unnecessary and frivolous hyperbole? Just wait until you hear this beast an then tell me I’m overstating things.
…the first place to start with this record has to be with the vocals. Most bands would kill for a world-class singer but in Borknager circa 2016, there are four.
It is a sensational slab of intelligent, powerful and sophisticated extreme metal that is as beautiful as it is brutal. I have been captivated since the first listen and I cannot see how the spell that Borknagar has cast upon me can be broken. Mind you, I don’t want it to be broken. This is a near perfect aural experience and I am all the richer for having it in my life.”
12508932_10153931766602082_2205725726582082745_n
Credit: Martine Petra Photography & Dance

 

‘Winter Thrice’ was the first album of 2016 that knocked me sideways. In fact, it knocked me backwards, sideways and upside down. I knew when I heard it back in early January that it would feature in my top 30 countdown. I knew in January that it would feature in my top 10. But it is testament to its brilliance that it finds itself at number 5 in the face of stiff competition from all quarters since.
In fact, ‘Winter Thrice’ has ended the year being my favourite extreme metal record of 2016. And why have I bestowed this honour upon Borknagar ahead of all other more extreme metal releases this year? The reasons are many but here goes…
Firstly, the four vocalists that appear on the record are sheer class. The variety that each individual brings to the table is immense and gives ‘Winter Thrice’ an added dimension that is lacking almost everywhere else. From growls to smooth, introspective clean voices, the lyrics are delivered in a deliciously unique manner.
The musicianship is out of the very top drawer, as is the songwriting. Each and every composition on this record offers something almost magical or otherworldly that draws me well and truly under their spell. ‘Winter Thrice’ is the sound of a band at the height of their powers and  as a result, there is no filler and in fact, there’s nothing less than brilliance to be heard throughout the album.
For me though, the best thing about ‘Winter Thrice’ is the way in which elegant and captivating melodies are brought into the recipe to counteract the heavier bombast elsewhere. It’s sometimes difficult to imagine a true extreme metal band being elegant and sophisticated but that’s exactly what Borknagar achieve. As a result, each facet of their folk-tinged and progressive metal output comes across as being that little bit more powerful, pronounced and engrossing.
It is a special album that can make something so apparently impenetrable and daunting sound so welcoming and warm whilst at the same time kicking some serious butt. Whenever I listen, I never know whether to smile, grimace, head bang or tap my foot. So I generally engage in all four and plenty more besides.
Oh and the title track is just about the most perfect song that I have heard all year. It is truly astonishing and acts as an eloquent example of what Borknagar are all about. I adore it and nearly a year on, I still do not tire of it. If anything, the magic has grown and I’m more obsessed than ever about it. In fact, I think I’ll listen right now, for the 1,034th time…
In case you’ve missed any of the other posts in the 2016 series, here they are for you to explore and enjoy:
Album of the Year 2016 – number 7
Album of the Year 2016 – number 8
Album of the Year 2016 – number 9
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 10
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 11
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 12
Album of the Year 2016 – number 13
Album of the Year 2016 – number 14
Album of the Year 2016 – number 15
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 16
Album of the Year 2016 – number 17
Album of the Year 2016 – number 18
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 19
Album of the Year 2016 – number 20
Album of the Year 2016 – number 21
Album of the Year 2016 – number 22
Album of the Year 2016 – number 23
Album of the Year 2016 – number 24
Album of the Year 2016 – number 25
Album of the Year 2016 – number 26
Album of the Year 2016 – number 27
Album of the Year 2016 – number 28
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 29
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 30
And from previous years:

Album of the Year 2016 – Number 6

Welcome to day 25 of my ‘Album of the Year 2016’ top 30 countdown.

As if the last 24 posts in this series hadn’t already spelled it out, this year has been one of the most insane ever. I’m sure you’ll agree that the quality has been unbelievable so far. If you’re unfamiliar with my choices, just scroll to the bottom of this post where you’ll find links to each of the wonderful albums I’ve chosen thus far.

And now, as we reach the last six albums in my list, it gets even better. These last six albums are some of the best I have heard for a good while and it has been almost impossible to separate them to put them into some kind of order.

Nevertheless, I have persevered and am now able to shine the spotlight on them. Somewhat conventionally, let me start with number 6…

Number 6

IMG_1283

Wolverine
Machina Viva
The Laser’s Edge

“The album, Wolverine’s fifth, goes by the name of ‘Machina Viva’ and, if you’d be so kind, I’d like to here and now go on record and say something directly to Messrs Henriksson (keyboards), Jansson (bass), Losbjer (drums), Jonsson (guitars) and Zell (vocals): thank you. From the bottom of my heart, thank you…You see, for me and many others I’m sure, a world without such beautiful, fragile, challenging and emotional music is unimaginable.

Forget for just a moment all of the intricacies & progressive nuances that litter Wolverine’s music, there are few artists out there that have the unnerving ability to break hearts with just one note. And Wolverine do it with such style that it’s impossible not to get swept up entirely in the emotion of it all…Add to this a level of lyricism that delves deep into the shadows of the human psyche to lay bare all the sorrows, regrets and bleak misery to which we, as humans, are susceptible and all of a sudden, you’re confronted with a body of work that is as draining and intense as it is bleak and stunningly beautiful.

There’s not a lot more I can say to be honest, so I won’t. I’ll just press play again and revel in some properly intelligent and intoxicating music that despite its heart-breaking overtones is a sheer magical delight from start to finish.

listening to Wolverine is more than just listening to music; it is an all-encompassing experience, at its most fulfilling if you give yourself entirely over to it. And yet, somehow, the music also offers a cathartic and highly rewarding journey too.”

Read the full review here

wolverine-machina-viva-wolverine2016-02

The sheer emotion of this record is the magic, intangible ingredient that makes ‘Machina Viva’ one of the very best albums of 2016. And yet, it was because of this depth that it took me a while to get fully immersed in the record.The lyrical density and the overt sadness that it projects is a daunting prospect initially and I had to be in the right mood to listen.

Now though, I embrace it. It comforts me in a strange way, to know that the raw emotions and human feelings brought to life so eloquently on this record, are not just mine to suffer alone. And I can’t be the only one for sure.

Backing this up is a tour-de-force of progressive rock and metal, where the listener is taken on a journey that climbs up high and plummets low in perfect harmony with the words. It’s a rich aural soundscape that uses minimalist ideas alongside more intricate and complex sections. It challenges the listener but, at the same time, contains some melodic refrains both vocally and instrumentally to tug at the heartstrings and lure you in for repeated listens.

And the crowning glory? It’s the honesty that permeates the entire album. You know for sure that the members of Wolverine are not just making such fragile and emotional music for the sake of it, they are living every word, using their own experiences as the fertile seeds for their artistic output.

I adore ‘Machina Viva’ more with every passing listen. It has become an important part of my 2016 musical tapestry and I have taken it to my heart.

In case you’ve missed any of the other posts in the 2016 series, here they are for you to explore and enjoy:

Album of the Year 2016 – number 7
Album of the Year 2016 – number 8
Album of the Year 2016 – number 9
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 10
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 11
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 12
Album of the Year 2016 – number 13
Album of the Year 2016 – number 14
Album of the Year 2016 – number 15
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 16
Album of the Year 2016 – number 17
Album of the Year 2016 – number 18
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 19
Album of the Year 2016 – number 20
Album of the Year 2016 – number 21
Album of the Year 2016 – number 22
Album of the Year 2016 – number 23
Album of the Year 2016 – number 24
Album of the Year 2016 – number 25
Album of the Year 2016 – number 26
Album of the Year 2016 – number 27
Album of the Year 2016 – number 28
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 29
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 30

And from previous years:

Album of the Year 2015
Album of the Year 2014
Album of the Year 2013
Album of the Year 2012

Album of the Year 2016 – Number 7

Welcome to day 24 of my annual ‘Album of the Year – top 30 countdown’.

Thank you everyone for the absolutely wonderful support throughout this series. It is a list that I put a lot of effort in to because I want the bands and albums featured to have one final and well-deserved moment in the spotlight.

Remember that this end of year list is not an exercise in rewarding those already successful acts in the hope that I draw more attention to my blog. It is a list of 30 albums that I have heard in 2016 that have had a positive impact on me. Some are unsigned, some are debut albums and others are delivered at the hands of more well-known household names. But they all have that one thing in common – they are full of superb music that has made 2016 a better year for me.

If you’ve missed any of my previous posts in this series, please check out the links at the bottom of this page. There are also links to my similar countdowns from previous years, so feel free to check them out too and let me know what you think.

And now all that’s out of the way, here’s today’s choice at number 7…

Number 7

dark_tranquillity_2016_atoma_cover

 

Dark Tranquillity
Atoma
Century Media Records

 

“In a nutshell, ‘Atoma’ is just about the perfect blend of the catchiness and immediacy of ‘Haven’ or ‘Character’, the more extreme elements found within ‘We Are The Void’ or ‘Construct’ and the more atmospheric and rich sounds of ‘Projector’, an album which remains a firm favourite to this day. Allow me to elaborate just a touch.

The title track begins with an electronic melody before bursting into life. ‘Oh mama, Stanne has brought back his clean vocals’ I exclaim with barely contained joy on a first spin, having sorely missed this ingredient in recent years. The chosen vocal delivery immediately provides a wonderful ‘Projector’ feel, one of my favourite albums from the strong discography.

Just when I thought 2016 couldn’t get any better, up pops Dark Tranquillity to send me into a spin of emotion and elation. As I said at the outset, Dark Tranquillity have always been very important to me. However, what ‘Atoma’ does so wonderfully, is draw all of their key ingredients together into one 12-track album to create a thrill-ride of expertly-crafted, engaging and elegant melodic death metal. My love for Dark Tranquillity has been well and truly cemented and right now, I can’t think of a better band within this particular genre. They helped to create it, they have helped to shape it and now, in 2016, Dark Tranquillity have proved that they are still, unquestionably, the masters of melodic death metal.”

Read the full review here

Credit: Dirk Behlau
Credit: Dirk Behlau

Once again, I have quoted my review and left little need for significant embellishment as they pretty much say it all. However, despite Dark Tranquillity’s eleventh album being a relative latecomer to this year’s competition, there was never any doubt it would find a place in this list.

As my review explains, Dark Tranquillity hold a special place in my heart but that alone would not be enough for it to feature here. It adds a certain ingredient to the mix but the music has to be sufficiently strong first and foremost. And on that score, Dark Tranquillity have excelled. A month or two down the line from its release and I am beginning to firmly believe that this could be their best release within an already strong back catalogue.

I was always a sucker for the ‘Projector’ era with the clean vocals from Stanne, but I have also enjoyed their heavier, more extreme side. ‘Atoma’ is the perfect blend of both but it all comes together so smoothly and expertly to leave the listener in no doubt that they belong together. In fact, when dovetailed together like this, both of the distinct elements sound somehow more striking and powerful.

And then, as always, the album delivers strong grooves and sumptuous melodies, adding that irresistibly playful and memorable magic. I have lost count of the number of times I have listened to ‘Atoma’ and I adore it as much now as I did at the beginning. And those I meet when I take the dog out for a walk must know when I’m engrossed in ‘Atoma’ because I’m nodding my head, singing along and smiling broadly. That’s the magic of Dark Tranquillity and that’s why ‘Atoma’, for me, is the best melodeath album of the year in the face of some exceptionally strong competition.

In case you’ve missed any of the other posts in the 2016 series, here they are for you to explore and enjoy:

Album of the Year 2016 – number 8
Album of the Year 2016 – number 9
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 10
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 11
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 12
Album of the Year 2016 – number 13
Album of the Year 2016 – number 14
Album of the Year 2016 – number 15
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 16
Album of the Year 2016 – number 17
Album of the Year 2016 – number 18
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 19
Album of the Year 2016 – number 20
Album of the Year 2016 – number 21
Album of the Year 2016 – number 22
Album of the Year 2016 – number 23
Album of the Year 2016 – number 24
Album of the Year 2016 – number 25
Album of the Year 2016 – number 26
Album of the Year 2016 – number 27
Album of the Year 2016 – number 28
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 29
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 30

And from previous years:

Album of the Year 2015
Album of the Year 2014
Album of the Year 2013
Album of the Year 2012

Album of the Year 2016 – Number 8

Welcome to day 23 in my ‘Album of the Year 2016’ top 30 countdown. It seems like only yesterday that I began this series and already we’re at number 8. Cor blimey!

I know I’ve said it before but because of the quality of the music this year, this has been the toughest top 10 that I’ve ever had to put together. In fact, it has been the toughest top 30 altogether. I hope you all agree with the choices that I have made, but if you don’t, oh well, I’m sure I’ll live with it. This is just my own personal opinion, not a popularity contest and so the choices I make are mine alone.

As always, each post delivers a link to the full review I wrote earlier in the year, as well as my more up-to-date thoughts on the records. In addition, these posts feature alternative photos and, where possible, a different sample track to try to help explain why I think the album is worthy of inclusion in this list. If you’ve missed any of the previous posts, links are at the bottom of this post as always.

And now, here’s my choice at number 8…

Number 8

alcest_kodama_cover

 

Alcest
Kodama
Prophecy Productions

 

“…‘Kodama’, the fifth release from French duo Alcest, is utterly, jaw-droppingly beautiful. I am thoroughly addicted and transfixed by it, almost to the point of being obsessed.

With ‘Kodama’, like most of their output, Alcest challenge us again but in a positive way. This time, the metal elements make a return and it is most definitely a welcome return as far as I’m concerned. But that doesn’t mean that ‘Kodama’ is any less subtle, beautiful, cerebral, or deep than anything that has gone before.

The result is an album that is melancholy and positive, poignant and uplifting, bold and subtle. And what’s more, all of these elements are placed perfectly; creating a dramatic and scintillating journey through aural textures and tones with a thrilling ebb and flow that means the listener is fully absorbed and entirely invested in the music from the first moment to the very last.

‘Kodama’ truly is one of the most bewitching and beautiful albums I have heard in quite a while, full of sublime melodies, juxtaposing musical ideas and rich textures, pulled together through powerful themes that touch on the conflicting emotions of sorrow and joy. ‘Kodama’ is stunning.”

Read the full review here

Picture: David Fitt
Picture: David Fitt

I’ve not left an awful lot of room to say much more about ‘Kodama’ given the quotes above. However, they sum up my thoughts and feelings towards this magnificent album perfectly, even after a few months has passed. There are very few superlatives that could be left unused when describing this latest opus from the French duo of Neige and Winterhalter. It really is that good and, had it not been one of the most insanely strong years for music that I can remember, it might well have found itself even higher on my list. It certainly puts forward an eloquent case that it should.

Nevertheless, don’t let the 8th spot put you off in any way. In many ways, the ordering of these records is a touch abstract and merely a vehicle to enable me to countdown my choices every day. What is more important is what I have written in my review and here, in the body of this article.

I find ‘Kodama’ to be one of the more emotional and deep albums that has been released in 2016; you’d have to have a heart of stone to not be affected in some way or another by Alcest’ music. It’s more than music alone, it’s an experience that once experienced, enriches your life and for me, is quite a cathartic experience, cleansing my mind and soul in the process. Sound pretentious? Just have a listen and decide for yourself…

In case you’ve missed any of the other posts in the 2016 series, here they are for you to explore and enjoy:

Album of the Year 2016 – number 9
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 10
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 11
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 12
Album of the Year 2016 – number 13
Album of the Year 2016 – number 14
Album of the Year 2016 – number 15
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 16
Album of the Year 2016 – number 17
Album of the Year 2016 – number 18
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 19
Album of the Year 2016 – number 20
Album of the Year 2016 – number 21
Album of the Year 2016 – number 22
Album of the Year 2016 – number 23
Album of the Year 2016 – number 24
Album of the Year 2016 – number 25
Album of the Year 2016 – number 26
Album of the Year 2016 – number 27
Album of the Year 2016 – number 28
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 29
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 30

And from previous years:

Album of the Year 2015
Album of the Year 2014
Album of the Year 2013
Album of the Year 2012

Album of the Year 2016 – Number 9

Welcome to day 22 of my ‘Album of the Year 2016’ top 30 countdown. Thank you for sticking with me over the past month or so, the support has been brilliant and it gives me the inspiration to keep going.

From 30 to 10 so far, every single album featured so far has been worthy of a spot in this list, regardless of their size or popularity – that’s the Blog of Much Metal way! However the series is getting very serious now as we are nearing the final few hurdles to discover which album has made it to the summit of this year’s list. Who do you think will feature from here on in? What are your thoughts so far on the choices I have made? Are you beginning to think that there may be some glaring omissions from the list? Whatever your thoughts, please get in touch and tell me what you think – I love a good debate and a little good-natured banter too.

As always, if you are new to this series or if you just happen to have missed one or two of the instalments, you can find links to numbers 30-10 at the bottom of this page – please check it all out, you might just like it and even better, you might just discover your next favourite album.

And with that, let’s turn our attention to the main event – who has taken the number 9 slot?…

Number 9

OG cover

 

Omnium Gatherum
Grey Heavens
Lifeforce Records

 

“Ah, Omnium Gatherum. A band that have gone from being an ok melodic death metal band to arguably my most favourite band within the genre. These Finns really are a special outfit and with ’Grey Heavens’ they have once again proved how peerless they are.

What I particularly love about Omnium Gatherum is the way in which they don’t ever overdo the clean vocals. They do have a soft and gentle side and they do inject plenty of warm and memorable AOR melodies into their music. However, they never seem to lose sight of the fact that they are also an extreme metal band.

There’s really not much more to say about this record. It is exactly the kind of album that I hoped for from this talented group of musicians, a band that continue to grow and go from strength to strength. With ’Grey Heavens’, Omnium Gatherum have just increased their stock further and, for me at least, stand at the very summit of the melodic death metal genre.”

Read the full review here

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2016 has been a hugely strong year for metal of most styles. However, one of the best-served sub-genres this year is, without question, the melodic death metal scene, with a plethora of superb albums being released on an unsuspecting world. This is nectar to my ears though, because melodeath and I have a very healthy relationship. Some might even call it a love affair. But who am I to comment?

Call it what you will, but Finnish sextet Omnium Gatherum find themselves high up my insanely strong list this year thanks to their latest opus ‘Grey Heavens’. As has become their modus operandi, this cracking release reprises their unique blend of properly extreme metal and smooth, hook-laden AOR melodies. For someone like me, it’s a match made in heaven and yet again, Omnium Gatherum have delivered a masterclass. ‘Grey Heavens’ is the sound of a band at the height of their powers and manages to push their previous masterpiece, ‘Beyond’ all the way, something I thought would be virtually impossible.

The keyboard-driven atmospheres smother this release beautifully, helping to accentuate those huge melodies and counterpoint the extreme metal foundations to superb effect. There is a depth in the compositions as a result that helps to heighten the enjoyment and take Omnium Gatherum to the next level. From all-out extremity, to full-on groove and from mature songwriting to soaring melodies, ‘Grey Heavens’ has it all and it keeps on getting better too.

In case you’ve missed any of the other posts in the 2016 series, here they are for you to explore and enjoy:

Album of the Year 2016 – Number 10
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 11
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 12
Album of the Year 2016 – number 13
Album of the Year 2016 – number 14
Album of the Year 2016 – number 15
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 16
Album of the Year 2016 – number 17
Album of the Year 2016 – number 18
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 19
Album of the Year 2016 – number 20
Album of the Year 2016 – number 21
Album of the Year 2016 – number 22
Album of the Year 2016 – number 23
Album of the Year 2016 – number 24
Album of the Year 2016 – number 25
Album of the Year 2016 – number 26
Album of the Year 2016 – number 27
Album of the Year 2016 – number 28
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 29
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 30

And from previous years:

Album of the Year 2015
Album of the Year 2014
Album of the Year 2013
Album of the Year 2012

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