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Bjørn Riis – Forever Comes To An End – Album Review

Kar126 Bjorn Riis - Front 3000

Artist: Bjørn Riis

Album Title: Forever Comes To An End

Label: Karisma Records

Date of Release: 19 May 2017

I’ve made no secret of my ardour towards the music of Airbag on this very blog. The Norwegian progressive rock band is a powerful entity with a knack of penning emotional and deeply engaging music, which comes across as smooth, rich and effortless. Nowhere was this evidenced more strongly than with their most recent studio recording, ‘Disconnected’, released mid-2016. It was magnificent.

Naturally then, how could I resist checking out the latest solo effort from Airbag’s principal song writer, Bjørn Riis? I completely missed his debut solo album, ‘Lullabies In A Car Crash’ because I was unaware of its existence. However, I wasn’t prepared to make the same mistake again. And I haven’t. I have spent the last few days getting to know ‘Forever Comes To An End’ quite intimately and it was a very wise decision to say the least.

It is fair to say that there definite and demonstrable similarities between the music on this record and the general output of Airbag. That’s hardly surprising really, because melodious and serene progressive rock is clearly in the genetics of Riis. Additionally, the album features the talents of Airbag’s drummer Henrik Fossum and programmer Asle Tostrup, who, alongside pianist Simen Valldal Johannessen (Oak) and Norwegian singer, Sichelle Mcmeo Aksum, both bring their own familiar approach to the table.

But, to refer to ‘Forever Comes To An End’ as a complete Airbag clone would be unfair and a little inaccurate. For a start, I would venture to say that Riis’ solo work features heavier passages of music than Airbag, certainly for more prolonged periods of time. As such, there are more pronounced peaks and troughs within some of the compositions, thus creating a sense of increased drama.

Take the opening title track as the prime example. It begins in commanding fashion, jam packed with strong riffs and an abrasive, tumultuous feel, something that returns at intervals as the track develops. But in between are the more archetypal soothing passages where Riis is able to put his guitar at the forefront of the composition, allowing it to embellish the composition as only he knows how, via plenty of emotive and soaring leads. It becomes almost a second vocalist at times, such is the eloquence with which it ‘sings’ atop some simple but memorable melodies. It’s no wonder Riis has been compared to the likes of Dave Gilmour throughout his career.

bjornriis2_photo-anita_stostad

Photo: Anita Stostad

‘The Waves’ is a beautiful track that further showcases Riis’ ability to build compositions from quiet beginnings to rousing crescendos and back again, all built around resonant melodies that linger long in the memory. By contrast, ‘Getaway’ is pulled along brilliantly by a driving beat that’s entirely infectious, delivering something tangibly 80s in tone, although I can’t quite place why I get this feeling. No matter, it’s a cracking track, worthy of the entrance price alone.

Another key difference between airbag and Riis’ solo work is the increase of music on ‘Forever Comes To An End’ that is clearly inspired by film scores and the cinema.

This is an aspect of this album that I have embraced wholeheartedly and which makes it so powerful in my opinion. The seeds are sown on the bleak and moody ‘Absence’, a track that brings the striking cover artwork (Kjetil Karlsen) to life. As the composition builds, so does the drama, enhanced by the wonderful aural textures created by Johannessen’s piano and Tostrup’s all-encompassing electronics.

The cinematic seeds then grow via the stunning instrumental ‘Calm’ only to thrive and ultimately bloom within ‘Winter’. It is the longest track on the album, thus allowing a culmination of all of the various elements of the record to come together, from controlled bombast, to post-rock minimalism, to progressive and cinematic and everything in between. The ethereal vocals of Sichelle Mcmeo Aksum are a striking addition here too.

Given that the album’s lyrics have been inspired by ‘broken relationships and loss and the emotional duality between resentment and forgiving’, it will come as no surprise that ‘Forever Comes To An End’ has dark and poignant overtones. If you’re looking for music to party to, this isn’t for you, put it that way. For me though, the lyrics fit the aural soundscapes perfectly, offering a strong and demonstrable human angle. Closer ‘Where Are You Now’ underlines just what fragile things human emotions can be, in the process ending the album in impressive, near tear-jerking fashion.

Whether or not ‘Forever Comes To An End’ will eventually eclipse Riis’ work with Airbag remains to be seen. If I had a criticism, it would be that I wish it was longer. At just seven tracks, it feels just a touch on the short side. Regardless of this minor quibble, this is a hugely impressive body of work in its own right and deserves to be enjoyed as such. ‘Forever Comes To An End’ is a no-brainer for anyone who enjoys expertly written and professionally executed progressive rock where textures and emotions are as important as the complexity of the music.

The Score of Much Metal: 8.75

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

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

Voyager – Ghost Mile – Album Review

VOYAGER-GHOST_MILE-coverHI

Artist: Voyager

Album Title: Ghost Mile

Label: IAV Records

Date Of Release: 12 May 2017

In the three years since the release of Voyager’s last album, ‘V’, much has changed in my life. I am no longer writing for Powerplay magazine, I’ve moved house and I now have a second daughter on which to dote. Not to mention double my stress levels and further eat into my spare time. Not that I’d have it any other way of course.

But in the world of Voyager, things have been surprisingly stable and quiet. For a band that has experienced more than their fair share of line-up changes over the years since their inception around 1999, the clientele has happily remained the same from ‘V’ to the current day.

As a result, Voyager 2017 consists of vocalist Daniel Estrin, guitarists Simone Dow and Scott Kay, bassist Alex Canion and drummer Ashley Doodkorte. A more talented and hungry group of musicians you’ll struggle to find and it shows too. This is a tight unit, a formidable machine.

The stock of the quintet who hails from the most remote city in the world has risen unbelievably over the last few years. They have gone from a band very much in the underground to one of the current darlings of the metal world. Some of this has to do with their live shows. I have yet to witness one but I have it on good authority that they are incredible, drawing the highest of praise and comments like ‘the best live performance I’ve ever seen’.

However, the other enormous factor in the rapid rise of the affable five from Perth, Western Australia is the music itself. Quite simply, Voyager is a band that keeps getting better and better. I joined the cause around the release of their fourth album, ‘The Meaning Of I’ in 2011, becoming smitten with their brand of quirky melodic progressive metal. I delved into their back catalogue and then salivated all over ‘V’, such was its brilliance.

To quote my review for Powerplay Magazine, “Immediate, catchy and satisfyingly heavy, ‘V’ is a brilliantly-written album, deserving of your undivided attention.”

And now finally and joyously, album number six is upon us. Entitled ‘Ghost Mile’, you very quickly realise that this is yet another impressive body of work from the good ship Voyager. Instead of the 13-track affair that ‘V’ was, ‘Ghost Mile’ consists of a mere ten tracks and a running time of 45 minutes. But worry not, because listeners have not been short-changed by this, not one iota.

What this represents in fact is that Voyager today is an even more tightly honed entity. More focussed and more self-assured than ever before. That rising stock I mentioned a moment ago? Expect it to go through the roof upon the release of this record, mark my words.

Firstly, in a very similar vein to ‘V’, ‘Ghost Mile’ is impeccably produced. Mastered by Matthew Templeman and mixed by Simon Struthers, it sounds slick, polished and smooth. The music is provided a great depth and clarity which is vital given the subtle nuances at play within Voyager’s sound. But being a metal band, Voyager like to crack out the heavy occasionally and when they do, there’s plenty of muscle to back up the aggression, losing nothing in the mix.

There are definitely ingredients of many different bands within the Voyager sound, many influences. But the final result is just so unique that these reference points are rendered redundant. In my opinion, Voyager sound like no-one else. They have worked hard over the years to craft their sound and perfect their own vision, to the point where comparisons are impossible and, in any case, are utterly pointless. Their output blends progressive metal, prog and pop-like melodies with a quirky and often atmospheric sheen. Put simply, the music sounds like…Voyager.

Each musician within the band brings something interesting and vital to the overall sound. Guitarists Simone Dow and Scott Kay are exemplary riff machines with an almost telepathic understanding. I love the tones of the guitars as well as the inventiveness of the riffs and chord structures. They work perfectly in tandem with a behemoth of a rhythm section comprised of the expressive and flamboyant bassist Alex Cannion alongside drummer Ashley Doodkorte who is metronomic in his accuracy, laying down a thunderous yet varied and cleverly nuanced heartbeat. And then there’s Daniel Estrin. I cannot get enough of this guy’s vocals – they are quirky and off-beat at times which adds to the uniqueness of Voyager’s output. But more than that, he is such a powerful, melodious and emotive vocalist. He also brings his skills with the ivories by creating the synth and key textures that layer the album, bringing with it that aforementioned atmosphere, a sense of drama and yet more originality.

voyager band

On to the songs themselves and ‘Ghost Mile’ opens up with ‘Ascension’. It is a track you’re likely to have already heard given that it was the first track released to an expectant fan base. When I first heard it, I had my reservations as it didn’t immediately seem to deliver a killer melodic hook or a chorus to grab my attention. However, I was wrong. It encapsulates just about everything that is so brilliant about Voyager.

Beginning with a gorgeously serene guitar and synth intro that subsequently welcomes in a simple, pounding drum beat, it builds a sense of tension which is released once the intriguing progressive-sounding riff kicks in. When the heavy guitars fall away, in come Estrin’s vocals which create the melodies as well as some really wonderful bass playing. Accompanied by layers of synths, there is genuine warmth to the music and it feels like it is seeping into my bones and my soul. And then, all of a sudden, some brief growls usher in something altogether heavier. An almost post-metal wall of groovy sound greets us, before things revert back, only for the song to close on a lurching, progressive/tech metal riff. I can’t help but grin already.

The grin then gets even bigger as the monstrous one-two of ‘Misery Is Only Company’ and ‘Lifeline’ take over. The former starts off in quirky, progressive fashion before delivering one of the strongest hook-laden choruses of Voyager’s career. Juxtaposed with some punchy, fast-paced music in the verses, this is a great blend of melodic and progressive metal par excellence.

‘Lifeline’ then reintroduces what becomes a bit of a trend on ‘Ghost Mile’, namely an ambient, atmospheric, almost electronic-sounding opening. The overtly progressive, twisting and turning track then builds expertly with stop/start riffing entering before being gradually joined by striking drumming and then Estrin’s trade mark melodic vocals. But the best is saved until the chorus. I adore what Dow and Kay do here but I’m at a loss to explain it more eloquently; the guitar notes send shivers down my spine, as if speaking directly to something primitive inside of me.

‘The Fragile Serene’ caresses the soul initially before stomping all over it with a more ponderously-paced riff. The track eventually quickens but, by taking the foot off the pedal, it cleverly introduces another strong and dynamic facet to the album. The synths are integral to this more wistful and dreamy-sounding composition, as are the more subtle melodies that permeate the consciousness with repeated listening.
It might only be a little over two minutes in length but ‘To The Riverside’ makes a huge impact. It is a composition that paints huge, stunning vistas in the mind’s eye. It is at once both soothing and surprisingly emotional. The tinkling keys, layers of synths and the pensive voice of Estrin all combine to stunning effect, only enhanced latterly by some simple additions from the rest of the band.

By contrast, the title track changes things up once again by offering a dramatic and intense listening experience right from the off. It is one of the most progressive tracks on the record by virtue of the fact that it never sits still. The melody remains but the tone is darker, more dystopian, accented by some bold sounds and samples and ultimately communicated via a deviation into extreme metal territory. Ferocious blast beats, fast-picked riffing and suffocating intensity all feature prominently in the latter stages as Voyager channel their inner anger with superb and eyebrow-raising results.

Not content with just one cut of extremity, ‘Disconnected’ also packs a real punch, along with more dark, foreboding atmosphere whilst the short, sharp and unashamedly modern pop-inspired ‘What A Wonderful Day’ also features a brief smattering of growled vocals for good measure.

‘This Gentle Earth’ is a beautiful track, predominantly a piano and vocal composition. It has bittersweet overtones as the melodies feel quite up-beat whereas the lyrics talk about having ‘never felt so alien’. The poignancy really makes me think, something that I heartily approve of.

All too swiftly, ‘Ghost Mile’ comes to a close with ‘As The City Takes The Night’. However, it says its goodbyes in the best possible fashion. Funky bass lines, more cracking riffs, layers of synths and another vocal masterclass all ensure that this melodic progressive composition is a more than fitting finale for such an amazing album. The chorus is once again a thing of understated and subtle beauty, wonderfully topped off by the more ethereal vocals that almost blend into the music. And when the album closes, it stays in my mind for quite some time.

The only problem with ‘Ghost Mile’ is that it is a stealer of time, a thief of moments. I listen to this record and immediately feel compelled to listen again. Before I know it, huge chunks of my life have disappeared. However, at this precise moment, I don’t care. All I know is that ‘Ghost Mile’ is a very special record from an equally special band and…damn it, I need to listen to it again.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.9

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

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

Anticipated music in 2017 – an update – 11 March 2017

It is becoming something of a trend now that  almost immediately after I post one of these updates, one of the mentioned bands will release something new, either a new song or more detailed information about their upcoming release. On the one hand, it is quite funny. But on the other, it means that I’m left tearing out what little hair I have left.

It also means that there is justification for writing another update, so that’s what I shall keep doing. Today’s update is briefer than normal but is also one of the most important to date in my opinion.

If you’ve missed any of my previous updates, they can be accessed via the links at the bottom of this post.

Voyager – Ghost Mile
Release date: 12 May 2017

Here is the biggest culprit this time around for releasing something just after I mention them in an update. But it’s Voyager, so I immediately forgive them and bring you the latest news that I have regarding the modern melodic progressive metal band with pop/synth leanings.

According to the band themselves, the release date for ‘Ghost Mile’ is 12th May 2017 and, having now reached their pledge target, they have released the first track off the new album. Here it is in all its glory and I’m sure you’ll agree that it’s a bit of a monster.

Anathema – TBC
Release date: TBC

This is arguably the biggest news that could come out in 2017 – a new album from Anathema. The Liverpudlian band are one of my all-time favourite artists and after many of the big hitters in my world released albums in 2016, Anathema are set to return this year with brand new material. I have this on very good authority, so trust me on this.

Anathema are one of those bands that seem to effortlessly create beautiful and poignant music. I have lost count of the amount of times I have shed tears whilst listening to this band and frankly, long may that continue.

I will admit to having a few nerves leading up to this new album because I have such high hopes for Anathema and I pray that the new album delivers in the same way that the last two or three certainly have. if you recall, the title track from ‘Distant Satellites’ was noteworthy because of the increased use of electronica – I’m wondering whether this might be an area of greater exploration this time around? Whilst I do love that track, I have to admit that I hope it isn’t a future trend, because I love Anathema most when the music is more organic, beautiful and lyrically intense.

As I said, I have it on very good authority that the album will see the light of day sooner rather than later, so hopefully we won’t have to wait much longer to find out.

Moonspell – 1755
Release date: November 2017

K1600_1755I’ve had a soft spot for Moonspell ever since I heard the awesome ‘Irreligious’ back when I was a teenager. However, as far as I was concerned, it took until 2015 and the release of ‘Extinct’ for the Portugese Gothic metallers to hit somewhere near to the heights reached some 20 years ago.

My love for the band has now been well and truly rejuvenated and so when I heard that a new album was due in the near future, I was excited. Having now read a little more about it, I remain excited but also highly intrigued.

Entitled ‘1755’ it will centre on the Great Lisbon Earthquake of that year and, as the press release states, “the band has developed a lyrical concept that looks into the death and rebirth of Lisbon and how the disaster changed Religion, Politics and Philosophy in the whole of Europe.”

What’s more, it will be heavier than ‘Extinct’ and will be sung entirely in Portuguese. The image attached may or may not be the cover artwork, but it gives us a bit more of an idea of what we might expect in November. My appetite has been whetted, how about yours?

Teramaze – TBC
Release date: TBC

I reviewed the most recent album from Australian melodic progressive metal band Teramaze on this very blog and I was rather taken by it I must admit.

As a result, I have been buoyed by news that new material is being worked on at the moment. I have no firm answers as to whether a new record would be released in 2017 but I will keep my fingers crossed. In the meantime, the band have released a snippet of the new music they are writing which I thought I’d share with you.

The noises coming early from the band’s camp suggest that they are really happy with the way the music is shaping up, which is always nice to hear. And, if this demo material is anything to go by, the satisfaction of the Teramaze guys is pretty understandable.

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fteramaze%2Fvideos%2F10154932448435281%2F&show_text=0&width=560

Previous updates:

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