Caligula’s Horse – In Contact – Album Review

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Artist: Caligula’s Horse

Album Title: In Contact

Label: InsideOut Music

Date Of Release: 15 September 2017

When it comes to modern progressive music, this Brisbane-based outfit are currently up there with the very best. Caligula’s Horse stunned me with their previous album, ‘Bloom’, so much so that it ended up well within my top 10 albums of 2015, and rightly so. I have yet to grow tired of that record, such is its beauty and intensity. To quote my review at the time:

“I absolutely adore this record and I consider ‘Bloom’ to be a modern progressive rock/metal behemoth that will leave a hugely positive impression on anyone who likes quality music that is as beautiful as it is subtle and ambitious.”

I stand by what I said – ‘Bloom’ is a masterpiece. The only problem then is that it makes it tricky for the band when it comes to the follow-up. With expectations high amongst their growing fan base, could the quintet match the levels of excitement and anticipation with another high quality release? Being one of those rabid fans myself, this was my overriding thought as I entered the conceptual world of ‘In Contact’ for the first time.

If lead vocalist Jim Grey, guitarists Sam Vallen and Adrian Goleby, bassist/vocalist Dave Couper and drummer Josh Griffin felt any nerves or apprehension, it does not show. Instead, they have thrown heart and soul into this new record. From the irresistible cover artwork, right through to the deeply considered concept that flows through the album, it is clear that ‘In Contact’ has been put together with genuine passion and a tremendous attention to detail. Then there’s the music itself which I shall come on to in the fullness of time.

‘In Contact’ features ten individual tracks and, in stark contrast to ‘Bloom’, which was never long enough, has a running time that breaks the hour mark. But it’s more complicated than that. To quote Jim Grey from an interview he conducted regarding the concept:

“I had this idea, this big broad sci-fi thing. In the world in which this album is set, every piece of art that exists in the world is an attempt by human beings and artists to remember a dream that we all share that we have forgotten. That’s the fundamental idea. We found a way to tell that story by telling four separate very personal stories about artists that are displaced from each other by space and time across this universe. The stories are telling the things in their life that they are reaching for, that they are attempting to improve.”

Grey goes on to confirm that ‘In Contact’ features some of the most personal material of their career to date. I’m not surprised either because one of the first impressions I get with this record is that it is definitely a darker, heavier and altogether more intense listen than any of their previous output. The first notes of the opening track are heavy and rather uncompromising, setting the tone for what is to follow.

That said, like all Caligula’s Horse material before it, ‘In Contact’ is not afraid to mix things up and so whilst much of the music treads a heavier path, you still get the quieter, more introspective and more soothing passages, where much more subtle soundscapes are experimented with. I love this mix of styles because it helps to create more depth to the music and, in turn, allows the different ingredients to make a stronger impact. In addition, to use that age-old cliché, the music takes the listener on a journey, where you cannot help but become immersed in the story that’s being told.

At the hands of vocalist Jim Grey, that story really comes alive too. Here is a vocalist that has all the talent and intelligence to use just the right tone or delivery at just the right time. Whether that’s soft and vulnerable or something bordering on anger or frustration, his voice is damn-near impeccable, enabling the various emotions to come to the surface with sincerity and, on occasion, with spine-tingling results.

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Returning to the aforementioned opener, ‘Dream The Dead’, it certainly sets the album off in the right manner. In many ways it is the perfect amalgamation of everything that is so powerful about Caligula’s Horse, taking the blueprint of ‘Bloom’, but expanding it, refining it and making a glorious noise in the process. We have the heavy element, led by some commanding ‘wall of sound’ riffing but we also get plenty of melody, tons of variety and an ebb and flow that feels effortless. Given the technicality on display, the smoothness of the composition is quite incredible as is the immediacy. But this is all testament to the song writing prowess of a band that is becoming ever more secure in their own abilities as well as displaying a clarity of purpose and direction.

I love the way that, just after we are confronted by big stop-start riffs and a wailing guitar solo from Sam Vallen, the song almost dies, kept alive only by the subtle, tentative sounds of a lone guitar somewhere in the distance. Inevitably, the track builds and it does so in exquisite fashion, almost ambient post rock in tone initially. The melodic refrain as all of the instruments come together is gorgeous, creating an otherworldly, heart-warming climax that is as epic as it is beautiful.

‘Will’s Song (Let The Colours Run)’ follows and, as many of you will have already heard, it is classic Caligula’s Horse. Modern-sounding heavy progressive music imbued with some melodic intent that grows the more I listen. The quasi-hardcore shouted vocals are unexpected but I somehow like them, as they fit the more urgent and confrontational tone that flows through this track.

The piano and clean guitar sounds that dominate the opening of ‘The Hands Are The Hardest’ are magnificent and this is an instant favourite of mine. Underpinned by an expressive rhythm section, there’s a bounciness and cheekiness that is a total joy, whilst the delicate vocals from Grey are the perfect accompaniment. The chorus is magical too, showing Caligula’s Horse at their memorable best, giving me goosebumps each and every time I listen.

‘Love Conquers All’ could be referred to as something of an interlude but it is just too exquisite to be dismissed in such a casual manner. It is as light as air and features some of the most instant and sublime melodies of the entire record, bringing the first part of the album, entitled ‘To The Wind’ to a very agreeable and fitting close.

Part Two of the concept, entitled ‘Caretaker’ kicks off with ‘Songs For No One’ which wastes no time in stamping its authority via a heavy and frantic intro that then gives way to a cracking, chunky riff that writhes and twists. Grey unleashes his entire range, whilst the chorus delivers some delicious hooks and melodies that counteract the overt progressive nature of the remainder of the track.

The acoustic-led ‘Capulet’ is ethereal in in tone and features some interesting synth tones, whilst Grey’s voice is so delicate and sensitive. ‘Fill My Heart’ is a more forceful and confrontational beast but only in part, as it also displays the softer, more subtle side of Caligula’s Horse. By this point, I am marvelling at the crisp and clear production which allows each instrument the space to make their mark. On this particular track as with many others, my ear is drawn to the rich and powerful bass of Dave Couper and the flamboyant drumming of Josh Griffin which is both intricate and bruising when required.

If there’s one minor gripe that I have with ‘In Contact’, it’s the spoken-word monologue ‘Inertia And The Weapon of the Wall’. I appreciate what Jim Grey is trying to do here. It fits the concept, offers something different, and his delivery is intense and full of drama. However, personal taste dictates that I am left ever so slightly cold by it. When the band are as talented as this, I want more music, not a theatrical diatribe, however passionately delivered it might be.

Returning to the music again and the bruising, chug of ‘The Cannon’s Mouth’ assaults the senses, full of groove and interesting time signatures, closing out Part Three, ‘Ink’, with a bang. The way in which it flirts with melodies that are almost waltz-like in the way that they rise and fall in tandem with the vocals is very interesting as is the formidable djent-esque riffs that bring the track to a robust end.

The final song, ‘Graves’, stands on its own as Part Four of the concept and, at 15 minutes in length, it has every right to do so. It goes somewhat without saying that the track is an epic, multi-faceted affair but I am struck each time by the sheer variety which is contained within it. The quiet opening, the uplifting, feel-good melody that follows as the song breaks out of its minimalist cocoon, the effortless blend of heaviness and subtle complexities, the immediacy of some sections and the challenging nature of others, the vocal choir segment that has religious overtones despite not necessarily having any religious content; it takes a number of listens to take it all in adequately but it also gets better with each spin.

I really love the sense that within the ebb and flow, this track is slowly, inexorably building to profound climax. And so it comes to pass. The climax to this song brings back those defiant-sounding gang-type vocals and, a little alarmingly, a shrieking saxophone to enhance the urgency present at this late stage in proceedings. But these elements are then interspersed with a reprise of those lush, warm melodies heard earlier in the piece, giving ‘Graves’ a truly memorable finale.

In a year that has produced some top-drawer progressive albums already, here’s another to add to the list. Caligula’s Horse may have produced a masterpiece with ‘Bloom’ but the more I listen to ‘In Contact’ and the more it burrows into my affections, the more certain I am that the Australian quintet have matched their past efforts, maybe even superseded them. ‘In Contact’ is very nearly a flawless record and demands Caligula’s Horse be placed at the prog top table with immediate effect.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.75

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

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

BlogOfMuchMetal – Metal News – 24 July 2017

Well, while I’m on a roll, I may as well continue. And while so many bands are also on a roll of late it seems, I owe it to them to keep the news flowing.

If you’ve missed any of my other posts in this series, links to all of them can be found at the bottom of this post.

Jag Panzer release their first song off their new album.

c09ce1fccd75b68f298157c7f5ffc169Jag Panzer – The Deviant Chord
Release date: 29 September 2017
Label: SPV

Jag Panzer and I have never had the smoothest of relationships. I bought ‘Thane To the Throne’ many years ago when it was released but didn’t warm to it, so sold it soon after. Having gone back and listened to it again a few years later, I realise that I made a rather big mistake. They are obviously a band that requires time in order to acquire the taste.

This must still be true to this day because, on a first listen, I was not blown away by ‘Far Beyond All Fear’, the first song to be released off ‘The Deviant Chord’, the tenth album from the US power metal stalwarts. Subsequent spins have been increasingly positive to a point where I’m really rather liking it. The melodies are subtle, the riffing is satisfyingly chunky and there are plenty of solos. In fact, that galloping rhythm is very reminiscent of Iron Maiden. So what’s not to like, then? It bodes well for the entire album when it is released at the end of September.

The Haunted release another song of their highly-anticipated new album…

19399139_10154703997157503_7451569900000520260_nThe Haunted – Strength In Numbers
Release date: 25 August 2017
Label: Century Media Records

The more I hear of this new album from The Haunted, the more excited I get. After the uncompromising and brutal blitz of the well-named ‘Brute Force’, the Swedes have released their second track ‘Spark’ which is a different beast altogether. You still get the harsh vocals and the big, bruising thrash-like riffs. But this time, the song contains more variety, more subtlety and arguably a more sophisticated vibe all-round.

And you know what? I dig this song a lot. It shows that The Haunted are growing and maturing all the time, with the confidence and ability to experiment just a little bit. I love the bass intro andthat quiet mid-song interlude – it is brief but the melody is continued for a time once things get heavier which is a nice touch, as is the more soulful lead guitar solo. There are hints within it to previous work but it still sounds fresh, interesting and has me very intrigued as to the overall sound of ‘Strength In Numbers’.

Confirmed release date and a non-finalised tracklist for ‘1755’ by Moonspell.

19943052_1371175159604409_8323465143835788802_oMoonspell – 1755
Release date: 3 November 2017
Label: Napalm Records

I seem to have been aware of a new album from Portuguese metallers Moonspell for ages. In fact, as early as March, I was gearing up for it.  As I confirmed back then, the record will be entitled ‘1755’ it will centre on the Great Lisbon Earthquake of that year. And, according to the press release, “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.”

We were also told that it would be heavier than ‘Extinct’ and will be sung entirely in Portuguese. It might not be 100% confirmed yet but the track list would bear this out. And that is possibly the most intriguing thing about ‘1755’ – I generally love albums where the lyrics are not in English because there’s a greater authenticity with them and what they are singing about.

Momentum increases on the new Vanishing Point album, coming in early 2018…

Vanishing Point – TBC
Release date: 2018
Label: AFM Records

I have it from the horse’s mouth that the new Vanishing Point album will see the light of day in 2018. During a chat with guitarist and songwriter Chris Porcianko, he confirmed that whilst a date isn’t cast in stone yet, the new record was progressing well. However, it had to be delayed until early 2018 for various reasons. As soon as I hear news of a definite date, I will bring it to you.

Despite the 2018 date, I couldn’t help but bring you an update right now. Why? Because not only are Vanishing Point one of my favourite bands ever, updates from the melodic prog metal masters themselves suggest that the new music could be more in the vein of their 2000 magnum opus, ‘Tangled In Dream’. A top 5 all-time album, this is news that threatens a grown man’s bladder control.

To quote Porcianko directly, he actually said of the new record: So far the new Vanishing Point album is a mix of Prog, metal , melodic metal , hard rock and AOR…There’s a little bit of something in it for everyone…Fans of Distant is The Sun and Tangled In Dream will like it I think.’ No wonder I’m bursting with excitement! So here’s some solo action for us all to enjoy.

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fchris.porcianko%2Fvideos%2F1653026798044753%2F&show_text=0&width=222

Orphaned Land confirm new album in early 2018…

Orphaned Land – Unsung Prophets and Dead Messiahs
Release date: 26 January 2018
Label: Century Media Records

In a similar vein to Vanishing Point above, I felt compelled to comment about this confirmed release, even if it is destined to see the light of day in 2018. Israeli band Orphaned Land are a special outfit; not only do they create superb melodic progressive metal, but they have managed the seemingly impossible: brought fans of all faiths and backgrounds together in a collective love of music.

It has been quite a while since the quintet last gave their fan base some new music; five years in fact. And given how superb their last record, ‘All Is One’, I am climbing the walls waiting for this new album.

With no new snippets of music to bring you, instead, allow me to remind you just how good their last album was.

Previous updates:

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

Essential rock & metal releases still to come in 2017 – Part 1

It’s true what they say – the older you get, the faster time disappears. I mean, it doesn’t seem possible that we are already half-way through 2017 for a start. And yet here I am. With my round-up of the best releases so far in 2017 under my belt, it is time to turn my attention to the future and consider what else is due to cross our paths this year.

If the first half is anything to go by, we’re in for a treat, I can tell you. I don’t remember a year where I’ve given out so many high scores. Unlike last year though, I have yet to bestow a perfect 10 on anyone, although the new Voyager album, ‘Ghost Mile’, Persefone’s ‘Aathma’ and Big Big Train’s ‘Grimspound’ all came deservedly close.

But enough about the past, here’s to the future…

19106010_10154760456619077_388154856530751419_nCradle of Filth
Cryptoriana – The Seductiveness of Decay
Release date: 22 September 2017

I was going off the boil regarding Suffolk’s most famous extreme metal export. I was a member of the fan club many years ago in my late teens having worshiped the likes of ‘Dusk…And Her Embrace’ and ‘Cruelty And The Beast’. But after a string of less-than-stellar releases throughout the noughties, I began to re-evaluate. That was until a couple of years ago and the release of ‘Hammer Of The Witches’. Their best since their heyday, it brought me kicking and screaming back into the fold. I now cannot wait for the next chapter in the saga of Dani Filth and co.

This next chapter is entitled ‘Cryptoriana – The Seductiveness of Decay’ and is due for release on 22nd September via Nuclear Blast. Watch out for the first single release very soon too.

19146029_10154398261857105_6108765129743949462_nCaligula’s Horse
In Contact
Release date: 15 September 2017

There are a huge number of excellent bands coming from Australia these days but alongside Vanishing Point and Voyager, Caligula’s Horse are one of the very best. Their previous album, ‘Bloom’ was superb, one of the best releases of 2015. In fact, the more I listen to this record, the better it gets – I should have placed it even higher in my end of year list, but hindsight is a wonderful thing. It is undeniably prog but it is intelligent, modern and full of the kind of swagger and assuredness that only the very best bands display.

The new album is quoted as being “an immense conceptual work”. Enigmatically-entitled ‘In Contact’, it is due for release on 15th September via InsideOut Music, one of the best and most consistent labels out there today. Just listen to the teaser trailer below and tell me this doesn’t sound exciting…

18556032_10155643571650101_6880641999645372966_nLeprous
Malina
Release date: 25 August 2017

It is an undeniable fact that Norwegian band Leprous are now regarded as one of the very best bands in the prog metal genre. They have yet to release anything less than extraordinary in their 16 year-career to date. And they are still young and still learning. But crucially, they appear to remain extremely hungry and out to prove that they deserve to build upon the accolades that they have rightly received so far in their career.

They have released a new track, ‘From The Flame’, from their upcoming new album, entitled ‘Malina’ which is released on August 25th. It remains very recognisable as Leprous but also a little different at the same time. In interview, the band describes the record as a ‘natural-sounding organic album’, but still modern with great songs. If that’s the case, and based upon the first single, count me in.

19420708_1698781136823429_4102190633439104941_nArch Enemy
Will To Power
Release date: 8 September 2017

I’m no longer the biggest Arch Enemy fan, it has to be said. I loved ‘Stigmata’ and the follow-up ‘Burning Bridges’. But that was several years ago and since then, the Swedish extreme metal band with a penchant for over-the-top guitar histrionics have ditched original singer Johan Liiva, replacing him with first Angela Gossow and now Alissa White-Gluz. In fact, there will be a dwindling number of fans even aware that Liiva was ever involved now that the band have re-recorded those aforementioned albums. A bad move in my opinion, but what do I know?

Nevertheless, when a highly-respected fellow journo of long standing makes positive noises about the new material due to see the light of day in the near future, who am I to not take notice? Particularly when the positive noises refer to some brilliantly flamboyant guitar work, for which I am a sucker at the best of times. The door for Arch Enemy has not been slammed shut yet, but this is probably their last chance as far as I’m concerned.

‘Will To Power’ is due to be released on 8th September 2017 on Century Media Records.

Threshold
Legends Of The Shires
Release date: TBC

The Threshold camp has gone a little quiet since the rather shock news surfaced that the UK progressive metal band had parted ways for a second time with Damian Wilson. Aside from news that the band are looking for fans to take part in the shooting of a new video, we’ve not heard anything new about the new material. Until that point, we were fully expecting the new album, ‘Legends of the Shires’ to surface in the latter stages of 2017. I still think we will have the double record, it’s just a matter of exactly when.

It is also a matter of who will be the vocalist on the record, as I understand that the album had been recorded with Wilson behind the mic. I suspect it’ll be Morgan, but nothing as far as I’m aware has been confirmed. You wait, as soon as I publish this post, an announcement will be made. An announcement is also still to be made regarding the guitar position made vacant by the recently departed Pete Morten. Interesting times ahead for one of my favourite prog bands.

Voyager – Ghost Mile – Album Review

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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

Damnations Day – A World Awakens – Album Review

damnations-day-cover-web-1024x1024

Artist: Damnations Day

Album Title: A World Awakens

Label: Sensory Records

Release date: 24 March 2017

I have gone on record before about the strength of the heavy music scene in Australia; there is literally no let-up in the number of bands that are coming through. It’s like a torrent. But more than that, these bands almost all display an incredibly high standard, whatever their chosen subgenre. And now you can add the name Damnations Day to the list because, as ‘A World Awakens’ demonstrates, they more than threaten to muscle their way into the competitive antipodean melodic prog metal scene.

In fact, come to think of it, the title of this record is very apt. Prior to the arrival of this sophomore release, I had never even heard of Damnations Day. I suspect I am not alone. But now, the world must surely awaken to the merits of this talented band from Geelong, Victoria.

Damnations Day, who released their debut ‘Invisible, The Dead’ back in 2013, is comprised of vocalist and guitarist Mark Kennedy, his brother Dean Kennedy on drums and Jon King on guitar. Those already familiar with this kind of music will almost certainly recognise the name Teramaze and it might therefore be of interest to know that Dean Kennedy is also their tub-thumper. The Teramaze links don’t stop there either, as Dean Wells was drafted in as session bassist and knob-twiddler extraordinaire.

On that note, it has to be said that ‘A World Awakens’ sounds very good indeed. The production affords the music the power required for a metal band, providing plenty of grunt and muscularity. However, there is clarity too and so the melodic sensibilities, the technicality and the vocals are given the best opportunity to shine.

Speaking of vocals, there’s really no other place to start because boy, this guy can sing. Low range, upper range, soft, powerful, emotive; there’s no place he can’t seemingly go and nothing is off limits. And you can hear that he is giving it everything. There’s an enthusiasm and a vibrancy that comes through, even when Kennedy is leading the music down a darker or more aggressive path. What this means is that Damnations Day are able to compete in a genre that already boasts some amazing singers, when they might have otherwise struggled.

Damnations-Day-JAN-5-web

It’s just as well because the music that sits alongside the vocals is genuinely out of the top drawer. When Damnations Day hit full pelt, the riffs are big and bold, the drumming is aggressive and the tone is brooding and intense. Opener ‘The Witness’ is the perfect example, coming out of the blocks with fists flying. The guitar tone that delivers the bruising riffs catches my ear immediately, as does the surprisingly sophisticated rhythm section. The bass rumbles but with understated finesse and the drums deliver both intricacy and an all-out double-pedal assault.

But within the same song, there are some great melodies to be heard, a catchy chorus and brief moments when the foot is taken off the pedal to allow something more subtle and nuanced to come through.

‘Dissecting The Soul’ reminds me of a cross between Circus Maximus and Tomorrow’s Eve. It is a moody composition that has a slightly greater progressive edge whilst the sophisticated chorus is sprawling, dreamy and utterly irresistible, topped off by some dextrous lead guitar work. And I love the dramatic and dark outro too.

The high quality continues as the album develops. For example, ‘Colours of Darkness’ plays around with light and shade to great effect, underlining the bands’ progressive leanings in the process. And then there’s ‘I Pray’ which is an ambitious composition that pulls together a number of different elements into a cohesive and compelling listening experience.

Then there’s my favourite track of them all, ‘A World Awakens’. It was the track that I heard first and immediately pulled me under its spell. It begins with a slow, atmospheric intro before opening up into a galloping verse aided by a commanding vocal performance. It takes a while to materialise but after a suspense-filled build-up, the chorus is absolutely enormous, begging to be sung along to with gusto. Everything about it is just about perfect, culminating in a hair-raising scream from Kennedy that segues into a quieter, more introspective passage before skipping towards its conclusion.

Like most good melodic-leaning metal bands, Damnations Day are not averse to a ballad either, giving us two on ‘A World Awakens’. The first, ‘Into Black’, is dominated by an acoustic guitar and sumptuous vocals initially but introduces well-placed orchestration to provide an elegant and grandiose conclusion. The second, ‘Diagnose’ is also the closing track, bringing the album to an end in style. Again, acoustic guitars figure in the opening stages alongside some deeper and more sombre vocals but are eventually placed by a wonderfully strong and emotive guitar riff that compliments and indeed enhances the melodic intent of the composition. However, the real strength of this last song is its relative simplicity, which allows the atmosphere and the tangible emotions to take centre stage.

To be honest, I can find very little to criticise about Damnations Day and their sophomore album ‘A World Awakens’. It has certainly caught my attention for all the right reasons and deserves to be heard by anyone who enjoys properly powerful melodic metal with a progressive edge.

Powerpoints: 8.75

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

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

Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 6

Welcome to Day 25 of my ‘Album Of The Year 2015’ Top 30 countdown.

No long intro today, just a thanks for sticking with me through this mammoth undertaking and for any new readers, a reminder to check out my picks from 30 down to 7 via the links at the bottom of this post.

And with that, I give you my next choice…

Number 6

caligulas horse coverCaligula’s Horse
‘Bloom’
InsideOut Music

it might seem like a strange approach but I’m going to begin my overview of my sixth favourite album of 2015 with a minor gripe; I wish it was longer! ‘Bloom’ is comprised of eight tracks with a running time of around 45 minutes. For a progressive record, this seems just a little on the short side. Some might argue that it makes a refreshing change not to have to put aside a whole afternoon to listen to a prog record but to begin with, I felt just a little disappointed. Even now, I still wish it was a little longer.

Rather than view this as a negative though, I instead choose to look upon this gripe as a positive; if the music wasn’t so damn superb, the length of the album wouldn’t even be a consideration. As it is, so mesmerised am I by the compositions, that I just want them to go on for as long as humanly possible. Additionally, the relatively short running time just encourages more frequent repeat listens, something I can attest to wholeheartedly.

Credit: Unknown
Credit: Unknown

My full in-depth review of ‘Bloom’ can be read here, should you be interested. However, to quote a small passage from it: ‘‘Bloom’ opens with the title track where sounds of an acoustic guitar and nothing else seep into the senses for a few seconds before Jim Grey joins in with his beautiful voice. The melody is simple and effective and the whole thing sounds crystal clear and very rich and vibrant. On the very first listen, I looked across at my other half and, with headphones on, I mouthed ‘oh, this is good’, grinning broadly as I did so. A lovely emotive lead guitar joins the party before the track explodes at the half-way mark. Pummelled by something initially approaching a wall of sound, the melodic intent takes over and in a flash this three-minute opener concludes.’

What follows within the subsequent seven tracks is equally as impressive and fully engaging. A more detailed breakdown of each track can be read within my aforementioned album review so I won’t bore you with something quite so detailed here. Instead, what I want to focus on is the way in which ‘Bloom’ makes me feel when I listen to it.

Each composition packs a punch in terms of the sheer variety and the number of different musical ideas that are explored. This is properly progressive music but it is executed in a very sophisticated way so that the songs come across as just that: songs. Despite all the complexity and the intensity that Caligula’s Horse pack into this album, I come away from each spin with a different favourite track and cannot help but get fully immersed into the music. The combination of very clever and catchy melodies alongside an impressive lyrical depth and a perfect execution is a powerful combination that floors me every time. I genuinely get immersed into ‘Bloom’ every time I hear it and I find it impossible to just dip in and out. I have to listen to the entire record.

Furthermore, I find myself fully committing to the music. Whether it’s a chugging riff built around an intriguing time signature, a moment of quiet introspective contemplation, an emotional lead vocal line or any number of other things, ‘Bloom’ grabs me, beguiles me, challenges me and wraps me within a warm musical embrace from which it is hard to escape, not that I ever really want to if I’m honest.

To conclude, I return to my review: ‘How on Earth do I sum up an album that’s a good as ‘Bloom’ from Caligula’s Horse is? The answer is to not be fancy with the words and be honest. I absolutely adore this record and I consider ‘Bloom’ to be a modern progressive rock/metal behemoth that will leave a hugely positive impression on anyone who likes quality music that is as beautiful as it is subtle and ambitious.’

Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 7
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 8
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 9
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 10
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 11
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 12
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 13
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 14
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 15
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 16
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 17
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 18
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 19
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 20
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 21
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 22
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 23
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 24
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 25
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 26
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 27
Album of the Year 2015 – Number 28
Album of the Year 2015 – Number 29
Album of the Year 2015 – Number 30

And from previous years:

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

Caligula’s Horse – Bloom – Album Review

caligulas horse cover

Artist: Caligula’s Horse

Album Title: Bloom

Label: InsideOut Music

Year Of Release: 2015

When I recently wrote about the strength of the Australian heavy metal scene, one of the bands that I used to illustrate my point was Caligula’s Horse. The progressive rock/metal band from Brisbane had not long before released the magnificent ‘The Tide, The Thief & River’s End’ and, even though it was only the band’s second album since forming in 2011, it was impressive enough to mean that I had no choice but to include them in an already strong list of bands from the land ‘down under’.

Apparently, I wasn’t the only one to be impressed with ‘The Tide, The Thief & River’s End’ because it received quite a bit of well-deserved critical acclaim and resulted in the quintet inking a deal with one of my all-time favourite record labels, InsideOut. And, based on the output on the simply-titled third album, ‘Bloom’, InsideOut have been rewarded and rewarded handsomely. Allow me to spend the rest of this review explaining why.

To those who already enjoy everything that the progressive world throws at us, vocalist Jim Grey will been familiar with the voice at the head of Caligula’s Horse as he also fronts the equally impressive Arcane who have made waves this very year with their double album ‘Known/Learned’. Having listened to both and ‘Bloom’ in particular repeatedly for several days now, I can say that this release is every bit as impressive. It’s quite different of course, but excellent in its own right.

The first thing to mention about ‘Bloom’ concerns its length. Featuring eight tracks and with an overall playing time of around 45 minutes, I have a very real feeling that it could have been a little longer, particularly for a prog record. Am I saying that I feel short-changed? No, I’m not, for reasons that will become clear later. Do I feel ever so slightly disappointed by the apparent brevity? A little, yes. But, turn this on its head and this initial gripe becomes a positive in the band’s favour. If I’m wishing the album was longer, it must be enjoyable and full of great music, right? Abso-flippin’-lutely.

Credit: unknown
Credit: unknown

‘Bloom’ opens with the title track where sounds of an acoustic guitar and nothing else seep into the senses for a few seconds before Jim Grey joins in with his beautiful voice. The melody is simple and effective and the whole thing sounds crystal clear and very rich and vibrant. On the very first listen, I looked across at my other half and, with headphones on, I mouthed ‘oh, this is good’, grinning broadly as I did so. A lovely emotive lead guitar joins the party before the track explodes at the half-way mark. Pummelled by something initially approaching a wall of sound, the melodic intent takes over and in a flash this three-minute opener concludes, seguing seamlessly into ‘Marigold’. There are echoes of other alternative, progressive acts such as Karnivool etc, but ultimately, these are just that; echoes and fleeting similarities within the Caligula’s Horse framework.

‘Marigold’ is one of my favourite tracks on the record. It flits majestically between soft, calming melodies to powerful and heavy riffing courtesy of founder Sam Vallen and Zac Greensill that’s stop-start in its approach, thus creating great headbanging fodder. When the track is at its quietest, the richness of the instrumentation is something to behold, enhancing the subtle, beguiling melodies to great effect. And the chorus? It’s a barnstormer that takes a few spins to appreciate fully but once lodged in your head, it’s beautifully infectious. There’s time for a cracking lead guitar solo before the composition is done, as well as some intense work from the rhythm section of Dave Couper’s bass and drummer Jeff Irish.

Next up is another firm favourite, ‘Firelight’. As with the two preceding tracks, it packs a myriad of different musical ideas into a composition that lasts under five minutes but does it in such a way that it’s not immediately obvious how much is actually contained within it. It leads to an initial feeling that the music is not actually that ‘progressive’ in the classic term of the word but that merely demonstrates how clever and subtle the compositions really are. There’s a demonstrable Kings Of Leon vibe to much of ‘Firelight’ but if I might be a little cheeky, it sounds like Kings Of Leon could sound if they were as good as Caligula’s Horse. It opens with some lovely layered vocals, whilst the central chorus is utterly compelling and one of the most immediate things I’ve heard during 2015, enhanced by a powerful and passionate performance from Grey behind the mic.

The longest track on the record follows in the form of ‘Dragonfly’. Again, it starts relatively quietly but doesn’t take long before the instrumentation is in full swing. The result is another rich, full-sounding and fully satisfying chorus. The song takes many twists and turns throughout its nine minute length including experimentation with properly heavy djent-esque riffing, acoustic breakdowns, Opeth or Katatonia-like mournful guitar flourishes that sit lower in the mix but catch my ear instantly. The instrumental breakdown at the half-way mark is classic prog and the lead guitar flourish that follows is a delight, before dropping away to allow just the piano to continue with the central melody. This song has echoes of Haken to it amongst others but remains totally Caligula’s Horse, closing in a suitably epic and strangely uplifting fashion where the keys play an important role in creating the rousing atmosphere.

‘Rust’ is arguably the most intense and angry-sounding track on the record with an angry chorus lyric that is accentuated by an almost snarling Grey, who elsewhere delivers some of his most melodious and captivating work. In the lead-up to the chorus, which again is hook-laden and memorable, the intensity is increased cleverly and an urgency builds palpably. The drumming is some of the most furious on the record and the guitars return to a djent-inspired heaviness, albeit delivering a clever and complex riff.

‘Turntail’ opens in almost pop-like fashion thanks to an upbeat melody that is then soon joined by more crunchy, choppy riffs that scratch the itch of those wanting their prog on the heavier end of the spectrum. In no way can Caligula’s Horse be referred to as extreme metal, their output is satisfyingly chunky and robust enough to please the metalheads amongst us. The song then opens just after the mid-point expansively before returning to the opening and highly-addictive pop-like chorus.

Credit: Unknown
Credit: Unknown

‘Daughter Of The Mountain’ tops the seven-minute mark and again packs a lot of music in. The bass guitar catches my ear, as it has done throughout as it creates a really positive vibrancy and richness to the whole track, but principally when the bulk of the instruments drop away during the quieter, more introspective moments. In tandem with either a soft acoustic guitar or piano, the bass work is simple and compelling. I may sound like I’m repeating myself, but the chorus is a killer, acting as a seductive earworm to counterpoint the more complex and challenging structures and musical ideas that surround it brilliantly.

‘Bloom’ is then concluded via ‘Undergrowth’, an acoustic guitar and vocal number that’s simple, effective and allows a final chance for Grey to stake his claim as one of the most striking vocalists in a genre already awash with great singers.

How on Earth do I sum up an album that’s a good as ‘Bloom’ from Caligula’s Horse is? The answer is to not be fancy with the words and be honest. I absolutely adore this record and I consider ‘Bloom’ to be a modern progressive rock/metal behemoth that will leave a hugely positive impression on anyone who likes quality music that is as beautiful as it is subtle and ambitious.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.5

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

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

Teramaze – Her Halo – Album Review

teramaze cover

Artist: Teramaze

Album Title: Her Halo

Label: Mascot Label Group

Year Of Release: 2015

Another day, another good news story. Before I was sent a promo for this release, I knew very little about Teramaze if I’m honest. However, a quick look on that there Internet showed me that there was a definite buzz surrounding the band and it convinced me to take a listen. An initial listen has turned into several listens and several listens has turned into this review.

A little background can be a useful thing, particularly to contextualise the music of a band that perhaps others, like me, are more unfamiliar with than we should be.

Teramaze describe themselves loosely as a progressive/metal band and hail from that current hotbed of heavy music, Australia. The Melbourne/Geelong-based quartet has been an active band since forming around 1993, releasing four albums in that time. The band is primarily comprised of Dean Wells (guitars/backing vocals) and Dean Kennedy (drums) as well as two newcomers in the form of Nathan ‘The Blitz’ Peachey (vocals) and Luis Eguren (bass) who have both joined Teramaze since the release of previous album ‘Esoteric Symbolism’.

Pic: Radio Halo Photography, Concepts Karina Wells
Pic: Radio Halo Photography, Concepts Karina Wells

Apparently, the moniker of the band changed to Teramaze from Terrormaze at a certain point in their history due mainly to the band’s discovery of Christianity. Maybe subconsciously, this is why I’d given Teramaze a wide berth up until now as I’m not someone for whom religion of any kind sits easily. I don’t honestly know but, based on the output of ‘Her Halo’, it certainly wouldn’t have been because of the quality of the music that Teramaze produce as it’s really rather good indeed. And, in all honesty, you have to listen very hard to the lyrics in order to clearly hear any overt Christian message. So, with that personal hurdle overcome, let’s explore the music on ‘Her Halo’.

The first thing that needs to be said is that the music is not the most original that you’ll ever hear. This isn’t necessarily a criticism, more of an honest observation. Theirs is a melodic metal framework around which they then experiment with symphonic, progressive and even thrash metal themes and ideas. Where Teramaze really excel though is in terms of the compositional nous, the innate sense of melody and an acute comprehension of what makes a powerful piece of music that will have the listener returning for frequent repeat spins. The keys add to the richness and depth of the songs and, whilst they never get in the way or sound cheesy, they’re there throughout the album to add another dimension and a sense of the dramatic.

‘Her Halo’ kicks off in ambitious style with the epic ‘An Ordinary Dream (Enla Momento)’, the longest track on the entire 8-track record. It clocks in at over 12 minutes in length and, as you might expect, it morphs frequently during its life to create arguably the most complex composition on the record. It begins quietly before exploding into a track with real power, in part due to the cracking work undertaken by Jacob Hansen, who has twiddled the knobs with panache yet again. It was a slow-burner for me but now the central riff and strong hook-laden chorus has made a proper impact on me. It’s deceptively catchy and infectious.

However, as I’m beginning to wonder how Teramaze can justify the double-digit length, the track shifts enormously. In place of the expressive guitar work and crunchy riffs that have a satisfying bite comes a quiet section that is dominated by a lush keyboard arrangement. The sense of theatrics and drama that this creates is wonderful, particularly as it segues into a surprisingly emotional spoken-word section from an apparently elderly American man. As he finishes his monologue, a lead guitar enters the fray. It is a crystal clear, poignant and soaring solo that gives me shivers particularly when it works so well in tandem with the keyboards underneath. The riffs soon return to lead us out of the song but it doesn’t end there. The final minute or so is reserved for vocalist Peachey who, accompanied by a subtle piano melody delivers an emotional closing performance. There’s no denying the echoes of Seventh Wonder’s Tommy Karevik in his performance and, in fact, the whole section has similarities with the Swedish prog metal band. What a track and we’re only at the end of the first track.

teramaze band 2

Another personal favourite is the ballad-like ‘Broken’. It is another stunning track that benefits from more great vocals from Peachey as well as the introduction of an acoustic guitar that features pretty much from start to finish. I love the chorus and the idea of introducing it initially in a form that’s just piano, acoustic guitar and vocals is inspired; it demonstrates how strong the melody is, without any of the more metallic fripperies. That said, when the chorus hits later, along with another emotional ad technically adept lead guitar solo, it sounds even better. This is possibly one of the stand-out songs from 2015 in my opinion.

In and around these two gargantuan tracks, the quality rarely dips below brilliant. ‘To Love A tyrant’ is over seven minutes long but comes across as a more straight-forward track thanks to more powerful riffing that makes Teramaze’s early thrash metal leanings quite clear. That said there’s also room for a splash of prog-esque indulgence. The title track has a monstrous chorus that gets lodged in the brain from the off and ‘For The Innocent’ is also a striking composition thanks largely to a melody and that reminds me of Scar Symmetry of all people. Again, this is not a bad thing at all.

‘Out Of Subconscious’ is another strong composition that is reminiscent of the aforementioned Tommy Karevik’s other band, Kamelot. The chorus certainly has hints of a track penned by Thomas Youngblood and co. although there’s still plenty within the song to ensure it retains Teramaze’s own stamp.

‘Trapeze’ is an instrumental piece which, despite some great playing, is probably the weakest moment on the record if I’m being completely honest.

‘Her Halo’ is completed by ‘Delusions Of Grandeur’, another hefty composition that weighs in at just under 10 minutes. Unlike the title, the grandeur is not delusional and thanks to more professional and tight musicianship as well as more in the way of strong, memorable melodies, it’s a fittingly dramatic closing piece.

Out of nowhere, Teramaze have staked a very strong claim to feature within my end-of-year ‘best-of’ list. Any record that can deliver such satisfyingly crunchy heavy metal and blend it with great melodies and symphonics without it sounding overblown or cheesy has to receive high praise. And Teramaze deserve all the plaudits for ‘Her Halo’ because it’s simply wonderful.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.0

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

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 2014 – Number 5

We’ve finally made it into the top 5! Thanks for sticking with me – every year it seems like a mammoth undertaking but I seem to get there in the end. It may be 2015 but my favourite albums of 2014 are still making an impact and deserve their moment in the spotlight. Better late than never I say.

If you’re late to the party, welcome and please enjoy the countdown so far – each of the preceding posts in this series can be accessed via the links at the bottom of this article, alongside the full lists from 2012 and 2013.

And with that, let’s see who’s made it into my top 5…

voyagerVoyager
‘V’
Code 7 – IAV Records

A few months ago, I wrote a blog about the strength of the Australian heavy metal scene at the current time. I felt compelled to write about it, given the hugely positive impression the whole scene has had on me over the past couple of years in particular. To illustrate this point as eloquently as possible, this Album of the Year 2014 top 20 has no less than three bands from Australia but it could easily have had another two or three had circumstances been slightly different. Not a bad return, I think you’ll agree.

Voyager, a quintet based in Perth are my highest placed of the Antipodean bands and for several very good reasons. My review for Powerplay Magazine around its release earlier in the year was suitably gushing and this end of year review will be no different. This is melodic metal with a progressive touch of the very highest order. In fact, alongside the also-mighty Vanishing Point, I firmly believe that this corner of the world has this particular market all sewn up.

00 voyager

Before I deal with the music itself, there’s the production. If any bands out there want to know how to make a metal album sound, this is one of the records to use as a benchmark. In today’s world, it is easy to try to make your music sound as loud, abrasive or powerful as possible. The difficulty comes when trying to combine power with clarity and a richness of sound. ‘V’ has achieved this in my humble opinion and it sounds a million dollars. The bass is often the first instrument to get lost in the mix but here, that’s not an issue. The riffs are full of guts, the rhythm section is strong and snappy and the synth work neither swamps the compositions nor gets lost under the other instruments. Everything sounds exactly as it should do and as a result, the compositions are lent a vibrancy and clarity that only makes the entire listening experience that much more enjoyable. Others may of course disagree, such is the subjectivity of music, but I’d suggest that co-producer Matthew Templeman and the band take a bow.

Onto the music itself and trust me, if you like music with hooks, melodies and plenty of unique quirkiness, prepare to love ‘V’. Whereas Voyager’s predecessor ‘The Meaning Of I’ was something of a slow-burner, ‘V’ was love at first listen. There’s not a weak track on the record and when it includes no less than 13 songs, that’s no mean feat at all. Every single composition has a hook or a chorus that I guarantee will get lodged in your brain for days, weeks even. It’s almost as if Voyager have harnessed the catchiness of pop music and assimilated into a body that’s pure heavy metal. You see, to their credit, Voyager don’t shy away from the word heavy.

This may be melodic metal with catchy pop-esque choruses but there are still plenty of uncompromising rhythms thanks to bassist Alex Canion and drummer Ashley Doodkorte,not to mention plenty of scything-yet-engaging riffs and chops to die for courtesy of six string mistress Simone Dow and partner-in-crime Scott Kay. Oh and the guitar tone itself is to die for. Listen to some of the six-string work and when placed alongside the catchy elements, I defy you to not grim like a loon. Go on, I dare you. Add to this a subtle sprinkling of different elements of metal such as metalcore or melodic death metal and you can see why ‘V’ is so appealing to yours truly.

The final important element to the Voyager sound is in the vocal department. Daniel Estrin is the chap behind the microphone and he’s nothing short of brilliant. I read somewhere that Deftones’ Chino Moreno likened Estrin to a modern day Simon LeBon from Duran Duran and I’d have to go along with that. Estrin certainly offers an impressive range and brings with it an originality thanks to his interesting phrasing and intonation. What might have been a standard chorus or verse is easily transformed into something much more complex and engaging.

I could go on about this fantastic album. However, for the sake of brevity, I’ll close by simply stating that ‘V’ is a marvellous record and, if there’s any justice in this world, will be the vehicle to transform Voyager’s career.

Check out the other posts in this series:

Album of the Year 2014 – Number 6
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 7
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 8
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 9
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 10
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 11
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 12
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 13
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 14
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 15
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 16
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 17
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 18
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 19
Album of the Year 2014 – Number 20

And if you’re interested, my similar countdowns from previous years can be accessed here:

Top 20 of 2012
Album of the Year 2013

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