Into The Open – Destination Eternity – Album Review

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Artist: Into The Open

Album Title: Destination Eternity

Label: Independent Release

Date of Release: 20 March 2020

I love to unearth a gem and so I am delighted to be able to bring you this review. The focus of this article is Into The Open, a Dutch band that is the creation of a very talented group of musicians, certainly if ‘Destination Eternity’ is any indication; this is a really very good record and the remainder of this review should be read by anyone with a love of progressive rock, neo-prog or even progressive metal.

The origins of Into The Open can be traced to two specific musicians: Jan Willem Ketelaers and Sander Heerings, who got together to bring a story to life via a concept album. The story, in true prog style, is a rather beautiful one, as it tells of the journey of a soul to its final destination. It’s deep, surprisingly emotional and expertly constructed, as evidenced by the flow of ‘Destination Eternity’ from start to finish.

For those in the know, Jan Willem Ketelaers is the lead vocalist for Dutch neo-prog band Knight Area, whilst Sander Heerings is probably better know for his work with The Dust Connection and Wane Of Summer. I’m a big fan of The Dust Connection and so the revelation that Into The Open also features the talents of drummer Robert Spaninks and guitarist Martijn Balsters, is a very welcome one indeed. Into The Open are then completed by guitarist Ronald Martens (Up The Irons) and bassist Frank Strokap (Symphonic Rock Night). However, the name-dropping doesn’t end there as Into The Open have invited a few guest musicians to embellish the record in their own inimitable fashion, including guitarist Marcel Coenen (Sun Caged, Ayreon) and violinist Kim de Beer (Symphonica in Rosso).

With the housekeeping out of the way, I want to quickly begin this review with the negatives. I say ‘quickly’ deliberately because there aren’t any. Ok, so I’d have liked an even richer, fuller production but that’s just personal taste and I’m being ultra-picky. So I return to my original point – there aren’t really any negatives.

On that note, let’s start discussing the positives of ‘Destination Eternity’.

Firstly, the musicianship is of the highest quality. It is immediately obvious that these guys have plenty of talent and experience when it comes creating good music – in the case of Ketelaers in particular, you don’t get asked to be a part of the Ayreon family unless you are a quality musician. Each member of this band brings with them their ‘A’ game and it shines through the eleven compositions on ‘Destination Eternity’.

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Credit: Lori Linstruth

The opening piece is a two-minute intro and it is here that I knew immediately that I’d enjoy this record. The synths are lush and cinematic, full of mystery, atmosphere and intrigue. Just before the midway point, the keys are joined by a lead guitar solo, the kind of beautiful soulful and melodic affair that screams neo-prog in the best way. It sings and I’m drawn in.

‘Birth’ follows and it encapsulates everything great about this band in a six-minute package. The driving beat from bassist Frank Strokap is like a pulsing heartbeat that works well with Robert Spaninks’s drumming to drive the track on with energy and purpose. The lead guitar melodies over the top are catchy right from the off and the whole thing has a cheeky, irresistible groove. Naturally, Sander Heerings’s synths are all over this song, but they never remain static, changing guise, from sweeping vistas to tinkling piano notes. The verses are a more minimalist affair with just the bass, drums, synths and Ketelaers’ vocals, which suit the soundscape down to the ground, being mellifluous yet strong. The chorus is simply gorgeous, as the guitars re-enter, providing further texture and some welcome power. This is rock after all! Naturally, there’s a lead guitar solo or two, as well as twin guitar harmonies that give me chills.

Being a concept disc, it is important that each song pushes the story on and that’s definitely the case here. Every track has a different tone and feel, as it seeks to explore another facet of the narrative. ‘Once’ therefore, is slightly heavier and darker, featuring heavier riffs and a more oppressive atmosphere. That said, melody is never far away and the song features a real grower of a chorus.

In contrast, ‘Back To The Days’ has a demonstrable classic hard rock sheen, especially in the structure and the choruses. It’s more upbeat, brighter and breezier after its more intense predecessor, and demonstrates the variety that Into The Open seem to find so effortless.

As if to underline this further, we’re hit a little later by ‘Judgement Day’, which forces me to re-evaluate things more. It is a near ten-minute composition that starts off with an intro that is more in keeping with a Gothic black metal band, all dark and foreboding. As it develops, the vocal delivery is more spoken-word than singing per-se. It means that the song is much more theatrical in its delivery; I can’t shake the feeling that there’s a faint ‘Innuendo’-era Queen vibe to it, something that I welcome just to be clear.

The up-tempo, prog metal trappings of ‘Eternity’ are glorious. The riffs make a big statement as do the layers of synths and the acoustic guitars that appear later in the song. It’s just a very strong song that is easily one of my favourites. The keyboard solo happens to be the icing on the cake, especially when the guitars rejoin the fray to see the track out in style.

Then there’s ‘Ride The Wind’ that features the sumptuous voice of Maria Catharina (Robby Valentine, Anyday). It’s a fairly lengthy ballad with an 80s feel, but it builds nicely and keeps my attention. The vocal duet is an intriguing ingredient that’s then mirrored somewhat by an incredibly engaging synth and guitar solo duel – technical and musical, both instruments really enhance the song.

I’ve said it many times before but one of the biggest thrills for me is to discover a new band from out of nowhere that blows me away. Into The Open is one of these discoveries and I have to congratulate all concerned with creating such an incredibly diverse, interesting and beautiful album. ‘Destination Eternity’ comes with my highest recommendation and must be heard by everyone with a love for quality progressive music; it’s masterful.

The Score of Much Metal: 94%

Check out my reviews from 2020 right here:

Lunarsea – Earthling/Terrestre
Pure Wrath – The Forlorn Soldier EP
Sylosis – Cycle of Suffering
Sepultura – Quadra
Dyscordia – Delete / Rewrite
Godthrymm – Reflections
On Thorns I Lay – Threnos
God Dethroned – Illuminati
Fragment Soul – A Soul Inhabiting Two Bodies
Mariana Semkina – Sleepwalking
Mini Album Reviews: Moloken, The Driftwood Sign & Midnight
Serenity – The Last Knight
Ihsahn – Telemark EP
Temperance – Viridian
Blasphemer – The Sixth Hour
Deathwhite – Grave Image
Marko Hietala – Pyre Of The Black Heart
SWMM – Trail Of The Fallen
Into Pandemonium – Darkest Rise EP
Bonded – Rest In Violence
Serious Black – Suite 226
Darktribe – Voici L’Homme
Brothers Of Metal – Emblas Saga
A Life Divided – Echoes
Thoughts Factory – Elements

You can also check out my other reviews from previous years right here:

2019 reviews
2018 reviews
2017 reviews
2016 reviews
2015 reviews

Vuur – In This Moment We Are Free – Cities – Album Review

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Artist: Vuur

Album Title: In This Moment We Are Free – Cities

Label: InsideOut Music

Date of Release: 20 October 2017

Now here’s a record that I have been looking forward to for some considerable time. Vuur is the moniker given to the band created by Anneke van Giersbergen to be the outlet for her heavy side.

Over the years, I have made no secret of my admiration for the talent of van Giersbergen. Whether it is in her earlier days with the sensational The Gathering or more recently via her exploits with Devin Townsend or Arjen Lucassen, she has always had the ability to make me stop and listen. I’m pretty sure that I have referred to her voice as that of ‘an angel’ and may have even suggested that I’d listen to her if she was reading the telephone directory.

Well, I can now put that statement to the test because I have to reluctantly report that I am just a little underwhelmed by the final Vuur product.

This conclusion is all the more disappointing considering the musical talent with which she has surrounded herself. Joining Anneke in Vuur are drummer Ed Warby, bassist Johan van Stratum, and guitarists Jord Otto and Ferry Duijsens. These guys pack a collective punch, at least on paper, as they are counted amongst some of the most talented heavy metal musicians that the Netherlands has to offer. I mean, any line-up that can collectively boast working in some capacity or other with the likes of Stream of Passion, Ayreon, Gorefest, Elegy, ReVamp and Leave’s Eyes can’t be sniffed at.

Then there’s the artwork that adorns this album. I have documented many times that I can be swayed by a beautiful front cover and this is one of those prime examples. It is bold, beautiful and very clever, catching my attention the moment it was released.

I even love the idea behind the record, to name each song after a place that has had an impact upon Anneke’s life. It means that the listener is quite literally taken on a journey around the world, to hear Anneke’s musical interpretation of cities as diverse and interesting as Berlin, Beirut, Helsinki and Mexico City.

If only the music was as diverse though as the cities that are portrayed on this record. Instead, I cannot shake the belief that ‘In This Moment We Are Free – Cities’ is a little too one-dimensional and unremarkable, with very little going on to hold my attention for the long term. Indeed, I find my mind wandering far as I listen and, on occasion, I have thought twice before playing the album again in order to offer a fair review.

That being said, ‘In This Moment We Are Free – Cities’ is not completely devoid of charm and it isn’t a bad album. I want to make that clear at this juncture.

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For a start, we are treated to eleven new tracks where Anneke’s serene voice is allowed to roam free. This is her musical endeavour, so it comes as no surprise to learn that you get to hear the very best that the Dutch songstress has to offer. She soars over each song with clarity, richness and passion. She has invested a great deal of effort to bring these songs to life and it does show within her personal performance. Whether it is belting out the powerful notes or reining things in to offer something more introspective and delicate, Anneke is the consummate pro. The notes linger over the music that sits beneath them, giving them the fullest opportunity to work their charm and magic.

Then there are some of the compositions that stand out just that little bit more. I’m a big fan of ‘Freedom – Rio’, thanks to more variation within the tempos and intensity. Plus it has some of the strongest melodies anywhere on the album and features a really cool lead guitar solo in the second half that has real character. I also like the opener, ‘My Champion – Berlin’, which benefits from an expressive lead guitar line as well as a demonstrably more urgent and up-tempo pace at times.

‘The Fire – San Francisco’ is another ear-catching track because it has an energy about it that I like as well as some really striking vocals that truly hit the heights at times. Plus I also enjoy the more symphonic and grandiose output of ‘Your Glorious Light Will Shine – Helsinki’.

But in spite of all the positives, I keep coming back to the Achilles heel that mars ‘In This Moment We Are Free – Cities’, thus preventing it from becoming the unmitigated success that I was sincerely hoping it would be. And that’s the lack of variety overall within this album. The overriding mid-tempo that most of the songs inhabit is a real disappointment as far as I’m concerned. It leads to the perception, in me at least, that this is an album that plods along and fails to get my pulse racing, not helped by the fact that many of the tracks are unnecessarily, overly long. A judicious edit would definitely help because at well over 60 minutes, ‘In This Moment We Are Free – Cities’ is simply too long given the content.

I also don’t think that the chosen down-tuned guitar tones help the situation; neither does the frequent guitar chug that is often all I can hear beneath Anneke’s vocals. Lastly, I have to be honest and say that, for the most part, the vast majority of the melodies are just not consistently memorable enough.

So ultimately, ‘In This Moment We Are Free – Cities’ is a frustrating listen. There is a lot to like and as far as it goes, it is a solid debut for the Vuur franchise. It allows Anneke van Giersbergen to scratch her metal itch and there will be many who will think it a triumph. Sadly, as far as I’m concerned, the negatives threaten to undermine the positives, leaving it a very inconsistent and disappointing hit and miss affair.

Score of Much Metal: 7.25

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

Power Quest – Sixth Dimension
Iris Divine – The Static And The Noise
Daniel Cavanagh – Monochrome
White Moth Black Butterfly – Atone
Jag Panzer – The Deviant Chord
Vulture Industries – Stranger Times
Anubis Gate – Covered In Black
Protean Collective – Collapse
Cradle Of Filth – Cryproriana – The Seductiveness of Decay
TDW & Dreamwalkers Inc. – The Antithetic Affiliation
Caligula’s Horse – In Contact
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

Ayreon – The Source – Album Review

 

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Artist: Ayreon

Album Title: The Source

Label: Mascot Label Group/Music Theories Recordings

Date Of Release: 28 April 2017

My relationship with the music of Arjen Anthony Lucassen is a complex one. I would definitely class myself as a fan, but not one without reservation, as the back catalogue contains both the sublime and the slightly less impressive as far as I’m concerned. For example, I love the ‘Space Metal’ and ‘Victims of the Modern Age’ albums under the Star One moniker, whereas I have a hard time with early Ayreon records up to and including ‘Into The Electric Castle’. For many, this latter revelation will be akin to blasphemy, but that’s my opinion and I stand by it.

Nevertheless, latter Ayreon releases have made a much more positive impact with ‘01011001’ and ‘The Theory of Everything’ both capturing my imagination to the point where I was really excited to hear Lucassen’s ninth instalment of this particular franchise, ‘The Source’.

It has been a while in the making, some four years since the release of ‘The Theory of Everything’. Mind you, projects as ambitious as ‘The Source’ take some time and organisation to pull off, even for a workaholic like Lucassen. Additionally, the intervening period has also seen him working with Anneke van Giersbergen on the debut The Gentle Storm album, ‘The Diary’.

‘The Source’ is, as you might expect, a full-on science-fiction concept album, set 6 billion years in the past, that seeks to tell the story of an alien race’s attempts to save themselves and their planet from crisis. It is comprised of 17 individual tracks of progressive rock and in keeping with these huge Ayreon rock operas, it features no fewer than twelve guest vocalists, some which are new to the Ayreon family and others that are returning for another stint. As such, you get to hear the talents of James LaBrie (Dream Theater), Tommy Giles Rogers (Between the Buried and Me), Simone Simons (Epica), Mike Mills (Toehider), Floor Jansen (Nightwish), Hansi Kürsch (Blind Guardian), Michael Eriksen (Circus Maximus), Tobias Sammet (Edguy, Avantasia), Nils K. Rue (Pagan’s Mind), Zaher Zorgati (Myrath), Tommy Karevik (Seventh Wonder, Kamelot) and Russell Allen (Symphony X).

If that wasn’t enough, Lucassen, the multi-instrumentalist recluse is joined by a select group of musicians including drummer Ed Warby (Gorefest, Elegy), guitarists Paul Gilbert (Mr. Big), Guthrie Govan (The Aristocrats, Asia, Steven Wilson), Marcel Coenen and keyboard player Mark Kelly (Marillion). There’s even room for guest appearances from regulars like cellist Maaike Peterse, flautist Jeroen Goossens and violinist Ben Mathot.

Regardless of your thoughts on the music of Arjen Lucassen, one cannot deny his ambition to pull this project together, however seasoned a pro he might be. And on that note, let’s venture into the music itself. After all, that’s why you’re reading this review isn’t it?

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Cutting swiftly to the chase, it is fair to say that long term fans will be left feeling very happy with the results, wrapped safely in the comforting arms of the familiar. The die has been cast on previous Ayreon albums and by-and-large, there are no major deviations from the norm on ‘The Source’. It is over-the-top, pompous and at times, a little silly. Pick your cheese of choice and you’ll find a morsel or two of it here without question. My toes occasionally curl and I wince at certain points. The Celtic, folky ‘All That Was’ for example, does not fare well in my estimations, neither does the operatic injection within ‘Deathcry of a Race’ which is simply too much and a little ‘nails down a blackboard’ for me. As a result, ‘The Source’ is not the perfect, blemish-free release.

And yet, there is no escaping the fact that ‘The Source’ is a hugely enjoyable album for the most part, with plenty of stand-out moments where my imagination is fully captured and my enthusiasm ignited. And it must be said that much of my enjoyment comes from listening to the various vocalists who guest on this record. There are still those out there who dismiss heavy metal as just noise, overlaid by shouty blokes who can’t sing. Well, if there was ever a record to expose this ignorant view as the huge falsity that it is, it’s this one. The talent from across the gender divide is just off the scale and as absurd as the concept is in places, the vocalists breathe life into it, giving it a genuine credibility in the process.

In fittingly bombastic style, the record begins with a 12-plus minute epic that introduces just about every singer that features on the album. I’m not the biggest James LaBrie fan but even he sounds great, floating through an eerie and post-apocalyptic, dystopian soundscape at the outset. The song twists and turns throughout, never settling, as the groundwork for the concept is laid. Tommy Karevik is the early show-stealer thanks to an incredibly passionate and powerful performance, but the surprisingly heavy chugging riff pushes him close. Lucassen himself refers to this record as more guitar driven and heavier, a point that is underlined here right from the outset.

But the undoubted star of the opening act, surrounded by the likes of Nils K. Rue, Tobi Sammet and Hansi Kursch has to be Mike Mills. It’s a cliché as old as time to say that you could listen to certain vocalists singing the phonebook. But in the case of Mills, he manages to send shivers down my spine by singing something as dull as the binary code atop some moody, futuristic synths. ‘Zero, one, zero’ etc. has never sounded so utterly captivating and emotive, believe me.

I’m not such a fan of the funky, bluesy sequence that follows, although ‘Sir’ Russell Allen lends it a certain undeniable panache and swagger. There’s even time right at the death for Floor Jansen to lend her impressively huge vocal chords to see this opener out in rousing style. Had the entire record remained at this level, we’d have been staring down the barrel of a near-perfect score, it’s that good. In fact, I’d venture to suggest that it is one of Lucassen’s best under any of his various monikers.

Elsewhere, I’m a huge fan of ‘The Dream Dissolves’ with its killer lead guitar solo and the extended keyboard flamboyance. Aside from the aforementioned operatic section within ‘Deathcry of a Race’, it is a brilliant song thanks to its Middle Eastern melodies, heavy riffing and Zorgati’s distinctive vocals. And ‘Into The Ocean’ is a storming up-tempo rocker with overt 70s overtones created by the chosen keyboard sounds.

More heavy riffs and forceful drumming feature within the immediate and insanely catchy ‘Planet Y Is Alive!’ which evolves into something far more soundtrack-like and preposterously fun in the mid-section.

There are plenty more positives within this lengthy endeavour but for the sake of brevity, allow me to conclude with my joint-favourite piece, ‘Star Of Sirrah’. Heavy, melodic, over-the-top, this is Ayreon on top form. The song opens in moody but melodic and dramatic fashion with an acoustic guitar and bold synths before another huge, killer riff sweeps everything aside. It chugs and growls with real intent, complimenting all of the various vocalists who take a turn at delivering this part of the concept. If I had to nail my colours to the mast, I’d have to say that Nils K Rue offers the most compelling performance, closely followed by Tobi Sammet. It’s not a simple song by any means but it shows how superb Lucassen can be as a songwriter when he dials down the crazy and pens something a little more straightforward and rocking. Because boy does this track rock.

One of the nicest artists I’ve ever crossed path with is also one of the most openly insecure musicians in the business. Self-doubt riddles the psyche of Arjen Lucassen, something with which I can most definitely identify. The guy has an army of fans though and he always manages to attract great musicians to assist him with his music, so he must be doing something right. And there’s ‘The Source’ to further underline this conclusion. It might be a flawed record in places but regardless, ‘The Source’ is a triumph of which Lucassen should be rightly proud.

The Score Of Much Metal: 8.25

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

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

Anticipated music in 2017 – an update – 30 Jan

Ayreon – The Source
Release date: 28 April 2017

ayreon-coverIt seems like every few days at the moment that we get a new Ayreon update. Not that I’m complaining at all. First we get the track listing and then we get a new song.

I must admit that the first time I watched the video and heard the music for ‘The Day That The World Breaks Down’, I got goosebumps. Not only because the music was strong, heavy and powerful, but because of the impact of the guest vocalists that litter the lengthy track. To have this amount of vocal talent in one place is bordering on criminally magical. You may have already seen me share it over social media outlets, but it can’t hurt to share it again here.

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I had high hopes for the new Ayreon album a few weeks ago. My excitement is now at a whole new level. I get the distinct impression that this could be Arjen Lucassen’s finest hour. Only three months to wait…

Pallbearer – Heartless
Release date: 24 March 2017

15826722_1705409859485158_999859890853457012_nIn the last few days, we have finally been treated to a new track off the upcoming Pallbearer album, ‘Heartless’. The song is called ‘Thorns’ and can be explored below.

Having featured Pallbearer in my ‘most anticipated’ series earlier in the month, I have been asked for my opinion of this new track a few times. In short, I really dig it – it still retains that doom sheen but the composition is so much more than that – it is varied, intriguing and enjoyable right off the bat. There are even hints to modern era Katatonia in there, which is a really welcome ingredient. If this is a true representation of the full album, I am very much on board.

Nailed to Obscurity – King Delusion
Release Date: 3 February 2017

15977895_10154446249752872_6528639204757627055_nI’m always on the hunt for exciting new music and during my most recent foray into the murky world of the extreme metal underground, I came across Nailed To Obscurity. They are a name that I’ve heard before but never had the overwhelming to explore. I’m not entirely sure I understand why that is because, based upon the track below, this is the kind of music that I truly love.

Heavy, dark and melodically aware, this has hints of early Katatonia and others within it but fundamentally, they create a very commendable racket indeed. New album ‘King Delusion’ is officially released very soon on 3rd February 2017 on Apostasy Records and I’m now feverishly trying to land a promo so that I can review the record for the Blog of Much Metal as soon as possible.

Mastodon – Emperor Of Sand
Release date: 31 March 2017

mastodon-emperor-of-sandI’d completely missed this album until last night when I stumbled upon the news. Mastodon are a big deal but not so much for me. I have a few o their albums but I’ve never warmed to them as much as I think I should have, or as much as others have. I’m not sure why, because on paper, their approach sounds right up my street. And yet the reality has never matched up. And yet I’m always interested to hear a new album from the industrious quartet.

‘Sultan’s Curse’ can be heard below and is a cut off the new record, ‘Emperor Of Sand’. I must admit that it is one of the most immediately enjoyable tracks I’ve heard from the metal juggernauts so I have a renewed vigour to check out this new album, maybe even give it a review if I can access a promo. Watch this space.

Demonic Resurrection – Dashavatar
Release date: 15 March 2017

15822908_1859610294309479_318929624969591399_nIndia is not a country renowned for heavy metal. However, flying what often feels like a lone flag for extreme metal in India is Demonic Resurrection. Over the past few years, their stock has risen quite a lot to the point where theirs is a name that is relatively well known in underground metal circles.

Their new album, ‘Dashavatar’ is released on 15th March 2017 on Demonstealer Records and below is ‘Matsya – The Fish’. As you can hear, Demonic Resurrection deliver their own take on technical death metal but they do so whilst embracing the musical influences of their homeland. As such, you’ll hear authentic instrumentation, sounds and textures within their music. I really like this and am looking forward to the album.

Vangough – Warpaint
Release date: 17 March 2017

I have been a fan of Vangough since the release of their debut album ‘Manikin Parade’ in 2009. The rich prog metal in the vein of classic Pain Of Salvation was a draw that was too powerful to resist and it is a record I still listen to a lot today. News therefore of a new album from the Oklahoma based progressive metallers is very welcome indeed, in spite of the fact that releases two and three were not, in my opinion, as strong as the debut.

I can offer you a teaser trailer of the new record and although it is difficult to glean too much from it, I’d say that the omens are good for a quality album. I’m genuinely chomping at the bit to see how this new album sounds. Who’s with me?

Anticipated music in 2017 -An Update – 21 Jan

Since I wrote my series looking at some of my most anticipated album releases of 2016, there have been some updates. I’ve never really done this kind of thing before, so let me know if you like it or find it useful. My plan is that if it is welcome, I could continue these bulk update posts throughout the year. I’ve shied away from re-posting individual press updates as there are plenty of sites that do this and I like my updates to involve a little effort on my part rather than simple regurgitation.

Over to you…what do you think?

Soen – Lykaia

soen

 

First up, here’s a new song from prog band Soen, from their upcoming album ‘Lykaia’ due for release on 3rd February. Soen are a band that I really like but completely forgot to mention in my ‘most anticipated of 2017’series, sorry. I’m a sucker for Marcus Jidell’s guitar playing in particular, as well as the more organic sound that they employ, so I’m really looking forward to hearing some new material from this vastly underrated band.

 

Ayreon

In the last couple of days, Arjen Anthony Lucassen has revealed the title and artwork of his new Ayreon album. Entitled ‘The Source’, I’m sure you’ll agree that the cover is very cool, not to mention quite dark and sinister, suggesting an album full of music with a similar tone. If that’s the case, it is bound to be a hit with me. Mind you, I’m not sure that there is an Ayreon record that has been released to date that I haven’t liked!

ayreon-cover

Iced Earth

On 15th January, Jon Schaffer went live and provided an update on the world of the American metallers. Essentially, the upshot is that the studio that Jon had built is now complete and the pre-production for the album appears to be all but done. What this means is that the various members of Iced Earth will be heading to the studio over the next month or so to record their parts.

And then, just yesterday, we had an update from the studio where drummer Brent Smedley has arrived to lay down his material for the new album. So, whilst there’s yet to be a final release date, things are progressing nicely for a mid-late 2017 release.

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Lost In Thought

A few days ago, a new video was posted by UK prog metallers Lost In Thought. It isn’t very long, but it gives a little insight into the musical direction of the new album and proves that the finished article can’t be a million miles away. I’m liking this riff – it is getting me very interested in hearing the final product that’s for sure.

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Cynthesis/Jasun Tipton

Whilst keeping my eyes open for news on the new Cynthesis album, I had cause to make contact with Jasun. The guy is seriously one of the nicest guys on the planet and his response gave me cause to be extremely happy. Not only is a new Cynthesis on the horizon, there is other music in the pipeline from Mr Tipton. I quote:

“Plenty of music on the horizon actually. A Dying Planet is almost tracked. Cynthesis 3 is in focus again. Plus if I can make Zero Hour – DeEvolution come to life that would be great!”

With regard to the latter, it appears that the material for a new album from Zero Hour was recorded back in 2002-03. There are problems in finding out what programme the files are in given that it is 15 years ago, but this is being worked on as I type. The band is now officially defunct due to the fact that Troy Tipton can’t play the bass guitar any more. However, the music exists and hope is not lost for it to see the light of day eventually. If, like me, you love Jasun’s guitar playing, all this is superb news.

Anathema

In my previous series, I listed Anathema in hope as much as expectation but felt it was a calculated risk based on their normal release cycle of late. There is still no definitive word on a new album in 2017, but the omens are good based on a recent post by the band on social media. The picture is below and I invite you to draw your own conclusions. Personally, I am buoyed by this latest inferred development and will keep my eyes open for more concrete news very soon.

anathema

Seventh Wonder

According to a post on social media, Seventh Wonder are hard at work in the studio at the moment, working on a long overdue follow-up to ‘The Great Escape’. It is too early to say for sure when the new album will be released but at least we now have definitive confirmation that a new record will see the light of day before too long. Finally!

Vanishing Point

Whilst the band pages have been quiet of late, guitarist and all-round top bloke Chris Porcianko posted an update on 17th January to say that vocalist Silvio and he had met up for another pre-production vocal. No samples sadly, but in Chris’ own words: ‘he’s killing it!!’ In addition, he goes on to say: ‘Totally loving the new shit, it’s sounding really, really great…’

Anyone else’s excitement levels just go up a notch? I think we’re guaranteed a new album in 2017 now.

My most anticipated releases of 2017 – Part 4

Another day, another batch of great material that should be destined to arrive in 2017 to bathe our ear in. On the strength of all this, I don’t think there’s any danger of the recent momentum in the metal world slowing down. And isn’t that great? It gives us all something to look forward to and keeps me out of mischief by being busy with this blog.

If you’ve missed any of my previous parts of this series, they can be accessed below:

My most anticipated releases of 2017 – Part 1
My most anticipated releases of 2017 – Part 2
My most anticipated releases of 2017 – Part 3

Odd Logic – Effigy
Release date: January 2017

15380312_1287400561319533_1589720295079823334_nNow this is a massive bonus for me, as I have just discovered that there will be a new Odd Logic album coming later this month. I am surprised because ‘A Penny For Your Thoughts’ was only released last year. Mind you, I’m not complaining because this record justifiably made it into my end of year Top 30 list, following a hugely favourable review earlier in the year. Not only that, but one of the songs off this record made it into my list of favourite songs of the year as well.

Not bad for a band that remains unsigned. Quite why, I don’t know because Odd Logic deliver a very high quality brand of progressive metal; detailed, multi-faceted and highly entertaining, combining strong melodies with plenty of technicality along the way.

Cynthesis – TBC
Release date: TBC

Another band that features regularly in these posts is Cynthesis. Or rather, anything at all that features the insanely talented Tipton brother. These guys can make string instruments sing and dance wonderfully.

We’ve already seen two albums under the Cynthesis moniker and when I spoke with Jasun Tipton over 18 months ago now, he confirmed that the third Cynthesis album was written, thus completing a dystopian trilogy in the process. Cynthesis is the most atmospheric, melodic and sensitive of all of the bands that feature the Jasun and Troy Tipton and I absolutely adore the atmosphere and the lashings of gorgeous melodies that are a feature of both ‘DeEvolution’ and ‘ReEvolution’ respectively. Given the preposterously brilliant technical prowess of the musicians involved, I expect nothing short of a sonic treat when finally the third Cynthesis instalment sees the light of day.

Ayreon – TBC
Release date: TBC

I have been a fan of Arjen Lucassen for many years, under just about all of his different guises. However, I have to say that his Ayreon project is my absolute favourite,thanks to a combination of generally heavier prog rock/metal, darker atmospheres and the all-star casts that is put together each and every time to bring the concept stories to life.

This new record is no different as the likes of Simone Simons (Epica), Russell Allen (Symphony X), James LaBrie (Dream Theater), Tommy Rogers (Between The Buried And Me), Hansi Kursch (Blind Guardian) and Floor Jansen (Nightwish) all come together to bring their vocal talents to bear. The snippets I’ve heard sound great so far, so I can’t wait for this record to be released.

H.E.A.T – TBC
Release date: TBC

According to a press release issued at the tail end of 2016, Swedish hard rockers H.E.A.T will be recording a new album in Thailand in March 2017, which means we might be able to welcome the finished article before the end of the year. I certainly hope so given that this band are probably my current favourite melodic hard rock band. Their ability to pen high quality and extremely catchy, infectious music seems to know no bounds and I frequently return to their albums when I feel like I need a lift and to feel good about life. Watch this space…

Into Eternity – TBC
Release date: TBC

Now I know for sure that melodic thrash/death/prog metallers Into Eternity are still going – their Facebook page is at least active and there are things going on in the world of these crazy Canadians. However, I cannot discern for sure whether or not we will see a new album in 2017. It has now been some considerable time since their last studio release but this can be forgiven bearing in mind the trials and tribulations that have beset the band in recent years.

But now is the time to unleash some new material on the world and show us all how strong the band can be.

Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 25

Welcome to day 6 of what is my most comprehensive and mammoth end of year countdown ever. 2015 has been such a ludicrously strong year that I felt I had to extend the content from 20 to 30. With two small children, Christmas around the corner and a house-move still a very vivid nightmare, some might call me crazy. Well, they’d be right as I am crazy…about this great music that artists from around the globe have created for our listening pleasure. The least I can do in return is to write a little bit about the very best albums that have been released.

If you are interested in those releases that featured between 30-26, please check out the links at the end of this post.

As always, comment, criticism and general interaction is greatly encouraged – let’s hear what you all think! But the time has now come to reveal number 25:

Number 25

gs coverThe Gentle Storm
‘The Diary’
Inside Out Records

There are two primary reasons why this release features in my Top 30 list this year. Firstly, the compositional and song writing brilliance of Mr Arjen Lucassen. The second is the vocals of ex-The Gathering’s Anneke van Giersbergen. Put these two together and it is a recipe destined for magical things. And, as appetising at it sounded on paper ahead of the release, the result is wonderful, the musical equivalent of a meal at a Michelin-starred restaurant if you’ll forgive the continuation of my food-based theme.

Arjen Lucassen is the reclusive workaholic genius behind the Ayreon, Star One and Guilt Machine monikers and so this album should be on the radar of anyone who enjoys any of the aforementioned projects. From a musical perspective, there are many familiar ingredients that instantly marks it out as a Lucassen effort; the song structures, the melodies, the instrumental tones, a whole range of different things.

Courtesy of: Tim Tronckoe photography
Courtesy of: Tim Tronckoe photography

And yet, The Gentle Storm, being a collaborative affair with Anneke van Giersbergen, is quite a different venture indeed. My full review can be read here, but to quote a small passage:

‘The Gentle Storm is, to put it mildly, an intelligent and multi-faceted beast. It’s a double album that features eleven tracks recorded twice in two different guises. Disc one features ‘calm’ versions of the eleven compositions whilst disc two revisits the songs and in the process dials up the metal. No suprise then that disc two is referred to as the ‘storm’ disc. I find the whole idea thoroughly fascinating.’

Folk-inspired melodies, Middle-Eastern influences and authentic instrumentation, coupled with the inclusion of a number of guest musicians throughout make this lyrical and musical concept album a really fresh and invigorating listen. The ‘gentle’ disc is subtle and beautiful throughout, enhanced by the truly angelic vocals of Anneke van Giersbergen, a singer that I could listen to all day; this is most definitely one of her very best performances committed to disc, I am convinced of this.

However, I would be lying if I didn’t say that the ‘storm’ disc is my personal favourite. We’re not dealing with anything approaching extreme metal and indeed, much of the heavier material remains subtle enough to let the heart of the compositions shine. However, I do enjoy the beefier guitar tones and the added sense of drama that the ‘storm’ versions create.

I loved this album upon its release earlier in the year and now at year’s end, I can say that my love has not waned. I frequently dip in and out of the release and every single time, I find something new to like or I change my mind about which is my favourite track. Importantly therefore, I’m still engaged with it and in truth, I suspect I will be for the foreseeable future.

To conclude, as I stated in my full review, ‘one day, Arjen Lucassen will be involved with a less-than-stellar album, but it isn’t now. The partnership between Arjen and his leading lady, Anneke van Giersbergen has proved to be an inspiring one, one that has delivered a double album which is epic and ambitious but ultimately a magnificent triumph. It might not all be to everyone’s taste, but I love it. Absolutely superb.’

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

The Gentle Storm – The Diary – Album Review

gs cover

Artist: The Gentle Storm

Album Title: The Diary

Label: Inside Out Music

Year of Release: 2015

‘The Gentle Storm’…if you stop and think about it and let the words mull over in your mind for a time, it suddenly hits you what a really nice, clever and simple name it is. A contradiction in terms it may be but it’s one that beautifully sums up what this album is all about. But more about that in a moment; first, some context.

The Gentle Storm is the latest release from the intense workaholic that’s Arjen Lucassen, the Dutch multi-instrumentalist that is occasionally – and rightfully in my opinion – referred to as a musical genius. Arjen has been a part of the rock/metal music scene for over 30 years and in that time, has recorded some of the most highly regarded music within the progressive genre. With The Gentle Storm, normal service has been resumed and this project stands shoulder to shoulder with Lucassen’s previous work under his several various guises, be it Ayreon, Guilt Machine or Star One to name a few.

To be entirely accurate though, The Perfect Storm is more of a joint collaboration between Arjen and his compatriot, Anneke van Giersbergen, better known for supplying her angelic vocals to The Gathering and more latterly, in collaboration with Devin Townsend but also as a revered solo artist in her own right.

Courtesy of: Tim Tronckoe photography
Courtesy of: Tim Tronckoe photography

The fiendishly talented Lucassen handles the majority of the standard instruments on the album. However, a plethora of guests join him and Anneke on the record including a choir and over 40 authentic, exotic instruments making it an ambitious project to say the least. But Arjen is no stranger to handling such huge logistical efforts as he proves once again.

There’s even a live band for when The Gentle Storm goes onto the stage. Yes, you heard that right, the reclusive Arjen is going to perform live. For this momentous occasion, Anneke and Arjen are to be joined by an all-Dutch crew comprised of guitarists Merel Bechtold (Purest of Pain, MaYaN) and Ferry Duijsens (Anneke van Giersbergen, ex-Dreadlock Pussy), drummer Ed Warby (Hail Of Bullets, Ayreon, ex-Gorefest), bassist Johan van Stratum (Stream of Passion) and keyboardist Joost van den Broek (ex-After Forever).

But what’s the music like that fans will be treated to?

The Gentle Storm is, to put it mildly, an intelligent and multi-faceted beast. It’s a double album that features eleven tracks recorded twice in two different guises. Disc one features ‘calm’ versions of the eleven compositions whilst disc two revisits the songs and in the process dials up the metal. No suprise then that disc two is referred to as the ‘storm’ disc. I find the whole idea thoroughly fascinating.

But that’s not all. ‘The Diary’ is a concept album lyrically as well. In celebration of their Dutch heritage, the concept centres around the Dutch Golden Age from the 17th Century, a time that encompasses the likes of Rembrandt and Vermeer for example as well as new discoveries and advancements in many of the important areas we now take for granted. The story is then brought to life and given a real human element via the creation of two central characters. A sailor and his wife are kept apart for two years and their only means of communication is via letters, the content of which are explored throughout the album. It’s both am enlightening and touching story that only serves to add to the drama and richness of the album.

Disc one, the ‘gentle’ disc is stunning in its beauty. To say it is simple would be grossly unfair but so expertly crafted is it that the music gives off the illusion of simplicity; the melodies are hook-laden and breezy, the compositions feel light and airy and the almost ethereal vocals of Anneke sound effortless. The entire disc has a demonstrable folk feel to it; acoustic guitars, woodwind, strings, French horn, pianos and the myriad of aforementioned authentic instruments all play a part in creating an end product which is really rather special. Lucassen’s compositional skills are well-known and widely lauded but here, he has pulled out all the stops. In interviews, he readily admits that he wrote the music to allow Anneke’s voice to shine and he has achieved his aim with aplomb. The music is instantly recognisable as Arjen’s work but he has allowed his melodic sensibilities to come to the fore and has created some of his strongest material to date, allowing Anneke to shine like a diamond throughout. Frankly, so beautiful is Anneke’s voice that I could genuinely listen to her singing the contents of a tax return all day long.

I must admit that I wasn’t immediately put under a spell by the ‘gentle’ disc but I cannot deny that the more I listen, the more I want to return for more. The chorus within ‘New Horizons’ for example is gorgeous and captivating, the subtleties within ‘Endless Sea’ or ‘Heart of Amsterdam’ are remarkable and the almost cheeky instrumental interplay within tracks like ‘Eyes of Michiel’ is a real joy to behold.

However, I am the Man of Much Metal and for all the copious strengths of the ‘gentle’ disc, it is on the ‘storm’ disc where I unsurprisingly derive the most enjoyment. Others will no doubt disagree, but to my mind, the whole thing comes fully alive on the second disc.

Picture by: Bullet-Ray
Picture by: Bullet-Ray

We’re not talking extreme metal here and, in all honesty, the metal excesses and fripperies could have been further embellished had the mood taken the duo. However, in spite of this laudable restraint, the ante is nevertheless upped significantly. On opener ‘Endless Sea’, the guitars and dramatic symphonics are brought more to the fore to wonderful effect. The choir sounds magnificent and Anneke’s vocal delivery is captivating, reminding me more of her output on The Gathering’s seminal release ‘Mandylion’ than anything else she has put her name and considerable talents to since.

‘Heart of Amsterdam’ benefits second time around from a surprisingly chunky and heavy guitar tone that I adore and the whole thing has a grandiose majesty and beauty that cannot be ignored.

One of many highlights however must be the delightful ‘Shores of India’ with its Middle Eastern melodies and tangible exotic flavour. Coupled with a really superb rhythm guitar tone, big choir-led crescendo and another brilliant vocal delivery from Anneke, it’s a real head-turner and one of the strongest compositions on this record.

One day, Arjen Lucassen will be involved with a less-than-stellar album, but it isn’t now. The partnership between Arjen and his leading lady, Anneke van Giersbergen has proved to be an inspiring one, one that has delivered a double album which is epic and ambitious but ultimately a magnificent triumph. It might not all be to everyone’s taste, but I love it. Absolutely superb.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.25

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

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 2013 – Number 12

I’m back after a brief festive break, full up on mince pies, turkey and plenty of red wine. However, after two days away, I am more than ready to return to my Album of The Year 2013 countdown. I’m amazed at the response I keep getting to this series, so I can’t wait to bring you my choice for Number 12.

Before I get onto that though, here are the links to my choices from number 20 to 13 in case you’ve missed any of them so far:

Day 1 – Number 20
Day 2 – Number 19
Day 3 – Number 18
Day 4 – Number 17
Day 5 – Number 16
Day 6 – Number 15
Day 7 – Number 14
Day 8 – Number 13

But now’s the time for Number 12:

ayreon coverAYREON
‘The Theory Of Everything’
InsideOut Records

Somewhat ironically, the last present that I opened for Christmas earlier today was the limited edition version of this very album. It immediately went into the car where I plan to play it very often and very loud. Up until now, I had had to make do with a promo copy (for review in Powerplay Magazine) and the standard edition, as my local record shop was useless. But such is the quality of this album, I needed to have a more special copy to enjoy.

I have been a long time admirer of the work of Arjen Anthony Lucassen. In whatever guise he has recorded, be it Ayreon, Star One, Guilt Machine or under his own moniker, I have enjoyed the results. I have to admit that Ayreon is my favourite and so, when news filtered through regarding a brand new album with a brand new concept story, I was very interested to say the least.

ayreon pic

Ayreon albums have always been very lavish affairs, with long lists of guest singers acting out parts in the concept story. ‘The Theory Of Everything’ is certainly lavish but this time, the list of guest vocalists has been trimmed to a select handful. Most notable of these are Lacuna Coil’s Cristina Scabbia, Tommy Karevik of Seventh Wonder/Kamelot and Grand Magus’ JB. And, whilst the concept is naturally far-fetched in places, it contains a more human and gritty core. For my tastes, this is very good news indeed.

Speaking of good news, the music itself is out of the very top drawer as well, with the reclusive Dutch genius truly outdoing himself on this release. Well over 80 minutes of belting progressive rock is split into four epic movements, each of which is then further subdivided, creating a total of 42 distinct tracks in playful homage to ‘the meaning of life’ from a well-known sci-fi novel, ‘The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy’. What’s so daring about this record is the fact that there are no conventional verses or choruses and very few recurring motifs. And yet, somehow, the music is accessible, memorable and extremely enjoyable. Oh yes, and to round things out even more impressively there are guest contributions from the likes of Rick Wakeman (Yes), Steve Hackett and Keith Emerson.

Fans of Arjen Anthony Lucassen’s work will instantly recognise his unmistakable style on this record, for he is very much his own man with a unique sound all of his own. For everyone else who is less familiar, prepare to be impressed. Prepare to be very impressed.

Remember, if you missed it first time around, my Top 20 of 2012 countdown can be read here.

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