The Night Flight Orchestra – Aeromantic – Album Review

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Artist: The Night Flight Orchestra

Album Title: Aeromantic

Label: Nuclear Blast

Date of Release: 28 February 2020

You’d think that given my love of Soilwork and melodic rock music that The Night Flight Orchestra would be a total no-brainer for me. But the truth is that I’ve never really got into the band, despite the dulcet tones of Björn ‘Speed’ Strid behind the mic and a line-up of musicians that should have me salivating at the very prospect. But no, I’ve never given them the time and attention that they perhaps deserved. Don’t ask me why, I have no idea; they’re perhaps just one of the inevitable casualties that we all have from time to time when faced with so much great music the world over. Whatever the reason, that’s why, in 2020, and with album number five, I am finally breaking my review virginity where The Night Flight Orchestra are concerned. About time too, I can hear many of you cry!

You probably already know all this, but for those of you who have been as out of the loop as I have, The Night Flight Orchestra (henceforth referred to as TNFO) are comprised of lead vocalist Björn Strid, guitarists David Andersson and Sebastian Forslund (who is also credited for percussion and Special FX duties), bassist Sharlee D’Angelo (Arch Enemy), drummer Jonas Källsbäck and backing vocalists Anna-Mia Bonde and Anna Brygård (The Airline Annas). In addition, for this album, the band welcome a couple of guests in the form of Big Big Train’s violinist Rachel Hall and keyboardist John Lönnmyr.

As I sit on a packed train to Scotland for work, I find myself listening to ’Aeromantic’ and I’m tempted to bang my head repeatedly on the tray table in front of me. In fact, were it not for the threat of a broken laptop and a scalding by piping hot coffee, I’d almost certainly admonish myself because on the basis of ’Aeromantic’, I have been missing out. A lot.

Given the personnel involved, it goes without saying that the performances are of the highest calibre and the music just sounds effortless, as if (excuse the unintentional pun), the guys and gals are on autopilot. Mind you, it takes immense skill to create music that sounds this good, so perhaps that’s not a fair thing to say in retrospect. But you get what I mean. You get the feeling listening to this record that the band are having real fun, despite the fact that the subject matter on ’Aeromantics’ isn’t all throw-away, fluffy sweetness and light; there’s a depth to the subject matter that could go unnoticed but which further demonstrates the prowess of Strid and Co. as songwriters and performers. To quote the band themselves via their press release, ’Aeromantic’:

”…is a street opera based upon shattered dreams, broken illusions, and the fact that we are all something much less than the person we were supposed to be. But in the darkness, there’s always a glimmer of hope. And from that glimmer of hope, with the right mindset, you can sculpt and create a whole lot of Swedish classic rock melodrama.”

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Musically, there are so many highlights to pick out of the thirteen tracks that sit proudly on ’Aeromantic’. It’’s literally an hour-long ride that unashamedly revels in the sounds of classic rock, AOR and more mainstream pop music from a bygone but much-loved age. Gone is the extremity that dominates Soilwork and Arch Enemy for example, and in comes influences that range from Abba to Journey and everything in between.

One of the most immediate cuts is the sublime ‘Divinyls’ which features some of the catchiest hooks on the entire record. The bass pulses alongside some subtle synths during the verses that are dominated by Speed’s silky vocals but the chorus is incredibly irresistible, with dare I say it, a touch of ‘Flashdance’ about it? You tell me, but whatever, it’s a stunning song and one that I can’t stop listening to.

Mind you, the immediate follow-up, ‘If tonight Is Our Only Chance’ is equally as engaging thanks go yet more irresistible melodies and 70s disco vibes. Normally, I’d baulk at this kind of overtly pop-influenced music, but in the hands of TNFO, it is a masterful homage to a time gone by whilst sounding strangely up-to-date and relevant in today’s world.

‘This Boy’s Last Summer’ has a vague UK punk feel to it at the outset, before launching into another urgent melodic hard rock chorus. ‘Curves’ is another song I should hate but I lap up thanks to the style and panache with which it is delivered, alongside another great performance from Strid at the centre of what is, unarguably, a mainstream pop song with massive crossover appeal; it’s the kind of song that you, your parents, your metal-hating mates and your Gram will probably all enjoy.

The Abba influences loom large over ‘Transmissions’ but despite not being the biggest fan of the Swedish pop legends, I love this song; it’s so damn catchy, melodic and addictive. There is just enough guitar to add a slight rock appeal and without wishing to sound like a broken record, Strid delivers a faultless performance. The violin of Hall towards the end is a wonderful addition, lending the song something of a melancholy hint, as well as significant gravitas.
The ballad ‘Golden Swansdown’ begins with electronics that are pure 80s pop but don’t let that fool you because it is another song that gets quickly under your skin and refuses to let go, however much you might wish, for credibility purposes, it would. Mind you, you can’t really argue with the guitar solo towards the end.

I could go on, but I think by now you get the idea – TNFO appear to be masters of creating music that we shouldn’t like, but which we cannot help but enjoy enormously. I wouldn’t refer to ‘Aeromantic’ as a guilty pleasure because I don’t feel even remotely guilty for enjoying the music that is served up to us here. Just about everything is on point on this record, which means it cannot be ignored and only the churlish would consider it beneath them. If you want to have a good time and chill out with some feel-good music with intelligence and heart, allow TNFO and ‘Aeromantic’ into your life and remember what it is like to smile and have some fun.

The Score of Much Metal: 90%

Check out my reviews from 2020 right here:

Deadrisen – Deadrisen
Blaze Of Perdition – The Harrowing Of Hearts
Godsticks – Inescapable
Isle Of The Cross – Excelsis
Demons & Wizards – III
Vredehammer – Viperous
H.E.A.T – H.E.A.T II
Psychotic Waltz – The God-Shaped Void
Into The Open – Destination Eternity
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

Earthside – Interview – “we don’t write something with the idea of making it easy to play live”

Photo Credit: Ian Christmann http://ianchristmann.com/ Ian Christmann, Photographer
Photo Credit: Ian Christmann http://ianchristmann.com/
Ian Christmann, Photographer

‘A Dream In Static’, the debut album from US progressive metal band Earthside ended up as my favourite album of 2015. I wasn’t expecting this to be the case at the start of the year but if you’ve heard it, you’ll not be surprised as to why it attained such a lofty place in my affections. Want to know more, here’s my review.

So when the opportunity presented itself to witness some of this music live on stage at the band’s debut UK gig, I couldn’t turn it down. Neither could I refuse the chance to sit down with the band and fire a few questions their way. I explored the background to Earthside and ‘A Dream In Static’ in some detail with drummer Ben Shanbrom prior to its release last year. If you’re after the Earthside back story, read part 1 and part 2 here.

I therefore thought it would be a good idea to probe the band regarding the feedback they’ve received since the album was released at the tail end of 2015 and find out how on Earth they have managed to replicate their fiendishly complicated and multi-layered music on stage.

“Let me start by saying that if I need a confidence boost, I’ll just google ‘Matt Spall’”, jokes guitarist Jamie van Dyck to much warm laughter. He is sitting across the room to me on a battered leather sofa in a ramshackle room that is somewhat misleadingly referred to as a dressing room, high up in the Camden Barfly building and he has a big smile on his face.

“But I think it has gone over really well’, he continues more seriously. “We’ve been surprised how many people in Europe know who we are, it’s stunning. It has been really cool to meet people who are really passionate about the record and are having the chance to experience it live and give us their feedback. Generally these people have been very happy about how we present it live. Also it is a fun challenge to win over people who have never heard of us and don’t know what to expect from us.’

earthside coverIt’s a big question and a very subjective one but, given how much effort, not to mention blood, sweat and tears went into this record, I’m eager to find out whether the response to ‘A Dream In Static’ has met their hopes and expectations. It is keyboardist Frank Sacramone who, perched on a table beside me, replies first.

“It differs for each person and you’re going to get a different answer from each of us. For me personally, I wish this album had reached more people, for the amount of work to reward, as far as popularity is concerned. The people who have heard it and love it, their love is very deep and that’s amazing. But in terms of how far I thought this record would go, I thought it would reach more people. I get a little down on myself, thinking ‘why don’t people know about us? What have we done wrong?”

“I don’t negate what Frank said”, Jamie weighs in. “Anyone who has lent a hand, in whatever way, they have all done a really good job and we’re grateful. When you put so much ‘blood, sweat and tears’ to use your words, I don’t think there’s any amount of success that would live up to our wildest hopes and dreams.”

“I think there is a number, I disagree”, interjects Frank to more laughter around the room.

“But I also think that once you get that new number, it becomes a moving target’, Jamie counters. “You have a new baseline and the dopamine addict in you feels like it isn’t enough; you always want more. You can view it as ‘why don’t more people know about us’ or, if you wake in a positive state of mind, it could be viewed as ‘wow, look at all those people who had no idea who we were five months ago and how passionate they are.’ As humans, we are so vulnerable to our own internal emotional states. The actual factors outside might be very different but that won’t matter. At the end of the day, we’re volatile, we’re artists.”

At this point, bassist Ryan Griffin chips in for the first time. Until now, he has been sitting on a really uncomfortable-looking seat beneath a grimy window apparently deep in thought, almost as if deliberately psyching himself up for the show ahead. In keeping with the rest of the band, Ryan is highly articulate and extremely focused.

“I would agree with these two guys but I would also add that these days in the music industry, there is more of an emphasis on churning out content rather than producing something that stands the test of time or has real weight behind it. All four of us, we’re not the kind of people who just want to get the music out there. We’re hyper-obsessives. Whoever we talk to, there’s always that question ‘What’s next?’ or ‘is there another album somewhere in there somewhere?’ We are definitely working on some new material but we’re in no way ready to close the book on the first album yet. There are so many more people that we feel need to hear this. Plus, as you said, given the blood, sweat and tears that went into this, we owe it to ourselves and to those that have supported us to continue with this album for the time being.”

Credit: Ian Christmann Photography ( http://catalystphotography.com/ )
Credit: Ian Christmann Photography ( http://catalystphotography.com/ )

If you’ve heard ‘A Dream In Static’, you’ll be aware just how complex this record is. Not just in terms of the arrangements and the intricacies of the music, but also by virtue of the guest musicians involved. Not only do Earthside employ a plethora of vocalists including Bjorn ‘Speed’ Strid (Soilwork) and Lajon Witherspoon (Sevendust), but there’s also the small matter of a full Russian orchestra being involved at times. I ask the guys how difficult it was to pull it all together and replicate the music in a live setting. Initially, the response is very jovial and light-hearted.

“On a scale from one to ten’, Frank pauses dramatically for effect, before breaking out into a grin, “thirteen or fourteen.”

“I think the scale is arbitrary”, smiles Jamie wickedly, “but it must be above ten”. Cue more raucous laughter from all corners of the room, before Jamie, today’s primary spokesman offers a more in-depth analysis.

“I think the biggest thing is that we have this collaborative spirit and when we’re composing, we’re envisioning the greater picture of the record and the songs. We enjoy the idea of working with other people with very different gifts that complement our talents. We feel that if someone is coming to see us live, this needs to be part of that live experience, especially if they have never heard of us. If they see us live and we don’t show them that, they are missing such a huge part of the story. That’s the hardest part I think.”

“Also”, he continues, “we have so many sounds among Frank’s keyboards and my guitars that are very specific and particular. There are so many different sounds we use on the record in terms of amplifiers and guitars, plus I play in so many different tunings. So there are lots things that we need to think about live. But we don’t write something with the idea of making it easy to play live or for a live setting.”

So it’s fair to say that you’ve made it difficult for yourselves then?

“It’s a bit of an aside”, Jamie explains whilst knowing looks pass between the band members, “but there are two ways that we write songs, songs we write individually and songs we write together in rehearsals. The songs we write together, by virtue of the process of being together in a room jamming them, those songs tend to be easier to pull off live. They tend to be the instrumentals and because we played them together in rehearsal, we’re able to play them from beginning to end with the technology that we have available. With the other songs, we had to kinda develop the technology to be able to pull them off. I think we’ve gotten a lot better at it.”

Although the subject of new material would appear to be unwelcome at the current time, I’m still interested to find out whether going out on tour has changed Earthside’s perception and approach in terms of future song writing. Frank is first to reply and his answer is typically vehement and honest.

“For me personally, no. The music has to be true to yourself so if I write something personally for me, I’m going to write what’s good for me and I’m not going to look any further than that.”

“I am a very firm believer”, adds Ryan equally intensely, “that whatever music we write and whatever we decide to do, there is a solution that we will be able to find to make it work live. Arguably, the reason we have a live show that so many people seem to be enthralled by is because we wrote these songs that are unplayable live”, he laughs as do the others, “and we have found a way to play them live. Sometimes it does feel bad when you have to find a solution that feels completely unattainable but when we succeed, I believe it is for the better in the long run.”

These comments are met with universal nodding around the room before Jamie adds a little practical context.

“To take a slightly alternate position, whilst I don’t think it will affect our writing in a dramatic way, but we are now writing and rehearsing using the equipment that we use live. It’s not in an intentional or conscious way but my conjecture would be that by virtue of using the same technology in rehearsals and live, from a technological standpoint, the music might translate better on stage. But ultimately, I agree with these guys that we’re going to write what we love; that’s what’s going to matter.”

“I don’t actually get any full thoughts when I’m on stage”, admits Ryan in response to my query about how it feels to pull off a live show in light of all the hurdles that have had to be overcome. “To me, when we have a really good show, it just feels really amazing. But there are no words in my brain, because I don’t work that way.”

Credit: Ray Hearne / Haken
Credit: Ray Hearne / Haken

“It really depends on the show”, adds the previously quiet Ben, obviously happy to let the other guys chat with me after our marathon Skype chat last year. “But being very emotionally attuned people, we are very hard on ourselves. So if something goes wrong or if one of us individually doesn’t feel like we gave the best performance, we have a hard time filing that away and thinking instead that the show was 90% awesome.”

Rather fittingly, not only is the last word from Jamie, but it is a very measured and positive set of comments on which to end the interview.

“One thing that we have to keep in perspective is that we are about to play our 25th show as Earthside. I think I’ve counted that right. So, to have this kind of big stage production with that limited show experience is important to remember and we’re learning on the fly all the time. We’ve been on tour twice, so we’re learning what a tour is like, what gear is reliable, what the headline band requires from us. The only way to learn this is to live it. The more shows we play, the more knowledgeable and confident we will become. Being on tour means you can learn from other bands that have done this many times and have learned from their nightmare scenarios. They can give you a great insight. Einar and Tor of Leprous both offered their suggestions, as did Danny of Voyager. Some of which we will definitely take and it’s another valuable resource for us. We are learning and we will continue to get even better.”

The rumble that suddenly erupts from the floor below indicates that Brutai have hit the stage and so, with that, both the band and I hurtle out of the room for another dose of quality live music.

Naturally, later that night, Earthside back up their words with a superbly intense live show, full of energy, emotion and technically adept musicianship. Want to know more, check out my live review here.

And for those of you who are either unfamiliar with Earthside or have yet to witness them live on stage, I urge you to amend this heinous oversight as quickly as possible.

Live gig review: Earthside, Toska, Brutai, Voices from the Fuselage – Camden Barfly 10/04/16

Credit: Ray Hearne / Haken
Credit: Ray Hearne / Haken

The following gig review comes with an apology for the quality of the photos – I’m no photographer and so, coupled with a poorly-equipped camera and a level of entertainment that meant I didn’t want to ruin my enjoyment by staring through a lens all night, they are not the best. In fact, if there was an award for ‘worst ever gig photography’, I’d surely be in the running! But hopefully, the words make up for it.

And with that, on to the review…

The chance to attend the debut UK show, an exclusive show no less on these fair shores from US metal band Earthside was just too good an opportunity to miss. I had to be there. And so it was that I set out from Suffolk and headed to ‘the big smoke’, to the Camden Barfly, on a Sunday afternoon to witness what I hoped would be a great evening’s entertainment.

This wish became ever more fervent as I found myself snarled up in heavy traffic as my Sat Nav sadistically took me within a few hundred yards of White Hart Lane, the home Tottenham Hotspur, on a day when they were due to play Manchester United in the Premier League. As a Spurs fan, I couldn’t moan too much but when added to the difficulty I had in parking my car, I arrived in Camden seriously regretting my decision not to get the Underground train from the outskirts of the city. Never mind, Spurs won and I finally located a free parking spot within walking distance of the venue.

Things only got better from there too. After meeting Lulu of Incendia Music for the first time and a quick drink in the bar, I headed upstairs to hear a little of the soundcheck but not before being greeted by with a warm hug from a beaming Frank Sacramone, keyboardist with Earthside.

My next task was to interview the lads from Brutai, so it was up to the dressing rooms next for me. I say ‘dressing rooms’ but to be honest, I have been in a lot more salubrious surroundings in my time. Bare floor boards, tatty walls, minimal furniture that had clearly seen better days and grimy windows made up the setting for my first journalistic task for the day.

Somewhat unbelievably given the number of gigs I’ve attended over the years in the capital, this was my first visit to this particular venue but I rather liked the experience. I missed the first song of openers Voices From the Fuselage but upon entering the small and intimate Barfly venue, I was immediately struck by the sounds coming from the stage.

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Voices From The Fuselage

In Ashe O’Hara, Voices From The Fuselage are blessed with a very talented singer, able to hit those high notes and add a demonstrable amount of emotion into his performance. Behind him, the music was powerful, muscular and well performed, not to mention subtle and melodic too when the need arose. The whole thing reminded me a little of the likes of TesseracT. Untried by me before this evening, these guys now need some further exploration as soon as possible.

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Brutai

Next up, a return to the dressing rooms to interview Earthside and before I knew it, the floor started to shake to signal to us all that Brutai were just starting their set. I’d heard a little of Brutai prior to the gig and I was very interested to see how the band would come across on stage. The answer was ‘very well indeed’.

I would have preferred a better defined mix in order to allow more clarity for the guitar solos and the keyboards but aside from this, Brutai put on a great show that only served to heighten my excitement for the forthcoming debut full-length. I have likened their output to a blend of Soilwork, Voyager, metalcore and pop and I think, on balance, as a brief reference point, I’d stick with this description. On stage though, coupled with a high energy, professional delivery, they certainly offer a lot more in the live arena and justifiably won over the decent-sized crowd, many of whom had not heard of them before this evening.

Brutai
Bruta

Normally, I get very bored during the set changeovers but on this particular evening, it was a lot of fun. Chatting with friends in the audience and then enjoying a long conversation with Mr Ray Hearne, drummer with Haken, it seemed like no time at all had passed before Earthside took to the stage.

Oh. My. Word. It is not often these days that I go to a live show and am absolutely blown away but tonight was one of these rare occasions. Knowing how technical, multi-layered and ambitious the music on Earthside’s debut album, ‘A Dream In Static’ is, I was intrigued to find out how the quartet would be able to pull it off. But pull it off they did and then some.

Tight as a drum, the music was performed almost flawlessly from start to finish, with the kind of intensity that I’ve rarely witnessed. But more than that, alongside the steely determination, there was a genuine sense of enjoyment from the band. Guitarist Jamie van Dyck constantly had a smile on his face and you simply had to see keyboardist Frank Sacramone in action to believe it. Air drumming, expansive arm gestures, singing along, alternating between keytar, standard synths and a guitar; he was a bundle of energy and a real joy to watch. At one point, he even stopped the music to admit that the experience had brought him to tears, something that you could clearly see was true even half-way back in the crowd.

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Earthside

In terms of the voices, Earthside employed the interesting and unusual tactic of projecting the vocals of the guest singers on a giant screen at the back of the stage. As such, you got to hear Bjorn ‘Speed’ Strid (Soilwork) in all his glory on the emotionally-charged ‘Crater’, my personal favourite track. Then there was an ‘appearance’ by vocalist Daniel Tompkins (TesseracT) on ‘A Dream In Static’ as well as Lajon Witherspoon on the epic and visually stunning ‘Mob Mentality’. It isn’t an approach to suit everyone. Yes the interludes between songs was a little protracted and minimised spontaneity and yes, in years to come it would be amazing to have these guests on stage with Earthside. But for now, for this particular performance, it did the job very well indeed.

And what’s more, the crowd lapped it up. A quick glance at those around me witnessed many that were full-on headbanging, several mouths were wide open and the remainder either were appreciatively nodding along or wrapt and ensconced in what they were witnessing. At the end of each song, the response was effusive and by the close of the set, the crowd roared their approval to almost disbelieving looks from the band. It was a crackling atmosphere and Earthside were worth every ounce of it.

toska
Toska

Brighton’s Toska followed albeit with a significantly truncated set and a slightly thinner crowd, mainly due to the inadequacies of public transport at weekends in this country. Nevertheless, those that remained were treated to some instrumental technical metal of a very high quality. Led by the imposing Rabea Massaad on guitar, the trio introduced a faint air of psychedelia and a little sludge to their repertoire meaning that Toska rounded off the impressive bill very handsomely indeed.

If I’m honest though, for all the strengths of the other bands, this night belonged to Earthside. They were incredible and the electricity between the audience and the band was something special to be a part of. After the show, Frank admitted to me that in terms of atmosphere and the feeling he got, it was a 10/10 show for him. He did qualify the statement to say that technically he could improve but overall, from such a perfectionist, this was quite the statement. I just hope that other parts of the UK and indeed the world get to witness this band. They are this good after only their 25th show? Wow. They are, quite simply, a force to be reckoned with.

Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 1

So, here we are. I’ve made it. One month and over 30,000 words later, my ‘Album Of The Year 2015’ Top 30 countdown comes to an end. It has been challenging, tiring and occasionally frustrating but well worth the effort. I have enjoyed the banter, the more serious conversations, the arguments and the positive comments that this series has created. But best of all are the comments from people who say that they have discovered or re-discovered a particular band thanks to one of my posts. This is exactly why I do this.

People ask me why I don’t just write a simple list and put it out there on the Internet. It would be simpler I admit but then, those that know me know that this isn’t the Man Of Much Metal’s way. And it certainly isn’t the Blog Of Much Metal way either. Each and every band that features in this list has spent months creating great music for us all to enjoy. Therefore, the least I can do is spend a decent amount of time giving credit where it’s due and explaining why I feel so passionately about these albums. Giving something back to the music that has given me so much is what I and this blog is all about.

If you’ve stuck with me throughout this series, I offer one last heartfelt thanks to each and every one of you. If you’re new and like what you read here, be sure to spread the word and check out the other 29 albums in my list via the links at the end of this post.

But enough of all that. Let’s get down to business. Ladies, gentlemen and children of all ages and of discerning taste, I give you my gold medal choice for 2015, the best album of a strong year for the music I love…

Number 1

earthside coverEarthside
‘A Dream In Static
Independent Release

I thought long and hard before awarding this album the title of ‘best album of 2015’. I mean, could I really award the title to a debut album from an unsigned band? But then I came to my senses, severely chastised myself and here we are.

Earthside, from New Haven, Connecticut, are comprised of drummer Ben Shanbrom, keyboardist Frank Sacramone, guitarist Jamie van Dyck and bassist Ryan Griffin. And together, they have put together a stunning album that is an utter delight and one that arguably breathes new life into the genre of heavy metal. Not content to plough one narrow musical furrow, instead the quartet have made it their mission to explore numerous different styles across the rock/metal spectrum and beyond all the while managing to keep the end product cohesive and, above all, enjoyable. You could call Earthside’s music progressive metal, djent, cinematic and symphonic or experimental…personally, I just call it damn good music.

Earthside have proved with this release that you can be ambitious, challenging to yourself, challenging to the listener and yet manage to emerge from the other side triumphant. There isn’t a moment on ‘A Dream In Static’ that is messy or clunky or even ill-advised. It all fits perfectly in spite of the myriad of influences at play and what’s more, the end product is absorbing, memorable and extremely addictive.

Photo Credit: Ian Christmann http://ianchristmann.com/
Photo Credit: Ian Christmann http://ianchristmann.com/

One of the elements of Earthside’s success is undoubtedly the unwillingness to rush the end product and to compromise in any real way. As I discovered when I interviewed Ben Shanbrom prior to the album’s release, Earthside have been around for a number of years, working away in the background to hone their craft and perfect their music away from prying ears and the lure of the limelight. In this day and age, it is all too easy to produce music, put it out on the internet and wait for the world to love you or loathe you. Very little thought often goes into the detail; the detail of learning to play your chosen instrument properly for example. And, even for those who are wizards at playing, the detail of honing song writing skills and having a clear vision for the band can be overlooked. This isn’t the case with Earthside – they’ve seemingly thought of everything. The result is ‘A Dream In Static’.

I knew from the moment that I heard ‘The Closest I’ve Come’ that something special was brewing. I had to wait what seemed an inordinately long time before I was finally able to hear the album in it’s entirety but believe me, it was worth the wait. In fact, for those of you familiar with my presence on social media, this choice won’t be the biggest surprise of your lives. I have waxed lyrical about the record over the past few months and I don’t see any reason for that stance to change any time soon.

If you’re after a really detailed look into the individual songs on ‘A Dream In Static’, please check out the review that I wrote for it around the time of it’s release. In addition, for more background about the band, check out my 2-part interview. Links to all three are as follows:

‘A Dream In Static’ Album review
Earthside Interview – Part 1
Earthside Interview – Part 2

For now, for this post, I’ll try to keep things brief. Note the word ‘try’ in that last sentence.

The album kicks off in stunning fashion with ‘The Closest I’ve Come’. In keeping with much of the album, it is an instrumental track but it oozes class and keeps things interesting by frequently altering the tempo, toying with differing levels of complexity and adding an urgent sense of drama via an inspired use of light and shade. One minute it’s heavy, the next it’s quiet and gentle. And, at the 1:30 mark, it explodes with the most gloriously epic melody you’re likely to hear for a while. Spine-tingling stuff indeed.

The title track follows and, featuring TesseracT’s Daniel Tomkins on vocals, it is equally as good as the opener. It is a groovy, djent-heavy beast that features more sumptuous melodies that are impossible to resist. ‘Mob Mentality’ which features Sevendust’s Lajon Witherspoon behind the microphone also boasts the talents of the Moscow Studio Symphony Orchestra and if you’re looking for a complex and moody film score-like feel to it, this is the song you’ve been dreaming of. Gargantuan and bruising, yet precise and subtle, it is a composition that has to be heard to be believed.

‘Entering The Light’ is the shortest track on the album but is also one of the most striking given its demonstrable urgency and the inspired inclusion of a hammered dulcimer courtesy of Max ZT to provide the song’s central melody. Then there are other compositions like ‘Crater’ featuring Soilwork’s Bjorn ‘Speed’ Strid, one of my all-time favourite metal vocalists, ‘The Undergrounding’ with its Meshuggah-like chugging riffs and ‘Contemplation Of The Beautiful’ which is an epic track full of highs and lows that ends with the mother of all crescendos, enhanced by an emotional and committed performance from the final guest vocalist, Eric Zirlinger (Face The King, ex-Seer). Hell, who am I trying to kid, every single track on ‘A Dream In Static’ is a killer and deserving of all the praise that is bestowed upon them.

Going back to my opening paragraph, it belatedly occurs to me that one of the reasons why this record is so exciting is absolutely because this is Earthside’s debut album. Prior to this album, the name ‘Earthside’ was known only to a select few but, given the staggering quality of ‘A Dream In Static’, it is a name that is being talked about more and more with each passing day. Enlisting the services of a full orchestra, convincing the likes of Daniel Tomkins and Bjorn ‘Speed’ Strid to participate and then to be able to have the whole thing mixed by David Castillo (Katatonia, Opeth) means that Earthside must be doing something right.

The mind boggles at what on Earth the band will deliver next time out. However, that’s for another day. For now, let us revel in the sounds, the textures, the emotions and the atmospheres of ‘A Dream In Static’.

In closing, I’d like to quote my original review, as the sentiment remains as true now as it did then: ‘‘A Dream In Static’ is not perfect but it is very close. It is one of the most intense, challenging and ambitious recordings I have heard in a very long time. I’m not a gifted musician, so I prefer to reflect on how albums make me feel; Earthside’s music elates me, excites me and delivers something new on each and every listen. On that basis alone, mark my words, Earthside are going to be huge. A band of this talent, dedication and focus that has produced something as jaw-dropping as ‘A Dream In Static’ as a mere introduction to the metal world cannot possibly be anything else. And you know what? They thoroughly and unequivocally deserve everything coming their way. Bravo gents, bravo.

Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 2
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 3
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 4
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 5
Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 6
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

Album Of The Year 2015 – Number 12

Another day and another entry into my ‘Album of the Year 2015’ top 30 countdown. Just when I thought that I might run out of steam in the lead up to Christmas, I press play on the album that’s subject to today’s post and the juices start to immediately flow. When the music is this good, it begs to be written about. As we inch ever closer to the top 10, I feel reinvigorated and ready to tell the world all about the best music to be released in 2015. And what an insanely strong year it has turned out to be too. I’m writing about albums way outside the top 10 this year that in any other year would have easily bagged a top 5-10 slot; yup, it’s been that good.

If you’re new to this blog or this series, don’t worry, links to each of my choices from 30 down to 13 can be found at the bottom of this post. Enjoy!

Number 12

soilwork TRM coverSoilwork
‘The Ride Majestic’
Nuclear Blast Records

Love them or loathe them, Soilwork have grown into one of the most important and influential bands within the burgeoning melodic death metal scene. I, of course, love them and have done ever since stumbling across them via ‘Steelbath Suicide’ circa 1998 when I was trying my best to buy up everything that that this particular genre could offer me. Up until this point, I’d have to refer to ‘Natural Born Chaos’ as the Gothenburg quintet’s finest hour and is a record to which I return frequently. I mean ‘Soilworkers Song Of The Damned’, c’mon that’s a killer composition, as are ‘Follow The Hollow’ and ‘Black Star Deceiver’. However, the decision just got harder in 2015 thanks to ‘The Ride Majestic’ which is unquestionably a special album with magic coursing through its veins.

Predecessor ‘The Living Infinite’ was an enormous and ambitious double-disc statement of post Peter Wichers intent. By contrast, ‘The Ride Majestic’ is the more honed and polished follow-up which proves that Soilwork, whatever the line-up and whatever is thrown at them, can go toe-to-toe with the very best within the melodic death metal genre.

Credit: Hannah Verbeuren Photography
Credit: Hannah Verbeuren Photography

The title track is a true statement of intent and a brilliant way to open up the album. Its strength is simply that it features a little bit of just about everything that Soilwork is known and loved for. Vocalist Bjorn ‘Speed’ Strid growls venomously and croons so majestically, flitting between the two so smoothly. And then, surrounding his vocal gymnastics is nothing short of a heavy metal anthem that builds out of a quiet clean guitar melody into an infectious, full-power riff before launching into a catchy, hook-laden chorus that immediately grabs the attention.

Soilwork have always been known for their big, almost pop-like choruses and if I’m honest, this is one of the big attractions for me; Soilwork know how to get their tunes lodged in the heads of their fans that’s for sure. On ‘The Ride Majestic’, it feels like this aspect of the band’s sound has been taken to a whole new level though, as there are catchy melodies and hooks all over the place.

‘Death In General’ benefits from a chorus that’s more immediate than a slap around the face whilst ‘Petrichor By Sulphur’ delights thanks to a pre-chorus and chorus that keeps giving whilst injecting a touch of melodic hard rock into the track. And then there’s ‘Enemies In Fidelity’ which features some of the most spine-tingling vocal work ever committed to disc by Strid. I’m not joking either, trust me.

All that being said, don’t for one minute think that Soilwork have gone soft, because they certainly haven’t. Indeed, their more extreme metal tendencies remain present and correct. Even within the more catchy numbers there are plenty of heavy, sharp riffs as well as blast beats and fast aggressive tempos – everything that the average metalhead will lap up. And then, just for good measure, there are the altogether more feisty and less melodic numbers, including ‘Alight In The Aftermath’ which is a harder, more savage beast than the aforementioned, as is ‘Phantom’ which dials up the black metal influences thanks to the caustic and raw feel to the staccato riffing.

And I cannot leave this album without mentioning the closing track, ‘Father And Son Watching The World Go Down’. Not only does it contain some of the most infectious melodies, it is an epic track that also dabbles with doom metal to great effect. It’s a stunning song.

I remain just a little unsure, even after several month of listening but I’m still mulling over the conundrum of whether ‘The Ride Majestic’ is Soilwork’s best work to date. The fact that I am still considering it must mean that it pushes ‘Natural Born Chaos’ very close. And it’s for this reason that ‘The Ride Majestic’ swaggers with ease and aplomb into my top 30 of 2015.

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
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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

Earthside – A Dream In Static – Album Review

earthside cover

Artist: Earthside

Album Title: A Dream In Static

Label: Independent Release

Year Of Release: 2015

The buzz of being an early discoverer of a new band is one of the best on Earth, at least for me anyway. I first became aware of a band called Earthside when I was given the heads-up by their UK publicist about a track that had just been released on Youtube. I listened almost immediately and, perhaps as much as 5 seconds later, I was picking my jaw up off the floor. Throughout the following eight minutes as the song, entitled ‘The Closest I’ve Come’ developed, I had to frequently repeat the process as well as battle goosebumps, shivers and a goofy grin that seemed to affix itself to my face for the entirety of the composition.

From that moment on, I knew that I had to keep my focus on this new band and chart their progress carefully. The next, exciting step was to interview drummer Ben Shanbrom at the behest of the aforementioned publicist, despite only hearing two tracks at that point. It turned into an epic interview that required two blog posts to publish it in its entirety. During the conversation, I became instantly aware of just how focused, driven and disciplined Earthside are, something that shines through in their music without a shadow of doubt.

I have since been privileged to have access to the entire debut album, entitled ‘A Dream In Static’ and it is everything that I had hoped for and more. Earthside, from New Haven, Connecticut, are comprised of drummer Ben Shanbrom, keyboardist Frank Sacramone, guitarist Jamie van Dyck and bassist Ryan Griffin. And each member needs to take a bow because together, they have brought the metal world something truly brilliant.

Credit: Ian Christmann Photography ( http://catalystphotography.com/ )
Credit: Ian Christmann Photography ( http://catalystphotography.com/ )

The album kicks off with the track that I alluded to above, ‘The Closest I’ve Come’. In keeping with a good proportion of the album, it is an instrumental track. Now, I’m not always the biggest fan of instrumental-only music but this is an entirely different beast. The composition weaves its way through a plethora of clever and engaging ideas at once both instantly melodic and complicated. It begins quietly with a captivating melody and is soon joined by some striking drumming before it explodes with real intent via a modern djent-esque guitar tone and powerful rhythm section. I actually get a little emotional listening to it now as it has had such a profound impact upon me over the last few months.

However, the best is reserved for around the 1:30 mark when an epic-sounding melody to end all melodies kicks in with spine-tingling results. The song soon markedly shifts direction with the entire central segment exploring a more classically progressive instrumental blueprint full of wickedly precise and complex ideas, off-kilter timings and subtle keyboard embellishments. Despite its intricate nature, the music never strays into pointless overindulgence; every note has been thought out and keeps one eye on the melodies, texture and atmosphere which for several reasons calls to mind a sci-fi soundtrack. The song then closes via that opening melody which comes back bigger and bolder than ever, leaving an indelible mark on my brain. What a way to open your debut album.

Up next is the track entitled ‘Mob Mentality’ and is the ‘other’ track that Earthside have already unleashed on the metal community to almost entirely positive and effusive praise. It’s not hard to see why because it’s an absolute behemoth of a song. Front and centre of the composition sits Lajon Witherspoon, vocalist with Sevendust and who is the first of a small handful of guest vocalists to grace the record. The choice is typically brave and adventurous from Earthside, but Witherspoon puts in a huge performance, flitting masterfully and with consummate ease between soft and soothing and all-out aggression and power.

Not content to leave it there, Earthside have also enlisted the help of the Moscow Studio Symphony Orchestra to add yet another dimension to the near ten-minute bruising prog metal composition. If Earthside were after a song with the vibe of a movie score, it has been achieved here, with stylish aplomb. The changes in tempo, the movement shifts as well as the frequent alternation between light and shade and from subtle restraint to all-out aggression means that ‘Mob Mentality’ is imbued with a thoroughly believable and intense sense of drama and theatre throughout. All at once, the song sounds rich, ambitious, muscular, fragile and above all, completely and utterly compelling. In short, it is progressive metal genius.

Track three is the title track and features another guest vocalist in the shape of TesseracT’s Daniel Tompkins. It’s impossible to say that this is one of my favourite tracks on the album because as you might have guessed by now, they’re all nothing short of exquisite. That said, I love the more overt groove and unsurprising djent leanings on ‘A Dream In Static’ that are beautifully and seamlessly blended with some sumptuous melodies that are wonderfully accentuated by Tompkins’ stunning vocal performance. When he belts out the big notes, you can’t help but listen and get drawn into the music that little bit more, to the point that I find myself living the track rather than simply listening to it. The fact that I’m not generally-speaking the biggest djent fan in the world just serves to underline how sickeningly good the song writing must be to draw me in in the way that it does.

As a brief aside, there are certain points when the ‘djent’ tag is justified but make no mistake, ‘A Dream In Static’ is not a djent album. The influences are far too varied, the tones, the textures, the atmospheres, the styles and the overall execution call to mind a myriad of different genres and sub-genres, everything from soul and jazz through to classic prog and even melodic death metal. But crucially, Earthside take all these elements and blend it into something that is quite unique and very much their own.

Back to the tracks themselves and ‘Entering the Light’ returns Earthside to their instrumental surroundings whilst also being the shortest track on the record at a mere 5:27 in length. It is nevertheless another dramatic track that again has more than a passing resemblance to a piece of movie soundtrack music, albeit very different to what has gone before. I adore the central melody courtesy of a hammered dulcimer played by guest Max ZT as it offers a stunning counterpoint to the returning Moscow Studio Symphony Orchesta and the more traditional rock/metal instrumentation around it, both of which inject urgency and drama, wrapped up in a gorgeous piece of song-writing. It may be a Graeco-Roman instrument but to these ears, the dulcimer lends a slightly oriental feel to the delightful composition. The booming and shuddering bass that erupts somewhere in the centre of the track is great too, but to pick out any one performance does all the others a real disservice.

‘Skyline’ is, as far as it’s possible for Earthside, more of a straightforward instrumental metal track. That said, it’s still insanely complex, challenging and full of clever ideas with the bass guitar catching my ear most of all. However, it has more of an all-out jam feel to it, as if each member of the band is given the freedom to cut loose. That is until the half-way mark where everything falls away to be replaced by a tentative piano melody whilst the song rebuilds itself, like a phoenix rising from the ashes in a blaze of glory. The lead guitar line is spine tingling and around it is the sense that the composition is building towards something. That ‘something’ turns out to be a massive crescendo in the best post rock/metal tradition, full of elegant atmosphere and a deceptive, brooding heaviness.

Hot on the heels is ‘Crater’, which features one of my all-time favourite metal vocalists, Soilwork’s Bjorn ‘Speed’ Strid. The guy is a monster and he fully demonstrates that here. To begin with, he’s offered the opportunity to really explore his softer, more melodic side before he launches into the chorus of sorts with some of his best work to date in any band or project. It helps that the track behind him is satisfyingly powerful of course. It’s suitably urgent, with equal parts quiet restraint and all-out metal aggression and epic melody, the perfect foil to the many facets of Strid’s voice. Frankly, the result is beyond stunning. The composition is flawless and Strid is God-like; note perfect and his voice drips with emotion and bucket-loads of sincerity, particularly when he cuts loose and calls to the heavens with his rough and gravelly timbre.

Credit: Travis Smith - Seempieces ( http://www.seempieces.com/ )
Credit: Travis Smith – Seempieces ( http://www.seempieces.com/ )

‘The Undergrounding’ is the final instrumental piece on ‘A Dream In Static’. It features some inspired synth sounds that create the track’s U.S.P. and help offer something different to what has gone before. Those Meshuggah-inspired riffs return but all the while accented with plenty of other ideas meaning that all-too-soon, the relatively short track is at an end, albeit via a riff that’d be right at home on a classic doom metal record thanks to its pace and earth-shuddering heaviness.

And that leaves the final track, ‘Contemplation Of The Beautiful’ to close out the record. It begins with some sampled sounds that lend it a theatrical bent. The chosen vocalist for what is the longest track on the album is the less well-known Eric Zirlinger (Face The King, ex-Seer). What’s most ear catching about this piece of music is the pronounced light and shade. At times, the track is beautifully quiet and introspective with softly-sung passages. At others, out of nowhere, the music explodes with the power of an unstoppable force with Zirlinger screaming his lungs out in savage, uncontrolled fury. Around half-way, the track descends into more adventurous and quirky post-rock territory before beginning the gradual ascent towards another indescribably monumental peak of musical majesty; the agonised screams return alongside the most grandiose of melodic crescendos imaginable, leading to one of the most epic compositions I’ve heard in a very long time.

As the album draws to a close, I’m left stunned. How can this be a debut album? Where the hell have Earthside come from? Where can they possibly go from here? ‘A Dream In Static’ is not perfect but it is very close. It is one of the most intense, challenging and ambitious recordings I have heard in a very long time. It is also flawlessly executed and produced with the help of David Castillo in a way that allows every instrument and every subtle nuance to shine through.

I’m not a gifted musician, so I prefer to reflect on how albums make me feel; Earthside’s music elates me, excites me and delivers something new on each and every listen. On that basis alone, mark my words, Earthside are going to be huge. A band of this talent, dedication and focus that has produced something as jaw-dropping as ‘A Dream In Static’ as a mere introduction to the metal world cannot possibly be anything else. And you know what? They thoroughly and unequivocally deserve everything coming their way. Bravo gents, bravo.

‘A Dream In Static’ is out on 23rd October 2015.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.8

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

Caligula’s Horse – Bloom
Teramaze – Her Halo
Amorphis – Under The Red Cloud
Spock’s Beard – The Oblivion Particle
Agent Fresco – Destrier
Cattle Decapitation – The Anthropocene Extinction
Between The Buried And Me – Coma Ecliptic
Cradle Of Filth – Hammer Of The Witches
Disarmonia Mundi – Cold Inferno
District 97 – In Vaults
Progoctopus – Transcendence
Big Big Train – Wassail
NightMare World – In The Fullness Of Time
Helloween – My God-Given Right
Triaxis – Zero Hour
Isurus – Logocharya
Arcturus – Arcturian
Kamelot – Haven
Native Construct – Quiet World
Sigh – Graveward
Pantommind – Searching For Eternity
Subterranean Masquerade – The Great Bazaar
Klone – Here Comes The Sun
The Gentle Storm – The Diary
Melechesh – Enki
Enslaved – In Times
Keep Of Kalessin – Epistemology
Lonely Robot – Please Come Home
The Neal Morse Band – The Grand Experiment
Zero Stroke – As The Colours Seep
AudioPlastik – In The Head Of A Maniac
Revolution Saints – Revolution Saints
Mors Principium Est – Dawn of The 5th Era
Arcade Messiah – Arcade Messiah
Triosphere – The Heart Of The Matter
Neonfly – Strangers In Paradise
Knight Area – Hyperdrive
Haken – Restoration
James LaBrie – Impermanent Resonance
Mercenary – Through Our Darkest Days
A.C.T. – Circus Pandemonium
Xerath – III
Big Big Train – English Electric (Part 1)
Thought Chamber – Psykerion
Marcus Jidell – Pictures From A Time Traveller
H.E.A.T – Tearing Down The Walls
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld

Disarmonia Mundi – Cold Inferno – Album Review

disM cover

Artist: Disarmonia Mundi

Album Title: Cold Inferno

Label: Coroner Records

Year Of Release: 2015

As I have written ad infinitum within other posts on this very blog, I vividly remember the first time that I was introduced to melodic death metal. It was In Flames’ ‘The Jester Race’, one of the early pioneers of the Swedish ‘Gothenburg sound’ movement, and immediately I fell in love. Here was a style of music that blew my mind thanks to the simple yet ingenious blend of death metal brutality with choruses and melodic refrains that were lifted straight of the traditional, New Wave Of British Heavy Metal rulebook. I never looked back and I used this genre as an important stepping stone into the more extreme and heavy recesses of metal’s underground. That said, I have remained a fan of the genre and, whilst it’s fair to say that it has been tested by an influx of copycats, sub-par output and a subtle re-invention and change of sound by a few of the bigger guns in the genre, melodeath has survived and still produces some real gems from time to time.

Why am I saying all this? The answer is simple. What I essentially like most about Disarmonia Mundi is the approach and delivery which immediately transports me back to those halcyon days of melodic death metal. It is like Disarmonia Mundi and I agree on when the genre was at its strongest and then revel in creating music that echoes this. It might not make for the most original of output and it is unlikely to win any awards in the process; indeed, it may even be in danger of being widely overlooked. But if you are like me and consider the mid-late 90s into the early 2000s to be the purple period for melodic death metal, particularly if it emanated from Sweden, I’m certain that you’ll like this record.

Despite their obvious influences and overt Scandinavian sound, Disarmonia Mundi are based some 894 miles south of Gothenburg, in Turin, Italy. I use the word ‘they’, but to be more accurate, I should refer to Disarmonia Mundi as a ‘duo’, given that a number of line-up issues over the years has meant that Disarmonia Mundi now merely comprise the talented multi-instrumentalist, Ettore Rigotti, with the assistance of vocalist Claudio Ravinale. Nevertheless, Disarmonia Mundi has been in existence since 2000, releasing their debut ‘Nebularium’ a year later. It wasn’t until 2004 though, and the release of their storming sophomore effort ‘Fragments of D-Generation’ that I became aware of them. Featuring Soilwork’s Bjorn ‘Speed’ Strid on guest vocals, it contained some quality pieces of music, several of which remain favourites with me to this day. Unfortunately, subsequent albums failed to hit the same heights and so, when I heard that album number five, ‘Cold Inferno’ was about to be released, I wasn’t sure whether or not to bother. A good friend suggested I should and I listened to him.

disM promo

I’m glad that I did too, because ‘Cold Inferno’ is a real return to form, re-visiting a lot of the strengths of the debut and, in fact, playing to the strengths of Disarmonia Mundi in general. The fact that Bjorn ‘Speed’ Strid makes another significant guest appearance throughout the record helps to underline that the Italians are doing something right.

First off, the album is aggressive, fast-paced and energetic; there’s little let up for the entirety of the record and this is definitely part of the charm. After an apocalyptic, cinematic beginning, opener ‘Creation Dirge’ delivers a high-octane listening experience dominated by a powerful rhythm section, great riffing and a clean-sung chorus that’s immediate and enjoyable.

The tone has been set and the remainder of the album follows suit. If the opener called to mind mid-era Soilwork, ‘Stormghost’ is almost pure In Flames worship, albeit with an immensely powerful chorus that reminds me, in something of a modern twist, more of Killswitch Engage than anything else, particularly in terms of the vocal delivery. The stand-out track for me is the delectable ‘Coffin’ with its quasi-ballad feel and huge hooks. However, the rampant Soilwork-isms of ‘Behind Closed Doors’, the anthemic feel of ‘Magma Diver’ and the slightly more subtle ‘Toys Of Acceleration’ are worth the entry fee too.

In fact, there are very few any weak tracks on the album per se, and the really positive thing about ‘Cold Inferno’ is that, from start to finish, you can feel the love, the care and the attention that Rigotti has lavished on the material. Yes it might sound like the bastard love-child of In Flames and Soilwork et al, but crucially, the tracks themselves are engaging, effervescent and full of life. Listening to ‘Cold Inferno’ doesn’t frustrate in the way that many albums of this ilk can; instead it is a rather joyous, strangely uplifting and almost nostalgic experience, albeit with a smattering of modernity for good measure. The bottom line is if you want to listen to some serious heavy metal that will make you smile, Disarmonia Mundi is definitely for you.

The Score Of Much Metal: 8.0

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

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

2013 – The Best Of The Rest (Part 2)

Welcome to part 2 of my round-up of some of the other great rock and metal releases from 2013 that, thanks to a very strong year, missed out on a spot in my top 20 list. Part 1 can be read here if you missed it.

Also, if you missed my full top 20 countdown, that can be accessed via this link.

wetW.E.T.
‘Rise Up’

This band is one of the main reasons why I have embraced melodic hard rock over the last couple of years. I always thought it was a little cheesy, something that firmly belonged in the 80s unless you were of a certain vintage. Well, I admit that I was wrong. Yes, there are a lot of cliches to be found within the genre but when it’s done properly, it can be a great source of feel-good, sing-along music. I tend to refer to it as ‘summer music’.

Featuring the immense vocal talents of Jeff Scott Soto as well as basist/keyboardist Erik Martensson and guitarist Robert Sall, the band was named after the musician’s other bands, namely Work Of Art, Eclipse and Talisman. Anyone familiar with this genre will therefore understand the ‘supergroup’ tag that W.E.T. have obtained of late.

“Rise Up” continues where the self-titled debut left off. As such, the album benefits from excellent song writing which delivers huge choruses, hooks big enough to catch the Loch Ness Monster and allows for great, yet understated musicianship all round. And Soto’s voice…if you’ve not heard the guy sing, you’ve been missing out, trust me.

soilwork the living infiniteSoilwork
‘The Living Infinite’

It’s a massive undertaking to record a double album. It’s an even bigger undertaking when you’ve lost your principle song-writer and creative force for the second time. However, that’s exactly what Soilwork have done with “The Living Infinite”, their ninth recording. It was as if the remaining members wanted to stick a metaphorical two fingers up at those who thought they couldn’t hack it without Peter Wichers at the helm.

And they’ve done it too. I have to be honest and say that it isn’t quite up there with ‘Natural Born Chaos’ for me but that aside, with no less than 20 songs over the two discs, I remain impressed by the consistently high standard of song writing throughout. It is arguable as to whether Soilwork can be described as melodic death metal any more, but what’s not arguable is the quality of the output here. The music remains aggressive and heavy, the choruses are huge and melodic and the performance from vocalist Speed is one of the strongest of his career. But in addition, there’s also a variety within the compositions that perhaps hasn’t previously been present, including a brief foray into doomier territory. It all adds up to a fine release.

sound of contactSound Of Contact
‘Dimensionaut’

I will admit that three reasons drew me in to listening to “Dimensionaut”, the debut album from Sound Of Contact. The first was the fact that the band were signed to InsideOut Music, one of the most tried and trusted record labels within the industry, particularly if prog is of interest to you. The second reason was the cover artwork – those who have read previous blogs about me will not be surprised by this. The third reason was, if I’m honest, one of the names involved – none other than Simon Collins, son of Phil.

There’s no getting away from it – Simon is the drummer and vocalist for the band and he does sound freakishly like his Dad at times when he sings. Therefore, the comparisons with latter-day Genesis are inevitable. However, importantly, Sound Of Contact have proved with this impressive debut album, that they are more than capable of standing on their own.

“Dimensionaut” is simply brilliant and well worth checking out if you’re not already familiar with the band. The musical content is progressive rock on the lighter end of the scale and is very accessible. Aside from the epic closing track, the majority of the compositions are not overly long and, with plenty of hooks, melodic choruses and swathes of keyboards to soften the edges, there is an almost mainstream feel to much of the deceptively complex material. “Dimensionaut”, with a its plethora of earworms, is one of those albums that is so well put together that it’s almost impossible not to like it.

amarantheAmaranthe
‘The Nexus’

Amaranthe are one of those bands that seriously divide opinion. On the one hand, many metal fans will dismiss the output of this young outfit as vacuous, plastic nonsense, a synthetic hit of ear candy. To a certain extent, they’d not be too far wrong as much of the material owes more to pop music than it does to melodic death metal. And the fact that the band has three singers to cover all bases does little to help the Amaranthe cause.

However, delve more closely into the music and several things become abundantly clear: the vocalists are actually very good, the hooks and choruses are hugely infectious, the guitar work and strong rhythm section is out of the metal top drawer and the song writing is undeniably slick and nicely arranged.

Personally, this second album is a big step up from the debut and it is an album I unashamedly enjoy. I suspect that if you give them a chance, many of you will enjoy them too.

Once again, if you missed Part 1 of the ‘Best of the Rest 2013’ or my full Top 20 ‘Album of the Year 2013’, they can both be accessed via the links here.

Half-Way Through 2013 – The Best So Far – Part 3

Today I bring you Part 3 of my “Half-Way Through 2013 – The Best So Far” series. Hopefully you’ll find something within this blog to pique your interest – it is certainly a more mixed bag today with one surprise choice nestled in here. Keep reading to find out what that is…

You can also check out the previous two posts here:
Half-Way Through 2013 – The Best So Far – Part 1
Half-Way Through 2013 – The Best So Far – Part 2
Orphaned Land – “All Is One”

orphaned land all is oneThere is something special about this band, something unique. This Jewish Israeli band has managed to do what politics, negotiation, diplomacy and war have yet to accomplish – the unification of the Middle East. Ok, so I might have dressed things up with a little hyperbole, but the fact remains that small sections of Jews, Muslims and Christians will come together, ignore religion and enjoy an Orphaned Land album or live show.

Based on the music of “All Is One”, it’s not difficult to see why. Bombastic progressive metal assaults your ears from the very beginning and sets the framework for an ambitious album. Ethnic instrumentation appears in abundance to create authenticity, whilst vocalist Kobi Farhi has abandoned his death metal growling almost entirely to allow his words to be heard more clearly. Big choruses and melodies also make this record one of their most accessible to date, in spite of some of the bleak and emotional lyrics that will move even the most hardened of metallers.

Leprous – “Coal”

leprous coalNorwegian prog metal band Leprous have been making quite a name for themselves in recent years and that is definitely set to continue with “Coal”, their third full-length album.

Leprous have an approach and a sound that is truly unique and worthy of the tag ‘progressive’. Each album is different whilst maintaining that quirky Leprous core and, within seconds of listening to “Coal”, you know it’s them. Frankly, it couldn’t be anyone else. The guys are fantastically talented and, when it comes to writing music, apparently bonkers and not shackled by the constraints of convention.

The music is genuinely heavy and aggressive but at the same time, sounds delicate and fragile. It is an impressive feat and leads to a listening experience which is as challenging as it is rewarding. On this record however, I’d venture to say that there’s a touch more immediacy and melodic intent, making the music just that little bit more accessible. Prog metal fans cannot afford to miss out on this.

Soilwork – “The Living Infinite”

soilwork the living infiniteIt’s a massive undertaking to record a double album. It’s an even bigger undertaking when you’ve lost your principle song-writer and creative force for the second time. However, that’s exactly what Soilwork have done with “The Living Infinite”, their ninth recording. It was as if the remaining members wanted to stick a metaphorical two fingers up at those who thought they couldn’t hack it without Peter Wichers at the helm.

And they’ve done it too. No less than 20 songs over the two discs and there’s rarely a duff moment to be found anywhere. It is arguable as to whether Soilwork can be described as melodic death metal anymore, but what’s not arguable is the quality of the output here. The music remains aggressive and heavy, the choruses are huge and melodic and the performance from vocalist Speed is one of the strongest of his career. But in addition, there’s also a variety within the compositions that has perhaps hasn’t previously been present, including a brief foray into doomier territory. It all adds up to one hell of a fine release.

Killswitch Engage – “Disarm The Descent”

killswitchAnd now for something completely unexpected!

I have never been a fan of either Killswitch Engage or their specific subgenre of metal. I have always found the whole thing rather cringe worthy and just a little bit fake. The aggressive verses juxtaposed with clean-sung melodic choruses have always felt a bit clunky and fake, trying to be all things to all metal fans. Until now that is.

I don’t know what made me listen to “Disarm The Descent” for the first time. However, I did listen and it has blown me away. The riffs are huge, the songs are powerful and the choruses are so damn catchy and often border on the anthemic. Plus this album sees the return of original vocalist Jesse Leach, who puts in a very fine performance indeed. One of the surprises of 2013 so far and if you’re surprised to see this in my list, give it a try and hopefully you might just agree.

Interviewing My Musical Heroes – The Ups & Downs

A romantic candlelit interview with ‘Sir’ Russell Allen!

There are many great things about writing for a music magazine. From getting to hear albums before their official release, to gaining entry to gigs on press passes and getting access to the photo pit, it’s all good. However, the one aspect that I both love and fear the most is the interview. Over the years, I have been lucky enough to chat with many of the musicians that I don’t hesitate to refer to as heroes. Be it over the Internet, by telephone or face-to-face, nothing is more exciting, rewarding, challenging and downright nerve-wracking. In this blog, I hope to explain this and put it into a little context as I go.

When I first started writing for Powerplay, it took me a few months to build up the courage and confidence to tackle an interview. However, I could avoid it no longer and eventually agreed to take the call. The band in question was France’s symphonic metallers, Fairyland. It was not until I started to prepare for the interview that I truly realised the work involved and the amount of things that I needed to think about.

First up, from a technical basis, I had to work out how to record the interview. I bought a digital Dictaphone and then devised a cunning method to record the chat – I would talk using the cordless phone and then use another handset, propping the Dictaphone up against the receiver. It wasn’t glamorous, but it seemed to work. I have since tweaked my method and now it’s a much smoother process.

There was always that heart-in-mouth moment as the interview ends when I’ll check the recording and hope that it is clear enough to hear. Long distance calls are the worst as you’re in the lap of the gods as to the quality of the line. I remember chatting with Joe Elliot of Def Leppard and the transatlantic line was so poor, I could barely hear his voice at the other end. It ended up being murderous to transcribe and the pressure was on as this was to be my first ever front cover feature.

I don’t mind the job of transcribing per se, as I get to listen to the conversation again. However, making sure I get all the important information down and written in an order that flows and maintains the reader’s interest, whilst sticking to a word count, can be really difficult. Who am I to determine which interesting nugget is included and which should be omitted?

Then there was the time that I was speaking with Machine Head’s Robb Flynn when the phone cut out entirely mid flow. I scrabbled about trying to re-establish connection and, when we reconvened the conversation, the flow was broken and the interview took a completely different path after that. I feared it would be a poor interview but, whilst transcribing, my fears were fortunately not realised. It still worked out ok, but these glitches I could have done without.

I have carried out upwards of fifty interviews over the years and I still get nervous. In fact, the inspiration for this blog came to me quite recently as I waited nervously for my slot with J.D. of The Sword. The above-mentioned occurrences are part of the reason, for my trepidation, but they’re not the whole story. Would there be a language barrier? Is the interviewee going to be in a good mood and receptive to my questions? Will my questions engage the musician? Which bits of the chat are off the record? Will I be able to ask the questions I want and will the answers be interesting?

On that last note, my interview with Zakk Wylde was a lot of fun, but really stressful at the same time because, with over half of my slot gone, I’d managed to ask just one question. I couldn’t get a word in edgeways. The results were really absorbing, but it can be frustrating if the chat is taken off-topic and I’m unable to steer it back on course.

The verbose & extremely cool Zakk Wylde

And then, there’s the no show – those times where I’ll be sitting by the phone awaiting a call that never comes. Sods law says that this will happen close to deadline and then leave a frantic rush to rearrange. I wouldn’t want to embarrass the bands concerned but it has happened occasionally. What’s more embarrassing is when I’m not ready and I miss the call. This has happened only once, but I was late home from work on the evening I was due to speak with Richard West from Threshold. I was mortified when first I realised that I had missed the call by a matter of minutes and then discovered my Dictaphone was out of batteries. Fortunately, Richard was very nice about it and the interview eventually went well, but I was crushed.

The research is often more than half the battle – making sure that I have done my homework fully. I’m always worried if I interview a band less familiar to me because I fear I’ll miss an obvious line of questioning or not probe in the right areas. And then, when interviewing bands for the second or third time, how do I come up with a new and interesting angle? Sometimes that can be harder than anything else.

My pet hate is the email interview. I hate the question-and-answer format and I really dislike the fact that I have to submit my questions in advance. I cannot receive an answer and feed off it, meaning that the content often just ploughs the same old furrow. I have done a few of these, but I dislike them intensely and, wherever possible, at least speak to the interviewee over the phone.

Face-to-face is the best however. Not only can you hear the answers, but you can see them too. Facial expressions and body language comes into play and it can put a whole new spin on a given answer. I can begin to tell whether the artist is happy with a question, whether they are engaged in the topic and when I think I ought to dig further. Furthermore, from a fan boy perspective, you get to actually meet the person.

Not only that, but the locations can be very exciting too. One of my first face-to-facers was with Bjorn ‘Speed’ Strid of Soilwork on their tour bus. It was a surreal but extremely cool experience, later replicated with Swallow The Sun, Lacuna Coil, Haken and even Dimmu Borgir. Being able to chat with artists in their own personal domain is a real privilege, allowing me a brief insight into the musicians away from the stage. The dressing room, often in the bowels of a venue, offers a similar thrill, although this can offer its own negatives – as much as I love Katatonia, seeing drummer Daniel Liljekvist walk into the room is just his underwear was perhaps a sight that wasn’t top of my ‘must see’ list! Thank your lucky stars that my banner picture at the top of my blog has been cropped too!

Aboard the Soilwork tour bus with Bjorn ‘Speed’ Strid

Generally, it will be a hotel in central London somewhere, as with the likes of Zakk Wylde or Jon Schaffer of Iced Earth. However, occasionally, the location will be the recording studio or at the offices of a record label like Nuclear Blast in Germany. These tend to be on ‘pre-listening’ sessions and these are a lot of fun because, on top of the interview, you get to hear the album ahead of time, on equipment that does the music the full justice it deserves. The flip-side of this though, is that you need to be able to listen to an album, digest it and question the artist about it on a one-off listen that tends to fly by in a bit of a blur.

For all these ups and downs, nothing can prepare you for the very best bit of the whole interview process. It’s that moment as the interview is winding down and the interviewee takes the time to compliment you on the questions or your knowledge or even your enthusiasm. Getting praise from people, who you hold in such high regard gives me such a massive high and, let’s be honest, boosts my ego tremendously. It doesn’t happen every time, although I try to put in the work in every time to make it a possibility. On the occasions that this happens, I put the phone down or walk away from the interview on cloud nine, in a blur of elation and adrenaline as the enormity of what I have done floods over me. It is this feeling that makes me go through all the ups and downs month in, month out making it 100% worthwhile.

I am a lucky boy and I know it!

Shadow Gallery’s Gary Wehrkamp – one of the nicest interviewees I have encountered
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