Wolf – Shadowland – Album Review

Artist: Wolf

Album Title: Shadowland

Label: Century Media Records

Date of Release: 1 April 2022

It seems quite inconceivable, but it’s a fact that ‘Shadowland’, the ninth studio album from Swedish metal band Wolf is the first that I have ever reviewed. For more than 25 years, theirs is a name that has been familiar with fans of classic heavy metal and old school power metal. I have heard their music, of course, but I’ve never felt compelled enough to delve into one of their records and give it the time and attention that I offer to many other bands out there. Given that 2022 is a year where I’m throwing myself into the deep end all over the place, I felt that now was the time to dive in properly and hear what I’ve been largely missing over the years.

By and large, I find myself quite impressed actually, the quartet hitting a nostalgic sweet spot that blends the metal of the likes of Dio, with Judas Priest, a touch of Mercyful Fate theatrics, and a dose of Euro power metal, albeit not from the more over-the-top Helloween-style end of the playbook. The music is a lot of fun as a result, but you also have to have a reasonable tolerance to a bit of cheese, because Wolf’s music is smothered in it. Not that this is necessarily a bad thing of course, just an observation and a warning if you’re allergic to such things.

When I first listened to ‘Shadowland’, I was in a foul mood. I was late for an appointment, I kept getting stuck behind slow-moving cars and tractors on the small, winding country roads along which I was driving and, on the return journey I hit a pothole, causing me to have to stop off and have two new tyres fitted to my car. It was not a good day, and I did not like what I was hearing from ‘Shadowland’ either. I nearly gave up and abandon any thoughts of a review, but something made me return for a second run through. I’m glad I did because a) it proved beyond doubt that your mood can easily affect your opinion of music, and b) it has led to a greater understanding and appreciation for what Wolf have created here.

Once the hooks and melodies start to have an effect, this album takes on a whole new meaning. Just take the opening track, ‘Dust’ as a prime example. It did nothing for me on a first listen, but when I listen for the umpteenth time, I can’t understand why it didn’t immediately resonate with me. The riffs are vibrant and on the attack from the start, whilst it skips along at a nice pace led by Johan Koleberg’s forceful drumming, with Niklas Stålvind’s vocals full of energy too. And the melodies are so strong, with hooks so sharp, you’ll be singing it in your sleep.

Wolf. Bilder skivsläpp. Bilder: Per Knutsson.

The pace is maintained with ‘Visions For The Blind’ which features a gloriously infectious chorus to juxtapose the driving riffing from guitarists Stålvind and Simon Johansson that features within the verses. Even the bass of Pontus Egberg makes the necessary impact within an overall production that, whilst clear and strong, has a retro feel about it, ideal for the music that Wolf create here.

If I had a criticism or two, they both feature within ‘The Time Machine’. An otherwise great, brooding track is undermined slightly by its length which, at over six minutes, makes it feel a little bloated. It also highlights the rather toe-curling nature of the lyrics that can emerge on the album. The chorus is fab, but the lyrics are a little ham-fisted and cheesy. It isn’t a negative that plagues every song, and neither is the issue with track lengths. Both feature, but it isn’t an epidemic, more an occasional outbreak that can largely be forgiven.

Back to the highlights, and the ultra-melodic NWoBHM flavour of ‘Evil Lives’ is definitely one of them. It’s a shorter, snappier composition and it’s a wonderful three-and-a-half minutes of classic metal excess. I also happen to rather enjoy the title track thanks mainly to some muscular guitar riffs, and a chorus that I find myself singing incessantly, long after the album has finished playing. Then there’s the more dramatic, theatrical ‘The Ill-Fated Mr. Mordrake’ that benefits from yet more heavy riffing, dark atmosphere, and a slightly more progressive edge, caused by the frequent shifts in direction within the song, not to mention a stand-out performance from bassist Egberg. You’ve got to love the cheesiness of a track like ‘Rasputin’ to, especially with the pronunciation delivered by Stålvind within the catchy chorus.

The more I listen to Shadowland, the more I find myself liking it. There is definitely something very endearing about this music, as well as being catchy and memorable. Perhaps it’s the nostalgic element of the record, or perhaps it’s because these four Swedes have become incredibly proficient at penning great heavy metal songs. Maybe, just maybe, it’s a combination of both of these elements that have come together on ‘Shadowland’ to create such a proficient record. Whatever the reason, I’m confident that existing fans will not be left disappointed, and that the Wolf name will remain strong for the foreseeable future.

The Score of Much Metal: 87%

Check out my other 2022 reviews here:

Denali – Denali EP

Centinex – The Pestilence EP

Meshuggah – Immutable

Chapter Of Hate – Bloodsoaked Decadence EP

Ancient Settlers – Our Last Eclipse

Tranzat – Ouh La La

Playgrounded – The Death Of Death

Father Befouled – Crowned In Veneficum

Abbath – Dread Reaver

PreHistoric Animals – The Magical Mystery Machine (Chapter 2)

Kvaen – The Great Below

Michael Romeo – War Of The Worlds, Part 2

Dark Funeral – We Are The Apocalypse

Carmeria – Advenae

Agathodaimon – The Seven

Moonlight Haze – Animus

Hellbore – Panopticon

Konvent – Call Down The Sun

Idol Of Fear – Trespasser

The Midgard Project – The Great Divide

Threads Of Fate – The Cold Embrace Of The Light

Arkaik – Labyrinth Of Hungry Ghosts

New Horizon – Gate Of The Gods

Cailleach Calling – Dreams Of Fragmentation

Tundra – A Darkening Sky

Sylvaine – Nova

Hath – All That Was Promised

Sabaton – The War To End All Wars

Kuolemanlaakso – Kuusumu

Oh Hiroshima – Myriad

Godless Truth – Godless Truth

Shape Of Despair – Return To The Void

Eight Bells – Legacy Of Ruin

Embryonic Devourment – Heresy Of The Highest Order

Serious Black – Vengeance Is Mine

Allegaeon – Damnum

HammerFall – Hammer Of Dawn

Immolation – Acts Of God

Veonity – Elements Of Power

Nightrage – Abyss Rising

Arjen Anthony Lucassen’s Star One – Revel In Time

Pure Wrath – Hymn To The Woeful Hearts

Dagoba – By Night

The Last Of Lucy – Moksha

Arð – Take Up My Bones

Embryonic Autopsy – Prophecies Of The Conjoined

The Devils Of Loudun – Escaping Eternity

Cult Of Luna – The Long Road North

WAIT – The End Of Noise

Abysmal Dawn – Nightmare Frontier

Amorphis – Halo

Nordic Giants – Sybiosis

Persefone – Metanoia

Vorga – Striving Toward Oblivion

Mystic Circle – Mystic Circle

Nasson – Scars

Burned In Effigy – Rex Mortem

Silent Skies – Nectar

Celeste – Assassine(s)

Abyssus – Death Revival

SOM – The Shape Of Everything

Ashes Of Ares – Emperors And Fools

Beriedir – AQVA

Lalu – Paint The Sky

Nocturna – Daughters Of The Night

Battle Beast – Circus Of Doom

Lee McKinney – In The Light Of Knowledge

Descent – Order Of Chaos

Aethereus – Leiden

Toundra – Hex

Ilium – Quantum Evolution Event EP

Power Paladin – With The Magic Of Windfyre Steel

Necrophagous – In Chaos Ascend

Infected Rain – Ecdysis

Wilderun – Epigone

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

2021 reviews

2020 reviews

2019 reviews
2018 reviews
2017 reviews
2016 reviews
2015 reviews

Dark Funeral – We Are The Apocalypse – Album Review

Artist: Dark Funeral

Album Title: We Are The Apocalypse

Label: Century Media Records

Date of Release: 18 March 2022

I love black metal, and have for many, many years. I’ve talked at length elsewhere on this site about how I discovered this style of music in my teens and have never looked back. As we all know, the genre of black metal is so wide-ranging, from the sublime to the ridiculous, from the raw ‘cvlt’ approach to the opulent and theatrical, and from the downright venomous aggression to the more introspective, soothing sounds of blackgaze. I like most of it, even if I struggle with the real lo-fi muddy buzzsaw stuff. And yet, despite understanding their importance and standing in the scene, I have never been a big fan of Dark Funeral. Sitting here writing this review, I must admit to not really knowing why. In the beginning, I was drawn to the more symphonic, melodic ends of the spectrum, so given the Swedes didn’t neatly fit into this box, I didn’t investigate much to begin with. But, for one reason or another, I never really rectified the matter. I just assumed that they weren’t for me and every time I heard them, I clearly never paid that much attention.

But that’s the great thing about this website and my current ravenous appetite to listen to as much music as possible – I have been able to devote time and attention to ‘We Are The Apocalypse’, the seventh album of Dark Funeral’s career, a career that has been ongoing for just shy of 30 years. Over those years though, there have been many comings and goings, meaning that only guitarist Lord Ahriman (Jan Michael Svanberg) remains from the original 1993 line-up. His six-string partner in crime Chaq Mol (Bo Anders Nymark) has been in place since 2003 though, so there remains a little in terms of consistency. The remainder of the quintet have been around for a lot less time, with vocalist Heljarmadr (Erik Andreas Vingback) returning for just his second stint behind the microphone. Bassist Adra Melek (Fredrik Isaksson) and drummer Jalomaah (Janne Jaloma) meanwhile are both newbies having joined the ranks in 2018.

Having listened to this album incessantly over the last couple of days to ensure I could publish my review in advance of the release date, I can safely say that I’m impressed. It’s only taken three decades, but at least I have finally got there, eh?!

There is nothing particularly subtle or pretty about Dark Funeral’s offering here on ‘We Are The Apocalypse’, but then aside from the last album, ‘Where Shadows Forever Reign’, where they went a little more toward an atmospheric direction, the Swede’s output has never been anything else. They’ve largely been on the attack, venomous, cold, and uncompromising in their pursuit of black metal domination. This record is very much of that ilk again, but what I like is the injection of just enough melody to allow the songs to stand out and then to draw me back in for another go around.

Things start just as I expected with the furious and violent eruption of frosty aggression that is ‘Nightfall’. What’s refreshing is that no time is wasted for scene-setting, or the creation of atmosphere. From the off, it’s all-out venomous attack via fast-picked tremolo riffs, flat-out drumming, and Heljarmadr’s rasping growls, delivering his diatribes with force. All of this provides plenty enough by way of atmosphere. But importantly for yours truly, there is a lot more melody within the song than perhaps I was expecting. We’re not in power metal territory of course, but there is a subtle catchiness topped off by a highly charged and addictive chorus that I can’t stop listening to if I’m honest; the blend of brutality and memorability is infectious to say the least. I haven’t been this impressed with this kind of music since Seth dropped ‘La Morsure Du Christ’ last year.

The quality continues with ‘Let The Devil In’. The modus operandi is not dissimilar to the opener, but it feels slightly less intense, with a slight deceleration of pace and lots of grim melody to be heard, particularly within the choruses. The same cannot be said of the ferocious one-two of ‘When Our Vengeance Is Done’ and ‘Nosferatu’ which both hammer the listener from the first to the last note with unrelenting scorching pace and almost feral aggression. That is, except for a section within the latter that creates a little more by way of dark intrigue before being blitzed by more rabid brutality.

The big deviation from the ‘norm’ takes place with the introduction of ‘When I’m Gone’. It immediately signals its significantly different approach with a quiet, more delicate intro that turns into a highly melodic affair when the heavier instrumentation enters. The pace is generally slower throughout and, whilst I’d not refer to the song as a ballad, it certainly has the feel of such, albeit in the context of this being Dark Funeral and this being a generally rather savage black metal record. Naturally, given my predisposition for melody, I lap up this lumbering beast of a track. A not dissimilar approach is taken with ‘Leviathan’ too, proving beyond any doubt there is sufficient variety in terms of pace, atmosphere, and intensity on this record to ensure that the attention of the listener is always maintained.

To be perfectly honest though, there isn’t what I would deem to be a weak track on ‘We Are The Apocalypse’. Yes one or two of the blisteringly fast tracks towards the end blur a little bit, but if that’s the only criticism I can offer, then Dark Funeral can’t be doing too badly can they? It also backs up my preference towards a better production because Lord Ahriman and Co. prove here that they can be deadly and uncompromising whilst offering a clear, powerful, and commanding sound, one that doesn’t pain my ears or leave any of the instruments absent in the mix. If you consider yourself to be an existing Dark Funeral fan, then ‘We Are The Apocalypse’ is unlikely to disappoint. And if, like me, you are somehow less familiar with the band than you ought to be, prepare to be impressed and entertained in equal measure.

The Score of Much Metal: 90%

Check out my other 2022 reviews here:

Carmeria – Advenae

Agathodaimon – The Seven

Moonlight Haze – Animus

Hellbore – Panopticon

Konvent – Call Down The Sun

Idol Of Fear – Trespasser

The Midgard Project – The Great Divide

Threads Of Fate – The Cold Embrace Of The Light

Arkaik – Labyrinth Of Hungry Ghosts

New Horizon – Gate Of The Gods

Cailleach Calling – Dreams Of Fragmentation

Tundra – A Darkening Sky

Sylvaine – Nova

Hath – All That Was Promised

Sabaton – The War To End All Wars

Kuolemanlaakso – Kuusumu

Oh Hiroshima – Myriad

Godless Truth – Godless Truth

Shape Of Despair – Return To The Void

Eight Bells – Legacy Of Ruin

Embryonic Devourment – Heresy Of The Highest Order

Serious Black – Vengeance Is Mine

Allegaeon – Damnum

HammerFall – Hammer Of Dawn

Immolation – Acts Of God

Veonity – Elements Of Power

Nightrage – Abyss Rising

Arjen Anthony Lucassen’s Star One – Revel In Time

Pure Wrath – Hymn To The Woeful Hearts

Dagoba – By Night

The Last Of Lucy – Moksha

Arð – Take Up My Bones

Embryonic Autopsy – Prophecies Of The Conjoined

The Devils Of Loudun – Escaping Eternity

Cult Of Luna – The Long Road North

WAIT – The End Of Noise

Abysmal Dawn – Nightmare Frontier

Amorphis – Halo

Nordic Giants – Sybiosis

Persefone – Metanoia

Vorga – Striving Toward Oblivion

Mystic Circle – Mystic Circle

Nasson – Scars

Burned In Effigy – Rex Mortem

Silent Skies – Nectar

Celeste – Assassine(s)

Abyssus – Death Revival

SOM – The Shape Of Everything

Ashes Of Ares – Emperors And Fools

Beriedir – AQVA

Lalu – Paint The Sky

Nocturna – Daughters Of The Night

Battle Beast – Circus Of Doom

Lee McKinney – In The Light Of Knowledge

Descent – Order Of Chaos

Aethereus – Leiden

Toundra – Hex

Ilium – Quantum Evolution Event EP

Power Paladin – With The Magic Of Windfyre Steel

Necrophagous – In Chaos Ascend

Infected Rain – Ecdysis

Wilderun – Epigone

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

2021 reviews

2020 reviews

2019 reviews
2018 reviews
2017 reviews
2016 reviews
2015 reviews

Wilderun – Epigone – Album Review

Artist: Wilderun

Album Title: Epigone

Label: Century Media Records

Date of Release: 7 January 2022

I’m going to level with you. I am possibly the only fan of heavy music on Earth who didn’t enjoy ‘Veil Of Imagination’, the third full-length release from Wilderun. It featured highly within many ‘album of the year’ lists in 2019 but was demonstrably absent from mine. Many readers thought that maybe I might have made a mistake, but I hadn’t. As is my way, aside from the occasional exception, I only review albums that I want to be positive about at manofmuchmetal.com. That’s going to change a little in 2022, but at the time, it meant that ‘Veil Of Imagination’ did not get reviewed.

I am not going to be one of those people who just turns their nose up at something and says ‘it’s rubbish’ before moving on without any kind of qualification. I’ll always try to be constructive and explain why I’m not a fan. In the case of ‘Veil Of Imagination’, there’s no denying the incredible levels of talent on offer; the album was grandiose, complex, challenging, epic, and bold. For these reasons, I fully understand its appeal. But, for me, it lacked the kind of melodic intent that I want from my music. That’s not to say that it wasn’t a melodic album, just that I didn’t warm to the chosen melodies. Very folk-heavy, and technical, none of the songs contained that moment of magic that hooked me in. Instead, for all its myriad qualities, I found the songs meandered without grabbing me around the throat. I still feel much the same way.

Nevertheless, when news of a new album emerged during 2021, my initial thought wasn’t ‘I’ll ignore it’, it was ‘I wonder if it will be the album that will click with me?’ And so, here we are, my first review of the New Year, offering my thoughts on album number four by the Boston-based symphonic progressive extreme metal band Wilderun.

Entitled ‘Epigone’, it is adorned with a most beautiful cover, both ethereal and whimsical in equal measure. The artwork alone would have meant that ignoring this record was never really an option for me. Add to this a production that is equally as strong and powerful as that which accompanied its predecessor, and we are off to a great start.

Following on from what many consider to be a masterpiece is arguably one of the hardest tasks for a band to tackle. What makes the job a little easier for Wilderun, is the fact that they remain a tight entity having been together for a fair while now. As such, Wilderun remains comprised of Evan Anderson Berry (vocals, guitars, mandolin, keyboards), Daniel Müller (bass, hammered dulcimer, synths, orchestration), Jonathan Teachey (drums), Joe Gettler (lead guitar) and Wayne Ingram (guitars, keyboards, orchestration)

Additionally, Wilderun have not appreciably changed their approach for ‘Epigone’, so I would suggest that fans of ‘Veil Of Imagination’ will find much to drool over on this new record. It is still a massive beast that covers an incredible amount of musical ground. The textures, dynamics, and atmospheres are breath taking to be quite honest, just as they were before. The way that the songs never sit still, taking the listener on that most cliched of things – a journey – is still absolutely accurate and one of the big strengths of this talented outfit. The blend of progressive rock, classical, folk, and technical death metal remains at the core of the bands sound too, with gentle acoustic passages juxtaposed by brutal aggression as and when the mood takes them. The nods towards the likes of Opeth also remain, but I’d suggest that there is a greater individuality and identity within the nine new tracks here.

I’ve heard a few rumblings of disquiet on social media in the lead-up to suggest that fans are not necessarily so enamoured by what they have heard via the officially released tracks. What I would say for certain, is that judgement should be reserved for the full and final product. ‘Epigone’ is most definitely not an album to dip in and out of; it is a complete body of work that is best enjoyed in this manner, to allow the ebb and flow and the storytelling to take full effect. If you fail to listen from start to finish, you definitely lose something, at least in my lengthy experience with this record, anyway.

And, having spent such an inordinate amount of time properly concentrating and listening to the music, getting under its skin, and generally getting to grips with everything, I can finally say that it is starting to click with me. I’m not going to sit here and say that it will definitely find its way into my year-end ‘best of’ list because such a statement would be way too premature. However, it is way more enjoyable for me than ‘Veil Of Imagination’ ever was. I still wish that the guys would spend a little more time delivering a few knock-out melodic sequences that stop me in my tracks, but there is certainly a greater sense of melody on ‘Epigone’ to these untrained ears.

To pick out a few highlights in this regard, I’d have to reference the sweeping grandeur of “Woolgatherer” at the 1:45 mark, such is its elegance. It returns a couple more times throughout the gargantuan 14-minute composition and each time I lament that not more is made of this wonderful melody. ‘Passenger’ features a deliciously melodic solo at the 4:15 mark that leads into a more whimsical section that I rather like but again, at nearly ten minutes in length, as good as the song honestly is, could there have been a touch more show-stopping melody? I certainly think so.

‘Identifier’ however, begins in a more memorable fashion with a lovely little melodic motif that’s led by the lead guitar, and which crops up sparingly throughout the song, another that extends into double figures. And then, towards the end, we’re treated to another beautiful soundscape that’s further embellished by a lead guitar solo. I want more of this, please gents. If there were more passages like this, I’d be awarding top marks right here, right now.

What I can also detect, is an even greater emphasis this time around on contrasts, but with a leaning more towards quieter, introspective, and dark music. The heavy, extreme passages deliver a satisfying potency, as the mid portion of ‘Distraction II’ or the cacophonous conclusion to ‘Distraction Nulla’ both ably demonstrate, but it certainly feels as if Wilderun wanted to explore more subtle sounds and textures on ‘Epigone’. Delicate moments, either by virtue of gentle orchestration or acoustic guitars litter the compositions, with the opening track, ‘Exhaler’ being a full-on acoustic affair. Indeed, it’s not until well into ‘Woolgatherer’ that we hear the first hints of extreme metal heaviness. That said, the opener, whilst gentle and serene thanks to some beautiful orchestration, it conveys the dark, sombre overtones that permeate much of the record as a whole.

What is absolutely without doubt is the talent of the musicians within Wilderun. I’m no musician as you all know by now, and so the level of ability from every member of the band is utterly bewildering to me. It’s so good in fact, that it feels unfair to single anyone out. That said, the orchestrations courtesy of Ingram and Müller are rather stunning, adding a depth, elegance, and power that many other bands would kill for I’m sure. In essence, ‘Epigone’ is all rather wonderful, and I am finally feeling somewhat converted to their cause. I know I sound like a broken record, but I still want more magical melody. That aside, there’s little else to find fault with and so thanks to Wilderun and ‘Epigone’, 2022 has begun in a very strong fashion indeed.

The Score of Much Metal: 88%

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

2021 reviews

2020 reviews

2019 reviews
2018 reviews
2017 reviews
2016 reviews
2015 reviews

Swallow The Sun – Moonflowers – Album Review

Artist: Swallow The Sun

Album Title: Moonflowers

Label: Century Media Records

Date of Release: 19 November 2021

My love affair with Swallow The Sun goes back many years. In fact, I can trace my history with the band right back to their debut album, ‘The Morning Never Came’ that they released in 2003. Over the years, I have interviewed the Finns a couple of times or more, sat in their tour bus, and even hung out with them in the press tent at Bloodstock Open Air. Their humour, warmth, and sense of fun was initially a surprise simply based on assumptions made about them because of the music they played. The tagline ‘gloom, beauty and despair’ summed up their sonic output perfectly, remaining entirely apt throughout their career. Whether it was a one-song epic EP, or a monumental three-disc album, you could always recognise this band’s music and their ability to caress one minute and then tear you apart the next.

Their 2015 triple album, ‘Songs From The North I, II & III’ was wonderful but, with hindsight, it was just a little too much; too many songs, too much music, too long. It has meant that it doesn’t get as many rotations in my playlist as it probably should. For some reason, despite hearing it, I never reviewed the 2019 follow-up, ‘When A Shadow Is Forced Into The Light’. I don’t know why, because it was another better-than-solid release that sat at a much more manageable 52 minutes, full of the same crushing heaviness and poignant melody that we’ve all come to expect and love. ‘Moonflowers’ therefore, offers me the opportunity to get back on the horse, so to speak, and delve deeply into the sombre world of Swallow The Sun once more. And do you know what? Their world might be sombre, but it can be a stunning place to be.

Never ones to shy away from drawing upon personal experiences, it would appear that ‘Moonflowers’ takes things to a whole new level. Guitarist and principal songwriter Juha Raivio won’t go into the details of the events that gave birth to this record but of the album, he reveals the following: 

“I know well that I should not say this, but I deeply hate this album. I hate where it takes me, how it makes me feel, and what it stands for me. I wish it wouldn’t. But for all its honesty, I got no option than also [to] love it. That is all that matters to me with the music anyway. It doesn’t matter how

it makes me feel, as long as it does.”

When you then find out that the artwork is comprised of dried flowers collected by Raivio as well as his own blood, you realise just how personal this release truly is. This isn’t abstract agony or metaphorical misery, this is real. And as you listen to ‘Moonflowers’, this does become abundantly clear, perhaps more than any other record in their history.

The album opens with ‘Moonflowers Bloom In Misery’, but before I talk about the music itself, mention has to be made of the production which is arguably the most powerful, and assured of the Finns’ career to date. Produced by guitarist Juho Räihä and David Castillo in their separate studios, the album was then mixed by Jens Bogren at Fascination Street Studios. Together they have created something truly special. This opening track begins quietly, solemnly, before exploding into naked brutality but at each stage, the music is afforded the clarity and warmth to make it a beautiful listening experience. Even when vocalist Mikko Kotamäki switches from clean to throat-tearing screams and growls, accompanied by massive riffs, thunderous rhythms from drummer Juuso Raatikainen and bassist Matti Honkonen, the sense of melody and beauty is never lost, with the fragile strings continuing their gorgeous lament at the heart of the song. Those familiar with Swallow The Sun will be familiar with the drama that the clashes between quiet and savage material creates. But even so, this opening song is incredible; so poignant, so heartbreaking, but also so full of sad anger.

One of my favourite songs from the very beginning was ‘Enemy’, and this remains to the present day. It begins in confrontational fashion, but soon settles into that slow-to-mid-tempo that the band are so comfortable with, allowing them to lace the doom/death hybrid with emotional melodies, most pronounced within the chorus. The lead guitar melody is so fragile that it could break at any second, but it is achingly beautiful. There’s a hint or two of more recent My Dying Bride to be heard, especially when Kotamäki almost talks some of the lyrics to a relatively minimalist soundscape, dominated by subtle synths and rich strings, the latter playing an intense part in the rousing finale to the composition.

One thing I’ve always admired about the Swallow The Sun sound is their penchant for playing riffs that allow for the heavy chords to ring out and resonate; their not in a hurry to lace their music with unnecessary speed; they are happy to let the notes do the talking. Just listen to ‘Woven Into Sorrow’ for a great example, particularly at the outset. That being said, when a slightly quicker crushing riff is required, they can deliver here as well to fantastic effect, bulldozing everything in sight with sheer power. This track sounds so full of despair both lyrically and musically, it touches me deeply, threatening to raise wounds that I have spent much of this year coming to terms with and trying to heal. It isn’t the easiest listening experience, but make no mistake, I’d have it no other way because this is music of the most wonderful kind. So full of honesty, rawness and fragility.

‘Keep Your Heart Safe From Me’ injects a few new, interesting ingredients into the Swallow The Sun armoury, including acoustic guitars, lead guitar solos, and pronounced synth sounds that together with the construction of the song hint at a vaguely progressive feel. As such, it’s an intriguing composition that takes a bit more time to click, but it’s all the more rewarding when it does.

Elsewhere, ‘All Hallows’ Grieve’ features Oceans Of Slumber vocalist Cammie Gilbert, a perfect fit if ever there was one. Gilbert’s vocals are always full of melancholy and fragility, so her appearance is a welcome one, sending shivers up and down my spine when she duets with Kotamäki so effortlessly. It also helps that the melodies are so achingly beautiful they are almost painful, albeit in a good way. Arguably one of the songs of the year can be heard right here ladies and gentlemen.

I love the pulsating bass heard within ‘The Void’, not to mention the extended chorus that features a real grower of a melody or two. The acoustic guitars make a comeback within the delicate intro to ‘The Fight Of Your Life’, a song that expertly juxtaposes the extreme death/doom metal with elegant string arrangements that temper the onslaught just enough to deliver a scintillating melancholic listening experience.

To close, ‘This House Has No Name’ features Stam1na’s Antti Hyyrynen, and it’s a more than fitting, gloomy note upon which to end ‘Moonflowers’. Dabbling in some grim black metal speed and intensity, it is a striking composition too, especially when the blasts of savagery are replaced by something altogether more ponderous and mournful, complete with the tinkling of piano keys, more strings, and Kotamäki’s resonant but reluctant-sounding clean vocal delivery. As always, melody does feature, albeit less pronounced than on other songs on this record. Nevertheless, it’s a fabulous composition, capping off what is a fabulous album.

Without a doubt, Swallow The Sun have remained one of the most consistent and high quality bands for the better part of two decades. Their output has remained largely unchanged across that time, but reserved experimentation and boundary-pushing has taken place when required. The thing is, when the music that they create is as good as it is, where’s the benefit is drastically altering your approach? It is clear that Raivio has suffered over the past few years, but he and his fellow musicians within Swallow The Sun have channelled that suffering into one of the most heart wrenching albums that 2021 has heard. If ‘gloom, beauty, despair’ continues to sound this good, I never want it to end. The world would be a worse place without it.

The Score of Much Metal: 94%

Dessiderium – Aria

Cynic – Ascension Codes

TDW – Fountains

Hypocrisy – Worship

W.E.B. – Colosseum

Navian – Cosmos

NorthTale – Eternal Flame

Obscura – A Valediction

Nightland – The Great Nothing

MØL – Diorama

Be’lakor – Coherence

Hollow – Tower

Doedsvangr – Serpents Ov Old

Athemon – Athemon

Eclipse – Wired

Swallow The Sun – Moonflowers

Dream Theater – A View From The Top Of The World

Nestor – Kids In A Ghost Town

Beast In Black – Dark Connection

Thulcandra – A Dying Wish

Omnium Gatherum – Origin

Insomnium – Argent Moon EP

Kryptan – Kryptan EP

Archspire – Bleed The Future

Awake By Design – Unfaded EP

Cradle Of Filth – Existence Is Futile

Seven Spires – Gods Of Debauchery

Sleep Token – This Place Will Become Your Tomb

Necrofier – Prophecies Of Eternal Darkness

Ex Deo – The Thirteen Years Of Nero

Carcass – Torn Arteries

Aeon Zen – Transversal

Enslaved – Caravans To The Outer Worlds

A Dying Planet – When The Skies Are Grey

Leprous – Aphelion

Night Crowned – Hädanfärd

Brainstorm – Wall Of Skulls

At The Gates – The Nightmare Of Being

Rivers Of Nihil – The Work

Fractal Universe – The Impassable Horizon

Darkthrone – Eternal Hails

Thy Catafalque – Vadak

Terra Odium – Ne Plus Ultra

Hiraes – Solitary

Eye Of Purgatory – The Lighthouse

Crowne – Kings In The North

Desaster – Churches Without Saints

Helloween – Helloween

Fear Factory – Aggression Continuum

Wooden Veins – In Finitude

Plaguestorm – Purifying Fire

Drift Into Black – Patterns Of Light

Alluvial – Sarcoma

White Moth Black Butterfly – The Cost Of Dreaming – Album Review

Silver Lake by Esa Holopainen

Bloodbound – Creatures From The Dark Realm

Nahaya – Vital Alchemy

Frost* – Day And Age

Obsolete Theory – Downfall

Vola – Witness

Acolyte – Entropy

Dordeduh – Har

Subterranean Masquerade – Mountain Fever

Seth – La Morsure Du Christ

The Circle – Metamorphosis

Nordjevel – Fenriir

Vreid – Wild North West

Temtris – Ritual Warfare

Astrakhan – A Slow Ride Towards Death

Akiavel – Vae Victis

Gojira – Fortitude

Hideous Divinity – LV-426

Benthos – II

Evile – Hell Unleashed

Ninkharsag – The Dread March Of Solemn Gods

Bodom After Midnight – Paint The Sky With Blood

Morrigu – In Turbulence

Mother Of All – Age Of The Solipsist

Throne – Pestilent Dawn

Sweet Oblivion (Geoff Tate) – Relentless

Exanimis – Marionnettiste

Dvne – Etemen Ænka

Cannibal Corpse – Violence Unimagined

Arion – Vultures Die Alone

Maestitium – Tale Of The Endless

Wode – Burn In Many Mirrors

Everdawn – Cleopatra

Unflesh – Inhumation

Mourning Dawn – Dead End Euphoria

Wheel – Resident Human

Wythersake – Antiquity

Odd Dimension – The Blue Dawn

Metalite – A Virtual World

Cryptosis – Bionic Swarm

Ghosts Of Atlantis – 3.6.2.4

Memoriam – To The End

Aversed – Impermanent

Secret Sphere – Lifeblood

Enforced – Kill Grid

Liquid Tension Experiment – LTE3

Turbulence – Frontal

Iotunn – Access All Worlds

Warrior Path – The Mad King

Stortregn – Impermanence

Mariana’s Rest – Fata Morgana

Orden Ogan – Final Days

Witherfall – Curse Of Autumn

Plague Weaver – Ascendant Blasphemy

Ephemerald – Between The Glimpses Of Hope

Paranorm – Empyrean

Einherjer – North Star

Epica – Omega

Humanity’s Last Breath – Välde

Simulacrum – Genesis

Forhist – Forhist

Evergrey – Escape Of The Phoenix

Empyrium – Über den Sternen

Moonspell – Hermitage

Infernalizer – The Ugly Truth

Temperance – Melodies Of Green And Blue EP

Malice Divine – Malice Divine

Revulsion – Revulsion

Demon King – The Final Tyranny EP

Dragony – Viribus Unitis

Soen – Imperial

Angelus Apatrida – Angelus Apatrida

Oceana – The Pattern

Therion – Leviathan

Tribulation – Where The Gloom Becomes Sound

Asphyx – Necroceros

W.E.T. – Retransmission

Labyrinth – Welcome To The Absurd Circus

TDW – The Days The Clock Stopped

Need – Norchestrion: A Song For The End

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

2020 reviews

2019 reviews
2018 reviews
2017 reviews
2016 reviews
2015 reviews

Omnium Gatherum – Origin – Album Review

Artist: Omnium Gatherum

Album Title: Origin

Label: Century Media Records

Date of Release: 5 November 2021

It’s fitting, in many ways the latest album from Finland’s Omnium Gatherum, ‘Origin’ should be released on 5th November, because you should expect fireworks. I wrote a review for the new Insomnium EP very recently and remarked that the two best melodic death metal bands hailed, not from Sweden where the genre originated, but from Finland. If Insomnium are one of the two, the other is Omnium Gatherum. In fact, if I had to order them, Omnium Gatherum would sit at the very top of the pile. And I’d not have to think very long or hard either.

Some of you will be well aware of my three-month hiatus over the summer this year. I won’t go into detail, but suffice to say I was in a dark place and went through a very rare period where I couldn’t face listening to music of any kind, especially new music. As I got my act together slowly, there was one band that I must thank for helping me get my mojo back and find the joy in listening to music again. And that band is Omnium Gatherum. It was to the Finns that I turned when I felt a mild interest in returning to music, a mild interest that blossomed into something more potent thanks to two albums in particular. I must have listened to ‘Beyond’ (2013) and ‘The Burning Cold’ (2018) upwards of a dozen times as I gradually emerged from my self-imposed exile. The combination of extreme metal and elegant AOR-like melodies, both uplifting and poignant at the same time stirred something within me, and with it, my bond with Omnium Gatherum became even stronger than ever before.

I am therefore delighted that the first album for several months that I am reviewing before it’s release, is ‘Origin’, the ninth album of Omnium Gatherum’s lengthening and ever-more impressive career.

It’s fair to say at this juncture, that the last couple of years have not been easy for Omnium Gatherum either. Not only have they had to navigate a safe path through the pandemic, but they have also had to negotiate some changes in the line-up. Continuing as a quintet, following the departure of guitarist and clean vocalist Joonas ‘Jope’ Koto in 2019, the band also had to replace their long-time bassist Erkki Silvennoinen around the same time. The current line-up therefore sees new bassist/clean vocalist Mikko Kivistö join up with vocalist Jukka Pelkonen, guitarist/clean vocalist Markus Vanhala, keyboardist Aapo Koivisto, and the relatively new himself drummer Atte Pesonen.

When you consider the upheaval that Omnium Gatherum have been through, you can forgive my slight air of apprehension going into this review. ‘Origin’ might be very different from previous records, it might be very similar. It might be incredible, it might be terrible. A new album shouldn’t make you feel so nervous and worried, but when it’s a band with whom I have some very special emotional ties, these feelings are entirely natural. The nerves are heightened slightly more when the band themselves proclaim that they want ‘Origin’ to be considered as the death metal version of Def Leppard’s ‘Hysteria’. I love Def Leppard, but what exactly does this mean?

In essence, having digested ‘Origin’ as much as humanly possible over the past week or so, it means that Omnium Gatherum have decided to dial down the death metal a smidge, whilst dialling up the melody. And the increase in melody appears in many ways, from the lead guitar lines, from the keys that have always been an important element of the band’s sound, and also from what I perceive to be an increase in clean vocals. This upturn in melody is accompanied by a more measured pace overall, with fewer bursts of intense, pacey aggression, leading to a feeling that ‘Origin’ is a more gentle and serene animal than anything before it within their discography to date.

At first, I felt a little unnerved and wasn’t sure if this was an album that maintained the stature of Omnium Gatherum in my eyes. As I type here and now, I’m still of the opinion that other OG albums contain a little more of their unquantifiable magic. However, there remains something about this band, even when they’re maybe not firing on all cylinders, that entrances me and pulls me back into their warm, comforting, melancholic embrace. And that something is the melody; this band can speak directly to my heart as if it’s on speed dial.

Let’s start with the couple of most familiar tracks to most of us, the opening two ‘singles’ released ahead of time, ‘Paragon’ and ‘Reckoning’.

Of all the songs on ‘Origin’, it is ‘Paragon’ that’s most in keeping with what your mind might conjure when thinking of a typical Omnium Gatherum track; bruising death metal riffs laced with synths courtesy of Aapo Koivisto alongside catchy lead guitar lines, a pulsating rhythmic backbone and the deliciously gritty gruff vocals of Jukka Pelkonen that ensures that the death metal tag is well-placed, even if blast beats are few and far between. And then, in comes the lighter chorus section, complete with clean vocals, that is like a breath of AOR fresh air, especially when built upon by exquisite lead guitar notes. It shouldn’t work, but by heavens it does, believe me.

The synth and electronics-heavy intro to ‘Reckoning’ has me grinning from the very first few notes. I make no secret of my love of proper 80s music, be it metal, rock, or occasionally pop. And this song encapsulates that feeling brilliantly. It has been, and continues to be, one of my very favourite Omnium Gatherum tracks, not just on this album, but overall. Strong words, but well earned, because the way in which double-pedal drumming and Pelkonen’s harsh vocals blends seamlessly with the most beautiful lead guitar melodies and rich 80s-inspired synths is exhilarating. It may not be as heavy as past endeavours but I love it, I absolutely love it.

Elsewhere, ‘Tempest’ is well-named as the closing section of the song in particular is the fastest, most urgent passage on the record, with the drums of Atte Pesonen setting a genuinely brisk pace upon which Vanhala unleashed a cracking lead guitar solo. And yet, despite the greater abrasiveness, the song remains smooth sounding, inviting and melodic to the core. I’m also a fan of ‘Prime’ which, after a slightly long, so-so intro (‘Emergence’) really gets the melancholy party started. It is a mid-tempo stomper that’s laced with everything for which Omnium Gatherum have become known, capped off by some of the best lead solo action anywhere on ‘Origin’.

Also worthy of extra note is the utterly morose and miserable ‘Fortitude’, which is so slow at points that it is in danger of veering into funeral doom territory were it not for the guitar accents that are solemn, but strangely inviting. It is Vanhala’s poignant lead work that helps to inject some achingly beautiful melodies into such a dark song. That and a sparing use of clean vocals make it a properly bittersweet experience.

The final composition, ‘Solemn’ is another track that lives up to its title, as it takes the listener on a melancholy ride over the course of nearly nine minutes, via various twists and turns along the way. Heavy moments where the riffs bite hard, are replaced by periods of relative calm where the bass of Mikko Kivistö plays an important role, and strong melodies elbow their way to the front to accentuate the dark, providing that much needed kiss of warmth, however bittersweet it may in fact be. And, as usual, the song is graced by a lead solo from Vanhala that sends shivers down my spine.  

After a slightly sticky start, I have once again fallen for the not inconsiderable charms of Omnium Gatherum. ‘Origin’ may be even more melodic and less aggressive than ever before, but if you’re prepared to let the music get under your skin, it can definitely have the same effect on you as their previous efforts. I’m not sure at this point whether ‘Origin’ bests ‘Beyond’ or ‘The Burning Cold’, but considering the backdrop of the last couple of years, it’s remarkable that the Finns have returned at all, let alone with an album of this high quality. If the quintet can stay together and build on the foundations of ‘Origin’, I see nothing but good things for their future. Worry less about the heaviness of the music and instead give yourself over to the melody; if you do that, ‘Origin’ will not disappoint.

Oh and thanks again guys for helping pull me out of a very dark place and in the process rediscover my love of music. I couldn’t have done it without you.

The Score of Much Metal: 93%

Dessiderium – Aria

Cynic – Ascension Codes

TDW – Fountains

Hypocrisy – Worship

W.E.B. – Colosseum

Navian – Cosmos

NorthTale – Eternal Flame

Obscura – A Valediction

Nightland – The Great Nothing

MØL – Diorama

Be’lakor – Coherence

Hollow – Tower

Doedsvangr – Serpents Ov Old

Athemon – Athemon

Eclipse – Wired

Swallow The Sun – Moonflowers

Dream Theater – A View From The Top Of The World

Nestor – Kids In A Ghost Town

Beast In Black – Dark Connection

Thulcandra – A Dying Wish

Omnium Gatherum – Origin

Insomnium – Argent Moon EP

Kryptan – Kryptan EP

Archspire – Bleed The Future

Awake By Design – Unfaded EP

Cradle Of Filth – Existence Is Futile

Seven Spires – Gods Of Debauchery

Sleep Token – This Place Will Become Your Tomb

Necrofier – Prophecies Of Eternal Darkness

Ex Deo – The Thirteen Years Of Nero

Carcass – Torn Arteries

Aeon Zen – Transversal

Enslaved – Caravans To The Outer Worlds

A Dying Planet – When The Skies Are Grey

Leprous – Aphelion

Night Crowned – Hädanfärd

Brainstorm – Wall Of Skulls

At The Gates – The Nightmare Of Being

Rivers Of Nihil – The Work

Fractal Universe – The Impassable Horizon

Darkthrone – Eternal Hails

Thy Catafalque – Vadak

Terra Odium – Ne Plus Ultra

Hiraes – Solitary

Eye Of Purgatory – The Lighthouse

Crowne – Kings In The North

Desaster – Churches Without Saints

Helloween – Helloween

Fear Factory – Aggression Continuum

Wooden Veins – In Finitude

Plaguestorm – Purifying Fire

Drift Into Black – Patterns Of Light

Alluvial – Sarcoma

White Moth Black Butterfly – The Cost Of Dreaming – Album Review

Silver Lake by Esa Holopainen

Bloodbound – Creatures From The Dark Realm

Nahaya – Vital Alchemy

Frost* – Day And Age

Obsolete Theory – Downfall

Vola – Witness

Acolyte – Entropy

Dordeduh – Har

Subterranean Masquerade – Mountain Fever

Seth – La Morsure Du Christ

The Circle – Metamorphosis

Nordjevel – Fenriir

Vreid – Wild North West

Temtris – Ritual Warfare

Astrakhan – A Slow Ride Towards Death

Akiavel – Vae Victis

Gojira – Fortitude

Hideous Divinity – LV-426

Benthos – II

Evile – Hell Unleashed

Ninkharsag – The Dread March Of Solemn Gods

Bodom After Midnight – Paint The Sky With Blood

Morrigu – In Turbulence

Mother Of All – Age Of The Solipsist

Throne – Pestilent Dawn

Sweet Oblivion (Geoff Tate) – Relentless

Exanimis – Marionnettiste

Dvne – Etemen Ænka

Cannibal Corpse – Violence Unimagined

Arion – Vultures Die Alone

Maestitium – Tale Of The Endless

Wode – Burn In Many Mirrors

Everdawn – Cleopatra

Unflesh – Inhumation

Mourning Dawn – Dead End Euphoria

Wheel – Resident Human

Wythersake – Antiquity

Odd Dimension – The Blue Dawn

Metalite – A Virtual World

Cryptosis – Bionic Swarm

Ghosts Of Atlantis – 3.6.2.4

Memoriam – To The End

Aversed – Impermanent

Secret Sphere – Lifeblood

Enforced – Kill Grid

Liquid Tension Experiment – LTE3

Turbulence – Frontal

Iotunn – Access All Worlds

Warrior Path – The Mad King

Stortregn – Impermanence

Mariana’s Rest – Fata Morgana

Orden Ogan – Final Days

Witherfall – Curse Of Autumn

Plague Weaver – Ascendant Blasphemy

Ephemerald – Between The Glimpses Of Hope

Paranorm – Empyrean

Einherjer – North Star

Epica – Omega

Humanity’s Last Breath – Välde

Simulacrum – Genesis

Forhist – Forhist

Evergrey – Escape Of The Phoenix

Empyrium – Über den Sternen

Moonspell – Hermitage

Infernalizer – The Ugly Truth

Temperance – Melodies Of Green And Blue EP

Malice Divine – Malice Divine

Revulsion – Revulsion

Demon King – The Final Tyranny EP

Dragony – Viribus Unitis

Soen – Imperial

Angelus Apatrida – Angelus Apatrida

Oceana – The Pattern

Therion – Leviathan

Tribulation – Where The Gloom Becomes Sound

Asphyx – Necroceros

W.E.T. – Retransmission

Labyrinth – Welcome To The Absurd Circus

TDW – The Days The Clock Stopped

Need – Norchestrion: A Song For The End

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

2020 reviews

2019 reviews
2018 reviews
2017 reviews
2016 reviews
2015 reviews

Insomnium – Argent Moon – EP Review

Artist: Insomnium

Album Title: Argent Moon EP

Label: Century Media Records

Date of Release: 17 September 2021

I find it quite amusing that neither of my favourite two melodic death metal bands at the current time hail from Sweden. After all, it was the Swedes that invented the genre. But no. Both Omnium Gatherum and Insomnium are Finnish. And, for my money, they are the best two proponents of melodic death metal in the here and now. Others push them close – I’m thinking Dark Tranquillity and At The Gates – but there’s something about the two Finnish bands that draws me in more than any others.

In 2019, Insomnium released the exquisite ‘Heart Like A Grave’, the follow-up to the highly acclaimed ‘Winter’s Gate’. Suddenly, the world at large woke up to the quintet’s charms and looked forward to hearing the band in the live arena in support of such a powerful record. But then the pandemic came along to scupper everyone’s plans. Not wishing to waste their time, Insomnium, like many other bands out there in the same predicament, instead turned their attention to creating some new music. The result is a four-track EP entitled ‘Argent Moon’, containing 23 minutes of brand-new material to help soften the blow of cancelled tours the world over.

And guess what? It has worked. I was a little underwhelmed at first, but I can put that down to fatigue, or simply not listening properly because when you let yourself really listen, you get swept up in the beautifully heavy soundtrack on offer.

The EP begins with ‘The Conjurer’ and with it, the soft, soothing sounds of acoustic guitar melodies bathe the ears in a warm, comforting glow. Subtle piano notes accompany the guitars, whilst a firm drum beat pushes it’s way into the mix. You can sense the song wanting to blossom and so it does. The acoustic guitars still strum pleasantly whilst an electric guitar sings mournfully and so beautifully, soaring into the sky with elegance. I love the gruff vocals; so powerful, so full of menace, yet perfectly in keeping with more punchy, resonant riffing. The song extends to over seven minutes, but it feels like two, as it is such a captivating experience. The track ebbs and flows effortlessly, from brutal passages to serene interludes where the acoustic guitars once again take centre stage.

Next up is ‘The Reticent’, a much shorter composition than its predecessor, but no less impactful for it. Again, it’s a quiet opening, allowing the track to build slowly but purposefully. The drums act like a heartbeat alongside the rumbling bass. And then in comes a clean vocal to offer something a little different. The buzz word for this review is ‘elegant’, because that’s exactly what Insomnium have delivered here – elegance. The flow from soft to heavy adds a palpable sense of drama to the overwhelming sense of sorrow that oozes from every melodic pore so beautifully.

The remaining two tracks, by and large, follow the same kind of blueprint – mind you, when the blueprint is this good, why change it eh? If anything, ‘The Antagonist’ lives up to its name very cleverly by being a more relaxed track for much of the time, only to explode at points to really hammer home the heaviness that Insomnium are capable of creating. The juxtaposition just serves to accentuate each side of the band more clearly, and of all the songs, this was the one that had to grow on me the most.

The final composition, ‘The Wanderer’ is a very poignant affair, once again beginning with some vibrant acoustic guitars atop a pulsing bass and bold drum beat. More clean vocals emerge, whilst there are a few spoken-word sections too. As the song progresses, the band make much more use of orchestration to add even more sophistication to proceedings, if such a thing was even possible. As well as adding sophistication, the sound of gentle strings in the mix help to ratchet up the emotional side of the song, leaving the listener with a bittersweet experience that just makes me want to press play and listen again, so I can discover it all over again.

You wanted evidence to back up my statement that Insomnium are one of the two best melodic death metal bands currently in operation? Well, ladies and gentlemen, doubters the lot of you, I present to you Markus Hirvonen (drums), Ville Friman (guitars), Niilo Sevänen (vocals, bass), Markus Vanhala (guitars) and Jani Liimatainen (guitars, vocals), collectively Insomnium, alongside their latest creation, ‘Argent Moon’. It’s the third recording in a row to deliver a truly scintillating performance from a band at the very top of their game. And on this evidence, it’s hard to imagine what wonders will come next.

The Score of Much Metal: 90%

Dessiderium – Aria

Cynic – Ascension Codes

TDW – Fountains

Hypocrisy – Worship

W.E.B. – Colosseum

Navian – Cosmos

NorthTale – Eternal Flame

Obscura – A Valediction

Nightland – The Great Nothing

MØL – Diorama

Be’lakor – Coherence

Hollow – Tower

Doedsvangr – Serpents Ov Old

Athemon – Athemon

Eclipse – Wired

Swallow The Sun – Moonflowers

Dream Theater – A View From The Top Of The World

Nestor – Kids In A Ghost Town

Beast In Black – Dark Connection

Thulcandra – A Dying Wish

Omnium Gatherum – Origin

Insomnium – Argent Moon EP

Kryptan – Kryptan EP

Archspire – Bleed The Future

Awake By Design – Unfaded EP

Cradle Of Filth – Existence Is Futile

Seven Spires – Gods Of Debauchery

Sleep Token – This Place Will Become Your Tomb

Necrofier – Prophecies Of Eternal Darkness

Ex Deo – The Thirteen Years Of Nero

Carcass – Torn Arteries

Aeon Zen – Transversal

Enslaved – Caravans To The Outer Worlds

A Dying Planet – When The Skies Are Grey

Leprous – Aphelion

Night Crowned – Hädanfärd

Brainstorm – Wall Of Skulls

At The Gates – The Nightmare Of Being

Rivers Of Nihil – The Work

Fractal Universe – The Impassable Horizon

Darkthrone – Eternal Hails

Thy Catafalque – Vadak

Terra Odium – Ne Plus Ultra

Hiraes – Solitary

Eye Of Purgatory – The Lighthouse

Crowne – Kings In The North

Desaster – Churches Without Saints

Helloween – Helloween

Fear Factory – Aggression Continuum

Wooden Veins – In Finitude

Plaguestorm – Purifying Fire

Drift Into Black – Patterns Of Light

Alluvial – Sarcoma

White Moth Black Butterfly – The Cost Of Dreaming – Album Review

Silver Lake by Esa Holopainen

Bloodbound – Creatures From The Dark Realm

Nahaya – Vital Alchemy

Frost* – Day And Age

Obsolete Theory – Downfall

Vola – Witness

Acolyte – Entropy

Dordeduh – Har

Subterranean Masquerade – Mountain Fever

Seth – La Morsure Du Christ

The Circle – Metamorphosis

Nordjevel – Fenriir

Vreid – Wild North West

Temtris – Ritual Warfare

Astrakhan – A Slow Ride Towards Death

Akiavel – Vae Victis

Gojira – Fortitude

Hideous Divinity – LV-426

Benthos – II

Evile – Hell Unleashed

Ninkharsag – The Dread March Of Solemn Gods

Bodom After Midnight – Paint The Sky With Blood

Morrigu – In Turbulence

Mother Of All – Age Of The Solipsist

Throne – Pestilent Dawn

Sweet Oblivion (Geoff Tate) – Relentless

Exanimis – Marionnettiste

Dvne – Etemen Ænka

Cannibal Corpse – Violence Unimagined

Arion – Vultures Die Alone

Maestitium – Tale Of The Endless

Wode – Burn In Many Mirrors

Everdawn – Cleopatra

Unflesh – Inhumation

Mourning Dawn – Dead End Euphoria

Wheel – Resident Human

Wythersake – Antiquity

Odd Dimension – The Blue Dawn

Metalite – A Virtual World

Cryptosis – Bionic Swarm

Ghosts Of Atlantis – 3.6.2.4

Memoriam – To The End

Aversed – Impermanent

Secret Sphere – Lifeblood

Enforced – Kill Grid

Liquid Tension Experiment – LTE3

Turbulence – Frontal

Iotunn – Access All Worlds

Warrior Path – The Mad King

Stortregn – Impermanence

Mariana’s Rest – Fata Morgana

Orden Ogan – Final Days

Witherfall – Curse Of Autumn

Plague Weaver – Ascendant Blasphemy

Ephemerald – Between The Glimpses Of Hope

Paranorm – Empyrean

Einherjer – North Star

Epica – Omega

Humanity’s Last Breath – Välde

Simulacrum – Genesis

Forhist – Forhist

Evergrey – Escape Of The Phoenix

Empyrium – Über den Sternen

Moonspell – Hermitage

Infernalizer – The Ugly Truth

Temperance – Melodies Of Green And Blue EP

Malice Divine – Malice Divine

Revulsion – Revulsion

Demon King – The Final Tyranny EP

Dragony – Viribus Unitis

Soen – Imperial

Angelus Apatrida – Angelus Apatrida

Oceana – The Pattern

Therion – Leviathan

Tribulation – Where The Gloom Becomes Sound

Asphyx – Necroceros

W.E.T. – Retransmission

Labyrinth – Welcome To The Absurd Circus

TDW – The Days The Clock Stopped

Need – Norchestrion: A Song For The End

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

2020 reviews

2019 reviews
2018 reviews
2017 reviews
2016 reviews
2015 reviews

At The Gates – The Nightmare Of Being – Album Review

Artist: At The Gates

Album Title: The Nightmare Of Being

Label: Century Media Records

Date of Release: 2 July 2021

I’m going to dispense with any smoke and mirrors or ambiguity right from the outset and declare that, without any doubt, ‘The Nightmare Of Being’ is easily the best album that At The Gates have released since the seminal ‘Slaughter Of The Soul’ back in 1995. There, I’ve said it, and I mean it. And that comes from a perspective obtained, not after a few cursory listens, but after listening incessantly and then returning to the record after an extended break.

What comes next, however, is a word of warning, because ‘The Nightmare Of Being’ is a significantly different beast to the aforementioned ‘classic’ and indeed, it’s different from everything that has been released prior or since. Like many, I was ecstatic to be able to hear new material from one of the most important and influential bands in the melodic death metal sphere once they fully returned from their self-imposed exile in 2014. One of the early originators of the ‘Gothenburg Sound’, I must admit to feeling just a pang of disappointment with both 2014’s ‘At War With Reality’ and ‘To Drink From The Night Itself’ released in 2018. At the time, I liked them well enough, but in reality I didn’t think either of them were as good as they could have been given their track record and I’ve not listened to either very much since. Neither was bad, but with the bar set so high by themselves, the lofty expectations were not quite met.

That all changes with ‘The Nightmare Of Being’. All of the trademark sounds you expect to hear from At The Gates are present and correct – strong, pummelling rhythms from drummer Adrian Erlandsson and bassist Jonas Björler, sharp, incisive riffing from Martin Larsson and Jonas Stålhammar, and on top, those familiar and much-loved raspy growls from Tomas Lindberg. However, ‘The Nightmare Of Being’ is a much more nuanced, varied, and mature affair all-round. Not exactly ‘experimental’, it does however play around with some different ideas throughout, to show that there is a future for At The Gates after all.

Opening track ‘Spectre Of Extinction’ is very much cut from the ‘classic’ At The Gates cloth. It begins with a quiet, melodic intro, albeit with a hint of the foreboding in the sounds that sit behind the gorgeous acoustic guitar picking. The heaviness explodes but continues with that same melody to create a captivating intro to the album. From there, we’re treated to the full-on At The Gates treatment – strong memorable riffs, energetic tempos, a certain groove, and Thomas Lindberg’s caustic growl, tackling the subject of our own mortality. It’s a thunderous start that has the makings of a grin emerging on my face.

‘The Paradox’ follows and with it, it maintains the frantic pace, albeit within a strong framework where the subtle melodies emerge. There’s a cool solo in the latter stages that stands out within a slightly extended instrumental section, complete with sinister whispers and orchestral grandiosity.

The title track then slows the pace, allowing the rumbling bass to take centre stage alongside a gorgeous melody. Erlandsson never misses a beat behind the kit, imbuing the song with a striking backbone, as it ebbs and flows between brooding subtlety and ferocious power, with yet more powerfully memorable guitar work, both fast-picked and chunky power chords.

My only real beef with this record emerges within the fourth song, ‘Garden Of Cyrus’. It is ostensibly an instrumental piece and, to begin with, I love it. It is laced with nice details, a fresh vibe, and the lead guitar work is precise, poignant, and wonderfully melodious. But then, just like every other band these days, they invite a saxophone to the party. I know it’s my own issue, but for the love of God, please will my favourite bands stop adding in brass instruments where they are not required? I can accept it if it has been an ingredient of the band since the very beginning, but when it is added as a new ingredient, I want to punch the wall. Why do it? I mean, if everyone sticks their head in an oven, do we follow suit? Of course, we don’t. It’s maddening.

Thankfully this is the only such aberration on ‘The Nightmare Of Being’ and even then, it doesn’t completely ruin what is a great song otherwise. ‘Touched By The White Hand Of Death’ plays around with a grandiose cinematic opening that works very well indeed, adding a touch of sophisticated gravitas to proceedings. The fact that the song then delivers one of my favourite riffs and choruses only makes that embryonic smile slightly more pronounced.

If anything, ‘The Fall Into Time’ takes the cinematic intro even further, complete with choral vocals and full-on orchestral sounds, from which hell is unleashed. Lindberg sounds almost demonic as he emerges, and the whole thing just works in my opinion. Admittedly, this isn’t overall my favourite track as it’s just a little too long and bloated, but there’s plenty within it to admire including the progressive-like breakdown in the second half which I really enjoy; I certainly don’t hit the skip button, that’s for sure.

One of my very favourite tracks on this impressive record emerges in the form of ‘Cult Of Salvation’. It carries with it much more of that old ‘Slaughter…’ vibe in the opening riff, reminding me of why At The Gates became so important to many of us back in the 90s. Those riffs are just so damn catchy and infectious, I love them. The piano break that then leads us down a slightly different, more introspective path, is nothing short of marvellous, before the song reverts to type to see us out.

More experimentation can be heard within the more stripped-back, bluesy ‘Cosmic Pessimism’. Not normally what I’d choose to listen to, I find myself pulled in by the sound of Tomas Lindberg simply talking his thoughts through the lyrics. “…the imprecise geometry of black volcanic sands” – what a strangely compelling line this is, but for the life of me, I don’t really know why. When the track ups the heaviness, the song begins to make sense, and I now really enjoy listening to it.

It may have taken several months to bring this review to you, but the benefit of my unscripted hiatus has meant that I’ve been able to ruminate on this album at some length, as well as allow it the time and distance to make its full impact. Returning to it after a few months of listening to almost no music at all, I can confirm that it still packs the same punch, raises the eyebrow in the same way, and ultimately delights me as strongly as it did at the outset. I therefore refer back to my opening statement and declare without a shadow of doubt, that ‘The Nightmare of Being’ is easily the best that At The Gates have sounded since the release of their seminal opus ‘Slaughter Of The Soul’. More varied, experimental and, arguably, more mature. But almost as good, and demonstrable proof that their reformation is in no way doomed to failure – quite the opposite in fact.

The Score of Much Metal: 94%

Dessiderium – Aria

Cynic – Ascension Codes

TDW – Fountains

Hypocrisy – Worship

W.E.B. – Colosseum

Navian – Cosmos

NorthTale – Eternal Flame

Obscura – A Valediction

Nightland – The Great Nothing

MØL – Diorama

Be’lakor – Coherence

Hollow – Tower

Doedsvangr – Serpents Ov Old

Athemon – Athemon

Eclipse – Wired

Swallow The Sun – Moonflowers

Dream Theater – A View From The Top Of The World

Nestor – Kids In A Ghost Town

Beast In Black – Dark Connection

Thulcandra – A Dying Wish

Omnium Gatherum – Origin

Insomnium – Argent Moon EP

Kryptan – Kryptan EP

Archspire – Bleed The Future

Awake By Design – Unfaded EP

Cradle Of Filth – Existence Is Futile

Seven Spires – Gods Of Debauchery

Sleep Token – This Place Will Become Your Tomb

Necrofier – Prophecies Of Eternal Darkness

Ex Deo – The Thirteen Years Of Nero

Carcass – Torn Arteries

Aeon Zen – Transversal

Enslaved – Caravans To The Outer Worlds

A Dying Planet – When The Skies Are Grey

Leprous – Aphelion

Night Crowned – Hädanfärd

Brainstorm – Wall Of Skulls

At The Gates – The Nightmare Of Being

Rivers Of Nihil – The Work

Fractal Universe – The Impassable Horizon

Darkthrone – Eternal Hails

Thy Catafalque – Vadak

Terra Odium – Ne Plus Ultra

Hiraes – Solitary

Eye Of Purgatory – The Lighthouse

Crowne – Kings In The North

Desaster – Churches Without Saints

Helloween – Helloween

Fear Factory – Aggression Continuum

Wooden Veins – In Finitude

Plaguestorm – Purifying Fire

Drift Into Black – Patterns Of Light

Alluvial – Sarcoma

White Moth Black Butterfly – The Cost Of Dreaming – Album Review

Silver Lake by Esa Holopainen

Bloodbound – Creatures From The Dark Realm

Nahaya – Vital Alchemy

Frost* – Day And Age

Obsolete Theory – Downfall

Vola – Witness

Acolyte – Entropy

Dordeduh – Har

Subterranean Masquerade – Mountain Fever

Seth – La Morsure Du Christ

The Circle – Metamorphosis

Nordjevel – Fenriir

Vreid – Wild North West

Temtris – Ritual Warfare

Astrakhan – A Slow Ride Towards Death

Akiavel – Vae Victis

Gojira – Fortitude

Hideous Divinity – LV-426

Benthos – II

Evile – Hell Unleashed

Ninkharsag – The Dread March Of Solemn Gods

Bodom After Midnight – Paint The Sky With Blood

Morrigu – In Turbulence

Mother Of All – Age Of The Solipsist

Throne – Pestilent Dawn

Sweet Oblivion (Geoff Tate) – Relentless

Exanimis – Marionnettiste

Dvne – Etemen Ænka

Cannibal Corpse – Violence Unimagined

Arion – Vultures Die Alone

Maestitium – Tale Of The Endless

Wode – Burn In Many Mirrors

Everdawn – Cleopatra

Unflesh – Inhumation

Mourning Dawn – Dead End Euphoria

Wheel – Resident Human

Wythersake – Antiquity

Odd Dimension – The Blue Dawn

Metalite – A Virtual World

Cryptosis – Bionic Swarm

Ghosts Of Atlantis – 3.6.2.4

Memoriam – To The End

Aversed – Impermanent

Secret Sphere – Lifeblood

Enforced – Kill Grid

Liquid Tension Experiment – LTE3

Turbulence – Frontal

Iotunn – Access All Worlds

Warrior Path – The Mad King

Stortregn – Impermanence

Mariana’s Rest – Fata Morgana

Orden Ogan – Final Days

Witherfall – Curse Of Autumn

Plague Weaver – Ascendant Blasphemy

Ephemerald – Between The Glimpses Of Hope

Paranorm – Empyrean

Einherjer – North Star

Epica – Omega

Humanity’s Last Breath – Välde

Simulacrum – Genesis

Forhist – Forhist

Evergrey – Escape Of The Phoenix

Empyrium – Über den Sternen

Moonspell – Hermitage

Infernalizer – The Ugly Truth

Temperance – Melodies Of Green And Blue EP

Malice Divine – Malice Divine

Revulsion – Revulsion

Demon King – The Final Tyranny EP

Dragony – Viribus Unitis

Soen – Imperial

Angelus Apatrida – Angelus Apatrida

Oceana – The Pattern

Therion – Leviathan

Tribulation – Where The Gloom Becomes Sound

Asphyx – Necroceros

W.E.T. – Retransmission

Labyrinth – Welcome To The Absurd Circus

TDW – The Days The Clock Stopped

Need – Norchestrion: A Song For The End

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

2020 reviews

2019 reviews
2018 reviews
2017 reviews
2016 reviews
2015 reviews

Hideous Divinity – LV-426 – EP Review

Artist: Hideous Divinity

Album Title: LV-426

Label: Century Media Records

Date of Release: 23 April 2021

If ever there was a way for a band to ingratiate themselves with me, it would not be to create an EP based on the ‘Alien’ films. I watched these at university with mates who assured me that these films were some of the best ever. To say I was disappointed is a gross understatement. I distinctly remember getting to the end of the first film and thinking ‘is that it?’ I watched them all, just to say that I had done so, but to this day, I have never bothered to return. I realise I’m likely to receive a lot of flak from many of you all, but I’m nothing if not honest. To a fault, sometimes.

Anyway, moving on, ‘LV-426’ is a three-track EP from Italian technical death metal band Hideous Divinity and, as you may have guessed, it is based on the ‘Alien’ films. To be more precise, it is actually based around the second film in the trilogy, ‘Aliens’. Having made it perfectly clear that I couldn’t give a flying feather about the subject matter, I am now able to turn my attention to the music itself.

‘LV-426’ may only contain three songs that span sixteen minutes, with one being a cover, but I have no qualms in admitting that brevity does not, in this instance, have any bearing on the intensity of the music. This being my first dalliance with Hideous Divinity, I wasn’t anywhere near well-enough prepared for the music that I’d hear on this EP. It is brutal, technical, dramatic, and punishing in the extreme.

The first track is ‘Acheron, Stream Of Woe’ and it is a near seven-minute behemoth that does its best to bludgeon the listener to death, albeit with a certain amount of finesse and enjoyment. The intro is dark, dramatic, and cinematic as it ought to be given it’s subject matter. The tension builds expertly, only to be released via a thunderous explosion of technical death metal butchery. The riffs are swift, scything affairs, whilst the rhythm section is impossibly tight. ‘Catchy’ is not normally an adjective I’d throw at this kind of music, but despite the claustrophobic intensity of the material, complete with unnerving dissonance, I get dragged into the music, willingly giving in to the malevolent tumult that punishes my ears. However complex the music gets, everything is delivered with absolute precision, whilst there’s a surprising amount of room for the atmosphere to shine through, even if ‘shine’ is again completely the wrong adjective.

The second of two original tracks is ‘Chestburst’, just in case you’ve missed the ‘Aliens’ theme up until this point. It is less of an atmospheric piece and instead just goes for the jugular, with plenty of swift lead guitar flurries, as well as a mix of faster and slower sections to allow the heaviness of the material issue forth in both manners; fast or slow, Hideous Divinity are incredibly extreme-sounding and that’s to their credit. Overall, ‘Chestburst’ is a much more explosive affair, underlined by the fact that it disappears in the blink of an eye.

 If I hadn’t been told in the press release that the final track, ‘Delirium Trigger’ was a Coheed And Cambria song, I’d have never believed it. Compared to the previous two original cuts, this song is laced with a lot more pronounced melody, but not being a Coheed fan, that’s the only aspect that gives anything away. The song is very much in the Hideous Divinity vein, with technical prowess to be heard from every corner, and with the brutality and extremity that is their stock in trade.

In closing, regardless of the subject matter chosen on this EP, I’d happily have taken another clutch of songs to expand on the ideas put forth in the opening duo. This is heavy, complex, and extreme music pulled from the top drawer; it’s incredibly heavy and uncompromising, but it’s also incredibly fun and entertaining. I look forward to the next long player with anticipation, whilst attempting to dig out their back catalogue to see what lurks within.

The Score of Much Metal: 88%

Dessiderium – Aria

Cynic – Ascension Codes

TDW – Fountains

Hypocrisy – Worship

W.E.B. – Colosseum

Navian – Cosmos

NorthTale – Eternal Flame

Obscura – A Valediction

Nightland – The Great Nothing

MØL – Diorama

Be’lakor – Coherence

Hollow – Tower

Doedsvangr – Serpents Ov Old

Athemon – Athemon

Eclipse – Wired

Swallow The Sun – Moonflowers

Dream Theater – A View From The Top Of The World

Nestor – Kids In A Ghost Town

Beast In Black – Dark Connection

Thulcandra – A Dying Wish

Omnium Gatherum – Origin

Insomnium – Argent Moon EP

Kryptan – Kryptan EP

Archspire – Bleed The Future

Awake By Design – Unfaded EP

Cradle Of Filth – Existence Is Futile

Seven Spires – Gods Of Debauchery

Sleep Token – This Place Will Become Your Tomb

Necrofier – Prophecies Of Eternal Darkness

Ex Deo – The Thirteen Years Of Nero

Carcass – Torn Arteries

Aeon Zen – Transversal

Enslaved – Caravans To The Outer Worlds

A Dying Planet – When The Skies Are Grey

Leprous – Aphelion

Night Crowned – Hädanfärd

Brainstorm – Wall Of Skulls

At The Gates – The Nightmare Of Being

Rivers Of Nihil – The Work

Fractal Universe – The Impassable Horizon

Darkthrone – Eternal Hails

Thy Catafalque – Vadak

Terra Odium – Ne Plus Ultra

Hiraes – Solitary

Eye Of Purgatory – The Lighthouse

Crowne – Kings In The North

Desaster – Churches Without Saints

Helloween – Helloween

Fear Factory – Aggression Continuum

Wooden Veins – In Finitude

Plaguestorm – Purifying Fire

Drift Into Black – Patterns Of Light

Alluvial – Sarcoma

White Moth Black Butterfly – The Cost Of Dreaming – Album Review

Silver Lake by Esa Holopainen

Bloodbound – Creatures From The Dark Realm

Nahaya – Vital Alchemy

Frost* – Day And Age

Obsolete Theory – Downfall

Vola – Witness

Acolyte – Entropy

Dordeduh – Har

Subterranean Masquerade – Mountain Fever

Seth – La Morsure Du Christ

The Circle – Metamorphosis

Nordjevel – Fenriir

Vreid – Wild North West

Temtris – Ritual Warfare

Astrakhan – A Slow Ride Towards Death

Akiavel – Vae Victis

Gojira – Fortitude

Hideous Divinity – LV-426

Benthos – II

Evile – Hell Unleashed

Ninkharsag – The Dread March Of Solemn Gods

Bodom After Midnight – Paint The Sky With Blood

Morrigu – In Turbulence

Mother Of All – Age Of The Solipsist

Throne – Pestilent Dawn

Sweet Oblivion (Geoff Tate) – Relentless

Exanimis – Marionnettiste

Dvne – Etemen Ænka

Cannibal Corpse – Violence Unimagined

Arion – Vultures Die Alone

Maestitium – Tale Of The Endless

Wode – Burn In Many Mirrors

Everdawn – Cleopatra

Unflesh – Inhumation

Mourning Dawn – Dead End Euphoria

Wheel – Resident Human

Wythersake – Antiquity

Odd Dimension – The Blue Dawn

Metalite – A Virtual World

Cryptosis – Bionic Swarm

Ghosts Of Atlantis – 3.6.2.4

Memoriam – To The End

Aversed – Impermanent

Secret Sphere – Lifeblood

Enforced – Kill Grid

Liquid Tension Experiment – LTE3

Turbulence – Frontal

Iotunn – Access All Worlds

Warrior Path – The Mad King

Stortregn – Impermanence

Mariana’s Rest – Fata Morgana

Orden Ogan – Final Days

Witherfall – Curse Of Autumn

Plague Weaver – Ascendant Blasphemy

Ephemerald – Between The Glimpses Of Hope

Paranorm – Empyrean

Einherjer – North Star

Epica – Omega

Humanity’s Last Breath – Välde

Simulacrum – Genesis

Forhist – Forhist

Evergrey – Escape Of The Phoenix

Empyrium – Über den Sternen

Moonspell – Hermitage

Infernalizer – The Ugly Truth

Temperance – Melodies Of Green And Blue EP

Malice Divine – Malice Divine

Revulsion – Revulsion

Demon King – The Final Tyranny EP

Dragony – Viribus Unitis

Soen – Imperial

Angelus Apatrida – Angelus Apatrida

Oceana – The Pattern

Therion – Leviathan

Tribulation – Where The Gloom Becomes Sound

Asphyx – Necroceros

W.E.T. – Retransmission

Labyrinth – Welcome To The Absurd Circus

TDW – The Days The Clock Stopped

Need – Norchestrion: A Song For The End

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

2020 reviews

2019 reviews
2018 reviews
2017 reviews
2016 reviews
2015 reviews

Cryptosis – Bionic Swarm – Album Review

Artist: Cryptosis

Album Title: Bionic Swarm

Label: Century Media Records

Date of Release: 26 March 2021

It’s not often that you see a band completely ditch their identity and create a whole new entity in the process. Normally, a band will cling to the past and the name despite there being few original members involved. Or none at all, as is occasionally the case. Cryptosis are different. Formally known as thrash metal band Distillator, the trio decided to stay together but completely reinvent themselves. Vocalist/guitarist Laurens Houvast, bassist/backing vocalist Frank te Riet, and drummer Marco Prij remain in place but gone is the out-and-out thrash of old along with the Distillator name. What we have instead, is Cryptosis and a brand new musical direction.

Fear not long-term fans of Distillator, because the thrash has not been ditched entirely; it still sits at the very heart of what Cryptosis are all about. However, the music is a little more nuanced and alongside the thrash metal, we have elements of symphonic metal, blackened death metal, and progressive metal, with bassist te Reit adding the mellotron to his list of credits.

In fact, after an ominous and darkly dramatic intro entitled ‘Overture 2149’ where the guitars wail over a synth-heavy background, we’re greeted with ‘Decypher’ which can only be described as a lightning-fast black thrash hybrid that immediately sets pulses racing. The riffs are swift, cold and sharp, but not as cold as the lead licks that sound like they are forged from ice. The drumming approaches warp speed and the vocals are delivered with a mixture of extreme metal venom and thrash attitude. Then there’s the ubiquitous, but enjoyable lead solo that maintains the brisk approach, just to top things off nicely.

Next up, we have ‘Death Technology’ which maintains a high tempo but which also demonstrates the more technical side of the Dutch band’s abilities as well as bringing to the fore more of a futuristic sci-fi vibe.

‘Prospect Of Immortality’ is the first time where the pace is slowed on the album, allowing more overt atmospheres to creep into the composition through the use of relatively subtle but noticeable keys. The latter stages become dominated by the rich sounds of synths, with the track coming to a close in dark cinematic fashion. Another plus here is that the guitar riffs are given more time to breath and there’s a beefier feel to the song, more death metal than black, albeit still heavily laced with thrash influences. Some of that ‘beefiness’ comes courtesy of the pulsating bass that also becomes more pronounced thanks to the more measured pace in operation.

Not all of the album maintains quite the same standard, although it’s not far off to be perfectly honest. It’s just a couple of the tracks here and there feel a little less inspired than others; not bad by any means, just they fail to maintain the intensity and standard set at the outset. Take ‘Transcendence’ for example, which feels like a slightly less impressive version of ‘Decypher’ but with a similar vibe. I also believe that the album is a touch short at 37 minutes. Mind you, some of the best thrash albums of all time have been shorter, so maybe  I’m wrong on this point.

These small issues aside, there is a great deal to like about this ‘debut’ of sorts from Cryptosis. The thrash of yesteryear comes through nicely and strongly within the vitriolic ‘ Conjuring The Egoist’, a song that features an intriguing chorus to balance out the aggression within the verses which contain some rather nice incisive riffs. ‘Mindscape’ is another strong composition, again slower in general, but complete with some interesting vocal effects and electronic sounds. The sci-fi feel comes through powerfully on this song and it’s one that intrigues me the more I listen. The atmospheres are thick and almost claustrophobic at times, whilst the song isn’t afraid to move in slight tangents to emphasise those prog tendencies that I mentioned at the outset.

Put all these positives together, add in a striking front cover and very commendable production that delivers both clarity and power to each of the ten songs, and ‘Bionic Swarm’ begins to come together very nicely as a full package, one that will appeal to a great many heavy music fans out there. In fact, the trio that comprise Cryptosis should receive the utmost credit for taking the leap and reinventing themselves, to try something new, following their heart in the process. ‘Bionic Swarm’ is therefore well worth checking out if you’re a fan of modern, technical thrash metal.

The Score of Much Metal: 80%

Dessiderium – Aria

Cynic – Ascension Codes

TDW – Fountains

Hypocrisy – Worship

W.E.B. – Colosseum

Navian – Cosmos

NorthTale – Eternal Flame

Obscura – A Valediction

Nightland – The Great Nothing

MØL – Diorama

Be’lakor – Coherence

Hollow – Tower

Doedsvangr – Serpents Ov Old

Athemon – Athemon

Eclipse – Wired

Swallow The Sun – Moonflowers

Dream Theater – A View From The Top Of The World

Nestor – Kids In A Ghost Town

Beast In Black – Dark Connection

Thulcandra – A Dying Wish

Omnium Gatherum – Origin

Insomnium – Argent Moon EP

Kryptan – Kryptan EP

Archspire – Bleed The Future

Awake By Design – Unfaded EP

Cradle Of Filth – Existence Is Futile

Seven Spires – Gods Of Debauchery

Sleep Token – This Place Will Become Your Tomb

Necrofier – Prophecies Of Eternal Darkness

Ex Deo – The Thirteen Years Of Nero

Carcass – Torn Arteries

Aeon Zen – Transversal

Enslaved – Caravans To The Outer Worlds

A Dying Planet – When The Skies Are Grey

Leprous – Aphelion

Night Crowned – Hädanfärd

Brainstorm – Wall Of Skulls

At The Gates – The Nightmare Of Being

Rivers Of Nihil – The Work

Fractal Universe – The Impassable Horizon

Darkthrone – Eternal Hails

Thy Catafalque – Vadak

Terra Odium – Ne Plus Ultra

Hiraes – Solitary

Eye Of Purgatory – The Lighthouse

Crowne – Kings In The North

Desaster – Churches Without Saints

Helloween – Helloween

Fear Factory – Aggression Continuum

Wooden Veins – In Finitude

Plaguestorm – Purifying Fire

Drift Into Black – Patterns Of Light

Alluvial – Sarcoma

White Moth Black Butterfly – The Cost Of Dreaming – Album Review

Silver Lake by Esa Holopainen

Bloodbound – Creatures From The Dark Realm

Nahaya – Vital Alchemy

Frost* – Day And Age

Obsolete Theory – Downfall

Vola – Witness

Acolyte – Entropy

Dordeduh – Har

Subterranean Masquerade – Mountain Fever

Seth – La Morsure Du Christ

The Circle – Metamorphosis

Nordjevel – Fenriir

Vreid – Wild North West

Temtris – Ritual Warfare

Astrakhan – A Slow Ride Towards Death

Akiavel – Vae Victis

Gojira – Fortitude

Hideous Divinity – LV-426

Benthos – II

Evile – Hell Unleashed

Ninkharsag – The Dread March Of Solemn Gods

Bodom After Midnight – Paint The Sky With Blood

Morrigu – In Turbulence

Mother Of All – Age Of The Solipsist

Throne – Pestilent Dawn

Sweet Oblivion (Geoff Tate) – Relentless

Exanimis – Marionnettiste

Dvne – Etemen Ænka

Cannibal Corpse – Violence Unimagined

Arion – Vultures Die Alone

Maestitium – Tale Of The Endless

Wode – Burn In Many Mirrors

Everdawn – Cleopatra

Unflesh – Inhumation

Mourning Dawn – Dead End Euphoria

Wheel – Resident Human

Wythersake – Antiquity

Odd Dimension – The Blue Dawn

Metalite – A Virtual World

Cryptosis – Bionic Swarm

Ghosts Of Atlantis – 3.6.2.4

Memoriam – To The End

Aversed – Impermanent

Secret Sphere – Lifeblood

Enforced – Kill Grid

Liquid Tension Experiment – LTE3

Turbulence – Frontal

Iotunn – Access All Worlds

Warrior Path – The Mad King

Stortregn – Impermanence

Mariana’s Rest – Fata Morgana

Orden Ogan – Final Days

Witherfall – Curse Of Autumn

Plague Weaver – Ascendant Blasphemy

Ephemerald – Between The Glimpses Of Hope

Paranorm – Empyrean

Einherjer – North Star

Epica – Omega

Humanity’s Last Breath – Välde

Simulacrum – Genesis

Forhist – Forhist

Evergrey – Escape Of The Phoenix

Empyrium – Über den Sternen

Moonspell – Hermitage

Infernalizer – The Ugly Truth

Temperance – Melodies Of Green And Blue EP

Malice Divine – Malice Divine

Revulsion – Revulsion

Demon King – The Final Tyranny EP

Dragony – Viribus Unitis

Soen – Imperial

Angelus Apatrida – Angelus Apatrida

Oceana – The Pattern

Therion – Leviathan

Tribulation – Where The Gloom Becomes Sound

Asphyx – Necroceros

W.E.T. – Retransmission

Labyrinth – Welcome To The Absurd Circus

TDW – The Days The Clock Stopped

Need – Norchestrion: A Song For The End

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

2020 reviews

2019 reviews
2018 reviews
2017 reviews
2016 reviews
2015 reviews

Enforced – Kill Grid – Album Review

Artist: Enforced

Album Title: Kill Grid

Label: Century Media Records

Date of Release: 12 March 2021

Having fallen back in love with thrash metal over the last 18 months or so, I am now going to attempt a further broadening of my horizons by giving some cross-over thrash a shot. Not really one for hardcore or punk, this might be a bridge too far, but let’s have a go nonetheless. The object of this experiment is the new album from Enforced, entitled ‘Kill Grid’. I may not have even given it a look-in, had it not been for a very polite and courteous message from the UK PR rep asking me if I was interested in giving it a go. I’m always willing to give things a go, so I here we are.

By way of background, Enforced hail from Richmond, Virginia in the United States. They have been active since 2016, with ‘Kill Grid’ being their second full-length release and first from within the Century Media family. The fact that Enforced have found their way onto the roster of such a large label demonstrates that there must be something good about this young quintet, comprised of vocalist Knox Colby, guitarists Will Wagstaff and Zach Monahan, bassist Ethan Gensurowsky, and drummer Alex Bishop.

And you know what? I don’t know whether it’s the mood in which I find myself today, or what, but there is something that is seriously clicking for me with this record. Hunched over a laptop, day after day, in the same room, doing the same job – I didn’t realise it but maybe I was reaching breaking point. And what better music to listen to than music filled with violence, vitriol, and an attitude that sticks a giant two fingers up at anyone or anything that gets in their way? Enter Enforced.

This might not be the kind of music I’ll always gravitate towards but right here, right now, it’s perfect. I love the way that the Enforced way is to take all of their obvious influences and throw them into a giant melting pot to create the exact kind of music that they want to listen to and play. Because of that, there’s an authenticity and raw honesty that comes through in their music, making it all the more entertaining to listen to.

The track that I gravitate immediately towards is ‘Malignance’. Why? Because it starts off with an incendiary, blistering thrash riff that could melt faces, before changing tack in a heartbeat, to deliver something altogether more groove-laden, with the molten heaviness of someone like Bolt Thrower or Obituary. The lead guitar licks are wonderful and catchy as hell, the drums are a relentless battery, whilst the bass is a dirty, depraved rumbling that adds substance to the overall sound. Knox Colby’s vocals rip through the song, full of aggression, spite and venom. And then there are the solos which snarl and wail in equal measure, threatening to cut loose and spiral out of control at any time, very reminiscent of Slayer in their pomp.

I also love the groove of ‘UXO’, which really harnesses the band’s inner Obituary. It’s a muscular rip-snorter of a track that flexes those neck muscles whether you want to or not; headbanging to this monster is mandatory and a great deal of fun too. Then there are tracks like ‘Curtain Fire’ or ‘Hemorrhage’ which display the hardcore influences more overtly than other tracks, principally in the shouted ‘gang’ style vocals, whilst the punk attitude looms large within the likes of ‘Beneath Me’, a two-minute blast of naked, but well-contained attitude and aggression.

What I wasn’t expecting though, was the title track. Eager to prove that they are not a one-trick pony, in steps ‘Kill Grid’ at the halfway stage of the album. Comfortably the longest song on the album, it begins with a dark, foreboding cinematic vibe as the guitars gently, menacingly gather intensity before the track really hits full stride, complete with a cool solo over a slow-paced riff. This being Enforced, they soon ramp up the pace and with it comes yet more riffs, and lead guitar breaks but in general, the track inhabits more of a mid-tempo environment, allowing the rhythm section to lead the groove-laden assault, ably assisted by muscular guitar tones. The organic production is perfect, as yet more lead solos eddy and swirl until we’re seen out by more strange sound effects, more unsettling noise than anything else.

In the relatively short time that I have had the company of this record, I have played it almost non-stop and the gloss has not worn off. That’s a sure sign of quality if ever I’ve seen or heard one. It means that I’ve quickly become acquainted with the Enforced modus operandi and what’s more, I have fallen for it’s charms. I wasn’t expecting to like it as much as I do, but as I said before, there’s a lot to be said for being in the right place at the right time. At another time in my life, I might have reached a different conclusion. However, if this is what great cross-over thrash sounds like, count me in. Take a bow Enforced, because ‘Kill Grid’ has made me into a convert.

The Score of Much Metal: 87%

Further reviews from 2021:

Liquid Tension Experiment – LTE3

Turbulence – Frontal

Iotunn – Access All Worlds

Warrior Path – The Mad King

Stortregn – Impermanence

Mariana’s Rest – Fata Morgana

Orden Ogan – Final Days

Witherfall – Curse Of Autumn

Plague Weaver – Ascendant Blasphemy

Ephemerald – Between The Glimpses Of Hope

Paranorm – Empyrean

Einherjer – North Star

Epica – Omega

Humanity’s Last Breath – Välde

Simulacrum – Genesis

Forhist – Forhist

Evergrey – Escape Of The Phoenix

Empyrium – Über den Sternen

Moonspell – Hermitage

Infernalizer – The Ugly Truth

Temperance – Melodies Of Green And Blue EP

Malice Divine – Malice Divine

Revulsion – Revulsion

Demon King – The Final Tyranny EP

Dragony – Viribus Unitis

Soen – Imperial

Angelus Apatrida – Angelus Apatrida

Oceana – The Pattern

Therion – Leviathan

Tribulation – Where The Gloom Becomes Sound

Asphyx – Necroceros

W.E.T. – Retransmission

Labyrinth – Welcome To The Absurd Circus

TDW – The Days The Clock Stopped

Need – Norchestrion: A Song For The End

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

2020 reviews

2019 reviews
2018 reviews
2017 reviews
2016 reviews
2015 reviews

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