Tag Archives: century media

Iced Earth – Incorruptible – Album Review

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Artist: Iced Earth

Album Title: Incorruptible

Label: Century Media Records

Date Of Release: 16 June 2017

The phrase ‘only time will tell’ features a lot in music reviews, certainly in mine. Over the years, I’ve had to listen to hundreds of albums and put pen to paper in double-quick time to submit my thoughts in time for the deadline. All too frequently, I have to make a snap decision about whether I like something and sometimes I’ll add in the caveat ‘only time will tell’ to buy myself a little breathing space regarding a record’s long term status and whether it’s a classic or the band’s best. Sometimes, I get my reviews right and sometimes I get them wrong.

When it comes to Iced Earth, I have to hold my hands up and admit to getting it very wrong. I’m a long term fan of the Indiana metal band, discovering them in the late 90s via ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’. This is the album lauded by many as the band’s best and I certainly hold it in high regard. However, with interest piqued, I delved into the back catalogue and I also enjoy the vast majority of their earlier material, favouring ‘Night of the Stormrider’ if my life depended on it. In terms of the post- ‘Something…’ era, I lapped up ‘Horror Show’ and ‘The Glorious Burden’, both of which are fabulous records. Their unique blend of classic metal, power metal and thrash has proved to be a potent formula amongst their ever-growing army of fans, myself included.

More recent output, beginning with 2007’s ‘Framing Armageddon: Something Wicked Part 1’ and ending in 2014 with ‘Plagues of Babylon’ garnered very positive reviews from me in the pages of Powerplay Magazine. However, as time has told, I don’t return to them as frequently as I thought that I would. If I want a fix of Iced Earth, I’ll tend to go for something older. In fact, as I type, I’m hard-pressed to remember very much from any of these more recent albums.

Many will point to the instability of the line-up and, in particular, the frequent changes of the vocalist. However, I think that’s unfair. Matt Barlow will remain a fan favourite since he stood front and centre over some of the best material of the band’s career. That’s unavoidable. However, Tim ‘Ripper’ Owens did an excellent job on a couple of records including the aforementioned ‘The Glorious Burden’ and then, after a brief return for Barlow with ‘The Crucible of Man: Something Wicked Part 2’, Iced Earth have since 2011, turned to ex-Into Eternity vocalist Stu Block to deliver their diatribes. And make no mistake; he does a very good job, sounding very similar to both Barlow and Owens when delivering in the lower and higher registers respectively.

The revolving door syndrome that has affected almost every other position within the band is not entirely to blame either, although it can’t have been the most conducive atmosphere in which to create high quality music. Neither can Schaffer’s ongoing medical problems which fortunately have never drastically curtailed his endeavours. At the end of the day, this is Jon Schafer’s band; he founded Iced Earth and he remains the central creative force, creating most the material and having a say in just about everything else.

With that said, all of the albums between 2007 and 2014 have some very good material on them and I’m in no way saying that they are bad. It is just that they haven’t stood the test of time with me.

This time around however, with no deadlines or time constraints, I could listen in more detail and form a much firmer opinion over the material. And the material in question is the ten songs that feature on ‘Incorruptible’, the twelfth album in the Iced Earth discography.

The accompanying press release sees the ever-confident and bullish Shafer referring to this album as one of their strongest and whilst I approached this hyperbole with caution, I now must agree with him. Having allowed this album to burrow deeper into my brain than many others, I feel much more confident in delivering a very positive review of ‘Incorruptible’. I shall go so far as to stick my neck out and venture that this record is the best material to emanate from the Iced Earth camp since ‘The Glorious Burden’, possibly even longer. Indeed, alongside vocalist Stu Block, in-out drummer Brent Smedley, bassist Luke Appleton and new lead guitarist Jake Dreyer, Schaffer has clearly hit a rich vein of form with ‘Incorruptible’.

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What I like about this album so much is that it manages to blend powerful riffs and heavy music with plenty of melody and strong choruses to make the music truly memorable and rather addictive. Add in to the mix a sense of theatrics, drama and storytelling for which Iced Earth have become known and synonymous and suddenly things start to stack up in the right way.

Given the dark album cover complete with the ubiquitous Set Abominae character, I was expecting something more along the lines of ‘The Dark Saga’ with this record. But what I actually get is more of a ‘Something Wicked…’ vibe, where just about every track delivers something that makes me bang my head, smile or reach for the repeat button. There will no doubt be some who suggest that Iced Earth are cynically trying to recapture the magic of ‘Something Wicked…’ but I humbly disagree. Of course there are some similarities but on ‘Incorruptible’, I hear some of that magic that has imbued all classic Iced Earth material, whatever the era, whoever the clientele.

Kicking off with a dark and theatrical, almost cinematic intro, ‘Great Heathen Army’ offers fans of this band a thoroughly rousing and raucous opening salvo. Block screams and croons with gusto, the rhythm section pounds away and those trademark fast-picked rhythm guitars of Schafer create some tasty riffs. The chorus is a bit of a grower too, blossoming into a full-blown anthem after a few spins.

One of the most ear-catching aspects of Iced Earth on this record though, is the lead guitar work of newbie Jake Dreyer. His lead breaks litter the opener but they have a genuinely melodic edge to them, transforming the solos into something more nuanced than just a gratuitous shred-fest. To further illustrate this point, just check out the fabulous ballad-esque ‘Raven Wing’, complete with lush acoustic guitars. It is here that Dreyer indulges in some lead work that is full of depth, subtlety and bluesy soul, as well as the necessary all-out shred. It doesn’t do any harm that the entire song itself is a well-crafted monster, but it is the lead work alongside the changes in pace and heaviness that leaves the greatest impression.

The variety of the music is also a definite strength of ‘Incorruptible’ too. This is not a one-dimensional album and it benefits greatly as a direct result. You get the mid-tempo stompers like ‘Black Flag’ which in itself is a muscular metal track laced with plenty of melody. And there are the more sombre and brooding compositions like ‘The Veil’ which arguably features my favourite chorus on the record, one that I find myself humming at the most unexpected of times, unable to dislodge it from my head.

Then there’s the short, sharp and intense thrash blitzkrieg of ‘Seven Headed Whore’ with its intro riff that’s instantly reminiscent of Slayer in their prime followed by the potent combination of machine-gun drumming and matching riffs. In contrast, ‘Brothers’ is imbued with a satisfying groove that’s infectious as hell.

‘Ghost Dance (Awaken The Ancestors)’ is an instrumental but far from being a snooze-fest, it is actually one of the most intriguing tracks on the record. I find the tribal vocals fascinating and a really nice touch whilst I’m genuinely taken by the pronounced, powerhouse drumming that is a firm feature of the track.

And ‘Incorruptible’ ends in fitting Iced Earth style with a slightly longer track, ‘Clear The Way (December 13th, 1862)’. At just shy of ten minutes, it isn’t the longest epic that Schaffer has ever penned but it does still pack a punch. Complete with occasional Celtic overtones, a certain amount of quiet homage to Iron Maiden and the sounds of war, it tells a story within the Battle of Fredericksburg to great effect. It’s a glorious romp and the perfect way to end such a glorious album.

Mind you, I’m struggling to pick out any of the songs on ‘Incorruptible’ that demonstrate a lessening of the quality as I genuinely like them all. In that respect, this has to be the most consistent record from Iced Earth for a significant number of years. In fact, as I alluded to earlier, this is without doubt their best release since ‘The Glorious Burden’ and it pushes the likes of ‘Horror Show’ and ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’ as one of their best ever releases. In short, ‘Incorruptible’ is unmistakeably the sound of Iced Earth firing on all cylinders and I love it.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.25

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

Anathema – The Optimist
Solstafir – Berdreyminn
Dream Evil – Six
Avatarium – Hurricanes And Halos
Ayreon – The Source
Until Rain – Inure
MindMaze – Resolve
God Dethroned – The World Ablaze
Bjorn Riis – Forever Comes To An End
Voyager – Ghost Mile
Big Big Train – Grimspound
Lonely Robot – The Big Dream
Firespawn – The Reprobate
Ancient Ascendant
Pyramaze – Contingent
Shores Of Null – Black Drapes For Tomorrow
Asira – Efference
Hologram Earth – Black Cell Program
Damnations Day – A World Awakens
Memoriam – For The Fallen
Pallbearer – Heartless
Sleepmakeswaves – Made of Breath Only
Ghost Ship Octavius – Ghost Ship Octavius
Vangough – Warpaint
Telepathy – Tempest
Obituary – Obituary
Fen – Winter
Havok – Conformicide
Wolfheart – Tyhjyys
Svart Crown – Abreaction
Nova Collective – The Further Side
Immolation – Atonement
The Mute Gods – Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth
Ex Deo – The Immortal Wars
Pyogenesis – A Kingdom To Disappear
My Soliloquy – Engines of Gravity
Nailed To Obscurity – King Delusion
Helion Prime – Helion Prime
Battle Beast – Bringer Of Pain
Persefone – Aathma
Soen – Lykaia
Exquirla – Para Quienes Aun Viven
Odd Logic – Effigy
Mors Principium Est – Embers Of A Dying World
Firewind – Immortals
Slyde – Back Again EP
Sepultura – Machine Messiah
Deserted Fear – Dead Shores Rising
Kreator – Gods Of Violence
Borealis – World of Silence MMXVII
Pain of Salvation – In The Passing Light of Day

Dream Evil – Six – Album Review

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Artist: Dream Evil

Album Title: Six

Label: Century Media

Date Of Release: 26 May 2017

Dream Evil have been knocking around the metal scene for many years, having been created before the millennium by the renowned Studio Fredman producer Fredrik Nordström. It was his burning desire to create his own power metal band and Dream Evil was the result. In the early days, the band featured the notable names of guitarist Gus G (Firewind, Ozzy Osborne) and drummer Snowy Shaw.

These guys have moved on, with Dream Evil now comprised of Nordstrom alongside lead vocalist Niklas Isfeldt, lead guitarist Mark U Black, bassist Peter Stålfors and drummer Patrik Jerksten. Nevertheless Dream Evil have remained steadfast throughout and ‘Six’ being, you guessed it, their sixth studio album to date, albeit following a hefty seven-year hiatus since ‘In The Night’ was released in 2010. However, on the basis of the music on ‘Six’, it might have been kinder for all concerned if Nordström and his merry men had moved on to pastures new as well.

Long term readers of the Blog of Much Metal will know that I am not the kind of person who takes any satisfaction from writing more negative reviews. So when I can only conclude that ‘Six’ is a distinctly average album with more filler than stand-out material, you know that I am not saying this lightly or for effect.

So why have I reviewed this then? I was actually interested in hearing the new album because I have a couple of early Dream Evil albums nestled in my collection and there is some decent material to be heard on them. And additionally, I have invested too much time trying to like this album to abandon it without committing my thoughts to paper. However, from the first spin, with no agenda or axe to grind, I simply found myself feeling thoroughly disappointed and entirely underwhelmed for the most part.

But let me begin with the positives, as no album is completely devoid of such things. For a start, I do enjoy the hefty guitar tones that deliver some decent riffs. They pack a fair punch, offer plenty of grunt and help to dispel the thoughts that power metal is a softer form of metal. The rhythm section is equally commanding and muscular, as demonstrated on the self-monikered opening track, ‘Dream Evil’. It is one of the few tracks on this record that’s a genuine grower, becoming a bit of a pulsating, headbanging anthem that I am sure will come alive on stage during the upcoming festival season.

The production must be mentioned as it is this that helps to lend the guitars, bass and drums such a rich sound. Naturally, this comes as no surprise given the clientele and it is where Nordstrom comes into his own, being the quality knob-fiddler that he is.

In terms of other songs on the album that are worth mentioning, there’s the brooding, slower-paced ‘Creature of the Night’ which features some of the strongest melodies on the album. ‘The Murdered Mind’ is a fun, breezier number with a pleasant chorus whilst ‘Six Hundred And 66’ offers some great grooves and arguably the catchiest chorus on the record.

Sandwiched in between though, are too many compositions that do very little for me. The musicianship is perfectly acceptable, very good in places. And that makes things even more frustrating because they clearly have the talent to produce a higher-quality or at least a more consistent product.

Then there are the lyrics. Now I’m far from a lyric snob and very often I couldn’t care less what’s being sung about if the music is of a high quality. But even I struggle to ignore the words that accompany some of the songs on this album. Take ‘Sin City’ as the perfect example. ‘…they met my older brother, who was rich, he was poor.’ C’mon, seriously? Then there’s the line in the same song: ‘the devil proved to be a really nice guy and they partied all night long. And those who always believed in God, admitted they were wrong.’ How are your toes? Have they uncurled yet?

I also have to be honest and venture the opinion that I’m not the greatest fan of Niklas Isfeldt’s vocal delivery. He has a powerful set of lungs with a decent range but I quickly tire of his higher-pitched tones which veer perilously close to annoying territory for my tastes.

And that’s about it. I could go on, but I’ll leave it there. Dream Evil have a lot going for them and when they get it right, they get it very right. Regrettably, their conversion rate isn’t that high on ‘Six’ and so for every decent track, there are two or three that fall flat. It’s a shame and I genuinely hate being negative, but I have to be honest. Sorry guys, I won’t be returning to this record any time soon.

The Score Of Much Metal: 6

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

Avatarium – Hurricanes And Halos
Ayreon – The Source
Until Rain – Inure
MindMaze – Resolve
God Dethroned – The World Ablaze
Bjorn Riis – Forever Comes To An End
Voyager – Ghost Mile
Big Big Train – Grimspound
Lonely Robot – The Big Dream
Firespawn – The Reprobate
Ancient Ascendant
Pyramaze – Contingent
Shores Of Null – Black Drapes For Tomorrow
Asira – Efference
Hologram Earth – Black Cell Program
Damnations Day – A World Awakens
Memoriam – For The Fallen
Pallbearer – Heartless
Sleepmakeswaves – Made of Breath Only
Ghost Ship Octavius – Ghost Ship Octavius
Vangough – Warpaint
Telepathy – Tempest
Obituary – Obituary
Fen – Winter
Havok – Conformicide
Wolfheart – Tyhjyys
Svart Crown – Abreaction
Nova Collective – The Further Side
Immolation – Atonement
The Mute Gods – Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth
Ex Deo – The Immortal Wars
Pyogenesis – A Kingdom To Disappear
My Soliloquy – Engines of Gravity
Nailed To Obscurity – King Delusion
Helion Prime – Helion Prime
Battle Beast – Bringer Of Pain
Persefone – Aathma
Soen – Lykaia
Exquirla – Para Quienes Aun Viven
Odd Logic – Effigy
Mors Principium Est – Embers Of A Dying World
Firewind – Immortals
Slyde – Back Again EP
Sepultura – Machine Messiah
Deserted Fear – Dead Shores Rising
Kreator – Gods Of Violence
Borealis – World of Silence MMXVII
Pain of Salvation – In The Passing Light of Day

Firespawn – The Reprobate – Album Review

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Artist: Firespawn

Album Title: The Reprobate

Label: Century Media Records

Date Of Release: 28 April 2017

My rekindled love and affection for old school death metal shows no signs of abating any time soon, certainly not when there are albums like these being released into the wild. ‘The Reprobate’ is the second full-length release from Firespawn, a band that hadn’t previously registered on my radar.

Formed in 2012 under the original name of Fireborn, Firespawn is nothing short of a ‘super group’. I know that this is an overused cliché, but given the personnel involved with Firespawn, it is impossible to describe them any other way. The bassist is Alex Impaler (Necrophobic, Naglfar (live)), whilst the guitarists are Victor Brandt (Entombed A.D., ex-Satyricon) and Fredrik Folkare (Unleashed, Necrophobic, ex-Siebenbürgen). Upon the drum throne sits Matte Modin (Raised Fist, ex-Dark Funeral, ex-Defleshed, ex-Infernal) and up front is none other than vocalist LG Petrov (Entombed A.D., ex-Nihilist, ex-Morbid) Now, you tell me that this isn’t one hell of a line-up?

The really great thing about Firespawn, above all else, is that this is clearly not a vanity project or a cynical cash cow.

“To be doing death metal in our 40s means that we love what we are doing and love our way of Life. I don’t think any of us could see us doing something else. This is who we are. Death metal is the path we have chosen. It’s not just a musical style. It’s a lifestyle.”

So says Impaler within the accompanying press release. And Brandt agrees:

“Even though death metal is something extreme, it feels and comes natural. It’s in our blood for sure. This is something we must do. I’m not interested in doing anything else. And we all like to work hard and get things done. Blessing and curse, I guess.”

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I love this attitude and one listen to ‘The Reprobate’ and you realise that this isn’t empty rhetoric either. This album is too damn good to be as a result of anything other than a genuine desire to create the kind of extreme music that these guys all clearly adore. And, although the content on this album doesn’t really offer too much by way of innovation, that doesn’t matter as far as I’m concerned. This is unashamed brutal death metal in the old school Scandinavian mould but it sounds fresh, invigorated and full of malevolent, subterranean life. You can genuinely tell that these five guys love what they are doing. Going through the motions? Not a bit of it.

Bearing in mind the clientele involved, it will come as no surprise when I throw out the names of Necrophobic, early Entombed and Dismember as just a few of the more obvious reference points within the ten-track, 45-minute affair that is ‘The Reprobate’. But in addition, there are nods in the direction of Morbid Angel for example via the churning, molten riffs of the title track.

Speaking personally, what I enjoy most about ‘The Reprobate’ is the way in which the album is brutal and uncompromising as all hell, but that this is tempered throughout by plenty of groove, atmosphere and a surprising amount of melody, albeit somewhat understated and shy in the main. That said, the opening track of the entire album, ‘Serpent of the Ocean’, has a more pronounced sense of melody and as such, has to be one of the best death metal songs I have heard this year, maybe even longer. It begins with a sinister, twisted melody that’s atmosphere-laden but within seconds it is replaced by some stunning musicianship. It goes without saying that these guys can play but the pinpoint, razor-sharp delivery of the tumult that blows the intro away is phenomenal. The riffs are superb and the rhythm section, led by the insane blastbeats of Modin bludgeon without mercy. And then there’s the chorus which is like melodic groove mana from the pits of hell. It is brutal and uncompromising but thanks to the fast-picked riffing from Brandt and Folkare, there’s a wonderful layer of melody that’s completely irresistible. And on top of it all are Petrov’s unmistakeably malevolent growls that top the music off perfectly throughout the record.

Speaking of the guitarists, I have to say that their combined talents are one of the big stand-out aspects of Firespawn’s sound on this record. The tones are just perfect for a start, full of bite and guts and wonderfully enhanced by Impaler’s impressive bass work throughout. There’s not a song that goes by where I don’t pause to admire a riff or a blazing solo and that’s rare for me, as I can often find a moment or two of filler within a death metal album of this ilk. The album is littered with dextrous and lightning-fast solos but in general, they tend to add something to the overall compositions, in part because they don’t always rely on speed alone. Take the lead break within ‘Damnatio Ad Bestias’ as a prime example. It is fast and aggressive, but it is also expressive and almost soulful in places.

‘Damnatio Ad Bestias’ is also a good example of the way in which Firespawn have almost effortlessly managed to combine savagery with groove, melody and atmosphere. It is here where the ghost of early Entombed looms largest but at the same time it isn’t simply derivative; it has its own identity.

Other favourites on ‘The Reprobate’ include ‘Generals Creed’ thanks to the blend of frenetic riffing and catchy chorus complete with a headbanging groove and tangible atmosphere. I also really enjoy ‘Death By Impalement’, yet another bruising and uncompromising slab of full-throttle death metal with great pounding riffs and an atmosphere-laden mid-section with sinister, haunting vocals.

Firespawn hope that ‘The Reprobate’ will “make you drink insane amounts of beer and bang your head for Satan.” Well, if that’s their barometer of success, they might need to brace themselves, because ‘The Reprobate’ does more than this, a lot more. Put simply, it’s another huge example of just how strong the death metal genre is in 2017.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

Ancient Ascendant
Pyramaze – Contingent
Shores Of Null – Black Drapes For Tomorrow
Asira – Efference
Hologram Earth – Black Cell Program
Damnations Day – A World Awakens
Memoriam – For The Fallen
Pallbearer – Heartless
Sleepmakeswaves – Made of Breath Only
Ghost Ship Octavius – Ghost Ship Octavius
Vangough – Warpaint
Telepathy – Tempest
Obituary – Obituary
Fen – Winter
Havok – Conformicide
Wolfheart – Tyhjyys
Svart Crown – Abreaction
Nova Collective – The Further Side
Immolation – Atonement
The Mute Gods – Tardigrades Will Inherit The Earth
Ex Deo – The Immortal Wars
Pyogenesis – A Kingdom To Disappear
My Soliloquy – Engines of Gravity
Nailed To Obscurity – King Delusion
Helion Prime – Helion Prime
Battle Beast – Bringer Of Pain
Persefone – Aathma
Soen – Lykaia
Exquirla – Para Quienes Aun Viven
Odd Logic – Effigy
Mors Principium Est – Embers Of A Dying World
Firewind – Immortals
Slyde – Back Again EP
Sepultura – Machine Messiah
Deserted Fear – Dead Shores Rising
Kreator – Gods Of Violence
Borealis – World of Silence MMXVII
Pain of Salvation – In The Passing Light of Day

Album of the Year 2016 – Number 7

Welcome to day 24 of my annual ‘Album of the Year – top 30 countdown’.

Thank you everyone for the absolutely wonderful support throughout this series. It is a list that I put a lot of effort in to because I want the bands and albums featured to have one final and well-deserved moment in the spotlight.

Remember that this end of year list is not an exercise in rewarding those already successful acts in the hope that I draw more attention to my blog. It is a list of 30 albums that I have heard in 2016 that have had a positive impact on me. Some are unsigned, some are debut albums and others are delivered at the hands of more well-known household names. But they all have that one thing in common – they are full of superb music that has made 2016 a better year for me.

If you’ve missed any of my previous posts in this series, please check out the links at the bottom of this page. There are also links to my similar countdowns from previous years, so feel free to check them out too and let me know what you think.

And now all that’s out of the way, here’s today’s choice at number 7…

Number 7

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Dark Tranquillity
Atoma
Century Media Records

 

“In a nutshell, ‘Atoma’ is just about the perfect blend of the catchiness and immediacy of ‘Haven’ or ‘Character’, the more extreme elements found within ‘We Are The Void’ or ‘Construct’ and the more atmospheric and rich sounds of ‘Projector’, an album which remains a firm favourite to this day. Allow me to elaborate just a touch.

The title track begins with an electronic melody before bursting into life. ‘Oh mama, Stanne has brought back his clean vocals’ I exclaim with barely contained joy on a first spin, having sorely missed this ingredient in recent years. The chosen vocal delivery immediately provides a wonderful ‘Projector’ feel, one of my favourite albums from the strong discography.

Just when I thought 2016 couldn’t get any better, up pops Dark Tranquillity to send me into a spin of emotion and elation. As I said at the outset, Dark Tranquillity have always been very important to me. However, what ‘Atoma’ does so wonderfully, is draw all of their key ingredients together into one 12-track album to create a thrill-ride of expertly-crafted, engaging and elegant melodic death metal. My love for Dark Tranquillity has been well and truly cemented and right now, I can’t think of a better band within this particular genre. They helped to create it, they have helped to shape it and now, in 2016, Dark Tranquillity have proved that they are still, unquestionably, the masters of melodic death metal.”

Read the full review here

Credit: Dirk Behlau

Credit: Dirk Behlau

Once again, I have quoted my review and left little need for significant embellishment as they pretty much say it all. However, despite Dark Tranquillity’s eleventh album being a relative latecomer to this year’s competition, there was never any doubt it would find a place in this list.

As my review explains, Dark Tranquillity hold a special place in my heart but that alone would not be enough for it to feature here. It adds a certain ingredient to the mix but the music has to be sufficiently strong first and foremost. And on that score, Dark Tranquillity have excelled. A month or two down the line from its release and I am beginning to firmly believe that this could be their best release within an already strong back catalogue.

I was always a sucker for the ‘Projector’ era with the clean vocals from Stanne, but I have also enjoyed their heavier, more extreme side. ‘Atoma’ is the perfect blend of both but it all comes together so smoothly and expertly to leave the listener in no doubt that they belong together. In fact, when dovetailed together like this, both of the distinct elements sound somehow more striking and powerful.

And then, as always, the album delivers strong grooves and sumptuous melodies, adding that irresistibly playful and memorable magic. I have lost count of the number of times I have listened to ‘Atoma’ and I adore it as much now as I did at the beginning. And those I meet when I take the dog out for a walk must know when I’m engrossed in ‘Atoma’ because I’m nodding my head, singing along and smiling broadly. That’s the magic of Dark Tranquillity and that’s why ‘Atoma’, for me, is the best melodeath album of the year in the face of some exceptionally strong competition.

In case you’ve missed any of the other posts in the 2016 series, here they are for you to explore and enjoy:

Album of the Year 2016 – number 8
Album of the Year 2016 – number 9
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 10
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 11
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 12
Album of the Year 2016 – number 13
Album of the Year 2016 – number 14
Album of the Year 2016 – number 15
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 16
Album of the Year 2016 – number 17
Album of the Year 2016 – number 18
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 19
Album of the Year 2016 – number 20
Album of the Year 2016 – number 21
Album of the Year 2016 – number 22
Album of the Year 2016 – number 23
Album of the Year 2016 – number 24
Album of the Year 2016 – number 25
Album of the Year 2016 – number 26
Album of the Year 2016 – number 27
Album of the Year 2016 – number 28
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 29
Album of the Year 2016 – Number 30

And from previous years:

Album of the Year 2015
Album of the Year 2014
Album of the Year 2013
Album of the Year 2012

Dark Tranquillity – Atoma – Album Review

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Artist: Dark Tranquillity

Album Title: Atoma

Label: Century Media

Date Of Release: 4 November 2016

It seems fitting that I am releasing this review on the eighth anniversary of my late brother’s passing. It is a horrendously sad time of the year but it is made a little more comforting by being surrounded by an old friend in the form of Sweden’s Dark Tranquillity.

Dark Tranquillity are not just one of my favourite melodic death metal bands, they are one of my all-time favourite bands from any genre or subgenre of music. They were also a big favourite of my brother too. Ever since I first discovered them at University in the late 90s, they have been a constant companion, a band that has brought me joy and satisfaction with a consistency that is more than impressive. Be it on record or in the live arena, they never failed to delight my brother and me and we shared some great times down the years thanks to this band.

I have tried but I can’t think of a single album that I don’t like. Moreover, I can’t actually think of an album which is anything less than excellent, a standard that the Swedes constantly aim for with unerring accuracy.

Dark Tranquillity are rightly attributed with helping to form the genre within which they sit, the ‘New Wave of Swedish Death Metal’ or the ‘Gothenburg sound’ if you prefer. Much like other melodeath bands, they have tinkered with their sound over the years, dabbling with different ideas within their core framework. However, unlike some of their contemporaries and compatriots, they have never taken the experimentation too far. Whether their output has been more catchy or extreme, Dark Tranquillity have always had the knack of delivering the goods.

I’ve always thought about the reason for the success and longevity of Dark Tranquillity and in writing this review, I think I have hit upon an answer; their music always feels genuine, never contrived or forced. The blend of more extreme ingredients with strong, memorable melodies and powerful atmospheres is just about perfect. What’s more, despite plying their trade in the extreme metal world, Dark Tranquillity always manage to convey a high level of sincerity and a genuine warmth, led by the mercurial and enthusiastic Mikael Stanne, which then flows through the rest of the band.

It goes without saying that I have been looking forward to album number eleven for some time. And here we have it, in the form of ‘Atoma’, a release that didn’t have the easiest of births following the somewhat shock departure of guitarist and founding member Martin Henriksson, who realised that after a quarter of a century, he had had enough and didn’t have the drive or desire to carry on.

Nevertheless, the remaining members of vocalist Mikael Stanne, lead guitarist Niklas Sundin, drummer Anders Jivarp, keyboardist Martin Brändström and ‘new’ bassist Anders Iwers have continued, persevered and have delivered yet another truly wonderful chapter in the story of Dark Tranquillity. Lyrically and conceptually, ‘Atoma’ is an album that tackles the world’s current ills through a demonstrably human angle, deliberately steering clear of any political stance. And it’s a powerful and rather emotive narrative, crucially backed up by some of the strongest material of the band’s lengthy career.

Credit: Dirk Behlau

Credit: Dirk Behlau

In a nutshell, ‘Atoma’ is just about the perfect blend of the catchiness and immediacy of ‘Haven’ or ‘Character’, the more extreme elements found within ‘We Are The Void’ or ‘Construct’ and the more atmospheric and rich sounds of ‘Projector’, an album which remains a firm favourite to this day. Allow me to elaborate just a touch.

‘Atoma’ kicks off superbly with ‘Encircled’, a track that starts off slowly and deliberately with lashings of atmosphere before picking up pace in positive fashion. The beating heart of the song is very melodic with an instantly likeable chorus, reminding me of the ‘Haven’ era given the catchiness on display. The lead breaks from Sundin are great, whilst Stanne is as caustic as ever with his trademark growl that still maintains some warmth and enables the lyrics to be understood.

The title track begins with an electronic melody before bursting into life. ‘Oh mama, Stanne has brought back his clean vocals’ I exclaim with barely contained joy on a first spin, having sorely missed this ingredient in recent years. The chosen vocal delivery immediately provides a wonderful ‘Projector’ feel, one of my favourite albums from the strong discography. Vocals aside, I also love the contrast between the light and heavy sections, including a pronounced atmospheric minimalist section led by keyboardist Brändström before closing out the song full throttle. The drama is therefore increased at the death and this song just oozes quality from every pore.

I love the bass and drum combo courtesy of Jivarp and Iwers that opens up ‘Forward Momentum’, as well as the opening riff and the overall pace of the track. The keys come to the fore to create depth and dark atmosphere, whilst the clean vocals give me goose bumps. The track’s construction is wonderful as it becomes more intense during the chorus, which is memorable yet at the same time, not quite as obvious. With time though, the melodies sink in with devastating effect. The lead guitar solo from Sundin is gorgeous, full of feeling and eloquence. The dark undertones common to Dark Tranquillity are present but they give me a warm glow as I begin to realise that I’m in the presence of something potentially very special in ‘Atoma’.

‘Neutrality’ continues the theme with a quiet opening, before exploding with urgency and a fair ferocity. Indeed, there is more of a savage feel to this song which I like. The pace is quicker, the vocals more venomously spat and the vibe is more in keeping with the last couple of albums, being darker and more extreme. And yet, despite this, the slightly more subtle melodies are present throughout the song, as are the keys. The groove at the three-quarter mark is marvellous, counterpointed by the slightly uncomfortable-sounding off-kilter notes that are entirely deliberate.

A very dark, quiet and contemplative tone starts off ‘Force Of Hand’, complete with ominous, barely audible whispered vocals. This is a more mid-tempo, moody and cerebral composition with a seriously cool groove to it as well as a commanding ebb and flow. The heaviness eventually joins the fray but at a more measured tempo for the most part until the accelerator is pressed and the track suddenly gallops along, led by powerful near blast-beat drumming at times from Jivarp.

‘Faithless by Default’ doesn’t begin in the same quiet manner as many of its predecessors and yet it has the appearance of being a quieter track somehow. It is still heavy and dark when required but it comes across as being a little more refined overall with a sprawling chorus that works its magic after repeated listens. The stars of this particular show are drummer Jivarp and bassist Iwers who catch my ear every time I dive into this song.

Many of you will have already heard ‘The Pitiless’, given that it is also the lead single from the album, released a while back. It is arguably the most extreme track on the record, opening up at a fair lick and maintaining this urgency As such, ‘The Pitiless’ is much more in keeping with the last couple of records. It goes without saying that it displays some melody and indeed becomes more melodic the more time I spend with it. However, the melodic aspects are buried much deeper in the background as the key for the song, I believe, is to create something altogether more furious, dark and disturbing.

A seriously groovy rhythm straight off the bat introduces the listener to ‘Our Proof Of Life’, which is best described as a rich and powerful affair and is arguably my favourite song on the album. Stanne’s clean vocals return and I’m smiling again as a result – I can’t help it. And then, at the half-way mark, the composition turns into the most anthemic of songs, complete with rousing guitar solo and killer melodies. It also flirts astutely with quieter passages before returning to the opening melody for a muscular closure.

‘Clearing Skies’ which offers more huge melodies throughout but, despite the catchy chorus, the band then deftly reverts to something altogether more spiky and confrontational for the verse. The aforementioned chorus offers more in the way of keys and stop-start riffing, creating a more modern sheen in the process, almost vaguely djent albeit fleetingly. But regardless, this atmospheric composition is absurdly addictive.

The guitar tones and the rhythms applied within ‘When The World Screams’ remind me of the earlier days of Dark Tranquillity much more, whilst expertly blending them with accents of ‘Character’ with hugely impressive results.

Credit: Dirk Behlau

Credit: Dirk Behlau

I’m beginning to run out of positive adjectives by this point but the quality from the Swedish quintet shows no signs of abating. Penultimate track ‘Merciless Fate’ opens slowly and utilises a slower pace overall. Stanne snarls menacingly to begin with, but then the song opens up nicely as it develops. Led by more clean vocals, the melodies suddenly come to the fore almost shyly and make a huge impact within the context of the song. My hairs stand up on end and whether it is because there is seemingly no let-up in the brilliance of this album, I find myself getting emotional.

‘Atoma’ closes with ‘Caves and Embers’. The intro is strong and dramatic, acceding before long to an up-tempo rhythm overlaid with lashings of atmospheric keys from Brändström. The lead guitar flourishes are flamboyant and whether I’m dreaming it or not, there is a vague sense of hope and positivity within the song. The extended introspective and atmospherically substantial mid-section eventually gives way to an outpouring of power as the song, and indeed the album, drives forcefully to a conclusion.

Just when I thought 2016 couldn’t get any better, up pops Dark Tranquillity to send me into a spin of emotion and elation. As I said at the outset, Dark Tranquillity have always been very important to me. However, what ‘Atoma’ does so wonderfully, is draw all of their key ingredients together into one 12-track album to create a thrill-ride of expertly-crafted, engaging and elegant melodic death metal. My love for Dark Tranquillity has been well and truly cemented and right now, I can’t think of a better band within this particular genre. They helped to create it, they have helped to shape it and now, in 2016, Dark Tranquillity have proved that they are still, unquestionably, the masters of melodic death metal.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.75

If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others via my reviews pages or by clicking the links right here:

Hammerfall – Built To Last
Testament – Brotherhood Of The Snake
Crippled Black Phoenix – Bronze
Riverside – Eye Of The Soundscape
Hanging Garden – Hereafter
Theocracy – Ghost Ship
Arkona – Lunaris
Oddland – Origin
Sonata Arctica – The Ninth Hour
Edensong – Years In The Garden of Years
Meshuggah – The Violent Sleep Of Reason
Alcest – Kodama
Opeth – Sorceress
Negura Bunget – ZI
Epica – The Holographic Principle
Amaranthe – Maximalism
Eye Of Solitude – Cenotaph
Seven Impale – Contrapasso
DGM – The Passage
Pressure Points – False Lights
In The Woods – Pure
Devin Townsend – Transcendence
The Pineapple Thief – Your Wilderness
Evergrey – The Storm Within
Dream The Electric Sleep – Beneath The Dark Wide Sky
Periphery – ‘Periphery III: Select Difficulty’
Karmakanic – Dot
Novena – Secondary Genesis
Witherscape – The Northern Sanctuary
Eric Gillette – The Great Unknown
Tilt – Hinterland
Cosmograf – The Unreasonable Silence
Fates Warning – Theories Of Flight
Wolverine – Machina Viva
Be’lakor – Vessels
Lacuna Coil – Delirium
Big Big Train – Folklore
Airbag – Disconnected
Katatonia – The Fall Of Hearts
Frost* – Falling Satellites
Glorior Belli – Sundown (The Flock That Welcomes)
Habu – Infinite
Grand Magus ‘Sword Songs’
Messenger – Threnodies
Svoid – Storming Voices Of Inner Devotion
Fallujah – Dreamless
In Mourning – Afterglow
Haken – Affinity
Long Distance Calling – Trips
October Tide – Winged Waltz
Odd Logic – Penny For Your Thoughts
Iron Mountain – Unum
Knifeworld – Bottled Out Of Eden
Novembre – Ursa
Beholder – Reflections
Neverworld – Dreamsnatcher
Universal Mind Project – The Jaguar Priest
Thunderstone – Apocalypse Again
InnerWish – Innerwish
Mob Rules – Tales From Beyond
Ghost Bath – Moonlover
Spiritual Beggars – Sunrise To Sundown
Oceans Of Slumber – Winter
Rikard Zander – I Can Do Without Love
Redemption – The Art Of Loss
Headspace – All That You Fear Is Gone
Chris Quirarte – Mending Broken Bridges
Sunburst – Fragments Of Creation
Inglorious – Inglorious
Omnium Gatherum – Grey Heavens
Structural Disorder – Distance
Votum – Ktonik
Fleshgod Apocalypse – King
Rikard Sjoblom – The Unbendable Sleep
Textures – Phenotype
Serenity – Codex Atlanticus
Borknagar – Winter Thrice
The Mute Gods – Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me
Brainstorm – Scary Creatures
Arcade Messiah – II
Phantasma – The Deviant Hearts
Rendezvous Point – Solar Storm
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld II
Antimatter – The Judas Table
Bauda – Sporelights
Waken Eyes – Exodus
Earthside – A Dream In Static
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

Periphery – Periphery III: Select Difficulty – Album Review

 

Periphery_III_2016_Cover

Artist: Periphery

Album Title: Periphery III: Select Difficulty

Label: century Media Records

Date Of Release: 22 July 2016

The wonderful curse of ‘too much music, too little time’ is the main reason for the delay in offering a review of this record. If I’m honest, there was also an element of ‘hmm, not sure if I’m that interested in this release’ too.

Generally, as a rule, I’m not the biggest fan of the modern djent genre. And neither am I a huge aficionado of heavy music that flirts with more overt pop sensibilities, the kind of stuff that many of the new mainstream rock/metal acts seem to indulge in to get themselves on the cover of Kerrang! and on the walls of teenagers’ bedrooms. And yet, despite both of these aspects appearing within the music of Periphery on this record, I don’t hate it.

Entitled ‘III: Select Difficulty’, this is actually Periphery’s fifth full length release if the double release ‘Juggernaut: Alpha/Omega’ is taken into account. Confusing isn’t it? Well not as confusing as my complex feelings towards this record if I’m honest.

I think that, on balance, the reason why I don’t hate this record is because it is largely very well written and executed. Indeed there is a lot of material on this new album that I absolutely love and come back to like an addict to get my fix time after time, principally because it has an air of quality about it, rather than being contrived and a cynical attempt at popularity. There’s also a certain honesty that shines through the material, which I really admire, not to mention a level of creativity that is akin to a breath of fresh air.

That said, the album opens up in a less than auspicious manner thanks to the opening one-two of ‘The Price Is Wrong’ and ‘Motormouth’ The former is the lead single from the album and it simply fails to grab me in the same way as other tracks. It is sharp, concise and very heavy but I don’t warm to the vocal delivery which strikes me as a little unremarkable if undeniably confrontational. The instrumentation is undeniably impressive with complex riffs aplenty and the rhythm section is insanely tight but the breakdown in the latter stages with almost spoken-word lyrics is not something that I can get on board with. Despite its prowess therefore, for me the whole song lacks a certain ‘je ne sais quoi’. In fact, it takes until the latter stages of ‘Motormouth’, a similarly blood and thunder composition, for my interest to be piqued thanks to a Textures-like hint of melody and something other than snarled vocals.

Picture credit: Josefa Torres

Picture credit: Josefa Torres

But then, as I’m contemplating moving on to the next album, in marches ‘Marigold’ and with it, the whole feel of ‘III: Select Difficulty’ changes. Ushered in by an urgent orchestrated melody, the track begins in slower, more measured fashion and introduces Spencer Sotelo’s clean vocal delivery for the first time. But, at the centre of the composition is a highly infectious, hook laden chorus of which I can’t get enough. The fact that the song then glides to a close on the crest of a post rock wave is the surprising but delightfully serene icing on the cake.

‘The Way The News Goes…’ follows up in excellent fashion dominated by a tremendous vocal performance as well as some really exquisite guitar and piano melodies, not to mention some truly frenetic drumming to starkly and cleverly juxtapose the otherwise more laid-back aspects of the song.

As much as I like the heavier, more extreme elements of the Periphery sound as experienced within the likes of the expertly crafted ‘Prayer Position’, it is when they blend this with the more subtle and introspective elements that I believe they really fly. The orchestration appears at moments throughout the rest of the album and personally, I’d like to hear a lot more of this on the next record. It creates an air of majesty and sophistication that I really welcome and needs to be explored more. The best exponent of this excellent new addition to the Periphery arsenal is ‘Absolomb’ which ends with an extended orchestral outro that calls to mind the cinematic vibe of compositions by Craig Armstrong before deconstructing to a simple piano melody to close.

It leads into arguably the most immediate and mainstream-sounding track on the record in ‘Catch Fire’. The chorus is such that once it gets its claws in you, it refuses to let go. There’s even a vaguely funky vibe to the verses accentuated by some prominent bass work that I find myself liking more than I thought I would.

Firm nods need to be made in the direction of the infectious ‘Flatline’ which blends the heavier aspects of the Periphery sound with another hook-laden chorus and ‘Habitual Line Stepper’, a track that begins in explosive fashion complete with blast beats and a progressive edge before settling down and ultimately delivering a more elegant piece of music than first thought, brought to a close with a sublime vocal-dominated melody.

The final killer moment though as far as I’m concerned is the album closer, the near eight minute long ‘Lune’. It starts off slowly channelling a vague Tool vibe but within moments, the melodies poke through and as the song builds, they come to the fore more. Sotelo’s vocals are epic-sounding and full of power, working in tandem with crushing guitars and magnificent orchestration to create a climactic crescendo of epic proportions, almost uplifting in tone and delivery. It certainly ends the album with a bang and a desire on my part to press play and listen all over again.

So there you have it. I started off being completely underwhelmed by ‘III: Select Difficulty’ but have grown to really like it and, in places, absolutely love it. It will be an album that will feature in many end-of-year lists and reaffirms Periphery’s place at the top table of technical and progressive djent metal.

The Score Of Much Metal: 8.5

If you’ve enjoyed this review, check out my others via my reviews pages or by clicking the links right here:

Karmakanic – Dot
Novena – Secondary Genesis
Witherscape – The Northern Sanctuary
Eric Gillette – The Great Unknown
Tilt – Hinterland
Cosmograf – The Unreasonable Silence
Fates Warning – Theories Of Flight
Wolverine – Machina Viva
Be’lakor – Vessels
Lacuna Coil – Delirium
Big Big Train – Folklore
Airbag – Disconnected
Katatonia – The Fall Of Hearts
Frost* – Falling Satellites
Glorior Belli – Sundown (The Flock That Welcomes)
Habu – Infinite
Grand Magus ‘Sword Songs’
Messenger – Threnodies
Svoid – Storming Voices Of Inner Devotion
Fallujah – Dreamless
In Mourning – Afterglow
Haken – Affinity
Long Distance Calling – Trips
October Tide – Winged Waltz
Odd Logic – Penny For Your Thoughts
Iron Mountain – Unum
Knifeworld – Bottled Out Of Eden
Novembre – Ursa
Beholder – Reflections
Neverworld – Dreamsnatcher
Universal Mind Project – The Jaguar Priest
Thunderstone – Apocalypse Again
InnerWish – Innerwish
Mob Rules – Tales From Beyond
Ghost Bath – Moonlover
Spiritual Beggars – Sunrise To Sundown
Oceans Of Slumber – Winter
Rikard Zander – I Can Do Without Love
Redemption – The Art Of Loss
Headspace – All That You Fear Is Gone
Chris Quirarte – Mending Broken Bridges
Sunburst – Fragments Of Creation
Inglorious – Inglorious
Omnium Gatherum – Grey Heavens
Structural Disorder – Distance
Votum – Ktonik
Fleshgod Apocalypse – King
Rikard Sjoblom – The Unbendable Sleep
Textures – Phenotype
Serenity – Codex Atlanticus
Borknagar – Winter Thrice
The Mute Gods – Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me
Brainstorm – Scary Creatures
Arcade Messiah – II
Phantasma – The Deviant Hearts
Rendezvous Point – Solar Storm
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld II
Antimatter – The Judas Table
Bauda – Sporelights
Waken Eyes – Exodus
Earthside – A Dream In Static
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