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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

18556032_10155643571650101_6880641999645372966_nLeprous
Malina
Release date: 25 August 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

Threshold
Legends Of The Shires
Release date: TBC

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

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

Album of the Year 2016 – Number 25

Welcome to day six in my ‘Album of the Year 2016’ top 30 countdown. Thanks for staying with me. It already feels like I’ve been doing this for weeks, but at the same time, it is flying by.

One of the best things about doing this series is that I get a real and genuine excuse to sit back, relax and listen to all those albums that I have loved this year, with the sole purpose of trying to rank them into some kind of order. With so much music to listen to and to review, it can be easy to forget how good some albums really are and very difficult to revisit them as often as I would like. So this is the perfect opportunity for some self-indulgence.

If you’ve missed any of the 2016 series to date, links can be found to all these at the bottom of this post. Additionally, there are links to my 2012-2015 countdowns too, should they be of interest to you.

But now on to the most important part of this post: my choice at Number 25:

Number 25

Press_Cover_01

 

Headspace
All That You Fear Is Gone
InsideOut Music

 

“The all-out attack and crunch of the debut is still present but nowhere near as frequently but that’s in keeping with a different overall vibe to this album than the debut. ‘All That You Fear Is Gone’ is more varied and arguably more mature with the quieter passages demonstrating a different facet of what is unquestionably a highly talented team of musicians…On ‘All That You Fear Is Gone’ nothing is apparently off limits and nothing is seemingly beyond the ability of the quintet.

…if you’re willing to persevere and listen to ‘All That You Fear Is Gone’ on its own considerable merits and accept that it has an identity all of its own, the chances are that you too will end up loving it and will willingly take it to your heart.”

Read the full review here

Credit: Ian Blissett
Credit: Ian Blissett

If you’d asked me to place a bet at the beginning of the year, I’d have said that the new Headspace album would almost certainly have featured in this 2016 list. The debut album ‘I Am Anonymous’ was so damn good and the clientele within this UK based progressive outfit is so talented that surely this would have been a safe bet for a died-in-the-wool progressive metal fan. And so it has proved.

‘All That You Fear Is Gone’ is a fantastic record, although it took me some time to get to grips with it and appreciate all of its charms. It is a bona-fide grower in every sense of the term. When I listened initially, I wasn’t a fan at all because it didn’t seem to have that crunch and power of the debut; it felt like it meandered along without much purpose. How wrong could I be though because with time and effort, it has blossomed into a thoroughly excellent, utterly absorbing listen, full of subtle and clever nuances that aren’t obvious at the beginning.

The key is to not compare it to the debut because stylistically, it is quite different. But the musicianship, the professionalism and the attention to detail ids quite incredible, arguably even more honed and assured. As I sit here now, listening to it for the umpteenth time, I am actually wondering whether this album should be featuring higher in my list, because the longer I have it and the more I listen, the more I fall for its unconventional charms. This isn’t as heavy as the debut, but it is as engrossing and commanding without a doubt. I still don’t like ‘Polluted Alcohol’ though!

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 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

Headspace – All That You Fear Is Gone – Album Review

Press_Cover_01

Artist: Headspace

Album Title: All That You Fear Is Gone

Label: InsideOut Music

Date Of Release: 26 February 2016

UK progressive metal band Headspace came out of nowhere to floor me with their debut album, ‘I Am Anonymous’ in 2012. Until I was sent the promo to this record, I’d not heard anything about them or even knew that they existed. It was a surprising black hole of knowledge because Headspace weren’t a band of newbies or unknowns. Comprised of vocalist Damian Wilson (Threshold, Maiden United), keyboardist Adam Wakeman (Ozzy Osbourne), guitarist Pete Rinaldi, bassist Lee Pomeroy and new drummer Adam Falkner (replacing Richard Brook), Headspace were actually in danger of being given the dreaded ‘supergroup’ tag.

‘I Am Anonymous’ was an instant hit with me. It was heavy, technical and ambitious; it encompassed just about everything that I wanted from my prog metal. Indeed even today, the likes of ‘Daddy Fucking Loves You’ and ‘Fall Of America’ feature regularly on my various playlists. Naturally, the follow-up sophomore effort has been highly anticipated and now it’s here, does it live up to my lofty expectations?

After a lot listening, soul-searching and even more changes of opinion, I have to report that ‘All That You Fear Is Gone’ is a worthy successor to the debut. However, it wasn’t always thus; initially, I felt very negatively towards this album and had that nagging feeling of disappointment hanging over me. Indeed, I have actually had to completely re-write this review. Twice.

However, I’m a stubborn chap and so I stuck with it in the hope that something clicked. I’m pleased I made the effort because ‘All That You Fear Is Gone’ has slowly, almost reluctantly blossomed into an album from which I derive a lot of pleasure.

It’s still not all totally positive because I remain unconvinced by ‘Polluted Alcohol’ and after a few attempts, simply press the skip button. I just cannot warm to the music. I’m not a fan of the slide guitar technique and it comes across as a sloth-like song that might emerge from the bayous of the Deep South. Then there are also a couple of shorter interlude-type tracks that, as far as I’m concerned, don’t really add an awful lot to the record musically-speaking.

I generally hate being negative in my reviews so I now want to focus on the positives of ‘All That You Fear Is Gone’. And on that score, I now have plenty to say.

Initially, I thought that there was far too much slower, softer and lighter material on this record, to the point where it felt like it meandered to a conclusion with a bit of a whimper. Without doubt, Headspace have reduced the heaviness but my initial thoughts are more than a little wide of the mark. The all-out attack and crunch of the debut is still present but nowhere near as frequently but that’s in keeping with a different overall vibe to this album than the debut. ‘All That You Fear Is Gone’ is more varied and arguably more mature with the quieter passages demonstrating a different facet of what is unquestionably a highly talented team of musicians.

On ‘All That You Fear Is Gone’ nothing is apparently off limits and nothing is seemingly beyond the ability of the quintet. Wakeman’s keys are both subtle and at the forefront, challenging the listener with a myriad of different sounds and textures as the mood takes him. Pomeroy refuses to allow his bass to shrink into the background offering clever and often melodic flourishes whenever possible. Rinaldi’s guitar-playing is multi-faceted, equally comfortable in heavier or quieter climes and new drummer Rich Brook is certainly no slouch, delivering interesting beats and clever fills throughout. That just leaves Damian Wilson who is responsible for the vocals and the lyrical concept.

HEADSPACE_2016

Lyrically, there is a link between this and the last album. Whereas ‘I Am Anonymous’ focussed upon an individual attempting to fit in with the group, ‘All that You Fear Is Gone’ turns this concept on its head and instead looks at the way in which the group tries, often ineffectually, to control the individual. And here, the ‘group’ includes any number of organisations, governments or religions right through to smaller groups within the family or friends dynamic.

As you’d expect, the lyrics that form this concept are delivered with a great deal of skill, care and natural ability. Damian Wilson has one of the most instantly recognisable and emotive voices within the progressive music world and once again, his vocals stand out. Indeed, this shift in musical output plays into Wilson’s hands somewhat, affording him the space and freedom to deliver a compelling, honest and passionate performance from beginning to end.

The opening one-two of ‘Road To Supremacy’ and ‘Your Life Will Change’ sets the album off in really positive fashion. The former has a sense of urgency and drama that fools you in to thinking that it is heavier than it actually is. It is immediately melodious with Wilson’s voice booming over a really cool dampened guitar lick. When it explodes into life, the heavy riffs present themselves but their life within the track is actually quite truncated. ‘Your Life Will Change’ on the other hand wastes no time in getting going as a powerful riff duels with a piano melody to nice effect. The guitars are more prominent within this song but even so, there are plenty of quieter, more delicate and beautiful passages to be heard. It all comes together to create a real high point on the album.

‘Kill You With Kindness’ kicks off with a great stop-start stomping riff that again duets with the piano but by the halfway mark the heavier façade is forgotten with acoustic guitars, swathes of keyboards and subtle, engaging melodies taking centre stage. The epic ‘The Science Within Us’ is the longest composition on the record and is truly ‘progressive’ in its 13-minute construction. It is a wonderfully intelligent piece of music that’s as quirky as it is memorable, challenging the listener with a huge number of different ideas all the while managing to sound cohesive and homogenous. If the immense and intricate song-writing skill of Headspace was ever in need of being underlined, this is the track to do it.

Later in the album, things take a further quieter and contemplative turn. And whilst I initially questioned the prudence of such a run of more subtle and introspective songs, I now embrace them and find myself gravitating to them ever more frequently. ‘The Day You Return’ has the slight feel of a Katatonia track thanks to some of the synth effects and the quiet brooding intensity that eventually blossoms into a really uplifting and positive crescendo with a surprising amount of bite. The title track features some utterly exquisite classical guitar playing and, if I am to stick my neck out a little, some of Wilson’s best vocals ever. ‘Borders And Days’ is equally as beautiful if you give it the time and attention that it deserves. The acoustic guitars and keys together create a simple and effective soundscape that’s only enhanced by some expressive bass work and more melodious vocals from Wilson.

The album then closes with ‘Secular Souls’ which begins in dark, disturbing and slightly uncomfortable fashion. It ups the intensity nicely however and ends this sophomore album in a suitably and satisfactorily epic manner.

After a very rocky start, I have finally and fully fallen under the spell of ‘All That You Fear Is Gone’. It isn’t a part two of ‘I Am Anonymous’ and for that reason some will go away disappointed. I was nearly one of those people. However, if you’re willing to persevere and listen to ‘All That You Fear Is Gone’ on its own considerable merits and accept that it has an identity all of its own, the chances are that you too will end up loving it and will willingly take it to your heart.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.0

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

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

Essential Metal Releases Still To Come in 2015 – Part 2

Welcome to Part 2 of my series of posts taking a look at some of my most anticipated album releases that are scheduled or rumoured to see the light of day before 2015 is over. Already a strong year, it seems incomprehensible that there are just so many great albums still to come.

If you missed Part 1, you can access it here:
Essential Metal Releases Still To Come in 2015 – Part 1

Amorphis – Under The Red Cloud

amorphis coverFor many years, Amorphis have held a special place in my heart. Since the release of ‘Tuonela’, I have followed the Finn’s career very closely enjoying the vast majority of their output very much. Blending traditional Finnish folk themes and melodies into a heavy metal framework is what Amorphis are all about. The result is music that’s catchy, memorable and surprisingly extreme at times. A great combination.

Maschine – TBC

According to their social media output, it would appear that Maschine, the young prog rock/metal band that impressed the hell out of me with their debut album, ‘Rubidium’, are in the advanced stages of writing their sophomore release. Again, no release date has been set as far as I can tell, but a late 2015 appearance is probably a pretty decent bet.

Dimmu Borgir – TBC

As early as March 2015, photos emerged on social media of pre-production of new material from Norwegian extreme symphonic black metallers Dimmu Borgir. I adore this band; their blend of black metal with pompous, bombastic symphonic atmosphere is a real winner for me and although I still hail ‘Enthrone, Darkness, Triumphant’ from 1997 as their finest hour, I’ve enjoyed just about everything they’ve ever done. No release date yet, but here’s hoping for a 2015 release.

Headspace – TBC

As far back as August 2014, Headspace were telling the world that they were nearly at the mixing stage for their sophomore album. However, since then, things have gone worryingly quiet. Are the band still together, are they ever going to release the eagerly anticipated follow-up to the sensational ‘I Am Anonymous’? I’m still hoping for a 2015 release from the prog rock/metal supergroup and will keep hoping right up until December 31st.

Subsignal – The Beacons Of Somewhere, Sometime

subsignal coverThe band that rose from the ashes of Sieges Even, Subsignal, are scheduled to release the enigmatically-titled ‘The Beacons Of Somewhere, Sometime’, on 30th October 2015. As the snippet below tantalisingly suggests, Expect expertly crafted, highly memorable and powerful melodic rock/metal with a nice splash of prog. This is one of the big excitements for me this year.

Myrath – TBC

It has taken me a long time to fully appreciate Myrath. However, the epiphany came with their latest release entitled ‘Tales Of The Sands’. The Tunisian band, who prove that not all is doom and gloom in the north African country right now, really impressed me with their clever blend of progressive metal, strong melodies and traditional African instrumentation. I am genuinely excited about their new album – you should be too.

Vanden Plas – TBC

The ever-more theatrical and colourful Vanden Plas are mooted to be releasing the second album of their ‘Chronicles Of The Immortals’ double-header later this year, just a year or so after the release of the amazing ‘Netherworld’. Progressive metal rarely sounds this rich, bombastic and flamboyant. However, Vanden Plas know exactly what they are doing and I fully expect this to be one of the melodic progressive metal albums of the year.

Textures – TBC

Dutch metallers Textures are important to me as they were the first real djent/tech metal band to make a positive impact upon me. Most recent album ‘Dualism’ was the catalyst for this enthusiasm thanks to some very technical, complex extremity that they mixed with breathtaking melody, seemingly with consummate ease. That album remains as the genre benchmark to these ears and as such, I’m highly anticipating a follow-up to further cement my love for this band, although it’s touch and go whether it will come in 2015 as recording remains on-going as I type.

Fear Factory – Genexus

fear factory coverAnother slight cheat this one because again, I’ve heard the album already and submitted a review elsewhere. However, without saying too much, it’s fair to say that Fear Factory, the self-styled cyber-metal maestros have created a strong album, once again exploring the topics of man vs machine, that will bring a smile to many faces. It will no doubt also prove beyond doubt that the band have still very much got what it takes to compete at the highest level.

Queensryche – TBC

I don’t think I’m the only one to have cringed at the debacle that began to surround and envelope one of the best and well-loved progressive metal bands over the past few years. That’s finally the end of the legend, I thought. Wrong. The band ditched vocalist Geoff Tate and enlisted Todd LaTorre. They released the self-titled comeback album in 2013 and the signs were very positive. Lets hope 2015 sees another leap in the right direction…

Caligula’s Horse – TBC

Another long shot but fresh from signing to one of my personal favourite record labels, Inside Out, it makes sense to think that one of Australia’s finest properly progressive metal bands might drop new material later this year. Content online from the band suggests that new material is being/has been written, so it’s possible.

Pagan’s Mind – TBC

I’m not entirely convinced that we’ll get a new album in 2015 given the band are working on a live DVD called ‘Full Circle’. However, new material was being composed by the Norwegian melodic progressive metal band as far back as March, so who knows? Stranger things have happened that’s for sure and, given that a previous album of theirs received a full 10/10 from yours truly, I know that they can deliver the goods. So I’m keeping my fingers crossed.

My Dying Bride – Feel The Misery

MDB coverIs there a better doom metal band? Others will argue that there are bigger or better names within the genre but, for me, My Dying Bride are the true masters of melancholy and despair. Few bands are able to marry the kinds of crushing riffs and solemn atmosphere that they create, with heartbreakingly fragile melodies. And yet My Dying Bride manage it with seeming ease. I’ve so far heard snippets of the new album out in mid-September, so I can’t wait to hear more.

Most Anticipated Album Releases of 2015

Welcome to 2015! Or, to be more exact, welcome to week three of 2015, as I’m a little behind the times at the moment. Nevertheless, it is still early enough in the year to take a look at the coming twelve months to identify those releases that we’re most excited about. As is always the case with the Blog Of Much Metal, my focus is on those bands that might not be in the mainstream eye or, if they are, those bands that are particularly special to me.
 
As such, in this post, you’ll hear no further mention of the likes of Metallica, Iron Maiden or those of a like size, popularity-wise. These albums will be written about ad nauseum elsewhere and I’m happier to leave it that way. Of course I hope that Metallica will release something equally as good as ‘Ride The Lightning’ or that Iron Maiden will produce a record to rival ‘Seventh Son of A Seventh Son’. And only time will tell where they are concerned.
 
With that in mind, here’s my initial list of those bands whose new albums I’m immensely excited or intrigued about, along with a sample track from their respective back catalogues to give you a better idea if you’re new to them:
 
Subsignal
 
The band that rose from the ashes of Sieges Even and the subject of a whole ‘Unknown and Underrated’ post a year or so ago, Subsignal are scheduled to release the enigmatically-titled ‘The Beacons Of Somewhere, Sometime’, probably around September 2015. Expect expertly crafted, highly memorable and powerful melodic rock/metal with a nice splash of prog. This is one of the big excitements for me this year.


 
Paradise Lost
 
A firm favourite with yours truly, the UK’s Paradise Lost have released a good few albums that I deem as classics. The last outing, ‘Tragic Idol’ was, in particular, rather special and with news from the band that the new album, ‘The Plague Within’ has a death metal edge to it, I’m even more excited to hear the latest chapter in this impressively gloomy band’s career.


 
Leprous
 
Norway’s Leprous have been getting better with every album, culminating in the highly impressive ‘Coal’ which charted in my 2013 ‘Album Of The Year’ series. Their brand of avant-garde progressive metal is executed with amazing dexterity, youthful exuberance and with a songwriting nous that far exceeds their still tender years. It’s no surprise that these guys act as Ihsahn’s backing band, such is their abundant talent. This threatens to be a genuine progressive metal highlight for 2015.

Headspace

‘I Am Anonymous’ is one of the best debuts I’ve heard for a long time and remains a firm favourite to this very day, deserving of a place in my end of year best for 2012. Boasting the vocal talents of Damian Wilson and backed up by a group of seriously talented musicians, Headspace offer epic prog metal that blends technicality with extremely memorable song writing. Album number two should be a belter.
 

Vanden Plas
 
Germany’s Vanden Plas released ‘Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld’ just last year. At the time it was mooted to be the first of a two-part concept piece and rumours are rife that part 2 will see the light of day during 2015. Inspired more and more by the theatre and creating rock-based musicals, this album will go some to beat the rich and flamboyant ‘Netherworld’, an album that charted in my 2014 ‘Album of the Year’ series. However, I suspect that Vanden Plas will be well up for the challenge.


 
Myrath
 
It has taken me a long time to fully appreciate Myrath. However, the epiphany came with their latest release entitled ‘Tales Of The Sands’. The Tunisian band really impressed me with their clever blend of progressive metal, strong melodies and traditional African instrumentation. I have really high hopes for the upcoming release and am awaiting further news on its progress eagerly.


 
Enslaved
 
There are no two ways about it, Enslaved are a special band. Beginning life as a more traditional black metal band, the Norwegians have morphed gently over the years into a much more intriguing prospect. Still extreme in many senses of the world, this is then tempered by a more progressive edge, encompassing elements of post rock, ambient and avant-garde into the process. Every new album is an event and I expect this new album to be no different whatsoever.

Riverside
 
After a great debut, I had begun to lose interest in Polish progressive rock band Riverside as their output failed to excite me in the same way. That was until they released the superb ‘Shrine of New Generation Slaves’, one of my favourite albums of 2013. Their modus operandi is to beguile the listener with sophisticated and atmospheric progressive rock that, when done to the full extent of their powers will enthral and delight in equal measure.


 
Textures
 
Dutch metallers Textures hold a special place in my heart as being the first real djent/tech metal band to make a positive impact upon me. Most recent album ‘Dualism’ sparked my enthusiasm  massively thanks to some very technical, complex extremity that they mixed with breathtaking melody, seemingly with consummate ease. That album remains as the genre benchmark to these ears and as such, I’m highly anticipating a follow-up to further cement my love for this band.


 
Nightwish
 
Since the departure of Tarja Turunen, I have to say that Nightwish have been a big disappointment for me, both vocally and in terms of the song writing. Their last outing took many plaudits but failed to grab my interest and I was ready to relegate the band from being a blind purchase artist. Whilst I will remain cautious, my interest has once again piqued now that they boast the enormous vocal talents of Floor Jansen. I have a feeling that this next release could be rather special; I certainly hope so.


 
Cradle Of Filth
 
I will readily admit to the fact that Cradle Of Filth are special to me, not just because they’re from Suffolk but because they were one of the first extreme metal bands to find a place in my heart. Without them, I’d probably not have discovered half of my collection. And, whilst recent albums have been a little sub-par to these ears, rumours abound that maybe, just maybe, the new album has a few more links with their masterpiece, ‘Dusk…And Her Embrace’. I don’t want a clone album but if the rumours are true, I cannot wait!


 
Dark Tranquillity
 
Of all of the ‘Gothenburg’ bands, Dark Tranquillity are probably my absolute favourite. Unlike many of their compatriots and competitors, every album with very few exceptions has been a positive experience where their love of the music and their hunger and desire has shone though. It seems almost impossible for Dark Tranquillity to release a substandard album and on that basis,  I see no reason as to why a new record shouldn’t be a contender for the best melodeath album of 2015.

Heavy Metal is not just shouty music

I have just about had enough of people indiscriminately pre-judging and discarding heavy metal as ‘shouty’ or ‘just noise’. I admit that some of it is exactly both of these things and I love it. I mean, you’d have to be a brave person to argue that the noise subgenre is not noise. And you’d also be brave to claim that much of the black and death metal subgenres do not feature harsh, often indecipherable lyrics. But there is beauty and sophistication in both if you listen hard enough.

But to arbitrarily dismiss it all in this manner is just wrong. And I’m fed up with people’s uneducated prejudices. This may seem a bit harsh, vitriolic in fact. But when those that spout these opinions often do so without even having heard a note, I’d say that this was definitely an uneducated opinion.

Therefore, for those of you who are guilty of such comment, I am putting together a couple of blogs. One will look at the subtle beauty within some extreme metal. This post however, will focus on those vocalists that are most definitely not shouty.

Frankly, if this is your view of heavy metal, prepare to be proved wrong. Very wrong.

Here goes, with a whistle-stop selection of some of the very best male vocalists that heavy metal has to offer:

Tom Englund – Evergrey

Tom & I at Bang Your Head Festival 2007
Tom & I at Bang Your Head Festival 2007

Tom Englund possesses one of the best voices I have ever heard, let alone for a metal band. His delivery is unique and unmistakeable. It is powerful and raw when it needs to be, but it can also floor you with its sincerity, to the point where you believe every word and you feel every emotional note. The mark of a true great is when he improves everything with which he is involved – this is certainly true of Tom Englund.

Jonas Renkse – Katatonia

Jonas (right) and I, 2013
Jonas (right) and I, 2013

Katatonia’s Jonas Renkse began his music career as a drummer and it was with a certain amount of reluctance that he stepped up to the Mic. Thank the gods he did because the guy has become a world class vocalist. Completely original, fragile and vulnerable but with a caustic edge when required, it is the unmistakeable melodic nuances and phrasings which make his delivery so special and so ‘one-of-a-kind’.

Tommy Karevik – Seventh Wonder/Kamelot

Tommy second from the right), Seventh Wonder & I, Progpower Europe 2011
Tommy second from the right), Seventh Wonder & I, Progpower Europe 2011

Another singer who has everything, Tommy Karevik makes his performances for Kamelot and Seventh Wonder seem so effortless. Possessing the full range, Karevik is able to belt it out with power or switch to a more introspective, delicate delivery in a heartbeat. Some might suggest that he has a pop-like delivery and to some extent, that’s true because Tommy can turn even the most technical of prog metal into a memorable anthem with ease.

Silvio Massaro – Vanishing Point

I've not met Silvio yet, damnit!
I’ve not met Silvio yet, damnit!

I just love the tone to this guy’s voice. It is so rich, so warm and so powerful. When you have music behind you which is fast-paced and melodic, you need the right front-man. In Silvio Massaro, Vanishing Point are truly blessed; he can do no wrong in my eyes and you can hear the passion in every note.

Warrell Dane – Nevermore/Sanctuary

Warrel (right), Jeff Loomis and I, Bloodstock Open Air Festival 2007
Warrel (right), Jeff Loomis and I, Bloodstock Open Air Festival 2007

It’s not often you can include a thrash metal vocalist in a list like this. However, Warrell Dane simply cannot be ignored. Another of those unique talents, Dane’s vocal approach is unlike anyone else, going to places others fear to tread. He can snarl with the best of them but his choice of lead melodies, coupled with an ability to execute some genuine vocal gymnastics means that his performances are never dull and ever-engaging.

Russell Allen – Symphony X

Russell & I enjoying a candlelit chat for two, 2011
Russell & I enjoying a candlelit chat for two, 2011

The word I think of when I hear Russell Allen sing is, ‘monsterous’. Huge lungs and an impressive range means that Allen can do no wrong, be it snarling with rage and conviction alongside his Symphony X colleagues, or soaring effortlessly over catchy and melodic hard rock numbers in the Allen & Lande project.

Damian Wilson – Threshold

Damian & I, Fused Festival 2011
Damian & I, Fused Festival 2011

Wilson is one of those singers who gets better with age. I don’t mean that with disrespect, it is just that until a couple of years ago, I wouldn’t perhaps have considered him in this list. But based on the last two Threshold discs and the debut from Headspace, there is no doubt in my mind. Damian is note-perfect and manages to blend power with precision and then add in lashings of emotion when required. One of the most versatile singers in the business.

Atle Pettersen – Above Symmetry

Neither have I met Atle!
Neither have I met Atle!

Little has been heard of from the Above symmetry camp in recent years and one hopes that they were not a one hit wonder, although I fear the band has now disbanded. Regardless, anyone who can finish runner-up on the Norwegian X-Factor having auditioned with his own band’s prog metal material, cannot be bad. It’s the genuine gravel in his voice that I like about Pettersen, who’s also not afraid to hit the high notes whenever the mood takes him.

My Top 20 of 2012 – Number 3

My Top 20 rock/metal albums of 2012 countdown moves into the top 3 today. As always, if you’re new to this blog or have simply missed any of my previous posts in this countdown, a full set of links can be found at the bottom of this post.

But, on to business and that all-important top 3…

Headspace1Headspace
‘I Am Anonymous’
InsideOut Records

At number 3 is a band that seemingly came out of nowhere and have produced a cracking debut album. I actually feel rather ashamed with myself that this band managed to blindside me because, with the clientele involved, this should have been slap bang in the middle of my radar. Featuring Adam Wakeman (son of Rick) on keyboards, prog music’s go-to bassist Lee Pomeroy and vocalist Damian Wilson, Headspace could be described as a ‘supergroup’. I’m not a fan of that term however, and so I’ll just say that the line-up contains some really impressive talent.

Given the personnel, I am delighted to say that the music on this debut album is not a let-down. In fact, so good is the material that I have rated this album as the very best progressive album of 2012.

It took a bit of time and patience, but that effort was well worth it. The album clocks in at around 73 minutes and is comprised of eight tracks, with all but one coming in at over eight minutes in length. Initially, this can be a daunting prospect but once you get immersed in the music, I guarantee that the time will fly by.

Each track offers an abundance of interesting ideas; odd time signatures, intricate drum and bass work, complex riffs and enough melody to keep things accessible and memorable enough to invite repeated listening. What I like about the melodies however, is that they are never overworked and are subtle enough to just bury themselves into your psyche without you often realising it. And, thanks to the genuinely heavy and crunchy overall sound, particularly where Pete Rinaldi’s guitars are concerned, this disc is worthy of being referred to as ‘prog metal’.

Headspace2

The number 5 slot was given to Threshold’s ‘March of Progress’. One of the big strengths of that album was in the vocal department, thanks to a great performance from Damian Wilson. On ‘I Am Anonymous’ however, his performance is not great. It is sensational. I have never heard Wilson sound as good as he does on this record. It helps that his lyrics are deeply emotional and full of passion but to be honest, on this form, he could be singing about the inner workings of a washing machine and I’d still listen, enraptured.

Put simply, if you are looking for an entertaining, gratifying and challenging listen, ‘I Am Anonymous’ is it. In my opinion, the progressive metal genre has produced nothing better in 2012.

If you’ve missed any of my previous posts, they can be found here:

Day 17 (melodic doom metal)
Day 16 (progressive metal)
Day 15 (prog rock)
Day 14 (post black metal)
Day 13 (prog rock)
Day 12 (power metal)
Day 11 (progressive metal)
Day 10 (progressive rock)
Day 9 (modern extreme metal)
Day 8 (UK thrash metal/NWOBHM)
Day 7 (Norwegian progressive black metal)
Day 6 (Prog Rock/Metal)
Day 5 (Melodic Hard Rock)
Day 4 (Symphonic Folk black metal)
Day 3 (Modern Death/Thrash Metal)
Day 2 (Melodic Prog Metal)
Day 1 (Dark/Doom Metal)

My Top 20 of 2012 – Number 5

Now it gets serious, as we’re into the final five albums of my Top 20 rock/metal albums of 2012 countdown. Links to my picks from 20 down to 6 can be found at the very bottom of this post.

So, who is at number 5?….

threshold1Threshold
‘March Of Progress’
Nuclear Blast Records

I have been a fan of Threshold for a number of years and, like many, I awaited this release eagerly. However, I also awaited it with a certain amount of nervousness. The reason for this was due, in large part, to the departure (and subsequent tragic passing) of vocalist Andrew ‘Mac’ McDermott. Almost without warning soon after the release of ‘Dead Reckoning’, arguably their most strongest release, Mac left Threshold. It left the band in a state of shock. They turned to their previous vocalist Damian Wilson, to help them out with some live commitments and then took a break from writing.

Nevertheless, after a five-year hiaus, Threshold returned in 2012 with ‘March Of Progress’. As a fan who discovered Threshold with Mac at the helm, I was concerned as to whether this new album could live up to the last few that I had loved and taken to my heart. After a few spins, I realised I needn’t have worried.

threshold2

First of all, Damian Wilson has put in one hell of a performance behind the mic. He sounds passionate and employs his impressive range wonderfully, thereby fitting seemlessly back into the band. But aside from the vocals, ‘March Of Progress’ is simply a fantastically well-written progressive metal record full of all those ingredients that you have come to expect from this remarkable UK progressive metal band.

Each song is an anthem in its own right featuring big hooks and melodies as well as memorable choruses. That said, this is arguably the most progressive that Threshold have sounded in the last few years. Therefore, as you’d expect from a prog band, these compositions also offer fantastic musicianship, technicality and sections that will challlenge listeners sufficiently to keep things fresh and interesting over repeated spins. As a result, it quickly became clear that there was no way that ‘March Of Progress’ was ever going to end up outside my end of year Top 5.

If you’ve missed any of my previous posts, they can be found here:

Day 15 (prog rock)
Day 14 (post black metal)
Day 13 (prog rock)
Day 12 (power metal)
Day 11 (progressive metal)
Day 10 (progressive rock)
Day 9 (modern extreme metal)
Day 8 (UK thrash metal/NWOBHM)
Day 7 (Norwegian progressive black metal)
Day 6 (Prog Rock/Metal)
Day 5 (Melodic Hard Rock)
Day 4 (Symphonic Folk black metal)
Day 3 (Modern Death/Thrash Metal)
Day 2 (Melodic Prog Metal)
Day 1 (Dark/Doom Metal)

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