Deathwhite – Grey Everlasting – Album Review

Artist: Deathwhite

Album Title: Grey Everlasting

Label: Season Of Mist

Date of Release: 10 June 2022

Released nearly two weeks ago, I am really tardy with this review, and for that I apologise to all those who are bitterly disappointed by my ineptitude. The thing is, I just missed it. And were it not for a nudge from outside sources, this album might have escaped me altogether. And, as it turns out, that would have been a real shame. ‘Grey Everlasting’ is the third full-length release from Deathwhite, a band that steadfastly refuses to uncover their identity, preferring to let the music do the talking. For a decade this has been the case and once again, their music has seen another shift as the enigmatic band continue their anonymous evolution towards whatever vision they have.

Written a couple of years ago at the very beginning of the global pandemic, when the world’s inhabitants locked themselves away in an effort to stay alive and protect loved ones, it will come as no surprise to learn that ‘Grey Everlasting’ is a bleak and maudlin affair. Never ones to jump for joy and express their exuberance via the medium of song, it is nevertheless immediately noticeable that the tone and feeling of Deathwhite’s latest creation is different. This may not be a bad thing though, because although I found much to like about their sophomore release, 2020’s ‘Grave Image’, I was far less a fan of their debut of 2018 entitled ‘For A Black Tomorrow’.

That said, I am firmly of the opinion that the band have never reached their full potential. Even within the debut, there were flashes of brilliance, albeit cloaked too heavily by material I referred to as ‘average’. The balance was better struck within ‘Grave Image’, but still, it wasn’t the home run that it might have been. But does the trend continue here with ‘Grey Everlasting’?

I started writing this review on the summer solstice, the longest day of the year. It has been a gloriously warm and sunny couple of days outside, so it feels utterly incongruous to the mood captured within ‘Grey Everlasting’. In trying to describe the music on this record, words such as ‘brooding’, ‘slow burn’, and ‘stark’ all come easily to mind, as the output here is carved more from the environs of dark metal than anything else.

The opening instrumental, ‘Nihil’ is a rich and powerful orchestrated piece that communicates a sense of the forlorn feelings and darkness that permeate this album. It is imbued with strong melodic traits and it has a sense of the cinematic, of a dystopian epic. But from there, ‘Earthtomb’ throws a curveball straight away thanks to a frenetic black metal assault, all cold and fast riffing alongside frenetic drumming. It doesn’t last long though, and whilst this element makes a return at points later in the song, the vast majority of the track inhabits a mid-to-slow-pace, where the rich Gothic tinged vocals duel with more orchestration, acoustic strumming, and heavier, churning riffs. Names like Swallow The Sun, Sentenced, Soen, My Dying Bride, and Katatonia are all relevant, despite none of them quite hitting the mark alone. It has taken several careful spins to get to this point but I’m entranced by the clever, subtle melodies that worm their way in to your brain cleverly and surreptitiously.

Frustratingly however, the album doesn’t always hit as hard as this opening duo do, with a few of the songs veering close to that ‘average’ description. For all of the chunky riffing, powerful atmospheres, and precise delivery, songs like ‘No Thought Or Memory’ don’t create the same impact for me. It is hard to explain, but the melodies feel a little underwhelming and one-dimensional.

As a result, ‘Grey Everlasting’ is not the killer third record that I was hoping for, but when they get it right, I do find myself wavering slightly. ‘Quietly, Suddenly’ is a beast that contains such emotion it’s impossible to ignore. Even the solo that emerges after the halfway point is laced with misery and torment. But it’s also the pronounced light and shade that stands it above other songs on this record, flitting from muscular to brittle in a heartbeat. Then there’s the beautiful title track itself which dials down the heaviness in favour of hushed vocals, quiet instrumentation, and a genuinely organic feel, particularly with the drums. It also demonstrates just how good the production is too, but with Shane Mayer (Cerebral Audio Productions) involved alongside Dan Swanö who mastered the album, and with vocals tracked at Mana Recording (Erik Rutan), it’s not surprising that ‘Grey Everlasting’ sounds so good.

The bass at the outset of ‘Immemorial’ is brilliant, as are the ensuing guitar notes that resonate and then disappear to be replaced by orchestration. The lead guitar melodies that bring ‘Formless’ to life, meanwhile, are stunning; they add a certain catchiness to the song overall, a description I wasn’t thinking of using in this review I must admit. But catchy and moving they are, inevitably leading to the conclusion that this is one of my favourite cuts on ‘Grey Everlasting’. And finally, a word for ‘Blood And Ruin’ which deals us a heavy, epic-sounding blow after a quiet and tentative opening.

It isn’t a particularly long album at 47 minutes, but the style of the music and the constant maudlin atmosphere makes it feel longer than it is. It does seem to drag a little towards the end, so perhaps a song or two of the eleven could have been cut entirely, but that’s me just thinking out loud. All-in-all, I have to admit that ‘Grey Everlasting’ is probably my favourite from Deathwhite so far, meaning that they continue their slow ascent in my estimations. I like this chosen path, and it really does tell us that the musicians involved here are highly accomplished. I just wanted a little more overall, be it more potent melodies, or a little greater variation. As always though, I will enjoy chunks of what I’ve been served here and wait patiently to see if I can be blown away by their next effort.

The Score of Much Metal: 84%

Check out my other 2022 reviews here:

Charlie Griffiths – Tiktaalika

Seven Kingdoms – Zenith

Brutta – Brutta

White Ward – False Light

Winds Of Tragedy – As Time Drifts Away

Tim Bowness – Butterfly Mind

Denouncement Pyre – Forever Burning

Truent – Through The Vale Of Earthly Torment

Wind Rose – Warfront

Kardashev – Liminal Rite

Artificial Brain -Artificial Brain

Seventh Wonder – The Testament

All Things Fallen – Shadow Way

Def Leppard – Diamond Star Halos

Lord Belial – Rapture

Buried Realm – Buried Realm

Stiriah – …Of Light

Remains Of Destruction – New Dawn

Crematory – Inglorious Darkness

IATT – Magnum Opus

Iris Divine – Mercurial

Decapitated – Cancer Culture

Bekmørk – The Path Nocturnal

Septic Flesh – Modern Primitive

Blut Aus Nord – Disharmonium – Undreamable Abysses

Drift Into Black – Earthtorn

Spheric Universe Experience – Back Home

Outshine – The Awakening

Cosmic Putrefaction – Crepuscular Dirge For The Blessed Ones

Zero Hour – Agenda 21

Scitalis – Doomed Before Time

Morgue Supplier – Inevitability

Visions Of Atlantis – Pirates

Evergrey – A Heartless Portrait (The Orphean Testament)

OU – One

Haunter – Discarnate Ails

Aara – Triade II: Hemera

Pure Reason Revolution – Above Cirrus

Demonical – Mass Destroyer

I Am The Night – While The Gods Are Sleeping

Haunted By Silhouettes – No Man Isle

Delvoid – Swarmlife

LionSoul – A Pledge To Darkness

Watain – The Agony And Ecstasy Of Watain

Dischordia – Triptych

Dragonbreed – Necrohedron

Audrey Horne – Devil’s Bell

Vanum – Legend

Stone Broken – Revelation

Radiant – Written By Life

Skull Fist – Paid In Full

Hurakan – Via Aeturna

Incandescence – Le Coeur De L’Homme

Imminent Sonic Destruction – The Sun Will Always Set

Monuments – In Stasis

Soledad – XIII

Viande – L’abime dévore les âmes

Credic – Vermillion Oceans

Postcards From New Zealand – Burn, Witch, Burn

Darkher – The Buried Storm

Treat – The Endgame

Bjørn Riis – Everything To Everyone

Destruction – Diabolical

Et Moriemur – Tamashii No Yama

Angel Nation – Antares

Wolf – Shadowland

Denali – Denali EP

Centinex – The Pestilence EP

Meshuggah – Immutable

Chapter Of Hate – Bloodsoaked Decadence EP

Ancient Settlers – Our Last Eclipse

Tranzat – Ouh La La

Playgrounded – The Death Of Death

Father Befouled – Crowned In Veneficum

Abbath – Dread Reaver

PreHistoric Animals – The Magical Mystery Machine (Chapter 2)

Kvaen – The Great Below

Michael Romeo – War Of The Worlds, Part 2

Dark Funeral – We Are The Apocalypse

Carmeria – Advenae

Agathodaimon – The Seven

Moonlight Haze – Animus

Hellbore – Panopticon

Konvent – Call Down The Sun

Idol Of Fear – Trespasser

The Midgard Project – The Great Divide

Threads Of Fate – The Cold Embrace Of The Light

Arkaik – Labyrinth Of Hungry Ghosts

New Horizon – Gate Of The Gods

Cailleach Calling – Dreams Of Fragmentation

Tundra – A Darkening Sky

Sylvaine – Nova

Hath – All That Was Promised

Sabaton – The War To End All Wars

Kuolemanlaakso – Kuusumu

Oh Hiroshima – Myriad

Godless Truth – Godless Truth

Shape Of Despair – Return To The Void

Eight Bells – Legacy Of Ruin

Embryonic Devourment – Heresy Of The Highest Order

Serious Black – Vengeance Is Mine

Allegaeon – Damnum

HammerFall – Hammer Of Dawn

Immolation – Acts Of God

Veonity – Elements Of Power

Nightrage – Abyss Rising

Arjen Anthony Lucassen’s Star One – Revel In Time

Pure Wrath – Hymn To The Woeful Hearts

Dagoba – By Night

The Last Of Lucy – Moksha

Arð – Take Up My Bones

Embryonic Autopsy – Prophecies Of The Conjoined

The Devils Of Loudun – Escaping Eternity

Cult Of Luna – The Long Road North

WAIT – The End Of Noise

Abysmal Dawn – Nightmare Frontier

Amorphis – Halo

Nordic Giants – Sybiosis

Persefone – Metanoia

Vorga – Striving Toward Oblivion

Mystic Circle – Mystic Circle

Nasson – Scars

Burned In Effigy – Rex Mortem

Silent Skies – Nectar

Celeste – Assassine(s)

Abyssus – Death Revival

SOM – The Shape Of Everything

Ashes Of Ares – Emperors And Fools

Beriedir – AQVA

Lalu – Paint The Sky

Nocturna – Daughters Of The Night

Battle Beast – Circus Of Doom

Lee McKinney – In The Light Of Knowledge

Descent – Order Of Chaos

Aethereus – Leiden

Toundra – Hex

Ilium – Quantum Evolution Event EP

Power Paladin – With The Magic Of Windfyre Steel

Necrophagous – In Chaos Ascend

Infected Rain – Ecdysis

Wilderun – Epigone

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

2021 reviews

2020 reviews

2019 reviews
2018 reviews
2017 reviews
2016 reviews
2015 reviews

Evergrey – A Heartless Portrait (The Orphean Testament) – Album Review

Artist: Evergrey

Album Title: A Heartless Portrait (The Orphean Testament)

Label: Napalm Records

Date of Release: 20 May 2022

I have thought long and hard about how I should approach this review. I take pride in the fact that I give my reviews 100% honesty, and score albums accordingly. I would hope that everyone who reads my reviews will acknowledge this, because integrity is very important to me. Without integrity, we are nothing. Without honesty, we are nothing. And yet, my impartiality has been called into question when it comes to Evergrey. Most of it is lighthearted and tongue-in-cheek, but other readers have suggested that I am biased when it comes to my reviews for Evergrey, because I have given the band perfect 100% scores for their past few records. Well, you know what? Sod them. I rarely say things like this, but I feel that it is required on this occasion in order to get over to everyone the strength of my feeling on this matter.

Let me now explain in more measured terms why I feel so angry about these accusations. If you’ve read a number of my reviews at manofmuchmetal.com over the past few years, you’ll know that I have had a number of personal issues that have affected me. I’m no different to many of you reading this in that respect. I stress that I am clearly not the only person to suffer personal problems, and many of you will have suffered far worse. This is not a ‘woe is me’ moment; it is merely important context.

Since I started writing music reviews over 17 years ago, I have lost my younger brother, I have had to face not having my children with me in my home 100% of the time due to a relationship break-up. I have suffered further heartbreak since, by losing my ‘forever’ person, something that has pushed me very close to the edge. But I am still here. Why? Because I have wonderful family, and I have some good friends, even if I do my best to push them away all the time. And then, there’s music. Music provides me with strength, comfort, and company when I am alone. We all have our favourite bands, and mine is Evergrey.

The Swedish band have been an integral part of my life for over two decades, providing the soundtrack to accompany many of my best and worst moments in life. I owe this band a debt bigger than they’ll ever know, because I always turn to their music when I’m at my worst and need to be reminded of the beauty in life, and when I need to be reminded of the strength of the human spirit. Many of Evergrey’s songs touch on matters so close to my heart, and they explore these subjects in a way that no other band does. The power, the melodies, the darkness, the light, the honesty; they touch me like no other band does, allowing me to tap deep into my own feelings in a truly cathartic manner.

So, naturally, when I am presented with new material by this band, I listen. I listen carefully, closely, and with an open mind and heart. Over their career, I’ve not loved everything blindly. There are songs that I like better than others, and there are albums that I like better than others. That’s to be entirely expected. The problem for me though, as a reviewer, is that Evergrey have been on one of the longest purple patches ever. Every one of their albums since the release of ‘Hymns For The Broken’ in 2014 has brought with it, in my opinion, a touch of magic. I can honestly say that there is not one single song that they have recorded since the release of that album that I have disliked. Not one. And when the subject matter has spoken so eloquently to me throughout this period, and accompanied various significant highs and lows in my life, it makes the experience all the more powerful.

And that’s why I’m angry. Because Evergrey NEVER let me down and given the enjoyment, strength and sheer joy their music provides, how could I possibly give them a score of less than 100%? It’s not because I have blinkers on, it isn’t because of a misplaced loyalty. It is because, as far as my subjective opinion is concerned, their music deserves it. Simple. Of course, you may disagree, but hey, music is subjective, and we’re all allowed to have different opinions. But don’t you dare tell me that I’m being biased, because if they were to release another ‘Monday Morning Apocalypse’ or their own equivalent of ‘St. Anger’, I’d call them out. But they haven’t, and with ‘The Heartless Portrait (The Orphean Testament)’, the thirteenth full-length album of their career, they’ve done it again and released another masterpiece.

For once in my life, I’m not going to go into a blow-by-blow, song-by-song description of the album, because I want to focus on a handful of the songs in a little more detail. But suffice to say that from the opening moments of the call-to-arms, anthemic ‘Save Us’, complete with the inclusion of fans voices for extra gravitas, to the final gentle acoustic guitar and bass notes of ‘Wildfires’, there is not one single thing I would want to change on ‘A Heartless Portrait’; to me, it is another slice of dark, melodic, progressive metal perfection.

However, the only place to start for me, is the gargantuan ‘Ominous’, which sits at position number three on this album. It starts slowly, with muffled guitars getting louder in the mix, eventually joined by Tom Englund’s instantly recognisable voice. And if you thought the guy couldn’t get any better with his vocal delivery, just take a listen to the first minute or so of this monster. The emotion, the control, the purity, the resonance; it sends shivers down my spine every single time I hear it. As he rings out, in come the ubiquitous heavy guitar notes, made all the more muscular by Johan Neimann’s magnificent bass and some deft, masterful drumming from Jonas Ekdahl. You want epic wailing guitars? Well, you get them also in what is one of the most dramatic, and dark intros from Evergrey in a while. I have goosebumps on goosebumps as the guitars cry to the heavens.

As the song continues, in come some interesting and prominent synth tones from Rikard Zander that continue into the gargantuan, emotional, and scintillating chorus. What I also love about this song is the way that it feels more overtly progressive; I’m sure that the expert musicians in the room may say it’s deceptively straightforward, but to me, a layman, it shifts about so much both in terms of pace and intensity, that it just feels wonderfully progressive. Extended guitar solos, moments of quieter synth-led darkness, and yet more insanely evocative and poignant lyrical content and vocal delivery from Mr Englund – it all culminates in one of Evergrey’s greatest ever songs, rubbing shoulders easily with the likes of ‘Mark Of The Triangle’, ‘Recreation Day’, ‘King Of Errors’, and ‘All I Have’.

A delicate synth intro that has a children’s lullaby quality to it ushers in ‘Call Out The Dark’, another killer composition. The intro is obliterated by a huge explosion of sound, albeit continuing the melody brilliantly. The verse quietens things down well, with Niemann’s bass rumbling at its heart, but the intensity grows into a lively bridge, before the initial melody returns to sit at the heart of an utterly monstrous chorus. This is the kind of chorus that Evergrey can deliver, the sing-along anthem that would get an entire festival crowd joining in with full gusto. I love the way the second verse is heavier, with irresistible dampened chugging guitar notes, just to add to the strength of the song. As always, you can count on Tom Englund and his six-string partner-in-crime Henrik Danhage for some brilliant lead solos, something I’ll never tire of quite frankly. It might only last a little over four minutes, but in that time, it creates a massive impact.

‘The Great Unwashed’ is another of my absolute favourites on ‘A Heartless Portrait’, beginning with a fantastically dramatic descanting intro led by the lead guitars, but ably assisted by all corners of the band. From there, the verses are a gloriously chugging, mid-tempo affair that then segue into yes, you’ve guessed it, another scintillating, spine-tingling chorus full of hooks and strong melody. The second verse features some bold synths from Zander that carry with them a slight 70s vibe, but again, when the chorus invades for a second time, I am a gibbering mess; music that speaks so strongly to my soul can have that effect and here, it’s like Englund and Co. have looked into my soul and created a chorus that fits perfectly. At the midway point, we get a reprise of the intro, followed by a quiet, introspective section featuring just Englund’s vocals and Zander’s synths, before a soulful and gorgeous lead guitar solo enters to provide further spine tingles. They’re not done though, because as the intensity grows, via the introduction of Ekdahl’s drums, the solo gets faster, leading to a stunning crescendo, accented by the synths. The guitar solos continue for a while more before we’re back into the chorus and I’m transported to God knows where. But my feet are not on the ground anymore, and for a few brief moments, the guys help me to forget all of my worries and fears. I’m getting emotional just writing this, but then I have the song in the background as I type, so I’m flooded with intense emotions of the very best kind. This music is just pure entertainment, pure genius, pure magic.  

Even though I have focused on these songs, I’ll say again that there isn’t a weak track to be heard anywhere on ‘A Heartless Portrait’. You’ll no doubt have heard the bulldozing, muscular ‘Blindfolded’ by now, or the final advance single, ‘Midwinter Calls’ with its equally muscular riffs, choral vocals, great synth and vocal sections, and ridiculously catchy chorus. Naturally, I love both, but then you’d have to be dead not to. And I’m definitely not dead yet.

I also love the song ‘The Orphean Testament’. Beginning in classic ‘recent’ Evergrey style, it takes no prisoners, and Tom Englund sounds properly angry in the opening stages. The chorus is a brooding monster, with added synth embellishment, and within a couple of spins it’s lodged in there for keeps, with the vocal hooks hitting you when you least expect it. It’s another longer song, one of three that stretches over six minutes, meaning that Evergrey can take their time to explore avenues of their choosing. In this case, it is a cool synth solo from Rikard Zander, as well as slow, thunderous riffs that hit hard.

I really don’t know if I need to say any more at this point. ‘A Heartless Portrait (The Orphean Testament)’ is anything but Evergrey’s unlucky thirteenth record. Instead, it only helps to further underline their utter dominance and superiority in my mind, and hopefully in the minds of other fans too. A companion of mine for the last few months, the music on this album has given me strength, support, and the knowledge that I am not alone on this tumultuous journey called ‘life’. With Evergrey continually releasing music of this quality, not everything on Earth is bad, and the realisation that this is the case only further enhances my enjoyment of the album. For one final time, say what you want about the score I have given ‘A Heatless Portrait’, but say it in the knowledge that I simply don’t care, and I never will. Evergrey have delivered once again and delivered beyond my stratospheric expectations.

The Score of Much Metal: 100%

Check out my other 2022 reviews here:

OU – One

Haunter – Discarnate Ails

Aara – Triade II: Hemera

Pure Reason Revolution – Above Cirrus

Demonical – Mass Destroyer

I Am The Night – While The Gods Are Sleeping

Haunted By Silhouettes – No Man Isle

Delvoid – Swarmlife

LionSoul – A Pledge To Darkness

Watain – The Agony And Ecstasy Of Watain

Dischordia – Triptych

Dragonbreed – Necrohedron

Audrey Horne – Devil’s Bell

Vanum – Legend

Stone Broken – Revelation

Radiant – Written By Life

Skull Fist – Paid In Full

Hurakan – Via Aeturna

Incandescence – Le Coeur De L’Homme

Imminent Sonic Destruction – The Sun Will Always Set

Monuments – In Stasis

Soledad – XIII

Viande – L’abime dévore les âmes

Credic – Vermillion Oceans

Postcards From New Zealand – Burn, Witch, Burn

Darkher – The Buried Storm

Treat – The Endgame

Bjørn Riis – Everything To Everyone

Destruction – Diabolical

Et Moriemur – Tamashii No Yama

Angel Nation – Antares

Wolf – Shadowland

Denali – Denali EP

Centinex – The Pestilence EP

Meshuggah – Immutable

Chapter Of Hate – Bloodsoaked Decadence EP

Ancient Settlers – Our Last Eclipse

Tranzat – Ouh La La

Playgrounded – The Death Of Death

Father Befouled – Crowned In Veneficum

Abbath – Dread Reaver

PreHistoric Animals – The Magical Mystery Machine (Chapter 2)

Kvaen – The Great Below

Michael Romeo – War Of The Worlds, Part 2

Dark Funeral – We Are The Apocalypse

Carmeria – Advenae

Agathodaimon – The Seven

Moonlight Haze – Animus

Hellbore – Panopticon

Konvent – Call Down The Sun

Idol Of Fear – Trespasser

The Midgard Project – The Great Divide

Threads Of Fate – The Cold Embrace Of The Light

Arkaik – Labyrinth Of Hungry Ghosts

New Horizon – Gate Of The Gods

Cailleach Calling – Dreams Of Fragmentation

Tundra – A Darkening Sky

Sylvaine – Nova

Hath – All That Was Promised

Sabaton – The War To End All Wars

Kuolemanlaakso – Kuusumu

Oh Hiroshima – Myriad

Godless Truth – Godless Truth

Shape Of Despair – Return To The Void

Eight Bells – Legacy Of Ruin

Embryonic Devourment – Heresy Of The Highest Order

Serious Black – Vengeance Is Mine

Allegaeon – Damnum

HammerFall – Hammer Of Dawn

Immolation – Acts Of God

Veonity – Elements Of Power

Nightrage – Abyss Rising

Arjen Anthony Lucassen’s Star One – Revel In Time

Pure Wrath – Hymn To The Woeful Hearts

Dagoba – By Night

The Last Of Lucy – Moksha

Arð – Take Up My Bones

Embryonic Autopsy – Prophecies Of The Conjoined

The Devils Of Loudun – Escaping Eternity

Cult Of Luna – The Long Road North

WAIT – The End Of Noise

Abysmal Dawn – Nightmare Frontier

Amorphis – Halo

Nordic Giants – Sybiosis

Persefone – Metanoia

Vorga – Striving Toward Oblivion

Mystic Circle – Mystic Circle

Nasson – Scars

Burned In Effigy – Rex Mortem

Silent Skies – Nectar

Celeste – Assassine(s)

Abyssus – Death Revival

SOM – The Shape Of Everything

Ashes Of Ares – Emperors And Fools

Beriedir – AQVA

Lalu – Paint The Sky

Nocturna – Daughters Of The Night

Battle Beast – Circus Of Doom

Lee McKinney – In The Light Of Knowledge

Descent – Order Of Chaos

Aethereus – Leiden

Toundra – Hex

Ilium – Quantum Evolution Event EP

Power Paladin – With The Magic Of Windfyre Steel

Necrophagous – In Chaos Ascend

Infected Rain – Ecdysis

Wilderun – Epigone

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

2021 reviews

2020 reviews

2019 reviews
2018 reviews
2017 reviews
2016 reviews
2015 reviews

Live gig review – Ghosts Of Atlantis, Dispute, Existentialist – 8 January 2022, The John Peel Centre, Stowmarket, UK

Headliner: Ghost Of Atlantis

Support: Dispute, Existentialist

The John Peel Centre, Stowmarket, Suffolk, UK

8 January 2022

I hadn’t been to a gig since February 2020, when I was taken to Malmö to watch Evergrey in their home country. A lot has happened since then, both personally and in terms of the Covid 19 pandemic. It all meant that I had been forced to endure the longest live gig drought in my life since that fateful day that my best friend and I ventured to London as wide-eyed 16- year-olds to see Metallica at Earls Court on their ‘Load’ tour around the mid-90s.

When news reached me that Ghosts Of Atlantis were to play a venue literally ten minutes’ walk from my home in the sleepy Suffolk market town of Stowmarket, I felt a compulsion to go. I mean, how often does a metal gig take place so close to home for me, and with a stoking headliner to boot? Almost never. We’re talking ‘blue moon’ territory. And yet, in the weeks leading up to the date, I felt undecided. Should I go? What will it mean for my shielding family if I go? Will everyone in the venue be vaccinated? Do I feel comfortable being in a venue so close to other people again? Should I mask up all the while? A million and one questions swirled around my mind before I finally decided to take the plunge and buy a ticket, admittedly after chatting it through with the more vulnerable members of my family first. With their blessing, a ticket was purchased and before I knew it, I was walking down into the town centre to a venue I’d heard much about, but never been inside. The John Peel Centre.

As I walked to the gig, I felt tangible nerves in my stomach. Not only was I worried about the Covid aspect of the evening but, after nearly two years away from live music, my nerves were as much to do with social anxiety as anything else…it’s the great thing about having your own website, I can use it as a form of therapy and there’s no third-party editor to stop me, or water down my words. I also hope that by articulating these feelings, it might help others who are in a similar situation and don’t know what to do.

So, with social anxiety at it’s acutest, as well as the underlying pandemic concerns, I took a deep breath and entered, ensuring that my Bloodbath face mask was present and correct.

Ah, awful venue ink stamp, how I’ve missed thee…or not. After having the temporary tattoo applied, I walked into the main area to be met by around 30 or 40 other punters, mainly congregated around the bar area at the back. I can neither confirm nor deny that I may have imbibed in medicinal drink to calm the nerves before heading out, but it was straight to the bar for a pint for me regardless.

I have about a million band t-shirts already, but being at a gig, it’s the law, so a purchase was made, and I took position somewhere centrally within the 220-capacity hall to await the first band on tonight’s bill.

The wait wasn’t long before Existentialist took the stage. Describing themselves as a blackened deathcore band from Essex, I was interested to see what this quintet might bring to the bill. Unfortunately, the sound was muddier than a hike in North Wales in winter and for the majority of the set, I could hear very little other than an indecipherable cacophony. Lead guitars were non-existent in the mix, along with almost everything else, save the bass and some of the lower growls from the vocalist.

Existentialist

It was a shame because the band were clearly a tight-knit outfit and knew what they were doing, especially the drummer, who seemed to have some incredible skills. Despite the sound problems, I could discern that Existentialist were a well-honed outfit and full of energy and intent all round. The seriously intense vocalist jumped off the stage at points, joining in with a two-man mosh pit, to which I got way too close for comfort at times. After two or three tracks, the bassist then decided to sit down cross-legged at the edge of the stage and there he stayed until the end of the half-hour set. Despite a general allergy towards anything ‘core’, I’d like the opportunity to see Existentialist again in the live arena, as I’m sure they’d make a lot more sense with a better sound.

According to the venue’s website and the social media posts, I was not expecting to see a band called Dispute up next. I can only assume it was a last-minute change from the billed To The Nines, but Dispute it was who took the stage with their self-coined brand of ‘double hard bastard Core’.

Dispute

Not normally my ‘thing’ at all, I will concede that Dispute got me banging my head thanks to some solid groove within their material which was delivered with the benefit of a much-improved sound. It was a short but sweet set that lasted maybe twenty minutes at the most, much to the relief of Nick Frost look-alike vocalist, who was heard to utter “three more songs…it’ll feel like a fucking eternity!” whilst looking visibly hot, sweaty, and exhausted. I grinned, many laughed, and I found myself enjoying what this local band had to offer.

However, for all that, it was Ghosts Of Atlantis that I had come to see. Perhaps 70-100 strong, much of the crowd were clearly of the same opinion, as many visibly stepped forward as the quintet strode onto the stage. Bedecked all in black and with painted faces, it didn’t take long for two thoughts to enter my mind: firstly, here was a band with real presence and who presented a genuine step up in terms of quality on the night. Secondly, the sound was infinitely better; not perfect, but much improved on both support acts.

Opening with my personal favourite, ‘Curse Of Man’, the guys couldn’t have made a stronger start if they had tried. For me, it was the perfect beginning and immediately washed away any concerns I may have had about attending tonight’s show, especially when guitarist and man-mountain Colin Parks joined Phil Primmer at the microphone to deliver his distinctive clean vocals to stunning effect. The storming introductory track was swiftly followed by ‘The Third Pillar’, another fantastic song from the band’s debut album, ‘3.6.2.4’. By the time ‘False Prophet’ began, I was acutely aware of just how good this band really are, and why their debut album finished well within my top 10 records for 2021; put simply, it’s an album made up of banger after banger as tonight ably testified. And crucially, the band delivered the music with energy, enthusiasm, and professionalism, leading to a great performance overall.

The mix allowed all the musicians a chance to command the spotlight, but a special mention should go to drummer Rob Garner, who blew me away with his effortless performance. So tight and powerful, there’s just something about a great drummer in the live arena. Mind you, the self-proclaimed ‘angry Smurf’ Phil Primmer gave a great performance too, his growls and screams adding a layer of aggressive intensity to the material that I really enjoy, as well as a real presence.

All to soon, the forty-minute set was over and so was my first taste of live heavy metal in the better part of two years. However, it was a resounding success in my eyes. I missed my beautiful partner-in-crime who, having attended a few gigs with me, decided that I was no longer the person for her. I tried to forget this heartbreaking reality, though, and focus on the music. On that score, near full marks have to go to Ghosts Of Atlantis tonight, as they managed to bring me out of my shell and, during the anthemic ‘When Tridents Fail’, actually sing out loud and with passion, the strength of the music washing over me in glorious fashion. It was at this point that I truly realised just how much I had missed the cathartic and therapeutic effects of live music. And what’s more, I only had a ten-minute walk home to negotiate. That sure beats the hell out of a two or three-hour commute to and around London!

Ghosts Of Atlantis set-list: Curse Of Man, The Third Pillar, False Prophet, Poseidon’s Bow, When Tridents Fail, Gardens Of Athena, Halls Of Lemuria

The Best Songs of 2021

As in years before, I wanted to round off 2021 with a quick look at some of the best individual songs that I heard during 2021.

As with my recent Top 30 series, this is a list of my personal favourite songs. They might not be the most technical, clever, or complicated songs of the year, or they might be. But it doesn’t matter. These are the ten songs that I could happily listen to time and time again, and which stood out to me the most. It may be a beautiful melody, an irresistible groove, or something unique and compelling. Whatever it is, these tracks gave me goosebumps for all the right reasons.

If you have arrived at this post without reading my Album of the Year 2020 Top 30 Countdown, feel free to check it out right here.

But now, on with the main event. In no particular order whatsoever, here goes:

Omnium Gatherum

“Reckoning”

Whilst it’s true that there’s no order to these songs, I have to jump off the fence and declare that ‘Reckoning’ might just be THE song of 2021 for me. For so many personal reasons, and because I just love the blend of beautiful melodies with the spiky aggression…take a bow, Gentlemen, this is just wonderful.

What I wrote in my review:

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

–MoMM–

Ghosts Of Atlantis

“Curse Of Man”

There were a couple of other contenders, but on an album that came out of nowhere to knock me sideways, this is my personal favourite. The power and aggression is one thing, but the cinematic grandiosity and the central melodies are another altogether. This remains a shining highlight of 2021 for me.

What I wrote in my review:

“There’s no other word for it, ‘The Curse Of Man’ is anthemic. The most melodic of all eight tracks, it is also my favourite currently without doubt. Bursts of frenetic pace mean that Ghosts Of Atlantis don’t abandon their more extreme tendencies but the chorus is a thing of real dark beauty. Lush melodies, driven by a duo of vocals and elegant lead guitar notes are enhanced by clever symphonics and short bursts of drum blasts, a combination that I find irresistible. The juxtaposition between the savage and the beauty is not dissimilar to Cradle at their very best and it’s an intoxicating recipe from which I simply cannot escape. It’s a stunning track, one of the best that the year has delivered to date.”

–MoMM–

Evergrey

“Stories”

A list like this wouldn’t be complete without featuring an Evergrey song. But when their songs are this good, how could I possibly ignore them? Not possible. ‘Stories’ is the emotional rollercoaster of a song that still stands out to me on this stunning record, putting me through the emotional ringer each and every time I hear it.

What I wrote in my review:

“If you thought that was good, track three [‘Stories’] is even better – aural perfection if I may be so bold. It’s more of a slower-paced ballad, but it contains everything I love about this incredible band. For a start, Tom sounds better than ever, crooning with pure emotion across the song. The guitar solos that soar atop a delicate piano melody are equally emotional, whilst the incoming bass that replaces its six-string (or seven) cousin is stunning. Simple, effective, authoritative, it commands attention. The poignancy oozes from every pore of this track as it weaves it’s way through melancholy soundscapes rich in heart-breaking melody, accented by well-placed heavy riffs to inject the necessary metallic edge.”

–MoMM–

Nestor

“On The Run”

For a while, I was utterly obsessed with ‘On The Run’, listening to it several times a day, every day. And even now, I listen to it every time I need a pick-me-up, simply because it is a classic 80s-inspired anthem backed up by one of the most infectious choruses I’ve heard in some time.

What I wrote in my review:

“‘On The Run’ is the epitome of everything that I love about 80s hard rock, and from the first time I heard it several months ago, I’ve been unable to shake my absolute adoration for it. The verses are dominated by the incredibly powerful yet silky voice of Tobias Gustavsson, on top of some classic sounding riffs, rumbling bass, and strong drumbeats. Despite the galloping pace and hedonistic air, there’s a slightly melancholic, nostalgic vibe too that I latch on to, making the song more than just a simple 80s homage in my opinion. And then the chorus kicks in and the love is instantaneous. It’s a short-lived affair but it packs a punch, with a hook to die for, a strong AOR vibe, and infectious lyrics; I’ve been thoroughly smitten since my first listen, and I’m no less impressed several months down the line.”

–MoMM–

MØL

“Serf”

The epitome of a perfect blackgaze track, in my opinion, ‘Serf’ is an amazing blend of beautiful, emotional melody, catchiness, and naked black metal spite and aggression. There are other close contenders on ‘Diorama’, but ‘Serf’ wins it, as it’s the one that puts the biggest smile on my face every time I hear it.

What I wrote in my review:

“Without a shadow of doubt however, ‘Serf’ is my favourite track on the entire album. The simple, quiet intro literally breaks my heart, but when the main body of the song kicks in, my heart is mended and filled with wonder thanks to one of the most addictive and glorious melodies I’ve heard for a long time. Flitting between harsh passages, complete with potent blast beats and fast-picked riffing, and lighter, more delicate shoegaze moments, I cannot convey is words just how wonderfully uplifting I find this song.”

–MoMM–

Gojira

“Hold On”

I’ve never been a fan of Gojira, but ‘Fortitude’ altered that, with ‘Hold On’ being one of the primary reasons. From the irresistible intro, to the heavy technicality later in the track, this is how intelligent music can really make an impact on me. Add to that the raw and honest subject matter and it’s an all-round belter of a song, one I listen to very regularly.

What I wrote in my review:

“‘Hold On’ is a beautiful composition from start to finish, with pronounced melodies throughout. The multi-layered a capella vocals that welcome the song into existence offer a sense of the dramatic whilst a relatively simple rhythmic beat emerges, allowing a gorgeous melody to unravel thanks to the interplay between guitars and vocals. When the heaviness hits, the song changes to something much more technical, with polyrhythms doing serious damage to my neck muscles. The fact that lyrically, the song looks to speak directly to anyone suffering with stress, depression, or any myriad of personal struggles, reaching out to provide a message of strength, just makes the whole song so much stronger. It touches a nerve with me, and I thank the band for it.”

–MoMM–

Orden Ogan

“It Is Over”

Good heavens, this song still gives me goosebumps all over. From those heavy opening guitar chords, via a memorable chorus, to the final, emotional sequence, I adore everything about this song. To some it may sound a little cheesy, but I disagree and simply give over to the power and emotion contained within.

What I wrote in my review:

“I feel compelled, for many reasons, to start with the final song, entitled ‘It Is Over’. To begin with, the guitar tone used for the riffs is incredible; the heaviness and the authority with which they emanate from the speakers is irresistible. Then there’s the subject matter; the more cynical of us might declare that a song which features a final broadcast to the remaining population on Earth, seconds before a meteor impact might be a little cheesy and contrived. Normally, I might agree. But every time I listen to it, I get goosebumps. The final words ‘over and out’ are met with a momentary silence and then in comes the compelling chorus to usher the song to its climactic finale. What makes the song so powerful when it could have been awful, is that epic chorus which sounds grandiose and beautifully melodic at the same time. For me, it is the strongest chorus on an album of strong choruses, meaning that I have yet another early contender for my ‘song of the year’ top ten.”

–MoMM–

Seven Spires

“In Sickness, In Health”

There were several potential picks from this album, an album that wasn’t even on my radar initially. I could have gone for longer, or more technical tracks, but I eventually went for ‘In Sickness, In Health’ because it’s just the most addictive, beautiful song overall, with strong melodies, emotion, and bucket loads of power.

What I wrote in my review:

“Speaking of wonderful melodies, I have to mention ‘In Sickness In Health’, more of a moody ballad with some subtle electronics lurking in the shadows and a chorus to end them all. It has a killer hook or six, a thoroughly emotional and spellbinding vocal performance from Cowan, as well as another graceful lead guitar solo.”

–MoMM–

Soen

“Fortune”

As with Evergrey earlier, it was almost inevitable that this list would feature a Soen track, such is the strength of the album. My personal favourite is this, the album’s immensely strong swansong, ‘Fortune’. I love the way the song builds throughout, and the fact that it offers one of the finest choruses on the record is the icing on the cake.

What I wrote in my review:

“Somewhat unbelievably, Soen may just leave the best to last in the form of the delectable ‘Fortune’. It begins with the air and grace of doom, as it lumbers forth, slow and purposeful, with a simple drum beat, resonating riffs and passionate vocals. But as it develops, it grows and blossoms. In come some of the most glorious melodies, accented by rich orchestration, topped off by an utterly irresistible chorus. The pace never really picks up, but it never needs to. The slower delivery allows more time for the melodies to hit home, acting as the perfect backdrop for Ford to wax lyrical with his six-string. Piano notes are introduced as Ekelöf hums the melody, before a devastating reprise of the chorus emerges, building in majesty and elegance all the while as the orchestration returns, bolder and richer than ever before.”

–MoMM–

A Dying Planet

“When The Skies Are Grey”

I’ve said it many times before that Jasun Tipton is one of my favourite guitarists. But this song demonstrates a group of musicians at the top of their game, killing a song that’s full of technical prowess as well as melody. And it’s bursting with melancholy emotion too, making it a truly compelling listen and worthy addition to this list.

What I wrote in my review:

“Out of the shadows emerges a simple, yet elegant and poignant melody led by clean guitar tones from Tipton, joined by the assured bass of Brian Hart. It’s gone in a heartbeat, as chunky, djent-like notes are overlaid by a striking lead guitar line, all underpinned by a sharp beat from drummer Marco Bica alongside a more muscular bass. The heaviness departs as quickly as it arrives to be replaced by a delicate, introspective, yet gorgeously rich atmospheric verse. Since the debut, Paul Adrian Villarreal has become the full-time vocalist and it’s wonderful to hear the ex-Sun Caged singer back in action and in such fine fettle. Resonant, emotional, and blessed with a great range, he is the perfect fit for the soundscapes that surround him. And those soundscapes, as evidenced within this stunning opening track ebb and flow wonderfully cohesively from rich, driving progressive metal, to bruising tech-djent, to atmospheric post rock.

“I wish I had someone to hold…sometimes I don’t care to see tomorrow…I’m broken…Society looks the other way, and doesn’t care to know your name…” With audible lyrics from Villarreal of this nature, that melancholy, dark vibe is unquestionable and unavoidable.”

Swallow The Sun – Moonflowers – Album Review

Artist: Swallow The Sun

Album Title: Moonflowers

Label: Century Media Records

Date of Release: 19 November 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Score of Much Metal: 94%

Dessiderium – Aria

Cynic – Ascension Codes

TDW – Fountains

Hypocrisy – Worship

W.E.B. – Colosseum

Navian – Cosmos

NorthTale – Eternal Flame

Obscura – A Valediction

Nightland – The Great Nothing

MØL – Diorama

Be’lakor – Coherence

Hollow – Tower

Doedsvangr – Serpents Ov Old

Athemon – Athemon

Eclipse – Wired

Swallow The Sun – Moonflowers

Dream Theater – A View From The Top Of The World

Nestor – Kids In A Ghost Town

Beast In Black – Dark Connection

Thulcandra – A Dying Wish

Omnium Gatherum – Origin

Insomnium – Argent Moon EP

Kryptan – Kryptan EP

Archspire – Bleed The Future

Awake By Design – Unfaded EP

Cradle Of Filth – Existence Is Futile

Seven Spires – Gods Of Debauchery

Sleep Token – This Place Will Become Your Tomb

Necrofier – Prophecies Of Eternal Darkness

Ex Deo – The Thirteen Years Of Nero

Carcass – Torn Arteries

Aeon Zen – Transversal

Enslaved – Caravans To The Outer Worlds

A Dying Planet – When The Skies Are Grey

Leprous – Aphelion

Night Crowned – Hädanfärd

Brainstorm – Wall Of Skulls

At The Gates – The Nightmare Of Being

Rivers Of Nihil – The Work

Fractal Universe – The Impassable Horizon

Darkthrone – Eternal Hails

Thy Catafalque – Vadak

Terra Odium – Ne Plus Ultra

Hiraes – Solitary

Eye Of Purgatory – The Lighthouse

Crowne – Kings In The North

Desaster – Churches Without Saints

Helloween – Helloween

Fear Factory – Aggression Continuum

Wooden Veins – In Finitude

Plaguestorm – Purifying Fire

Drift Into Black – Patterns Of Light

Alluvial – Sarcoma

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

Silver Lake by Esa Holopainen

Bloodbound – Creatures From The Dark Realm

Nahaya – Vital Alchemy

Frost* – Day And Age

Obsolete Theory – Downfall

Vola – Witness

Acolyte – Entropy

Dordeduh – Har

Subterranean Masquerade – Mountain Fever

Seth – La Morsure Du Christ

The Circle – Metamorphosis

Nordjevel – Fenriir

Vreid – Wild North West

Temtris – Ritual Warfare

Astrakhan – A Slow Ride Towards Death

Akiavel – Vae Victis

Gojira – Fortitude

Hideous Divinity – LV-426

Benthos – II

Evile – Hell Unleashed

Ninkharsag – The Dread March Of Solemn Gods

Bodom After Midnight – Paint The Sky With Blood

Morrigu – In Turbulence

Mother Of All – Age Of The Solipsist

Throne – Pestilent Dawn

Sweet Oblivion (Geoff Tate) – Relentless

Exanimis – Marionnettiste

Dvne – Etemen Ænka

Cannibal Corpse – Violence Unimagined

Arion – Vultures Die Alone

Maestitium – Tale Of The Endless

Wode – Burn In Many Mirrors

Everdawn – Cleopatra

Unflesh – Inhumation

Mourning Dawn – Dead End Euphoria

Wheel – Resident Human

Wythersake – Antiquity

Odd Dimension – The Blue Dawn

Metalite – A Virtual World

Cryptosis – Bionic Swarm

Ghosts Of Atlantis – 3.6.2.4

Memoriam – To The End

Aversed – Impermanent

Secret Sphere – Lifeblood

Enforced – Kill Grid

Liquid Tension Experiment – LTE3

Turbulence – Frontal

Iotunn – Access All Worlds

Warrior Path – The Mad King

Stortregn – Impermanence

Mariana’s Rest – Fata Morgana

Orden Ogan – Final Days

Witherfall – Curse Of Autumn

Plague Weaver – Ascendant Blasphemy

Ephemerald – Between The Glimpses Of Hope

Paranorm – Empyrean

Einherjer – North Star

Epica – Omega

Humanity’s Last Breath – Välde

Simulacrum – Genesis

Forhist – Forhist

Evergrey – Escape Of The Phoenix

Empyrium – Über den Sternen

Moonspell – Hermitage

Infernalizer – The Ugly Truth

Temperance – Melodies Of Green And Blue EP

Malice Divine – Malice Divine

Revulsion – Revulsion

Demon King – The Final Tyranny EP

Dragony – Viribus Unitis

Soen – Imperial

Angelus Apatrida – Angelus Apatrida

Oceana – The Pattern

Therion – Leviathan

Tribulation – Where The Gloom Becomes Sound

Asphyx – Necroceros

W.E.T. – Retransmission

Labyrinth – Welcome To The Absurd Circus

TDW – The Days The Clock Stopped

Need – Norchestrion: A Song For The End

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

2020 reviews

2019 reviews
2018 reviews
2017 reviews
2016 reviews
2015 reviews

Drift Into Black – Patterns Of Light – Album Review

Artist: Drift Into Black

Album Title: Patterns Of Light

Label: Independent Release

Date of Release: 28 May 2021

I have taken a long time to put this review together, because I have flip-flopped back and forth many times when trying to order my thoughts about this album. Drift Into Black is not a band that I have heard of before and I’m surprised to learn that it’s more accurately a one-man project, the brainchild of ex-Grey Skies Fallen keyboardist Craig Rossi. I’m even more surprised to learn that this record, ‘Patterns Of Light’, is the fourth release from the musician in as many years – there’s being prolific, and then there’s this. Four albums in four years is impressive in anyone’s language and it’s a bit of a knock to my ego to realise that I’d not come across this project before.

Rossi is responsible for the guitars, keyboards and vocals for Drift Into Black, so I’m going to assume that the drums are synthetic. That’s never a positive thing in my book, but unlike 20 years ago, the end result isn’t a complete and utter disaster. There’s enough of an organic feel to them to not turn the music sour or let the compositions down. Come to think of it, the very fact that this didn’t cross my mind until I dug a little deeper into this album, means that they can’t be that bad at all.

As it happens, the very first thing that hits me when I listen to ‘Patterns Of Light’ is the production. I have heard much worse over the years, but there’s no denying that the music sounds distant, foggy, and lacking in the kind of clarity that you might expect. The net result is that the compositions are robbed somewhat of their power and intensity. If I were to be disingenuous, I’d say that the final product feels a little lukewarm and underwhelming.

I’d also suggest that Drift Into Black lacks a little in the originality stakes too. Listening to ‘Patterns Of Light’, it is not an album that sounds exactly like any other band; it’s more like listening to the musical equivalent of a patchwork quilt. There are influences from many of the death/doom and dark metal stables, everything from My Dying Bride, to Paradise Lost both old and new, to Deinonychus, and many, many others in between. I’d have liked a more defined personal identity if I’m being perfectly honest.

However, let’s park the negativity because it’s not generally how I roll. I like to focus on the positives, so I’m going to do that right now.

In formulating this review, I have listened to ‘Patterns Of Light’ more than I ever expected to. And in that time, it is hard not to be won over by a selection of the eight tracks, because there is a fair smattering of quality material to be heard. It doesn’t always hit the mark, but when it does, there’s no denying that Rossi has talent both as an instrumentalist and a song writer.

Take ‘Among The Beast’ as an immediate example. The song starts of slowly, echoing early Paradise Lost in the melancholy lead guitar lines, whilst the ponderous riffs work well in tandem with a thoroughly edifying low gurgling growl that calls to mind Morbid Angel circa ‘Where The Slime Live’. As the song unfolds, we’re treated to a clean vocal deliver to counterpoint the growls, whilst the keyboards become bolder and more overt, adding texture on top of some insidious melodies. A momentary pause allows for a nice bass solo before the melody is upped further to work alongside the keys and passionate vocals very nicely indeed. Dealing with grief, religion, and revenge as this album does, it would be a stretch to say that there’s anything uplifting about ‘Patterns Of Light’ but this is a thoroughly enjoyable track, if a little maudlin.

‘Maudlin’ is actually a good adjective for large swathes of the album, because Rossi makes no effort to hide the misery and gloom within his lyrics. Mind you, given the dark, doomy nature of the soundscapes he creates, nothing else would really fit, and you’d expect nothing less either. ‘Mother In Peril 9’ is one classic example of Rossi wearing his blackened heart on his sleeve, with it seeping through the microphone to depress everyone listening.

One of my favourite tracks has to be ‘The Burial Gown’, particularly for it’s wonderfully melodic second half, led by some poignant lead guitar lines and clean vocals. Just occasionally, the quality of Rossi’s voice is called into question as he wavers slightly as he strains for a note or two. But his guitar work on this song is bang on and it really acts as the fulcrum within this very strong death/doom track.

Then there are the occasional curveballs, such as ‘Thread Of Hope’, which inject pace and more of a vaguely upbeat, Gothic atmosphere, with surprisingly catchy vocal melodies. And if I’m not hearing things, there’s more than a hint of very early Sentenced in the process. That can never be a bad thing as far as I’m concerned.  

All things considered, I have to conclude that ‘Patterns Of Light’ by Drift Into Black is a deceptively enjoyable album, especially if you are inclined towards the more depressing side of extreme metal. It has its flaws but who doesn’t? Heck, I’m the wrong side of 40, overweight, and balding, so I know about flaws! But seriously, if you make peace with those flaws and try to set them aside, you can actually focus on the raft of good attributes within this album. And let’s not forget that this is a solo project, so kudos has to go to Craig Rossi for having the guts to put something like this together. It might not win many awards at year’s end, but I have no qualms in recommending ‘Patterns Of Light’ to anyone who wants to explore some decent melancholy dark/death/doom metal.

The Score of Much Metal: 80%

Dessiderium – Aria

Cynic – Ascension Codes

TDW – Fountains

Hypocrisy – Worship

W.E.B. – Colosseum

Navian – Cosmos

NorthTale – Eternal Flame

Obscura – A Valediction

Nightland – The Great Nothing

MØL – Diorama

Be’lakor – Coherence

Hollow – Tower

Doedsvangr – Serpents Ov Old

Athemon – Athemon

Eclipse – Wired

Swallow The Sun – Moonflowers

Dream Theater – A View From The Top Of The World

Nestor – Kids In A Ghost Town

Beast In Black – Dark Connection

Thulcandra – A Dying Wish

Omnium Gatherum – Origin

Insomnium – Argent Moon EP

Kryptan – Kryptan EP

Archspire – Bleed The Future

Awake By Design – Unfaded EP

Cradle Of Filth – Existence Is Futile

Seven Spires – Gods Of Debauchery

Sleep Token – This Place Will Become Your Tomb

Necrofier – Prophecies Of Eternal Darkness

Ex Deo – The Thirteen Years Of Nero

Carcass – Torn Arteries

Aeon Zen – Transversal

Enslaved – Caravans To The Outer Worlds

A Dying Planet – When The Skies Are Grey

Leprous – Aphelion

Night Crowned – Hädanfärd

Brainstorm – Wall Of Skulls

At The Gates – The Nightmare Of Being

Rivers Of Nihil – The Work

Fractal Universe – The Impassable Horizon

Darkthrone – Eternal Hails

Thy Catafalque – Vadak

Terra Odium – Ne Plus Ultra

Hiraes – Solitary

Eye Of Purgatory – The Lighthouse

Crowne – Kings In The North

Desaster – Churches Without Saints

Helloween – Helloween

Fear Factory – Aggression Continuum

Wooden Veins – In Finitude

Plaguestorm – Purifying Fire

Drift Into Black – Patterns Of Light

Alluvial – Sarcoma

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

Silver Lake by Esa Holopainen

Bloodbound – Creatures From The Dark Realm

Nahaya – Vital Alchemy

Frost* – Day And Age

Obsolete Theory – Downfall

Vola – Witness

Acolyte – Entropy

Dordeduh – Har

Subterranean Masquerade – Mountain Fever

Seth – La Morsure Du Christ

The Circle – Metamorphosis

Nordjevel – Fenriir

Vreid – Wild North West

Temtris – Ritual Warfare

Astrakhan – A Slow Ride Towards Death

Akiavel – Vae Victis

Gojira – Fortitude

Hideous Divinity – LV-426

Benthos – II

Evile – Hell Unleashed

Ninkharsag – The Dread March Of Solemn Gods

Bodom After Midnight – Paint The Sky With Blood

Morrigu – In Turbulence

Mother Of All – Age Of The Solipsist

Throne – Pestilent Dawn

Sweet Oblivion (Geoff Tate) – Relentless

Exanimis – Marionnettiste

Dvne – Etemen Ænka

Cannibal Corpse – Violence Unimagined

Arion – Vultures Die Alone

Maestitium – Tale Of The Endless

Wode – Burn In Many Mirrors

Everdawn – Cleopatra

Unflesh – Inhumation

Mourning Dawn – Dead End Euphoria

Wheel – Resident Human

Wythersake – Antiquity

Odd Dimension – The Blue Dawn

Metalite – A Virtual World

Cryptosis – Bionic Swarm

Ghosts Of Atlantis – 3.6.2.4

Memoriam – To The End

Aversed – Impermanent

Secret Sphere – Lifeblood

Enforced – Kill Grid

Liquid Tension Experiment – LTE3

Turbulence – Frontal

Iotunn – Access All Worlds

Warrior Path – The Mad King

Stortregn – Impermanence

Mariana’s Rest – Fata Morgana

Orden Ogan – Final Days

Witherfall – Curse Of Autumn

Plague Weaver – Ascendant Blasphemy

Ephemerald – Between The Glimpses Of Hope

Paranorm – Empyrean

Einherjer – North Star

Epica – Omega

Humanity’s Last Breath – Välde

Simulacrum – Genesis

Forhist – Forhist

Evergrey – Escape Of The Phoenix

Empyrium – Über den Sternen

Moonspell – Hermitage

Infernalizer – The Ugly Truth

Temperance – Melodies Of Green And Blue EP

Malice Divine – Malice Divine

Revulsion – Revulsion

Demon King – The Final Tyranny EP

Dragony – Viribus Unitis

Soen – Imperial

Angelus Apatrida – Angelus Apatrida

Oceana – The Pattern

Therion – Leviathan

Tribulation – Where The Gloom Becomes Sound

Asphyx – Necroceros

W.E.T. – Retransmission

Labyrinth – Welcome To The Absurd Circus

TDW – The Days The Clock Stopped

Need – Norchestrion: A Song For The End

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

2020 reviews

2019 reviews
2018 reviews
2017 reviews
2016 reviews
2015 reviews

Morrigu – In Turbulence – Album Review

Artist: Morrigu

Album Title: In Turbulence

Label: Ghost Sound Media

Date of Release: 23 April 2021

If ever there was an apt album title, it’s this. ‘In Turbulence’ easily describes the history of a band that have suffered an inordinate amount over the years. The fact that Morrigu are still together and still producing music is a major feat, as others may have easily thrown in the towel by now. For those unfamiliar with the Swiss band’s history, founding members Severin and Mirko Binder formed Morrigu way back in 1999 but due to record label issues and the need to effectively rebuild the band not once but twice, they have only released three full-length albums in that time. ‘In Turbulence’ however, is their fourth release coming a mere seven years after ‘Before Light/After Dark’.

To be honest, I wasn’t sure if Morrigu were still in existence until I received an email from Severin himself offering me a chance to listen and review this new record. Naturally, I jumped at the chance, even though my knowledge of the band was a little hazy and patchy to say the least. The fact that this email arrived early in 2021 has meant that I’ve had the pleasure of its company for several months, time where I have got to know the music on ‘In Turbulence’ much more intimately than I normally would with other album reviews.

Beginning life as more of a death/doom metal band, ‘In Turbulence’ demonstrates a further advancement of their evolution into a much more subtle, nuanced, and if I may say, engaging entity. This record may only last for 34 minutes but it is a wonderfully entertaining 34 minutes, packed full of a myriad of different styles and sounds. But despite the variety, which is a big plus point as far as I’m concerned, the eight tracks flow nicely, with nothing sounding out of place or jarring. In fact, ‘In Turbulence’ is a remarkably homogenous and smooth affair that is easily digestible from start to finish time and time again. I am yet to tire of it and I am still finding new things to enjoy after the better part of four months listening to it.

In many ways, the dissolution of the band in 2017 may have been a blessing in disguise because guitarist Severin and bassist Mirko were able to employ the services of various guest musicians over the four long years that it took to bring ‘In Turbulence’ into existence. Most notable is the inclusion of vocalist Ricardo Borges, Adrian Erlandsson (At The Gates) on the drums, as well as Alektra Amber, who the band hired to sing on a couple of the tracks. Backed up by a clear and powerful production, courtesy of Erlandsson’s help with the drum sound, engineering by Jakob Hermann at Top Floor Studios and a Jens Bogren master, ‘In Turbulence’ is, without any doubt, their most accomplished release to date. If this doesn’t help to propel the band forward, I don’t know what will.

So what of the songs themselves? Well, the band waste no time in their attempt to capture your immediate attention. ‘Our World Collides’ is first up and so instant is the impact that it’s almost a little disorienting at first; it hits so hard that you think the band might have pressed record a little late! But the opening riff, commanding drumming, instant melodic intent, and deep gruff vocals from Borges makes for an intense beginning. The song then settles down a little after a flamboyant drum fill, before Alektra Amber enters for the first time with her rich, sonorous voice. She floats above a churning riff initially but the chorus of sorts is where the magic really happens. In comes a violin to compliment a chugging, stop-start guitar riff and alongside Amber, delivers a beautiful melodic hook that has been stuck in my head since I first heard it. A delicate guitar solo atop a moment of atmospheric respite demonstrates Morrigu’s softer side before they see out the song with Borges’ aggressive vocals at its heart.

The band namecheck the likes of Amorphis, Dark Tranquillity and Evergrey when referencing their music. And whilst these comparisons are not without merit, I also hear flashes of Katatonia, Textures, and others within their songs on ‘In Turbulence’ too. This is a dark and heavy record make no mistake. But there is plenty of melody, plenty of subtlety, and plenty of contrast too.

‘In The Shade’ follows the opener and after a quick intro, we’re greeted with more commanding musicianship across the band, Borges snarling over the top as he does best, his voice perfectly suited to the music landscape that surrounds him. The song benefits from more violin embellishments as well as ethereal, ghostly female vocals, and delicate piano notes that cut through more muscular riffs. The contemplative, quiet section featuring just guitar and piano is gorgeous as is the ensuing violin melody that adds a folk-like whimsy to the melancholy composition which is seen out by beautiful lead guitar lines and incredibly strong, technical drumming.

The Textures reference can be heard in the opening progressive-sounding riff of ‘Blinded By The Artificial Light’, complimented by some clean singing from, I believe, Erlandsson. Whoever it is, it soars beautifully over the staccato rhythms and the elegant melodies that continue when the growled vocals return. The song then almost stops and changes tack at the half-way mark, revealing more sensitive clean male vocals that croon wonderfully over a minimal keyboard melody before the entire band join to continue the anthemic nature of the song.

By this  point, you can probably tell quite clearly that I like this record. And the enjoyment continues apace across the remaining five tracks on ‘In Turbulence’. There isn’t a weak track amongst them if truth be told and the album flies by in no time at all.

‘Crowned By Your Fear’ kicks off with a rather groovy central riff before a Katatonia-esque discordant note or three catches my ear. It’s a slower number, churning and writhing whilst Borges’ voice hits some of the lowest notes anywhere on ‘In Turbulence’. ‘Eternal Darkness’ begins with an immediately arresting intro melody and later in the track, the band indulge in a spoken-word section, shrouded with dark cinematic atmosphere. It shouldn’t work but by damn it does.

One of the catchiest of all the tracks to my ears is ‘Omnia’. It starts off with a beautiful melody and then veers into a piano and electronics section upon which Elektra Amber reappears, duetting with the growls absolutely brilliantly. If I’m not mistaken, there’s a hint of Gothic theatre within the textures of the song too, just to add yet another new ingredient to the mix. It also helps to demonstrate another point that I wanted to make, that Morrigu have created an album that sounds really quite modern, fresh and relevant on top of everything else.

The opening riff of ‘The King Of Thieves’ calls to mind one of Hypocrisy’s slower pieces, particularly with the chosen guitar tones. Again, it is heavy and abrasive whilst also producing some delicate, poignant moments, demonstrated when the song falls away abruptly to be replaced by the sound of rainfall, thunder, and simple piano notes. When the full force of the song re-emerges, it is with the most glorious, anthemic melody, bittersweet in tone and feel, the violin playing the solemn lead.

‘A Funeral Of Liberty’ is the one remaining song to touch upon, and it’s much of the same and I mean that in the best of ways. It’s a powerful track, but also varied, with plenty of twists in its relatively short run-time, including hints of Middle-Eastern melody predominantly via the female voice that lights up the mid-section of the song.

Not for the first time this year, a dark horse of a record has stolen my heart and my admiration. Morrigu have battled hard, put their troubles behind them and come out with a knock-out blow in the form of ‘In Turbulence’. Yes, I might have wanted it to last longer, yes I might have wanted another couple of songs or for the odd section within a song to be extended. But that just demonstrates how much I like the music on this album. If you’re a fan of varied music that’s both heavy and soft, harsh and beautiful, then ‘In Turbulence’ is an absolute must-buy. I absolutely love this album and I cannot conceive of a reality where it doesn’t feature in my best-of list at the end of the year.

The Score of Much Metal: 92%

Dessiderium – Aria

Cynic – Ascension Codes

TDW – Fountains

Hypocrisy – Worship

W.E.B. – Colosseum

Navian – Cosmos

NorthTale – Eternal Flame

Obscura – A Valediction

Nightland – The Great Nothing

MØL – Diorama

Be’lakor – Coherence

Hollow – Tower

Doedsvangr – Serpents Ov Old

Athemon – Athemon

Eclipse – Wired

Swallow The Sun – Moonflowers

Dream Theater – A View From The Top Of The World

Nestor – Kids In A Ghost Town

Beast In Black – Dark Connection

Thulcandra – A Dying Wish

Omnium Gatherum – Origin

Insomnium – Argent Moon EP

Kryptan – Kryptan EP

Archspire – Bleed The Future

Awake By Design – Unfaded EP

Cradle Of Filth – Existence Is Futile

Seven Spires – Gods Of Debauchery

Sleep Token – This Place Will Become Your Tomb

Necrofier – Prophecies Of Eternal Darkness

Ex Deo – The Thirteen Years Of Nero

Carcass – Torn Arteries

Aeon Zen – Transversal

Enslaved – Caravans To The Outer Worlds

A Dying Planet – When The Skies Are Grey

Leprous – Aphelion

Night Crowned – Hädanfärd

Brainstorm – Wall Of Skulls

At The Gates – The Nightmare Of Being

Rivers Of Nihil – The Work

Fractal Universe – The Impassable Horizon

Darkthrone – Eternal Hails

Thy Catafalque – Vadak

Terra Odium – Ne Plus Ultra

Hiraes – Solitary

Eye Of Purgatory – The Lighthouse

Crowne – Kings In The North

Desaster – Churches Without Saints

Helloween – Helloween

Fear Factory – Aggression Continuum

Wooden Veins – In Finitude

Plaguestorm – Purifying Fire

Drift Into Black – Patterns Of Light

Alluvial – Sarcoma

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

Silver Lake by Esa Holopainen

Bloodbound – Creatures From The Dark Realm

Nahaya – Vital Alchemy

Frost* – Day And Age

Obsolete Theory – Downfall

Vola – Witness

Acolyte – Entropy

Dordeduh – Har

Subterranean Masquerade – Mountain Fever

Seth – La Morsure Du Christ

The Circle – Metamorphosis

Nordjevel – Fenriir

Vreid – Wild North West

Temtris – Ritual Warfare

Astrakhan – A Slow Ride Towards Death

Akiavel – Vae Victis

Gojira – Fortitude

Hideous Divinity – LV-426

Benthos – II

Evile – Hell Unleashed

Ninkharsag – The Dread March Of Solemn Gods

Bodom After Midnight – Paint The Sky With Blood

Morrigu – In Turbulence

Mother Of All – Age Of The Solipsist

Throne – Pestilent Dawn

Sweet Oblivion (Geoff Tate) – Relentless

Exanimis – Marionnettiste

Dvne – Etemen Ænka

Cannibal Corpse – Violence Unimagined

Arion – Vultures Die Alone

Maestitium – Tale Of The Endless

Wode – Burn In Many Mirrors

Everdawn – Cleopatra

Unflesh – Inhumation

Mourning Dawn – Dead End Euphoria

Wheel – Resident Human

Wythersake – Antiquity

Odd Dimension – The Blue Dawn

Metalite – A Virtual World

Cryptosis – Bionic Swarm

Ghosts Of Atlantis – 3.6.2.4

Memoriam – To The End

Aversed – Impermanent

Secret Sphere – Lifeblood

Enforced – Kill Grid

Liquid Tension Experiment – LTE3

Turbulence – Frontal

Iotunn – Access All Worlds

Warrior Path – The Mad King

Stortregn – Impermanence

Mariana’s Rest – Fata Morgana

Orden Ogan – Final Days

Witherfall – Curse Of Autumn

Plague Weaver – Ascendant Blasphemy

Ephemerald – Between The Glimpses Of Hope

Paranorm – Empyrean

Einherjer – North Star

Epica – Omega

Humanity’s Last Breath – Välde

Simulacrum – Genesis

Forhist – Forhist

Evergrey – Escape Of The Phoenix

Empyrium – Über den Sternen

Moonspell – Hermitage

Infernalizer – The Ugly Truth

Temperance – Melodies Of Green And Blue EP

Malice Divine – Malice Divine

Revulsion – Revulsion

Demon King – The Final Tyranny EP

Dragony – Viribus Unitis

Soen – Imperial

Angelus Apatrida – Angelus Apatrida

Oceana – The Pattern

Therion – Leviathan

Tribulation – Where The Gloom Becomes Sound

Asphyx – Necroceros

W.E.T. – Retransmission

Labyrinth – Welcome To The Absurd Circus

TDW – The Days The Clock Stopped

Need – Norchestrion: A Song For The End

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

2020 reviews

2019 reviews
2018 reviews
2017 reviews
2016 reviews
2015 reviews

The best albums of 2021 so far…three months in

2021 has continued where 2020 left off. Many of us around the world are still locked down, prisoners to a pandemic that refuses to go quietly. In this respect, Covid-19 is very much like our beloved heavy metal; it endures in the face of adversity. Musicians the world over have basically raised two fingers to the pandemic and have found ways to continue to create new music, the music that we all love and respect. Without it, many of our lives would have been rendered even more miserable and futile, so we owe a huge debt of gratitude to the bands we love for not throwing in the towel when, to do so, would have been the easiest option.

It is no surprise then, that 2021 has seen a wealth of great new music from across the spectrum of heavy metal. In no particular order, I bring you my pick of the albums that I have heard so far this year.

Evergrey

Escape Of The Phoenix

AFM Records

Genre: Dark Melodic Progressive Metal (AKA ‘genius’!)

“To these ears, ‘Escape Of The Phoenix’ is damn-near flawless in every way. It is special. It is magic. And it contains the essence of what I love about heavy metal and what I love about this band in particular. There is no other possible conclusion – ‘Escape Of The Phoenix’ is a dark, melodic, emotional, and heavy slab of metal perfection.”

Check out the full review here

Ghosts Of Atlantis

3.6.2.4

Black Lion Records

Genre: Melodic Extreme Metal

“And what an album ‘3.6.2.4’ is. And it is made all the more special because I simply wasn’t expecting it. Ghosts Of Atlantis were not even close to being on my radar until the promo invitation dropped into my inbox. But now, I can safely say that this has been one of the biggest highpoints of the musical year so far. So, if like me, you’re a sucker for melodically-charged extreme metal with drama, depth, and real heart, ‘3.6.2.4’ by Ghosts Of Atlantis has to be your very next purchase.”

Check out the full review here

Soen

Imperial

Silver Lining Music

Genre: Progressive Metal

“‘Imperial’ is a supreme collection of brilliant songs that together create an even better album. It is an elegant, passionate and intelligent affair, one that also adds plenty of human emotion, eloquently wrought through music and lyrics. Progressive, beautiful, and deep, it resonates powerfully with me, to the point where I just don’t want to stop listening. Please don’t make me.”

Check out the full review here

Witherfall

Curse Of Autumn

Century Media Records

Genre: Dark Melodic Metal

“This sensational record is then rounded out by an acoustic cover of Boston’s ‘Long Time’ which is actually really good, and that’s coming from someone who’s not always a fan of cover versions. It caps a remarkable performance from a band that just seems to get better and better. In a live setting, I bet these guys slay and I sincerely hope that I get to witness this sooner rather than later. But in the meantime, we have another masterpiece to enjoy, in the form of ‘Curse Of Autumn’ – dark and properly heavy melodic metal rarely sounds this passionate or brilliant.”

Check out the full review here

W.E.T.

Retransmission

Frontiers Music

Genre: Melodic Hard Rock

“As with each of the three albums before it, ‘Retransmission’ is simply a masterclass in how to write, perform, and record near-perfect melodic hard rock. As such, there is literally nothing that I can fault about it. Feel-good melodic rock has rarely felt quite this good; ‘Retransmission’ is a joy to listen to and a joy to write about.”

Check out the full review here

Iotunn

Access All Worlds

Metal Blade Records

Genre: Melodic Progressive Technical Death Metal

“I cannot believe that I nearly let this superb album slip through my fingers. With ‘Access All Worlds’, Iotunn provide me with a little bit of everything that I love about heavy music. It is technical, complex, atmospheric, engaging, melodic, and, frankly, magnificent. There’s nothing else I feel the need to say, except buy it, listen to it, love it.”

Check out the full review here

Warrior Path

The Mad King

Symmetric Records

Genre: Power Metal

“As I said before, there’s an impressive consistency across ‘The Mad King’ in terms of song writing and individual performances, meaning that there’s not a wasted minute anywhere. And when you add on a really nice production job from Bob Katsionis that feels warm, inviting and smooth, there’s a clear argument to suggest that we have a new contender for power metal album of 2021. ‘The Mad King’ will not disappoint in any shape or form. If you’re a fan of power metal, then Warrior Path have delivered an essential album for your collection.”

Check out the full review here

Epica

Omega

Nuclear Blast

Genre: Symphonic Metal

“Epica have delivered the album that has managed to find the near-perfect blend of extreme metal, symphonic majesty, and melody. As such, whilst the songs may be multi-layered and full of over-the-top pomposity, they remain completely listenable, enjoyable, and as addictive as a rush of adrenaline. Simply put, ‘Omega’ is almost certainly the best symphonic metal album that I have heard in a long time.”

Check out the full review here

Mariana’s Rest

Fata Morgana

Napalm Records

Genre: Melodic Death/Doom Metal

“‘Fata Morgana’ has, without question, catapulted Mariana’s Rest to another level. I fully expect their name to be on many more lips from now on and rightly so, because this is atmospheric doom-laden melodic death metal of the very highest order. ‘Fata Morgana’ is a magnificent body of work and worthy of each and every one of the accolades coming the band’s way.”

Check out the full review here

Orden Ogan

Final Days

AFM Records

Genre: Power Metal

“As melodic power metal albums go, I must concede that Orden Ogan have done it again with the masterful ‘Final Days’. They impressed me out of nowhere with ‘Gunman’ a few years ago, but in 2021 they have impressed me once again, despite having higher expectations this time around. The German quintet rarely put a foot wrong at any point on this record, delivering track after track of memorable and highly enjoyable melodic heavy metal that’s fully deserving of the ‘metal’ tag within the descriptor.”

Check out the full review here

Evergrey – Escape Of The Phoenix – Album Review

Artist: Evergrey

Album Title: Escape Of The Phoenix

Label: AFM Records

Date of Release: 26 February 2021

There was a reason why I was so excited a few years ago when Evergrey announced the return of two ex-members to the fold. It was because I knew that the line-up was the best that it could possibly be. I still miss some of the old members of the band, a band that went through a period of some instability throughout the late noughties and beyond. But I knew, as a long-term fan, a fanboy in fact, that the return of drummer Jonas Ekdahl and guitarist Henrik Danhage was the best news possible. What I hadn’t bargained for, was just how accurate my prediction would be.

The ride began with ‘Hymns For The Broken’ in 2014, the first in a trilogy of very personal albums for frontman and talisman Tom Englund. It continued with 2016’s ‘The Storm Within’, and was completed by ‘The Atlantic’ in 2019. And what a trio. Not a dud song anywhere. Just raw passion, power, hunger, honesty, electric performances, and a sense of togetherness that had been missing during previous incarnations. I love all three and have written lengthy reviews full of superlatives and gushing praise. The three records all remain on constant rotation in the Mansion of Much Metal but, being a fanboy, I was eager to hear more new material.

That being said, whenever new material emerges from a band with which you have a special affinity, the news is always tempered with a touch of nerves. Will this new album be as good as the previous ones? What if I don’t like it? Have they exhausted their creativity? Has the new record been rushed? Have they gone in a direction that I wish they hadn’t?

And then I get a reality check: Evergrey is comprised of my favourite singer of all time. Tom Englund could sing the contents of an Ikea catalogue and I’d still listen. In Johan Niemann, Evergrey are blessed with one of the greatest bass players of this generation; the abilities of the quiet, humble man are astonishing, as he has displayed on recent Evergrey releases. Jonas Ekdahl is a monster behind the drumkit, offering dexterity, subtlety and power, as well as being a talented co-songwriter. Keyboardist Rikard Zander has grown over the years to become ever more integral to the band’s music, offering both the expected atmospheres, as well as the unexpected, to add depth and richness to the compositions. And finally, but by no means least, we have guitarist Henrik Danhage. His strapline ‘old shredders do it better’ could not be more apt and accurate, as the guy has some serious skills, both in the riffing department, and in his lead work, which is equally as emotional as Englund’s, but with a wonderfully organic, bluesy edge to it as well.

Taking all this into consideration, how could the quintet ever disappoint? The answer, having been blessed with the company of this record for a number of glorious months, is that they couldn’t. And they haven’t. Not even slightly. If anything, ‘Escape Of The Phoenix’ is better than I could have dared imagine and it runs the preceding trilogy of records close in terms of quality, hunger, desire, talent, and skill. As I sit here now, listening for about the trillionth time, I’d venture you’d have a difficult task in persuading me that this isn’t their best album yet. And those of you who know me, will know exactly how powerful that statement is.

Before I delve more into the music, I want to take a few moments just to dwell on the album artwork and the production of ‘Escape Of The Phoenix’. The cover artwork is courtesy of the talented Giannis Nakos (Remedy Art Design) and if anything, is more stunning than his work on ‘The Atlantic’. And produced by the renowned Jacob Hansen, the eleven songs sound incredible; vibrant, muscular, and crystal-clear, there’s no way in hell that this beast won’t tear down the Mansion Of Much Metal when I play the finished article through my late Grandfather’s speakers. I pity my neighbours…well, sort of.

And now on to the main event – the music.

‘Escape Of The Phoenix’ begins with the first ‘single’ off the record, ‘Forever Outsider’. And, unlike ‘The Atlantic’ before it, there’s no quiet or foreboding intro to transition into a longer ‘epic’ song. No, here, after a brief drum roll, we’re hit with a monster of a riff, the kind of riff that Evergrey seem to have perfected over the past few years. It signals the intent of the Swedes, almost a release of pent-up frustration caused by the state of the world this past year or so. No longer able to be caged, they come out swinging and throw their listeners flat on their backsides in the process. It doesn’t take long before Tom Englund smooths some of the spiky, heavy edges with his dulcet tones and before you know it, an insanely catchy chorus emerges out of the dark aggression, one that I simply cannot get out of my head, however hard I try. Keys and intriguing synth sounds flit around the relentless drumming, angry guitars and commanding bass work before the guitars take flight with elegance, caressing the ears with killer lead sounds. What a breathless beginning.

Up next is ‘Where August Mourn’ and it’s another piece of genius wrapped up in five-and-a-half minutes. It was a bit of a slow-burner for me but now it’s one of many highlights on ‘Escape Of The Phoenix’. The central melody appears right from the outset, led by Zander’s keys alongside a flurry of powerful riffing. The verse is delicate and poignant, Niemann’s throbbing bass standing out alongside Englund’s soulful singing and understated, atmospheric keys. The chorus, by contrast is hook-laden and muscular, whilst also sounding strangely serene. The extended instrumental section that breaks into lead guitar territory is dark and oppressive, before being brightened by a return of the stunning, bittersweet chorus.

If you thought that was good, track three is even better – aural perfection if I may be so bold. It’s more of a slower-paced ballad, but it contains everything I love about this incredible band. For a start, Tom sounds better than ever, crooning with pure emotion across the song. The guitar solos that soar atop a delicate piano melody are equally emotional, whilst the incoming bass that replaces its six-string (or seven) cousin is stunning. Simple, effective, authoritative, it commands attention. The poignancy oozes from every pore of this track as it weaves it’s way through melancholy soundscapes rich in heart-breaking melody, accented by well-placed heavy riffs to inject the necessary metallic edge.

‘Dandelion Cipher’ is a much pacier number, which features a pulsing bass line and modern synths in the verses after a frenetic, bruising intro. The heaviness returns for a strong, memorable chorus, drawing comparisons with some of their output on ‘Monday Morning Apocalypse’ and ‘The Storm Within’. The section where Tom sings alone with just a minimalist backdrop for company is a lovely touch, a marked juxtaposition to the thunderous chorus and wailing lead guitar breaks.

When I saw James LaBrie’s name referenced in some early press coverage, I immediately recoiled as his is not a voice that I’m overly enamoured with these days. However, I needn’t have done so. Maybe it’s not James LaBrie’s voice that I have become bored of over the years. Maybe, it’s the music that he sings alongside. There’s a thought for another day. But it’s a thought that ‘The Beholder’ has raised from nowhere, because the Canadian has rarely sounded better than he does here. In fact, in tandem with Englund, I get a whole new batch of raised hairs and goosebumps. The song itself is a dark, heavy lumbering beast, doused in rich modern synth sounds with one of the best choruses on the album. And when LaBrie enters the slightly more progressive-sounding composition at around the half-way mark, he improves the experience. Best duet on an Evergrey record? I am certainly thinking that right now, and I welcome anyone to try to change my mind.

I always feel sorry for the song that follows a personal favourite, and I was expecting it to blast me away with measured aggression. Instead, ‘In Absence Of Sun’ opens with a fragile, beautiful piano melody, inviting Tom to join it to guide us deep into the song. There’s a Gothic, dark, theatrical vibe as choral effects join for what you expect is an explosion of sound. Instead, the drums and bass beef things up whilst allowing the dark vibe to continue. It’s not until yet another scintillating chorus that the guitars enter with full force, chugging and churning with purpose as the extended chorus continues. There’s a return to quieter climes immediately after, complete with more insane bass rhythms, delicate guitar solo and heartfelt lyrics. It may be the case that Tom has put to bed his intensely personal lyrical content from his previous trilogy, but his output this time is no less raw and emotional – it wouldn’t be Evergrey any other way, would it?

‘Eternal Nocturnal’ is another enormous anthem that, together with ‘Forever Outsider’ acts as a rallying call to all Evergrey fans across the world. The lyrics speak directly to us all, telling us that we may not fit the norm, or we might be struggling, but Evergrey are the same – we are one, an unstoppable force, mutually supportive, and one big family. I’ll be honest, it is sentiment that might normally sound trite, but when these guys say it, I believe them. The bombastic chorus and the sheer energy within the track only help to accentuate the message within the song. Oh and that ending gives me chills every time as keys signal a final, huge reprise of the central chorus.

The title track is heavier than hell, thanks to what sound like some seriously down-tuned seven-string riffage. There is a definite sinister edge to the music that’s largely expunged when the chorus hits, underpinned by a relentless barrage from Ekdahl behind the drumkit. Nevertheless, it offers some of the most theatrical and dark sounds on the entire record, not to mention one of the most off-the-wall solos, within one of the most straight-forward-sounding compositions on ‘Escape Of The Phoenix’.

Another firm favourite of mine is ‘You From You’ and if I’m honest, it’s largely because of the lead guitar work in the latter stages of the song. It is a quieter, ballad-like song which begins quietly but with more dark, melancholy feelings permeating every note. Performances across the band are of the highest order, so it would be unfair to single anyone out. At least, until the solo hits, because it is aural perfection once again. Lasting fully a minute and a half, Tom Englund’s guitar is the centre of the universe. The bass rumbles, the drums crack, and the synths and tinkling piano notes caress. But the guitar sings, pleading with the heavens in slow, sombre misery, turning this scribe to a sheer mess. I rarely swear in reviews, but fuck me, this is otherworldly.

In direct contrast, ‘Leaden Saint’ is a behemoth that wouldn’t have been out of place on ‘The Atlantic’, thanks to the opening riff. And then, the heaviness parts and in comes a more introspective section that suddenly ushers in a guitar tone that’s instantly recognisable as classic ‘In Search Of Truth’ or ‘Recreation Day’ fare. Coupled with a slightly more sci-fi vibe from the keys, it is almost primeval in its effect on me; every time I hear it, I feel at home, at peace, and insanely happy. It’s another grower, but for all the right reasons, it becomes a firm favourite as time goes on.

Finally, ‘Escape Of The Phoenix’ concludes with ‘Run’, and ensures that you have to listen to the record from beginning to end. It is irresistible in its energy and full-on attitude, whilst also playing host to some of the most arresting synth sounds on the album. Do I detect a note of hope in the chorus too? The pace slows to allow more atmosphere to enter, and the chosen melody hints at something other than out-and-out despair. It’s the perfect way to round out this fabulous album, another masterpiece in their ever-increasing discography.

I’m well aware of the scores I have given this band on manofmuchmetal.com over the years. And I’ll take whatever criticism that you wish to throw at me. However, I stand by my reviews because there is no other band on this planet that affects me so profoundly on so many levels. And, going back to the original point I made at the beginning of this review, since the current line-up have been together, I cannot fault a single second of the music these guys have created. To these ears, ‘Escape Of The Phoenix’ is damn-near flawless in every way. It is special. It is magic. And it contains the essence of what I love about heavy metal and what I love about this band in particular. There is no other possible conclusion – ‘Escape Of The Phoenix’ is a dark, melodic, emotional, and heavy slab of metal perfection.

The Score of Much Metal: 100%

Further reviews from 2021:

Empyrium – Über den Sternen

Moonspell – Hermitage

Infernalizer – The Ugly Truth

Temperance – Melodies Of Green And Blue EP

Malice Divine – Malice Divine

Revulsion – Revulsion

Demon King – The Final Tyranny EP

Dragony – Viribus Unitis

Soen – Imperial

Angelus Apatrida – Angelus Apatrida

Oceana – The Pattern

Therion – Leviathan

Tribulation – Where The Gloom Becomes Sound

Asphyx – Necroceros

W.E.T. – Retransmission

Labyrinth – Welcome To The Absurd Circus

TDW – The Days The Clock Stopped

Need – Norchestrion: A Song For The End

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

2020 reviews

2019 reviews
2018 reviews
2017 reviews
2016 reviews
2015 reviews

Moonspell – Hermitage – Album Review

Artist: Moonspell

Album Title: Hermitage

Label: Napalm Records

Date of Release: 26 February 2021

“We know that we are entering the final years of our career as musicians: the winter of our lifetime.” 

What a quote from Moonspell frontman, Fernando Ribiero to read within the press release for ‘Hermitage’, the thirteenth album of the Portuguese Gothic metal institution. It may be true, but reading it creates a bit of a downer if I’m honest. Bands talking about their longevity and their mortality is not what you expect on the eve of the release of their new album. And a world without Moonspell either sooner or later isn’t something I want to think about.

However, his next quote is more like it, and certainly more bullish in tone:

“Under these circumstances, we feel our musical stakes are higher than ever. For us, it’s not about likes or algorithms, reach, or opportunity of growth. We only care about the music.  Music does come first on this album…”

Despite the more robust rhetoric, it is fair to say that ‘Hermitage’ more closely echoes the opening quote, in that it is a demonstrably sombre, melancholic, and dark affair, with a hefty dose of realism injected into the music for good measure. It would appear that the worldwide pandemic has had a greater impact on the members of Moonspell than many other musicians. At least, on the strength of ‘Hermitage’, that’s a conclusion I would certainly draw.

Lyrically, ‘Hermitage’ is, in Ribiero’s own words “…about turning our backs to the conventions of modernity. We are currently convincing ourselves that it’s all about us, that we (humanity) are everything. That the world revolves around us. However, ipsi facto, we are nothing and nothing revolves around us.”

Musically, the album is equally as brooding. The ten compositions are steeped in dense atmospheres, where passages of minimalist contemplation feature heavily, almost more so in places than the heavier, metallic elements. The synths and keys bathe the music with familiar layers of Gothic richness but also offer a more dystopian feel, more nuanced than on previous releases I’d venture. And the unmistakeable tones of Ribiero offer a range of emotions, flitting from angry, to thoughtful, to despairing with ease, depending on the focus of the song.

The interesting dichotomy with ‘Hermitage’ is that, on one hand, it is quite an easy album to listen to. Put it on in the background, and it provides a smooth, pleasant backdrop. But, if you sit and listen more closely, it can be quite a draining experience as the bleak, sombre subject matter and the overall tone of the music become far more apparent. And actually, if I’m honest, I struggled for some time to decide whether I liked this record or not. Gothic metal isn’t supposed to be light and uplifting, but it is such a raw and melancholy affair at times, that this sentiment threatened my overall enjoyment.

MOONSPELL nas GRUTAS MIRA’AIRE

But that was then, and this is now. With greater familiarity of the music has come a greater appreciation for this body of work. I’d be lying if I said that the whole thing works perfectly, because I don’t think it’s quite true. However, there is so much to appreciate on ‘Hermitage’, that it’s ultimately a success in my eyes.

Given that this record is so sombre, it stands to reason that many of the melodies used within the ten tracks are quite moving and powerful, if not immediately so. Many of them hide in the shadows, shyly, only revealing themselves when they are good and ready. It maintains a definite longevity to the compositions which is a definite plus, meaning that despite spins into double figures, I don’t tire of the bulk of the material. In fact, the more I listen, the more I uncover. Subtle nuances here, a previously unnoticed embellishment or sound effect there, it really is a grower and cannot be appreciated to it fullest on a cursory flick through, that’s for sure.

The dark, melancholy vibe is immediately apparent in the quiet intro to the opener ‘The Greater Good’. Strong synth sounds dominate along with a few sparse guitar embellishments. Ribiero sounds restrained and tentative as he enters the atmospheric affair, before a commanding rhythmic duo of pulsating bass and drums adds more intensity, building up the anticipation nicely. Eventually, the song opens with the introduction of the guitars that provide some meaty riffs after initially lacing the song with a beautiful lead melody. But the heaviness is short-lived, retreating into the darkness to be born all over again in the latter stages, complete with angry deep growls from Ribiero, the delivery we’ve come to know and love over the years. This is, for me, a stand-out track that gets stronger with time.

Having talked about the subtleties at play on ‘Hermitage’, ‘Common Prayers’ is a punchier, more muscular track, where the familiar Gothic vibes permeate more strongly. However, the chorus is catchy and is literally drenched in bold synth sounds, helping to dilute the chugging, swirling riffs and robust bass throb that feature strongly in the verses.

For me though, it’s tracks like ‘All Or Nothing’ where the real magic happens. At over seven minutes, it’s a longer song, but well worth it. Clean acoustic guitars strum quietly, Ribiero almost whispers, and the keys are minimal at best. The bluesy lead guitar that struts purposefully from the murk is an unexpected aspect of a song that gently, tentatively builds into something quite beautiful. Pleading vocals duet with a gorgeous lead melody that later explodes into a soulful solo atop a sorrowful backdrop, creating a rather emotional listening experience that I have grown to adore.

Elsewhere, the title track dials up the heaviness again, but laces the striking composition with strong Gothic overtones in the form of choirs, strong imagery, and Ribiero’s inimitable rich tones. ‘Entitlement’ however, calls to mind the days of ‘Irreligious’ in places such is it’s dark majesty, whilst delivering easily one of the most memorable, almost pop-like choruses out of the minimalist soundscapes that surround them. ‘Solitarian’ is a slightly ‘proggy’ instrumental that accentuates the sense of despair and bleakness on ‘Hermitage’, occasionally exploding into brief moments of heavier anger and frustration.

If you’re looking for something more akin to a good old Moonspell anthem, then it appears in the form of ‘The Hermit Saints’. It wasn’t a track I liked at the outset, but as time has gone on, it has grown enormously to become one of my favourites thanks to strong melodies, power, conviction and plenty of Gothic richness.

Personal tastes determine that I’m not so enamoured with a couple of the latter tracks on offer, even after this amount of time. However, such is the quality of the vast majority of this album, that I cannot say anything other than ‘Hermitage’ stands currently as one of my very favourite releases in the Moonspell discography. Yes it is sombre, yes it’s bleak, yes it’s perhaps a little bit different to other albums released before it. But it is precisely for all these reasons that I have so fallen for its charms. I mentioned right at the outset that only the music mattered for Moonspell. In which case, they should know that they’ve succeeded very well with their central, sole goal. ‘Hermitage’ is excellent; one of their very best.

The Score of Much Metal: 91%

Further reviews from 2021:

Infernalizer – The Ugly Truth

Temperance – Melodies Of Green And Blue EP

Malice Divine – Malice Divine

Revulsion – Revulsion

Demon King – The Final Tyranny EP

Dragony – Viribus Unitis

Soen – Imperial

Angelus Apatrida – Angelus Apatrida

Oceana – The Pattern

Therion – Leviathan

Tribulation – Where The Gloom Becomes Sound

Asphyx – Necroceros

W.E.T. – Retransmission

Labyrinth – Welcome To The Absurd Circus

TDW – The Days The Clock Stopped

Need – Norchestrion: A Song For The End

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

2020 reviews

2019 reviews
2018 reviews
2017 reviews
2016 reviews
2015 reviews

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