My most anticipated releases of 2018 – Part 1

Welcome to 2018! The start of a new year can mean only one thing – the return of my annual mini-series gazing into my crystal ball and rounding up my most anticipated album releases of 2018. As with years gone by, this series features a mixture of confirmed releases, likely releases, and even a few that I live in hope rather than expectation of seeing the light of day this calendar year.

By now, many of you will know the kinds of music that interests me and what floats my boat. So there might not be too many surprises here. But judging by the list that I am working through, not to mention the records that I explored a few weeks ago in my early sneaky peek, there are some great signs of a positive 2018 being delivered to us.

So, on that note, allow me to bring you the first five releases (in no particular order) that are worthy of our attention.

Vanishing Point – TBC
Release date: TBC

Do I really need to explain my reasoning for Vanishing Point’s inclusion in this list? The Australians are, without doubt, one of the most essential melodic progressive metal bands on the planet. I won’t mention, for the umpteenth time, that ‘Tangled In Dream’ is an all-time favourite record of any genre, because that would be unnecessary. It is, though.

Instead, I’ll mention that the last couple of records have been of a similarly high standard and, from the clips I’ve heard, the new material for their upcoming record, I don’t see a dip in the quality at all. In fact, Vanishing Point are turning into one of the most consistent bands out there, with a very high quality control department.

With their new album, I am expecting galloping rhythms, punchy progressive riffs and huge melodic choruses all laced with atmospheric synths and Silvio Massaro’s voice of liquid gold. If that sounds good to you, you’ll want to keep an eye open for this highly anticipated album. I certainly will and I’ll bring you the ubiquitous review at the appropriate time.

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Daylight Dies – TBC
Release date: TBC

Here was a band I wasn’t expecting to feature in 2018. After all, it was nearly six years ago that the American death/doom band released any new material, in the form of their fourth record, ‘A Frail Becoming’ back in 2012. But just a few days ago, we get an update out of the silence on social media to say that the band is alive and well. Even better, the update confirmed that the band were congregating to work on new material, and would continue to do so over the next two weeks.

I’ve been a fan of this particular band for many years. In the beginning, their music reminded me of early Katatonia and they even supported the Swedes the first time I ever saw them live on stage in the UK in 2003. But since then, they have grown into a very important band in their own right as far as I’m concerned.

Theirs is an output rooted in dark/doom metal, laced with a sumptuous and elegant melodic melancholy, the kind that can tug at the heartstrings whilst delivering a heavy dose of brutality. And, if the snippet below is anything to go by, nothing much has changed in the ‘heaviness’ stakes over the years. I’m really looking forward to this one and you should be too.

Vanden Plas – The Ghost Experiment
Release date: TBC

If I had such a thing as a prog metal top 10, Vanden Plas would be in it. The definition of consistency, they have released record after record of exceptional progressive metal. Of late, they have travelled a more dramatic, orchestral and cinematic path, lacing their technical and heavy framework with a grandiose sheen that is impossible to ignore.

For me, the incredible ‘The Seraphic Clockwork’ sits at the top of the pile, but ‘Christ O’ isn’t far behind. And neither are their last two records, the hugely dramatic and majestic ‘Chronicles of the Immortals – Netherworld’ released in 2014 and 2015 respectively. It was clear that these two records were heavily influenced by the theatrical stage shows that the band had been undertaking to huge critical acclaim and the results were thoroughly excellent.

The Kaiserslautern-based band have taken to social media to confirm that work is underway on a new record, with the confirmed title of ‘The Ghost Experiment’. There isn’t much to go on with this clip, but being the big fan of drum-monster Andreas Lill that I am, it still whets the appetite significantly.

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Long Distance Calling – Boundless
Release date: 2 February 2018

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If there was one band that could single-handedly change my mind about instrumental albums, it would be Long Distance Calling. There have been a few very good records released lately without vocals, but without doubt, this German(?) band are consistently one of the very best.

Of late, Long Distance Calling have been experimenting with their approach to the extent that vocals have been introduced quite liberally to their compositions as well as plenty of other eyebrow-raising additions. The fact is though, that whatever they do, the end result is always thoroughly compelling.
However, according to the band themselves, album number x, entitled ‘Boundless’, marks a return to a fully instrumental approach. About ‘Boundless, the quartet has gone on record to state:

“This is probably the purest LDC album ever, no guests, no vocals, purely instrumental. We’re stoked how it turned out and this album got a lot of energy, heaviness, melodies and twists, we hope you will enjoy it as much as we do.”

Based solely on the content of ‘Out There’, the first single from the album, I am very excited by the prospect of ‘Boundless’. Naturally I am now chomping at the bit, awaiting a chance to hear the entire record and bring you my considered review of it. In the meantime, here’s ‘Out There’ to wrap your ears around.

Soilwork – TBC
Release date: TBC

Whilst some other melodic death metal bands have fallen by the wayside over the years as far as I’m concerned, my love and admiration for Soilwork has remained steadfast. Despite numerous line-up changes over the last few years, the Helsingborg sextet have never let the quality of their output fall away. There may have been the occasional blip here and there but overall, the quality of the music has always been of a high standard.

Personally, I love the blend of aggression, melody and groove that Soilwork bring to the table, all topped off by the unmistakeable voice of Bjorn ‘Speed’ Strid. Some records have dabbled with a more ‘immediate’ sound and more overt pop influences, whilst others are more extreme in their delivery, particularly of late. Nevertheless, whatever the recipe, they always seem to create superb music that I never tire of hearing.

So when the band posted the following message on social media, I got very excited:

“Happy New Year Soilworkers!!! Who’s ready for new music in 2018?”

I should have realised that a new album would be on the cards given that their last studio album, ‘The Ride Majestic’ was released in 2015. However, I can take my eye off the ball occasionally. Not now though, because all eyes are on a new Soilwork album in 2018. I can’t wait!

Album of the Year 2016 – Number 29

Welcome to day two of my ‘Album of the Year 2016’ top 30 countdown. If you missed the first post in this series, check it out here:

Album of the Year 2016 – Number 30

As I stated at the beginning of the last post, 2016 has been an incredibly strong year for my personal music taste. I have listened to countless new releases and have reviewed, in full, nearly 100 of the best. Whittling them down into a top 30 has been excruciatingly hard and even now, I’m still tinkering with the order and making 11th hour swaps.

In some cases, my opinion of the music has increased whilst in others, my initial love has waned disappointingly. As such, my final 30 contains a few surprises even to me. Mind you, going back and revisiting all these super albums has been a delight and is something I’ve enjoyed immensely. However, rest assured that every album that’s featured in this list is worthy of its place, whether it was released 11 months or 11 days ago.

So, back to the main issue at hand – what is today’s album of choice?…

Number 29

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In Mourning
Afterglow
Agonia Records

 

“‘Afterglow’, the fourth album from In Mourning, is such a positive album because Messrs Tobias Netzell (guitars, vocals), Pierre Stam (bass), Björn Pettersson (guitars, vocals), Tim Nedergård (guitars) and former katatonia drummer Daniel Liljekvist have really come up trumps in terms of merging three or four key ingredients into a cohesive and believable end product. They take the crushing brutality of death and doom metal and blend it with mournful, elegant melodies, a progressive bent and a liberal dose of dark, foreboding atmosphere.

I am hugely impressed by what I have heard. There’s not a weak track anywhere to be found and the consistency of the song writing and indeed the execution is out of the top drawer…‘Afterglow’ is a damn fine record and is one of the finest melodic death/doom releases I’ve heard in a while, right up there with label mates October Tide and last year’s opus from Swallow The Sun.”

Read the full review here

Photo: Daniel Jansson
Photo: Daniel Jansson

This record was released back in May 2016 and, if anything, the more I listen to this album, the more I like it. ‘Afterglow’ made a big impact right away but it is one of those releases that actually gets stronger with time and repeated listens. It is particularly satisfying when it is returned to after a bit of a break because I find that the heavy and uncompromising riffs hit harder whilst the melodies and the dark atmospheres feel even more emotive and elegant.

Some six months on, ‘Afterglow’ really feels like a remarkably consistent record with plenty to enjoy throughout, most notably the progressive elements that keep the listener on their toes. However I have to admit that ‘Ashen Crown’ is the standout moment; I just love the juxtaposition between the heavy opening and the shoegaze-infused second half that sends shivers down my spine thanks to its subtlety and acoustic-led elegance that conveys real depth, emotion and poignancy, not to mention its uplifting overtones. That said, there are plenty of other fantastically mesmerising moments to be found littering this impressive album.

If you’re looking for an album that is brutal, sophisticated and dripping with dark atmosphere, make sure that you check out ‘Afterglow’ as it is easily the best and most accomplished release from this talented Swedish extreme metal band.

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

Album of the Year 2016 – Number 30

And from previous years:

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

In Mourning – Afterglow – Album Review

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Artist: In Mourning

Album Title: Afterglow

Label: Agonia Records

Date Of Release: 20 May 2016

In Mourning is a name that that have flitted around the very edges of my consciousness for a few years now. ‘Afterglow’ however, takes the Swedish quintet out of my personal periphery and re-positions them at the very forefront of my mind. To put it another way, this is the aural equivalent of shouting in my face ‘like me, like me’. Well, it has worked, because I do. Very much.

Previous albums by the Swedes had been decent enough and pleasant, if ‘pleasant’ is an adjective that can be applied to a dark and doomy death metal band. ‘Afterglow’ is, in my opinion, another proposition entirely. It isn’t decent and it isn’t pleasant. It is, instead, rather excellent.

‘Afterglow’, the fourth album from In Mourning, is such a positive album because Messrs Tobias Netzell (guitars, vocals), Pierre Stam (bass), Björn Pettersson (guitars, vocals), Tim Nedergård (guitars) and former katatonia drummer Daniel Liljekvist have really come up trumps in terms of merging three or four key ingredients into a cohesive and believable end product. They take the crushing brutality of death and doom metal and blend it with mournful, elegant melodies, a progressive bent and a liberal dose of dark, foreboding atmosphere.

Opening track, ‘Fire And Ocean’ proves this beyond any doubt whatsoever. Chunky, heavy riffs, a driving beat, clever subtle melodic leads that are vaguely reminiscent of the likes of Daylight Dies and Insomnium, as well a surprising amount of groove combine to create a heady introduction to the album, especially when you factor in the occasional lead guitar solo and some truly satisfyingly gruff growls.

If anything, there’s an even more epic feel to the album’s longest track, ‘The Grinning Mist’, thanks largely to the expansive soundscapes created from the outset. The atmospherics make a bigger impact here and help to convey a slightly darker and altogether much bleaker sonic tapestry. There’s also room within the ten minutes or so for In Mourning to break out of their shell a little more and experiment with numerous different tempos as well as injecting more pronounced light and shade to increase the overall dynamics of the song. There’s even a brief introduction of clean vocals for added variety.

Credit: unknown
Credit: unknown

The opening two tracks are very good, but by track three, the magic really hits. ‘Ashen Crown’ begins in a similar fashion to its predecessors but just after the half-way mark something a curveball is thrown. The Katatonia-esque lead guitar melody and heavy, swirling riffs are disposed of. An undistorted guitar strums away and then the clean vocals appear once again, this time to dominate proceedings. It’s as if In Mourning felt an overwhelming urge to go all shoegaze and poignant on us. Elegant soft melodies and a piano join the party to help create a closing segment that feels both solemn and uplifting, with a fragile beauty that could break the resolve of the most cold-hearted of grown men. The song builds to a majestic crescendo, offering a vague sense of hope and light to the listener.

‘Below Rise to the Above’ begins in a manner not too dissimilar to the way in which its predecessor closed, with a quiet and intensely atmospheric opening, complete with haunting guitars and more clean vocals, albeit stronger-sounding and more assured this time. It isn’t long before the heavier riffs join in but by then, the die has been cast. As heavy the track gets, it retains that melodic core throughout. I love the stop-start, chugging off-kilter riffing and the way that the gruff vocals really come to fore, a wonderful counterpoint to the melodic and restrained tumult surrounding them. This track drips with atmosphere and the hairs on the back of my neck rise, particularly when the closing soulful, bluesy guitar solo kicks in. What a song.

The clean vocals do make further appearances, particularly during the penultimate track, ‘The Call To Orion’. However, the final three songs revert more overtly to the formula seen at the beginning of the record, each providing a more than favourable listening experience.

What I really admire about this record is the way in which the compositions are complex but in an unassuming way. It’s one thing to hurl a million ideas into the melting pot and emerge with an end product that is a muddled and unfocused mélange of sounds and ideas. It’s an entirely different skill to create complex music that sounds smooth and not at all daunting. And with ‘Afterglow’, In Mourning have succeeded handsomely. Yes it is heavy, intense and raw in places but the whole thing flows very nicely nevertheless.

As the final notes of ‘Afterglow’ assault the senses, I am left with two primary thoughts. Firstly, I am hugely impressed by what I have heard. There’s not a weak track anywhere to be found and the consistency of the song writing and indeed the execution is out of the top drawer. However, featuring just seven tracks, I kind of hope for just one more song. To be entirely fair, there are no quick instrumental intros, outros or interlude to act as padding and the album does last for 55 minutes, so you’re not short-changed. It’s just that ‘Afterglow’ seems to end all too quickly somehow. Maybe that’s a good thing?

That aside though, there isn’t much to find fault with here. ‘Afterglow’ is a damn fine record and is one of the finest melodic death/doom releases I’ve heard in a while, right up there with label mates October Tide and last year’s opus from Swallow The Sun. Highly recommended.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.0

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

Haken – Affinity
Long Distance Calling – TripsOctober Tide – Winged Waltz
Odd Logic – Penny For Your Thoughts
Iron Mountain – Unum
Knifeworld – Bottled Out Of Eden
Novembre – Ursa
Beholder – Reflections
Neverworld – Dreamsnatcher
Universal Mind Project – The Jaguar Priest
Thunderstone – Apocalypse Again
InnerWish – Innerwish
Mob Rules – Tales From Beyond
Ghost Bath – Moonlover
Spiritual Beggars – Sunrise To Sundown
Oceans Of Slumber – Winter
Rikard Zander – I Can Do Without Love
Redemption – The Art Of Loss
Headspace – All That You Fear Is Gone
Chris Quirarte – Mending Broken Bridges
Sunburst – Fragments Of Creation
Inglorious – Inglorious
Omnium Gatherum – Grey Heavens
Structural Disorder – Distance
Votum – Ktonik
Fleshgod Apocalypse – King
Rikard Sjoblom – The Unbendable Sleep
Textures – Phenotype
Serenity – Codex Atlanticus
Borknagar – Winter Thrice
The Mute Gods – Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me
Brainstorm – Scary Creatures
Arcade Messiah – II
Phantasma – The Deviant Hearts
Rendezvous Point – Solar Storm
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld II
Antimatter – The Judas Table
Bauda – Sporelights
Waken Eyes – Exodus
Earthside – A Dream In Static
Caligula’s Horse – Bloom
Teramaze – Her Halo
Amorphis – Under The Red Cloud
Spock’s Beard – The Oblivion Particle
Agent Fresco – Destrier
Cattle Decapitation – The Anthropocene Extinction
Between The Buried And Me – Coma Ecliptic
Cradle Of Filth – Hammer Of The Witches
Disarmonia Mundi – Cold Inferno
District 97 – In Vaults
Progoctopus – Transcendence
Big Big Train – Wassail
NightMare World – In The Fullness Of Time
Helloween – My God-Given Right
Triaxis – Zero Hour
Isurus – Logocharya
Arcturus – Arcturian
Kamelot – Haven
Native Construct – Quiet World
Sigh – Graveward
Pantommind – Searching For Eternity
Subterranean Masquerade – The Great Bazaar
Klone – Here Comes The Sun
The Gentle Storm – The Diary
Melechesh – Enki
Enslaved – In Times
Keep Of Kalessin – Epistemology
Lonely Robot – Please Come Home
The Neal Morse Band – The Grand Experiment
Zero Stroke – As The Colours Seep
AudioPlastik – In The Head Of A Maniac
Revolution Saints – Revolution Saints
Mors Principium Est – Dawn of The 5th Era
Arcade Messiah – Arcade Messiah
Triosphere – The Heart Of The Matter
Neonfly – Strangers In Paradise
Knight Area – Hyperdrive
Haken – Restoration
James LaBrie – Impermanent Resonance
Mercenary – Through Our Darkest Days
A.C.T. – Circus Pandemonium
Xerath – III
Big Big Train – English Electric (Part 1)
Thought Chamber – Psykerion
Marcus Jidell – Pictures From A Time Traveller
H.E.A.T – Tearing Down The Walls
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld

My Route to Becoming A Metalhead

One of the most fascinating conversations I have with fellow music lovers and metalheads in particular is about the route they took when discovering this magnificent genre of music. Everybody has a different journey, one that inevitably leads to a different ending. Sure, we may all like roughly the same bands, but it is rare to find two metal fans who have the same favourite band or set of bands.

And, whilst I have covered much of this topic in some of my very earliest blogs (‘the early years’, ‘the University years’ and ‘the post University years’) I thought it might be fun to plot my journey to date a little more briefly via the bands that helped me to get from this…

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…to this…

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…via this…

goth matt

Starting at the very beginning, I was brought up on a diet of Queen, ELO and Dire Straits. My Dad would play albums by these three bands in particular in the car on a very frequent basis and, as I got older, began somewhat inevitably to appreciate these bands and, on a wider scale, guitar-based music in general. Of the three, Queen remain my favourite, with ‘Innuendo’ my album of choice. That said, songs like ‘Roll Over Beethoven’ and ‘Brothers in Arms’ hold a special place in my heart.

I didn’t really get more interested in music until my early teens when I bought my first CD player. At that time, I was heavily influenced by my best friend who, at a year older than me, was already a fair way along his own personal journey. He introduced me to both Guns ‘N’ Roses and Def Leppard, both of which remain important to me.

However, I’ve got to be honest and say that Bon Jovi were also a pivotal figure in my early listening, albeit no longer. I never really got into the whole ‘hair metal’ scene, despite an initial and lasting love of ‘Slave To The Grind’ by Skid Row – a classic album in my opinion.

I dabbled with these bands for a long while but, as I became more adventurous, two new names became massively important: Iron Maiden and Metallica. The former I became a fan of via their album ‘The Number Of The Beast’ and the track ‘Hallowed Be thy Name’ in particular. The latter, I admit, came to my attention via the ‘Black Album’, although I was quick to delve into their back catalogue once the seeds had been sown. To be honest, I rarely listen to their 1991 classic album anymore, although I am not silly enough to decry its obvious importance to me.

So far, so very ordinary I guess. But then, as I was about to get into thrash metal in a big way, thanks to the likes of Megadeth et al, I found myself suddenly veering down a more modern path, discovering new kids on the block Pantera, Machine Head and Fear Factory. What’s strange though, is that aside from these three bands, my attention was not held for long. I still listen a lot to these three, but as far as many of their contemporaries are concerned, I was only vaguely interested at best. The result of this, I must admit that I have never got into thrash metal as much as perhaps I should have done. There are certain bands that I listen to a lot, such as Exodus and Testament but in general, the scene has, to date, passed me by a little.

I never ventured into grunge territory and nu-metal turned me off immediately. I wanted ‘proper’ metal, not what I perceived at the time to be ‘rap-rock rubbish’. To a certain extent, I maintain this view although my description may be a little more measured and less dismissive these days.

And so, whilst many of my peers were discovering a whole new sub-genre, I found myself going completely the other way. Beginning with the dark Gothic overtones of Type O Negative, early Anathema ,Sentenced and Moonspell, I eventually found myself embroiled in the black metal scene. Cradle Of Filth sat front and centre of this new-found love, although thanks to the fortunate discovery of ‘Enthrone, Darkness, Triumphant’, Dimmu Borgir were never far behind. Neither were Emperor to be honest. I loved the mix of fast aggression and melodic interludes that many black metal bands of the mid 90s provided and I devoured this scene. I still love the early albums by Cradle Of Filth and with a small dose of home-town loyalty, they’ll always be a special band for me.

Not long after heading to University, my head was turned yet again. This time, the sub-genre was ‘the Gothenburg scene’ or ‘New Wave Of Swedish Death Metal’. Dissection blew me away, acting as the bridge between the black and death metal thanks to their opus ‘Storm Of The Lights Bane’.

However, soon after, it was In Flames that captured my heart. The album was ‘The Jester Race’ and the song that cemented the love was the instrumental ‘The Jester’s Dance’. Sublime.

Dark Tranquillity, Soilwork and early Arch Enemy quickly followed into my collection. And, whilst I still adore the former two, I must admit that my enjoyment of Arch Enemy has waned somewhat over the years. It would be unfair to attribute all of that to the change in vocalist, but the dismissal of Johan Liiva was a mistake in my opinion.

And then, in something of a curveball, I found myself enjoying the less intense and more light-hearted (some might say ‘cheesy’) genre of power metal. It all began with a chance hearing of ‘Valley Of The Kings’ by Gamma Ray and for a few years on and off, the likes of Rhapsody, Dragonforce and Edguy gave me a lot of instant sonic gratification.

And as we near the present day, it will come as no surprise to learn that progressive metal is my newest and currently, my biggest love. I was hankering after a genre to really test me, to give me something to think about. Prog was the answer. After discovering Evergrey, the floodgates opened. I devoured much of the InsideOut Music label, discovering Pain Of Salvation, Vanden Plas and Haken in the process.

InsideOut remains one of the most important sources of music for me, but I am always on the look-out for other bands, whether or not they are well-known. That said, I am likely to forever be in the never-ending process of discovering everything that the genre and its spin-offs have to offer. I came too late to truly ‘get’ Rush but I am loving the neo-prog movement in latter years. And, as I get older, the lighter end of the prog spectrum is becoming ever-more enticing, with Big Big Train being the catalyst for this.

And, although prog metal is still my favourite subgenre, I still listen to everything that I have mentioned in this blog and so much more besides. The whole melodic doom metal genre to include bands like Swallow The Sun, Insomnium and Daylight Dies remains important to me.

And in addition, a new door that has opened in recent years is that of melodic rock and AOR. Sometimes a bit of musical fluff is exatly what I need to dilute all that aggression.

As I have written this blog, I have had my collection on shuffle, enjoying the likes of Amorphis, Slayer, Transatlantic, Katatonia and Audrey Horne in the process.

And, as for those that I have never ‘got’? Well thanks to this path I have taken over the years, I have to admit that aside from nu-metal and huge swathes of thrash metal, Motorhead, Aerosmith, Slipknot, Nirvana and Tool are just a few of the high-profile names that I’ve never really warmed to. That’s not to say I dislike them, just that they’ve never really hit the mark with me personally. The great thing about music however, is that I still have plenty of time to change that, should I so wish. Over to you…

My Top 20 of 2012 – Number 20

Yes, it is that time of year again when the Internet seems inundated with ‘top albums of the year’ lists. Well, glory be, here’s another one, courtesy of yours truly, The Man Of Much Metal.

I have decided to create a daily countdown of my personal top 20 albums of 2012. I realise that this will mean that the top few will not be unveiled until 2013 but I felt this would be the best option for many reasons:

Firstly, there were too many candidates to whittle it down to a top 10 or top 15. Secondly, I thought that if I highlighted one a day, it would give people the time to properly check out each of the bands without any of them getting lost in a long list. Furthermore, each post can be fairly succinct and will allow me to offer links, artwork and a small précis about each album without (hopefully) losing reader interest. It may hopefully encourage some discussion about each choice individually – at least, I hope so. Positive or negative, you can hit me with it!

So, without any further ado, here goes…

Number 20:

daylightDaylight Dies
“A Frail Becoming”
Candlelight Records

I am a sucker for melodic dark/doom metal and there are few better examples than “A Frail Becoming”, the fourth album from the American quintet Daylight Dies.

There is more than a hint of early Katatonia in the band’s sound, but that cannot be a bad thing can it? The compositions on this album are epic for all the right reasons – they are often crushingly heavy but yet convey a delicate and fragile beauty thanks to some glorious melodies contained within evocative lead guitar lines. This was by and large the album that I have always hope to hear from this band, as I knew that they had it in them.

daylight band

Anyone else with a soft spot for melodic doom metal should find room in their collection for this album. If you don’t believe me, check these tracks out…

The Surprise of The Support Act

Whether we like to admit it or not, from time to time we all have the same thought about a gig – ‘why couldn’t the headliner just play an extra-long set and get rid of the support band altogether?’ I look at the line-up and consider my plan of action. Do I get to the venue in time for the doors to open? The risk there, of course, is that you suffer the ubiquitous delay in the doors opening, made all the worse by the usually cold and wet weather. Or instead, do I miss the support act/s entirely and instead go to the pub?

I can’t be the only one surely? In the very beginning when I was new to gigs, I’d be at the venue a full three hours before doors, to ensure a good spot at the front. I’d never be first in the queue though as there would always be someone more keen. It didn’t matter if I was 3 hours early or 5, I was never first. Nowadays, with a full-time office job and a 2 hour trip into the centre of London, getting to the venue early is a rare luxury. And to be honest, given the calibre of some of the support acts, I’m not always particularly bothered.

The choice of support act never ceases to amaze me. It’s like the organisers take a delight in choosing the most incompatible stage-mates, such as a modern shouty metalcore band supporting Lacuna Coil for example. It just didn’t work.

Alternatively, there are those rarer occasions when the support act is bigger than the headliner. I mean, Nevermore supporting Children Of Bodom? Anathema supporting Porcupine Tree? Really? Naturally, this is a more contentious avenue as it is down to each person’s subjective opinion. Plus no-one can ever please everyone all the time.

The awesome Anathema, on stage as support to Porcupine Tree

And then there’s the trend that seems to be gathering pace for me of late – attending a gig primarily because of the support act. I went to see Arena recently but my Norwegian friends and I travelled to the gig because of the support act. Haken were only on stage for 29 minutes, but it was entirely worth the effort. For the record, Arena were damn fine too!

This is not meant to be a boast on my part but to a greater or lesser extent, I have reached the point where I have seen the vast majority of the ‘big’ bands that I have wanted to see. Therefore I am now on the look-out for the ‘smaller’ or less well-known bands that I have yet to see who, in many ways, are more interesting to me.

But then, just occasionally, a hitherto unknown support act will come on stage and blow your cynicism apart. You may not have heard of them before, you may have thought that they weren’t for you and you may have even considered blowing them off entirely. But you don’t and it’s one of the best decisions you’ve ever made. What follows is a small selection of these bands:

Dead By April – my partner and I went to London to see Lacuna Coil in 2009 and they were supported on this occasion by two bands. The spitting Cancer Bats were appalling but a young Swedish band really impressed us both. Their name was Dead By April. Normally, their brand of melodic nu-metal-tinged metalcore would have been too commercial for me but a number of factors ensured that I thought otherwise. A steely determination and genuine belief underpinned an entertaining performance that was topped off by some very immediate, hook-laden choruses and two great vocalists, one screaming and growling his lungs out, the other with an angelic clean voice seemingly at odds with his edgy, muscle-bound appearance. Their debut album was bought soon after and remains a favourite.

Pain – as a fan of Hypocrisy, I was fully aware of Mr Peter Tagtgren’s talents. However, until they hit the stage ahead of Nightwish at a gig at the Brixton Academy in 2009, I had not heard any of Pain’s musical output. The up-tempo, industrial tinged material is not the most serious, but was a lot of fun, not to mention being immediately infectious. Their set had me headbanging with gusto and parting with more money in the ensuing days.

Susperia – way back in 2001, I travelled with my brother and a friend to one hell of a gig. It featured an amazing trio of Dimmu Borgir, Lacuna Coil and Nevermore. The bill was rounded out by a Norwegian band called Susperia. Again, I knew very little about them, except that the drummer was once in Dimmu Borgir. I was blown away by their (at the time) unique blend of death, black and thrash metal. It was melodic, groovy and I loved it. Whilst their latter albums have not hit the same heady heights, their debut album ‘Predominance’, which I bought on the strength of this show, was fantastic.

Daylight Dies – My brother and I found ourselves at the rather incongruous setting of the ‘ULU’ in the Spring of 2003. Little more than a glorified sports hall with a sprung wooden floor, the University Of London Union played host to Katatonia. I was still in the infancy of my love for the Swedes and as good as Katatonia were, I was just as impressed with the first support, Daylight Dies from the USA. Unashamedly influenced by the sounds of early Katatonia and My Dying Bride, their brand of melodic and epic doom metal was a real treat. Along with my Katatonia tour date hoodie (read more about that here), I purchased the American’s debut album, ‘No Reply’, at the merch stall and nine years later, I’m in the throes of reviewing their fourth album for Powerplay Magazine!

Apocalyptica – The final ‘band’ that springs to mind during the writing of this blog is Apocalyptica. This quartet are not your normal metal band; in fact, they sprang onto the scene with a debut album of Metallica covers. The big difference here though is that the quartet are all cellists. No guitars, drums, keyboards, just four cellos. I was rather dubious at first when they took to the stage supporting Rammstein in Brixton in 2005, but the sight of four long-haired Finns throwing their huge instruments around the stage with such abandon as they played the likes of ‘One’ was brilliant to watch. The intensity and belief in what they were doing too was something to behold. So much so, I went to see them play live again, this time headlining in 2008.

Apocalyptica headlining in 2008

It is always good to support artists who may be desperately trying to make their way in the music business. But, after all that, the moral of this story is: as good as a beer in a pub sounds, occasionally, a support act will sound even better.

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