Tag Archives: electronic

Anathema – The Optimist – Album Review

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Artist: Anathema

Album Title: The Optimist

Label: Kscope

Date of Release: 9 June 2017

Anathema is one of my top 5 bands of all time. As such, their new full-length release, ‘The Optimist’ is easily my most highly anticipated album release of 2017.

Put simply, Anathema are a band that speaks to me. They are a band that seem to know instinctively how to press my buttons and touch me whatever my mood. From euphoric and uplifting, to fragile and poignant, they cover the gamut of emotions, leaving me exhilarated one minute and sombre the next, frequently with tears as my constant and ubiquitous silent companion.

I have always liked Anathema, discovering the Liverpudlians via the magnificent ‘Eternity’, back in 1996 as a teenager. However, it was with 2010’s ‘We’re Here Because We’re Here’ and 2012’s ‘Weather Systems’ that my admiration grew into a full-blown love affair, further cemented by ‘Distant Satellites’ in 2014.

To some extent, timing was everything. ‘We’re Here Because We’re Here’ was born less than two years after the heartbreaking passing of my younger brother. And so, when the song ‘Presence’ delivers the spoken word lines of ‘Life is not the opposite of death. Death is the opposite of birth. Life is eternal’ atop a gorgeously ethereal soundscape, I was floored. I know it sounds nonsensical but I felt like Anathema knew me and had put this into the album just for me to help ease my own inner turmoil.

‘Weather Systems’ was released just two years later. Stronger human beings might have moved on from personal tragedy better than I but truth be told, I was still struggling. As such, when I heard ‘Internal Landscapes’ with another powerful spoken word intro delivered by a man who had suffered a near-death experience, I was hit once again. Was this written for me? Of course not, but the conflicting emotions that it stirred in me made me think so. From despair at my loss to the comfort of gaining a little insight into what my brother might have felt as he slipped from us, this masterpiece within Anathema’s undeniable tour-de-force continues to have a huge and lasting impact.

And then, if that wasn’t enough, along came ‘Distant Satellites’ in 2014. I had the pleasure of meeting and interviewing Daniel and Vincent prior to its release. The guys graciously listened to my babblings as I tried to ineloquently describe the importance of their music to me. To my eternal gratitude, the brothers then gave me the gift of a whole new perspective on ‘The Lost Song, Part 2’. Already an achingly gorgeous song, their words made this composition even more important, further cementing the bond between Anathema, my brother and me.

Given all this history, it is very difficult for me to remain entirely objective where Anathema is concerned. And naturally my expectations will be massive ahead of the release of any new material.

And, to begin with, I struggled with ‘The Optimist’, the eleventh album of the Liverpudlian’s career. Never ones to shy away from experimentation, ‘The Optimist’ is yet another shift in Anathema’s own personal evolution. Whilst the core ingredients of atmosphere, emotional depth and lyrical eloquence are present and correct here, the output framed loosely by alternative/prog rock, has a much darker feel to it in general. There is also a more pronounced use of loops, electronic sounds and percussion that were hinted at within the title track on ‘Distant Satellites’. If I’m honest, whilst I love that specific track, I had my doubts and concerns should Anathema venture further down this musical avenue.

The fact that they have done just that perhaps explains why my initial thoughts on ‘The Optimist’ were not overly favourable. The selfish side of me wanted ten more close variations of ‘The Lost Song Part 2’ or ‘Internal Landscapes’ and I felt disappointed that together, Vincent Cavanagh (vocals, guitars, keys), Daniel Cavanagh (guitars, keys, vocals), John Douglas (acoustic/electronic percussion), Lee Douglas (vocals), Jamie Cavanagh (bass) and Daniel Cardoso (drums/keyboards) hadn’t indulged me.

Anathema-promo-2017-1-1024x683 Caroline Traitler

Credit: Caroline Traitler – http://www.carolinetraitler.net

With the benefit of time and perseverance though, I can now admit that it is not the music on ‘The Optimist’ that was at fault, but my own issues, my own limitations and my selfishness. ‘The Optimist’ is not an instant fix, an immediate score of your favourite musical drug. What it is instead, is a multi-layered, multi-faceted record that demands time and effort on behalf of the listener to unlock its true potential. And when it unlocks…wow!

Interestingly the band have married this latest step forward sonically with a thematic step backwards. In 2001, Anathema released an album called ‘A Fine Day To Exit’ which told the story of a man who wanted to escape his life and the modern world. ‘The Optimist’ reprises this story and in so doing, provides closure to a story that was left unfinished. In typical Anathema style however, the conclusion remains deliberately ambiguous, inviting personal interpretation by the listener.

This thematic decision explains the somewhat strange title of the opening track on ‘The Optimist’, namely ’32.63N 117.14W’. These are in fact the co-ordinates for the beach in San Diego where ‘A Fine Day to Exit’ concludes and which, I assume, adorns the cover of that album, a cover that becomes quite emotional with closer scrutiny. I’ll admit that this is in no way my favourite album in the Anathema back catalogue but I had often thought about that cover and the family photo that sits on the dashboard of the empty car wondering how this story ultimately played out. And now I can.

This opener very much has the feel of a concept album introduction. The sound of waves lapping on the shore, footsteps crunching on the beach, a car engine starting and then station-hopping on the car radio. It is more a scene-setter than a piece of music per se but it then segues rather seamlessly into ‘Leaving It Behind’ and we’re off. And we’re off at some pace, because this is a massively up-tempo, loud and abrasive piece of rock music. The electronic aspect is present from the beginning but with a bit of listening, it really enhances the track, adding an interesting slant to the composition, particularly in the brief atmospheric mid-song break down. As the song develops, the intensity increases as guitars begin to build up into walls of jangly sound whilst the drumming from Cardoso is relentless, ably assisted by bassist Jamie Cavanagh. To my mind, it is the perfect way to introduce an album that has deliberately and consciously been recorded ‘live’ in the studio, because the resulting energy is palpable and thoroughly infectious, pulling the listener along for the heady ride immediately.

As ‘Endless Ways’ begins quietly with just a lone piano and plaintive melody, I’m still catching my breath a little. But as Lee Douglas enters the fray for the first time, accented by some lush orchestration, my attention is well and truly undivided. The melodies and angelic vocals are more reminiscent of the last couple of albums, even if Douglas has parked the vibrato which characterised previous performances. Here, as the song majestically builds from humble beginnings into a powerful and heartfelt outpouring of emotions, Lee demonstrates that she is one of the shining lights in rock music today, whilst Anathema demonstrate that they haven’t lost their mercurial spark, whatever I might have first thought. And yes, you guessed it, the tears flow as I find myself being emotionally nourished by the incredibly important rock in my life that is Anathema.

“Hold on, hold on for dear life
And run, and run all night
For you are loved in endless ways
Stay with me, please believe
I can be your memory

My world will never be the same
And my heart is never going to regret
For you are loved in endless ways
Are loved in endless ways”

This wasn’t written for me, just as previous lyrics weren’t. But they could have been. These words resound with me, they touch me and they comfort me.

More piano introduces the title track, but it is Vincent that initially joins in vocally, joined by Lee at times but only fleetingly. Delicate melodies that are pure Anathema begin to work their charm after a few listens and further orchestration embellishments help to propel the song to a new level of sophistication. The track ebbs and flows, toying with the listener’s moods, but as with its predecessor, there is a subtle build-up towards a crescendo where there’s a hint of a wailing guitar in the vein of songs like ‘Anathema’.

‘San Francisco’ is a bit of an odd one. It is an instrumental that is dominated by a rather repetitive yet strangely beguiling melody, a reprise of sorts of ‘Endless Ways’ if I’m not mistaken. It is then accented by atmospheric synths and electronic sounds which help to set a completely different tone, one that I warm to more and more as time goes by.

In keeping with the concept vibe, the sounds of a train in full flight acts as a pause before ‘Springfield’ is introduced, almost shyly and reluctantly via a quiet and delicate guitar melody which is quickly taken up by the piano. Electronic sounds make a subtle return but it is the insistent rhythmic beat that makes the biggest impression in the early stages, driving the song towards what ultimately becomes an imposing wall of post rock-inspired sound led by urgent guitars and topped off by Lee’s serene voice almost pleading to the heavens. The track then falls away to conclude in a minimalist manner accompanied by the sounds of waves, distant sirens and the whispers of a male voice.

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Credit: Caroline Traitler – http://www.carolinetraitler.net

‘Ghosts’ then offers one of the most poignant and immediate melodies on the album which is enhanced by a beautiful string arrangement and a beat that together suggests something reminiscent of a film soundtrack. By contrast, ‘Can’t Let Go’ ups the pace and features arguably Vincent’s strongest performance on the entire record. Once again, drummer Cardoso provides the drive to a track that begins in bold fashion but which builds sublimely through a clever injection of rich and vibrant aural textures.

We return to another snippet of action from the central character before we delve into the murky world of ‘Close Your Eyes’, which evokes images in my mind of a dark and smoky backstreet jazz club. I can appreciate the composition and I don’t dislike it but it is by far and away my least favourite track on the album. The fact that a trumpet plays a significant role no doubt feeds my apathy as I continue to fail to warm to brass of any kind in my music.

Any lingering misgivings are short-lived however as ‘The Optimist’ ends in genuinely commanding fashion courtesy of ‘Wildfires’ and the fittingly-titled epic closer, ‘Back To The Start’.

The former has a dark, eerie tone created by the haunting, echoed vocals of Vincent atop the ubiquitous piano which for large portions of the track delivers something monotone, incessant and deliberately uncomfortable. But it works, as does the controlled explosion of sound before another swift descent into a minimalist, thought-provoking abyss.

The album is then brought to a close by the near 12-minute ‘Back To The Start’ and it is nothing short of magical, the perfect way to round out this impressive body of work. The sound of waves gently lapping onto the beach ushers in an aching and gorgeous melody that, when coupled by some devastatingly honest lyrics, threatens to reduce this grown man to tears yet again. I’m not normally someone who likes choral vocals, especially when they have a vague gospel ‘happy’ feel to them, but here, it just sounds right. Perfect in fact. The combination of voices, orchestration and lyrics as the song builds and ultimately reaches its climax is truly epic and a feeling of barely contained euphoria washes over me, bathing me in a warm glow. It’s all too much, so when the final act of the central character follows, I get tingles, chills and all manner of conflicting emotions.

Once again, Anathema have delivered an album that is more to me than just a collection of beautifully and lovingly-crafted songs. It is an album that lives and breathes. It has a vibrancy, an intense raw honesty and a human depth that many strive to deliver but that very few succeed in achieving. Whether or not it ultimately surpasses the last couple of records in terms of my overall enjoyment, only time will tell. For now though, I am content to lose myself in ‘The Optimist’ via its aural magnificence and the emotional succour that it provides to this fragile and damaged soul.

The Score of Much Metal: 9.5

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

2015 reviews
2016 reviews

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

Album of the Year 2016 – Number 10

Finally, after what seems like an age, my ‘Album of the Year 2016’ top 30 countdown reaches the top 10, those ten albums that have made the biggest impact upon me over the past year.

As I’ve said many times throughout this series, this isn’t anything other than one person’s personal thoughts on the year in music. There are going to be some glaring omissions as far as many are concerned. For a start, I’ll let you into a secret: Metallica are not included in this list; they’re not even close, despite their new record being the best for far too many years to count. And there will be others who aren’t included as well, which might raise an eyebrow or two. But hey, it’s my list, so what I say goes!

And on that rather bullish note, it’s time to get on with revealing my top 10, starting with today’s choice at 10. There’s just time to mention that all of the other posts in this series can be viewed via links at the bottom of this page, so please check them out if you haven’t already done so.

Number 10

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Maschine
Naturalis
InsideOut Music

 

“After a few weeks, I have several adjectives running through my mind, many of which have become stronger and more defined the more familiar I get with the album. Words like ‘smooth’, ‘sophisticated’ and ‘refined’ sit comfortably alongside ‘adept’, ‘confident’ and ‘assured’.

You can probably tell therefore, that I like ‘Naturalis’. But that’s not entirely accurate. I love this album. There is so much within it to enjoy and discover; it will take more than a cursory listen to fully appreciate it and that’s one of the beauties of this record.

…on ‘Naturalis’, Maschine just have a knack of making the most complex and challenging music sound so gorgeous, effortless and smooth. Add to the mix a strong production and lyrics that don’t shy away from the big topics of the day and ‘Naturalis’ begins to add up to a very commanding release indeed. I’m thoroughly smitten and can only conclude that if you’re a fan of intelligent and ambitious progressive music, Maschine are an essential addition to your collection.”

Read the full review here

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‘Naturalis’ might have been one of the last releases of the year to be featured on the Blog Of Much Metal but, thanks to the lovely people at InsideOut, I was treated to a generous advance preview period, in which time I was able to sink my teeth deeply into this sophomore album from UK proggers Maschine. Mind you, I needed that time to even begin to fully appreciate everything that such an ambitious and complex record had to offer.

It was time well spent because ‘Naturalis’ has become a firm favourite at the Mansion of Much Metal. It isn’t hard to see why either, because this is a thoroughly immersive and sophisticated listen, one that I have found difficult from which to extricate. But then, I’m not sure I want to.

If their debut was a superb starter for ten, this follow-up has upped the ante in just about every department. As my quotes above indicate, ‘Naturalis’ has to be one of the most complex yet smoothest and subtle releases of the year. The album is littered with clever nuances and impressive intricacies but yet it manages to blend the technicalities and superb musicianship with confident songwriting, plenty of atmospheres and strong melodic sensibilities. The result is an album where every song contains something irresistible, begging a repeat play almost immediately. And, as I have discovered over the past couple of months, the music just gets better the more I listen. Who knows where within my list it might have been if it had been released a few months earlier. This is sophisticated prog and I love it.

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

And from previous years:

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

Riverside – Eye Of The Soundscape – Album Review

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Artist: Riverside

Album Title: Eye Of The Soundscape

Label: InsideOut Music

Date Of Release: 21 October 2016

How on Earth does one even begin to review an album like this? I have found this to be one of the most difficult reviews to write since I began the Blog Of Much Metal. Indeed, it is one of the toughest I have had to write in well over ten years in this reviews ‘business’. It has seen many drafts up until this point and the reasons for this are myriad and complex.

I always want to review music honestly, otherwise what’s the point? However, there are times when this is a real challenge. This is one such time.

I have had, it is truthful to say, an up and down relationship with Riverside. When I heard their debut album ‘Out Of Myself’ when it was released back in 2003, I immediately fell in love. The atmospheres, the melodies, the subtlety, and the power all combined to create an intoxicating final product. However, with subsequent releases, I began to enjoy the output less and less. In my opinion, the melodies weren’t as strong and, in the case of ‘Anno Domini High Definition’, I really wasn’t all that impressed with the heavier output – I felt that it lacked finesse and the stature of the debut in particular. I still struggle with it today.

But then Riverside released ‘Shrine Of New Generation Slaves’ in 2013. With it, Riverside brought me back into the fold. Then just last year, they followed this up with ‘Love, Fear And The Time Machine’ and I fell in love with the Polish progressive rock band all over again. I adored it and still do. In fact, the song ‘Found (The Unexpected Flaw of Searching)’ remains one of the most striking and powerful songs of that year. Not only musicially, for it is a gorgeous piece of music. But it is the lyrical content that brought me to tears frequently. I was going through a tough time but the lyrics helped pull me through:

‘It’s a lovely life, you have gone so far don’t give it up
It’s a lovely life, got to go with what you think is right’

So simple, so beautiful. These words then, tragically, became even more powerful and heartbreaking on 21st February 2016 when the devastating news reached us that guitarist Piotr Grudziński had passed away unexpectedly from a sudden cardiac arrest at the ridiculously young age of 40. Just listen to this song in the context of this tragedy and tell me, honestly, that you don’t find yourself welling up.

Photo credit: Mariusz ‘Kobaru’ Kowal

Photo credit: Mariusz ‘Kobaru’ Kowal

And now the remaining trio of vocalist/bassist Mariusz Duda, keyboardist Michał Łapaj and drummer Piotr Kozieradzki, who have vowed to keep Riverside alive as a three-piece, present the world with ‘Eye Of The Soundscape’. According to the band, this was the album that they have always wanted to make, particularly Piotr Grudziński who was arguably the most excited by the venture.

You see, ‘Eye Of The Soundcape’ is best described as an instrumental ambient electronic record, somewhat removed from the more recognisable sounds of the Polish prog rockers. It is also the last release that will sadly ever feature Grudziński on guitar as this music was largely recorded prior to his untimely passing.

Therefore, how do I remain objective about this album given the context surrounds it? To some extent, the answer is that I can’t remain entirely objective; how could I? I’m human after all, with emotions and a heart. And that’s why I have found this review so troublesome, trying not to overindulge in sentiment and hyperbole for the sake of it, but allowing my feelings to help shape what I write and how I view this release.

The second initial quandary I had was wondering how I review an album from a band that treads a fundamentally very different path to what has gone before? Well, on that score, I found things a lot simpler, relatively-speaking, the reason being two-fold: firstly, I was already familiar with some of the material. Secondly, Riverside have done something rather amazing with ‘Eye Of The Soundscape’, namely create a body of work that manages to sound both very different but also very familiar at the same time. I don’t quite know how they have done it, but the music on this record is unmistakeably Riverside. It couldn’t be anyone else. Well, ok, it could be Duda’s Lunatic Soul in places, but that’s just cheating.

In actual fact, I do know how they’ve achieved this feat and the reason for it is quite simple; each musician within the band has their own way of doing things, their own sounds and their own unique vision. On this record, you can hear each member of the band playing their instruments, just to a greater or lesser degree as the compositions dictate. But their own unique stamps are audible throughout, arguably more so than at any other time in their career; it’s like this style of music has allowed the individuals more time and space and by heavens it works.

I mentioned earlier that some of the material was already familiar. That’s because nine of the thirteen tracks have previously been released as extras on previous albums or featured on the ‘Reality Dream’ trilogy. In the case of ‘Rapid Eye Movement’ and ‘Rainbow Trip’, they have been remixed, but everything else is ‘as is’ from when it was previously released. Both of those remixed tracks are very interesting and add value the overall package. In fact, they work better here within the context of this record and that’s a theme right across the board. Standing out for me is ‘Rapid Eye Movement (2016 Mix)’ which still retains those deliciously memorable melodies and subdued atmosphere.

In the main though, I want to focus on the four brand new pieces of music that appear on this record. They go by the names of ‘Where The River Flows’, ‘Sleepwalkers’, ‘Shine’ and ‘Eye Of The Soundscape’, and they are all marvellous in spite of the fact that they don’t fit in at all with my normal listening preferences. Perhaps this harks back a little to the sentimentalism I spoke of earlier, but there’s no getting away from the fact that they are genuinely great, although it took a while for me to reach this conclusion. I was out of my comfort zone initially and, to be frank, I wasn’t sure I had the emotional strength to tackle this album. But that’s a thing of the past now.

Photo credit: Mariusz ‘Kobaru’ Kowal

Photo credit: Mariusz ‘Kobaru’ Kowal

A sombre and moody atmosphere ushers in the utterly brilliant ‘Where The River Flows’, which builds throughout its double-digit length. After a deliberately pensive and mournful introduction dominated by Michał Łapaj’s synths, a relatively simple yet incessant beat is brought in. As the track develops, so does the intensity and a sense of heightened urgency as the tempo increases along with a subtle introduction of other instruments.

After the five-minute mark, Grudziński’s guitar is properly audible, sending a shiver down my spine in the process, creating strong emotions that I cannot hide from. But it is the ending sequence that holds the most power for me as it transforms the song from very good to exceptional. The rich piano notes that cut through the layers of sound are highly emotive as is Duda’s voice which never breaks out into singing any lyrics but is used to sublime effect as another instrument in the band’s armoury. His melodic yet highly gentle and fragile tones conclude the song perfectly. Initially accompanied by just the piano, it is ultimately left completely alone in the otherwise suffocating silence, a silence perpetuated by me as I try to put into coherent thought what I have just heard.

‘Shine’ is a shorter, punchier number that rides in upon striking electronic sounds and a strong, solid beat from Piotr Kozieradzki. The bass of Duda is at the front of the mix in the early stages, rumbling with authority. The lead guitar work from Grudziński is instantly recognisable, adding melody, beauty and emotion into the piece with utter ease and simplicity.

In some ways, the title track follows a similar pattern to ‘Where The River Flows’ in that it extends beyond ten minutes in length and delicately builds as it develops. That said, the title track begins in a much more ambient and minimalist way to create a more soothing and lighter atmosphere and it never fully blossoms in the same way, remaining understated and very deliberate for its entirety. The introduction of strange sci-fi-like sounds and effects adds an interesting dimension as well before things really start happening as the song nears the half-way point. The keys of Michał Łapaj really come into their own on this composition, adding some super textures and atmospheres as the early minimalism gently grows into something altogether more ethereal and uplifting. The low notes resonate deeply but when the expressive guitar notes join in, albeit sparingly, it is difficult to hold on to my emotions yet again.

Out of all of the new tracks, it is ‘Sleepwalkers’ with which I have had the toughest time. At its core is a far more pronounced electronic beat that immediately takes it out of my usual sphere of comfort if I’m honest. However, I have grown to like it thanks to the strength of the melodies within and because of the flourishes that appear from each of the individual members. I’m also strangely comforted by a darker tone as well as the voice of Duda which makes a strong appearance towards the end of the track.

What I have grown to like so much about this album as a whole, not just the new songs, is that although this is an album based on ambient electronic foundations, it never sounds sterile or overly digitised. Instead, there is a wonderfully warm, organic and honest feel that resonates through the music, something that is Riverside through and through.

I’m not the only one who misses Piotr Grudziński tremendously. And, through the medium of ‘Eye Of The Soundscape’, we are all given the gift of hearing his remarkable and unique talent one last time. The fact that it is within the context of something that he was so genuinely excited about, gives it greater meaning, greater depth and far greater resonance. I may not generally be the biggest fan of ambient electronic music, but as with many things that Riverside create, it is a strong and brave album, a truly special and emotional body of work.

The Score Of Much Metal: 9.0

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

Hanging Garden – Hereafter
Theocracy – Ghost Ship
Arkona – Lunaris
Oddland – Origin
Sonata Arctica – The Ninth Hour
Edensong – Years In The Garden of Years
Meshuggah – The Violent Sleep Of Reason
Alcest – Kodama
Opeth – Sorceress
Negura Bunget – ZI
Epica – The Holographic Principle
Amaranthe – Maximalism
Eye Of Solitude – Cenotaph
Seven Impale – Contrapasso
DGM – The Passage
Pressure Points – False Lights
In The Woods – Pure
Devin Townsend – Transcendence
The Pineapple Thief – Your Wilderness
Evergrey – The Storm Within
Dream The Electric Sleep – Beneath The Dark Wide Sky
Periphery – ‘Periphery III: Select Difficulty’
Karmakanic – Dot
Novena – Secondary Genesis
Witherscape – The Northern Sanctuary
Eric Gillette – The Great Unknown
Tilt – Hinterland
Cosmograf – The Unreasonable Silence
Fates Warning – Theories Of Flight
Wolverine – Machina Viva
Be’lakor – Vessels
Lacuna Coil – Delirium
Big Big Train – Folklore
Airbag – Disconnected
Katatonia – The Fall Of Hearts
Frost* – Falling Satellites
Glorior Belli – Sundown (The Flock That Welcomes)
Habu – Infinite
Grand Magus ‘Sword Songs’
Messenger – Threnodies
Svoid – Storming Voices Of Inner Devotion
Fallujah – Dreamless
In Mourning – Afterglow
Haken – Affinity
Long Distance Calling – Trips
October Tide – Winged Waltz
Odd Logic – Penny For Your Thoughts
Iron Mountain – Unum
Knifeworld – Bottled Out Of Eden
Novembre – Ursa
Beholder – Reflections
Neverworld – Dreamsnatcher
Universal Mind Project – The Jaguar Priest
Thunderstone – Apocalypse Again
InnerWish – Innerwish
Mob Rules – Tales From Beyond
Ghost Bath – Moonlover
Spiritual Beggars – Sunrise To Sundown
Oceans Of Slumber – Winter
Rikard Zander – I Can Do Without Love
Redemption – The Art Of Loss
Headspace – All That You Fear Is Gone
Chris Quirarte – Mending Broken Bridges
Sunburst – Fragments Of Creation
Inglorious – Inglorious
Omnium Gatherum – Grey Heavens
Structural Disorder – Distance
Votum – Ktonik
Fleshgod Apocalypse – King
Rikard Sjoblom – The Unbendable Sleep
Textures – Phenotype
Serenity – Codex Atlanticus
Borknagar – Winter Thrice
The Mute Gods – Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me
Brainstorm – Scary Creatures
Arcade Messiah – II
Phantasma – The Deviant Hearts
Rendezvous Point – Solar Storm
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld II
Antimatter – The Judas Table
Bauda – Sporelights
Waken Eyes – Exodus
Earthside – A Dream In Static
Caligula’s Horse – Bloom
Teramaze – Her Halo
Amorphis – Under The Red Cloud
Spock’s Beard – The Oblivion Particle
Agent Fresco – Destrier
Cattle Decapitation – The Anthropocene Extinction
Between The Buried And Me – Coma Ecliptic
Cradle Of Filth – Hammer Of The Witches
Disarmonia Mundi – Cold Inferno
District 97 – In Vaults
Progoctopus – Transcendence
Big Big Train – Wassail
NightMare World – In The Fullness Of Time
Helloween – My God-Given Right
Triaxis – Zero Hour
Isurus – Logocharya
Arcturus – Arcturian
Kamelot – Haven
Native Construct – Quiet World
Sigh – Graveward
Pantommind – Searching For Eternity
Subterranean Masquerade – The Great Bazaar
Klone – Here Comes The Sun
The Gentle Storm – The Diary
Melechesh – Enki
Enslaved – In Times
Keep Of Kalessin – Epistemology
Lonely Robot – Please Come Home
The Neal Morse Band – The Grand Experiment
Zero Stroke – As The Colours Seep
AudioPlastik – In The Head Of A Maniac
Revolution Saints – Revolution Saints
Mors Principium Est – Dawn of The 5th Era
Arcade Messiah – Arcade Messiah
Triosphere – The Heart Of The Matter
Neonfly – Strangers In Paradise
Knight Area – Hyperdrive
Haken – Restoration
James LaBrie – Impermanent Resonance
Mercenary – Through Our Darkest Days
A.C.T. – Circus Pandemonium
Xerath – III
Big Big Train – English Electric (Part 1)
Thought Chamber – Psykerion
Marcus Jidell – Pictures From A Time Traveller
H.E.A.T – Tearing Down The Walls
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld

Hanging Garden – Hereafter – EP Review

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Artist: Hanging Garden

Album Title: Hereafter EP

Label: Lifeforce Records

Date Of Release: 7 October 2016

I have been a bit of a fan of Hanging Garden for a few years now, having been charged with reviewing much of their previous output within the pages of Powerplay Magazine. Now that I’ve gone solo with the Blog Of Much Metal, I see no reason not to continue the trend. The reason for this is that I have yet to dislike any of the albums that this Finnish sextet has released. They may have fallen short of attaining the level of success of some of their contemporaries but that is seemingly through no fault of their own as each record has offered something of real quality and value.

On album number four ‘Blackout Whiteout’, it was apparent pretty quickly that Hanging Garden had taken a different approach to before thanks to a much more prominent atmospheric, Goth vibe to temper their early death/doom metal influences. Echoes of compatriots Swallow The Sun littered the first three records but less so on their latest album.

I naturally wondered how their new EP would sound as a result and was keen to explore ‘Hereafter’ as soon as I was aware it was in the offing. Comprised of five tracks, it is definitely a stop-gap release in between albums but it serves the purpose of flagging up to listeners the likely direction of the next full-length. And, on the basis of ‘Hereafter’, I get the distinct impression that Hanging Garden will be generally exploring an even more pronounced atmospheric path, producing a more varied output in the process.

‘Hereafter’ begins with ‘Penumbra’ and somewhat ironically given what I’ve just said, it is the most ‘old school’ Hanging Garden track on the EP, with the melodic, atmospheric cut of death/doom even featuring a guest vocal appearance from Swallow The Sun’s Mikko Kotamäki. I really love this song, as it is heavy yet beautiful and subtle yet powerful.

If anything, ‘Sirkle of Onan’ is even more aggressive in places. It boasts a guest vocal appearance from The Moth Gatherer’s Victor Wegeborn but if I’m honest, it is the construction of the song and the variety that makes the biggest impression. Huge riffs and growls give way to passages of quiet contemplation, creating a multifaceted track despite its succinct three-and-a-half-minute length.

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The title track then abandons the pretence of metal entirely, instead descending into the realm of atmospheric Goth/dark rock with a touch of electronics for good measure. Clean male and female vocals feature to nice effect and the melodies are as strong as always.

There’s a similar feel to ‘Where The Tides Collide’ which comes complete with a guest vocal performance from Alexander Högbom of October Tide and Centinex fame. It means that there is a more extreme edge to a composition that is largely a darkly atmospheric and highly melodic affair. I really like the song, except for the digitised male vocals that appear towards the end, but this is a very small aspect of an otherwise strong composition.

The all-too-short EP then closes with ‘Towards The Sun’. The dark rock meets Goth vibe is taken up a further notch here with some pronounced electronic effects injected for good measure, as well as some subtle orchestration. The rich and beguiling track once again features both male and female clean vocals as well as another cameo from Swallow The Sun’s Mikko Kotamäki, albeit offering his strong clean delivery instead of his more usual growls.

So there you have it. If this EP is a barometer of future Hanging Garden albums, I suspect that they will be more varied affairs with a decrease in the heavy and aggressive death/doom metal in favour of an exploration of more subtle and nuanced Goth-tinged dark rock. I’ll be honest and admit to a slight pang of disappointment as I love Hanging Garden’s heavier material. However, the Finns seem incapable of writing substandard material whatever its guise. As such, I can’t help but like the softer tracks and it has not put me off hearing a new full-length at all. And who knows, I may be completely wrong with my prediction…

The Score Of Much Metal: 8.0

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

Theocracy – Ghost Ship
Arkona – Lunaris
Oddland – Origin
Sonata Arctica – The Ninth Hour
Edensong – Years In The Garden of Years
Meshuggah – The Violent Sleep Of Reason
Alcest – Kodama
Opeth – Sorceress
Negura Bunget – ZI
Epica – The Holographic Principle
Amaranthe – Maximalism
Eye Of Solitude – Cenotaph
Seven Impale – Contrapasso
DGM – The Passage
Pressure Points – False Lights
In The Woods – Pure
Devin Townsend – Transcendence
The Pineapple Thief – Your Wilderness
Evergrey – The Storm Within
Dream The Electric Sleep – Beneath The Dark Wide Sky
Periphery – ‘Periphery III: Select Difficulty’
Karmakanic – Dot
Novena – Secondary Genesis
Witherscape – The Northern Sanctuary
Eric Gillette – The Great Unknown
Tilt – Hinterland
Cosmograf – The Unreasonable Silence
Fates Warning – Theories Of Flight
Wolverine – Machina Viva
Be’lakor – Vessels
Lacuna Coil – Delirium
Big Big Train – Folklore
Airbag – Disconnected
Katatonia – The Fall Of Hearts
Frost* – Falling Satellites
Glorior Belli – Sundown (The Flock That Welcomes)
Habu – Infinite
Grand Magus ‘Sword Songs’
Messenger – Threnodies
Svoid – Storming Voices Of Inner Devotion
Fallujah – Dreamless
In Mourning – Afterglow
Haken – Affinity
Long Distance Calling – Trips
October Tide – Winged Waltz
Odd Logic – Penny For Your Thoughts
Iron Mountain – Unum
Knifeworld – Bottled Out Of Eden
Novembre – Ursa
Beholder – Reflections
Neverworld – Dreamsnatcher
Universal Mind Project – The Jaguar Priest
Thunderstone – Apocalypse Again
InnerWish – Innerwish
Mob Rules – Tales From Beyond
Ghost Bath – Moonlover
Spiritual Beggars – Sunrise To Sundown
Oceans Of Slumber – Winter
Rikard Zander – I Can Do Without Love
Redemption – The Art Of Loss
Headspace – All That You Fear Is Gone
Chris Quirarte – Mending Broken Bridges
Sunburst – Fragments Of Creation
Inglorious – Inglorious
Omnium Gatherum – Grey Heavens
Structural Disorder – Distance
Votum – Ktonik
Fleshgod Apocalypse – King
Rikard Sjoblom – The Unbendable Sleep
Textures – Phenotype
Serenity – Codex Atlanticus
Borknagar – Winter Thrice
The Mute Gods – Do Nothing Till You Hear From Me
Brainstorm – Scary Creatures
Arcade Messiah – II
Phantasma – The Deviant Hearts
Rendezvous Point – Solar Storm
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld II
Antimatter – The Judas Table
Bauda – Sporelights
Waken Eyes – Exodus
Earthside – A Dream In Static
Caligula’s Horse – Bloom
Teramaze – Her Halo
Amorphis – Under The Red Cloud
Spock’s Beard – The Oblivion Particle
Agent Fresco – Destrier
Cattle Decapitation – The Anthropocene Extinction
Between The Buried And Me – Coma Ecliptic
Cradle Of Filth – Hammer Of The Witches
Disarmonia Mundi – Cold Inferno
District 97 – In Vaults
Progoctopus – Transcendence
Big Big Train – Wassail
NightMare World – In The Fullness Of Time
Helloween – My God-Given Right
Triaxis – Zero Hour
Isurus – Logocharya
Arcturus – Arcturian
Kamelot – Haven
Native Construct – Quiet World
Sigh – Graveward
Pantommind – Searching For Eternity
Subterranean Masquerade – The Great Bazaar
Klone – Here Comes The Sun
The Gentle Storm – The Diary
Melechesh – Enki
Enslaved – In Times
Keep Of Kalessin – Epistemology
Lonely Robot – Please Come Home
The Neal Morse Band – The Grand Experiment
Zero Stroke – As The Colours Seep
AudioPlastik – In The Head Of A Maniac
Revolution Saints – Revolution Saints
Mors Principium Est – Dawn of The 5th Era
Arcade Messiah – Arcade Messiah
Triosphere – The Heart Of The Matter
Neonfly – Strangers In Paradise
Knight Area – Hyperdrive
Haken – Restoration
James LaBrie – Impermanent Resonance
Mercenary – Through Our Darkest Days
A.C.T. – Circus Pandemonium
Xerath – III
Big Big Train – English Electric (Part 1)
Thought Chamber – Psykerion
Marcus Jidell – Pictures From A Time Traveller
H.E.A.T – Tearing Down The Walls
Vanden Plas – Chronicles Of The Immortals: Netherworld

My Top 20 of 2012 – Number 7

Day 14 in my Top 20 rock/metal albums of 2012 countdown. Links to the previous 13 days can be found at the bottom of this post.

BAN1Blut Aus Nord
‘777 – Cosmosophy’
Debemur Morti Records

At number 7, is the latest album from Blut Aus Nord. ‘777 – Cosmosophy’ is the final chapter in an ambitious, quick-fire trilogy of albums that have been released over the past year. Some said it couldn’t be done, others worried that the quality of the music would be compromised due to the speedy turnaround. Both camps have been proved wrong because the previous two chapters in this trilogy have been well-received and this final part is, well, stunning.

French trio Blut Aus Nord are pigeon-holed into the genre of black metal but with this release, that categorisation is stretched to breaking point. There is certainly a dark, evil and disturbing edge to the music on this album which lends itself to the genre of black metal but that’s about it. Very little else can be described as black metal in any shape or form. You could refer to the material as ‘post black metal’ I suppose but then we’re just getting bogged down into unneccesary and futile issues.

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Instead, what you need to know is that ‘777 – Cosmosophy’ offers a truly fascinating listening experience. What you get is a really minimalist affair incorporating elements of electronica, ambient and shoegaze to compliment the metal core and which all come together to create music that is harsh as well as occasionally disconcerting and uncomfortable. And yet in spite of all that, the finished article also manages to be beautiful, hypnotic and mesmerising. Brilliant stuff.

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

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