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

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

Awake By Design – Awake By Design – Album Review

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Artist: Awake By Design

Album Title: Awake By Design

Label: Independent Release

Date of Release: 14 August 2020

My question to you is this: were you a fan of Kamelot, but have become a little disillusioned by their output in recent years? If, like me, you find yourself answering ‘yes’, then might I suggest you take a little listen to this record by UK melodic metal band Awake By Design. I have a sneaking suspicion that you might find the exercise of benefit.

Awake By Design have been around the UK metal scene for a long time and, despite sharing the stage with lots of big names in the world of heavy music, I think it is fair to say that they have failed to break into the collective conscious as perhaps they should have. It’s a tough world out there of course, but having been aware of this band for some time, I really feel strongly that they deserve to make a move further up the ladder and achieve bigger and better things.

My evidence for my bold statement is this, their self-titled third full-length release. The fact that it is being independently released demonstrates where the band are at in terms of their success levels, not that a five-year hiatus since their last release will have helped their cause. However, the material on the album itself says something entirely different, at least to these ears of mine. The music is out of the top drawer of melodic metal; it is lush, rich, powerful, and full of gorgeous melodies that you simply can’t ignore. Oh and it has been produced by Karl Groom of Threshold fame, so it sounds right on the money in this respect.

I don’t normally prefer to liken bands directly to others. But, as hinted at in the opening paragraph, in the case of Awake By Design, they do have some echoes within their music of mid-era Kamelot et al, thanks to the strong keys-led symphonics, as well as hints of the likes of Evergrey and Fates Warning, due to a smidgen of progressive leanings here and there. You could also throw in a little NWOBHM and a touch of European power metal too if you felt so inclined.

The biggest weapon in the armoury of Awake By Design, however, are the melodies, the choruses and the hooks that are delivered. Whilst recent Kamelot output has struck me as a little dull and sub-par where the melodies are concerned, they are front and centre for this quintet, the cornerstone of their output. And it’s glorious.

I’m going to fly a little bit off-piste by homing in initially on the very final track. Entitled ‘Empire’, it is a sprawling composition spanning over ten minutes. It begins slowly with a bold cinematic intro that then segues into a beautiful piano melody courtesy of Adrian Powell, before delving headlong into the kind of territory that I wish Kamelot still inhabited, especially within the catchy yet epic double-pedal-driven chorus. Given the length of the track, there’s also room for a little of that prog intent to be heard too, aided by the swathes of keys throughout.

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Back to the beginning and the album kicks off with ‘The Coming Tide’, a cracking track that encompasses everything I like about this genre of music. It is satisfyingly heavy, aided by some chunky riffs from Luke Smith and returning guitarist Toby Stewart, pounding drumming from new recruit Chris Threlfall, and some cool bass lines from David Favill that rumble under the surface with style. The song is instantly catchy and memorable thanks to a great chorus, whilst I must commend vocalist Adrian Powell on a commanding performance behind the microphone; full of emotion and with the ideal range for this kind of music, the guy is the perfect fit as far as I’m concerned.

Other great songs are plentiful and include the achingly beautiful and slightly haunting ‘Nothing Hurts’, the synth-drenched, more progressive-sounding ‘Devoid Of Illusion’ which comes complete with a cracking chorus, and ‘This Avalanche’ which caught my ear immediately because of its slightly darker, moodier vibe alongside yet more gigantic earworms. If you’re a fan of a guitar solo or two, you’ll be delighted to hear that this is a staple ingredient within most compositions too, many of which are a heady delight without being too over-cooked.

Naturally, there are a couple of ballad-like tracks of this album too, in the shape of ‘Calling You Home’ and ‘The Unspoken Truth’. The former is a classic builder, with a soulful lead break at the end, alongside a burst of controlled power, whilst the latter is a piano-led & theatrical composition, another nod to the aforementioned Kamelot. The melodies are beautiful and the track has an almost whimsical feel to it until the final third, when it explodes and the piano-playing takes centre stage excellently.

If I had one criticism to level at Awake By Design, it would be that this self-titled record is an absolute beast. It features no less than 13 individual tracks and has an overall running time of over 75 minutes. By anyone’s standards that’s a hefty body of work and, if I’m honest, a little bit of extra editing may have been a beneficial exercise. I feel a bit of a git criticising a band for giving us true value for money, especially when we’ve not had an album for a while and the overall quality of the material is so high. But I honestly think, in a day and age when the average human has trouble sitting still for five minutes let alone 75, this might work against the band in the long run. There are a couple of tracks that I personally could make peace with if they were culled but otherwise I appreciate that the task is a difficult one.

Let’s leave the criticism to one side at this point then, and return to my overriding feelings about this record, which are incredibly positive. Genuinely strong melodies, well-written songs, great performances from each member of the band, and a production that does the music the justice it deserves – what else is there that you could possibly want? ‘Awake By Design’ is a fantastic melodic heavy metal record, the release that should bring these guys the kind of recognition that they fully deserve. Check it out immediately.

The Score of Much Metal: 92%

Check out my reviews from 2020 right here:

Black Crown Initiate – Violent Portraits Of Doomed Escape
Gaerea – Limbo
Buried Realm – Embodiment Of The Divine
Navian – Reset
Selenseas – The Outer Limits
Quantum – The Next Breath Of Air
Ensiferum – Thalassic
Long Distance Calling – How Do We Want To Live?
Airbag – A Day At The Beach
Re-Armed – Ignis Aeternum
Atavist – III: Absolution
Frost* – Others EP
Darker Half – If You Only Knew
Atavistia – The Winter Way
Astralborne – Eternity’s End
Centinex – Death In Pieces
Haken – Virus
Pile Of Priests – Pile Of Priests
Sorcerer – Lamenting Of The Innocent
Lesoir – Mosaic
Temnein – Tales: Of Humanity And Greed
Caligula’s Horse – Rise Radiant
…And Oceans – Cosmic World Mother
Vader – Solitude In Madness
Shrapnel – Palace For The Insane
Sinisthra – The Broad And Beaten Way
Paradise Lost – Obsidian
Naglfar – Cerecloth
Forgotten Tomb – Nihilistic Estrangement
Winterfylleth – The Reckoning Dawn
Firewind – Firewind
An Autumn For Crippled Children – All Fell Silent, Everything Went Quiet
Havok – V
Helfró – Helfró
Victoria K – Essentia
Cryptex – Once Upon A Time
Thy Despair – The Song Of Desolation
Cirith Ungol – Forever Black
Igorrr – Spirituality and Distortion
Nightwish – Human. II: Nature.
Katatonia – City Burials
Wolfheart – Wolves Of Karelia
Asenblut – Die Wilde Jagd
Nicumo – Inertia
The Black Dahlia Murder – Verminous
Omega Infinity – Solar Spectre
Symbolik – Emergence
Pure Reason Revolution – Eupnea
Irist – Order Of The Mind
Testament – Titans Of Creation
Ilium – Carcinogeist
Dawn Of Ouroboros – The Art Of Morphology
Torchia – The Coven
Novena – Eleventh Hour
Ashes Of Life – Seasons Within
Dynazty – The Dark Delight
Sutrah – Aletheia EP
Welicoruss – Siberian Heathen Horde
Myth Of I – Myth Of I
My Dying Bride – The Ghost Of Orion
Infirmum – Walls Of Sorrow
Inno – The Rain Under
Kvaen – The Funeral Pyre
Mindtech – Omnipresence
Dark Fortress – Spectres From The Old World
The Oneira – Injection
Night Crowned – Impius Viam
Dead Serenity – Beginnings EP
The Night Flight Orchestra – Aeromantic
Deadrisen – Deadrisen
Blaze Of Perdition – The Harrowing Of Hearts
Godsticks – Inescapable
Isle Of The Cross – Excelsis
Demons & Wizards – III
Vredehammer – Viperous
H.E.A.T – H.E.A.T II
Psychotic Waltz – The God-Shaped Void
Into The Open – Destination Eternity
Lunarsea – Earthling/Terrestre
Pure Wrath – The Forlorn Soldier EP
Sylosis – Cycle of Suffering
Sepultura – Quadra
Dyscordia – Delete / Rewrite
Godthrymm – Reflections
On Thorns I Lay – Threnos
God Dethroned – Illuminati
Fragment Soul – A Soul Inhabiting Two Bodies
Mariana Semkina – Sleepwalking
Mini Album Reviews: Moloken, The Driftwood Sign & Midnight
Serenity – The Last Knight
Ihsahn – Telemark EP
Temperance – Viridian
Blasphemer – The Sixth Hour
Deathwhite – Grave Image
Marko Hietala – Pyre Of The Black Heart
SWMM – Trail Of The Fallen
Into Pandemonium – Darkest Rise EP
Bonded – Rest In Violence
Serious Black – Suite 226
Darktribe – Voici L’Homme
Brothers Of Metal – Emblas Saga
A Life Divided – Echoes
Thoughts Factory – Elements

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

2019 reviews
2018 reviews
2017 reviews
2016 reviews
2015 reviews

Live Review: A Swedish Adventure with Evergrey and Sorcerer – 28 February 2020, Kulturbolaget, Malmö

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The wait had been interminable. As an early Christmas present from my incredible girlfriend, the Miss Of Much Metal, I was presented with tickets to the first Evergrey gig in some time, to be hosted in the southern Swedish town of Malmö. Finally however, the 28th February arrived and began with a trip to the airport. Aside from a plethora of people wearing face masks to make themselves feel safe against the apparent onslaught of Covid 19, this part of the journey was smooth and unremarkable.

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After touchdown in Denmark and walking what felt like five miles through Copenhagen Airport, we eventually emerged into the daylight and jumped into a taxi. With no knowledge whatsoever of the exchange rate, we were blissfully unaware that the short trip across the border was going to cost us more than around six times the expense of the train. But hey, we got to ride over the Copenhagen Bridge which was a pretty impressive experience. Just perhaps not worth £150. Ouch!

To add insult to injury, the taxi driver was new and the journey included a couple of unnecessary detours, including one that meant we returned to the airport soon after leaving. But, being in high spirits, we didn’t care about the rather random and haphazard arrival to our hotel and were soon checked in and freshened up, ready for the evening ahead.

Having kept in touch during the day, we headed down to the hotel lobby to meet my Norwegian friends, Lene and Kim, who had travelled from Stavanger in Norway for tonight’s show. After the warm greeting and introductions to Gemma, the Miss of Much Metal, we headed out into the brisk Malmö evening in search of food and high class entertainment.

The Italian restaurant had a nice atmosphere but average food, so we all hoped the rest of the evening might rise above ‘average’.

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Pic: Kim Haugland

And it did, but none of us were expecting it to reach the heights that it did. Starting with the venue, the Kulturbolaget was just lovely; two bars, friendly staff and a relaxed atmosphere meant that we were in the ideal setting for a night of great music. A quick trip to the merch stand where I bought just about everything on sale and, with drinks in hand, soon we were ready for the first band of the night. And it wasn’t just any old tin pot local band either.

When I found out that Sorcerer were going to be the support for Evergrey at this gig, I nearly fainted with joy. The Swede’s latest album, ‘Crowning Of The Fire King’ was easily one of my very favourite albums of 2018 so to have the chance to hear the music in a live setting was too good to be true. And they did not let me or the audience down one bit.

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Blessed with a really great sound from the very beginning, the quintet impressed me from start to finish. Kicking off with one of their most powerful tracks from their latest, incredible record, ‘Crowning Of The Fire King’, they grabbed my attention immediately. They also captured the imagination of the Miss Of Much Metal, who has since added the band to her running playlist as she trains for the upcoming London Marathon.

In the live setting, vocalist Anders Engberg is brilliant, even better for my money than he is on record. His presence is surprisingly imposing but more importantly, he nails every note and sings with a passion and enthusiasm that seems to drive the rest of the band onwards. Not that the other four musicians needed a second invitation, with each of them combining to bring the epic, melodic doom of Sorcerer to life. In particular, credit has to go to the guitarists Kristian Niemann and Peter Hallgren who traded crushing riffs and effervescent solos to great effect, albeit supported expertly by a muscular rhythm section, courtesy of drummer Richard Evansand and bassist Justin Biggs.

And, whilst I am only familiar with their latest record, the earlier material such as ‘The Dark Tower Of The Sorcerer’ and ‘Exorcise The Demon’ really impressed me, ensuring that I will most certainly be checking out the back catalogue when time in my hectic life allows. I said before the show that I had three songs that I wanted to hear during the night, one in particular from Sorcerer. And they didn’t fail, as the utterly glorious ‘Crowning Of The Fire King’ began to a great roar from me and several others. My drink was taken from me under instruction to enjoy myself and I did just that, throwing my head back and signing along with the infectious, anthemic chorus that rightfully became one of the songs of the year when it was released.

Sorcerer were even better than I had dared to hope and had it not been for the fact that Evergrey were up next, I’d have been extremely disappointed at the all-too-soon arrival of their departure.

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A couple of drinks later and the blinking torch from on-stage signalled what I fervently hoped would be another magical performance from my all-time favourite band. Evergrey have never delivered a sub-par show that I have witnessed, so I had incredibly high expectations for this show too. Admittedly I had a few nerves as this would be the first live performance from the Swedes in some time, but I always have faith where Evergrey are concerned.

The faith was well-placed and the nerves, as it turned out, were unnecessary as my boys came onto the stage like the legends that they are as the familiar sonar sounds emanated from the speakers. Naturally, first up was the gargantuan ‘A Silent Arc’, the opening track from their latest masterpiece ‘The Atlantic’. Earlier in the evening, I had been treated to a copy of the limited edition Mediabook version of the album and, having clutched hold of it for dear life from most of the evening, it was taken from me along with my drink under more stern instructions to ‘enjoy yourself’. I don’t argue with the Miss Of Much Metal, so enjoy myself, I duly did.

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If I’m honest, the sound initially was a little muddy and significantly louder than the support but it improved as the song progressed and by the time ‘Weightless’ and then ‘Distance’, the opener from ‘The Storm Within’ were unleashed, the clarity was much improved. It meant that the crushing riffs from Englund and Danhage, the monstrous bass from Niemann, the pounding drums of Ekdahl, the rich keys from Zander and Englund’s magnificent vocals could all be heard to absolutely devastating effect.

The energy from the stage was impressive too, as if Evergrey were comprised of five animals, tired of being caged and enjoying the freedom of the stage together again. Ekdahl was frequently up off his stool and the six-string duo were on the move whenever possible, allowing each other a place in the spotlight as they traded riffs and solos with utter relish.

For the most part, naturally, Tom addressed the eager, yet respectful and friendly crowd in his native tongue. But then, as the strains of ‘Leave It Behind Us’ disappeared, Englund reverted to English and the stuff of dreams happened. ‘All the way from England, this song is for Matt’, Tom declared, or words to that effect. To be honest, I was stunned and that exact moment remains a bit of a blur. The ensuing rendition of ‘Mark Of The Triangle’ was not though, as I sang, air guitared and generally lost my head throughout my favourite song ever written. This was the first time I’d ever had a song dedicated to me, and the whole experience just blew me away.

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Pic: Lene Haugland

Mind you, with ‘The Masterplan’ immediately following, and then the anthemic ‘Black Undertow’, my demeanour didn’t calm down particularly quickly. Alongside ‘Mark Of The Triangle’, the other absolute ‘must hear’ of the evening was ‘All I Have’, a song that has been my anthem of the last twelve months or so. And it duly arrived, to my utter delight, but not to the delight of my already-wrecked vocal cords. That didn’t matter a jot at all though, as I sang my heart out regardless, feeling almost overcome with emotion of the most positive kind. Here I was, in Sweden, with my dear friends, my incredible girlfriend and my favourite band , playing the best song released in 2019. I was elated and in heaven, metaphorically-speaking of course.

The set was impressively lengthy, so we still had time for ‘The Grand Collapse’ as well as a four-song encore that included the magnificent ‘Recreation Day’ and the absolute behemoth that’s ‘King Of Errors’, which fittingly ended the show in imposing style. I will never tire of that beast of a final note.

20200228_194623Sweaty, breathless and overcome with happiness, I clapped and cheered the conquering heroes off the stage and slowly retreated to one of the two bars, happy to discover that it remained open. There was no immediate ushering out of the venue by surly, oppressive security and as such, we were able to grab another drink and wait to see if the band might make an appearance. The UK take note, this is how you do gigs.

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Pic: Kim Haugland

To round off a perfect evening, the guys did emerge from backstage – firstly Johan, then Rikard, Jonas and Henrik. Met with warm hugs and, in Rikard’s case ‘Come On You Spurs!’, the greetings were so very warm and genuine from them all. They all chatted, traded stories, asked how I was with genuine sincerity and signed my newly-acquired Mediabook before Tom eventually materialised. Another hug came my way along with some gentle and good-natured football banter, before a few photos were taken and we eventually and reluctantly decided that we ought to let the guys load up and get on the road to Stockholm for the following day’s show.

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Due to the unique nature of our host town, we and our Norwegian friends were unable to locate another venue in which to enjoy one last nightcap. So it was, in the freezing and deserted high street at around 1am that we warmly bid our friends goodnight and safe travels, until the next time we would meet for a musical adventure. With the following day dedicated to a relaxing and a smooth, uneventful return journey back to the UK, the last word has to go to Evergrey and Sorcerer, who together gave me an unforgettable night, full of outstanding musicianship and a fair bit of magic. And to the beautiful human being that made it all possible for me, the Miss Of Much Metal – thank you, Gemma, from the bottom of my heart for sharing my passion with me.

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Sorcerer setlist: Sirens, Lake Of The Lost Souls, The Dark Tower Of The Sorcerer, Ship Of Doom, Exorcise The Demon, The Crowning Of The Fire King, The Sorcerer

Evergrey setlist: A Silent Arc, Weightless, Distance, Passing Through, The Fire, Leave It Behind Us, Mark Of The Triangle, The Masterplan, Black Undertow, I’m Sorry, My Allied Ocean, All I Have, The Grand Collapse. Encore: When The Walls Go Down, Recreation Day, A Touch Of Blessing, King Of Errors

The Top 10 Individual Songs of 2019

I thought as a final last hurrah to 2019, I’d bring you my thoughts on my favourite ten songs of the year. In no particular order, except for the number one spot, here goes…

In first place:

Evergrey
‘All I Have’

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This was the song that was the soundtrack to a very difficult time in my life and it remains the anthem that broke me, then helped to rebuild me over the past year. I’m now in a very different place a year on, but the song has become so personal, so powerful, so all-encompassing, that I couldn’t even contemplate picking a different song to be my number one of 2019. Here’s what I wrote in my album review:

“For me though, it is the peerless ‘All I have’ that screams out to me as the very best six minutes on the album, maybe even in the entire career of Evergrey. This song is, put simply, utter genius. It kicks off in doom metal fashion, with an ominous and impossibly heavy delivery. The riff is subtly progressive in that it doesn’t quite conform to a simple four-four beat (I think) but still manages to get the head moving. Then, as the chorus enters, so do Rikard’s tinkling ivories before the intensity builds into the bridge. And then, in comes the chorus.

“It’s All I have,
It’s all I have,
All I have,
All I own that I can give to you”

On paper, it doesn’t seem much but the way that Tom belts out the words with more feeling than I can describe, sends shivers down my spine, especially when coupled with a truly beautiful and simple melody. It is one of the best choruses I have ever heard and after nearly three months, none of the magic wanes.

The lead guitar solos take over at this point with a majesty all of their own and the pleading, mournful notes that soar over a reprise of the chorus melody send my head into a spin. More often than not, I get shivers coursing up and down my spine and the tears come unbidden to cascade down my cheeks. I realise, much like Tom, that regardless of perceptions to the contrary, I gave all I had to my relationship but ultimately, it wasn’t enough.”

If I need to say anything else about this song, it is this: perfection.

Odd Logic
‘Garden Of Thorns’

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Quite deservedly, Odd Logic found their way into my top 10 albums of 2019 and now, they can just as deservedly find one of their compositions in this equivalent top 10 for individual songs of 2019. As I wrote in the review:

“It stood out on a first listen to the record but with subsequent listens, it has become irresistible. The delicacy of the soft, almost whispered vocals from Thompson are beguiling, but when coupled with the incredibly sophisticated and nuanced melodies, and the guitar work, it becomes addictive in the extreme. I find myself singing the melodies long after the album has finished, and I get withdrawal symptoms when I haven’t listened to it for a while.”

The more I listen, the more I appreciate the clever, subtle nuances that help to underpin a song that captured my imagination right from the very beginning. And it is remarkable that this is the creation of just two musicians; the level of sophistication and the impeccable delivery are incredible. I was initially drawn to the softer, more melodious sections, but sitting here now, I appreciate and enjoy much more those sections where the foot is placed on the accelerator pedal and we’re treated to some uncompromising djent-like riffs and the odd growled vocal.

But the star of the show is undoubtedly the central melody because it’s a thing of real beauty, a beauty that simply refuses to dim over time.

Big Big Train
‘Voyager’

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As certain as death and taxes, you can guarantee that a Big Big Train record will contain several world-beating compositions and their latest opus, ‘Grand Tour’ is no different. I regret the fact that I have not reviewed this cracking disc during 2019 but it deserved the best and initially, I wasn’t in the position to do the review justice, not by a long way. And then, when I felt ready to tackle it, time ran out.

Nevertheless, I hope that this accolade will help to soften any disappointment from those who love this incredible prog rock band.

Without doubt, ‘Voyager’ has become one of my all-time favourite Big Big Train songs. It wasn’t always thus as it took a little time to dilute the fog in my mind. But when it did, it was like watching a shaft of brilliant sunlight stretch over the landscape below, bathing the visage in its warm and welcoming embrace. At 14 minutes in length, it isn’t a quick listen, but it is testament to the song that it never feels that long. It is elegance put to music with grandiose melodies, extended instrumental passages and, at the 9:35 mark, it unleashes its magic to full, devastating effect. Tense, epic, melodic and with great performances from every corner of the band and guest musicians, it comes together to create something truly special, with a crescendo to stand the hairs on the back of your neck on end. I can’t get enough of this marvelous track, I really can’t.

Meshiaak
‘Bury The Bodies’

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“And then, suddenly, I come face-to-face with ‘Bury The Bodies’ which is easily in the running for my personal favourite song of 2019. It opens with a stomping and lurching mid-tempo riff and to be honest, it’s an unremarkable start. But at the 90 second point, in comes the most incredible melody. The strings float in and around as a sadness and melancholy butts up against the glorious bittersweet melody. It is enhanced by some beautiful clean singing from Tomb, that conveys a sense of frustration and emotion when he lets go a little. Solemn lead guitar breaks and lead embellishments add more spinetingling moments, whilst the rhythm section provides a strong backbone upon which the incredible song is built. I could listen to this track all day long. As it is, I generally press repeat at least once before continuing with the record.”

My thoughts on this wonderful song have not changed since I wrote the review of ‘Mask Of All Misery’, of which the above quote was a part. There is just something so gratifying and thoroughly addictive about this track that’s hard to explain. It is true testament to the power of a song that is heavy, ballsy and incredibly anthemic – the word ‘anthem’ is often over-used when describing music but on this occasion, I strongly believe that the adjective is well-placed and justified. Great stuff.

Devin Townsend
‘Spirits Will Collide’

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I never got around to reviewing this album during 2019, principally because I found a lot of it pretty hard-going and not as compelling as I had hoped. Except for one track that is: “Spirits Will Collide”. This beautiful song was the one moment on the album that, for me, stood out by a country mile.

Not only does it contain a wonderful set of melodies, the kind that are euphoric and spinetingling, but the lyrics are so incredibly positive and life-affirming.

“So we rise!
Receive the pain, but this isn’t where this ends
Don’t forget that you are perfect
Don’t forget just who we are
We’re strong enough”

Some may deride the track for being cheesy or over-the-top but to me, it is an amazingly uplifting song with a positive message, something we could all do with more of these days. It has also become more important to me ever since hearing it performed live, in stripped-back fashion before Christmas after being dedicated to all those who are suffering or know others suffering with depression and other mental health issues. The sincerity from Devin as he sings the lyrics is unquestionable, adding yet more power to an already wonderful song.

Leprous
‘Alleviate’

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When I reviewed the new Leprous album, ‘Pitfalls’, I wrote of the song “Alleviate”:

“Another favourite of mine is ‘Alleviate’ and, to a greater or lesser extent is similar to ‘Below’ in that it starts off softly with the synths and vocals up front and centre. It lasts for less than four minutes but its impact is greater than its slight lifespan. It builds, with each instrument entering the fray very deliberately alongside more lush string arrangements. You can sense the dam wants to break and it certainly does, with another agonised outpouring of grief and anguish from Solberg, backed up by his bandmates beautifully.”

However, in the months since, my love of this track has grown exponentially to the point where it is most definitely my favourite composition on an album chock full of stellar performances and killer songs. The sheer emotion and power that emanates from Solberg and the entire band is devastating but it is made all the stronger by the fact that the majority of the track is quiet, brooding and minimalist in many ways. The impact and contrast between this and the explosion towards the end of the composition is a thing of beauty and borders on genius, frankly.

Borknagar
‘Voices’

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“And what can you say about the spinetingling closer, ‘Voices’? It is a stunning folk-laced track of epic proportions, that demonstrates the art of a suspenseful build-up and crushing, moving crescendos. If you’re not moved by the power and melodic intent of this track, I don’t think you’re human.” – my review.

Not a ‘classic’ Borknagar track, but one that provided the biggest impact for me on the entire album. I had thought that songs like ‘Thunderous’ or ‘The Fire That Burns’ would be natural contenders for this accolade but, as it turns out, it’s the final song on the record that has grown on me to the point where I want to listen to it first before delving into the rest of the album. It has that brooding, contemplative quality to it that, despite the slower and quieter nature of it, gives it that edge; it’s a dark and ominous piece that also benefits from an irresistible melody as well as a bass that shakes the foundations and a glorious guitar tone that gets me every time I hear it as the song explodes into the choruses.

Voyager
‘Colours’

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It is testament to a band when you could pick any number of songs to mention in this list. ‘Colours In The Sun’ is just that kind of album, with several tracks that could easily be referred to in this post. However, having lived with this record for some time and having heard a couple of tracks in the live environment, it just had to be the opening cut of the new record.

Why? Because it is just so damn infectious, fun, upbeat and, importantly, with its overt electro pop influences, it has forced me to reevaluate my own musical prejudices along the way. It never fails to make me smile and move, improving my mood every single time I hear it.

Here’s what I wrote in my review:

“’Colours In the Sun’ kicks off with ‘Colours’ which features a synth intro that would be as much at home in a Magaluf or Ibiza nightclub as on a metal record. However, the undeniably upbeat, euphoric intro soon gives way to a powerful riff that continues to build on the energy created in the opening section. Daniel Estrin’s unique vocals soar across the sonic palette with serenity and panache, whilst the quieter verses provide a counterpoint to the anthemic chorus. The churning, djent-y riffs make an entrance, offering quality headbang fodder but the track never sits still long enough to pin down. It’s the musical equivalent to a child on Christmas Eve, a bouncing, vibrant song that contains enough energy to light a small town for a week.”

Our Destiny
‘Presence’

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Quite honestly, as with Voyager above, I could have picked several songs off this album to feature in this list. However, after much contemplation, I have plumped for the quite incredible ‘Presence’ for the honour.

To kick off, it is a song that contains enormous drama. I love the juxtaposition that exists within the song; the quiet introspection of the verses, dominated by Lauren Nolan’s vocals and pronounced electronic sounds, is in marked contrast to the more muscular and dominant chorus that brings the song to life via profound lyrics and a gorgeous central melody. It is the kind of song in which you can’t help getting immersed and moved in equal measure. As always, Vikram Shankar’s piano-playing is stunning, only further enhancing what is already a beautiful piece of music. Although it was a very close race, ‘Presence’ is the song that lives longest in my mind once the album has finished and the one that I find burrowed in my mind, creating a frequent and very welcome earworm.

My review

Soilwork
‘The Ageless Whisper’

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In the same vein as a few other tracks above, this choice comes from an album that I didn’t end up reviewing during 2019. But unlike ‘Empath’, for example, I really liked ‘Verkligheten’ by Sweden’s melodeath exports Soilwork. Unfortunately, it was released at a point where I really wasn’t in a good place and had completely lost my writing mojo. I tried so many times to review this disc but could never muster the words.

So it is a nice thing to be able to include “The Ageless Whisper” in my list of top songs from 2019. It is deserving of a place on my list too as it is a cracking song, full of bravado and swagger, not to mention an irresistible groove and a killer chorus that grows in stature with repeated listens. It is the ideal song to demonstrate the strengths of Soilwork when they are firing on all cylinders, reminding me why I do love this band and have done so for many years.

Album of the Year 2019 – The Top 10

For the first time in several years, 2019 will not see your inboxes and social media timelines spammed by my epic and rather foolhardy top 20 or top 30 countdown series. I’ve simply not listened to, or reviewed, anywhere near enough music this year to make this a viable possibility.

Long-term readers of manofmuchmetal.com will know that 2019 has been notable for my absence. I’ve written openly and candidly elsewhere about the reasons for this, so I won’t do that again here. But suffice to say that there’s a big yawning gap between the end of January and the beginning of October, where there was nothing. No album reviews, no live reviews, no commentary. Nothing.

During this period, I did still listen to music and I bought a few albums along the way. But the promos that bombarded my inbox largely remained untouched; I couldn’t in all good conscience download them and listen for free, knowing full well that I’d not publish a review. I have ethics and morals after all.

So, whilst I have spent the last couple of months doing my best to catch up on the cream of the crop, reviewing as much as I have been able, a Top 30 of 2019 is way out of reach. Instead, I bring you this: a single post containing a brief overview of my favourite ten albums of the year.

I hope you enjoy it!

Number 10 =

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Insomnium – ‘Heart Like A Grave’

I tried to keep my top 10 to ten choices, I really did. However, in the past couple of days, whilst penning most recent review for manofmuchmetal.com, something clicked. And it was the realisation of just how much I now like ‘Heart Like A Grave’, the new opus from Finland’s Insimnium.

Despite purchasing the expensive mediabook version (it is a thing of beauty after all), it has been something of a slow burner for me. I immediately liked the music on the record, because who doesn’t enjoy a bit of epic Finnish melodeath? Especially at wintertime when the nights are long and cold. But it took until the last week or so to ascend that cliff and stand proudly at the summit. Eventually, the energy, the sense of the epic and the melodies become too damn good to ignore and the music really gets under your skin. A worthy addition to the list, even if their inclusion did lead to a bending of the rules!

To quote my review:

“There can be no argument…that the material on this album is of a very high standard, with professionalism oozing from every corner of the band. 

The longer you listen, the better ‘Heart Like A Grave’ gets, to the point where it is impossible not to get swept up in its grandiosity and brutal, bitter beauty. Insomnium have, right here, produced the best album of their career as far as I’m concerned. If you’re a fan of melodic death metal done the right way, ensure that you find a space in your collection for ‘Heart Like A Grave’. You’ll not regret it.”

Check out the full review here.

Number 10 =

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Avatarium – ‘The Fire I Long For’

This was one of the biggest surprises for me this year, in a year full of big surprises. I wasn’t shocked at the quality of the music on offer from Avatarium because, being familiar with their past output, I knew that these guys could write and perform quality music. However, I wasn’t expecting to like ‘The Fire I Long For’ quite as much as I did, because of all the talk about a lessening of the heaviness, less in the way of thunderous riffs, and a greater 70s rock influence. For my tastes, this was all bad news.

But I was wrong. I put off listening to it for as long as I could but when I eventually caved, I realised my reticence was a big mistake. It has been a constant companion over the past couple of weeks, with new things coming to the fore with each listen. It was at this point where I realised I had to find a place in this list for such a strong and engaging record.

To quote my review:

“Greatness and class will always shine through. And if ever there was an example of this, it’s Avatarium.

… the songwriting is incredibly strong. Whatever guise the compositions take, be it heavier or softer and more subtly nuanced, they just work.

…if quality music is what you crave, then make Avatarium’s ‘The Fire I long For’ the next addition to your collection. Immediately.”

Check out the full review here.

Number 9

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Mother Of Millions – ‘Artifacts’

An unknown entity prior to arriving at this record, I wasn’t sure what to expect. And, had it not been for the announcement that this Greek band would be gracing the ProgPower Europe stage in 2020, I’d probably still be blissfully unaware of their existence. But ‘blissfully’ is the wrong word because where Mother Of Millions are concerned, ignorance is definitely not bliss. On the evidence of ‘Artifacts’, this band deserves much more exposure and success than they currently enjoy.

Unusually for a progressive band, I was impressed from the very first listen. It was one of those experiences where I knew that I’d like it and like it more as time went by. The subtlety I knew, would eventually reveal itself and open up before me and by heavens was I right. And now, after further listens, it is unequivocally one of the best and most mature releases of 2019.

Note: since writing the review, I have found out that keyboardist Makis Tsamkosoglou  has tragically passed away. A fitting tribute then, that his final recorded performance should be on such a fantastic album. He will live on through his music for decades to come. RIP.

To quote my review:

“It is quite tricky to liken Mother Of Millions to their contemporaries, but certainly the likes of Leprous and Karnivool are useful reference points, but I do also hear whispers of other influences throughout. What I’d rather tell you is that this record is big on atmosphere, emotion, melody and it has a huge cinematic feel to it.

There is also a wonderful flow to the record, meaning that it feels smooth and enjoyable to listen to despite the darkness, sorrow, depth and subtle complexities that lie within the forty-odd minute run-time. 

If you are looking for an album that provides intelligence, subtlety, emotion and power, ‘Artifacts’ from Mother Of Millions is the record that you need. Right now.”

Check out the full review here.

Number 8

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Big Big Train – ‘Grand Tour’

This is the only album that features in my Top 10 that I have not reviewed this year. I was fortunate enough to receive a review copy and I really wanted this to be the album that released me from my writing block. So I listened to it time and again, enjoying it more and more with each spin. However, every time I came to write my thoughts down on paper, I drew a blank. I hope to review it in the fullness of time, but the fact that it features in my Top 10 should persuade you that this is an album out of the top drawer. Not that this is any real surprise because Big Big Train are incapable of creating anything less than excellent.

Their pastoral progressive rock blueprint remains largely untouched but the talented group of musicians seem able to create something new and exciting each and every time. I adore the upbeat positivity of ‘Alive’, a message that I needed this year and duly took on board. It’s a vibrant and gorgeous track that sets the tone for another superb record.

However, it is the two epics towards the end of the album that remain my favourites to this day and are the songs that elevate ‘Grand Tour’ into my top 10 for 2019. The sea shanty intro to ‘Ariel’ is ominous and captivating, whilst the final few minutes is pure theatre, as it drives with inexorable force to a stunning crescendo. ‘Voyager’ on the other hand contains the kind of central ‘chorus’ melody that rivals the best of the Big Big Train discography – this is a stunning track from start to finish and it gets more and more moving and powerful as time goes on.

Without doubt, this truly inspired record deserved a place in the top 10 and I just hope I get the time to give it the proper review it so richly deserves before too long. Big Big Train are easily my favourite progressive rock band around at the current time, they are truly that good.

Number 7

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Our Destiny – ‘Awakening’

What happens when you combine one of the best pianists I’ve ever heard with a beautiful voice? You get Our Destiny, a duo comprised of Vikram Shankar (Redemption, Silent Skies) and his significant other, Lauren Nolen. This isn’t metal, it isn’t even rock and so its appearance in my Top 10 should not have happened. And yet, it has and I’m delighted that it has because it demonstrates that I can appreciate music that doesn’t just bludgeon the listener to death.

There is a beauty in the simplicity of the material, allowing real depth of emotion and sincerity to shine through, as well as an all-too-obvious vulnerability and fragility. It is this latter quality that captivates me so much if I’m honest. There’s an incredible bravery from both Shankar and Nolan that puts most of us to shame as they lay themselves open for the world to hear. And yet, I adore the way in which there’s a sense of positivity and hope to the music that ultimately leaves me feeling uplifted and energised. If you’ve not already, take a listen and prepare to be as impressed as I am.

To quote my review:

“What it is, is a beautiful collection of songs that are part acoustic, part pop, part ambient, but completely seductive.

What I love about ‘Awakening’ is the purity of it. Every note is carefully thought-out yet organic-sounding at the same time. The rich melodies both wash over you and burrow deep within your soul to never let go. The atmosphere is bitter-sweet in that the music feels uplifting and warm, yet strangely poignant, almost melancholy in places.

When all around me is frenetic, full-throttle and largely fake, ‘Awakening’ is the soundtrack to keep me calm, grounded and focused on those things that matter most: human contact, relationships and pure, unadulterated love.”

Check out the full review here.

Number 6

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Odd Logic – ‘Last Watch Of The Nightingale’

The release of new Odd Logic material is always a cause for excitement in the Mansion of Much Metal. How on earth they can be so criminally overlooked remains a mystery, because over the course of the past three albums at least, the American outfit, spearheaded by Sean Thompson, has delivered some of the best and most refreshing progressive metal I’ve heard.

The brand of progressive metal that Odd Logic serve up is both familiar and original, with many unique embellishments and influences blending with a kind of ‘classic’ prog metal core. It is also properly heavy, with some chunky riffs, nice lead guitar work and some thunderous drumming at times. A worthy addition to my top 10 and all the sweeter because they deserve greater success.

To quote my review:

“It’s likely that Odd Logic will never take over the world, but regardless, they continue to make the music that they want. It’s a labour of love and I love this philosophy.

In simple terms, based on the quality of music on offer here, Odd Logic remain criminally unknown and underrated. Despite all of the considerable challenges they have had to hurdle, Thompson and Hanson have produced an album every bit as good as ‘Effigy’ or ‘Penny For Your Thoughts’. As previously stated, if I had to put my neck on the block, I’d say that this is their best release yet. And the even better news is that ‘Last Watch of the Nightingale’ is available on CD. I shall therefore be ordering mine…if you’re a progressive metal fan with any kind of taste at all, you’ll be doing the same. This is quite brilliant stuff!”

Check out the full review here.

Number 5

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Klone – ‘Le Grand Voyage’ 

The emotion and the authenticity of this release saw it sail into my top 10 for 2019. I’d liked previous efforts by the French outfit, but the sheer power and strength of ‘Le Grand Voyage’ very nearly floored me. The more I listen to it, and believe me, I’ve listened to it a lot, the more I fall for its abundant charms.

The choruses are, by and large, things of enormous beauty. The vocals are magical; packed with emotion, melody and sincerity, Yann Ligner’s gravelly grunge tone strikes a surprising chord with me. I simply can’t get enough of the intensity and darkness of the record, both of which clash brilliantly with the brief moments of hope and the waves of melody that hit at just the right time to briefly expunge the despondency.

I’m also a fan of the organic-sounding production that breathes life into the songs. When I reviewed ‘Le Grand Voyage’, I knew it would be high in my end-of-year list and now that I am writing it, I have been proved correct.

To quote my review:

“Do you know the feeling you get when an album just clicks? You know, that feeling that is accompanied by goosebumps, where your hairs stand on end, where you try to take the album out of the stereo or off the record player, only to fail miserably and press play again? Well that’s how I’m currently feeling about ‘Le Grand Voyage’ by Klone.

It never ceases to excite me when a band comes out of the shadows to blow me away; it is the magic of music and the thrill of a new discovery combining to dizzying effect. And, with ‘Le Grand Voyage’, Klone have created the album of their career to date and have made a very persuasive case for featuring in many an end-of-year ‘best of’ list.”

Check out the full review here.

Number 4

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Leprous – ‘Pitfalls’ 

Leprous are one of those bands that will find their way into an enormous amount of end-of-year ‘best of’ lists. But that’s because of one important thing: they are an exceptional band. Exceptionally talented musicians, exceptionally gifted songwriters and exceptionally brave when it comes to following their own convictions, and not giving a damn about what the outside world thinks. The proof? ‘Pitfalls’.

I’ve yet to hear a non-committal opinion of this record, as fans, critics and casual bystanders appear to be completely divided over this release. Some think it is sensational, others think it is awful. Or at least, not what they wanted to hear from a new Leprous album. I fall into the former category because I have no hesitation as I sit here now, to declare ‘Pitfalls’ easily the best record of the Norwegian prog band’s career.

I have always preferred it when Leprous allow some melody into their writing and with ‘Pitfalls’, you get plenty of melody to enjoy. Much of the album may not veer anywhere near traditional metal territory but, with vocalist/keyboardist Einer Solberg opening his heart and soul to reveal his inner mental demons, it is still an intensely heavy and dark collection of songs. I love the sincerity, the honesty and the willingness to try something new. To me, this is Leprous firing on all cylinders and I love it more with each passing day.

To quote my review:

“Challenging, heartbreaking, honest, deliberate, unique, individual, pure, anguish, mesmeric, enveloping, odd, unexpected, wonderful.

I shall declare that ‘Pitfalls’ is not a metal album. There are metal traits, accents, and there are a couple of songs that remain within the broad ‘metal’ framework. But ‘Pitfalls’ is, to my mind…different…

I’m drawn like a moth to a flame to this music; to Einar’s brutally honest subject…to the way the rest of the band are talented enough to know when to be restrained and when to unleash more flamboyance or raw power, so that the songs just work. I am certain that I will look back on ‘Pitfalls’ at a time of greater clarity and judge it to be a classic, a masterpiece.”

Check out the full review here.

Number 3

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Voyager – ‘Colours In The Sun’ 

Ah, Voyager. There’s no-one out there quite like them is there? By now, I’d hope that every reader of manofmuchmetal.com would be very familiar with Voyager, seeing as how I bang on about them with scary frequency. But I have reason to. It’s because this Aussie band are fair dinkum musicians and songwriters. Ever since I heard ‘The Meaning Of I’ a few years ago, I have followed their career with interest and can safely say that they have yet to release anything short of excellent.

‘Colours In The Sun’ is no different and, although it was a little more of a slow burner for me than past albums, it is now one of my very favourites. The blend of progressive metal with 80s synth pop works incredibly well, ably assisted by some professional and astute songwriting and an all-important sense of humour. When you refer you yourselves as “epic electro progressive power pop metal”, you can’t really take life too seriously can you?

But ultimately, it is the combination of fun, melody and positive atmosphere, coupled with an undeniably high level of professionalism and passion that makes ‘Colours In The Sun’ so superb. I cannot listen to this album without jumping up with a big smile on my face and dancing around the house. Voyager make me feel happy and you can’t put a price on that.

To quote my review:

“They have proved over the course of the past six albums that they are incapable of writing substandard material and the same can be said of this, their seventh studio release…

Every time ‘Colours In The Sun’ ends, I find myself thinking ‘what? Already?’ 

Every time I listen, time seems to speed up and before I know it, the better part of 45 minutes has passed. But more importantly, it has passed in a blur of utter enjoyment, of gratification and in the company of some of the best music I have heard this year.”

Check out the full review here.

Number 2

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Soen – ‘Lotus’ 

Had it not been for the release of a stupendous album from my all-time favourite band, ‘Lotus’ would have taken the album of the year title. And justifiably so, because it is a wonderfully entertaining and thoroughly professional record that delights and intrigues at almost every turn.

I have had the record in my collection for over six months and without a shadow of doubt, it is better now than it has ever been. It has taken a while but everything now just clicks into place and sounds incredible. It is the kind of album that you can play over and over again without getting bored – trust me, I know!

The melodies are so unbelievably strong and resonant; the pacing and flow of the record is just about perfect; the blend of intricacy and prog metal exactness, with the more organic elements is inspired and the whole album feels stronger for these pronounced differences that are merged so smoothly into a cohesive whole. ‘Lotus’ is a cracking album and thoroughly deserves it lofty position in my end-of-year list. Very nicely done indeed.

To quote my review:

“…alongside the very intricate progressive aspects, we’re treated to a greater dose of melody throughout, as well as an even more pronounced amount of ebb and flow, light and shade, and plenty of interesting textures, many of which take many listens to either hear or fully appreciate. Put simply, ‘Lotus’ is a sophisticated beast that benefits from the influences of old but manages to blend them into a final product that demonstrates an overall increase in their own identity.

And you’d think that by now, with so many repeated listens under my belt, I’d be getting bored of the nine compositions that comprise ‘Lotus’. Well you’d be wrong; if anything, I’m more beguiled and impressed than ever. I’m not sure that this record will ever lose its magic and that, right there, is a sign that I am listening to a very special album.

Poignant, melodic, technical, sublime. There’s no other way in which to sum up such an incredible album. Listening to ‘Lotus’ is like being in the presence of musical greatness.”

Check out the full review here.

Number 1

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Evergrey – ‘The Atlantic’

This has to be the worst-kept secret on the Internet as well as the most widely expected result of any competition or election this year. However, I make no apologies for this decision. There is a reason why Evergrey are my favourite band in the entire universe: they just write the kind of music that I love and I want to hear. And, when Tom Englund and Co. are on fire, they are really on fire.

With ‘The Atlantic’, they have delivered an album that is heavy, incredibly emotional, cathartic, memorable and utterly jaw-dropping. It seems like forever since it was released but I never tire of listening to it. At the time, it was the soundtrack to an intensely difficult period in my personal life and, because the subject matter echoed much of what I was going through, it really resonated with me, giving me strength when I felt like giving up.

To quote my review:

“For someone who considers ‘In Search of Truth’ the greatest album of all time, it says something when I happily declare that the opening trio of songs on this disc are three of the bands’ best ever. Truly world class, they simply leave me speechless and in awe.

You can always tell when Evergrey are firing on all cylinders, with one such indicator being the opening track to an album. In the past, we’ve had ‘The Masterplan’, ‘A Touch Of Blessing’ and ‘King Of Errors’ – all killer opening salvos. And with ‘The Atlantic’, we have the stupendous ‘The Silent Arc’.

For me though, it is the peerless ‘All I have’ that screams out to me as the very best six minutes on the album, maybe even in the entire career of Evergrey. This song is, put simply, utter genius.

…it isn’t just another Evergrey album. This is ‘The Atlantic’, arguably the very best of their career…I say this now without any fear of being proved wrong: ‘The Atlantic’ will not be beaten in 2019. It is utter, unequivocal and peerless genius.”

And, for once, I wasn’t wrong. There really was no other result possible. Ladies and Gentlemen – listen to ‘The Atlantic’, and bask in the aural delights of the best album of 2019, possibly of the decade…

Check out the full review here.

Evergrey – The Atlantic – Album Review

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Artist: Evergrey

Album Title: The Atlantic

Label: AFM Records

Date of Release: 25 January 2019

Many of you will be aware that since the beginning of 2019, I haven’t written a single review up to this point. I apologise for that. However, there are a few reasons. Firstly, my head has not really been in the right place. Secondly, neither has my heart. That can happen when your life turns upside down. But arguably the biggest reason is because one album has got in the way of all others. Since receiving a promo copy of ‘The Atlantic’ by Evergrey, I have hardly been able to listen to anything else.

You don’t need me to tell you for the one millionth time that Evergrey are my favourite band on the planet. You already know this, because I have made it abundantly clear over the years. For those of you who are in a rush, let me put this as succinctly as I possibly can: ‘The Atlantic’ only serves to reinforce my love and admiration for this incredible band because it is a ridiculously good record, dare I say it, possibly their best ever.

What is so remarkable is that the Swedes have managed to make my indestructible bond even more unbreakable with ‘The Atlantic’. I’m not one to focus on the lyrics of a record, but on this occasion, it is the only place for me to start.

Those who have read my interview with Tom and Jonas will know that ‘The Atlantic’ is a deeply personal album for Tom, who has used this record to explore the break-up of his marriage. The clues are all there, but it wasn’t until we sat down and he admitted it to me that I realised that this was the overriding theme to the record. And if you read my interview, you’ll also know that I have recently gone through the exact same thing. To be more accurate, I am still going through it as I type.

So, not only are Evergrey the most important band to me, they have also provided a shockingly apt and relevant soundtrack to accompany the second-worst period of my life, beaten only by the death of my younger brother a decade ago. I make no secret of the fact that I am hurting and that every day of my life at the moment is a struggle. If it was just a break-up, it might not be so bad. But I have two small girls and have been thrust into a position I never wanted and would have fought until my last breath to avoid. But circumstances dictated that I had no choice. It may be that, in time, I realise that this was the right decision because I haven’t been truly happy for years. But I’m not thinking of me, I’m thinking of my little girls.

It has all meant that I have spent the last two-and-a-half-months listening to ‘The Atlantic’ like it is a lifeline, a crutch, a friend, a source of extreme comfort in a world of extreme turbulence. But I’d be lying if I said that it hasn’t always been easy. Many a time I have listened through the haze of uncontrollable tears and a fog of indecision, hatred, anger and fear. But I realise that much of this has to do with the power of the music and the incredibly heartfelt lyrics sung by the greatest vocalist I have ever heard. Ultimately, the experience is rewarding and hugely cathartic. Do I feel better for listening to this record? You bet your life I do.

But enough about me and my travails, as important as they are to add necessary context to this review. Let’s delve into the world of ‘The Atlantic’ and what it has to offer us.
The first thing to say is that it is a crushingly heavy album. The guitars of Tom Englund and Henrik Danhage are simply monstrous, delivering pulverising riffs but with an intelligence that prevents the material from plunging into the abyss of being heavy for the sake of it. As such, the bulldozing riffs are littered with emotive lead breaks, quieter passages and plenty of clever restraint, used wisely to add more weight to the heaviness when it returns.

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Then there’s the bass of Johan Niemann. ‘Phenomenal’ is the only word that comes close to doing his performance justice. And what is so wonderful on ‘The Atlantic’ is the way that his playing has been pushed to the front of the mix, so that it can be heard and fully enjoyed. On occasion, it actually becomes the most prominent instrument and rightly so.

An Evergrey album wouldn’t be complete without the thunderous rhythms of drummer Jonas Ekdahl, who takes his performance to a new level here, clearly challenging himself and obviously relishing it. And speaking of challenging themselves, that brings me to keyboardist Rikard Zander. Alongside his deft and emotional tinkling melodies and swathes of atmospheric synths, there is an abundance of experimentation, from more modern and bold tones, to flamboyant lead breaks that rival the guitarists for superiority. It leads me to wonder whether the rest of the band spiked Rikard’s drinks before each recording session. But it works; everything works.

For someone who considers ‘In Search of Truth’ the greatest album of all time, it says something when I happily declare that the opening trio of songs on this disc are three of the bands’ best ever. Truly world class, they simply leave me speechless and in awe.

Many point to ‘Weightless’ as their favourite track on ‘The Atlantic’ but I have to buck this trend. ‘Weightless’ is indeed a brilliant track and is one of the ‘holy trinity’ that opens up this record. It has a ‘Monday Morning Apocalypse’ veneer thanks to the crunchy, bold riffs and no-nonsense attitude. But there’s a much more pronounced progressive intent, particularly from the half-way point where the track changes tack slightly, into a more meandering instrumental environment. And the chorus too, is undeniably catchy and intense thanks to some brutally honest lyrics. It is both dark and laced with a certain defiance, a kind of steely determination that Tom can deliver so well.

For me though, it is the peerless ‘All I have’ that screams out to me as the very best six minutes on the album, maybe even in the entire career of Evergrey. This song is, put simply, utter genius. It kicks off in doom metal fashion, with an ominous and impossibly heavy delivery. The riff is subtly progressive in that it doesn’t quite conform to a simple four-four beat (I think) but still manages to get the head moving. Then, as the chorus enters, so do Rikard’s tinkling ivories before the intensity builds into the bridge. And then, in comes the chorus.

“It’s All I have,
It’s all I have,
All I have,
All I own that I can give to you”

On paper, it doesn’t seem much but the way that Tom belts out the words with more feeling than I can describe, sends shivers down my spine, especially when coupled with a truly beautiful and simple melody. It is one of the best choruses I have ever heard and after nearly three months, none of the magic wanes.

The lead guitar solos take over at this point with a majesty all of their own and the pleading, mournful notes that soar over a reprise of the chorus melody send my head into a spin. More often than not, I get shivers coursing up and down my spine and the tears come unbidden to cascade down my cheeks. I realise, much like Tom, that regardless of perceptions to the contrary, I gave all I had to my relationship but ultimately, it wasn’t enough.

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You can always tell when Evergrey are firing on all cylinders, with one such indicator being the opening track to an album. In the past, we’ve had ‘The Masterplan’, ‘A Touch Of Blessing’ and ‘King Of Errors’ – all killer opening salvos. And with ‘The Atlantic’, we have the stupendous ‘The Silent Arc’.

Starting slowly and ominously with the quiet sound of a sonar ping, the near eight-minute behemoth soon erupts in a flurry of heavy riffing and expansive percussion before settling down into a roiling, churning mid-paced stomp. The doom-like influences are never far away as the pace slows to allow the keys to come more to the fore.

For me, the best part has to be the monumental chorus which is instantly breath-taking in its majesty and surprising simplicity, crowned by the imperious Englund. Those familiar lead guitar melodies and lead solos crop up just enough, before the song deviates from its path, to deliver some ‘In Search of Truth’ or ‘The Inner Circle’ style voiceovers. The brooding darkness that floods the song in the latter stages is marvellous, as is the pleading, wailing lead solo that acts as something of a release from the suffocating atmosphere. Simply wonderful.

I may have banged on about the opening three tracks far too much, but the more I listen to ‘The Atlantic’, the more impossible it becomes to ignore the other seven compositions. Each one delivers something exciting, vital, energetic, catchy, heavy and full of emotion and atmosphere.

On the subject of emotion, look no further than the album’s slight curveball, the immense ‘Departure’. Featuring some of the most heartbreakingly honest lyrics anywhere on the record, the song features acoustic guitars and at one particular point, a vibe that is US arena rock at its best. It is also a song that feels much more organic and ‘simple’ if that’s the right word, with the front-and-centre bass of Johan Niemann simply jaw-droppingly good. Alongside his four-string side-kick, Englund is able to let his voice steal the limelight and pour his heart and soul into a desperately personal affair. In some ways, you feel awkward for listening in. In other ways, it acts as an emotional rollercoaster once again for me in my current plight.

If you’re looking for heavy and intense tracks however, you’re in luck because the remainder, all bar the minute-long palette-cleanser ‘The Tidal’, all take great delight in slaying the listener whilst retaining that sense of melody and progressive intent.

The emerging riff within ‘A Secret Atlantis’ has a ‘Mark of the Triangle’ feel to it, in the way that it lurches slightly off-kilter, getting the head nodding purposefully. The chorus that emerges out of almost nowhere is a beast, with more than a hint of ‘Fragments’ about it thanks to the down-tuned rumble that lies at its heart. There’s even room for a Rikard Zander synth solo, as the song really underlines the progressive intent that remains within the core Evergrey sound. Every track on this record does something to make you sit up and think, something that takes it out of the run-of-the-mill heavy melodic template that so many others are intent on following.

‘End of Silence’ features a delicious chugging riff overlaid by swathes of classic atmospheric keys and more modern electronic textures. The guitars drop out to let piano, synth and voice work their magic and it is after about the fifteenth spin that I realise just how powerful this song really is. If there’s a moment of euphoria to be heard, it’s within the bittersweet chorus that I find myself singing pretty much more than any other. Plus, I love the synth solo that segues into a glorious finger-tapping guitar solo.

The emotion is ramped up a notch within ‘Currents’, as the lyrics make a real impact.

“Come.
Come save me from these waters,
These waves to tall for me,
They’ll bury me in silence,
The currents forcing me to sea.”

Cleverly, just like the strong currents about which Tom sings, there’s a real energy to the song, that pulls the listener into its clutches from which there is no escape. You hear it, you love it.

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And that just leaves the final two tracks, ‘The Beacon’ and ‘This Ocean’. The former opens to the sounds of waves caressing the shore, joined by an absorbing synth tone and more classic voiceovers. The ‘classic Evergrey’ sound continues via the unashamedly brilliant combination of strong riffing, bold rhythms, prominent keys and Englund’s irresistible vocal delivery, topped off by yet another memorable chorus. The latter closes the album in a fittingly confrontational manner, a way of Tom and the guys signalling that they are to strong and too determined to ever contemplate failing. The lyrics are somewhat bittersweet but from the strong, heavy and uncompromising tone of the final churning and swirling notes that descend into the darkness, I strangely feel uplifted.

And so another Evergrey album comes to an end. Only, it isn’t just another Evergrey album. This is ‘The Atlantic’, arguably the very best of their career. As I write this conclusion, I remain undecided about the future and whether I will carry on reviewing albums. I don’t want this to be the end, but the head and heart are conspiring against me right now. If it is the end, how fitting that this is the last record. Because I say this now without any fear of being proved wrong: ‘The Atlantic’ will not be beaten in 2019. It is utter, unequivocal and peerless genius. Over and out.

The Score of Much Metal: 100%

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

2018 reviews
2017 reviews
2016 reviews
2015 reviews

Evergrey – Interview 2019 – ‘I feel like we could do this forever’

 

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Ever since I discovered Evergrey around the turn of the Millennium, I have seen them live on stage countless times. They have released seven or eight new records of original material and I have interviewed Tom on perhaps five or six occasions. But Evergrey, as we all know, are my number one band, and it never gets old. Never.

So, when I got the invitation via the AFM Records UK PR rep to come to London because Tom Englund and Jonas Ekdahl had personally invited me out for dinner whilst on their UK press leg, I didn’t have to think for more than a nano-second.

The day before travelling, my life changed immeasurably and unexpectedly. So rather than jump in the car and head to the capital, I bought a train ticket because damn, I needed a drink. On the train journey, I listened to the new album, ‘The Atlantic’ twice through and, at times, I felt an almost inexplicable wave of emotion crash over me. Evergrey’s music always moves me and I wasn’t in the best emotional state admittedly, but for some reason, I felt a strong connection with ‘The Atlantic’, which I could not quite place.

Upon arrival at the hotel, I was greeted by the giant figure of Mr Englund himself and was pulled in for a bear hug. Jonas Ekdahl, on the other hand, pretended not to notice me, feigning apathy as he strode purposefully past. The joke didn’t last long, as grinning ear to ear, he warmly greeted me too.

With an almost comedically bad phone interview shelved, I got the nod to jump in and make use of a break in proceedings to crack on with my interview.

Leading up to this release, Tom had mentioned to me over the Internet that ‘The Atlantic’ might just be the best album he’s ever written. With wine delivered to the table, I decided to kick things off right there and ask Tom whether he believed his own hype or whether it was the usual hyperbole that surrounds a new release. Did he really mean what he said? The response I got was an uncomfortably long silence as Tom stared into space, apparently collecting his thoughts, mulling over how best to frame his reply. Eventually, he answers quietly and deliberately.

“I am absolutely positive that this is within at least the top three albums anyone released this year.”

“It is deadly serious for us”, Tom continues with a face to match his answer. “It is sincere, with all of our blood, sweat and tears in it, it really is. It is my personal journey’s manifestation. It is also, in a way, a conclusion. Or a start. It has meaning for me on so many levels. That’s where it is at for me anyway – I don’t know where it is at for you”, he concludes, looking pointedly at his long-haired drummer and co-writer before breaking into his more familiar jocular manner, booming out his hilarious faux-British accent.

“It’s the worst, most boring album we have ever written. It doesn’t do anything for me on any level. I’ll be at the bar. Champagne!”

“I agree”, responds Jonas after the warm laughter subsides. “it has this seriousness which was there even when we wrote it. But we also had fun writing it and in pre-production. Everything went super-smooth but we were very serious, particularly in the early stages. All the little details were very important to us, even down to a synth sound or whatever.”

“Particular is the word, definitely, even down to an OCD level”, interjects Tom thoughtfully. “But we love that part of music-making. It’s not engineering for us, it is part of the music-making, painting the picture that we want you to hear.”

“Me and Tom would just go into a bubble”, Jonas expands without prompting as the interview starts to find a nice rhythm. “We find a vibe or an image or a place in our heads and then we know where we want to go. Once we are in that zone, everything just falls into place. It makes it very simple for us to write because we know what will fit and what won’t.”

That word ‘vibe’ is an important one in the context of Evergrey. After years of line-up instability, I was among large swathes of fans that rejoiced when Jonas and Henrik (Danhage – guitars) re-joined Tom, Rikard (Zander – keys) and Johan (Niemann – bass) for ‘Hymns For The Broken’ back in 2014. For many, it is the best and strongest line-up in the band’s history principally because of the vibe that was apparent within the reformed quintet. It is wonderful to know that this vibe has remained intact two albums later.

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“That vibe is bigger now than ever”, Tom smiles. “It is more cemented – we know what we want and how to get there. We might not have trusted each other before in terms of composing but the band now knows that when me and Jonas start working on the songs, we’ll create the best Evergrey songs we can. The other guys come in with their brushes and their colours to enhance what we have written. Or we write songs from their ideas. Everyone is super-comfortable, which makes it more comfortable for us. And it is easier to work with one guy in every detail than with five guys.”

“All the guys in the band know that the way we work now is for the best of the band”, agrees Jonas. “It’s not because we don’t want anyone not participating. It is just a better workflow and the end result is better with fewer heads and less hassle.”

“There are different stages of the songwriting though”, Tom clarifies eagerly. “We listen to everyone’s ideas, and we decide on the ideas that we will use to create ten songs. The other guys are not involved in the mixing process at all. So, when we all five of us sit in a room together and listen to the album for the first time, it is extremely stressful but also very rewarding.
There were tears and everything – several times throughout the recording actually”, Tom reveals. Frankly, I’m not at all surprised.

It is clear that there is a huge amount of trust and understanding these days between Tom and Jonas, with Jonas becoming as important to the writing and recording process as Evergrey’s founding member. Jonas nods as I voice this to him.

“I’ve never been able to settle only playing drums. I have always been wanting to do more. I love playing drums but somehow it is not enough on its own. So it is great to be able to do more with Evergrey. It feels more and more natural every album too, even though you have to be focused and on your toes all the time. It is a different kind of confidence I think, because actually, I’m a very nervous guy.

The laughter returns at that point, especially as Jonas is slouched comfortably in his chair as if he hasn’t a care in the world as he talks. It turns out that around 15 beers will make even a nervous Jonas the coolest cat in London.

Returning to the issue at hand, after much deliberation and soul-searching on my part, I tentatively suggest that the first three songs on ‘The Atlantic’ are some of the very best ever written by Evergrey. But not only that, the album is littered with world-class material. To use a footballing analogy because we’d just deviated into some good-natured Manchester United versus Tottenham Hotspur banter, I’d suggest ‘The Atlantic’ is entirely Champions League material. I’m keen to find out from the guys though, what it is particularly that they are proud of with ‘The Atlantic’. Tom replies first.

“It is the coherent feeling of the album, that we made a painting that is beautiful everywhere within the frame, not just in certain spots. It tells a story, you go through an experience when you listen to it. And when you’re done, you think ‘fuck, I have listened to something that was really good’. I have heard the songs 500 times each and I still do not stray from my listening. That’s a good grade in my book.”

“Going back to the painting”, Jonas offers, “we put effort with every stroke. And since day one, until it was mastered by Jakob Hansen, that has been the same. We put all we had, all our energy into it for such a long time. I’m proud of the fact that we have worked our asses off, busted our balls off in the process to create this record.”

“And that’s exactly what ‘All I Have’ is about”, reveals Tom. “It is about putting all you have into something. And if it isn’t good enough, we wouldn’t release it. But in terms of relationships, if it isn’t good enough, you have to release it.”

Before delving further into the music itself, I first want to touch on the break-in that hampered the recording process and delayed the release of ‘The Atlantic’ into 2019. As I ask, you can see the frustration etched on the guys’ faces.

“Wake me up please, I’m living in a nightmare”, states Jonas. “We had no option but to tell the label and Jakob Hansen that we would have to postpone the release date so that we could do things properly.”

Tom continues the thread: “We had to start buying recording equipment and we didn’t know if they had stolen the three songs we’d recorded and if they’d know what it was. It is an accomplishment to get through that, but also an accomplishment to mix the record. We didn’t stray an inch from where we knew we wanted to be.”

“We had this super analogue feel on the album and it was our number one priority to have a dirtier, analogue sound. We couldn’t express this enough to Jakob – more wood!”, Jonas emphasises with a smile. I don’t think that was a euphemism, more a statement about the overall texture and feel to this record.

Having been led back to the actual material on the album, I remark that ‘The Atlantic’ is a very bass-heavy record, with Johan Niemann taking more of the spotlight than ever before.

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“More than any other album”, Jonas nods, “me and Johan recorded so much of the record live, almost the whole album. So we need to have the bass present. Plus, it adds more of that dirt and grit and attitude to the sound.”

“But”, Tom asserts with utter sincerity, “if you had a bass player who is 10% less of a player, you couldn’t have the bass like this. I say this in the documentary but I would choose Johan over any other bass player in the world. Without a doubt, there is no competition. This, everybody should hear, so raise the volume. Without taking away from the production of course, but you can afford to have him this loud because he is so fucking good.”

One thing that I think all Evergrey fans worth their salt will recognise is that whilst ‘The Atlantic’ is the next logical step in the evolution of Evergrey, it also contains many elements of previous albums. I hear elements of nod towards all of the Evergrey eras, from ‘In Search of Truth’ to ‘Monday Morning Apocalypse’. Turns out though that this was not intentional.

“We didn’t think about that at all – it must have been a fluke”, smiles Jonas before Tom affirms, to close this particular topic.

“We never think about anything like that”, he emphasises with a gentle shake of the head. “We set out to create a vibe. But if any of our albums are close to this album, it would be ‘Recreation Day’. But no, we don’t try to deliberately do this.”

At this point, I feel the desperate need to actually home in on some of the songs on ‘The Atlantic’. It is still early days in my listening journey, but several moments have already made a remarkable impression on me. I start with ‘Departure’ which ironically enough signals the biggest departure from Evergrey’s core sound, very similar to the way in which ‘Waking Up Blind’ did on ‘The Inner Circle’. And, as it turns out, the catalyst for this track, which features acoustic guitars and what I can only describe as a US arena rock vibe at one point, didn’t even originate with my two friends across the table from me.

“That was Rikard’s idea actually”, Jonas reveals. “We had a weekend where all the guys sat down, worked together and presented ideas.”

“That’s the thing with Rikard”, Tom interjects purposefully, “he usually presents a part and on this occasion, when we heard his part, everyone was like ‘woah, let’s make a song, right now’. And we made this song within two or three hours. Not vocally, but the song was done the same day.”

“It was the same with ‘Currents’”, Jonas continues with barely a pause for breath. “That was the next day and it was started by a synth riff. He presents his parts and says, ‘go do what you want with it’. He knows that we will do our best to make the best music out of his ideas. But everyone gets super-excited. With ‘Departure’, Henrik went out for ten minutes and came back with an acoustic guitar. He tuned it in Nashville tuning, whatever that is. Tom started doing all this finger-picking stuff and we just had to record it all. That was my favourite song when Johan and I practiced for the album. We had all these horrible songs to practice with all these difficult parts and so we named them terrible names because we hated them. ‘Departure’ was the song where we could relax and enjoy ourselves.

And now for the lyrics. Having had the words for a little while, I sensed that this was not a light-hearted or easy-going record. Yes, I can hear a certain amount of positivity at points, but I also hear strong undercurrents of emotional turmoil going on, with lots of darkness, despair, disorientation and soul-searching at play.

“You are way off the mark!” Tom chuckles before admitting the opposite and providing more detail.

“This is the final in a trilogy. ‘Hymns…’ was an album where I felt I had to do something – my subconscious was telling me I had to do something. Uproar, frustration. ‘The Storm Within’ was really about realising you’ve mentally left, you know. ‘The Atlantic’ is the manifestation of the actual leaving. It is also the first album that Carina (Englund) is not on. That is symbolic enough.”

Right there. That’s the moment that everything clicked into place and explained why I felt such an emotional connection with ‘The Atlantic’. It is about the break-up of Tom’s marriage and the feelings surrounding this ending of a chapter as well as the beginning of a new one. A torrent of feelings assaults me because, literally, the day before this interview, my partner called an end our nine-year relationship, a relationship that blessed me with two wonderful children and some happy memories. If I’m honest, I could see it coming as we’d grown apart over time, but the reality of having to start my life over again whilst trying not to destroy my little girls’ lives was suddenly my full focus. I didn’t want to put my children through such a thing but suddenly, I had no choice, I was trapped within my worst nightmare. Fortunately, I was in the right place – surrounded by friends, one of whom understood exactly what I was going through. The look on Tom’s face as I revealed my own personal turmoil nearly brought me to tears. No judgement, no irritation at derailing the interview, just genuine sympathy and a deep understanding of where I was mentally and emotionally.

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“It can be a good thing”, Tom eventually responds in kindly fashion and with a Sage-like wisdom. “It may not at the moment but it will. Some changes are not only bound to happen but also necessary. It makes you”, he pauses searching carefully for the right word “…better. I feel as strong as fuck. I’m stronger than I’ve ever been. More confident, more certain, more secure, more relaxed.

And you know what? I believe him. Tom sits in the chair across from me and I notice for the first time just how relaxed he looks. He looks alive and there is a sparkle in his eye that maybe I’d not seen for a while. If Tom can go through something like this and come out the other side this strong, I begin to feel a little better. And then, as if a damn has burst, all three of us burst out in laughter, a little unsure of exactly why.

“But confident is a good word”, Tom sets off again as the unexplained merriment subsides. “I’m confident that I…that we…have done the right thing. If you’re a grown-up, you have kids and have been together for a quarter of a century, you need to deal with things in those terms. But life is to short and everyone deserves to be happy.”

Reluctantly, as time marches on, I start to wrap up this intense and hugely significant interview by asking the guys to reflect on the early feedback they’ve had to ‘The Atlantic’.

“We’re so early into the process that I don’t even know what response we’ve had”, jokes Tom but with a thread of truth. “But someone said to me that if it was released this year, it would be in their top five for the year. And others have said that this has the coolest cover we’ve ever had. It sets the tone and 100% represents the album visually.”

“I feel like we could do this forever”, offers Tom as his final thought, in response to my inevitable query over the future of Evergrey. “That’s where I am right now. When things start to deteriorate and become less rewarding, things might change. But we’re on a huge rise at the moment. We’re getting more fans, we’re selling more albums…that’s the advantage of not being huge. We sold two more albums – that’s a 100% increase”, he chuckles as he looks in Jonas’ direction. “Let’s celebrate. But seriously, that’s what it is all about. What more can you ask for than to improve and to go to new places, see more people?”

What more indeed?

And with that, I recede into the background for a time to allow others to chat to Tom and Jonas. After all, I had the rest of the evening to come, an evening which, as it turned out, involved one of the nicest and hottest curries of my life. It also featured plenty of alcohol and the kind of friendly chat and camaraderie that I really needed.

‘The Atlantic’ is out on 25th January 2019 on AFM Records.

 

A sneak peek into the new releases due in 2019

Hello dear readers. We’re racing inexorably towards the closing stages of 2018, a year that has brought us a lot of great new music. It has also been a year in which I have written more reviews than ever before. But there’s no rest for the wicked because 2019 will soon be upon us and that means more great albums and EPs coming our way.

So, with that in mind, I thought it was a good time to take a breather and for me to list out for you a few of my highlights for 2019, so that you can dutifully add them to your diaries. I wouldn’t want you to miss out on anything exciting, that’s for sure.

And, on that note, here we go:

44288428_2079769212074616_6587277829631639552_nEvergrey – The Atlantic
AFM Records
Release Date: 25 January 2019

Well, duh! Naturally this release sits at the very top of my list because Evergrey are my favourite band. Simple. ‘The Atlantic’ is the eleventh record of the Swede’s career and is also apparently the final part of a chapter that began with ‘Hymns For The Broken’ back in 2014, coincidentally (or not), the album that also saw the return of drummer Jonas Ekdahl and guitarist Henrik Danhage to the fold.

Have I heard the album yet? You bet your life I have. I won’t reveal too much as it is still early days but even at this point, I have to say that there is some genuinely exceptional material within it, including a contender or two for their best ever song. You have been warned, ‘Mark of the Triangle’! Oh, and a couple of surprises too – don’t you just love a good surprise?!

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46187638_2125481634149912_1126637816583815168_oOctober Tide – TBC
Agonia Records
Release Date: Spring 2019

I was extremely impressed with ‘The Winged Waltz’ the last album from October Tide. Of it, I remarked: “If, like me, you have a weakness for doomy death metal with melodic and subtle progressive leanings, make ‘Winged Waltz’ a priority, because it demands your immediate attention.”

So, it comes as no surprise that I’m all over the news, somewhat out of the blue, that a new album is ‘more or less finished’ and is planned for a release on Agonia Records some time during Spring 2019.

Soilwork_Verkhligheten_cover_artSoilwork – Verkligheten
Nuclear Blast
Release Date: 11 January 2019

Consistently one of my favourite melodeath bands, Soilwork return on 11th January 2019 with their eleventh album, ‘Verkligheten’. They’ve been through the ringer of late with line-up changes in key positions. And yet, led by the brilliant vocal talents of Bjorn ‘Speed’ Strid and accompanied by a set of ever-hungry musicians, Soilwork never cease to impress me. The tracks released so far from the forthcoming record are enough to whet any appetite and it bodes well for the full-length when it sees the light of day just in time to clear some groggy heads after the New Year festivities.

46133176_10156799716929362_6361014146409955328_oSwallow The Sun – When A Shadow Is Forced Into The Light’
Century Media Records
Release Date: 25 January 2018

I began to wonder whether everyone’s favourite pioneers of ‘gloom, beauty, despair’ were still in existence. Not because of an especially long hiatus between albums but because of vocalidst Mikko Kotamaki’s involvement elsewhere and because there has been almost utter silence from the STS camp of late. However, that silence has been broken with the delightful news that a new album has been completed and is due for release in January 2019.

Not only is there a new album in the form of ‘When A Shadow Is Forced Into The Light’, but before the New Year, we will be treated to a stand-alone 14-minute epic entitled ‘Lumina Aurea’ which features a guest appearance from Wardruna’s Einar Selvik and The Foreshadowing’s Marco I. Benevento. Anyone else giddy with excitement?!

Bjorn Riis – TBC
Karisma Records
Release Date: TBC

A new album from one of the most emotive guitarists around? Well, if you happen to agree with me that Bjorn Riis fits this description, then you’ll be as happy as I am with the news that the Airbag musician is returning in 2019 with a brand new full-length release. It comes less than a year after the impressive EP, ‘Coming Home’, but if the new material is anywhere near as good, we’re in for a wonderfully warm, emotional and engrossing listening experience.

44076950_10156795596224553_2700026040964612096_nThe Neal Morse Band – The Great Adventure
Radiant Records
Release Date: 25 January 2019

I was rather impressed with the last record by the Neal Morse Band, ‘The Similitude of a Dream’. As such, I’m really interested and excited to hear what this supremely talented bunch of musicians has come up with to follow it. Ignore the awful and lazy cover and instead focus on the fact that we are going to be treated to another double-disc release – that’s certainly ambitious but I have complete faith in the band to come up trumps when the record is released via Radiant Records/Metal Blade at the tail end of January, a day of many huge releases it seems.

Teramaze – TBC
Mascot Label Group
Release Date: TBC

It seems like this album has been years in the making. It hasn’t of course, but I’ve been watching the updates on social media from guitarist/songwriter Dean Wells for a long time now, getting more excited for this new release. The excitement stems from the fact that the Australian band’s last album, ‘’Her Halo’ was so damn good – I’m expecting big things from this new one as and when it arrives – but 2019 is guaranteed now that the record is essentially done!

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45671254_10155650642467181_8729688618743889920_nDream Theater – Distance Over Time
InsideOut Music/Sony
Release Date: 22 February 2019

One of the original creators of classic progressive metal return on 25 January 2019 with their fourteenth album, ‘Distance Over Time’. In recent years, I have grown a little tired of Dream Theater’s output. I barely even listened to 2016’s ‘The Astonishing’. Part of the reason for this is that I have fallen out of love a little with James LaBrie’s vocals. Nevertheless, I’m curious to see whether such an important band in my musical history will reignite my enthusiasm in 2019. They certainly have the talent to do so.

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Metal Update – 19 September 2018

Hello and welcome to yet another of my heavy metal round-ups, bringing you news that I hope you’ll find interesting. I may not be the first news source, but I hope that I am at least unique in that I try not to just cut and paste what’s already out there. I’ll let you decide.

In the meantime, allow me to crack on because I have some important news to bring you…

22792165_1663401483711393_1821284213218541639_oEvergrey
‘The Atlantic’
AFM Records
Release date: TBC

Any news relating to my favourite band is good news, so it is with great delight that I can confirm the title for the new Evergrey album, due early in 2019: ‘The Atlantic’. Rumours have been doing the rounds of late, but I waited to bring you details of this until I had it confirmed. After all, there’s nothing on the official Evergrey pages currently about this.

However, a brief online conversation with my good mate Tom Englund has now confirmed that this information is genuine and that we can now eagerly await further news on ‘The Atlantic’, including a confirmed release date (delayed due to a break-in at the band’s studio), track-listing, artwork, lyrical themes and musical direction. Of course, the minute I get any of this information, I’ll bring it to you. In the meantime, go and listen to some classic Evergrey – you know you want to, because they are obviously the best band in the world!

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Lost In Thought
‘Renascence’
Label: TBC
Release date: tentatively 1 November 2018

Out of the blue, whilst watching Pain of Salvation tear up the stage in London last week, I got a message from the guys in Lost In Thought to say the following:

“Hi Matt, just a quick update. We went live with our PledgeMusic Campaign yesterday (12th Sep), if all goes well we are looking at a November 1st release.”

I’m genuinely excited to hear the new album, ‘Renascence’ from Lost In Thought, because their debut, ‘Opus Arise’, released aeons ago in 2011 was such a great record. I had begun to think that perhaps we were due to have another ‘one-hit wonder’ on our hands, but happily my negativity has finally been proved unfounded. I don’t expect ‘Renascence’ to necessarily sound like the debut due to changes in line-up and what I expect to be a greater maturity in the song writing. Whatever happens, I’ll keep my ears on stand-by to bring you my thoughts asap. High hopes for this one, indeed. Oh and I love the artwork – nice work guys!

If you’d like to support their pledge campaign, click the link: https://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/lost-in-thought

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Seventh Wonder
‘Tiara’
Frontiers Music
Release date: 12 October 2018

As I’ve said before, this is one of the big ones for me this year. It has been an absolute age since we last had new studio material from the Swedes and we’ve had to wait even longer so as to avoid a clash with Tommy Karevik’s other band, Kamelot. However, we’re now at the stage where we have three songs released from the upcoming ‘Tiara’ record and I thought I’d pull them all together here, so you can listen to them in one place. I’m kind like that!

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Bloodbath
‘The Arrow Of Satan Is Drawn’
Peaceville Records
Release date: 26 October 2018

Who doesn’t like a good dose of dirty and depraved old-school death metal? I do, so that’s good enough to bring you this, the first song released from the forthcoming new Bloodbath album. If you recall, I waxed lyrical about this multi-national ‘supergroup’ in a previous round-up and delightfully, we can all now check out some sounds from ‘The Arrow of Satan Is Drawn’ which is due for release on 26 October 2018. The track is called ‘Bloodicide’ and features guest performances from Jeff and John Walker (Carcass) as well as Bolt Thrower’s Karl Willetts. I’m salivating already!

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